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

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