September 16 – September 22, 2016

Chinese corporate debt…geez…Someone’s going to have to take a haircut. US pension crisis.

Headlines

Briefs

    • A recent study that was published in Environmental Research Letters, a top academic journal, indicated that the “toxic haze that spread across Southeast Asia from Indonesia forest fires last year caused the deaths of about 100,000 people across the region.”
    • “The death toll was concentrated in Indonesia, which had about 92,000 excess deaths from persistent haze that choked the region between July and October, according to researchers at Harvard and Columbia.”
    • “What the BIS (Bank for International Settlements) terms the country’s ‘credit gap’ is now three times higher than the typical danger level, the research shows.”
    • “The BIS rates a reading above 10% as cause for concern; China’s gap hit 30.1% in March.”
    • FT_China 'credit gap'_9-18-16
    • “The International Monetary Fund estimated in June that Chinese companies that had borrowed a collective $1.3tn did not have enough earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization to meet interest payments.”
    • “China first breached the 10% threshold in 2009 and has not yet experienced a crisis. Many analysts believe that the country’s low level of foreign currency debt and its government-controlled banking system make crisis less likely.”
    • “China Debt Default? To alleviate its debt problem, China should adopt appropriate macro-economic policies encompassing currency depreciation and cutting interest rates to an ultra-low-level within two to three years, believe Nomura analysts. Yang Zhao and team said in their September 14 research piece titled “China: Solving the debt problem” that they believe RMB depreciation will continue and forecast USD/CNH at 7.1 at the end of 2017.”
    • ValueWalk_China Leverage Ratio_9-14-16
  • Hudson Lockett of the Financial Times illustrated the scale of potential shadow finance losses that lurk in China.
    • “Losses from bad debt in China’s shadow financing sector could amount to 3.7% of GDP, according to a new analysis of off-the-books lending and investment.”
    • “The new report from CLSA also estimates shadow financing in China grew to Rmb54tn ($8.1tn) by the end of 2015 – equivalent to 79% of gross domestic product, with 64% of the total originating at or relating to mainland banks.”
    • “The firm also reiterated its May estimate for Chinese banks’ non-performing loan ratio of 15%, or Rmb11.4tn, assuming the same recovery ratio of 40%, which would entail potential losses of 10% of GDP. The total losses when combined with those from bad debt in shadow financing would come to 13.7% of GDP.”
    • FT_China full financing_9-19-16
  • Takashi Nakamichi and Rachel Rosenthal of the Wall Street Journal discussed the Bank of Japan’s recent bond-rate target in its policy revamp.
    • “The Japanese central bank, which has struggled for nearly two decades to bring about steady inflation, said Wednesday it wants to keep the yield on 10-year Japanese government bonds at zero, and will adjust the pace of its bond buying as needed to achieve that.”
    • “The long-term-rate target, the first in the BOJ’s century long history, challenged conventional wisdom that rates in the huge government-bond market are ultimately set by market forces and can’t be fully controlled by an official entity. Central banks are usually assumed to have much more control over short-term rates, and many around the world target rates for debt with a term of less than a year.”
    • “One worry: ‘In theory, they could be forced to buy an unlimited amount of bonds,’ said Marcel Thieliant, Japan economist at research firm Capital Economics in Singapore.”
    • “Mr. Kuroda called the new policy a ‘reinforcement’ of easing. The BOJ also took the unexpected step of saying it would aim for inflation to exceed 2% instead of merely hitting it, a nod to calls from some U.S. economists for a higher target.”
  • Peter Wells of the Financial Times highlighted that the universe of negative-yielding sovereign debt just fell to $10.9tn.
    • “The universe of negative-yielding sovereign debt fell to $10.9tn as of September 12, a drop of $1tn since June 27 largely due to yields on some longer-dated maturities moving back into positive territory, according to a new report from Fitch Ratings.”
    • “Of the countries afflicted by negative yields, Switzerland has 95% of its outstanding debt trading with a yield below zero.”
    • “Fitch also calculates that as a result of low and negative yields, investment income for sovereign investors globally are ‘prospectively earning nearly $500 billion less annually in investment income than they would have earned with yields available in 2011.’ The investment-grade sovereign debt market is $38bn.”
    • FT_Negative-yielding sovereign debt_9-21-16

Special Reports / Opinion Pieces

Graphics

WSJ – Japan’s Central Bank Splits Over Easing Program – Takashi Nakamichi 9/15

wsj_japans-central-bank-running-out-of-ammo_9-15-16

Bloomberg – Money Is Pouring Into Property Deals Banks Won’t Touch – Sarah Mulholland and Heather Perlberg 9/18

Bloomberg_Nonbank RE lending_9-18-16

Economist – Chinese investment: A sponge wrung dry 9/17

Economist_China fixed asset investment_9-17-16

WSJ – China Capital Outflows Bubbles Below the Surface – Anjani Trivedi 9/20

wsj_china-capital-outflows_9-20-16

FT – Bond bubble brings with it an odor of rotting fish – Robin Wigglesworth 9/20

FT_Government bond yields_9-20-16

Bloomberg – Not for Sale: The Best Land in America 9/8

Bloomberg_Ability to buy house lots not so good_9-8-16

FT – China local governments revive off-budget fiscal stimulus – Gabriel Wildau 9/20

FT_China off-budget Local gov't debt_9-20-16

Featured

*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.

Who’s next? The science of Chinese corporate defaults. James Kynge. Financial Times. 18 Sep. 2016.

A total of 41 default cases have hit China’s domestic debt markets in the year to mid-September, more than the previous two years combined, according to Wind Information, a Shanghai-based financial data company. Some 70% of defaults by end-July were by state-owned enterprises, according to IHS, a consultancy.”

“The big picture behind China’s local government debt problem is stark. The liabilities of well over 100,000 companies problem is stark. The liabilities of well over 100,000 companies owned by local governments across the country grew at an average annual rate of 14.1% from 2012 to 2015 to reach Rmb35.4tn ($5.3tn), according to Moody’s research.”

FT_China locally owned SOE debts_9-18-16

“These are treated as contingent liabilities – or potential liabilities – because although local governments do not guarantee the debts of their corporate subsidiaries, they nevertheless are responsible for generating local economic growth, employment and public services so they would be loath to let an important contributor to such goals go under.”

“But in recent years, some local governments have built up such hefty debt burdens that even if they would like to bail out an important local employer, they may not be able to. Total direct local government debt, according to Moody’s, was Rmb16tn in 2015. Thus direct and contingent liabilities come to Rmb51tn – more than the GDPs of Japan and Germany combined.”

FT_China locally owned SOE debts balances_9-18-16

As to which companies to let default… “Nicholas Zhu, vice-president at Moody’s, describes a clear hierarchy of debt vulnerability. The most likely to default would be lossmaking, indebted companies owned by lower-tier governments – at the prefectural, city or county level – that have little revenue and large debts. The problem, however, with lower-tier administrations is that they often publish sparse statistics, so it is difficult to know the true state of their financial health.”

Nomura First Major Bank To Predict China Default Calculates Total debt to GDP at 309%; BIS Sounds The Alarm. Mark Melin. ValueWalk. 18 Sep. 2016.

“Nomura, which estimates China’s total debt – government and corporate debt – is Rmb211.8 trillion or 309% of GDP. The vast majority of this debt is corporate, which from a leverage perspective looks better. Non-financial sector accounted for Rmb158.5tn (231% of GDP, up by 92pp from 2007) and the financial sector for Rmb53.3tn (78% of GDP, up by 49pp).”

ValueWalk_China total debt-to-GDP_9-18-16

“The debt is up nearly 141% since 2007, which leads Nomura to conclude “a rising default rate is inevitable.”

ValueWalk_China debt-to-GDP options_9-18-16

“What this all means is that interest rates are likely to head near zero – the place at which such defaults can find their most advantageous environments. And of course, when interest rates fall, so, too, does the currency values. In the end, it is likely to become one big mess that might have global implications.”

ValueWalk_China debt warning signs_9-18-16

US building up to pension crisis. Robin Wigglesworth and Barney Jopson. Financial Times. 20 Sep. 2016.

“The number are severe. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, nearly 40m working-age households – 45% of the total – had no retirement savings whatsoever in 2013, whether an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan or an individual retirement account (IRA).”

“If you look for the black hole in the pension system, this is it. And these are the most vulnerable people in society.” – David Hunt, chief executive of PGIM, Prudential Financial’s asset management arm.

“Indeed, while younger people are less likely to have some sort of a retirement nest egg than older Americans, the biggest factor is income. Households with a retirement account have a median income of $86,235, while those without one have a median income of $35,509, according to the NIRS.”

FT_US retirement savings by age_9-20-16

“We have a crisis unfolding here. We’re asking people to set aside precious resources they don’t have… For millions and millions of Americans, the only thing they’ll have is Social Security.” – Russ Kamp, a pensions consultant

Social Security “together with the Supplemental Security Income program account for over 90% of the income for the bottom quarter of retirees, according to the NIRS.”

FT_US household retirement savings_9-20-16

“But Social Security’s future is as uncertain as it is politically divisive. When it was set up, retirees would only have to be supported for less than 13 years on average. These days the average American can expect to draw Social Security for almost two decades, and unlike traditional public sector pension plans, it operates on a pay-as-you-go basis.”

“Citi estimated earlier this year that the unfunded liabilities were over $10tn.”

Other Interesting Articles

Bloomberg Businessweek

The Economist

Civil Beat – Kirstin Downey: Here’s What Hawaii’s Housing Crisis Looks Like 9/22

Contra Corner – Another Way of Looking at Household Income Shows Virtually No Gain 9/22

FT- Libor as a real alternative with money market rates at 2009 level 9/18

FT – China’s addiction to debt threatens the economy 9/19

FT – Monte dei Paschi shares drop below 20 cents as recapitalization stalls 9/20

InvestmentNews – Top hedge fund (Robert Citrone) forecasts biggest market correction since 2008 9/21

NYT – A Trump Empire Built on Inside Connections and $885 Million in Tax Breaks 9/17

WSJ – The Market Gets Caught in a Squeeze Play 9/18

WSJ – Why Global Rule Makers See Risks in European Banks 9/19

WSJ – The China Box-Office Boom That Wasn’t 9/20

WSJ – Bank of Japan Makes Yield Curve Maneuvers in the Dark 9/21

 

September 9 – September 15, 2016

It appears there is no “too big to fail” in South Korea. US inflation coming only from a few unproductive sectors. China’s credit hose targeted at housing.

Headlines

Briefs

    • “Yields on “junk”-rated euro-denominated debt hit a record low of 3.35% last week.”
    • “Traditional signals of risk aren’t as reliable as they might be in markets that have been so distorted by central-bank policies.”
    • “Take the developments in junk bonds. Ultralow yields and issuance of PIK (payment-in-kind) notes might usually suggest a market that is too bullish for its own good. Demand was so strong for Schaeffler’s (bearings maker) sale that it was able to sell 3.6 billion of debt in euros and dollars, versus an originally planned 2.5 billion; in the process it refinanced debt that carried rates ranging from 5.75% to 6.875% with notes paying from 2.75% to 4.75%. Moreover, it Ardagh’s (packaging group) case, some of the proceeds were used to pay a dividend to shareholders, another sign that borrowers have the upper hand.”
    • “Retail sales in Hong Kong fell by 10% in the first seven months of the year, compared with the same period in 2015, with purchases of jewelry and watches declining by 22%.”
    • “‘Our customer flow has dropped 60-70%’ since the peak of Chinese luxury spending in 2013, says manager (Kingdom Jewelry) Jacky Sze. ‘I don’t have much hope for the rest of this year, or next.'”
    • First there was the failed coup d’etat on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now there is the purge of detractors and then sum…
    • For those not familiar, the coup is being blamed on the Gulen community, aka the cemaat, an Islamist sect that promotes an interchange/dialogue with science.  The imam that founded the movement is Fethullah Gulen who now lives in Pennsylvania.
    • Over 100,000 Gulen sympathizers have been rounded up so far.
    • “According to one minister, the state has seized more than $4 billion-worth of Gulenist assets.”
    • And following on the maxim to ‘never waste a good crisis.’ President Erdogan is also targeting Kurdish minorities.
    • However, for a little bit of context, the “secular Turks (of which President Erdogan is one) have no love for the Gulenist, who targeted them in their own purges in the 2000s.”
  • Also in the Economist was a piece on how shipping profits are going overboard.
    • “Of the biggest 12 shipping companies that have published results for the past quarter, 11 have announced huge losses. Several weaker outfits are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.”
    • “The industry could lose as much as $10 billion this year on revenues of $170 billion, reckons Drewry, a consultancy.”
    • Essentially, two primary forces are at play 1) world trade is down/slowing and many multinationals are creating manufacturing operations near their customers, and 2) there is overcapacity in the industry from the recent commodity boom.
    • As a result, “sending a container from Shanghai to Europe now costs half of what it did in 2014.”

Special Reports / Opinion Pieces

  • FT – The twisted logic of negative interest rates – John Kay 9/9
    • “All told, the primary effect of monetary policy since 2008 has been to transfer wealth to those who already hold long-term assets – both real and financial – from those who now never will. This week’s debt sale reinforces this. Henkel and Sanofi are not borrowing at negative interest rates to invest in new productive facilities. Both companies have large cash piles, and the cash generated from their operations far exceeds their investment needs.”
  • FT – Mongolia: Living from loan to loan – Lucy Hornby 9/12
    • “Mongolia was a darling among emerging markets during the commodities boom. Foreign miners flocked to exploit the mineral wealth under its grasslands and deserts, pushing up growth in gross domestic product by 17% in 2011. But after a debt-fueled spending spree at the peak of the cycle, the landlocked country is now one of the worst hit by the downturn.”
    • “Mongolia’s efforts to extricate itself highlight the dangers of the ‘resource curse’ – the notion that countries blessed with tremendous natural resources find themselves at the mercy of wealth-destroying boom-bust cycles.”

Graphics

FT – Air pollution deaths cost global economy $5tn annually – Shawn Donnan 9/8

FT_Welfare losses from air pollution_9-8-16

Bloomberg – San Francisco Housing Frenzy Shifts Across the Bay to Oakland – Alison Vekshin 8/22

Bloomberg_Oakland in demand_8-22-16

WSJ – Paradise Lost: Why the Good Times Are Over for Global Bonds – Richard Barley 9/14

wsj_ten-year-government-bond-yields_9-14-16

FT – Vantage to break famine for energy IPOs – Eric Platt and Ed Crooks 9/14

FT_Surge of equity sales by US oil and gas cos_9-14-16

Featured

*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.

Seoul signals tougher stance with Hanjin demise. Song Jung-a. Financial Times. 11 Sep. 2016.

“Hanjin’s move to seek bankruptcy protection last month was the first time a big container shipping line had done so for 30 years, and it caught out many in the industry. As recently as a couple of months ago, shipping executives considered the failure of Hanjin Shipping – the world’s seventh-largest container line and South Korea’s largest – unthinkable.”

“Hanjin Shipping and its rival Hyundai Merchant Marine handled the bulk of South Korea’s exports, which account for more than half of the country’s $1.4tn economy.”

“Until now, Seoul has spent decades keeping lossmaking companies afloat with cheap state loans. In the case of its embattled shipbuilders, it has injected billions of dollars, despite next to no progress in turning them around.”

“How Seoul ultimately handles Hanjin Shipping’s collapse will set the tone for future restructuring of Korea Inc.”

“Many of the country’s smokestack industries – including steel, chemicals and construction – are similarly suffering from overcapacity.”

“The government has set up the principle that it will no longer support ailing companies with taxpayers’ money just because they are too big.” – Yoo Il-ho, South Korea’s finance minister

Alphaville – Least productive sectors only thing keeping inflation going. Matthew C. Klein. Financial Times. 12 Sep. 2016.

Since 1990 “…the bulk of the growth in employment can be attributed to a few sectors where productivity is either low or unmeasurable, a whopping 88% of the total rise in the price level boils down to four sectors of the US economy.”

1) Healthcare services, 2) Housing, 3) Education, and 4) Prescription drugs

FT_Where all the inflation came from_9-12-16

“In January 1990, those four product categories only accounted for 30% of the money spent on consumption by the average American.”

And within education the main culprit has been the textbook.  Akin to prescription drugs, supply in both industries is tightly controlled by regulation.

“By contrast, thanks to astounding technological innovation, television prices have plunged at an average rate of 12% each year since 1990 and computer prices have fallen more than 18% per year.”

“In general, the prices of durable goods are about a third lower now than in 1990, while the prices of nondurable goods excluding commodity products (food, drinks, and fuel, which tend to rise at the same rate as the broader price level over time) and excluding prescription drugs, have also fallen, albeit not by as much. Inflation outside of healthcare and education has generally been modest, with the notable exception of a few small professional services such as tax preparation, lawyers, and funeral homes.”

China’s Credit Fire Hose Floods Housing Market. Anjani Trivedi. Wall Street Journal. 15 Sep. 2016.

“More than 70% of new loans in August were to households, much of that in the form of mortgages, going by historical averages, a remarkable shifting of the fire hose of credit. It also helps explain why China’s property market has raced higher despite broader economic worries.”

“China’s stock of mortgages stood at 16.9 trillion yuan ($2.5 trillion) as of June 30. Almost a quarter of that was built up in just the past year, according to ANZ. Mortgage loans outstanding now account for 18% of total loans, the highest since at least 2008.”

wsj_chinas-credit-fire-hose-floods-housing-market_9-15-16

“Local regulators are imposing clampdowns on mortgage lending and property speculation in the hottest cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen. They are right to do so, as this leg of China’s multi-decade property bubble is clearly being fueled by leverage in a way that it wasn’t in the past.”

Other Interesting Articles

Bloomberg Businessweek

The Economist

Bloomberg – How Big Sugar Enlisted Harvard Scientist to Influence How We Eat – in 1965 9/12

Bloomberg – What’s Wrong With America’s Dream of City Living 9/14

Economist – Why does Thailand keep changing its constitution? 9/12

FT – When will the ECB run out of bonds to buy? 9/8

FT – China infrastructure investment model under fire 9/10

FT – Twitter and tech: hardly working 9/11

FT – What investors should know about R star 9/11

FT – Oil market braces for Kashagan field’s October debut 9/12

FT – The Swiss and negative rates: how is the experiment going? 9/12

FT – Philippines pivots away from the US 9/13

FT – Japan opens door to temporary foreign workers 9/13

FT – Manias make markets dance to a different tune 9/13

FT – Mythbusting Uber’s valuation 9/13

FT – China retail: shops will drop 9/14

Trepp – Non-Traded REITs on slowest capital-raising pace in 12 years 9/9

WSJ – Bank of Japan Has Enlarged Target in Corporate Bonds 9/12

Yahoo Finance – The internet is creating a demographic ‘seismic shift’ that is too big to ignore 9/12

Yahoo Finance – Billionaire Paul Singer warns of the ‘biggest bubble in the world’ 9/13

 

September 2 – September 8, 2016

Whoa, that’s a lot of corporate debt… So, who is going to pay for China’s corporate debt balance? High Yield Bond Market decoupling from reality.

Headlines

Briefs

    • “The ‘Japanization’ of the global economy marked by transition to low growth and low inflation has started to attract investor attention as a phenomenon in recent years. There has been scarcely any nominal GDP growth over the past 20 years in the Japanese economy.” – Daiju Aoki, analyst at UBS Japan
    • “Demographics are triggering the lack of GDP growth. As a society ages, its population becomes more dependent on government services and less productive in terms of generating goods and services.”
    • Japan’s peak worker to dependent ratio was in 1990.
    • ValueWalk_UBS working-age population ratio_9-2-16
    • “Mr. Kuroda, governor of the BoJ since 2013, claimed the central bank’s policies ‘have contributed significantly to the positive turnaround in Japan’s economy’ and said there was no chance of reducing the level of monetary accommodation.”
    • “‘It is often argued that there is a limit to monetary easing but I do not share such a view,’ Mr. Kuroda told an audience in Tokyo. He said there was ample room for the BoJ to buy more government bonds, to cut interest rates further, or to buy other assets such as corporate bonds, equity and real estate funds.”
    • “Yet despite the high level of monetary stimulus, the latest date show a 0.4% fall in the consumer price index compared with a year ago, and a slowdown in inflation even excluding volatile food and energy prices.”
    • FT_Japan core inflation rate_9-4-16
    • “Mr. Kuroda argued that the failure to hit 2% inflation so far is because of three shocks: falling oil prices since summer 2014, weakness in demand after raising Japan’s consumption tax in April 2014, and a slowdown in emerging markets from summer 2015.”
    • “Given that, said Mr. Kuroda, ‘it is imperative for the Bank firmly to maintain its commitment to achieving the price stability target of 2% at the earliest possible time.”
    • “Please don’t buy so many bonds, Mr. Central Banker. It is rapidly becoming a case of ‘too much of a good thing’.” – Hans Lorenzen, credit strategist at Citi Research
    • FT_Citi - Central bank balance sheets_9-5-16
    • Private investors are being crowed out…
    • FT_Citi - Private investors being crowded out_9-5-16
    • And markets are being driven by macroeconomic policies more and more…
    • FT_Citi - Macro driven markets_9-5-16
  • Brian Blackstone and Tom Fairless of the Wall Street Journal posed the question: Could the European Central Bank start buying stocks?
    • As the European Central Bank (ECB) is running up against its self-imposed limits on how much of a country’s debt it can hold and since there simply aren’t enough bonds they can buy that qualify under their guidelines, the ECB is contemplating buying European equities.
    • “Some central banks already invest in equities. Switzerland’s central bank has accumulated over $100 billion worth of stocks, including large holdings in blue-chip U.S. companies such as Apple and Coca-Cola.”
    • The Bank of Japan holds ¥10.182 trillion (approx. $98 billion) of “individual stocks and exchange-traded funds as of Aug. 20, in terms of book value.”
    • Though “economists have been split over the costs and benefits. Some say that Japan’s capital market can no longer accurately price the value of stocks; too much BOJ money has flown into some specific companies. Others say it has helped prop up share prices, thus producing ‘wealth effects’ to help the economy fight deflation.”
    • Interesting times.
    • “Since Hanjin Shipping Co. of South Korea filed for bankruptcy protection there last week, dozens of ships carrying more than half a million cargo containers have been denied access to ports around the world because of uncertainty about who would pay docking fees, container-storage and unloading bills. Some of those ships have been seized by the company’s creditors.”
    • According to Lars Jensen, chief executive of SeaIntelligence Consulting in Copenhagen, “43 Hanjin ships are en route to scheduled destinations with no guarantees that they will be allowed to unload. An additional 39 are circling or anchored outside ports. Eight ships have been seized by creditors.”
    • WSJ_Hanjin shipping containers_9-7-16
    • All told about $14 billion worth of cargo is stranded at sea with the crews running short on rations…

Special Reports / Opinion Pieces

Graphics

Fidelity – Five scenarios for stocks – Jurrien Timmer 8/25

Fidelity_Five scenarios for stocks_8-25-16

FT – Emerging markets on track to set sovereign debt record – Elaine Moore 9/4

FT_Emerging market sovereign bond issuance_9-4-16

FT – Brazil hopes gambling will reverse its fortunes – Samantha Pearson 9/5

FT_Gambling losses per resident_9-5-16

WSJ – Now Companies Are Getting Paid to Borrow – Christopher Whittall 9/6

WSJ_European investment grade corporate debt_9-6-16

FT – Why emerging market bonds are not the answer for the yield-starved – Jonathan Wheatley 9/6

FT_Emerging market sovereign debt yields_9-6-16

FT_Amount of tradable external debt_9-6-16

FT – Inflation-linked gilt returns have gone through the roof – Joel Lewin 9/6

FT_Inflation-linked gilt returns_9-6-16

FT – Three things that could derail the eurozone’s recovery – Mehreen Khan 9/7

FT_Probability of US recession_9-7-16

Featured

*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.

China: the former EM darling. James Kynge. Financial Times. 1 Sep. 2016.

“For most of the last 15 years, China was a darling for emerging market investors as its demand for commodities lifted the economic fortunes of countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. But now, as China struggles with the hangover from its debt-fueled boom, fund managers are increasingly shunning Asia’s giant.”

“The main deterrent is China’s corporate debt. Although this issue has been well-flagged in recent years, disquiet over its size and sustainability is deepening. A recent report by S&P Global Ratings, the rating agency, estimates that China’s total outstanding corporate debt in 2015 was $17.8tn, or 171% of GDP, making China’s corporate debt mountain by far the world’s largest in both absolute and relative terms.”

“Not only is the ratio of Chinese company debt to GDP more than double that in the US and eurozone, it is projected to grow far more quickly as an increasing number of heavily-indebted corporations ramp up their borrowing simply to repay debts that are coming due. By 2020, China’s outstanding corporate debt will be $32.6tn, while its share of global company borrowings will have risen to 43% from 35% last year, according to S&P estimates.”

FT_Chinese companies carry the riskiest debt load_9-1-16

“The S&P report estimates that $13.4tn, or nearly half, of total credit demand in China by 2020 will be for refinancing purposes.”

FT_Chinese company debt_9-1-16

While there are many differences of opinion as to how this shakes out, with either a major meltdown or some internal growing pains (and everything in between), we shall see.  Either way, keep an eye on this one.

Does It Matter If China Cleans Up Its Banks? Michael Pettis. Mauldin Economics. 31 Aug. 2016.

This article really follows the one above and I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

Let me try and paraphrase: imagine you’re a new company and you want to take on debt to help you grow the business. Okay, sounds good and it works.  The additional debt allows you to buy assets that help you to become more productive and hence grow sales/profits faster than the amount of debt and its associated servicing costs.  Boom, you’re a hero and making lots of money.

So you do this some more and some more and some more. Eventually, your rate of productivity slows for every piece of debt you take on.  Oh and did I mention that because you’ve been rolling over the debt to really juice growth, now your debt balance is quite a bit bigger than your total sales.

Fortunately, your cost of debt is low and you can keep on operating, but your lender is no longer willing to extend you credit, so you start talking to your suppliers to provide you with “credit-like” loans – meaning, hey why don’t you front me some money to buy more products from you and I’ll pay you back once I sell the goods to my customers.

Okay, this keeps on working, but eventually you’re running out of good options so you start looking for your highest possible rate of return projects regardless of the risk… ‘Come on lucky number 7.’

Oh and as to the debt, well, you’ve accumulated so much of it that it has become the lender’s problem and it’s such a big problem that it’s also their depositors’ problem (your mom and pop savers).

So what do you do and who is going to take the ‘haircut’…

The High Yield Bond Market Has Never Been This Decoupled From Reality. Tyler Durden (alias). Zero Hedge. 3 Sep. 2016.

From JPMorgan’s Peter Acciavatti: “Recovery rates in 2016 are extremely low… for high-yield bonds, the recovery rate YTD is 10.3% (10.5% senior secured and 0.5% senior subordinate), which is well below the 25-year annual average of 41.4%… As for loans, recovery rates for first-lien loans thus far in 2016 are 24.5%, compared with their 18-year annual average of 67.2%.”

Zero Hedge_JPM - High-yield bond recovery rate_9-3-16

From Edward Altman of NYU’s Stern School of Business: “Our approach to recovery rates is not centered on sectors. What we’ve looked at carefully over 25 years is the correlation between default rates and recovery rates. As you would expect, when the former rise to high or above-average levels, you always observe the latter dropping to below-average levels. This strong inverse relationship is as much a function of supply and demand as it is of company fundamentals. So if we are expecting a higher default rate in 2016 and even 2017, then we would expect a lower recovery rate. Already in 2015, the recovery rate dropped dramatically relative to 2014 even though the default rate was below average; we saw a 33-34% recovery rate versus the historical average of 45%, measured as the price just after default.”

Zero Hedge_High Yield Recovery Rate and Pricing_9-3-16

“In the 30-year life of the so-called junk bond market, the chasm between reality and central-planner-created markets has never been wider.”

Bottom line, despite being able to collect less and less on defaulting debt (meaning you would ordinarily be less eager to buy more high yield debt or at least want greater compensation for the risk), pricing for high yield debt continues to rise…

Other Interesting Articles

Bloomberg Businessweek

The Economist

Bloomberg – Another Sign Manhattan Real Estate Is Feeling the Pain 8/31

Bloomberg – Saudi Arabia Said to Weigh Canceling $20 Billion of Projects 9/6

CoStar – Blackstone’s New Non-Traded REIT Begins Selling Shares 9/7

Economist – That 2008 comparison (again) 9/6

FT – Pension solution lies in long-term thinking 8/30

FT – HK property developer hangs hopes on art market 9/3

FT – Shanghai divorces highlight China’s property conundrum 9/4

FT – Why negative interest rates sometimes succeed 9/5

FT – Bank of Japan: great expectations 9/5

FT – Analysts laud ‘remarkable’ pick-up in emerging markets 9/5

FT – China banks shed staff and slash pay in cost-cutting drive 9/6

FT – Rocket’s writedown raises red flags 9/6

InvestmentNews – Ex-CFO at REIT formerly controlled by Nicholas Schorsch indicted 9/8

NYT – Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan Muse Over a Cookie-Cutter Supreme Court 9/5

NYT – Subprime Lender, Busy at State Level, Avoids Federal Scrutiny 9/6

WSJ – Bank of Japan’s New Unease With Negative Rates 9/5

WSJ – The Problem With Dividend Stocks 9/5

WSJ – Why Chinese Bank Stocks Can’t Fly Too High 9/6

WSJ – How China Insurance Crackdown Could Rain on Deal-Making Parade 9/7

WSJ – Europe’s Bond Market: Even Further Through the Looking Glass 9/7

WSJ – Goldman Sachs Has Started Giving Away Its Most Valuable Software 9/7

 

August 26 – September 1, 2016

A novel way of paying off debt – issue more of it, the savings are already accruing. It’s official, Nigeria is in a recession.

Headlines

Briefs

    • “Stock valuations rise and fall, but when an important factor driving market performance is mathematically unsustainable, it is worth a closer look.” Specifically corporate dividends.
    • “Aswath Damodaran, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, sees this as the market’s biggest risk. Mr. Damodaran, who is considered an authority on valuation, says S&P 500 companies through the first two quarters of the year collectively returned 112% of their earnings through buybacks and dividends. That is the highest since 2008 and well above the 82% average over the past 15 years, he said in a blog post last week.”
    • “Mr. Damodaran, who likes to be provocative, says with rates this low, traditional valuation metrics are distorted. Instead, the inability of companies to keep paying off their investors will cause the next downturn. ‘This is the weakest link in this market,’ Mr. Damodaran said in an interview. ‘We know cash flows will go down. What we don’t know is what the market is pricing in.'”
    • WSJ_S&P 500 corporate dividends_8-28-16
    • “The rise of third-party mobile payments in China at the expense of credit and debit cards is threatening commercial banks’ access to the customer data viewed as crucial to newly emerging financial and consumer business models.”
    • Further UnionPay, the state-owned settlement network, and other rank and file banks are missing out on the merchant fees that these third-party platforms are redirecting.
    • “The move by more Chinese consumers to switch from swiping plastic cards to scanning QR codes with mobile wallet apps knocked $20bn from banks’ fee income in 2015, according to Kapronasia, a Shanghai-based fintech consultancy.”
    • While the fees hurt, the key is that third-party payment providers are “depriving lenders of valuable data on consumption patterns.”
    • FT_China payments moving online_8-28-16
    • China’s big-state lenders are making a shift in their lending portfolios from commercial loans to property.  “China Construction Bank (CCB) this week reported residential mortgage lending rose almost 30% in the first half of this year compared with the same period last year. Meanwhile corporate lending fell 2%. At Bank of China, mortgages rose by more than a quarter.”
    • “On the face of it, banks are moving away from risky lending. That helps their capital cushions because for every loan extended to a company, banks assign a 100% risk-weight. For residential mortgages, banks only have to set aside half that.”
    • Of course, it helps that residential prices are rising; however, “lending into the property market would make more sense if the mortgage loans weren’t going bad so fast. At CCB, while mortgage nonperforming loans accounted for only 6% of total NPLs, they rose 67% on the year compared with 26% for all loans. And that’s with prices rising nationally, and rising sharply in the biggest cities.”
  • Leo Lewis and Lucy Colback of the Financial Times covered an interesting development in how the Bank of Japan is distorting the Japanese stock indices through their massive fund flows.
    • “From July 29, when the Bank of Japan said it would nearly double its annual purchases of exchange traded funds from ¥3.3tn ($32bn) to ¥6tn, brokers in Tokyo have been selling stocks with a simple, unsettling message.”
    • “In an equity market where the central bank is the biggest whale, and where the government in various forms has become the biggest shareholder in a quarter of First Section Tokyo stocks, it’s time to buy the fund flows, not the fundamentals.”
    • FT_Stocks with highest indirect ownership by BoJ_8-30-16
    • “Goldman Sachs estimates that the doubling in BoJ buying coupled with the skew towards Nikkei weighting means that the central bank will own at least one-tenth of the equity in 32 companies by this time next year, up from five currently.”
    • “The BoJ, according to its current schedule, must buy an average of ¥70bn worth of ETFs every three trading days throughout the year.”
    • Helicopter money…

Special Reports / Opinion Pieces

Graphics

FT – Puerto Rico: An island’s exodus –  Eric Platt 8/25

FT_Puerto Rico's exodus_8-25-16

Visual Capitalist – Which Countries Are Damaged Most by Low Oil Prices? – Jeff Desjardins 8/26

Visual Capitalist_Which countries hurt the most by low oil prices_8-26-16

WSJ – Food Price Deflation Cheers Consumers, Hurts Farmers, Grocers and Restaurants 8/29

WSJ_Food price deflation_8-29-16

WSJ – China’s Private Investment Crash May Be Mirage, but Pain Is Still Real 8/28

WSJ_China fixed-asset investment_8-28-16

Visual Capitalist – Do Newly Built Skyscrapers Signal The Top of the Stock Market? – Jeff Desjardins 8/29

Visual Capitalist_Skyscraper curse_8-29-16

Featured

*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.

Falling bond yields save taxpayers $500bn. Eric Platt. Financial Times. 31 Aug. 2016.

“The collapse in sovereign bond yields has saved taxpayers more than $500bn in annual interest expenses, allowing countries to rein in budget deficits and continue government-backed programs that would have otherwise been shelved, according to a new report.”

As of the end of last week there was $13.2tn of debt with negative yields.

“Japan, France, Germany and Switzerland are now paid to issue short-dated sovereign bonds.”

“Benefits have effectively been transferred from global investors to sovereign issuers, as sovereign borrowing costs have dropped. Should rates remain low for an extended period, it would likely erode earnings power for many large investment institutions and pension funds.” – Robert Grossman, analyst with Fitch, a rating agency

The median 10-year government bond now yields 1.17%, down from 3.87% five years ago. Japan has saved more than $95bn a year as a result of the decline in rates, while the US, UK and Germany collectively pay $104bn less annually, the study estimates.”

“Central banks have cut interest rates more than 670 times since Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in 2008, or roughly one reduction every three trading days of the year, according to JPMorgan.”

FT_Central bank stimulus weighs on sovereign bond yields_8-31-16

Nigeria falls into recession as economy shrinks in second quarter. Maggie Fick. Financial Times. 31 Aug. 2016.

Nigeria has slipped into recession for the first time in more than two decades as growth in Africa’s top oil producer shrank for the second consecutive quarter.”

“The economy contracted 2.1% in the three months to the end of June, worse than analysts expected, while inflation hit a 11-year high of 17.1%, underlining the depth of the west African nation’s crisis.”

“Nigeria, which depends on petrodollars for 70% of state revenues and 90% of export earnings, has been battered by the slump in oil prices. The economy shrank 0.4% in the first three months of the year and the International Monetary Fund is forecasting that growth in 2016 will contract 1.8%.”

“The central bank increased the main interest rate by 200 basis points last month in an attempt to combat inflation, but it rose for the ninth consecutive month in July.”

“The continent’s most populous nation was one of the world’s fastest growing economies during the oil boom, but Mr. Buhari (President Muhammadu Buhari) said this month that Nigeria ‘suddenly appears to be a poor country.'”

FT_Nigeria GDP growth_8-31-16

It’s currency is having difficulties as well, “in the official market, the naira is trading below N300 to the dollar, having lost more than 40% of its value since its peg was lifted in June (to ease the country’s quickly depleting reserves of hard currency), but on the black market the currency is far weaker – it has been trading at below N400 to the dollar this week.”

FT_Nigerian Naira currency to the USD_8-31-16

Other Interesting Articles

Bloomberg Businessweek

The Economist

Bloomberg – J.C. Penny Aims to Be King of the Mall as Rivals Retreat 8/25

CoStar – Disparity in Mall Values Driven by Powerful Combination of Forces 8/31

Economist – Grim employment prospects for young people around the world 8/26

FT – How the super-rich are making their homes ‘invisible’ 8/24

FT – Chinese banks braced over industrial restructuring 8/28

FT – Mexico spends $1bn to lock in oil export prices for 2017 8/29

FT – Apple’s EU tax dispute explained 8/29

FT – DBS sells $750m in cocos at record-low yield 8/30

FT – Chinese future looms for Hong Kong’s real estate sector 8/30

FT – China turns away from the market 8/31

Inhabitat – The world’s tallest timber building was just topped off ahead of schedule 8/26

National Real Estate Investor – 2016 Could Signal a Cyclical Peak in Commercial Construction 8/25

NYT – Today’s Inequality Could Easily Become Tomorrow’s Catastrophe 8/26

NYT – Crackdown on For-Profit Colleges May Free Students and Trap Taxpayers 8/28

Zero Hedge – “I’ve Never Seen Anything Like This Before” – The Housing Markets In The Hamptons, Aspen And Miami Are All Crashing 8/28

WSJ – Which State Is a Big Renewable Energy Pioneer? Texas 8/29

WSJ – Housing Market: Why Millennials Are Getting Priced Out 8/29

WSJ – What Happens When a Central Bank Buys Property Stocks 8/30

WSJ – Shopping Malls’ New Product: Fun 8/30

WSJ – Chinese Cash Pours Into U.S. Real Estate 8/30

WSJ – Emerging Markets: Catch the Yield Where You Can 8/31

WSJ – Birth of the Index Mutual Fund: ‘Bogle’s Folly’ Turns 40 8/31

 

August 19 – August 25, 2016

It’s getting hot out there. When picking your emerging market investments, be mindful of its exposure.

Headlines

Briefs

    • The nontraded REIT industry is having a hard look at itself.  Inland is eliminating its transaction fees and new entrant to the sector – but definitely not to institutional real estate investment – Blackstone Group has not committed to a specific yield – the primary attribute for selling these investments.
    • The thing is “Cap rates, a key valuation measure for real estate, have decreased dramatically since the credit crisis, while valuations of quality properties have increased. That means commercial real estate is simply too pricey to generate the promised returns (generally 6-7%) brokers need to pitch nontraded REITs to clients.”
    • “The math of these programs is much more challenging today. Cap rates are lower and I think the dividend yields have to come down. The publicly traded REIT market is paying a 3.5% dividend yield, on average.” – Allan Swaringen, president and CEO of JLL Income Property Trust
    • And with a lower fee structure I might add…
    • One thing to be mindful of in investing in nontraded REITs are their dividend coverage ratios.  “That ratio, a REIT’s cash flow versus its dividend, or distribution, is one of the most important metrics for investing in nontraded REITs, which often resort to returning investor cash to pay for or cover the 6% or 7% dividend. Any return of investor money diminishes the REIT’s ability to perform in the long term.”
    • Bottom line, “nontraded REIT sponsors and advisers who sell them can say au revoir to the product’s most important marketing component: the promise of generating annual returns of 6% or 7% to yield-starved investors.”
    • “Trends that slammed profit in the first quarter – a stronger yen, negative interest rates and slumping China growth – haven’t reversed. At stake is a second straight year of earnings decline that could buy Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for companies to boost capital spending and raise wages to spur economic growth.”
    • “With negative interest rates grinding away bank profits and a stronger yen bearing down on carmakers, aggregate operating income plummeted 17% in the June quarter, the biggest quarterly decline since 2011. That’s the year an earthquake in Fukushima and subsequent tsunami caused the yen to gain and stocks to drop.”
    • Bloomberg_Japan Inc profit slump_8-21-16
    • Airbnb has changed the short-term rental business in a big way. The company “now operates in 34,000 cities around the world and was recently valued by investors at $25.5 billion.”
    • On top of that, Airbnb has created an ecosystem of other companies that help landlords rent, maintain, and operate their units…
    • Well one of the recent companies created, Host Compliance, is the ‘tit for tat.’  Rather than assist people to attain the most out of their Airbnb listings, the company actually is set up to help cities and municipalities in the policing of their short-term rental regulations by sifting through the vast amount of listings data and providing reports on violations.
    • No surprise, most governments are overwhelmed and not truly set up to properly track abuses to their rules, hence they’re always playing catch up to tech innovators.  I suppose it won’t be long that other tech innovators will pop up to “check-in” on other tech disrupters…
  • Eliot Brown of the Wall Street Journal focused his spot light on the real estate market of San Francisco and the effects of the surging tech market.
    • As the tech industry continues to boom, its companies continue to crowd out other businesses from San Francisco’s office market, ultimately reducing the city’s “economic diversity, giving it an enormous concentration in an industry that is particularly prone to economic swings.”
    • “Tech companies now occupy more than 29% of the city’s occupied office space, according to real-estate-services firm CBRE Group Inc. That is roughly double what the industry occupied in 2010 as well as the height of the dot-com bubble in 2001, CBRE said.”
    • “What’s more, the bulk of those occupying that office space are startups or those that recently went public, typically unprofitable companies that are considered some of the most volatile.”
    • “Looming in the minds of many in San Francisco is the city’s experience after the dot-com bust of 2001. Even though the tech sector was centered more in Silicon Valley to the south, the local economy was pummeled. Office vacancies soared above 20% from less than 4%, according to Cushman & Wakefield.”
  • Gabriel Wildau of the Financial Times reports that it was only a matter of time that Chinese regulators would tighten the noose on the P2P market.
    • China has just formalized new regulations for the Peer-to-Peer (P2P) market in the country. “Regulators and courts have previously issued many of the prohibitions contained in the latest rules in different forms, but the latest regulations mark the first comprehensive framework for regulating P2P lenders in China.”
    • “The rules, issued on Wednesday, forbid online lenders from accepting deposits or guaranteeing principal or interest on loans they facilitate. They ban P2P platforms from securitizing assets or offering debt transfer mechanisms that mimic securitization. Companies are prohibited from using P2P platforms to finance their own projects.”
    • “Their fundamental nature is information intermediation, not credit intermediation.” – banking regulator
    • “Outstanding loans from 2,349 P2P platforms totaled Rmb621bn by the end of June, the banking regulator said in a statement on Wednesday. But an additional 1,778 ‘problem platforms’ have also been established, equal to 43% of all platforms.”
    • “The latest rules also prohibit P2P groups from operating ‘fund pools’ in which investor funds are not matched with specific loan assets. The banking regulator noted that ‘Ponzi schemes’ – in which inflows from new investors are used to finance payouts on maturing obligations – have been a problem for the industry.”

Special Reports

Graphics

CBO – Trends in Family Wealth, 1989 to 2013 8/18

CBO_Trends in Family Wealth_8-18-16

FT – Pensions: Low yields, high stress – John Authers and Robin Wigglesworth 8/22

FT_Pension liabilities growing faster than assets_8-22-16

FT – US charitable foundations hit by plunging returns 8/23

FT_US charitable foundations investment returns struggle_8-23-16

Featured

*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.

Think It’s Hot Now? Just Wait. Heidi Cullen. New York Times. 20 Aug. 2016.

“July wasn’t just hot – it was the hottest month ever recorded, according to NASA. And this year is likely to be the hottest year on record.”

“Fourteen of the 15 hottest years have occurred since 2000…”

NYT_Heat Map of US - 1991-2010_8-20-16

NYT_Heat Map of US - 2060_8-20-16

NYT_Heat Map of US - 2100_8-20-16

NYT_Number of Days over 95 degrees_8-20-16

Silver lining…good for solar.

As China nears exhaustion investors must look elsewhere. James Kynge. Financial Times. 24 Aug. 2016.

As yield is vanishing from developed world economies – there is $13tn in negative-yielding debt outstanding at the moment – emerging market economies have seen a lot of interest of late… however, try to see it in context.

“The drive behind this intense demand for EM has nothing to do with EM. The one thing that emerging markets have that everyone wants right now is not raw materials or cheap labor, it’s yield. When you have negative interest rates in Europe and Japan, and zero rates everywhere else, the politics and economics of these countries becomes irrelevant.” – Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch

“Thus, emerging markets are flattered by a perception they are the least bad option for investors.”

However, investors need to be wary of the exposure that many EMs have to China.

China is having ever greater difficulty in producing economic growth – at least of the levels of the past few decades (which is to be expected).  “Before the global financial crisis in 2008, China needed just over one dollar of credit to deliver one dollar of gross domestic product growth, the ratio is now six to one, according to Morgan Stanley.”

“Although the economy is said to be growing at 6.7%, investment growth by private companies slowed to 2% in July, demonstrating that the most potent force in the Chinese economy sees scant hope of a return.”

“Scarcity of opportunity amid an abundance of growth defines China’s enervated state. So generous have banks, capital markets and shadow financial institutions been to virtually anyone who wishes to borrow that almost every industry is in a state of oversupply, slashing profits.”

“Standard & Poor’s, the credit rating agency, is the latest to raise the alarm. The anemic profits of Chinese companies is likely to intensify their need to borrow more merely to repay maturing debts, helping to drive global corporate debt levels to worrying levels by 2020.”

“Corporate debt is set to expand by half to $75tn over the next five years, according to S&P. China’s share of this debt is likely to rise to 43% in 2020 from 35% in 2015, the rating agency said, largely through companies borrowing to repay debts that are coming due.”

Bottom line, don’t throw out your fundamental analysis models just yet…

Other Interesting Articles

The Economist

Bloomberg – Why It’s So Hard to Build Affordable Housing: It’s Not Affordable 7/26

FT – We must protect shareholders from executive wrongdoing 8/18

FT – Retailers reveal why US earnings season was fundamentally weak 8/18

FT – Paul Singer says bond market is ‘broken’ 8/18

FT – Venezuela’s problems can no longer be ignored 8/18

FT – Is greed good? No, it’s seriously bad for your wealth 8/19

FT – Hackers expose holes in road for smarter cars 8/19

FT – Oil company dividends: flare-up ahead 8/21

FT – #fintech Sidelining the mobsters in China 8/22

FT – Forget Fed rate calls – be ready for the return of inflation 8/22

FT – China close to launching credit default swap market 8/22

FT – Mongolia tightens belt as debt payments loom 8/24

FT – The canary in the coal mine for China’s currency 8/24

IPE – Redemption requests begin to build among core US property funds 8/24

National Real Estate Investor – Drop in 10-year Treasury Gives Real Estate Pricing a Lift 8/24

NYT – Chilling Tale in Duterte’s Drug War: Father and Son Killed in Police Custody 8/19

NYT – More of Kremlin’s Opponents Are Ending Up Dead 8/20

NYT – The Housing Market Is Finally Starting to Look Healthy 8/23

WSJ – Chinese Bank Shows How To Move Risks Around 8/19

WSJ – One Policy to Rule Them All: Why Central Bank Divergence Is So Slow 8/22

WSJ – China’s Online Lenders Face Peer-to-Peer Pressure 8/25

WSJ – What to Learn From the ECB’s Great European Corporate Bond Squeeze 8/25

 

August 12 – August 18, 2016

Coming to a bank near you – fees on big deposits

Headlines

Briefs

    • “Almost half of the shadow banking products that have fueled China’s credit boom carry an ‘elevated’ risk of default, the International Monetary Fund has warned in its annual review of the world’s second-largest economy.”
    • “‘Wealth management products’ that allow banks to channel credit to local governments, property developers and industries struggling to access normal bank loans grew almost 50% to Rmb40tn ($6tn) last year, according to the IMF’s annual ‘Article IV’ review.”
    • “While the IMF noted that China’s big four state banks have relatively small exposure to wealth management products, it added that ‘several other listed banks and [unlisted banks] in aggregate have exposures that are several times their capital.’ Just over Rmb15tn of China’s outstanding wealth management products are held by banks, accounting for 8% of their assets and more than 90% of the capital buffers that protect them from losses.”
    • It’s not all bad, just part of the process of the downshift.
    • “All told, there have been 188 settlements since 2009, costing $219 billion, according to KBW, an investment bank. “
    • “Eleven firms have paid fines in excess of 10% of their market capitalization, with Bank of America having spent the most in absolute terms ($77 billion) and in relation to its net worth (50%).”
    • Economist_Bank settlements_8-13-16

Special Reports

Graphics

FT – Banks look for cheap way to store cash piles as rates go negative – Claire Jones and James Shotter 8/16

FT_Negative rates in Europe_8-16-16

FT_How to store the cash_8-16-16

The Economist – Purchasing power: More bang for your buck 8/13

Economist_US purchasing power by state_8-13-16

Bloomberg – Norway Oil Fund Looks Into Trimming $520 Billion Stock Portfolio – Mikael Holter and Sveinung Sleire 8/17

Bloomberg_Norway SWF flows_8-17-16

Economist – The world’s most liveable cities 8/18

Economist_World's most liveable cities_8-18-16

Featured

*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.

German bank charges negative rates on large deposits. James Shotter. Financial Times. 11 Aug. 2016.

The longer negative rates stick around and the deeper they go, expect more of this to follow…

“A Bavarian bank has become the second German lender to say it will levy a negative interest rate on private customers’ deposits, in the latest sign of the strain that the European Central Bank’s monetary policy is putting on the country’s financial system.”

“In an effort to boost the eurozone’s flagging economy, the ECB has slashed interest rates to record lows, and, since March, has charged a 0.4% fee on excess deposits left with it by eurozone banks.”

“The co-operative bank in Gmund am Tegernsee, a small municipality about 50km south of Munich, said that from September 1, it would levy a ‘custodian charge’ of 0.4% on deposits above 100,000.”

“The decision follows a similar move by Skatbank, a small German co-operative bank in the east of the country, which introduced negative interest rates for private clients on balances above 500,000 in 2014.”

“German banks are considering a variety of strategies in response to the low interest rate environment. These range from introducing fees for services previously offered for free, such as paper account statements, to keeping cash in vaults rather than parking it with the ECB.”

Other Interesting Articles

The Economist

Bloomberg – Barrack Says U.S. Real Estate Market Is Getting ‘Bubblicious’ 8/15

Contra Corner – The Daily Data Dive: Since 2007 Stocks Up 54%, Industrial Production Up 0.6% 8/18

Economist – Vladimir Putin’s powerful right-hand man steps down 8/12

FT – Investors stockpile cash to offset economic despair 8/11

FT – Record-breaking US stocks are a sideshow next to bond bonanza 8/12

FT – ‘Irrational exuberance’? Beware Bond Tantrum II – BAML 8/12

FT – London rents fall for first time in six years 8/15

FT – The end of deflation in China will be felt around the world 8/15

FT – Irrational exuberance begins to surface in US stock market 8/17

FT – Dollar hedging costs rise for yen and euro investors 8/17

FT – Hedge fund investors push for ‘hard hurdles’ 8/17

FT – If peak oil (demand) arrives, investors will need to get smarter 8/18

FT – South Korea in show of power as tensions rise with North 8/18

GlobeSt.com – SL Green Sells Stake In Midtown South Office Tower 8/11

NYT – Trillions in Murky Investments Could Rock China’s Economy 8/12

Reuters – Billionaire investors turn bearish as U.S. stocks hit record highs 8/15

WSJ – Pumped Up: Renewables Growth Revives Old Energy-Storage Method 7/22

WSJ – How Junk Bonds Can Look Attractive and Scary at the Same Time 8/17

 

August 5 – August 11, 2016

It’s a low-growth world for us…instead of high returns, we get zilch… Thus it is no surprise that funds are being pushed back to emerging markets in a big way.

Headlines

Briefs

    • Blackstone Group ($356bn in assets) is getting into the nontraded real estate investment trust business. Its first nontraded REIT – The Blackstone Real Estate Income Trust Inc. – was just registered on Wednesday.
    • The REIT is looking to raise $5bn and its manager “will receive a fee of 12.5% of the REIT’s total return after meeting a 5% hurdle.”
    • “Capped at close to 9%, the cost structure of the new Blackstone REIT is clearly different than the traditional full-commission nontraded REIT sold mainly by independent broker-dealers such as LPL Financial and Ameriprise Financial Services Inc. Such REITs typically carry loads of 12%, including a 7% (fee) to brokers at the time of sale. Nontraded REITs have been routinely criticized for their high fees and opaque cost structures.”
    • “Look for Blackstone to shun the traditional marketplace of independent broker-dealers and turn to wirehouses such as Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley, with whom they already have business relationships…”
    • “Central banks have always been able to make waves in markets. But never have they had such far-reaching effects, nor so quickly. The world of bonds is being turned upside down as a result.”
    • “The pull to par has become a drag: a buy-and-hold investor is guaranteed to lose money, even before taking inflation into account. The only way to make money is to find another buyer willing to pay a higher price – but that implies a bigger loss down the road.
    • “Germany now has more than 160 billion of zero-coupon bonds in issue. All of its two-year notes pay no interest, along with three of its five-year notes; all of them trade above face value.”
    • WSJ_German bonds becoming pricier_8-10-16
    • “The crucial thing to understand is that these instruments are no longer bonds – at least not in the traditional sense. With no income attached to them, they are simply bets on the price another investor is willing to pay. They will also be more volatile: the long wait for repayment means small changes in yield will have a big effect on current prices.”
  • Liyan Qi of the Wall Street Journal added context to China’s efforts to reduce the population of Beijing.
    • In an effort to reduce the problems from rapid growth and overpopulation, Beijing is seeking to push out residences to neighboring provinces such as Hebei and Cangzhou (see map).
    • WSJ_Cutting China’s Capital Down to Size_8-10-16
    • “Despite the city’s efforts to keep a lid on population growth, greater Beijing now has almost 22 million people, an increase of some 6 million in a decade, official data show. The central area, comprising of six districts grew at an average rate of 414,200 a year over the same period to about 13 million.”
    • “Municipal leaders’ latest five-year plan aims to keep greater Beijing’s population under 23 million and to shrink the urban center by 15% by 2020, effectively pushing out some 2 million people – roughly equivalent to excising more than the population of Manhattan from New York City and dispersing those people elsewhere.”
    • “The strategy is to move low-end businesses such as wholesale markets, to Hebei-the province surrounding Beijing where growth has flagged-and coax people to follow.”
    • Just think what will happen to real estate prices when you push out that much demand…but then again, the laws of economics are generally suspended in China.

Special Reports

Graphics

WSJ – Companies Routinely Steer Analysts to Deliver Earnings Surprises – Thomas Gryta, Serena Ng and Theo Francis 8/4

WSJ_Managing earnings expectations_8-4-16

FT – Best coast tech is top and looking to the clouds for growth – Richard Waters 8/4

FT_Rise of the tech giants_8-4-16

Bloomberg – Manhattan Luxury-Condo Glut Ends Developer Rush for Land Deals – Sarah Mulholland and David M Levitt 8/3

Bloomberg_Manhattan Land Deals_8-3-16

FT – US economy: Decline of the start-up nation – Sam Fleming 8/4

FT_US Startup density_8-4-16

FT_20 counties generating new business_8-4-16

FT_Fewer young companies_8-4-16

WSJ – American Paradox: It’s Never Been Cheaper for Cities and States to Borrow Money…And They Refuse to Do It – David Harrison and Heather Gillers 8/7

WSJ_US Municipal borrowing_8-7-16

WSJ – Are Negative Rates Backfiring? Here’s Some Early Evidence 8/8

WSJ_Negative rates having unintended effects_8-8-16

WSJ – Productivity Slump Threatens Economy’s Long-Term Growth – Ben Leubsdorf 8/9

WSJ_Declining US Labor Productivity_8-9-16

FT – US bonds: where credit is due – Lex 8/11

FT_Credit Statistics for US debt issuers_8-11-16

Featured

*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.

We’re in a Low-Growth World. How Did We Get Here? Neil Irwin. New York Times. 6 Aug. 2016.

“Slow growth is not some new phenomenon, but rather the way it has been for 15 years and counting. In the United States, per-person gross domestic product rose by an average of 2.2% a year from 1947 through 2000 – but starting 2001 has averaged only 0.9%. The economies of Western Europe and Japan have done worse than that.”

NYT_Growth lower than projected_8-6-16

According to a new analysis by the McKinsey Global Institute, 81% of the United States population is in an income bracket with flat or declining income over the last decade. That number was 97% in Italy, 70% in Britain, and 63% in France.”

NYT_Annual per capita GDP over preceding 10yrs_8-6-16

“An entire way of thinking about the future – that children will inevitably live in a much richer country than their parents – is thrown into question the longer this lasts.”

Bottom line, people are working fewer hours and there is less “economic output being generated for each hour of labor.”

Investing: The great escape. Jonathan Wheatley and James Kynge. Financial Times. 7 Aug. 2016

“The latest growth forecasts from the International Monetary Fund offer some optimism. It expects the pace of gross domestic product growth in emerging markets to increase every year for the next five years while developed markets stagnate.”

“But in truth emerging markets are growing from a shrunken base and a big part of the upturn is not due to things getting better but to things no longer getting worse. Big economies such as Russia and Brazil, for example, in deep recession for the past two years, are finally heading back to growth.”

FT_Investors flood into EMs_8-7-16

“Fund flows to EMs have gone through the roof, but this is best described as [the result of] push factors rather than pull factors.” – Peter Kinsella, head of EM research at Commerzbank

“The EM bond rally is really a global fixed income rally.” – David Hauner, head of EM strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch

BlackRock’s ($4.6tn money manager) Sergio Trigo Paz, head of emerging markets fixed income, “who changed his view on EM bonds in February, describes what is happening now as a ‘capitulation’ – a realization by big institutions that they can no longer afford to ignore the returns on offer in emerging markets, which have been as high as 13% in the year to date.”

“The impact of such flows on EM sovereign bond prices, which have risen 15% this year, has been amplified by the fact that the asset class is small. An estimated $12tn of developed market government bonds now offer yields of less than zero, while their emerging market equivalents add up to about $800bn, so their ability to offer an alternative is limited.”

“For now, the pressure on prices has all come from buyers and for those who got in early the returns have justified the risks. The trick will be to know when to head for what could quickly become a very crowded exit.”

Other Interesting Articles

The Economist

Bloomberg – Retail Outlets Are on the Outs 8/4

Bloomberg – There Are All Kinds of Signs of a High-End Real Estate Slowdown 8/10

Bloomberg – Blackstone Enters Nontraded REIT Market With $5 Billion Fund 8/10

FT – I’m from the central bank and I’m here to help 8/4

FT – Oil and gas downturn spells trouble for Singapore 8/7

FT – Demand drives $3bn Mexico bond deal at record rate 8/9

FT – Advisors quash Puerto Rico creditor differentiation 8/9

FT – China takes a gamble in scapegoating the west 8/11

InvestmentNews – Inland Real Estate Investment Corporation eliminates transaction fees on its nontraded REITs 8/9

NYT – New Photos Cast Doubt on China’s Vow Not to Militarize Disputed Islands 8/8

NYT – Chinese Tech Firms Forced to Choose Market: Home or Everywhere Else 8/9

WP – Venezuela’s death spiral is getting worse 8/8

WSJ – When Chinese State Support Evaporates on Investors 8/8

WSJ – New Rules and Fresh Headaches for Short-Term Borrowers 8/8

WSJ – WeWork Misses Mark on Some Lofty Targets 8/9

WSJ – The Typical Home in San Jose Now Costs More Than $1 Million 8/10

WSJ – Lopsided Housing Rebound Leaves Millions of People Out in the Cold 8/10

WSJ – Why China’s Bond Market Rally Is Risky Business 8/10

Yahoo Finance – Macy’s plans to close 100 stores, boost online investment 8/11

Zero Hedge – August Corporate Bond Issuance Breaks All Records Thanks to Relentless Demand For Yield 8/8

 

July 29 – August 4, 2016

Insurers having to rethink their business model. India makes a giant leap forward in tax reform.

Headlines

Briefs

    • “Sovereign wealth funds are investing less money directly than at any time in the past five years. This marks the end of a safety net whereby state-backed vehicles mopped up assets in times of market stress, according to research.”
    • “The Bocconi report found that state funds invested 48bn directly last year, down 57% from 112bn in 2008.”
    • “Given the low oil-price environment and lower revenues for oil producers, [state funds] no longer have the cash positions to get into the markets once they correct.” – Sven Behrendt, managing director of GeoEconomica, a consultancy
    • “What if all Londoners, no matter how young or frail, smoked for at least six years? In effect, they already do. The city’s air pollution exacts an equivalent toll on each resident, cutting short the lives of nearly 10,000 people each year and damaging the lungs, hearts and brains of children.”
    • Bottom line, more needs to be done to track and publish long-term air-quality indexes similar to the existing short-term gauges that people and cities can utilize to alter behaviors and make informed life choices.
  • Jonathan Wheatley of the Financial Times called attention to the demand that Emerging Market bonds have seen as the world has become devoid of ‘safe’ income yielding products.
    • “With an estimated 30% of global government debt now offering yields of less than zero, he (Daniel Senecal, head of credit research at Newfleet Asset Management) says traditionally conservative investors are being pushed into new areas.”
    • “If you’re a pensions guy you have to do something. With German 10-years at zero, you need to change your mindset. Your whole view migrates into US high-yield and EMs.” – Daniel Senecal
    • Geez it’s a tough world to invest in right now…

Special Reports

Graphics

WSJ – Why Bank of Japan Dipped Into Bag of Small Tricks 7/29

WSJ_Why Bank of Japan Dipped Into Bag of Small Tricks_7-29-16

Visual Capitalist – The Rise and Fall of Yahoo 7/29

Visual Capitalist_The rise and fall of Yahoo_7-29-16

Economist – Comparing urban air pollution 8/1

Economist_Nitrogen dioxide city comparison_8-1-16

FT – Japan launches $45bn stimulus package – Robin Harding 8/2

FT_Japan stimulus_8-2-16

FT – Emerging market bonds lure investors seeking yield – Jonathan Wheatley 8/2

FT_EM sovereign rally_8-2-16

WSJ – Bank of England Cuts Key Interest Rate to New Low 8/4

WSJ_Bank of England rate reaction_8-4-16

Featured

*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.

Insurers: Forced to dig deep. Oliver Ralph and Alistair Gray. Financial Times. 1 Aug. 2016.

“Insurers globally are having to come to terms with the idea of ‘lower for longer’ interest rates, making deep changes to business models that had been unaltered for decades. Whereas previously they might have clung to the hope that higher rates were around the corner, there is a realization that the industry has to do things differently – from investing in assets that might once have been seen as too risky, to experimenting with new products.”

As to how much cash are we talking about, PwC estimates that by 2020, insurance companies will manage about $35tn worth of assets.

“Traditionally, much of that has gone to relatively safe homes, such as bonds. At the end of last year, bonds made up about 68% of US property insurers’ total investments and 76% of life insurers’, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. When those bonds offered decent yields there was no problem. Insurers could fulfill promises to customers and still have plenty left for shareholders.”

But “by last year the net yield on US life insurers’ overall invested assets had fallen to 4.7% – about a quarter lower than 2002 levels.”

Hence, the performance of US life insurance companies has tended to move in tandem with the 10-year Treasury yield…

FT_US life insurance companies and bond yields_8-1-16

In regard to attaining higher returns, insurers can either take on higher risks or tie up cash for longer.  “Many prefer the latter, investing in more illiquid assets such as property. UK insurer Aviva says 80% of the new investments it is making to back its annuity business will be in long-duration assets rather than traditional gilts or corporate bonds.”

“Infrastructure investments are particularly popular as they offer the long-term cash flows life insurers need to back their promises. Germany’s Allianz, for example, is one of the main backers of London’s £4.2bn supersewer.”

Consider the alternative…“Nobody likes to invest at negative yields but life insurers have so much cash that they need to invest, and they need to do something with it.” – James Peagam, head of global insurance solutions at JPMorgan Asset Management

As to the other side of the equation, ‘new products’ or raising premiums, this is already underway.

“Life assurance customers may see the biggest changes. For decades, the industry has offered savings and retirement products that offer guaranteed minimum returns. In the future, these may no longer be on offer.”

“This would be a major shift. In the US, products with guarantees account for 60-80% of the US life insurers’ balance sheets, Moody’s estimates. The average outstanding guarantee is returning between 2% and 4%.”

The replacement product: “unit-linked products. These make no promises: customers’ investments simply rise and fall with the markets. They are similar to traditional asset management products.”

Which of course puts them in direct competition with traditional asset managers that are facing a major business model challenge from low-cost index fund companies like Vanguard and BlackRock.

“As Jon Hocking, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, points out, the unit-linked model distances insurers from their customers. ‘The risk is that you open Pandora’s box and the industry loses its dominant position in the long term savings market. The customer chooses between products and the only distinction is the fund performance” and fees…

So which insurers are under particular pressure, in the US these are the companies specializing in long-term care (“low interest rates have exacerbated the problems caused by rising treatment costs”) and those that have sold ‘universal life’ protection (“policies that combine death benefits with tax-advantaged savings”).

“Transamerica, a large US provider, is being sued by the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog on behalf of policyholders who bought coverage decades ago. It said consumers who had been offered guaranteed interest of at least 5.5% a year had been stung by premium increases of almost 40%.”

India’s economy: One nation, one tax. Economist. 4 Aug. 2016.

India just passed a new goods-and-services tax (GST) that will “unify the country’s 29 states and 1.3 billion people into a common market for the first time.”

“Few countries are fiddlier than India when it comes to paying taxes; the World Bank ranks it 157th out of 189 for simplicity… Because the rates differ between states, making stuff in one and selling it in another is often harder within India than it is in trade blocs such as NAFTA or the European Union.”

“That should change with the GST, essentially an agreement among all states to charge the same (still to be decided) indirect tax rates.”

“Better yet, the GST will be due on the basis of value added. That avoids businesses being thwacked by taxes on the entire value of the products they buy and sell rather than the value they create – a situation that often made it cheaper to import stuff rather than make it locally. Just as importantly, by requiring businesses to document the prices at which they buy inputs and sell products, it will force vast swathes of the economy into the reach of the taxman.”

The tax is supposed to be enacted in April 2017. There is a lot to be buttoned up by then and chances that exceptions will be inserted; however, it is good step forward and has the chance of boosting India’s GDP by 1-2 percentage points.

Other Interesting Articles

The Economist

Bloomberg – Rich Investors Fear Fortunes Will Fade While They’re Playing Golf 7/28

Bloomberg – Fragile U.S. Economy Now Facing a Slowdown in Building Boom 7/31

Bloomberg – Allianz Buys Stake in Manhattan’s 10 Hudson Yards Skyscraper 8/1

Bloomberg – Where First-Time Homebuyers Can Go Big 8/2

Fast Co. Design – An Exclusive Look At Airbnb’s First Foray Into Urban Planning 8/2

FT – The US student debt bubble is a study in financial dysfunction 7/29

FT – Ant’s Alipay challenges China Unionpay’s dominance 7/31

FT – US $18bn credit card debt spree sparks fears 7/31

FT – WTI closes in bear market 8/1

FT – Microsoft sells $20bn of debt to fund LinkedIn Deal 8/2

FT – European bank shares fall in brutal start to August 8/2

FT – Star designers side with Apple in Samsung patent case 8/4

LAT – As new apartments flood downtown L.A., landlords offer sweet deals 8/3

NYT – Harnessing the Immune System to Fight Cancer 7/30

NYT – Zika Cases in Puerto Rico Are Skyrocketing 7/30

NYT – Russia’s Acres, if Not Its Locals, Beckon Chinese Farmers 7/31

NYT – Bank of England Cuts Interest Rate to Historic Low, Citing Economic Pressures 8/4

WSJ – The Divide Between GDP and Jobs 7/29

WSJ – Uber in China: Why Foreigners Never Win in Tech 8/1

WSJ – Chinese Head to the Web to Feed Infants 8/2

WSJ – Why Investors Everywhere Should Watch Japan’s Bond Market 8/2

WSJ – Rio Projects Fail to Reach the Finish Line 8/2

WSJ – Chinese Insurers Need Another Leg to Stand on 8/3

WSJ – What Oil in the $40s Means for Oil Majors 8/4

WSJ – London Falls Behind New York and Hong Kong in Most Expensive City Rankings 8/4

July 22 – July 28, 2016

How much spare crude oil is there – hard to tell.  Nontraded REIT sales struggling.  There are a lot of dangers lurking in the Chinese P2P market, but the yield is just SO GOOD…

Headlines

Briefs

    • Chinese wealth management products are looking a lot like the junk bonds used for corporate raiding in the late 1980s rather than the traditional insurance policies they are supposed to be.
    • “China’s insurance regulator has warned against insurers becoming ‘automatic teller machines’ for activist shareholders, in a veiled reference to the battle for control of China Vanke, China’s largest residential developer, by insurance conglomerate Baoneng Group.”
    • “We will let those that truly want to do insurance come and do insurance and absolutely not allow companies to become financing platforms and ‘ATMs’ for large shareholders.” – Xiang Junbo, chairman of the China Insurance Regulatory Commission
    • “There are major regulatory gaps that need to be addressed. These ‘universal’ products have absolutely nothing to do with insurance. Some of them are very risky, but commercial banks are distributing them, and people trust the banks.” – senior financial regulator
    • With Puerto Rico facing approximately a $2bn interest and principal payments due on its general obligation bonds on July 1 and not being able to make the payments, the U.S. Congress recently passed a law that was meant to give Puerto Rico a temporary reprieve from “legal sanctions by creditors so it could restructure its obligations in an orderly way, and to maintain essential services.”
    • Well, Puerto Rico took this reprieve to pay about half of the amounts due, only they chose to whom went the payments.  “Puerto Rico did not pay any interest or principal on the most senior, or general obligation bonds, but did make payments on more junior bonds. The government also paid its employees’ pension funds $170m more than what was required for this year, despite the pensions supposedly being legally subordinated to bondholders.”
    • The thing is that US Treasury officials advised on some of this reprioritization… you can see the dangerous precedence this sets for municipal bonds…
    • “The bonds on which interest payments were made on July 1, such as the Puerto Rico convention center district and the Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority, are disproportionately owned by bondholders on the island. Supposedly more-sophisticated mainland US investors had avoided these lower ranked issues on the misinformed premise that financial and legal analysis should outweigh political calculation.”
  • The Buttonwood column of The Economist highlighted a rather large potential problem the world is facing: the vanishing of working age adults
    • “The world is about to experience something not seen since the Black Death in the 14th century-lots of countries with shrinking populations. Already, there are around 25 countries with falling headcounts; by the last quarter of this century, projections by the United Nations suggests there may be more than 100.”
    • “The big question is whether economic growth and rising debt levels go hand-in-hand, or whether the former can continue without the latter. If it can’t, the future can be very challenging indeed. To generate growth in our ageing world may require a big improvement in productivity, or a sharp jump in labor-force participation among older workers.”
  • Christian Shepherd of the Financial Times covered that China is now enforcing its ban on original news reporting.
    • “A spokesman for Beijing Cyber Administration confirmed that state press reports that said conducting original reporting was a gross violation of the regulations (rule in place since 2005) and brought about ‘extremely nasty effects.’ The reports also said that the companies had been given a fixed period to ‘rectify’ the offending sites.”
    • “The trigger for the shutdown, according to media analysts, was coverage of flooding in northern China which – according to the official count – has left 130 dead and racked up damages of more than Rmb16bn ($2.4bn) in Hebei province alone.”
    • “The government does not want these platforms to provide their own news. They are only allowed to forward reports by outlets like Xinhua and the People’s Daily.” – Qiao Mu, a journalism professor in Beijing.

Special Reports

Graphics

FT – Renminbi drops to sixth in international payment ranking 7/20

FT_Top currencies for global payments_7-20-16

FT – Tough outlook for Hong Kong property – 7/21

FT_Tough outlook for Hong Kong property_7-21-16

Visual Capitalist – The Illusion of Choice in Consumer Brands – 7/21

Visual Capitalist_The illusion of choice in consumer brands_7-21-16

Bloomberg – Relief for Renters Will Prolong Fed’s Wait to Hit Inflation Goal 7/24

Bloomberg_Rising MF Supply_7-24-16

The Daily Shot 7/25

Daily Shot_Norway's Oil fund flows_7-25-16

FT – Landscape shifts for pipeline operators – Ed Crooks 7/24

FT_US Pipeline companies flow of funds_7-24-16

Economist – Buttonwood – Vanishing workers: Can the debt-fueled model of growth cope with ageing population? 7/23

Economist_Buttonwood - who will fill the jobs_7-23-16

WSJ – Why Pensions’ Last Defense Is Eroding – Timothy W. Martin 7/25

WSJ_Waning gains in public pensions_7-25-16

Economist – The Big Mac index: Patty-purchasing parity 7/23

Economist_Big Mac Index_7-23-16

Featured

*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.

How Much Oil Is in Storage Globally? Take a Guess. Dan Strumpf and Nicole Friedman. Wall Street Journal. 24 Jul. 2016.

“The historic fall in oil prices has created a pileup of inventories, much of it stashed in tanks in the U.S. and other industrialized countries that are committed to disclosing the latest tally, but millions of barrels of oil are flowing to locations outside the scope of industry trackers.”

“At the beginning of July, 23 supertankers capable of holding 43 million barrels of oil were anchored for a month or more in the Singapore straits, according to Thomson Reuters’s vessel-tracking service, up from 15 ships at the start of the year. If they were full, it would be enough to meet the U.S.’s oil needs for more than two days.”

WSJ_Counting Crude Oil_7-24-16

“‘OPEC has stopped being a swing supplier,” said Antoine Halff, director of the oil market program at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. ‘Given the uncertainty about whether shale-oil production in the U.S. can take the role of swing supplier, it falls on stocks’ to replace lost barrels in the case of a supply disruption.”

“Uncertainty around storage was highlighted after attacks on Nigerian oil facilities in May and June. Following the assaults, some analysts forecast that Nigerian output would fall, which helped push oil prices above $50 a barrel. But shipping data showed Nigerian exports holding steady above 1.5 million barrels a day, according to data provider Windward.”

“Where did the exports come from?”

“In China, another storage mystery is unfolding. Government data show oil imports rising at a faster rate than refiners are processing it. The figures suggest the country has built a surplus 160 million barrels during the first half of the year, enough to meet its oil needs for about two weeks.”

“Analysts believe those barrels have gone to commercial tanks or to government-owned strategic reserves.”

“The distinction is critical. If most of the oil has gone to strategic reserves, demand could shrink once the tanks reach capacity, which some analysts say could happen this year.”

Nontraded REIT sales fall off a cliff as industry struggles to adapt. Bruce Kelly. InvestmentNews. 24 Jul. 2016.

“Over the first five months of the year, sales of full-commission REITs, which typically carry a 7% payout to the adviser and 3% commission to the broker-dealer the adviser works for, have dropped a staggering 70.5% when compared with the same period a year earlier, according to Robert A. Stanger & Co. Inc., an investment bank that focuses on nontraded REITs.”

“Their recent sharp drop in sales is part of a longer cycle. The amount of equity raised, or total sales of nontraded REITs, has been sinking by about $5 billion a year since 2013, when sales hit a high watermark of nearly $20 billion.”

As a result, independent broker-dealer company commissions are down in tandem.  “Industry bellwether LPL Financial said in its first-quarter earnings release that commission revenue from alternative investments, the lion’s share of which comes from nontraded REITs, was just $7.8 million, a staggering decline of 86.7% when compared with the first quarter of 2015.”

IN_Nontraded REIT sales fall off a cliff as industry struggles to adapt_7-24-16

Four key factors have hit the industry.  The blowup of Nicholas Schorsch’s REIT empire, recent FBI raids of United Development Funding (after hedge fund manager Kyle Bass called the company a Ponzi scheme), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. rule 15-02, and the new DOL fiduciary rule.

  • The first two basically have brought the public and regulatory spot light to the industry and has shown the light on the less savory parts of the industry and its excessively high fees.
  • Finra rule 15-02 basically have caused an increase in transparency in the fees that the industry charges, now making them more accurately reflected on account statements.
  • And the DOL fiduciary rule “which will be phased in starting April, requires advisers to select investments for retirement accounts that are in the client’s best interest. Investments with high commission structures might not pass that test.” However, this rule also has a flip side, nontraded REITs may now be placed in retirement accounts (also as of April thanks to a Dept. of Labor ruling).

IN_Public Non-Listed REIT Fundraising since 2013_7-24-16

On the plus side, the industry is changing. New T shares are meant to reduce upfront commissions while spreading them over time (still high commissions) and larger financial institutions like Blackstone Group and Cantor Fitzgerald & Co. are looking at getting into the industry.  Hence references are made to the evolution of the mutual fund industry that also started out with high commission structures.

As Allan Swaringen, CEO of Jones Lang LaSalle Income Property Trust, put it “nontraded REITs have lived almost exclusively across independent broker-dealer channels. I don’t think that’s a model that will be successful going forward. It has to be sold by a variety of advisers.”

IN_2015 Top RE Sponsors_7-24-16

Chinese P2Ps plagued by flaky guarantees (fintech blog). Gabriel Wildau. Financial Times. 25 Jul. 2016.

“‘It’s just too easy to attract investment. That’s why it draws so many scammers,’ says Michael Zhang, chairman of Beijing-based Puhui Finance, a large P2P platform with a clean reputation.”

FT_Chines P2P plagued by flaky guarantees_7-25-16

“Beyond the problem of outright fraud is the thornier issue of raising risk awareness in a culture where debt investments are traditionally seen as carrying an implicit guarantee from issuers who are mainly state-owned institutions.”

FT_Chines P2P growth_7-25-16

“Dianrong.com, one of China’s largest P2P platforms, investment products carry a label that says ‘multiple guarantees.’ While the Chinese term used – baozhang – is distinct from the word for legally binding guarantees, it still translates as ‘guarantee’ or ‘safeguard.’ Many platforms now divert a portion of borrower interest payments into a ‘reserve fund’ used to protect investors from defaults, an arrangement that looks a lot like bank capital.”

“Soul Htite, the co-founder of Dianrong.com who previously co-founded US-based Lending Club, says that in an investing culture where defaults are rare, Chinese investors tend to choose products purely based on yield.”

“In the US we have a very good history of investing and people understand risk. (But) one problem we had in the first couple of years with Chinese investors is, we noticed that when you listed all the loans – this one yields 8% and another one yields 14% – people put all their money on the 14%. And we explained, ‘It’s not guaranteed, it might default.’ Still they put their money there. So that’s when we started forcing diversification on them.” – Soul Htite

Other Interesting Articles

Bloomberg Businessweek

The Economist

Bloomberg – Gasoline Prices Around the World: The Real Cost of Filling Up 7/18

Business Insider – Hong Kong is ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place’ 7/23

FT – Brazil sees strong demand for bonds as market rallies 7/22

FT – Moscow’s building boom belies recession 7/22

FT – Thermal coal bears gripped by Chinese capacity squeeze 7/24

FT – Balance of power tilts from fossil fuels to renewable energy 7/25

FT – Chinese default exposes creditor anger at political interference 7/26

FT – Fossil fuels have had an aeon’s head start 7/26

NYT – Justice Dept. Rejects Account of How Malaysia’s Leader Acquired Millions 7/22

NYT – Uncle Sam Wants You – Or at Least Your Genetic and Lifestyle Information 7/23

NYT – Delusions of Chaos (Paul Krugman) 7/25

July 15 – July 21, 2016

Helicopter money coming to Japan? GMO on EU immigration and the Brexit. Hong Kong and China at a cross road.  ECB coming up against its quantitative easing boundaries.

Headlines

Briefs

    • China’s 2nd quarter gross domestic product came in at 6.7%, which is 10 basis points higher than forecast; however, the concern is where that growth has come from.
    • “Figures from the People’s Bank of China the same day showed that money supply growth was faster than expected, reaching levels last seen post 2008. New loans also rose by over $200bn, more than $50bn higher than economists’ estimates.”
    • Bottom line, “the reversion to state-led growth is unsustainable. Should China continue to shun reforms in favor of a quick fix, the short-term benefits of stabilized growth will be outweighed by the cost of persistent imbalances.”
    • The World Federation of Advertisers “estimates that between 10 and 30% of online advertising slots are never seen by consumers because of fraud, and forecasts that marketers could lose as much as $50bn a year by 2025 unless they take radical action. At that scale, the fraud would rank as one of the biggest sources of funds for criminal networks, even approaching the size of the market for some illegal drugs.”
    • “Global spending on online advertising has almost doubled in the past four years – reaching $159bn in 2015, according to research group eMarketer. This money underpins the internet economy and supports trillions of dollars of equity in media and technology.”
    • “Google, the biggest player in the online ad industry, generated revenues of $67bn from it last year.”
    • Bottom line, digital ad platforms and major buyers of online ads are emphatically building methods to track and prevent fraud and where they can and to the event that they can’t expect the federal government to step in.
  • Mark Heschmeyer of CoStar reported on Simon, WP Glimcher turning over the keys on two malls to their respective lenders.
    • Goes to show that just because a company is worth several billion dollars, doesn’t mean they pay back all their debts.
    • “While the overall retail property sector appears to be strengthening, a handful of loans for lower-quality shopping centers and malls financed at the height of the previous CRE cycle are coming due now and proving to be a thorn in the side of publicly traded REITs.”
    • “Simon Property Group and WP Glimcher both turned malls back over to the lenders this week, and Kimco Realty Corp. disclosed that it doesn’t expect one of its joint venture-owned malls will be able to refinance a loan set to come due this fall.”
    • “All three of the malls involved in the foreclosure actions were last financed in 2006 and securitized in mortgage backed bond conduits.”
    • As the saying goes, don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Special Reports

Graphics

FT – Do sovereign credit ratings still matter? 7/14

FT_Decline of AAA rating countries_7-14-16

FT_Declining government yields_7-14-16

FT – US oil rig count rises for third-straight week 7/15

FT_US oil rig count_7-15-16

FT – Auto sales and the oil price: the Great Unwinding continues beyondbrics – Paul Hodges 7/18

FT_Energy consumption in the US_7-18-16

Temporary work – How the 2% lives: Temping is on the increase, affecting temps and staff workers alike

Economist_US temporary employment_7-16-16

FT – Independent Chinese PMI gauge suspended indefinitely – Hudson Lockett 7/20

FT_China Minxin PMI vs official_7-20-16

Featured

*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.

Japan flirts with helicopter money. Gavyn Davies. Financial Times. 17 Jul. 2016.

“Whether or not they choose to admit it the Abe government is on the verge of becoming the first government of a major developed economy to monetize its government debt on a permanent basis since 1945.”

“There are many ways of defining helicopter money, but the essential feature is that it involves an increase in the budget deficit which is financed by a permanent increase in the central bank’s monetary base, not by the issuance of government debt.”

“This is different from quantitative easing, since QE involves the ‘temporary’ purchase of government debt, which is subsequently sold back into the market, at least in theory. And QE does not necessarily need to involve any increase in the budget deficit…”

While “the direct financing of a government deficit by the Bank of Japan is illegal, under Article 5 of the Public Finance Act.” It looks like the government is coming up with a work-a-round.

One method proposed is the issuance of perpetual bonds “…which basically involves the central bank printing money and giving it to the government to spend as it chooses. There would be no buyers of this debt in the open market, but it could presumably sit on the BoJ balance sheet forever at face value.”

Thing is, that “there is no doubt that the BoJ is now monetizing much of the increase in government debt needed to fund ¥10 trillion fiscal stimulus planned by the government. Since the market fully expects the BoJ’s debt purchases to be permanent, it is helicopter money by any other name.”

Why do this when the labor market is at close to full employment?  Basically the inflation expectations in Japan are REALLY low and the BoJ is seeking to reduce its vulnerability to “…any new deflationary shock, from China for example.”

The key point that helicopter money will confer is that debt sustainability (which is why the sales tax increases have been/are being implemented) is not the priority. Rather that Japan will live with whatever debt level it takes to achieve inflation.

“The key problem is that it might restore inflation far too well. It is very difficult to calibrate the amount of helicopter money that is needed to hit the inflation target.”

Expect the delicate dance to continue, which may fail to get Japan out of its deflationary rut.

Immigration and Brexit. Jeremy Grantham. GMO. Jul. 2016.

While this is piece is a commentary on immigration and the Brexit, I think it does a good job of presenting the scale of the immigration challenge that the EU is facing.  I will only highlight two specific items (the full commentary is a good read) for brevity.  1) Grantham’s stance on the markets “despite brutal and widespread asset overpricing, there are still no signs of an equity bubble about to break…” and 2) some of his thoughts on immigration to the EU.

“The truth about immigration to the EU, in my view, is bitter. As covered in earlier quarterlies, I believe Africa and parts of the Near East are beginning to fail as civilized states.”

“They are failing under the pressure of populations that have multiplied by 5 to 10 times since I was born; climate for growing food that is deteriorating at an accelerating rate; degraded soils; insufficient unpolluted water; bad governance; and lack of infrastructure. Country after country is tilting into rolling failure.”

“This is producing in these failing states increasing numbers of desperate people, mainly young men, willing to risk money and their lives to attempt an entry into the EU.”

“For the best example of the non-compute intractability of this problem, consider Nigeria. It had 21 million people when I was born and now has 187 million. In a recent poll, 40% of Nigerians (75 million) said they would like to emigrate, mostly to the UK (population of 64 million). Difficult. But the official UN estimate for Nigeria’s population in 2100 is over 800 million! (They still have a fertility rate of six children per woman). Without discussing the likelihood of ever reaching 800 million, I suspect you will understand the problem at hand. Impossible.”

“I wrote two years ago that this immigration pressure would stress Europe and that the first victim would be Western Europe’s liberal traditions. Well, this is happening in real time as they say, far faster than I expected. It will only get worse as hundreds of thousands of refugees becomes millions.”

Hong Kong: One country, two economies. Ben Bland. Financial Times. 19 Jul. 2016.

Integration of Hong Kong with the Chinese mainland continues to be a delicate issue that is being stressed by a slowdown in the Chinese economy.

As Lily Lo, an economist at DBS, a Singaporean bank, put it “Hong Kong is really dependent on China and external trade. The Chinese economy is slowing down and this is a structural slowdown so we don’t think there will be a V-shaped recovery any time soon. There’s no quick fix.”

Further, as China has opened its economy more and more, Hong Kong is no longer the only or primary route to do business with China.  “Its container port, which was the world’s busiest in the 2000s, has fallen to fifth place, overtaken by Shanghai, Shenzhen and Ningbo.”

“Mr. Tsang (John Tsang, the financial secretary of Hong Kong) and Li Ka-shing, the billionaire whose interests in Hong Kong stretch from ports to property and retail to telecoms, have both warned that the economic outlook is worse than that faced during the Sars epidemic in 2003, which killed 299 people and prompted the last sharp slowdown.”

“Chow Tai Fook, the biggest jeweler in the world by market capitalization, is seen as a bellwether for mainland demand for Hong Kong’s luxury goods. Its sales in Hong Kong and Macau fell on an annualized basis by 22% in the three months to the end of June.”

FT_Hong Kong retail sales_7-19-16 

“Yu Kam-hung, managing director of investment properties at CBRE, an estate agent, predicts that prices could fall up to 10% over the next year, and they are already 10 to 15% off their peak of 18 months ago.”

Then of course it doesn’t help that “there is a deep-seated animosity to (Chinese) mainlanders in Hong Kong. So why would they want to go somewhere they are not welcome when there are so many other choices.” – Shaun Rein, China Market Research in Shanghai

ECB faces QE dilemma after Brexit vote. Claire Jones and Elaine Moore. Financial Times. 20 Jul. 2016.

It wasn’t long after the Brexit referendum vote that government bond yields in the safest markets dropped even further (see graphic on Sovereign credit ratings above).  Problem is that the current structure in place within the European Central Bank (ECB) is reaching its limits.

Currently the ECB is buying €80bn a month in European member country debt to stimulate the overall European economy (aka Quantitative Easing or QE).

Well, “under current rules, the scale of purchases under QE match the size of a member state’s economy, meaning that Germany’s Bundesbank must buy around €10bn of government debt each month – more than any other central bank in the region.”

“But because of the recent bond market shifts, more than 50% of German bonds previously eligible for QE have now become too expensive for the Bundesbank to purchase, yielding less than the ECB’s self-imposed floor of minus 0.4%, according to data from Bank of America Merrill Lynch.”

FT_ECB looking for more bond options_7-20-16

So, now the ECB is essentially faced with three primary options (there are other options – see “Five ways to change the rules within the article).

  1. Scrap the minus 0.4% floor. The “economists at Goldman Sachs calculate (this) would buy the ECB the most time, enabling the Bundesbank to keep buying for up to another 18 months.”
    • “The option, however, would expose the eurozone’s central banks to heavy losses, which they have until now avoided because the minus 0.4% floor mirrors the ECB’s deposit rate charged on banks’ reserves.”
  1. “Scrap the rule that bond purchases match the size of a member states’ economy.”
    • “But such a shift would open the way to buying more bonds from the most indebted countries, and would so be the most controversial of the fixes. Nowhere would it attract more criticism in Germany, where the change would be viewed as a bailout by the back door for profligate member states.”
  1. End QE.

Don’t know if the EU or the world is ready for that.

Other Interesting Articles

Bloomberg Businessweek

The Economist

Bloomberg – Blackstone Said to Plan Invitation Homes IPO for First Half 2017 7/17

CoStar – Internet Commerce Drives Strongest Surge in Demand for US Industrial Space Since 2001 7/20

FT – The chronic spin that blights China’s economy 7/14

FT – New wealth management products power Anbang and rivals 7/17

FT – Major cities drive China property price gains 7/17

FT – Trump leads the west’s flight from dignity 7/17

FT – Apple Watch sales fall 55% as consumers mark time on category 7/21

InvestmentNews – REIT with a twist – and a high commission – is new darling of independent brokers-dealers 7/14

NYT – The Risk of Building on Real Estate Funds’ Profitable Past 7/15

NYT – Why Land and Homes Actually Tend to Be Disappointing Investments 7/15

NYT – Vast Purge in Turkey as Thousands Are Detained in Post-Coup Backlash 7/18

WSJ – Surprise: The Economy Is Looking Much Better 7/14

WSJ – China Economy Tilts Further in Wrong Direction 7/15

WSJ – Japan and Helicopter Money: Fan Blades Aren’t Turning Just Yet 7/17

WSJ – Big Chinese Developers Push Into Hong Kong Market 7/19