February 10 – February 16, 2017

Venezuela having difficulties meeting its oil delivery commitments. REITs backing away from apartments. Chinese companies lending to the tune of $2tn where bankers have pulled back.


FT – Alphabet opts to spell out its stock options 2/9. Google recently let slip that it will be treating stock based pay as a cost in its financials (normally relegated to the GAAP footnotes).

FT – Oil and gas discoveries dry up to lowest total for 60 years 2/12. As oil and gas companies have been pulling back on exploration it’s no surprise that new discoveries are down; however, they are yielding more from existing fields.

Special Reports / Opinion Pieces


  • Jon Sindreu of The Wall Street Journal illustrated foreigner’s recent dumping of US debt, putting up a test for rates.
    • “Foreign buyers, led by China, are taking a smaller slice of debt issued by the U.S. and other major economies, a change that may test the long-held belief that overseas money has kept interest rates low in the developed world.”
    • “Foreigners are steadily pulling back: As of November, for the first time since 2009, less than 30% of the $20 trillion market for U.S. government debt was held overseas, according to the latest official data, released in January, from the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve. In the U.K., it is now 27%, compared with a record of 36% in 2008. In Germany, it is 49%, down from a peak of 57% in 2014.”
    • wsj_government-debt-held-by-foreigners_2-9-17
    • “In the longer term, the decline in foreign buyers might not matter so much. For countries that print their own currency, bond yields – and thus the price of bonds – are strongly determined by where investors believe central banks will set interest rates in the future. In theory, at least, bonds whose prices are pushed up or down excessively by supply-and-demand forces will eventually correct to correspond to interest-rate expectations.”
    • “In Japan, the central bank now directly fixes 10-year borrowing costs for the government at 0%. There, foreigners own just 9.2% of the government debt market; yet bond yields have stayed at record lows for decades, despite a government debt load amounting to 229% of Japan’s economy that has elicited repeated warnings from ratings companies.”
  • Adding on to Sindreu’s article, Brian Chappatta of Bloomberg discussed how America’s biggest creditors dump treasuries in warning to Trump.
    • “From Tokyo to Beijing and London, the consensus is clear: few overseas investors want to step into the $13.9 trillion U.S. Treasury market right now. Whether it’s the prospect of bigger deficits and more inflation under President Donald Trump or higher interest rates from the Federal Reserve, the world’s safest debt market seems less of a sure thing – particularly after the upswing in yields since November. And then there is Trump’s penchant for saber rattling, which has made staying home that much easier.”
    • bloomberg_selling-of-us-treasuries_2-12-17
    • “Nobody is saying that foreigners will abandon Treasuries altogether. After all, they still hold $5.4 trillion, or roughly 43% of the U.S. government debt market. (Though that’s down from 56% in 2008.) A significant drawdown can harm major holders like Japan and China as much as it does the U.S.”
    • “In December, Japanese investors reduced their investments in U.S. debt by 2.39 trillion yen ($21.3 billion) after a smaller pullback in November. While only a fraction of Japan’s $1.1 trillion of holdings, they were the first back-to-back declines since the start of 2014. China, which owns just over $1 trillion of Treasuries, has been selling since May. Its holdings are at a seven-year low.”
    • Bottom line there is too much unpredictability for many foreign investors right now, despite there being clear advantages in the rate spread between foreign and domestic markets.
  • Anjli Raval of the Financial Times highlighted that recently Opec beat oil output cut expectations.
    • “Opec countries drastically curbed their output in the first month of their new production agreement, in the clearest sign to date that the world’s biggest oil producers are committed to living up to the November pact to cut global supplies.”
    • “The limits adopted by the oil cartel in January have been ‘one of the deepest in the history of Opec output cut initiatives’, the International Energy Agency said on Friday.”
    • “The IEA said Opec crude production fell by 1m b/d to 32.06m b/d in January, surpassing expectations at the start of the six-month supply agreement…”
    • The Opec target cut is 1.2m barrels per day.
    • “‘Opec and Saudi get plaudits for month one but there are still five months of the  deal to run,’ said Bill Farren-Price, head of Petroleum Policy Intelligence. ‘It’s unlikely cuts are going to get deeper from here.'”
    • “Opec’s cuts drove a big drop in world oil supplies of 1.5m barrels a day in January. If the cartel maintains its level of compliance, excess inventories should fall by about 600,000b/d during the first half of 2017.”
    • “Even though stockpiles are falling, higher prices have driven an increase in drilling in the US as well as Brazil and Canada, where the IEA expects ‘significant increases in production.’ Non-Opec production, led by US shale oil supply, is forecast to grow by 400,000b/d in 2017 from last year.”
  • Sarah Krouse of The Wall Street Journal covered the milestone that Vanguard just passed $4 trillion in assets under management.
    • “Indexing pioneer Vanguard Group has climbed to $4 Trillion ($4.048tn) in assets for the first time, accentuating a loss of faith among investors in traditional money managers who handpick stocks.”
    • “Of the $533 billion of net flows into all mutual funds and exchange-traded funds last year, 54%, or $289 billion, went to funds managed by Vanguard, according to research firm Morningstar Inc. The fund company’s own tally for the year was even higher, at $322.8 billion.”
    • Similarly, “BlackRock topped $5 trillion in assets late last year for the first time. It has a larger international business than Vanguard.”
    • “Rival firms who have long been synonymous with their star pickers of stocks and bonds have been hurt by years of subpar performance and relatively high fees. Investors pulled a net $340.1 billion from U.S.-based actively managed funds last year, according to Morningstar, while pouring a record $504.8 billion into U.S.-based passively managed funds.”
    • For reference, “Vanguard crossed the $3 trillion threshold in August 2014.”
  • The Data Team over at the Economist illustrated the migration and labor shortages in Asian countries.
    • “Although Asia is home to half the world’s population, it provides only 34% of the total number of emigrants and host a mere 17% of immigrants. Just one-third of Asians who move abroad remain on the continent, and of those, most stick to neighboring countries. This makes it hard to fill jobs in many countries where they are needed, despite a surplus of labor elsewhere.”
    • “The imbalance of workers will only grow more dire as populations get greyer. For now, China is still a net exporter of labor. But during the next 30 years its working-age population is set to shrink by 180m, and it will need 20m more domestic workers. Overall, East Asia would have to import 275m people between the ages of 15 and 64 by 2030 to keep the share of its population at working age steady. Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and especially Thailand need workers, while Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines have too many. South Asia, meanwhile, could afford to lose 134m  laborers – India alone could send more than 80m abroad – without worsening its dependency ratio. China’s projected shortfall in 2030 is equivalent to 24% of its current working-age population; in Bangladesh the likely surplus is 18%.”
    • economist_asian-migration-and-labor-shortages_2-10-17
  • Kiran Stacey of the Financial Times covered how the number of deaths by air pollution in India is set to surpass those in China.
    • “India is on the verge of overtaking China as the country with the most deaths caused by air pollution, the world’s biggest environmental killer, according to research published on Tuesday.”
    • “In 2015 both countries suffered about 1.1m premature deaths as a result of polluted air, with India just 18,000 behind China, the US-based research organization Health Effects Institute found, making air pollution the fifth-highest cause of death among all health risks.”
    • ft_indias-air-pollution-deaths-to-exceed-chinas_2-14-17
    • “Worldwide, air pollution caused 4.2m deaths in 2015, a 7.5% jump from a decade earlier. Toxic air now kills almost as many people as high cholesterol and even more than excessive sale or being overweight, according to the study.”
  • Laura Kusisto of The Wall Street Journal highlighted a current measure being put forth in Los Angeles that would seek to ban major real-estate developments – at least for a few years.
    • “The second-largest U.S. city is considering a measure that would effectively halt major real-estate projects, the most extreme example yet of a revolt against development breaking out across the country.”
    • “The moves threaten to further constrict a tight supply of housing. Housing starts dropped 2.6% in January, the Commerce Department said Thursday. The number of single-family and multifamily starts per 1,000 households last month was about 36% below the 50-year average, according to Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist at Trulia.”
    • “In Los Angeles, residents in early March are set to vote on a ballot initiative that, if passed, would suspend for two years any development that requires a modification to the city’s existing planning rules.”
    • “‘People feel the system is rigged,’ said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has poured some $3.7 million into promoting the measure. ‘It’s all about billionaires getting what they want.'”
    • If you’re wondering why the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is spending donation money on this initiative, it’s because “many of the patients served by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation are struggling with rising housing prices.”
    • “San Francisco in June passed a ballot initiative that puts a 25% on-site affordable-housing requirement on most new residential buildings…”
    • “In Oregon, the Portland City Council in December unanimously passed a similar ordinance requiring buildings with 20 units or more to set aside 20% of units for affordable housing…”
    • “Despite complaints in Los Angeles about a deluge of development, housing construction now is at only a fraction of the rate of the mid-20th century, before strict zoning rules were put in place. From 1950 through 1959, about 250,000 units of new housing were added in the city of Los Angeles, according to an analysis of the census data by advocacy group Abundant Housing LA. From 2010 to 2015, the figure was 25,000, though the city issued permits for about 50,000 units in roughly the same period.”
    • “In the middle of the last century, zoning regulations were such that there was enough capacity in the city to build housing for 10 million residents, according to David Waite, a local planning lawyer.”
    • “The adoption of ‘community plans’ in the 1970s and a ballot initiative in the mid-1980s knocked that down to 4.5 million people, meaning Los Angeles is now almost at full capacity.”
    • “The proposed rule up for vote in March, called the ‘Neighborhood Integrity Initiative’ and referred to as Measure S, would require the city to update all community plans.” Essentially, if passed, development would be put on hold while the neighborhood plans are updated with input from the community.


Business Insider – Here’s how many people in every state don’t have health insurance – Bob Bryan 2/9


Bloomberg – Demand for Treasuries Is Now a ‘Made in the U.S.A’ Phenomenon – Luke Kawa, Liz McCormick, and Tracy Alloway 2/7


Economist – The world’s biggest gamblers – The Data Team 2/9


NYT – Why Falling Home Prices Could Be a Good Thing – Conor Dougherty 2/10nyt_where-housing-costs-too-much_2-10-17

Bloomberg – China’s Zombie Province Shows Trouble With Its Bond Market – Bloomberg News 2/12


Visual Capitalist – Visualizing the Tallest Building in Each State – Jeff Desjardins 2/13


WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s Investors Service – Chinese Wealth Management Products – 2/13

  • “China’s WMPs (Wealth Management Products) continue to grow, with the asset-liability mismatch remaining elevated. Imagine a product that ‘guarantees’ a certain rate, gives you a 1-3 month liquidity, and invests in 5-year corporate bonds.”


WSJ – Bond Buying Surges, Tightening U.S. Corporate Spreads – Chris Dieterich 2/13


Business Insider – An ‘investment mania’ is propelling Canada’s home prices to their biggest gain since 2007 2/14

FT – China Inc hits brakes on foreign property investment – Gabriel Wildau 2/16



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

Venezuela falls behind on oil-for-loan deals with China, Russia. Marianna Parraga and Brian Ellsworth. Reuters. 10 Feb. 2017.

“Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA, has fallen months behind on shipments of crude and fuel under oil-for-loan deals with China and Russia, according to internal company documents reviewed by Reuters.”

“The delayed shipments to such crucial political allies and trading partners – which together have extended Venezuela at least $55 billion in credit (about $50bn from China and $5bn from Russia’s Rosneft)- provide new insight into PDVSA’s operational failures and their crippling impact on the country’s unraveling socialist economy.”

“Because oil accounts for almost all of Venezuela’s export revenue, PDVSA’s crisis extends to a citizenry suffering through triple-digit inflation and food shortages reminiscent of the waning days of the Soviet Union.”

“The total worth of the late cargoes to state-run Chinese and Russian firms is about $750 million, according to a Reuters analysis of the PDVSA documents.”

“At the end of January, PDVSA was late on nearly 10 million barrels of refined products that the company owes the firms – with shipments delayed by as much as 10 months, according to the documents. It also failed to make timely deliveries of another 3.2 million barrels of crude shipments to China’s state-run China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).”

“A total of 45 cargoes bound for Russian and Chinese companies are late for a variety of reasons, according to internal operational reports about shipments of crude and refined products.”

“The problems include operational mishaps, such as refining outages and delayed cleaning of tanker hulls, and financial disputes with service providers owed money by PDVSA.”

For example, “… a company official said PDVSA was unable to deliver a 1.8 million-barrel cargo of fuel oil to PetroChina because Bahamas terminal Borco, where PDVSA rents storage space, has intermittently prevented the firm from using the tanks since 2016 due to lack of payment.”

“Another 2 million-barrel cargo of fuel oil bound for China in November was postponed because of stained crude tankers, which cannot navigate international waters due to environmental regulations.”

Adding salt to the wound… “the fall in crude prices has made the oil-for-loan agreements more onerous. Because loan payments were negotiated when crude prices were higher, the agreements require PDVSA to ship more oil in order to continue servicing the debts at the same rate.”

Which all of course “saps its ability to ship to other customers – such as India, or customers in the United States – who would pay in cash, which PDVSA desperately needs.”

As an anonymous trader that regularly buys Venezuelan oil so aptly put it “at this point, everybody is trying to collect pending debts from PDVSA by receiving cargoes, but production is not enough.”

In Echo Of ’07, REITs Back Away From Multifamily. Andrew Barnes, Jake Mooney, and Zach Fox. S&P Global Market Intelligence. 7 Feb. 2017.

“Amid concerns of a peaking multifamily market, publicly traded U.S. real estate investment trusts in 2016 were net sellers of multifamily properties for the first time since 2009.”

“In total, REITs sold $13.0 billion more multifamily properties than they bought. In the past 10 years, the only previous time REITs off-loaded more multifamily assets than they bought by such a large amount was in 2007, when sales dwarfed purchases by $21.11 billion.”

“REITs’ caution around making new property investments follows a long and steady escalation in apartment values, which have more than doubled since 2010, according to a national index from Moody’s/Real Capital Analytics. In recent months, a flood of new construction has depressed rents in coastal markets. New York and San Francisco, both key markets for the largest multifamily REITs, Equity Residential and AvalonBay Communities Inc., saw rent growth flatline in 2016.


“‘Multifamily has just been overbuilt throughout the United States,’ said Jay Rollins, co-founder and managing principal at JCR Capital Investment Corp., which invests in properties valued at $50 million or less. ‘Everywhere. And it will decline everywhere.'”


Despite rising interest rates and expectations of further rises “…sales data does not show property prices declining in response. According to data firm Real Capital Analytics, cap rates dipped to 3.9% for mid- and high-rise apartments nationwide in 2016 third quarter. In San Francisco, the average cap rate stood at just 2.7%, barely above the 10-year Treasury rate, but with considerably more risk.”

“Broadly, observers say, property buyers seeking near-term yield are avoiding coastal cities, leaving them to long-term investors like sovereign wealth funds and high-net-worth individuals. But whereas REITs have cooled on acquisitions nationwide, some prominent private equity firms have still pursued deals in the middle of the country, where ‘the math can still work,'” according to Drew Babin, an analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.

“Most notably, Starwood Capital Group kicked off 2016 by buying 72 properties from Equity Residential for $5.37 billion, and said Jan. 19 that it will acquire Milestone Apartments Real Estate Investment Trust, a Canadian REIT that owns U.S. Sun Belt properties, for $2.85 billion.”

“Historically, apartments have been a relatively safe bet. Apartment buildings are one of the more stable real estate asset classes over time, Babin said – in part because they have the backstop of funding from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Even for top-of-the market buyers, patience can be valuable. Apartment prices rose 62% over the decade beginning in November 2006, despite two years of sharp price declines that began in 2008, according to the Moody’s/RCA index.”


Chinese Companies Rush In With Nearly $2 Trillion Where Bankers Fear to Lend. Rachel Rosenthal and Anjie Zheng. The Wall Street Journal. 9 Feb. 2017.

“Chinese companies are increasingly stepping in as lenders, as banks reduce their funding to struggling industries and the country’s mammoth bond market comes under strain.”

“Company-to-company loans in China jumped by 20% last year to 13.2 trillion yuan ($1.92 trillion), according to research firm CEIC. That is roughly double the size of the loan book at Wells Fargo & Co., the U.S.’s biggest lender. This entrusted lending, so named because banks serve as middlemen, is now the fastest-growing major component of the country’s elaborate system of informal, or shadow, banking.”

“The most recent surge came during the selloff in China’s $9.3 trillion bond market late last year. Big, cash-rich companies – mostly state-owned enterprises and some private companies – stepped in: New entrusted loans rose to 405.7 billion yuan ($59.02 billion) in December, more than double the month prior, according to data tracker Wind Information, and the highest monthly issuance in two years.”

“Instead of investing in their core business, companies can earn interest rates of up to 20% making entrusted loans, often with only cursory checks on borrowers’ creditworthiness. Such lending often props up companies in sectors like mining and property where Beijing wants to reduce excess capacity. It also adds to China’s $18 trillion corporate debt pile, already equal to 168% of gross domestic product, according to the Bank for International Settlements.”

“Some entrusted loans are between a company and its own subsidiaries, similar to how many big companies globally loan cash to different parts of their business. Still, between 2007 and 2013 more than 60% of entrusted loans were channeled to companies in industries with overcapacity, according to a study by the U.S.-based National Bureau of Economic Research.”

“‘It’s not a sustainable business model’ for the lending companies, said  Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics. ‘Their main operations are only staying afloat by acting like a shadow bank.'”

“Company-to-company lending took off in China in the 1990s when, after a period of rapid growth, many state-owned firms started generating large amounts of cash. With no private shareholders pushing for dividend payouts, many put that cash to work by lending it out.”


“But entrusted lending is unusual. Banks are involved, but only as a middleman: Direct company-to-company lending is still legally prohibited. Banks can charge fees of up to 5% of the loan, according to BMI Research, but leave credit checks to the lending company.”

“In some cases, lending companies aren’t pulling back even when loans sour.”  Why, because they’re usually to subsidiaries…

Other Interesting Articles

Bloomberg Businessweek

The Economist


A Wealth of Common Sense – Where You Live & the 50/30/20 Rule 2/14

Bloomberg – Yellen Sets High Hurdle for Reducing Fed’s Massive Bond Holdings 2/14

Business Insider – Paul Singer’s Elliott: ‘There is a deep underlying complacency which we think permeates global financial markets’ 2/1

FT – Take a deep breath: we must all help clean up London’s toxic air 2/3

FT – The importance of bubbles that did not burst 2/10

FT – Major Chinese bitcoin exchanges halt withdrawals after crackdown 2/10

FT – China’s Wanda circles Postbank in search of European bank assets 2/13

FT – Swiss signals that cash may no longer be king 2/13

FT – US labels Venezuelan vice-president a drug kingpin 2/13

FT – Down on China? Not Morgan Stanley (Alphaville) 2/14

FT – China’s top football team vows to phase out foreign players 2/15

FT – China returns as net buyer of US Treasuries 2/15

FT – What Chinese monetary tightening? 2/15

Investment News – Changing direction, FS Investments launching a nontraded REIT 2/14

NYT – Japan Limited Immigration; Now It’s Short of Workers 2/10

NYT – Amazon’s Living Lab: Reimagining Retail on Seattle Streets 2/12

NYT – India’s Air Pollution Rivals China’s as World’s Deadliest 2/14

Reuters – U.S. investors brace for mounting political risks as they decode Trump 2/14

ValueWalk – BCG: Hedge Funds Face Potential Doomsday Scenario 2/10

WSJ – Race to Revamp Shopping Malls Takes a Nasty Turn 2/14

WSJ – Bonds Tied to Dying Malls Could Be the Next ‘Big Short’ 2/14

WSJ – Retail Zombies Haunt Industry 2/15

WSJ – A Harsh Reality Is Hitting the Housing Market 2/15



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