June 2017


Mads Mikkelson now joins Norman Reedus as the antagonist in the game

Death Stranding looks like another master piece, straight out of the mind of the mad-genius that is Kojima. A new trailer was released at the Game Awards 2016 and as per usual, the game simply looks like a high-budget Hollywood blockbuster film. In fact, the first person you see is Guillermo Del Toro holding what looks like to be a container with a baby inside it. Moving on, it looks like he’s standing in a warzone full of infected squid like creatures along with soldiers who are nothing but bones.

Then we see another floating plastic doll, which happens to look like a baby-start move in the water below while glowing red. It stops in a dark tunnel where we see five soldiers coming out from the shadows. Except one, all of them are nothing but bones with army equipment on. One of them is commanding or controlling the other soldiers. The actor playing this role is Mads Mikkelson, famous for his roles in Hannibal, pusher, and Valhalla Rising.

Death Stranding was announced at E3 2016. For now, the game is exclusive to the PS4 but will also be released for the PC. The game is still in its early stages, so it might not come out until the start of 2018. There are still a lot of questions as to what is actually going on and hopefully we will get some answers soon.

You can watch the trailer here


Biosimilars are a big threat to branded drugs of giant pharmaceutical companies as they can threaten sales by offering safety profile at a low cost

Novartis AG’s (ADR)(NYSE:NVS) biosimilar and generic division, Sandoz is working for the development of novel biosimilars versions of the blockbuster drugs to patch up the revenue loss of its blockbuster drugs’ patents. Sandoz is expected to launch 11 biosimilar versions of different blockbuster drugs in the US therapeutic market, with the approval from the regulatory agency by the end of the year. 

Allied Market Research statistic show that with the rapid launching of the biosimilars, their market is expected to touch $25-35 billion by 2020. In addition, the generics unit is also working on the Humira biosimilar, Neulasta, Rituxan and Remicade. 

Sandoz Head of Global Biopharmaceutical Development, Mark McCamish, M.D., Ph.D. said:  “We are encouraged by today’s favorable advisory committee recommendation for our proposed biosimilar etanercept.”  He added: “As a global market leader in biosimilars, we are pleased to move one step closer toward our goal of expanding patient access with our proposed biosimilar etanercept, and look forward to continuing to work with the FDA as they complete their review of our application.”

In 2010, Congress authorized FDA to approve biosimilar versions of multiple drugs in order compete with the same efficacy and safety profile at a low cost.  Since then, the regulatory agency has approved only two molecules, including Novartis’s version of Amgen’s Neupogen cancer drug and Johnson & Johnson’s arthritis treatment Remicade that’s made by Pfizer Inc. and Celltrion Inc. 

The role of the biosimilars in the European Union has a long history, as they were launched about a decade ago and have since then been making their way steadily and slowly into the main market.  With the launch of the biosimilars, it will benefit the insurers’ pocket due to their cost effectiveness. According to Express Scripts, the launching of 11 biosimilars will directly impact the patients in savings worth of $250 billion during tenure of 2014 and 2024.

Giant companies are on the road of manufacturing biosimilars, as their blockbuster drugs are on the edge of patient cliff. Till date, 700 biosimilar drugs of different companies are in clinical trials for the management and treatment of multiple diseases.

Tesla Motors Inc Energy updated page now includes “Design Your Powerpack System” option allowing businesses and utilities to configure the technology as per the requirements

After showing global auto makers what it can do with electric vehicles, Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA) has also electrified the energy storage industry with its energy storage arm “Tesla Energy.” Today, the auto maker has updated the Tesla Energy page on its website, providing details about its business and commercial battery system, the Powerpack, for the first time.

Electrek initially pointed out that Tesla has added a new “Design Your Powerpack System” page with price details and an option to order a system of up to 54 Powerpacks (5.4 MWh). Customers can place minimum order for the stationary batteries, including two Powerpack systems for $47,000 ($470/kWh) each. The package also includes a Bi-Directional 250 kW inverter for $65,000 and Cabling & Site Support Hardware for $3,000. Excluding installation, the cheapest Powerpack system would be priced at $162,000 for 100 kW of peak power and 200 kWh of energy capacity.

Businesses and utilities with higher electricity requirements can build their own systems and configure it up to 54 Powerpacks (5.4 MWh) with 2,500 kW of peak power and 5,400 kWh of energy storage. With this battery capacity, customers require 10 Bi-Directional inverters increasing overall cost to $3.2 million without installation.

Tesla requires a $1,000 deposit for placing an order. If a customer such as a utility company has a bigger requirement than the 5.4 MWh system, it can contact the company to request a quote.

The auto maker also released information on grid interface product for the technology:  Bi-Directional Inverter, Powerpack Controller, Powerpack Combiners, and Software. Description of these products can be found at the Powerpack page.

Tesla wrote on its website: “Tesla has been building integrated battery systems in cars for over 10 years. The same degree of expertise, quality control and technological innovation has informed our process of developing high-performance batteries for the grid.”

Powerpack systems are useful for various applications, such as demand response, emergency backup, peak shaving, and load shifting. Tesla even shared testimonies of early Powerpack customers, including Jackson Advanced Micro Grid, Family Wines, and Target Corporation.

“Target is excited to be partnering with Tesla to incorporate battery storage into our energy strategy. This technology offers unique benefits to powering our buildings, most importantly relieving stress from the electrical grid at peak times to support to our communities,” said Target.


Tesla supplies a Powerpack system of 1MWh to the Ocracoke’s local utility to be used as a backup during power outages

Last month, The Country Caller reported that Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) completed a microgrid project in the Island of Ta’u, American Samao, putting an end to the fossil fuel dependence with a massive system of solar array and the Powerpack. Now, the clean-tech company has powered another island in North Carolina, Ocracoke, according to Ocracoke Observer.

Last month, Tesla supplied 10 Powerpack units to Tideland Electric Membership Corporation (TEMC), the local electricity supplier, which installed the system of 1MWh. The island was previously dependent on a 3MW diesel generator, which was used in times of prolonged outages. The new microgrid, which also includes solar arrays, will be mainly used as a backup for the grid and to complement diesel generator during peak demand hours when electricity rates are higher.

TEMC spokeswoman, Heidi Smith, told the publication: “This is a learning laboratory for Tideland. We’re exploring the potential for a microgrid. The Tesla batteries could potentially help us get over that start-up load. It will be interesting to learn what benefits can be derived from the various microgrid components over time.”

She added that the system is not big enough to support the energy requirements of the entire island, but it should be useful in assisting the generator when the initial demand outpaces its capacities. She believes Ocracoke is a perfect site for testing such a technology, as coastal environment creates problems for the utilities.

Here’s a photo of Ms. Smith and other people involved in the project along with the Powerpack system:

Conversely, the microgrid developed in Ta’u is a much bigger project than this one, as it includes 60 Powerpack units offering storage capacity of 6MWh. According to Electrek, both the projects are using the first-generation Powerpack system, as each unit has capacity of 100kWh rather than 200kWh in the second-generation. The production of the Powerpack 2 will begin later this month, when the battery cell production starts at the Gigafactory in Sparks, NV.

US consumer spending is at its peak as debt of credit cards touches $1 trillion

Citigroup (C) has the biggest credit card portfolio compared to its peers, such as JP Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Bank of America (BAC), and Wells Fargo (WFC). As investment banking has not been performing well under current volatile markets, banks are pushing their sales in the consumer lending market. Credit cards are known to be the most profitable in consumer lending. However, a larger portfolio will have higher risks of defaults on payments.

Consumer spending is a positive indicator for the economy, which has increased over the past few years. Therefore, banks are heavily investing in growth of their credit card business. Citigroup already expects credit cards to drive US consumer growth. As a result, it struck a deal with Costco after ending its long relationship with American Express (AXP).

Other major banks also look to expand their consumer banking business. Banks are qualifying customers on lower terms and requirements as the competition increases. However, this can create a bubble as the consumer loans keep expanding on plastic cards. Peers – Bank of America, JP Morgan, and Wells Fargo – are all aiming to extend their credit card product range to attract customers with more options on benefits.

The problem arises when the loose underwriting requirements increase subprime lenders, thus increasing risk to the economy in a form of bubble. At the same time, the defaults will also start to rise as just like the ripple effect caused by bad subprime mortgage loans. A rise in defaults or charge-offs would mean that Citigroup would need to set aside reserves to cover the provision for bad loans, which will reflect on the company earnings.

For Citigroup, credit card business is quite a lucrative business with high returns. The company expects this business to provide up to 2.4% of return on assets over the current economic cycle. The return figure is almost the double of the company’s targets. However, the diversified credit card portfolio of Citigroup makes it more exposed to provision of bad loans. It already has the highest charge-off rate amongst its peers. It has $131 billion in card loans and the provision to loss is almost $1.6 billion (3.1%) of its total consumer loans.

Genee is a personal virtual assistant most adept in scheduling meetings

Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) has announced that an agreement has been reached to acquire artificial intelligence-powered digital personal assistant “Genee.” Genee was founded in 2014 by its two co-founders, Ben Cheung and Charles Lee, who will now both join Microsoft as part of the deal. Also, Genee will be shut down a week or so from now, on September 1, after which the service will presumably be integrated with Office productivity tools. Microsoft Corporate VP of Office and Outlook Rajesh Jha was of the view that Microsoft seeks to improve the Office365 experience and Genee should help further in that aim by providing its expertise on digital artificial intelligence and its applications in daily tasks, like creating schedules.

Genee is based on normal language, something that was not possible in conventional computing, but it is one of the things that AI has managed to improve over its course. A user simply has to send an email for a meeting to another user through Genee, after which Genee will understand the timing and location needs of the meeting and provide options to the first user with possible time slots and locations. A process which would require at least a good, few emails could be performed through Genee in a matter of minutes and a few clicks.

Microsoft has forever been on the hunt for startups and small firms with aspirational ideas to bolster its ranks and help improve its final product. Genee is another startup that fits that bracket, where SwiftKey and Sunrise have recently also been featured.

Chesapeake is up by 9.89%, here’s why

Chesapeake Energy Corporation (NYSE:CHK) surged by around 9.89% in yesterday’s trading session, thanks to the announcement of production freeze by OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries). There are mixed sentiments in the market, whether the production reduction agreement would be followed or implemented, or would the deal result in making the fundamentals better for the oil markets in the long run, which could potentially push oil prices at higher level. For sure, if oil prices go up, it would benefit performance of Chesapeake, and its stock would continue to prosper.

Apart from Crude oil prices, Natural Gas prices are also of key importance to investors. In recent times, natural gas prices have improved substantially. On the back of higher demand and slightly lower level of supply, natural gas prices have soared by 35%. Also, one could expect this demand to prosper in future, considering the winter season. Also, shifting of power plants from coal to natural gas, the demand could be expected to be further higher, hence driving further upside potential to natural gas prices.

As per forecasts of Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average price for Natural Gas (Henry Hub) would surge from $2.50 per MMBtu (million British Thermal Units) to $3.12 per MMBtu. Further positive thing for the natural gas price is that the natural gas prices are currently trading even above the forecasted level for next year, and trading at around $3.14 per MMBtu.

With natural gas prices already at higher levels along with recent recovery in crude oil prices, the financial performance for the company is expected to be just better with the passage of time. With Chesapeake possessing assets which have low cost base, such higher commodity arena presents further upside to the company’s performance.

Such improvement in commodity prices, if sustained, could be considered as a potential catalyst to provide investors with hefty return. However, one should note that downside risks are equivalently dangerous too if the prices don’t sustain and fell over again.

Around 230,000 barrels per day would be produced from the project, while production would commence by the end of 2020

With oil prices showing the recent price rally, both West Texas Intermediate and Brent crude trading above $50 per barrel, big oils are back to square one. Be it new discoveries, ramp up of investments and exploration programs and boosting production, energy majors are leaving no stone unturned to bolster their balance sheet positions.

Similar is the case with Total SA (ADR) (NYSE:TOT), that increased its foothold in the Lake Albert of Uganda. The company expanded its operations by acquiring majority share of interest in Tullow Oil. Value for the transaction ranges near $900 million.

The aforementioned figure includes $200 million in cash consideration while the remainder of $700 million, that would be used in developing the fields and Ugandan pipelines in the times to come. This is indicative of the notion that Tullow would now stop its operations in the area giving Total the access to lucrative crude reserves. Other details of the project include the development costs of $5.2 billion. More so, around $3 billion would be needed to reach the first most crude oil from the project.

Patrick Pouyanne, CEO of France based Total stated: “Our increased share in the Lake Albert project will bring significant value to Total and fits with our strategy of acquiring resources for less than $3/barrel with upside potential.” With debt pile surging to $4.9 billion at the close of last year, Tullow has been looking for divestments. It estimates to book around $400 million from the latest transaction in write offs in its financial results for 2016. Al Stanton, analyst at RBC Capital Markets stated that the deal would fortify the financial profile of Tullow while endorsing the Uganda project simultaneously.

The Country Caller discusses how hard Alcoa Inc is expected to be hit this quarter

Alcoa Inc (NYSE:AA) is scheduled to release its first quarter of fiscal year 2016 earnings after the closing bell today. Even though the company has announced divestitures, supply contracts, and a split over the past months, with an aim to boost the stock price, the Street’s estimates have declined rapidly. However, shares traded 3.47% higher at $9.69 at 12:06 PM EDT Monday, and popular estimates for the company suggest it is likely to beat the Street on both its top and bottom line numbers this earnings season.

Bottom Line

The Street expects the $12.55 billion company to post two cents in earnings per share for 1QFY16, reflecting its expectation of a 93% year-on-year and 50% sequential decline in its bottom line. As mentioned on Estimize, Alcoa should report four cents as EPS, while forecasts an EPS of three cents. Last quarter, the company beat the Street by two cents on its bottom line.

Top Line

Alcoa is expected to post revenue of $5.27 billion for 1QFY16, reflecting an estimated 9.45% YoY decline in its top line. Estimize, however, maintains a brighter view with its $5.29 billion estimate. Over the last two quarters, the company has missed the Street on sales. For 4QFY15, Alcoa posted $5.25 billion of revenue, which fell short of the consensus by $180 million.

Alcoa Split

By the second half of this year, the company hopes to complete its split into two publicly-traded entities, one of which would be named “Arconic.” The announcement was made last September. Alcoa shares have declined 2.23% year-to-date, against the 0.52% gain of the S&P 500 index.

The drugmaker will have to take strategic decisions in order to satisfy the investors and stakeholders

Gilead Science, Inc. (NASDAQ:GILD) is working diligently in order to patch up the revenue dip that it has suffered from the decline of its hepatitis franchise.  The HCV blockbuster drugs are continuously witnessing a decline due to reduce patient’s pool and fierce competition in the therapeutic market.  The company is working on multiple options such as merger and acquisitions (M&A) along with the label expansion of its drug portfolio to maintain the revenue generation. Due to this, the company has changed its financial guidance for 2016. 

Despite the aforementioned factors, the HIV segment of the company is the ray of hope for the investors and stakeholders, as it is moving ahead steadily and capturing the HIV therapeutic market. 

Gilead and Galapagos are working on the investigational molecule for the management and treatment of Crohn’s disease. Both have initiated the phase 3 JAK1 inhibitor filgotinib clinical trial.  The company is expecting that the investigational drug will generate handsome revenue after its approval from the regulatory agency.

The trial is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.  Other competitor such as AbbVie still has to accomplish the clinical data of filgotinib, which is in phase 2.

The investigational molecule has shown its efficacy and safety profile in the management and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, but on the other hand, Gilead’s CEO John Milligan believes that the drug can also be the blockbuster in the treatment of patients suffering from Crohn’s disease.

In the therapeutic field of rheumatoid arthritis, AbbVie is ahead of Gilead as its investigational drug ABT-494 has already made it to the phase 3 trials much ahead of Gilead.

The drug pipeline of the company has multiple candidates and going through different stages.  To make the pipeline more robust, the drug maker has to acquire more novel molecules as its GS-9620 investigational drug is expected to report phase 2 results in the first quarter of fiscal year 2017 for the HBV patients.

Furthermore, the investigational drug for the treatment of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) will be an additional revenue generator for the company.