June 27, 2017

Perspective

Yahoo Finance – Business Insider: Here’s where Americans are moving to and from – Andy Kiersz 6/22

WSJ – For Consumers, Less Debt but Lots of Bills – Justin Lahart 6/23

  • “Americans’ finances are in the best shape they have been in years. As a group, U.S. households’ debt-to-income and debt-to-asset ratios in the first quarter fell to their lowest levels since the early 2000s. A prolonged period of low rates have made that debt easier to bear: The Federal Reserve this week reported that households’ overall debt-service ratio—the share of after-tax income going toward debt payments—are near historic lows.”
  • “But Americans face financial obligations beyond debt payments, such as rents and auto leases, and these are taking a bigger bite out of pay. Indeed, the Fed report shows the share of income going toward non-debt financial obligations is sitting near its highest level since the 1980s. It is a development that particularly for households at lower income levels may be crimping spending.”
  • “Commerce Department figures show the homeownership rate fell to its lowest levels in over a half-century in the years since the financial crisis, and it doesn’t look likely to recover anytime soon. That has tightened the supply of rental units, pushing rents up 18% over the past five years, according to the Labor Department, even as inflation away from housing has been nearly nonexistent.”
  • “So while many people who own their homes have benefited from rock-bottom mortgage rates, renters’ monthly nut has risen. Those renters tend to be poorer: The Fed’s most recent survey of consumer finances, conducted in 2013, showed the median annual income of families that rented was $27,800 versus $63,400 for families that owned.”
  • “Then there are the payments that aren’t included in the Fed’s data on financial obligations, but that consumers are nevertheless obliged to pay. Mobile phone and internet plans, for example, have moved to the essential spending bucket for most households, and they come with a monthly bill. The Labor Department estimates that spending on information and information processing services—a category that includes mobile telephone, landline telephone and internet services—now counts for 3.2% of the average consumer’s spending versus 2.3% in 2000.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: WHO – Global Smoking use under age of 15 6/23

WSJ – Daily Shot: Axios – Number of US Payphones 6/23

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Corporate governance minefield awaits China A-share buyers – James Kynge 6/22

  • “A corporate governance minefield awaits fund managers who will be obliged to pour billions of US dollars into Chinese equities after MSCI, the most influential indexer of emerging market equities, decided to include domestic Chinese A-shares in its main global indices.”
  • “Murky or undisclosed ownership structures, regular corruption scandals, exposure to unregulated shadow finance and a predominance of behind-the-scenes state influence over corporate decisions are just some of the governance challenges that global investors in the Chinese A-shares are set to encounter, analysts say.”
  • “A crucial feature of stock market governance is that investors exert influence over the board of directors, who in turn run the company to serve the interests of investors. But for state-owned companies in China, almost the opposite applies. Directors are appointed by the state to run the company for the benefit of state stakeholders who often shy away from engagement with portfolio investors.”
  • “Although the 222 A-shares slated for inclusion a year from now will represent only 0.73% of MSCI’s flagship emerging markets index, the cohort is far from insignificant. UBS, an investment bank, estimates that passive and active investors who track the index will be obliged to invest about $15bn in the Chinese shares.”
  • Caveat emptor.

13D Research – Has the meteoric rise of passive investing generated the “greatest bubble ever”? 6/16

  • “There is, really, no price discovery. And if there’s no price discovery, is there really a market?” – Steven Bregman, co-founder of Horizon Kinetics
  • “It seems algos are programmed with a bias to buy. Individual stocks have risen to ludicrous levels that leave rational humans scratching their heads. But since everything always goes up, and even small dips are big buying opportunities for these algos, machine learning teaches algos precisely that, and it becomes a self-propagating machine, until something trips a limit somewhere.” – Wolf Richter
  • “J.P. Morgan estimated this week that passive and quantitative investors now account for 60% of equity assets, which compares to less than 30% a decade ago. Moreover, they estimate that only 10% of trading volumes now originate from fundamental discretionary traders. This unprecedented rate of change no doubt opens the door to unaccountability, miscalculation and in turn, unforeseen consequence.”

The Atlantic – Power Causes Brain Damage – Jerry Useem July/August Issue

  • “How leaders lose mental capacities – most notably for reading other people – that were essential to their rise.”

Finance

WSJ – Stock Picking Is Dying Because There Are No More Stocks to Pick – Jason Zweig 6/23

China

FT – Alibaba taps user data to drive growth spurt – Louise Lucas 6/21

  • Data, data, data. The more I know about your customers, the more you’re willing to pay me to broker transactions. And the more I know about you (consumer), the better able I am to match you (sell you) with products you’d want.

FT – Big China companies targeted over ‘systemic risk’ – Lucy Hornby, Yuan Yang, Gabriel Wildau 6/22

  • “This is a game changer for Chinese M&A and could pretty much stop all outbound deal making in its tracks.” – Keith Pogson, EY’s senior partner for financial services in Asia.

FT – Beijing’s video-streaming ban lops $1bn off Sina Weibo market cap – Emily Feng 6/22

  • “Chinese regulators have ordered three major internet platforms to halt all video and audio streaming services, as the country ramps up its control over online content.”
  • “Microblogging site Sina Weibo was one of the three slapped with the streaming ban. Popular news portal site iFeng and video streaming platform ACFUN have also been ordered to stop streaming.”
  • “The three companies did not possess the necessary license to stream audio and visual content and were ‘not in line with national audiovisual regulations and propagating negative speech,’ according to an announcement posted on Thursday night on the website of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), China’s media oversight body.” 
  • “Users would now have to apply for a license to continue video or audio streaming, according to a statement issued by the company.”
  • “The abrupt halt on video and audio streaming comes as China steps up its policing of internet content, particularly content it deems salacious. Earlier this month, more than 60 social media accounts, some on Weibo and including many celebrity gossip channels, were shut down for disseminating ‘vulgar content’ and ‘negatively impacting society’.”
  • “Meanwhile, a new cyber security law that took effect in June now mandates that any data relating to national security must be held on Chinese servers and large data transfers abroad must first be reviewed.”

Europe

Wolf Street – Two Italian Zombie Banks Toppled Friday Night – Wolf Richter 6/23

  • “When banks fail and regulators decide to liquidate them, it happens on Friday evening so that there is a weekend to clean up the mess. And this is what happened in Italy – with two banks!”
  • “It’s over for the two banks that have been prominent zombies in the Italian banking crisis: Veneto Banca and Banca Popolare di Vicenza, in northeastern Italy.”
  • “The banks have combined assets of €60 billion, a good part of which are toxic and no one wanted to touch them. They already received a bailout but more would have been required, and given the uncertainty and the messiness of their books, nothing was forthcoming, and the ECB which regulates them lost its patience.”
  • “In a tersely worded statement, the ECB’s office of Banking Supervision ordered the banks to be wound up because they ‘were failing or likely to fail as the two banks repeatedly breached supervisory capital requirements.’”
  • “’Failing or likely to fail’ is the key phrase that banking supervisors use for banks that ‘should be put in resolution or wound up under normal insolvency proceedings,’ the statement said. This is the first Italian bank liquidation under Europe’s new Single Resolution Mechanism Regulation.”

Japan

FT – Toshiba to be demoted to second ranks of Tokyo Stock Exchange – Leo Lewis and Kana Inagaki 6/23

  • “Struggling conglomerate leaves Nikkei 225 for first time since index launched in 1950.”

Turkey

NYT – Turkey Drops Evolution From Curriculum, Angering Secularists – Patrick Kingsley 6/23

  • “Turkey has removed the concept of evolution from its high school curriculum, in what critics fear is the latest attempt by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to erode the country’s secular character.”
  • What does one do when there is an inconvenient truth… deny its existence and keep future generations in the dark.

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