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Blain: There’s A “Massively Larger Problem” In UK Homeownership

Blain: There’s A "Massively Larger Problem" In UK Homeownership



Blain: There's A "Massively Larger Problem" In UK Homeownership Tyler Durden Fri, 07/10/2020 - 03:30

Authored by Bill Blain via,

“All Political lives end in tragedy..”

They do say four little words can end any political career: “doesn’t he look tired?” 

The biggest mistake in Politics is to imagine it’s simply a game about popularity – it’s about effectiveness. Watch politics in action as consummate crowd pleaser like Boris Johnson makes a hash of it. He’s still great on the set piece annihilation of political lightweights like the current Labour leader at Question Time – but that’s a skill that has little use outside a parliamentary setting. Its not effective. When it comes to actually packaging effective government, and communicating his plans and strategies to the public, Boris has overpromised and underdelivered, while looking ill and ill-prepared. 

In contrast, Rishi Sunak is doing a startling and refreshingly competent job as Chancellor. He has none of Boris’ parliamentary theatrical baggage. None of the awkward poorly delivered jokes, and he doesn’t need to dress like a dishevelled clown to garner the attention of the crowd.  Yesterday’s stimulus package was another example of effective action – part of a swiftly assembled and adaptable approach to address the pandemic’s economic damage. 

It might look like Sunak is chucking the kitchen sink at the problem, but it also looks considered, pragmatic and effective. Step by step, Sunak is delivering the stimulus/rescue packages the economy requires to weather the virus. And he’s doing it well. How is this political new kid is coming up with genuinely smart initiatives? I am sure his treasury advisors deserve credit. 

It’s worth thinking about a moment… 

Sunak’s predecessor, ex-banker Sajid Javid was forced to resign because Boris’ consigliere, Dominic Cummings, demanded complete control of all his advisors. So how is Boris doing such a poor job when Sunak is doing so well – and Cummings is supposedly pulling all the strings? Perhaps Sunak is making such a decent go of the UK economy because Boris is still struggling to recover from the virus, and Cummings has been constrained by the consequences of his lockdown holiday back home in Durham? Or maybe the Boris/Cummings axis ain’t that great a combination after all? 

Sunak appears to be thriving because of the crisis, while it’s making Boris’ limitations more and more obvious every day. I’m told Sunak is impressing his fellow Conservative MPs. His stock is rising, while Boris’ star is descending. Watch that space.

Yesterday Sunak delivered a £30 bln kick-start package of measures to stimulate activity this summer. He gives a very strong impression he stands ready and able to do more – if the economy is still struggling in March when the stamp-duty holiday ends, then he won’t reimpose it..

A £1000 bonus to companies for each worker they un-furlough and keep on payroll will help stem a sudden loss of jobs later this year when furlough ends. Cutting VAT on hospitality and tourism, and the “eat out to help out” discount in August will make a terrible year merely bad for the sector – which employs a million people. 

Of course, I am willing to do my bit for the economy – in August I’m going to run weekly sailing days for clients. We’ll go for a sail, then go support the Solent economy via a “proper” lunch in the vicinity – Cowes, Hamble or Yarmouth! Let me know if you fancy a day out… and it’s a zero-cost option for compliance purposes, as you will be buying me lunch! (And.. remember… it will be half-price!)

The cut in stamp duty to zero for anything under £500,000 is an interesting decision. It will boost transaction flow and boost confidence. The surest way to make an economic crisis worse in the UK is to associate it with a fall in house prices. 

However, there is a massively larger problem in home ownership.

UK homes are expensive. Millions of Millennials and Gen Zs are being forced to rent because they can’t get on the housing ladder. But here’s the rub - they can afford to pay rents, which are invariably much higher than mortgage payments would be! 

The problem isn’t that houses aren’t affordable – the market failure is there is just no mortgage financing available! Mortgage lenders are stuck to the same 3 times salary and 80% LTV formula they used when interest rates were 12%! Traditional mortgage lending is going the way of the horse-drawn carriage.

We need a completely new approach to home ownership – which is something I’m working on now with some very credible partners. 

The lender will fund co-ownership where they own up to 95% of the property. The amount the borrower needs is effectively paid off as rent, and is set by what the borrower can realistically afford – and its a much higher multiple than mortgage backed purchases can offer. The deal is structured so the borrower doesn’t face a negative equity trap, but does pay an inflation linked “rent”. The borrower isn’t limited to only choosing homes from a pre-set stock, and treats the home as their own. If they want to increase their ownership stake or sell, they can. The deal offers investors a steady inflation linked return secured on the underlying property. 

If the co-ownership deal sounds interesting – please give me a shout. Historically UK residential property has always been a strongly performing asset. 

Meanwhile, there are a couple of issues with Sunak’s lavish spending plans. Yesterday I had a journalist wondering just how the country can possibly afford the upwards of £400 bln of pandemic packages. He’s expecting gilt yields to soar to double digits and sterling to collapse.


The Bank of England is just as capable of yield curve control as any other central banks. Everyone is in same boat – QE Infinity is going to keep rates low. Problems could emerge in terms of FX if, as a nation, our credibility is absolutely blown… Inflation remains an issue – QE has created massive inflation in financial assets, but the risk the real economy remains deflationary – although we are keeping a weather eye on any signs of inflation returning. 

The second issue is just how much fraud has been going on around all the bailout/support packages. Its clearly been significant. It might be “timely” for the government to accelerate a couple of cases quickly to court and give the perps a show-trial with some pretty harsh sentences handed down. 

Last week a chum of mine was made redundant from his job running European M&A for an Indian conglomerate. He’s going to turn whistleblower. His Indian bosses, who have a few business interests in the UK, told him to go apply for each and every UK bailout package there was to get money from the government. My chum explained to him the money wasn’t on offer for the billionaire owner to repatriate back to India, but to support UK businesses and employment. The boss-man lost his rag, and my chum lost his job.

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Argonne’s Jordi Roglans-Ribas claims second Secretary’s Honor Award

Jordi Roglans-Ribas, a former director of the Nuclear Science and Engineering division at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory,…



Jordi Roglans-Ribas, a former director of the Nuclear Science and Engineering division at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, received his second 2022 U.S. Secretary of Energy Achievement team award for participating in the team that completed the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Credit: (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

Jordi Roglans-Ribas, a former director of the Nuclear Science and Engineering division at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, received his second 2022 U.S. Secretary of Energy Achievement team award for participating in the team that completed the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Roglans-Ribas was also recognized with a 2022 team award for work with the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Kazakhstan Reactor Conversion Team to make nuclear research reactors safer from proliferation risk. The Secretary’s Honor Awards are considered one of DOE’s highest honors.

“The award for the completion of the VTR EIS recognizes the successful effort of the entire team and the significance of DOE completing the first reactor EIS.” — Jordi Roglans-Ribas, Argonne

An EIS is a government document that outlines the impact of a proposed project on its surrounding environment. It helps policymakers and community leaders make key decisions.

“The award for the completion of the VTR EIS recognizes the successful effort of the entire team and the significance of DOE completing the first reactor EIS,” said Roglans-Ribas.

Roglans-Ribas worked closely on the VTR EIS with a multidisciplinary group from government departments, national laboratories and contractor offices beginning in August 2019 and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, DOE published its first EIS for design and construction of a nuclear reactor since establishment of the National Environmental Policy Act in 1970. Now in the Federal Register, the VTR EIS has helped accelerate release of the Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office’s EIS for building and demonstrating the Project Pele mobile microreactor. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will reference both statements as it prepares its own versions for commercial advanced reactors currently under development.

“Jordi had an integral, long-term role on a professional team with immense collective expertise, keen attention to detail and enduring commitment,” said Temitope Taiwo, director of Argonne’s Nuclear Science and Engineering division. ​“As a result, the team completed a high-quality, complex and publicly visible analysis in a difficult pandemic environment.”

The VTR EIS team’s efforts were specifically praised for helping DOE advance its own efforts to provide a fast-reactor-based neutron source and testing capability. This capability has been missing from nuclear energy research and development infrastructure for nearly three decades. It is a critical capability needed to enhance and accelerate the innovative nuclear technologies that will advance U.S. objective to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.   

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.

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Hyro secures $20M for its AI-powered, healthcare-focused conversational platform

Israel Krush and Rom Cohen first met in an AI course at Cornell Tech, where they bonded over a shared desire to apply AI voice technologies to the healthcare…



Israel Krush and Rom Cohen first met in an AI course at Cornell Tech, where they bonded over a shared desire to apply AI voice technologies to the healthcare sector. Specifically, they sought to automate the routine messages and calls that often lead to administrative burnout, like calls about scheduling, prescription refills and searching through physician directories.

Several years after graduating, Krush and Cohen productized their ideas with Hyro, which uses AI to facilitate text and voice conversations across the web, call centers and apps between healthcare organizations and their clients. Hyro today announced that it raised $20 million in a Series B round led by Liberty Mutual, Macquarie Capital and Black Opal, bringing the startup’s total raised to $35 million.

Krush says that the new cash will be put toward expanding Hyro’s go-to-market teams and R&D.

“When we searched for a domain that would benefit from transforming these technologies most, we discovered and validated that healthcare, with staffing shortages and antiquated processes, had the greatest need and pain points, and have continued to focus on this particular vertical,” Krush told TechCrunch in an email interview.

To Krush’s point, the healthcare industry faces a major staffing shortfall, exacerbated by the logistical complications that arose during the pandemic. In a recent interview with Keona Health, Halee Fischer-Wright, CEO of Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), said that MGMA’s heard that 88% of medical practices have had difficulties recruiting front-of-office staff over the last year. By another estimates, the healthcare field has lost 20% of its workforce.

Hyro doesn’t attempt to replace staffers. But it does inject automation into the equation. The platform is essentially a drop-in replacement for traditional IVR systems, handling calls and texts automatically using conversational AI.

Hyro can answer common questions and handle tasks like booking or rescheduling an appointment, providing engagement and conversion metrics on the backend as it does so.

Plenty of platforms do — or at least claim to. See RedRoute, a voice-based conversational AI startup that delivers an “Alexa-like” customer service experience over the phone. Elsewhere, there’s Omilia, which provides a conversational solution that works on all platforms (e.g. phone, web chat, social networks, SMS and more) and integrates with existing customer support systems.

But Krush claims that Hyro is differentiated. For one, he says, it offers an AI-powered search feature that scrapes up-to-date information from a customer’s website — ostensibly preventing wrong answers to questions (a notorious problem with text-generating AI). Hyro also boasts “smart routing,” which enables it to “intelligently” decide whether to complete a task automatically, send a link to self-serve via SMS or route a request to the right department.

A bot created using Hyro’s development tools. Image Credits: Hyro

“Our AI assistants have been used by tens of millions of patients, automating conversations on various channels,” Krush said. “Hyro creates a feedback loop by identifying missing knowledge gaps, basically mimicking the operations of a call center agent. It also shows within a conversation exactly how the AI assistant deduced the correct response to a patient or customer query, meaning that if incorrect answers were given, an enterprise can understand exactly which piece of content or dataset is labeled incorrectly and fix accordingly.”

Of course, no technology’s perfect, and Hyro’s likely isn’t an exception to the rule. But the startup’s sales pitch was enough to win over dozens of healthcare networks, providers and hospitals as clients, including Weill Cornell Medicine. Annual recurring revenue has doubled since Hyro went to market in 2019, Krush claims.

Hyro’s future plans entail expanding to industries adjacent to healthcare, including real estate and the public sector, as well as rounding out the platform with more customization options, business optimization recommendations and “variety” in the AI skills that Hyro supports.

“The pandemic expedited digital transformation for healthcare and made the problems we’re solving very clear and obvious (e.g. the spike in calls surrounding information, access to testing, etc.),” Krush said. “We were one of the first to offer a COVID-19 virtual assistant that deployed in under 48 hours based on trusted information from the health system and trusted resources such as the CDC and World Health Organization …. Hyro is well funded, with good growth and momentum, and we’ve always managed a responsible budget, so we’re actually looking to expand and gather more market share while competitors are slowing down.”

Hyro secures $20M for its AI-powered, healthcare-focused conversational platform by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

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Burger King Adds a Failed McDonald’s Comfort-Food Menu Item

Both companies have tried to make this beloved southern staple work, and Burger King is trying again with multiple new versions.



Fast-food burger chains deal in the familiar. 

They sell comfort food, meals that make their customers feel good (even if that feeling soon enough turns to regret).

When one of the big three chains -- McDonald's, Wendy's (WEN) - Get Free Report, and Burger King -- adds a new menu item, it's either something outrageous designed to get publicity or an item that builds on the comfort-food model.

DON'T MISS: Unique McDonald's Sandwich Makes Its Menu Return

That's why so many fast-food innovations arise from taking a core menu item and give it a small twist. Wendy's does this more than any other chain as it rotates in different takes on cheese fries and new burgers that add well-known flavors like pretzel buns or more bacon.

McDonald's (MCD) - Get Free Report has been experimenting with similar ideas -- specifically trying to make southern classics like sweet tea and chicken biscuits -- work. The chain has had more success with sweet tea, which has become a menu staple, than it has with making chicken biscuits a morning staple.

And while McDonald's has tried to add southern style chicken biscuits to its morning menu without sustained success, that has not stopped its rivals from taking their own shot at the regional favorite. 

Wendy's has offered its Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit since it brought back its breakfast menu in 2020. And now Restaurant Brands International's (QSR) - Get Free Report Burger King has decided to add multiple takes on a chicken biscuit to its morning menu.

Wendy's also sold a "hot" version of its Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit.

Image source: Wendy's.

Burger King Adds Multiple Chicken Biscuits  

Burger King has built its morning menu around meat. The chain sells versions of its famed Croissan'Wich with double sausage, one with bacon, ham, and sausage, and similar offerings on biscuits.

Now, Burger King has been testing adding chicken to its meaty morning lineup.

Some of the chain's locations already sell a regular Chicken Biscuit and a Smoky Maple Chicken Croissan’wich (although those items are not being sold nationwide) and now it's testing a new take on a chicken biscuit in select markets.

"The Smoky Maple Chicken Biscuit features breaded white meat chicken with a smoky maple glaze on a warm buttermilk biscuit. It will be available through Aug. 31 while supplies last," according to Restaurant Business Online.

Burger King is offering the Smoky Maple Chicken Biscuit only in the Kansas City and Orlando-Daytona Beach markets.

McDonald's Also Bets On Breakfast Comfort Food 

McDonald's first put bagels on its breakfast menu in 1999. They were removed in January 2022 when the chain eliminated all-day breakfast and slimmed down its morning menu due to the covid pandemic.

Losing the bagels wasn't just about customers getting one less bread choice for their breakfast sandwich. It also invvolved McDonald's removing steak -- a meat that was only sold on a bagel -- from its morning menu.

Now, after a slow rollout across the country, McDonald's has returned its popular breakfast bagels to menus nationwide (albeit without making an official announcement).

Fans clamored for the return on social media in April 2022, when McDonald's Tweeted "Bring back ____." Tens of thousands of fans answered the query and the Breakfast Bagels were a popular request.

The most-requested item, the Snack Wrap, has not been returned and might not despite customer interest because making them adds complexity to the chain's kitchen operations. 

That's something the company has been working against as it works to streamline delivery and digital sales.         

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