July 26, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

NYT – 110 N.F.L Brains 7/25

  • “Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist, has examined the brains of 202 deceased football players. A broad survey of her findings was published on Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association.”
  • “Of the 202 players, 111 of them played in the N.F.L. – and 110 of those were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., the degenerative disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head.”
  • “The brains here are from players who died as young as 23 and as old as 89. And they are from every position on the field – quarterbacks, running backs and linebackers, and even a place-kicker and a punter.”

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Forbes – Large Tech Firm Lobby Budgets 7/25

WSJ – U.S. Military’s Space in Trump Tower Costs $130,000 a month – Paul Sonne 7/19

  • It’s a 3,475 sq. ft. space, so $37.41 per sq. ft. per month. Mind you, “the most expensive Trump Tower listing recently was a 3,725 sq. ft., three-bedroom apartment on the 62nd floor. It was listed in the spring of 2016 for $50,000 a month unfurnished and $60,000 a month furnished, according to Streeteasy.com.”
  • Basically, Trump’s neighbor recognizes they have a captive audience.

FT – Google and Facebook lay foundations for modern-day company towns – George Hammond 7/19

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg – Fund Managers and Strategists Think the Bull Market Is Ending Next Year – Adam Haigh, Natasha Doff, Dani Burger and Julie Verhage 7/25

  • “We have had a liquidity-fueled bull market. If that is taken away, there is a pressure point.” – Remi Olu-Pitan, Schroder Investment Management Ltd.

WP – Disabled and disdained – Terrence McCoy 7/21

  • “In rural America, some towns are divided between those who work and those who don’t.”

FP – The argument to be a buyer of the Saudi Aramco IPO – John Dizard 7/21

  • “As one international oil analyst says, though: ‘The Permian is preventing high prices today, but ensuring high oil prices tomorrow. The low prices are holding back investment in most of the world, and that is storing up a significant problem in meeting demand in the future.'”
  • “That is the argument to be a buyer of the Saudi Aramco IPO.”
  • “There are two bets involved in the listing. Can Saudi Arabia contain the social and strategic pressures caused by cheap oil? And will the capital markets eventually stop subsidizing shale producers?”

WSJ – Investors, Stop Worrying About Why ‘Nobody’ Is Worrying – Jason Zweig 7/21

Markets / Economy

WSJ – In Reversal, Colleges Rein In Tuition – Josh Mitchell 7/23

  • “U.S. college tuition is growing at the slowest pace in decades, following a nearly 400% rise over the past three decades that fueled middle class anxieties and a surge in student debt.”
  • “Abundant supply is running up against demand constraints. The number of two-year and four-year colleges increased 33% between 1990 and 2012 to 4,726, Education Department data show. But college enrollment is down more than 4% from a peak in 2010, partly because a healthy job market means fewer people are going back to school to learn new skills.”
  • “Longer-running economic and demographic shifts also are at play. Lower birthrates and the aging of baby boomer children have reduced the pool of traditional college-age Americans. The number of new high-school graduates grew 18% between 2000 and 2010 but only 2% in the first seven years of this decade, Education Department data show.”
  • “Another factor: Congress last increased the maximum amount undergraduates could borrow from the government in 2008. Some economists have concluded schools raise prices along with increases in federal financial aid. A clampdown on aid, in turn, could limit the ability of schools to charge more.”
  • “But other factors could keep cost pressures rising. George Pernsteiner, head of State Higher Education Executive Officers, a trade group that tracks state funding for schools, notes that many states are on track to experience budget crunches as the population ages and health-care and public pension costs rise. That could squeeze public support for schools.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Americans Pour Record Sums Into Home Improvements – Laura Kusisto and Sarah Chaney 7/25

  • “A shortage of new single-family homes across the U.S. is pushing up prices and locking many buyers out of the market. The silver lining: a boom in renovations of existing homes.”
  • “Americans are expected to pour a record $316 billion into home remodeling this year, up from $296 billion a year earlier, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.”

FT – Funds hunt for cracks in most-prized US shopping malls – Miles Johnson 7/21

  • “A defining feature of the financial crisis was a group of hedge funds making vast sums by wagering against supposedly AAA-rated mortgage debt well before markets imploded in 2008.”
  • “Now some believe a similar story will play out for US shopping malls — that the most risky investments will end up being those that investors now believe to be the safest. Central to their premise is the idea that too much faith may be being placed in a classification system used for shopping malls that is little known outside of the real estate sector.”
  • “Malls are given ratings by a small group of property consultants generally ranging from A++ to C based on factors that include their sales per square foot and location. While there is no universally accepted system for ranking the malls, with each consultant having slightly different methodologies, banks and investors tend to rely on these ratings to make decisions over how secure each mall is as a creditor or investment.”
  • “The stock market has until recently appeared to believe that prime ‘A’ malls are largely insulated from the pain being felt across a US retail sector being shaken by e-commerce.”
  • “Yet there is growing evidence to suggest that these prime malls, which have been treated by investors and lenders alike as rock solid bets in the face of the internet headwinds, are not as protected as once thought.”
  • “The hedge funds wagering against the highest quality malls believe that the wider market will come to believe these A-quality malls are far more similar to lesser ranked ones. ‘This idea that there are these magic malls in America that are immune to secular change is a myth,’ the US-based hedge fund manager says.”
  • “Some argue that the market underappreciates that A class mall operators and B and C class mall operators all have very similar tenant bases, in spite of being in different locations.”

Energy

BloombergGadlfy – Venezuela’s Perfect Storm for Oil May Be About to Break – Liam Denning 7/21

  • “We may be about to see the first sovereign producer to unequivocally fail.”
  • “The oil producer in question is Venezuela, and that assessment comes courtesy of Helima Croft, who is global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets and formerly worked with both the Council on Foreign Relations and the CIA.”
  • “But things are building to a head, partly due to the relentless logic of the bond market and partly due to the more proprietary logic of U.S. foreign policy.”
  • “Venezuelan bonds, which haven’t looked rock-solid for a few years, crashed this week as embattled President Nicola Maduro renewed calls to rewrite the country’s constitution, which would effectively disenfranchise the millions of Venezuelans who oppose him and entrench his regime. The U.S. has warned it may impose much tougher sanctions if Maduro goes ahead with his plan.”
  • “Venezuela’s economy is in free-fall: By the end of this year, it will have shrunk by 32% compared to where it was at the end of 2013, according to International Monetary Fund forecasts. Also by the end of this year, the government is on the hook to pay back more than $5 billion in debt — including bonds owed by the state-owned oil champion, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., or PdVSA — plus billions more in interest. As of this week, Venezuela’s international reserves stood at less than $10 billion.”
  • “Meanwhile, mismanagement, a lack of investment and re-nationalization of foreign oil companies’ interests have caused Venezuela’s oil production to slump from around 3.3 million barrels a day a decade ago to about 2 million now. Even allowing for the fact that domestic consumption has dwindled along with GDP, Venezuela’s surplus of oil available for earning export dollars has shrunk considerably.”
  • “Compounding this is the fact that the country must devote a lot of its output to paying off loans from China and Russia, further reducing the actual amount it can use to generate cash. Francisco Monaldi, a fellow in Latin American energy policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, estimates that could be as little as 800,000 barrels a day.”
  • “For three years, oil watchers have been waiting for a chaotic wave of bankruptcies in places like Texas and North Dakota to jolt the market. They’ve been looking in the wrong place.”

FT – Coal has no future, says US railroad boss – Gregory Meyer 7/19

  • “One of the largest haulers of US coal says fossil fuels have no future, despite pledges to the contrary from President Donald Trump.”
  • “CSX, a freight railroad company with origins in the bituminous coal seams of Appalachia, will not buy a single new locomotive to pull coal trains, chief executive Hunter Harrison told analysts on Wednesday.”
  • “’Fossil fuels are dead,’ Mr Harrison said. ‘That’s a long-term view. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to be in two or three years. But it’s going away, in my view.’” 
  • “North American railroads have reshaped their asset holdings in acknowledgment that coal’s apex has passed.”
  • “Lance Fritz, chief executive of the Union Pacific railroad, said in a recent interview that Mr Trump’s move to scrap Clean Power Plan regulations was unlikely to grow its coal business. ‘It takes away a headwind,’ he said.”

Tech

NYT – Silicon Valley Giants Confront New Walls in China – Paul Mozur and Carolyn Zhang 7/22

  • “It’s basically like someone who has been training for Olympic taekwondo going up against a street fighter. The Olympic fighter is waiting for the whistle, and the street fighter already has him on the ground hitting him with elbows. There’s no rules.” – Andy Tian, co-founder of Asia Innovations Group and former general manager of Zynga China

FT – Uber, Amazon and Microsoft braced for accounting shake-up – Leslie Hook and Richard Waters 7/19

  • “Uber’s reported revenues are being cut in half and sales at Amazon and Microsoft could be higher than previously stated — all thanks to a forthcoming change to accounting rules.”
  • “An update to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) for US companies is turning out to have particularly large consequences in parts of the tech industry, which is having to overhaul the way it reports revenues and costs.”
  • “One of the more dramatic impacts will affect car-booking services such as Uber, a private company whose GAAP revenue drops by more than half when it adopts the new standard, which it plans to do this year.”
  • “Uber’s first-quarter revenue this year was $3.4bn under old GAAP accounting, but it says that under the new rules its revenue would have been just $1.5bn for the same period. Uber has already started sharing the lower figure with investors.”
  • “Under the old standard, car-booking services such as Uber and Lyft counted their commissions from regular rides, plus the entire fare of carpool rides, as revenue. Under the new standard, only the commissions from both regular and carpool rides will count as revenue.”
  • “The shift is due to changes to the ‘principal versus agent’ rules that determine when a company is acting as a principal and when it is acting as an agent. The car-booking services were previously considered the ‘principal’ for carpooled rides. As private companies, they must adopt the new standard by the beginning of 2019, although Uber has moved to do so much earlier.”
  • “The new standard, known as Revenue from Contracts with Customers, is designed to narrow the distance between US GAAP rules and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).”

Agriculture 

WSJ – Daily Shot: CBOT Soft Red Winter Wheat Futures 7/24

  • “The recent wheat rally has been almost entirely reversed.”

Asia – excluding China and Japan

FT – Jailed Duterte foe prepares for long haul – Michael Peel 7/20

  • “Philippine Senator Leila de Lima, 57, was arrested at her senate office in February on charges that she received payoffs from jailed drug lords. She has branded the allegations ‘simply surreal’ and said they were part of a ‘personal vendetta’ by a president who is ‘rather obsessed with me’.”
  • “Ms. de Lima has certainly earned implacable enmity from Mr. Duterte for her efforts to probe his bloody drugs wars first as a provincial mayor and now as president. She maintains her innocence but also accepts her stay in jail could be a long one. The same day she marks five months in detention next week, Mr. Duterte will give an annual state of the nation speech against a background of soaring approval ratings.”
  • “I think as long as Duterte is president (5 more years), I will be locked up in jail,” Ms. de Lima says. “I have no false hopes about achieving justice very soon.”

China

NYT – In China, Herd of ‘Gray Rhinos’ Threatens Economy – Keith Bradsher and Sui-Lee Wee 7/23

  • “Let the West worry about so-called black swans, rare and unexpected events that can upset financial markets. China is more concerned about ‘gray rhinos’ — large and visible problems in the economy that are ignored until they start moving fast.”
  • “The rhinos are a herd of Chinese tycoons who have used a combination of political connections and raw ambition to create sprawling global conglomerates. Companies like Anbang Insurance Group, Fosun International, HNA Group and Dalian Wanda Group have feasted on cheap debt provided by state banks, spending lavishly to build their empires.”
  • “Such players are now so big, so complex, so indebted and so enmeshed in the economy that the Chinese government is abruptly bringing them to heel. President Xi Jinping recently warned that financial stability is crucial to national security, while the official newspaper of the Communist Party pointed to the dangers of a ‘gray rhinoceros,’ without naming specific companies.”

FT – China’s LeEco appoints new chairman from Sunac – Emily Feng 7/21

  • Sunac continues to be busy. In addition to its property acquisitions from Dalian Wanda, Sunac’s chairman – Sun Hongbin, is adding a new chairmanship to his belt, that of the struggling Chinese tech company, LeEco.

WSJ – The Saga Isn’t Over for Dalian Wanda – Jacky Wong 7/20

NYT – At the Finish, Dalian Wanda of China Rewrites a Blockbuster Sale – Sui-Lee Wee and Zhang Tiantian 7/19

  • “Dalian Wanda Group, the Chinese conglomerate, tore up a $9.3 billion agreement to sell a portfolio of hotels and theme parks, unexpectedly reaching new deals on the properties that highlighted uncertainty over the financial health of the country’s biggest companies.”
  • “Wanda had reached an overall agreement with the property firm Sunac China Holdings last week, but Wanda announced at a signing ceremony on Wednesday that it was backtracking and would instead sell just the theme parks to Sunac. The hotels will instead be sold to R&F Properties, based in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.”
  • “The hasty reorganization of the deals has raised concern about the due diligence conducted by many of China’s first-generation dealmakers as they seek to become bigger players domestically and around the world.”
  • “The signing was dominated by the announcement that Sunac would pay $6.5 billion for a 91% stake in Wanda’s 13 theme parks across China, while R&F Properties would buy 77 hotels from Wanda for $3 billion. In a sign of the wildly fluctuating valuations of assets, however, Wanda had said last week that it was selling Sunac only 76 hotels, but that they were worth $5 billion.”

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Venezuelaecon.com – Venezuelan Bolivar Black Market Exchange Rate 7/25

Turkey

NYT – Turkey Sees Foes at Work in Gold Mines, Cafes and ‘Smurf Village’ – David Segal 7/22

  • “Since then (after the failed attempt to overthrow the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 15, 2016), more than 950 companies have been expropriated, all of them purportedly linked to Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric who Turkish leaders say masterminded the putsch.”
  • “About $11 billion worth of corporate assets — from small baklava chains to large publicly traded conglomerates — have been grabbed by the government, a systematic taking with few precedents in modern economic history. Several thousand dispossessed executives have fled overseas to cities as far-flung as Nashville and Helsinki. The less fortunate were imprisoned, part of a mass incarceration campaign that has included purged members of the military, judiciary, police and news media, adding 50,000 new inmates to the prisons.”

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