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The term “economic moat” describes a company’s ability to maintain its competitive advantages and defend its long-term profitability. This moat investing education series explores the five primary sources of moat, according to Morningstar: 1) Switching Costs; 2) Intangible Assets; 3) Network Effect; 4) Cost Advantage; 5) Efficient Scale. Here we explore the concept of:
Network Effect: As more people use a company’s product or service, the value of that product or service increases for both new and existing users.
The “network effect" moat source has become more relevant as our world has grown more digital. It describes the phenomenon where the value of a product or service increases as the number of its users grows.
The internet is a good example. It originally had few users outside the military and research science spheres, but its expanding user base exploded its reach and impact. More recently, companies like Facebook and Google have been labeled network effect paragons. Morningstar posits that a network effect can help a company to increase its advantages over competitors, and is often an important source of a company's moat.
The term "critical mass" is often used in connection with the network effect. In game theory, this means that not all game participants need to be convinced for a strategy to succeed, just a very specific portion of them. If this participation threshold is exceeded, the strategy is likely to succeed of its own accord. The network effect works in similar fashion. If the user base for a product or service reaches a critical mass, the network is likely to expand under its own power. Ultimately, however, a company’s ability to monetize a network is also important to consider before network effect can be assigned as a moat source.
Visa dominates the global electronic payments industry. The company controls approximately half of all credit card transactions and an even higher portion of debit card activity.1 It is a great example of how the network effect can create a powerful competitive advantage. Morningstar says of Visa: “The brand is accepted by approximately 44 million merchants worldwide, with 3.1 billion cards in circulation. Perhaps most importantly, 16,800 financial institutions worldwide make up the Visa network.”
Alphabet, with a global share of over 80%, leads the online search market. The company’s network effect is comes primarily from its Google products, which includes search, Android, Maps, Gmail, YouTube, and more. In Morningstar’s view, “Google has the world’s most widely used search engine, and such a large and growing user base has created a network difficult to replicate.”
1Source: The Nilson Report
Company-specific information based on Morningstar analyst notes last updated as follows: Visa: 19/11/2018; Alphabet: 25/10/2018.
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VanEck Vectors Morningstar US Wide Moat UCITS ETF (the “Fund”) is a sub-fund of VanEck Vectors® UCITS ETFs plc., organised under the laws of Ireland, managed by VanEck Investments Ltd. VanEck Investments Ltd delegated the investment management of the Fund to Van Eck Associates Corporation, an investment manager regulated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange commission (SEC). Any investment decision must be made on the basis of the prospectus and the key investor information document (“KIID”), which is available at www.vaneck.com. These are available in English and certain other languages at www.vaneck.com or can be requested free of charge from VanEck Investments Ltd or from the relevant local information agent details of whom to be found on www.vaneck.com. The Fund is registered with the Central Bank of Ireland and tracks an equity index.
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