The Daily Dose: New Ideas From Old Media

 | Apr 04, 2014 | 12:00 PM EDT
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In a normal world, without the existence of quantitative easing, the March employment report would be favorable. Although there was a headline miss, prior months were upwardly revised, the pace of growth accelerated month on month, and the labor force rose. And construction, after the heavy winter and ever-rising prices in key markets, bounced back, alleviating some concern on the state of housing.

However, this world is not normal, thanks to quantitative easing. Watch momentum names today to gauge whether the market could handle, or wants, an improving economy, as opposed to a lackluster economy that has intense amounts of Fed stimulus.

Looking for Innovation

To me, the word "innovation" has two primary meanings:

  1. A product or service that measurably improves upon something that is already in the marketplace. This is incremental innovation (think Amazon (AMZN) Fire TV compared with Apple (AAPL) TV) that comes right before a transformative innovation (think a 55-inch Apple Internet-connected white TV that also connects to your Tesla (TSLA) info-attainment center).

  2. A product or service that creates a new need on the part of an end user. The end user either didn't realize that he or she had such a need or is wowed by the innovation enough to create a new need. Who would have realized taking a photo each day with a cell phone would become commonplace?

It's very hard for the average Joe to identify budding innovation and wager on it via a stock purchase, as company execs are unlikely to share what their development and marketing teams are working on. Further, how many trade shows such as CES, E3 or SXSW have you ventured to over the years, let alone read about or viewed through a live streaming video feed or blog? Exactly.

The best way I have found to stay ahead of the pack on new innovations, outside of attending trade events and talking with contacts, is reading old-school, industry-focused magazines. Not on the iPad, which is susceptible to wandering attention (each line in these mags is important, even the advertisements). Magazine subscriptions can be had on the cheap (thanks to the iPad), and they offer serious insight from veteran journalists who have a single task in life: to cover one industry and cover it damn well.

I usually set aside one full day every other week to magazine absorption. Don't giggle. I can't tell you the amount of ideas I have found from doing this through the years. Here are two thoughts from assorted readings this week.

Automobiles: On Tuesday, I mentioned that smart dashboards from Google (GOOG) and Apple are looming as a major industry trend. Another movement: the lightening of cars to improve fuel efficiency. For the longer term, this may be positive news for the aluminum maker Alcoa (AA) and bad news for the steel companies.

Restaurants: Although I have been critical of Starbucks (SBUX) this year, the company is doing some pretty amazing things with mobile payments. I am fascinated watching how people interact with their mobile devices at Starbucks checkout. This is innovation by Starbucks, and this is also where Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) is going. The trend is bad news for the operators of sit-down eateries such as Darden Restaurants (DRI) and Brinker International (EAT), and perhaps Yum! Brands (YUM) and McDonald's (MCD), which just don't have the capabilities or models to make it work yet.

Play ball!: TheStreet's softball team begins playing this Sunday at 5:15 p.m. in Central Park. Come root us on as we destroy competitors. I won't be there because of birthday weekend celebrations, but game two is April 8 at 6 p.m., also in Central Park ... and my over-competitive self will be there. TheStreet will be wearing maroon jerseys.

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