Data Dive

Costco Dares To Be Different, Google Gets More Global And Cybercriminals Get Organized

Americans are waking up slightly groggier this morning as we as a nation continue to adjust to Daylight Savings Time.

The good news is that we are all somewhat less likely to be robbed for the next several months. According to the Brookings Institution, DST causes the nations robbery rate to drop by about 7 percent on average — and by about 27 percent during the evening hours.

The bad news is that we are all slightly worse drivers for the next 72 hours — statistically, car accidents go up 8 percent during the spring time shift, according to The New England Journal of Medicine, which is particularly bad news for our readers in the Northeast, who are facing a blizzard this week as well.

But while we can’t control the clock or the weather, we can give you enough data to get you up and alert on Monday morning.

Costco Get (Slightly) Costlier

While reports of a price hike at Costco are a bit overstated, the wholesale retailer plans to raise the cost of its annual membership by a whole $5. Individual, business and business add-on memberships will now cost $60 per year instead of $55.

But that news — which investors liked to hear — came alongside some other news that they didn’t like quite as much: Costco missed expectations on both the top and bottom lines when it reported earnings last week. Revenue clocked in at $29.13 billion, instead of the $29.86 billion analysts were looking for, and earnings per share were $1.17, instead of the forecasted $1.36.

The good news, according to the experts, is that $5 increase likely won’t do much to scare off shoppers. The less good news, according to different experts, is that customers who have not yet signed on with Costco or any of its competitors — and who can chose to pay $15 less at Sam’s Club or $10 less at BJ’s — may be swayed over differences in pricing.

Costco is operating in an increasingly challenging retail environment. It was far from the only brick-and-mortar player to turn in disappointing results during Q2. While Costco itself is not showing signs of distress as clearly as Macy’s — or even Target, of late — the hard times put pressure on Costco none the less, this from Moody’s Vice President Charles O’Shea.

“As they struggle to survive, distressed retailers can take more desperate measures, including highly promotional pricing that can border on irrational. This leaves stronger firms with the choice of either competing in a race to the bottom, or giving up sales in order to preserve margin,” he said.

Costco, so far, is resisting the pressure and carrying on with pricing as normal (Costco increases its membership fee every 5 or 6 years; the last increase was in 2011). We’ll see how it affects future earnings reports.

Google Buys in to FX

U.K.-based cross-border payments startup Currencycloud got a major vote of confidence this week as Alphabet’s venture department (formerly known as Google Ventures) joined in on a $25 million investment round. Alphabet follows existing investors Notion Capital Ltd, Sapphire Ventures LLC, Rakuten Inc and Anthemis Group.

Currencycloud CEO Mike Laven noted the newest round of funding will go toward pushing the firm’s worldwide expansion plans.

“We just opened up in the U.S. and that requires a lot more development,” Laven said. “We are also seeing tremendous interest from Asia broadly.”

Currencycloud’s wheelhouse is connecting financial services players and making it possible for banks, payments startups, etc., to add international payments services to their business lines without having to set up complex and costly cross-border infrastructure. Among its better known clients are Klarna Inc, Standard Bank Group and foreign exchange company Travelex Ltd.

Laven said Google was attracted to Currencycloud because it makes it easier for developers to create FX capacity.

“Google looked at us as a tool that is used in globalizing domestic businesses,” Laven said.

Currencycloud has raised $61 million thus far — and moved about $25 billion through its platform.

Organized Crime Joins the Digital Age

Where there is crime, there is always going to be organized crime, and so it probably shouldn’t be too surprising that the mob has decided that it too needs a digital upgrade.

According to recent reports, authorities in Europe are struggling to keep up with the growing trend of organized crime rings going digital.

Their favorite tactics include cybercriminal drones, tracking devices, social engineering, hacking and encrypted communication — this from Europol’s Serious and Organized Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) for 2017. All in, SOCTA identified nearly 5,000 international crime groups located within the EU, an increase of 1,400 since 2013.

“What we see at the heart of this is a dynamic, highly enterprising underworld … in which there is a free-flowing marketplace of cybercrime tools,” Rob Wainwright, executive director of Europol, explained. “The providers of the latest malware are providing it to criminals and potentially state actors, and potentially eventually terrorists.”

The good news is that law enforcement is more actively policing these issues than ever before.

The EU’s police agency found that Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre launched 131 successful cyberoperations in 2015, which is an increase from just 72 operations in 2014.

However, more sophisticated tools have made the number of threats far outnumber the increased enforcement of the last half decade.


So what did we learn this week?

Cybercriminals are getting too smart for our collective good, Google wants to make it a small world after all and Costco is going to buck the race to the bottom pricing trend.

See, all kinds of reasons to stay alert, even if DST has you feeling a little sleepy.



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