March 24 – March 30, 2017

Shale markets to the financial markets – can I get some more money please… Slow housing recovery sapping GDP growth. China’s smartphone users flock to risky investments.

Headlines

FT – Chile heads for first recession since 2009 3/23. The Chilean economy contracted 0.4% in the fourth quarter of 2016 and it is looking like there will be another contraction in the first quarter of 2017 due to a strike at Escondida (the world’s largest copper mine) which would put the country in a technical recession, it’s first since 2009.

WSJ – Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye Is Arrested in Corruption Probe 3/30. First she was impeached and now arrested…geez.

Special Reports / Opinion Pieces

Briefs

  • Gloria Cheung and Don Weinland of the Financial Times highlighted recent restrictions by UnionPay barring Chinese from buying HK property with plastic.
    • “Chinese citizens have been barred from using their debit and credit cards to buy property in Hong Kong in the latest attempt by Beijing to curb capital flight.”
    • “The use of Chinese credit cards to pay for a portion of property transactions is widespread in Hong Kong. Willy Liu, chief executive of local real estate agent Ricacorp, said 15-20% of new property buyers were mainland Chinese. The majority use UnionPay (China’s sole clearing house for bank card transactions) cards to pay for 5% of the home price as a mortgage deposit in Hong Kong.”
    • “Most of those transactions are worth at least HK$500,000 ($64,371), Mr. Liu said, surpassing the $50,000 annual limit for personal foreign exchange imposed by China’s regulators.”
    • However, agents don’t expect the curbs to have much effect on Hong Kong property.
    • “UnionPay cards have been a common conduit for mainland Chinese to move cash offshore, and the company has sought to shutter those channels. In October, it said it had barred the use of its credit and debit cards to purchase investment-linked insurance products.”
    • “Investment-linked insurance products often have a cash value that allows customers to cash out after a set period. The business was viewed by Chinese regulators as a means of moving money offshore.”
    • “The insurance policies bought by Chinese customers last year were much larger than those bought by other customers. Average single-paid premiums for life and investment-linked policies bought by Chinese were HK$3.7m-HK$6.1m ($477,000-$786,000), Moody’s said in a report this year.”
  • David Blood of the Financial Times illustrated that fake news is shared as widely as the real thing.
    • “Nearly a quarter of web content shared on Twitter by users in the battleground state of Michigan during the final days of last year’s US election campaign was so-called fake news, according to a University of Oxford study.”
    • “Researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) also determined that these users shared approximately as many fake news items as ‘professional news’ over the same period.”
    • “The report, published on Monday, concludes that links to fake news stories accounted for 23% of the links tweeted by a sample of 140,000 Michigan-based users during the ten days up to November 11 last year.”
  • Bryan Harris and Kang Buseong of the Financial Times covered the how South Korea has joined the ranks of the world’s most polluted countries.
    • “South Korea has joined the ranks of the world’s most polluted countries, with air pollution in the first months of this year soaring to record levels.”
    • “Long associated with Asian capitals such as Beijing or Delhi, hazardous smog has for weeks blanketed Seoul – a city now appearing among the world’s three most polluted in daily rankings.”
    • “Already this year authorities in South Korea have issued 85 ultrafine dust (PM2.5) warnings, up more than 100% from the 41 advisories in the same period last year.”
    • “An OECD report found that up to 9m South Koreans could die prematurely by 2060 as a result of current levels of air pollution – the worst projection among members of the group of mainly rich countries.”
    • “Many in South Korea blame pollutants wafting in from China – but experts say much of the pollution is homegrown.”
    • “The South Korean environment ministry attributes up to 80% of the fine dust to overseas sources during periods of pronounced pollution.”
    • “But Prof. Kim (Kim Shin-do, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Seoul) believes China is to blame for only 20% of South Korea’s fine dust. Environmental group Greenpeace puts the figure at 30%.”
    • “Much of the country’s pollutants come from vehicle emissions and construction or industrial sites. Power plants also play a crucial role – and energy officials are pushing to develop even more coal-powered capacity.”
  • Don Weinland and Javier Espinoza of the Financial Times highlighted the shock waves that have resulted in the global M&A world due to Chinese capital constraints.
    • “In the space of 12 months, China’s companies have gone from being the most prolific and sought after bidders in international dealmaking to some of the most unreliable and sometimes even unwelcome, according to senior bankers and lawyers.”
    • “The stark change reflects the regulatory crackdown in China on outbound transactions since the start of 2017, which has been part of a coordinated effort to stem the hundreds of billions of dollars in capital pouring out of the country.”
    • “In the first three months of the year, the value of announced outbound deals from China dropped sharply to $23.8bn, according to Thomson Reuters data, its lowest level since 2014.”
    • “In 2016, Chinese companies agreed [to] about $222bn worth of deals…”
    • Bottom line, the restrictions put in place by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) to limit acquisitions of non-core lines of business are working.
    • Granted, “groups with sizeable assets overseas, such as the airlines and hospitality conglomerate HNA Group, have continued to ink deals at a ravenous pace this year.”

Graphics

FT – Struggling Sears signals decline of US malls – Gary Silverman, Lindsay Whipp and Joe Rennison 3/24

WSJ – Why China’s Latest Cash Crunch Is Scarier This Time – Anjani Trivedi 3/24

WSJ – Daily Shot: Insider Sentiment 3/26

Bloomberg – Manhattan Landlords Are Turning to Retailer Giveaways – Sarah Mulholland 3/28

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s Investors Service – Plateauing US auto sales 3/27

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMO Wealth Management – World Housing Affordability 3/28

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – Share of property as a component of household wealth in China 3/29

WSJ – Daily Shot: Saudi Arabia Foreign Exchange Reserves 3/29

Featured

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

America’s shale firms don’t give a frack about financial returns. Schumpeter. The Economist. 25 Mar. 2017.

“Shale’s second coming is testament to Texan grit. But the industry’s never-say-die spirit may explain why it has done next to nothing about its dire finances. The business has burned up cash for 34 of the last 40 quarters, according to figures on the top 60 listed E&P (exploration and production) firms collected by Bloomberg, a data provider. With the exception of airlines, Chinese state enterprises and Silicon Valley unicorns-private firms valued at more than $1bn-shale firms are on an unparalleled money-losing streak. About $11bn was torched in the latest quarter, as capital expenditures exceeded cashflows. The cash-burn rate may well rise again this year.”

“Meanwhile, the prospect of rapidly rising production is rattling global energy markets.”

“When oil prices halved in just 16 weeks starting in late 2014, panic hit Texas, followed-for a while-by grim austerity. The number of drilling rigs in America dropped by 68% from peak to trough. Companies slashed investment. Over 100 firms went bankrupt, defaulting on at least $70bn of debt.”

But here we go again.

“The partial recovery in the oil price, which at one point fell as low as $26, is only one factor behind renewed enthusiasm for shale. Houston’s optimists also argue that the full geological potential of Texas’s Permian basin has only just become apparent. Some experts think it could in time produce more barrels each day than Saudi Arabia does.”

“But the fact that the industry makes huge accounting losses has not changed. It has burned up cash whether the oil price was at $100, as in 2014, or at about $50, as it was during the past three months. The biggest 60 firms in aggregate have used up $9bn per quarter on average for the past five years. As a result the industry has barely improved its finances despite raising $70bn of equity since 2014. Much of the new money got swallowed up by losses, so total debt remains high, at just over $200bn.”

Thing is E&P firms are rewarded for taking risks. “Not one of the ten biggest E&P firms, for example, puts significant emphasis in its pay scheme on how much return on capital it produces. Low interest rates make it easy for shale firms to borrow, and fee-hungry banks cheer on the spectacle. But the only way that this mania will end well is if oil prices rise sharply, bailing out the industry, or if E&P firms are bought by bigger energy firms. That is possible, but companies such as Exxon and Shell are too seasoned to pay a lot for small, unprofitable firms.”

Then there is the circular argument that they’ll produce their way out of the debt with higher production at higher or sustained prices – but the more they produce (particularly as the swing producer in a global context) the more likely it is that prices will fall.

“The oil bulls of Houston have yet to prove that they can pump oil and create value at the same time.”

Sluggish Housing Recovery Took $300 Billion Toll on U.S. Economy, Data Show. Laura Kusisto. The Wall Street Journal. 26 Mar. 2017.

“The decline in homeownership rates to near 50-year lows is partly to blame for the U.S. economy’s sluggish recovery from the last recession, new data suggests.”

“If the home-building industry had returned to the long-term average level of construction, it would have added more than $300 billion to the economy last year, or a 1.8% boost to gross domestic product, according to a study expected to be released Monday by the Rosen Consulting Group, a real-estate consultant.”

“In 2016, total spending on housing declined to 15.6% of GDP, a broad measure of goods and services produced across the U.S., compared with a 60-year average of nearly 19%. The share of spending specifically lined to new-home construction and remodeling likewise declined to 3.6% of GDP, just over half its prerecession peak in 2005.”

“If you want to get the economy going, housing is typically the flywheel.” – Ken Rosen, chairman of Rosen Consulting and chairman of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

“The homeownership rate stood at 63.7% in the fourth quarter of 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That was down from a high of 69.2% during the housing boom and below the 65% economist say is a normal level.”

“It is unlikely that easing credit alone would be enough to bring the share of households who own back up to historic norms. Even in hot markets where demand is strong despite tight credit standards, builders can’t construct enough homes to meet demand because of labor shortages and regulatory barriers, said Robert Dietz, chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders.”

“Tighter mortgage lending has led to sharp declines in default rates and helped produce a market in which price growth is linked to economic prosperity.”

“But some experts argue default rates are too low. Under typical conditions, similar to those in the early 2000s, about 12% of mortgages are at risk of default, but in the third quarter of 2016, just 5.1% of mortgages were at risk of default – a level that indicates that lenders aren’t making loans to thousands of people who pose little risk, according to the Urban Institute, a nonprofit think tank.”

“Mr. Rosen said many middle-class families have missed out on the appreciation that has occurred over the past five years because they haven’t been eligible for mortgages.”

“‘We’re being paternalistic in our regulatory environment and it’s forcing lower middle-class people…to rent,’ he said.”

Swipe by Swipe, Chinses Smartphone Users Flock to Risky Investments. James T. Areddy. The Wall Street Journal. 28 Mar. 2017.

“In China, about 700 million people carry a smartphone, and many of them are comfortable sending money from their screens through the world’s busiest mobile-payment networks. That has created a crowdfunding wave bigger than anywhere else, a real-time experiment in a type of online investing proponents have long pushed in the U.S.”

“A million companies in China have turned to the internet to raise money, hawking loosely regulated, often risky investments, according to one of the country’s largest online lenders.”

“Swipe by swipe, the online money supply is helping to democratize investing and loosen capital markets. It also is propping up indebted Chinese companies and inflating bubbles in asset types from bonds to plastic pellets. And it is shifting more of the risks from China’s corporate debt load onto consumers.”

“Chinese banks hold more than $20 trillion in deposits, with more than a third of the total from household savings. Online pitches…attracted roughly $200 billion in 2015 and even more last year, consulting firm McKinsey & Co. estimated.”

“In just one corner of the booming online finance sector, more than 5,700 firms are registered with the Association of Shanghai Internet Financial Industry, a quasigovernmental group, to match small lenders and borrowers.”

“In January and February, Chinese electronics maker Cosun Group failed to repay about $166 million in bonds sold through an online marketplace owned by Ant Financial Services Group. Ant is an affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and is valued by some analysts at more than $70 billion.”

“Last April, crying investors flocked to Shanghai Kuailu Investment Group to demand their money back after its 13 fundraising platforms halted redemptions for about 38,000 customers who invested more than $2 billion, according to company documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. It had invested in at least 20 feature films, one starring former boxer Mike Tyson.”

“The company’s owner has disappeared, and investors claim they haven’t been repaid.”

You can imagine that the government has a cautious eye on the sector; however, previously they were all for it – hence the rapid adoption.

“In a recent survey, about 70% of Chinese internet users said carrying cash is no longer a daily necessity. It is common for consumers to swipe from deal to deal on apps that advertise investment opportunities. The apps usually are connected to online payment services that supply the customer’s personal details and link to bank accounts.”

“The migration of investing onto mobile phones happened in a flash. After Alipay pioneered a way to pay for goods with mobile phones, entrepreneurs used Alipay to sell shares during the 2015 stock-market boom. Stocks crashed, but other investment options proliferated, including commodities trading and interest-bearing insurance products.”

As an aside “multiple financial firms accept nude photos of borrowers as collateral on loans to college students.”

“Online finance is part of China’s wider shadow-credit system, where borrowings totaled $9.22 trillion in 2016, equivalent to 90% of GDP, according to UBS Securities. The term shadow credit refers to lending outside the formal banking system and its regulations.”

“Many people in the industry say investors pay little attention to details, other than the advertised return. Their money often is supposed to be tied up for just days or weeks, giving investors more comfort about the risks.”

“While most borrowers have been able to repay, often with a new round of money borrowed from somewhere else, investors have suffered losses in the billions of dollars.”

As Andrew Collier, founder and managing director of research firm Orient Capital Research in Hong Kong puts it, investors “are handing over their cash to a small group of internet pioneers who are trying to find ways to lend it short-term.”

Buckle your seatbelts.

Other Interesting Articles

Bloomberg Businessweek

The Economist

 

Bloomberg – Deutsche Bank in Bind Over How to Modify $300 Million Trump Debt 3/27

Economist – Anti-corruption demonstrations sweep across Russia 3/27
FT – Emerging market government debt rush before US rates rise further 3/23

FT – Property developer Kaisa surges 70% after exiting two-year suspension 3/26

FT – Hedge fund closures hold nuggets for stock market investors 3/27

FT – US producers build up sales hedges as oil falls 3/27

the guardian – A world without retirement 3/29

Mauldin Economics: Outside the Box – Raoul Pal, Paying Attention 3/29

NYT – China’s New Limits on Money Outflows Hit a Would-Be Paradise 3/24

NYT – Amazon’s Ambitions Unboxed: Stores for Furniture, Appliances and More 3/25

WSJ – China Tanked Oil Once, It Can Do It Again 3/27

WSJ – Spoiled-Milk Lending Flows to a Chinese Insurance Giant 3/27

WSJ – China’s Booming Car Market Fueled by Credit 3/28

 

2 thoughts on “March 24 – March 30, 2017”

  1. Thanks for keeping up with your writing! It’s great to get these in my inbox!

    Jeff Hillam Managing Director 617-651-7582 nabnassetgroup.com

    On Fri, Mar 31, 2017 at 8:17 AM, the janus observer wrote:

    > janusobserver12 posted: “Shale markets to the financial markets – can I > get some more money please… Slow housing recovery sapping GDP growth. > China’s smartphone users flock to risky investments. Headlines FT – Chile > heads for first recession since 2009 3/23. The Chilean ec” >

    Like

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