October 13, 2017

Perspective

NYT – Rohingya Recount Atrocities: ‘They Threw My Baby Into a Fire’ – Jeffrey Gettleman 10/11

  • Deeply disturbing.

WSJ – Daily Shot: OECD – Global Obesity Rates (2015) 10/12

FT – The 30-second ad has had its 15 minutes of fame – Shannon Bond 10/11

  • “The 30-second television ad has been dethroned. As US television networks face growing digital competition for marketing dollars and viewers’ attention, they are selling shorter ads. The result? Thirty-second spots, long the industry standard, now make up fewer than half of all US TV commercials.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – Say Goodbye to the China Bid – Aaron Back 10/12

  • “China’s seemingly insatiable demand for foreign assets has driven up prices for everything from U.S. Treasury bonds to global companies to luxury real estate. Now, a combination of market forces and capital controls are choking off the flow of Chinese cash. Asset markets around the world will have to adjust.”
  • “As Chinese exports boomed starting in the early 2000s and foreign investment flooded into the country, the central bank recycled these inflows into foreign government bonds, mostly Treasurys, to keep the yuan from rising. The buying persisted for over a decade, driving bond prices up and driving yields down globally.”
  • “The form of China’s foreign buying shifted in 2014, when the U.S. began exiting quantitative easing and China’s growth slowed. Ordinary Chinese feared that the yuan, which had steadily risen for years, would fall as growth slowed. Both individuals and companies rushed to get money out of China, snapping up trophy assets and luxury real estate around the world.”
  • “The China bid, or at least the expectation of one, sent prices of luxury properties soaring, fueled real estate bubbles from Vancouver to Sydney and pushed up prices of companies seen as desirable for Chinese buyers.”
  • “Alarmed by the outflow, Beijing began to tighten capital controls in 2015 and 2016, but the deal-making persisted until this year when the government cracked down on money transfers by individuals and discouraged companies from pursuing ‘irrational’ deals abroad. So far this year, outbound mergers and acquisitions by Chinese companies are down 27% from the same period a year earlier, according to Dealogic.”
  • “Now, pretty much the only thing the Chinese government encourages its companies to buy abroad are high-tech companies such as computer chip makers. But these strategic assets are precisely the kind that Western governments increasingly don’t want to fall into Chinese hands.”
  • “In real estate there is no way to say for sure how much Chinese buying drove up prices, but governments from Canada to Australia have moved to control foreign buying to rein in property bubbles.”
  • “Nor is China set to return as a big buyer of U.S. Treasurys. Indeed, if the Federal Reserve keeps tightening, China could be a seller of bonds as it fends off depreciation pressure on the yuan.”
  • “In the years ahead, financial markets around the world will have to live without the ever-present China bid. Whether China was a savvy investor or the dumb money, asset prices will likely be lower.”

WSJ – China’s Next Five Years – Squeezing the People to Feed the State – Nathaniel Taplin 10/11

  • “China achieved its economic miracle by unleashing the entrepreneurial private sector. With President Xi Jinping poised to further consolidate power at the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade leadership shuffle kicking off Oct. 18, the narrative of the next five years is becoming clear.”
  • “The state is pushing back.”
  • “The logic is straightforward. Nominally communist China relies on its vibrant private sector for growth, but state-owned companies are indispensable tools for political patronage, social control and economic policy. Any financial rot in the state sector could weigh on the economy and weaken the Communist Party’s grip.”
  • “With private business already commanding around 70% of the economy, Mr. Xi and his allies have decided to strengthen key state-controlled companies by boosting their market power and easing their debt burdens.”
  • “For investors, the implications are significant: higher global goods prices because state-owned companies are notoriously inefficient, and a smaller chance of the long-feared Chinese debt crisis. Corporate debt, which is largely in the state-owned sector, ticked down as a percentage of GDP in the second quarter, according to J.P. Morgan—the first decline since 2011. The trade-off is slower Chinese growth. Chinese banks, whose shares are currently on a tear, will need to keep subsidizing bloated state enterprises. And those enterprises’ need for a deep pool of capital inside China means a free-floating yuan will remain a distant dream.”
  • “For investors, the tilt back toward the state means that innovative privately owned tech and consumer companies may continue to outperform—but probably less so than in the past. Hulking state-owned titans, enjoying newly privileged market positions, may reward investors more reliably: The state-dominated Shanghai stock market has roundly outperformed the technology-and-consumer-focused Shenzhen market this year.”
  • “Deng Xiaoping, the grandfather of China’s economic reforms, famously said that it was acceptable to let ‘some people get rich first.’ The people are far richer than they were three decades ago. Now it’s the state’s turn once again.”

Forbes – How Blockchain Can Stamp Out China’s Fake Diplomas 10/8

NYT – We’re About to Fall Behind the Great Depression – David Leonhardt 10/12

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – U.S. States General Obligation Debt Ratings 10/12

Real Estate

FT – Airbnb teams up with developer to launch branded apartments – Leslie Hook 10/12

  • “Airbnb is stepping up its challenge to traditional hotel operators, launching branded, purpose-built apartments in Florida in a tie-up with a US real estate developer.”
  • “The partnership with Newgard Development Group marks the first time the San Francisco-based home-sharing group has worked with a property developer. It underscores how Airbnb is expanding beyond simply booking accommodation, its core service that has already hit hotel operators in cities across the world.”
  • “The 300-unit rental complex in Kissimmee, Florida, near Orlando, will be built and owned by Newgard but carry a new brand: ‘Niido powered by Airbnb’.”
  • “Harvey Hernandez, chief executive of Miami-based Newgard, said the company planned to build 2,000 Airbnb-branded units in the next two years. Tenants who rent the apartments can choose to sublet them through Airbnb for up to 180 days a year.”
  • “The Kissimmee apartment building, due to open early next year, includes features such as keyless doors and secure storage that will make it easier for long-term tenants to rent out their rooms when they are away. Through an app, tenant hosts can manage their Airbnb guests’ stay and even co-ordinate services such as changing bedsheets.”
  • “It will have human touches as well. A ‘master host’ will be on site, and all apartments will have a mandatory cleaning service, in the style of a serviced apartment.”
  • “’The demographic that we are targeting are travelling more than ever before,’ said Mr Hernandez. ‘So when that property is empty, they can be making money with it.’”
  • “Newgard, Airbnb and the tenant will all derive revenue from the short-term rentals, with Newgard taking 25% of the nightly room rate, Airbnb taking 3% (the same commission it charges hosts anywhere), and the tenant receiving the remainder.”
  • “Marriott operates serviced apartments whereby it does not own the property but the building carries its branding and Marriott provides hospitality services. Unlike Marriott, Airbnb will not operate the hospitality services and nor is it charging Newgard for the use of its brand.”

Bloomberg – Kushners’ Manhattan Tower on Track for Its Worst Year Since 2011 – Caleb Melby 10/12

Energy

FT – Why the US east coast imports oil despite shale boom – Gregory Meyer 10/11

  • “The US has been shipping its shale oil riches to different parts of the world, including Canada and India, inspiring White House officials to muse about American ‘energy dominance’. But one place that is buying very little of this crude is the officials’ backyard.”
  • “Last week as the US reported a record 2m barrels a day in crude oil exports, refineries located up the highway from Washington on the east coast imported about 900,000 b/d, mainly from Africa.”
  • “A big reason is the Jones Act, a 97-year-old US law that requires all ships starting and ending their voyages on US coasts to be American-flagged, built and crewed.”
  • “What animates critics in the oil market about the Jones Act is that it increases the cost of shipping crude from the Gulf coast to the east coast above the rate charged by foreign-flagged carriers. That helps incentivize exports from Texas oilfields and imports by refiners in the east. The reliance on shipping reflects the fact that no crude oil pipelines link the oilfields of the central US to the east coast.”
  • “’It’s basically a constraint on the efficient operation of the oil market,’ says Sandy Fielden, director of research for commodities and energy at Morningstar.”
  • “US lawmakers liberalized trade in crude oil in December 2015, allowing unfettered exports after years of tight restrictions for every destination but Canada. They let the Jones Act stand, though they gave some refiners temporary tax relief related to oil transport costs.”
  • “The effects are plain to see. In 2015, tankers laden with crude oil from the US gulf coast delivered an average of 50,000 b/d to ports on the US east coast, according to ClipperData, a vessel tracking service. The volumes nearly halved in 2016 and have halved again this year, the data show.”
  • “Ending the export ban has caused shipments to soar to countries previously blocked from buying US oil, including long hauls to Asia. Crude oil exports to countries other than Canada are averaging about 325,000 b/d this year, ClipperData’s records show, more than treble the levels of 2015.”
  • “Meanwhile, US east coast refineries near Philadelphia and New York have been importing nearly 1m b/d from countries such as Nigeria and Angola, about 50% higher than two years ago.”
  • “The increased imports to the east coast come despite falling rates to hire a Jones Act tanker as the industry struggles with a surplus of ships built before the export ban was lifted. The US fleet of Jones Act tankers and tugboat-barge units totals 94 vessels, according to Overseas Shipholding Group, one of the biggest operators in the sector.”
  • “Sam Norton, chief executive of OSG, estimates the cost of hiring one for crude service is about three to four times higher than using a foreign-flagged vessel. Some shipping consultants say it is even higher.”
  • “The Jones Act is unlikely to abolished, despite the longstanding efforts of politicians such as Senator John McCain of Arizona.”
  • “’Since people have been living with it for so long, it’s difficult to say what it would be like if they changed it or if it were repealed,’ says Mr Fielden of Morningstar.”

Environment / Science

NYT – 10 Hurricanes in 10 Weeks: With Ophelia, a 124-Year-Old Record is Matched – Maggie Astor 10/11

  • “With Tropical Storm Ophelia’s transition to Hurricane Ophelia on Wednesday, 2017 became the first year in more than a century — and only the fourth on record — in which 10 Atlantic storms in a row reached hurricane strength.”

China

FT – Wanda’s Wang Jianlin dethroned from top of China rich list – Tom Hancock 10/11

WSJ – Six Reasons Why China Matters – Justin Lahart 10/11

NYT – China to Debtors: Pay Up or Be Shamed – Keith Bradsher and Ailin Tang 10/11

  • “Troubled by huge debts run up by big state companies and politically connected local governments, China is taking steps instead to go after the little guys.”
  • “Chinese officials have ordered provincial governments to establish online platforms naming those who do not pay their obligations, official media reported this week. The lists should be maintained by local news organizations as well as courts and regulators, the report said, with an aim of exposing deadbeats and pressuring them to pay up.”
  • “The new effort is unlikely to affect big borrowers, like major state-owned companies and other big firms, whose debts are almost never called in. But it could intensify and centralize officials’ broader moves to assign ratings to individuals based on creditworthiness and other criteria; practices like credit scoring are only just now taking off in the country.”

Japan

WSJ – Daily Shot: BOJ asset purchases and pace of purchase 10/12

  • “The BoJ is quietly slowing its securities purchases (as part of ‘yield targeting’).”

October 12, 2017

Perspective

Business Insider – Trump’s net approval rating has dropped dramatically in every state – Allan Smith 10/10

Brookings – White, still: The American upper middle class – Richard Reeves and Nathan Joo 10/4

Economist – A new study details the wealth hidden in tax havens 10/7

  • “…A new study by Annette Alstadsaeter, Niels Johannesen and Gabriel Zucman, three economists, (using Bank for International Settlements data) concludes that tax havens hoard wealth equivalent to about 10% of global GDP. This average masks big variations. Russian assets worth 50% of GDP are held offshore; countries such as Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates climb into the 60-70% range. Britain and continental Europe come in at 15%, but Scandinavia at only a few per cent.”
  • “One conclusion is that high tax rates, like those in Denmark or Sweden, do not drive people offshore. Rather, higher offshore wealth is correlated with factors such as political and economic instability and an abundance of natural resources.”
  • “Accounting for offshore holdings suggests wealth inequality is even greater than was thought. In Britain, France, and Spain the top 0.01% of households stash 30-40% of their wealth in tax havens. In Russia, most of it goes there. In America, the share of wealth held by the richest 0.01% is as high today as in early 20th-century Europe. Including offshore data increases the wealth share of the super-rich.”
  • “Yet plenty of data are still missing. A few big centers, including Panama and Singapore, still do not disclose these statistics. The BIS data also cover only bank deposits, not the securities in which most offshore wealth is held. Researchers made estimates to plug the gap, but their figures are likely to be conservative.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – How Israel Caught Russian Hackers Scouring the World for U.S. Secrets – Nicole Perlroth and Scott Shane 10/10

Economist – The bull market in everything – Leaders 10/7

Economist – A deathly silence: After the massacre in Las Vegas, nothing is set to change – Leaders 10/5

Economist – Politicians choosing voters: The Supreme Court ponders whether gerrymandering has gone too far 10/7

Economist – Chiang Kai-shek’s former homes are open to tourists 10/5

Markets / Economy

Economist – From Uber to kinder 10/7

Economist – American public pensions suffer from a gaping hole 10/5

  • “Schools in Pennsylvania ought to be celebrating. The state gave them a $125m budget increase for 2017-18—enough for plenty of extra books and equipment. But John Callahan of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association says all the increase and more will be eaten up by pension costs, which will rise by $164m this year. The same happened in each of the previous five years; cumulatively the shortfall adds up to $586m. The pupil-teacher ratio is higher than in 2010. Nearly 85% of the state’s school boards said pensions were their biggest source of budget pressure.”
  • “A similar squeeze is happening all over America. Sarah Anzia, at the University of California, Berkeley, examined 219 cities between 2005 and 2014 and found that the mean increase in their real pension costs was 69%; higher pension costs in those cities were associated with falls in public-sector employment and capital spending.”
  • “The problem is likely to get worse. Moody’s, a rating agency, puts the total shortfall of American public-sector pension plans at around $4trn. That gap does not have to be closed at once, but it does mean that contributions by employers (and hence taxpayers) will increase even more than they already have (see chart).”
  • “Higher costs are the result of improved longevity, poor investment returns and inadequate past contributions.”
  • As to making plans…
  • “Experts can differ, it seems. But small changes in assumptions can make a huge difference to the amount employers need to contribute. According to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, cutting the return assumption by a quarter of a percentage point increases the required contribution rate (as a proportion of payroll) by two to three points.”
  • “In consequence, it is in no one’s interest to make more realistic assumptions about future returns. Workers (and their unions) fear it might generate calls for their benefits to be cut; states worry it would require them to raise taxes. Don Boyd, the director of fiscal studies at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, a think-tank, reckons that with a 5% assumed rate of return, states would have to stump up an extra $120bn a year just to tread water—i.e., to fund their pensions without making any progress on closing the deficit. So the game of ‘extend and pretend’ continues.”
  • “As years go by, voters and legislators across the country will have to make a trade-off. They can pay more taxes and cut services; or they can reduce the benefits they pay people who teach their children, police their streets and rescue them from fires. There will be no easy answers.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – Home Refinancing 10/11

Health / Medicine

FT – Global childhood obesity rises 10-fold in 40 years – Clive Cookson 10/10

  • “The number of obese children and teenagers across the world has increased 10-fold over the past four decades and is about to overtake the number who are underweight, according to the most extensive analysis of body weight ever undertaken.”
  • “The study, led by Imperial College London and the World Health Organization, used data on 31.5m children and adolescents worldwide to estimate trends in body mass index (BMI) from 1975 to 2016. The results are published in the Lancet.” 
  • “Over this period the number of obese girls, aged 5 to 19, rose from 5m to 50m, while the total for boys increased from 6m to 74m.”
  • “The world’s highest childhood obesity levels are in the Pacific islands of Polynesia and Micronesia. Nauru has the highest prevalence for girls and the Cook Islands for boys: both above 33%.”
  • “Among wealthy countries, the US has the highest obesity rates for girls and boys of about 20%. Levels in most of western Europe are in the 7% to 10% range.” 
  • “A further 213m children are overweight but not sufficiently so to meet the WHO’s obesity criteria, which vary by age. Forty years ago, 0.8% of the world’s children were obese; now the prevalence is close to 7%.” 
  • “The study also looked at adult obesity, which increased from 100m people in 1975 to 671m in 2016. A further 1.3bn adults were overweight (with a BMI above 25) but below the threshold for obesity (BMI above 30).” 
  • “But the authors are most concerned about the findings about childhood obesity, because of their implications for public health many decades into the future.”

Construction

WSJ – Daily Shot: NFIB Labor Quality 10/10

  • “Anecdotal evidence suggests that in some areas of the country, finding workers who can pass a drug test has been challenging.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – Builder Labor Shortages 10/11

  • “Skilled (and drug-free) worker shortages in construction are especially acute.”

  • This will only get tighter in the continental U.S. as natural disasters continue to rack up, resulting in acute demand for labor in the affected areas. Harvey, Irma, Maria, Nate, and now wildfires in Northern California. Of course, this will have effects on the neighboring regional labor pools.

Shipping

Economist – How protectionism sank America’s entire merchant fleet 10/5

  • “In April 1956 the world’s first container ship—the Ideal X—set sail from New Jersey. A year later in Seattle the world’s first commercially successful airliner, Boeing’s 707, made its maiden flight. Both developments slashed the cost of moving cargo and people. Boeing still makes half the world’s airliners. But America’s shipping fleet, 17% of the global total in 1960, accounts for just 0.4% today.”
  • “Blame a 1920 law known as the Jones Act, which decrees that trade between domestic ports be carried by American-flagged and -built ships, at least 75% owned and crewed by American citizens. After Hurricane Irma, a shortage of Jones-Act ships led President Donald Trump on September 28th to waive the rules for ten days to resupply Puerto Rico. This fueled calls to repeal the law completely.”
  • Like most forms of protectionism, the Jones Act hits consumers hard. A lack of foreign competition drives up the cost of coastal transport. Building a cargo ship in America can cost five times as much as in China or Korea, says Basil Karatzas, a shipping consultant. And the cost of operating an American-flagged and -crewed vessel is double that of foreign ones, reckons America’s Department of Transportation.”
  • “Inflated sea-freight rates push most cargo onto lorries, trains and aircraft, even though these are pricier and produce up to 145 times as many carbon emissions. So whereas 40% of Europe’s domestic freight goes by sea, just 2% does in America. Lacking overland routes, Alaska, Guam, Hawaii and Puerto Rico are hardest hit. Hawaiian cattle ranchers, for instance, regularly fly their animals to mainland America. A recent report by the Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico found that the Jones Act inflated transport costs for imports to twice the level of nearby islands.”
  • “Jones-Act shipowners retort that the rules are to help producers, not consumers. Rail firms lobbied for the 1920 law, out of fear that an excess of foreign ships from the first world war was flooding the market. National security was also cited. German submarine warfare, it was argued, showed the need for a merchant fleet built and crewed by Americans. But the law has virtually wiped out American shipping. Between 2000 and 2016 the fleet of private-sector Jones-Act ships fell from 193 to 91. Britain binned its Jones-Act equivalent in 1849. Its fleet today has over three times the tonnage of America’s. Marc Levinson, an economic historian (and former journalist at The Economist ) notes that the laws also made American container lines less able to compete on international routes. Drawn by profits at home they underinvested in their foreign operations, and fell behind their foreign rivals because they lacked the same scale.”
  • “Recognizing the harm to their domestic fleets, countries from Australia to China are loosening the rules protecting their fleets. Not America.”

Africa

Economist – The birthplaces of African leaders receive an awful lot of aid 10/7

  • “Scholars have long had a hunch that Chinese aid could be more easily manipulated than the Western sort, which often comes with strings attached. A Chinese white paper in 2014 stated that the government would not impose any ‘political conditions’ on countries asking for help. The commerce ministry, China’s lead aid agency, says most projects are initiated by recipient states. This approach makes aid more vulnerable to misuse by local leaders, say critics.”
  • “In a working paper, the pundits show that China’s official transfers to a leader’s birth region nearly triple after he or she assumes power. Even when using a stricter definition of aid provided by the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, an increase of 75% was found. They got similar results when looking at the birthplaces of presidential spouses. Crucially, they found no such effect with aid doled out by the World Bank, their benchmark for Western assistance. ‘We believe Chinese aid is special,’ says Andreas Fuchs, a co-author of the study.”
  • “China’s approach to aid has other side-effects. In a paper released earlier this year, Diego Hernandez, an economist, showed that China’s rise as a development financier has increased competition between donors. This, in turn, has strengthened recipients’ bargaining power, says Mr Hernandez. Traditional donors have responded by lowering conditionality, or the number of strings attached to aid. Using data from 1980 to 2013, he finds that African countries have received 15% fewer conditions from the World Bank for every 1% increase in Chinese aid.”

October 11, 2017

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Spanish Empire at its Peak 10/10

  • “Since Monday was Columbus day, here is the size of the Spanish Empire at its peak (in 1790).”

WSJ – America’s Retailers Have a New Target Customer: The 26-Year-Old Millennial – Ellen Byron 10/9

VC – How Americans Differ by Age – Jeff Desjardins 10/10

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Teachable Moment – How To Make $5,300 In Commissions on a $43,000 Retirement Account – Anthony Isola 10/9

  • If you are a teacher or have family or friends that are teachers, you should read this. Make sure you’re or they’re not getting fleeced.

NYT – The N.F.L Draft: A Study in Cockeyed Overconfidence – David Leonhardt 4/25/05

  • A worthwhile look at the research that Richard Thaler and Cade Massey did regarding overconfidence.

The Irrelevant Investor – The Price of Progress – Michael Batnick 10/10

  • “The economic machine that we’ve built in the United States has done extraordinary things and I can’t wait to see what we come up with in the future. But what do we do when progress leaves so many behind?”

Markets / Economy

NYT – China Hastens the World Toward an Electric-Car Future – Keith Bradsher 10/9

Economist – American entrepreneurs have not lost their mojo 10/10

  • “Business formation is down, but fast-growing startups are in high gear.”

Energy

FT – Saudi Arabia curbs oil exports to combat glut – Anjli Raval 10/9

  • “Saudi Arabia is allocating fewer barrels of crude for export next month and at a level below current demand, emphasizing the effort by global producers to reduce surplus inventories.”
  • “In a rare statement, the Ministry of Energy on Monday said contracted demand for Saudi crude for November was 7.7m barrels a day, but the kingdom has assigned just 7.2m b/d for export.”
  • “The disclosure of Saudi Arabia’s monthly allocations emphasizes a new focus on foreign sales, alongside production, that Riyadh deems vital to the effort by global producers to reduce surplus inventories.”
  • “’It is very interesting they are now trying to communicate to the market about exports,’ said Olivier Jakob at consultancy Petromatrix. ‘They have gone the extra step of putting out numbers on this, which is the first I’ve ever seen.’”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Hedge Fund Research – Hedge Fund Fees 10/10

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 10/9

  • Bitcoin is rallying again.

WSJ – Daily Shot: Investing.com – Bitcoin Cash 10/10

  • “On the other hand, Bitcoin’s less fortunate twin called Bitcoin Cash has collapsed.”

India

FT – Modi’s pursuit of black money proves drag on India’s economy – Amy Kazmin 10/9

  • “For many Indians the powerful appeal of Narendra Modi, the prime minister, stemmed from his vows to tackle two issues of fierce public concern: the sluggish economy and entrenched corruption.”
  • “But India’s economy has faltered, with growth falling steadily since early 2016 to a three-year low of 5.7% in the second quarter of this year.”
  • “Now, some economists are suggesting Mr Modi’s two big goals are at odds, and that New Delhi’s zealous anti-corruption drive — which reached its apogee with a draconian cash ban — is sapping India’s economic momentum.”
  • “Though disruptive, demonetization failed to purge black money from the economy, because nearly 99 per cent of the cancelled bank notes were deposited or exchanged, rather than being furtively destroyed as forecast.”
  • “Now New Delhi is toughening its stance, with tax officials probing 1.8m individuals or businesses whose cash deposits after demonetization were out of sync with their past tax returns.”
  • “While the quest to unearth Indians’ illicit wealth remains politically popular, economists say it has come at a cost, souring business and consumer sentiment. It is considered one reason why private investment — which has driven past Indian booms — remains stubbornly flat.” 
  • “‘If you’ve got income tax authorities charged up and told to after black money, who is going to invest in a big way?’ said one economist who asked not to be identified given the issue’s sensitivity.”
  • “’The Chinese call this ‘the original sin’ problem,’ he added. ‘Every company has something buried in the past — a sin it has committed. If the government really wants to go after people, it can always find something.’”
  • “Demonetization severely disrupted the property market, previously a favorite parking place for black money and a big growth engine. Real estate prices and sales plunged and, though sales are picking up, there is a huge overhang of unsold inventory.”

Japan

NYT – Kobe Steel’s Falsified Data Is Another Blow to Japan’s Reputation – Jonathan Soble 10/10

  • “For decades, Japanese manufacturers of cars, aircraft and bullet trains have relied on Kobe Steel to provide raw materials for their products, making the steel maker a crucial, if largely invisible, pillar of the economy.”
  • “Now, Kobe Steel has acknowledged falsifying data about the quality of aluminum and copper it sold, setting off a scandal that is reverberating through Japan and beyond, and casting a new shadow over the country’s reputation for precision manufacturing, a mainstay of its economy.”
  • “Companies ranging from the automakers Toyota Motor and Honda Motor to aircraft companies like Boeing and Mitsubishi Heavy Industry said they were investigating the use of rolled aluminum and other materials from Kobe in their products. They also said they were trying to determine if substandard materials had been used in their products and, if so, whether they presented safety hazards.”
  • “Kobe Steel said on Sunday that employees at four of its factories had altered inspection certificates on aluminum and copper products from September 2016 to August this year. The changes, it said, made it look as if the products met manufacturing specifications required by customers — including for vital qualities like tensile strength — when they did not.”
  • “Kobe Steel added that it was examining other possible episodes of data falsification going back 10 years. It did not provide details about the size of the discrepancies it had discovered, making it difficult to immediately determine if they posed a safety threat.”
  • “Kobe Steel’s problem points to ‘a common organization issue,’ said Shin Ushijima, a lawyer who serves as president of the Japan Corporate Governance Network. He drew parallels between Kobe Steel and Takata and Mitsubishi, as well as with financial-reporting improprieties at Toshiba, which admitted to overstating profit in 2015.”
  • “’Boards aren’t doing their jobs,’ he said. ‘This isn’t an issue that can be solved by the president resigning. There needs to be wholesale change.’”
  • “He continued, ‘The Kobe Steel case is a test of whether we’ve learned anything from Toshiba and these other issues.’”

Mexico

FT – Mexicans hope earthquake will shake up corrupt system – Jude Webber 10/9

  • “There are disasters waiting to happen, says Eduardo Reinoso, a civil engineer who has studied compliance with building codes introduced after 1985. He blames not only corruption and incompetence but also a culture of impunity that has encouraged people to build or modify their homes without planning permission because of a belief they can get away with it.”
  • “As Gabriel Guerra, a former diplomat and government official, put it: ‘Our collective negligence and corruption is coming back to bite us where it hurts.’”

October 10, 2017

Perspective

Business Insider – Forget stealing data – these hackers broke into Amazon’s cloud to mine bitcoin – Becky Peterson 10/8

  • Hackers are seeking ways into corporate computers and cloud space to gain access to computing power in order to mine bitcoin.

NYT – Wall Street Firms Gambled on Puerto Rico. They’re Losing. – Matthew Goldstein 10/9

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – The Truth Is Catching Up With Tesla – Charley Grant 10/7

  • “CEO Elon Musk is a visionary, but there is a fine line between setting aggressive goals and misleading shareholders.”

FT – Tech’s fight for the upper hand on open data – Rana Foroohar 10/8

  • “What happens if big companies control who has access to the marketplace of ideas?”
  • “Whether your concern is anti-competitive business practices, or the preservation of free speech, one thing that we have to grapple with is that we are both the raw material and the end consumer of what is being sold online. We are the product.”

WSJ – Why Bitcoin’s Bubble Matters – Rob Curran 10/8

  • “Ask most people about the bitcoin bubble, and they’ll probably have the same reaction: It’s interesting, but it won’t affect me. After all, they’ll figure, they aren’t investing in bitcoin, so if there is a bubble, and it does burst, they’ll be just fine.”
  • “Well, maybe they should start worrying.”
  • “The market for cryptocurrencies—digital tokens used to transfer money between individuals’ computers with minimal fees—has grown in stature in recent years and is increasingly entwined with broader financial markets as well, a trend that is likely to continue. Bitcoin is now traded by some of the institutional investors around which bond and stock markets revolve.”
  • “As the bubble grows, analysts say, a crash has a greater chance of affecting investor sentiment about stocks, especially in the technology and financial sectors.”
  • “’Any product that blows up, there’s always collateral damage,’ says Joe Kinahan, chief market strategist at brokerage TD Ameritrade . Tech and financial ‘companies who are relying on it for business, and those who have put a significant investment into the [blockchain] infrastructure would be the first’ to suffer collateral damage, Mr. Kinahan says.”
  • “At around $150 billion, the market capitalization of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is up by a factor of roughly eight this year, according to the Cointelegraph website. If this growth rate continues, what’s now a relatively small part of global investible assets could become a significant one, says Lorenzo Di Mattia, manager of hedge fund Sibilla Global Fund and a student of the history of speculation. By next year, Mr. Di Mattia expects the bubble to have inflated to the point where a pop could send a shock wave through the stock market.”
  • “Give bitcoin its due: Most people in finance agree that bitcoin and the blockchain, the open-access ledger that underpins the currency, were great inventions; even as J.P. Morgan’s Mr. Dimon derides bitcoin as a ‘fraud,’ his bank is working on its own blockchain technology.”
  • “Clever as it is, however, bitcoin has shown no signs of replacing the dollar and other ‘fiat’ currencies.”
  • “Meanwhile, speculation in bitcoin—driven by hopes of its wider adoption—actually has diminished its usefulness as a means of exchange.”
  • So speculation for now.
  • Some that are exposed…“a crash in the price of leading cryptocurrencies would almost certainly hurt shares of Nvidia Corp., the chip maker that was the biggest percentage gainer on the S&P 500 in 2016, and its rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc., at least temporarily. Both companies have noted in their quarterly filings that cryptocurrency miners are a key source of demand for their graphic chips. Sales of chips to cryptocurrency sources represented 6.7% of Nvidia’s fiscal second-quarter revenue of $2.23 billion.”
  • Then there are those seeking to create an ETF in bitcoins (regulators haven’t agreed so far). If one does get through, there is quite a bit of institutional capital waiting.
  • Stay tuned.

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Central Banks Pull Back as Global Growth Picture Brightens – Josh Zumbrum 10/8

  • “Following the financial crisis from 2007-2009, the world’s big central banks had been net buyers of financial assets in global markets, expanding their portfolios of government bonds, mortgage debt and corporate securities by 1% to 3% of global economic output per year for much of the past six years.”
  • “Now that’s changing. The Bank of England announced in February it would mostly end its bond purchases, the Fed stopped buying bonds at the end of 2014 and announced in September it would move ahead with a plan to gradually shrink its holdings, and the European Central Bank is expected to announce at the end of October it will slow its pace of purchases.”
  • “All told, net purchases are on track to drop to 2.4% of global GDP by the end of this year, 0.8% of global GDP at the end of next year, and by mid-2019 the central banks of advanced economies will be shrinking, according to estimates by the Institute of International Finance, a Washington, D.C.-based organization which represents the global financial industry.”
  • “Interest rates are ticking up as well, another form of more restrictive monetary policy. The Federal Reserve has raised interest rates four times since 2015 and is expected to do so again in December. The Bank of Canada raised rates in July and September and could move again this year. Meantime the Reserve Bank of Australia and Bank of Korea are laying the groundwork for higher rates next year.”

Real Estate

CoStar – Washington Prime Turning Over Pair of Malls to Lenders; Will Buyback One – Mark Heschmeyer 10/5

  • “Washington Prime Group Inc. continued its portfolio re-construction agreeing to turn two malls over to lenders but with plans to buyback one of them. It also sold an additional mall and repaid the debt on a fourth.”
  • “Washington Prime agreed to transfer the Southern Hills Mall in Sioux City, IA, to the lender. Currently encumbered with the $99.7 million mortgage loan, it is currently anticipated that a wholly-owned affiliate of Washington Prime Group will repurchase the 571,465-square-foot property from the lender for $55 million or about $96/square foot. Washington Prime will recognize a $45 million in gain on debt extinguishment.
  • “The debt yield on the current mortgage loan is approximately 7.5% with a yield on the anticipated purchase of approximately 13.5%. The transaction is expected to close this month, subject to due diligence and customary closing conditions, the company said.”
  • “In note discussing the deal, analysts at Morgan Stanley Research said, ‘We agree that it a compelling way to reduce debt loads, but we wonder if the CMBS market will remain a viable lending alternative for lower productivity malls if it ultimately results in a ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ outcome in favor of the borrower.'”

Tech

Economist – Tech giants are building their own undersea fiber-optic networks 10/7

  • “On September 21st Microsoft and Facebook announced the completion of a 6,600km (4,100-mile) cable stretching from Virginia Beach, Virginia, to Bilbao, Spain. Dubbed Marea, Spanish for ‘tide’, the bundle of eight fiber-optic threads, roughly the size of a garden hose, is the highest-capacity connection across the Atlantic Ocean. It is capable of transferring 160 terabits of data every second, the equivalent of more than 5,000 high-resolution movies.”
  • “Such ultra-fast fiber networks are needed to keep up with the torrent of data flowing around the world. In 2016 international bandwidth usage reached 3,544 terabits per second, roughly double the figure in 2014. Firms such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft used to lease all of their international bandwidth from carriers such as BT or AT&T. Now they need so much network capacity to synchronize data across their networks of data centers around the world that it makes more sense to lay their own dedicated pipes.”
  • “This has led to a boom in new undersea cable systems. The Submarine Telecoms Forum, an industry body, reckons that 100,000km of submarine cable was laid in 2016, up from just 16,000km in 2015. TeleGeography, a market-research firm, predicts that $9.2bn will be spent on such cable projects between 2016 and 2018, five times as much as in the previous three years.”

Canada

WSJ – Daily Shot: Scotiabank – Home Price Indices – Repeat Sales 10/9

WSJ – Daily Shot: Scotiabank – Canadian Household Debt and Balance Sheets 10/9

WSJ – Daily Shot: Scotiabank – Canadian Home Equity & RE Assets 10/9

October 9, 2017

Perspective

NYT – Nothing Divides Voters Like Owning a Gun – Nate Cohn and Kevin Quealy 10/5

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – For Many on Puerto Rico, the Most Coveted Item is a Plane Ticket Out – Jack Healy and Luis Ferre-Sadurni 10/5

A Wealth of Common Sense – Good Advice vs. Effective Advice – Ben Carlson 10/5

WP – The troubling case of the young Japanese reporter who worked herself to death – Eli Rosenberg 10/5

WSJ – Income Investors: It’s OK to Be Sad, But Don’t Get Desperate – Jason Zweig 10/6

  • “Old bull markets don’t produce new ideas. They just produce new ways for investors to hurt themselves with old ideas.”
  • “With stocks at record highs and the income on bonds not far from record lows, circumstantial evidence suggests investors are getting restless — if not desperate.”
  • “Chasing ‘yield,’ or trying to get higher investment income, is one form of desperation. Last month, $1.6 billion in new money poured into exchange-traded funds holding high-yield corporate bonds, according to FactSet.”
  • “A recent survey of 750 individual investors by Natixis Global Asset Management found that they ‘need’ returns of 8.9%, after inflation, to reach their financial goals. In the same survey last year, investors said they needed a mere 8.5%. Since 1926, the return on U.S. stocks after inflation has averaged about 7% annually, according to Morningstar.”
  • “Such hankering for unrealistic returns can prompt investors to take imprudent risks. Just about any get-rich-quick story can look tempting.”
  • “This past week, an obscure Nasdaq-listed company called Bioptix, which had been licensing fertility hormones for cows, horses and pigs, announced that it was getting into the cryptocurrency business and changing its name to Riot Blockchain. The stock nearly doubled over its levels a week earlier.”
  • “This reminds market veterans of the dozens of companies that changed their names to include ‘Internet’ or ‘.com’ in 1998 and 1999. They outperformed comparable firms by an average of 53 percentage points in the five days surrounding the announcement of a name change, a study found in 2001.”
  • “Consider, too, Strategic Student & Senior Housing Trust, Inc., a firm in Ladera Ranch, Calif., looking to raise $1.1 billion to buy properties that serve college students and the elderly around the U.S.”
  • “Strategic’s prospectus for the offering, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Sept. 26, says the firm will seek to ‘provide regular cash distributions to our investors’ and to sell out, merge with another company or go public within three to five years.”
  • “In the meantime, public investors are being asked to pay up to $10.33 for shares that the company has been selling to a select group of private investors for $8.50. Commissions and fees can exceed 10%, depending on the class of shares.”
  • “Strategic, which commenced operations only on June 28, is a ‘blind pool,’ meaning that the firm hasn’t yet determined what it will invest the proceeds of the offering in. Investors thus can’t ascertain the quality of the assets their money will buy. Strategic’s prospectus also says: ‘There is currently no public market for our shares and there may never be one’.”
  • “At times like these, reaching for yield and taking bigger risks might pay off for a few speculators in the short run. Investors, however, should hoard their cash and remember that in the long run it doesn’t pay to chase returns greater than the markets can realistically provide.”

Bloomberg View – A Volatility Trap Is Inflating Market Bubbles – Alberto Gallo 10/5

FT – Puerto Rico’s recovery depends on debt forgiveness – Gillian Tett 10/5

  • “Either way, the saga should be a wake-up call to investors. Yes, hurricanes may be rare. But Puerto Rico is not the only arena in which asset managers have chased after high yields with scant regard for risk. Just look at emerging markets and the high yield corporate bond world. If the tragedy in Puerto Rico shakes investors out of their complacency, that would be a thoroughly good thing — and long overdue.”

Markets / Economy

Yahoo Finance – U.S. economy loses jobs in September for first time 2010 – Myles Udland 10/6

Bloomberg Businessweek – Warren Buffett and Truck Stops Are a Perfect Match – Tara Lachapelle 10/3

Energy

Bloomberg – Solar Grew Faster Than All Other Forms of Power for the First Time – Anna Hirtenstein 10/4

  • “Solar power grew faster than any other source of fuel for the first time in 2016, the International Energy Agency said in a report suggesting the technology will dominate renewables in the years ahead.”
  • “The institution established after the first major oil crisis in 1973 said 165 gigawatts of renewables were completed last year, which was two-thirds of the net expansion in electricity supply. Solar powered by photovoltaics, or PVs, grew by 50%, with almost half of new plants built in China.”
  • “The IEA expects about 1,000 gigawatts of renewables will be installed in the next five years, a milestone that coal only accomplished after 80 years. That quantity of electricity surpasses what’s consumed in China, India and Germany combined.”
  • “The surge of photovoltaics in China is largely due to government support for renewables, which are being demanded by a population concerned about air pollution and environmental degradation that has led to deadly smogs. The country is seeking to reduce its reliance on coal and has become the world’s largest market for renewables, particularly solar.”
  • “’The solar PV story is a Chinese story,’ said Paolo Frankl, head of the IEA’s renewable energy division. ‘China has been for a long time the leader in manufacturing. What’s new is the share in the market. This year, it was equivalent to the total installed capacity of PV in Germany.’”
  • “The U.S. and India are among other nations pushing renewables. They along with China are projected to make up two-thirds of the clean-energy expansion worldwide. Despite President Donald Trump’s vow to bolster coal’s position in the power market, the U.S. is expected to be the second-largest market for renewables.”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Evercore ISI – US Corporate Debt as Percentage of GDP 10/6

VC – The Trillion Dollar Club of Asset Managers – Jeff Desjardins 10/6

Health / Medicine

NYT – As Overdose Deaths Pile Up, a Medical Examiner Quits the Morgue – Katharine Q. Seeyle 10/7

Other Links

VC – U.S. Interstate Highways, as a Transit Map – Jeff Desjardins 10/6

October 6, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

NYT – Payday Lending Faces Tough New Restrictions by Consumer Agency 10/5

  • “A federal agency on Thursday imposed tough new restrictions on the so-called payday-lending industry, which churns out billions of dollars a year in high-interest loans to working-class and poor Americans.”
  • “The rules announced by the agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, clamp down on, and could largely eliminate, loans that are currently regulated by states and that critics say prey on the vulnerable by charging usurious fees and interest rates. The lenders argue that they provide financial lifelines to those in desperate need of short-term cash infusions.”
  • “The terms of a typical payday loan of $400 require that $460 be repaid two weeks later — the equivalent of an annual interest rate of more than 300%, far higher than what banks and credit cards charge for loans. Because most borrowers cannot repay their debts quickly, the loans are often rolled over, incurring more fees in the process.”
  • “Some 12 million people, many of whom lack other access to credit, take out the short-term loans each year, researchers estimate. Payday loans — so called because they are typically used to tide people over until their next paychecks — often entangle borrowers in hard-to-escape spirals of ever-growing debt, according to the consumer bureau.”
  • “The new rules limit how often, and how much, customers can borrow. The restrictions, which have been under development for more than three years, are fiercely opposed by those in the industry, who say the rules will force many of the nation’s nearly 18,000 payday lenders out of business.”
  • “Until now, payday lending has been regulated by states, with 15 already having made the loans effectively illegal. In more than 30 other states, though, the short-term loan market is thriving. The United States now has more payday loan stores than McDonald’s outlets. They make around $46 billion a year in loans, collecting $7 billion in fees.”
  • “The payday-lending rules do not require congressional approval. Congress could overturn the rules using the Congressional Review Act, which gives lawmakers 60 legislative days to nullify new regulations, but political analysts think that Republicans will struggle to get the votes needed to strike down the regulations.”
  • “Under the new rules, lenders will be allowed to make a single loan of up to $500 with few restrictions, but only to borrowers with no other outstanding payday loans. For larger or more frequent loans, lenders will have to follow a complex set of underwriting rules intended to ensure that customers have the means to repay what they borrow.”
  • “The restrictions would radically alter the short-term lending market. The number of loans made would likely fall at least 55%, according to the consumer agency’s projections.”
  • “That would push many small lending operations out of business, lenders say. The $37,000 annual profit generated by the average storefront lender would instead become a $28,000 loss, according to an economic study paid for by an industry trade association.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg Businessweek – Fighting the Toxic Nightmare Next Door – Susan Berfield 9/28

  • “A radiation-riddled landfill in St. Louis, Trump’s EPA, and two moms who won’t let it go.”

NYT – Thoughts and Prayers and N.R.A. Funding – David Leonhardt, Ian Prasad Philbrick, and Stuart A. Thompson 10/4

FT – The price of paid news may not stay high – John Gapper 10/3

  • “Google could soon bundle information like a cable television company.”

FT – Lloyds and the HBOS time bomb – Jonathan Ford 10/4

  • “When Lloyds took over its rival bank in 2009, it also inherited the legacy of massive fraud. Its response? To dismiss the victims and any evidence of wrongdoing.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Businessweek – Springsteen Tickets Hit $10,000, and Wall Street Gets Scalped – Laura J Keller, Eben Novy-Williams, Bob Van Voris, and Katherine Burton 9/25

Health / Medicine

Vox – I was skeptical that the anti-vaccine movement was gaining traction. Not anymore. – Julia Belluz 10/3

  • Texas K-12 nonmedical exemptions.

Entertainment

Bloomberg Businessweek – Hollywood Is Scrambling to Replace Chinese Funding – Anousha Sakoui 9/26

  • “In the past six months, Hollywood has seen film financing deals worth more than $1 billion unravel as Chinese investors and some hedge funds move away from funding movies.”

China

Bloomberg Businessweek – China Unleashes Its Farmers – Kevin Hamlin, Dexter Roberts, and Pi Xiaoqing 9/26

  • “To boost the earnings of China’s 230 million rural households, Beijing is rolling out reforms that allows farmers to profit from their land, even while barring private ownership.”

Europe

FT – Spain courts suspend planned Catalonia parliament session – Michael Stothard 10/5

  • “The Spanish courts have ordered the temporary suspension of a special session of Catalonia’s parliament scheduled for next Monday where regional officials were expected to vote on making a unilateral declaration of independence.”
  • “While the session may still happen in defiance of the courts, the move highlights how Madrid is doing everything in its power to prevent the region from making formal its promises to break away from Spain following Sunday’s referendum.”
  • “If independence is declared on Monday, Spanish prime minster Mariano Rajoy will likely be forced to resort to the so called ‘nuclear option’ of using article 155 of the constitution, which allows them to suspend the region’s autonomy and remove officials from office.”
  • “Mr Rajoy has so far been reluctant to use this powerful device, despite pressure by hawkish members of his own party. On Thursday, however, he promised ‘greater evils’ on the Catalan government if they go ahead with declaring independence.”

Japan

WSJ – Daily Shot: Deutsche Bank Bank of Japan Ownership of Japanese ETF Market 10/5