There are the pension obligations kept on the books based on industry guidelines and then there are the books that track what they really think. America’s tech boom has been great for the consumer, but not so much for the employees that have been displaced.
- FT – Theranos faces investor lawsuit over ‘series of lies’. San Francisco-based hedge fund Partner Fund Management which invested $96m in the company is suing on the basis that its investment were made on a series of facts that turned out to be untrue.
- WSJ – Vancouver’s Foreign-Buyer Tax Bruises Luxury Home Sales. The 15% property-transfer tax on foreign buyers in Vancouver has led to a drop in luxury sales of 57.5% in September compared to July before the law took effect.
- FT – Tesco pulls products over plunging pound. Interesting outcome/case study of conflict between a large customer (Tesco) that transacts in British Pounds – which have been on a major decline – and large supplier (Unilever) that sources goods from all over the world.
- Attracta Mooney of the Financial Times highlighted how sovereign wealth funds have pulled $90bn from asset managers over the last two years.
- “Sovereign wealth funds have pulled almost $90bn from asset managers over the past two years, as state-backed investment vehicles grapple with low commodity prices and disappointed returns.”
- “The Norwegian government has tapped the Scandinavian country’s $890bn oil fund, the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, for almost $6bn this year.”
- “Moody’s, the rating agency, has predicted that sovereign outflows would be at least 25% higher in 2016 than in 2015, due to the low oil price.”
- Other reasons stated for the pullback include: poor performance from fund groups, bringing investment management in-house, diversification, and having cash-on-hand for opportunistic investments.
- Sarah O’Connor of the Financial Times covered how the World’s ‘gig economy’ is larger than people estimated.
- “Between 20 and 30% of people in the US and Europe are working independently in the so-called “gig economy” according to a new study that counts moonlighters as well as full-timers.”
- While many are satisfied with their gig arrangement, “about 30% are doing it as a last resort.”
- Further, ‘gig’ work is not only for the young. “The survey found that in the UK, 39% of adults aged 55 and over were working independently versus 31% of 25 to 54 year olds. The same pattern was found in Sweden and Germany.”
- “Scaling up the results of our survey suggests that 50 million Americans and Europeans are independent out of necessity, and more than 20 million of them rely on independent work as their primary source of income.”
- Laura Kusisto of the Wall Street Journal reported on Airbnb’s recent offer to apartment landlords.
- In an effort to grow its inventory, Airbnb is reaching out to apartment landlords to rent out some of their vacant inventory. So far, most landlords have been declining.
- Why? 1) “Under Airbnb’s new plan, called the Friendly Building Program, if landlords allow tenants to lease units on Airbnb, they have an opportunity to take a cut of the nightly revenue at a suggested rate of 5% to 15%.” I.E. for a “one-night, $200 stay that means the landlord would make $30 or less, an amount that many landlords say doesn’t justify the hassle.” And 2) as illustrated by “Cortland Partners, which owns 36,000 apartment units primarily in the Southeast, in a recent survey found that nearly 40% of residents would be significantly less likely to renew their leases if the company allowed tenants to rent out units on Airbnb.” Basically, as Margette Hepfner, Senior VP of Lincoln Property Co (manages or owns 175,000 units), so aptly puts it “There’s just inherent risk in allowing unknown guest to come onto your property.”
- Josh Zumbrun of the Wall Street Journal discussed the findings from the Journal’s recent economist survey. Essentially, economists believe a recession is likely within the next four years.
- “Economists in The Wall Street Journal’s latest monthly survey of economists put the odds of the next downturn happening within the next four years at nearly 60%.”
- Why… because “the American economy has never grown for more than a decade without a recession.”
- “The current expansion began in June 2009, and has now continued for 88 months, making it the fourth-longest period of growth in records stretching to 1854.”
- However, “to be clear, the length of an expansion bears little relation to its strength. The U.S. economy has grown at a 2.1% annual pace since 2009. That is the slowest growth of any expansion after World War II.”
- “But over the next four years, few think a recession is absolutely guaranteed. A quarter of economists place the odds below 50%.”
- “It is precisely because the economy has grown slowly that some think the recovery could last a long time. ‘Slow and steady leaves plenty of fuel to keep going,’ said Russell Price, senior economist for Ameriprise Financial.”
- Henny Sender of the Financial Times covered the continuing bull run in the Chinese property sector.
- “Property as an asset class has become important in China – maybe too important. It is critical to the financial system (since 70% of all bank loans are backed by real estate collateral), as a source of economic growth and as a source of savings and wealth for many households.”
- As Nicole Wong, the regional head of property research for CLSA in Hong Kong puts it “property is an alternative currency in China.”
- “But no asset class is as sensitive to liquidity’s soothing effect as property and there is a lot of liquidity in China. And as it always does, liquidity is buoying the property market, well beyond the first-tier cities where so many couples go through staged divorces just so that they can each buy a starter home on more attractive terms.”
- “‘Liquidity is coming from the sky,’ says one Hong Kong-based hedge fund manager, noting that 40% of all global money supply in recent years has come from China. So even as central banks in Japan and the US debate helicopter money for local infrastructure and other ambitious development projects, China comes closest to realizing that concept as it ramps up its money printing presses. China’s total social financing for August was again at highs set earlier this year, while for the first half it amounted to $1.5tn, he adds.”
Special Reports / Opinion Pieces
- FT – Investors ignore messages from ‘global AGM’ at their peril – Mohamed El-Erain 10/9
- “In sum, the AGM (Annual General Meeting) reinforces three concerns about the global economy. 1) Its prospects are becoming more fragile in terms of growth, financial stability, indebtedness and, therefore, inclusive prosperity. 2) Bizarre political dynamics add fuel to the fire, directly and by holding back timely policy adjustments. 3) The potential damage now extends beyond forgone opportunities to also undermining future potential, including open trading systems and politically-autonomous central banks.”
*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.
A Sour Surprise for Public Pensions: Two Sets of Books. Mary Williams Walsh. New York Times. 17 Sep. 2016.
Turns out, the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) – and many similar pension funds for that matter – keep two sets of books on calculating their pension obligations and funding requirements. One based on actuarial values and another based on “market values.” Well the issue just came to light in a small case for the Citrus Pest Control District No. 2 that just received a very hefty bill to cover a shortfall (plus interest) for deciding to convert to a 401(k) plan. What changed at the moment of that decision…basically Calpers went from calculating the benefit owed based on actuarial tables to using a more prudent ‘market approach’ considering it no longer had the right to go after the community for future contributions.
What is the ‘market value?” Basically, “the market value of a pension reflects the full cost today of providing a steady, guaranteed income for life – and it’s large. Alarmingly large, in fact. This is one reason most states and cities don’t let the market numbers see the light of day.”
If you want to see the difference between the two values, the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research now publishes the two for California pensions.
Thing is that pensions operate on the actuarial standards, standards which exacerbate pension shortfalls. “Actuarial values determine the annual contributions that states and local governments make to their pension plans, so if the target numbers are too low, the contributions will always be too small. Shortfalls will be compounding, invisibly.”
As Jeremy Gold, an actuary and economist, made note in a speech last year “actuaries shamelessly, although often in good faith, understate pension obligations by as much as 50%… Their clients want them to.”
In the case of Citrus Pest Control District No. 2, Calpers was calculating the municipality’s obligations at an assumed rate of return on assets “now generally around 7.5%,” but when calculating the ‘market value’ of the obligation when the Citrus made the switch, Calpers used a more realistic (based on the current risk-free rate for a similar duration) 2.56%. Boom, $447,000 shortfall – this is for only 6 people.
‘Houston we have a problem.’
America’s Dazzling Tech Boom Has a Downside: Not Enough Jobs. Jon Hilsenrath and Bob Davis. Wall Street Journal. 12 Oct. 2016.
The highlight is that for all the wealth created from the tech boom, jobs have been cut rather than added.
“Google’s Alphabet Inc. and Facebook Inc. had at the end of last year a total of 74,505 employees, about one-third fewer than Microsoft Corp. even though their combined stock-market value is twice as big. Photo-sharing service Instagram had 13 employees when it was acquired for $1 billion by Facebook in 2012.“
“American tech workers are getting a smaller piece of the economic pie created from what they produce. As of 2014, employee compensation in computer and electronic-parts making was equal to 49% of the value of the industry’s output, down from 79% in 1999, according to the Commerce Department.”
“WhatsApp had more than 450 million users world-wide when Facebook bought the messaging service for $19 billion in 2014, turning founder Jan Koum into a billionaire several times over. At the time of the acquisition, WhatsApp had 55 employees.“
“Economist call the phenomenon ‘skill-biased technical change.’ The spoils of growth go to those few people with skills and luck and who are best positioned to take advantage of new technology.”
“The five largest U.S.-based technology companies by stock market value-Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook and Oracle Corp.-are worth a combined $1.8 trillion today. That is 80% more than the five largest tech companies in 2000.”
“Today’s five giants have 22% fewer workers than their predecessors, or a total of 434,505 as of last year, compared with 556,523 at Cisco Systems Inc., Intel, IBM, Oracle and Microsoft in 2000.”
“Harvard University economist David Deming estimates that the hollowing-out of work spread to programmers, librarians and engineers between 2000 and 2012. As much as $2 trillion worth of human economic activity could be automated away using existing technologies, such as Amazon’s robots, in coming years, consulting firm McKinsey & Co. estimates.”
Other Interesting Articles
- Greece’s Least Wanted Man Lives in Maryland
- Hot Mess: How Goldman Sachs Lost $1.2 Billion of Libya’s Money
- An Immigrant-Funded Biotech Center in Rural Vermont? What Could Go Wrong?
- The global casino business – Putting it all on grey: The casino industry may be too risk-averse to lure in younger customers
- European banking jobs – Career breaks: A grim new world, one with fewer bankers
- Buttonwood – An emerging threat: Investors are buying emerging-market bonds as the fundamentals are deteriorating