August 30, 2017

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Houston is on some the nation’s least absorbent soil 8/29

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – Harvey, the Storm That Humans Helped Cause – David Leonhardt 8/29

FT – A happier Japan is a concern for investors – Leo Lewis 8/28

  • “A record 74% of Japanese are satisfied with their lives, and, for the first time in two decades, a majority are content with their income, says a Cabinet Office survey.”
  • “The trouble with all this reported satisfaction, from a market point of view, is that it has happened too early.”
  • “One of the biggest fears is that a too-easily-pleased Japan will lose its hunger for serious reform and salary increases after a couple of years of superficial tinkering. That would undermine many of the big thematic investment cases that have been in place since 2013 — corporate governance reform, womenomics, unwinding of cross-shareholdings and inducing Japanese households to take more investment risk.”
  • On top of that Japanese corporates are basking in the limelight again. “The danger is that, in the glow of public satisfaction they are tending back to the investor-repellent habit of hoarding cash away from the pockets of both their shareholders and employees.”

FT – China’s tech groups are building too much power – Henny Sender 8/28

  • “There is no Silicon Valley comparison to the dominance of Alibaba and Tencent.”

Markets / Economy

FT – US home ownership fall hits young and minorities hardest – Lauren Leatherby 8/28

Energy

WSJ – Harvey’s Lessons for America’s Stretched Energy Infrastructure – Spencer Jakab 8/28

  • “For more than 40 years, the U.S. has worried about the security of its oil supply. Hurricane Harvey is another reminder that the infrastructure that processes and delivers oil is in many ways more important.”
  • “The U.S. has 141 operable oil refineries today, which is 79 fewer than 30 years ago. Those refineries have nearly 30% more capacity and are used much more heavily, about 90% on average over the past 12 months. The heaviest concentration is along the Gulf Coast where the industry has deep roots and has been allowed to expand. Harvey has temporarily knocked out about 15% of U.S. refining capacity.”

Finance

FT – Wall St’s top bankers sell own groups’ shares as Trump rally reverses – Ben McLannahan 8/27

  • “Wall Street analysts have been urging investors all year to buy stocks in the big US banks. But Wall Street itself is not listening.” 
  • “Executives and board members at the top six US banks have been consistent sellers of their own banks’ shares this year, according to an Financial Times analysis of disclosures tracked by Bloomberg.” 
  • “Insiders at the big six banks by assets — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley — have in total sold a net 9.32m shares on the open market since the turn of the year. Even excluding Warren Buffett’s big dumping of shares in Wells in April, to avoid tripping over rules capping ownership by a non-bank, sales by insiders outnumber purchases by about 14 to one.” 
  • “That is an unusually long streak of net sales, across each of the big six. Last year, for example, insiders at JPMorgan, Citigroup and Bank of America bought more shares than they sold.”

Environment / Science

FT – Blue dogs of Mumbai expose poor pollution controls – Simon Mundy 8/28

  • “Roaming packs of stray dogs are an established part of the landscape of Taloja, an industrial district to the north-east of Mumbai. But when a group of them turned blue this month, environmental activists sounded the alarm at this vivid evidence of industrial failure to adhere to proper standards of pollution control.”
  • Photo from National Geographic
  • “Investigation of the phenomenon by Mumbai’s pollution control board (MPCB) led it to a more prosaic explanation: the dogs had wandered into the grounds of a factory run by Ducol Organics, a local paint and plastic producer.”
  • “The outcry over the colored dogs reflects rising concerns about pollution in India. A study in February by the US-based research group Health Effects Institute found that India was poised to overtake China as the country with the most deaths caused by air pollution.” 
  • “A study this year by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai estimated premature deaths due to air pollution in Mumbai rose 62% to 32,014 between 1995 and 2015, outstripping the 41% population increase in the same period.”
  • “In New Delhi — which according to some estimates has the worst air of any major city in the world — the estimated death toll rose 147%, to 48,651.”

Economist – Louisiana fights the sea, and loses 8/26

  • “Between 1932 and 2010 the state [Louisiana] lost more than 1,800 square miles (470,000 hectares) of land to the sea, representing about 80% of America’s coastal erosion over the period. Recent losses have been especially severe because of an increase in big storms raging in from the Gulf of Mexico—such as Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, which led to the inundation of New Orleans and 1,836 deaths. Between 2004 and 2008 alone, Louisiana shrank by more than 300 square miles.”
  • For reference to the Hawaii readers, Oahu is 597 square miles and Maui is 727 square miles.
  • “According to a new report by RAND Corporation, a think-tank, infrastructure in the state worth up to $136bn could be threatened by land loss and increased storm damage, a related threat.”
  • “Starved of silt, and with less new organic matter to counteract its settling, coastal Louisiana is sinking back into its former watery state. Meanwhile, because of melting polar ice caps and thermal expansion, the sea level is rising. In the past decade the observed relative sea-level rise in coastal Louisiana—a figure that combines the effects of rising seas and subsiding land—was over a centimeter a year, or around four times the global average. The delta’s system of land creation has thus been thrown into reverse. In 1930, despite much engineering of the Mississippi’s channel, Louisiana was expanding by almost a square mile a year. Since then, an area the size of Delaware has been lost to the Gulf.”
  • One of the principal causes is due to the levees established by the Army Corps of Engineers along the Mississippi river to protect the flood basins back in the day. Trade-offs…
  • “The damaging effect of the levees was predicted. Weighing the benefits of engineering the Mississippi in 1897, a former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, E.L. Corthell, noted the need to take into account ‘withholding by the levees…of the annual contributions of sedimentary matters” and, because of this, ‘subsidence of the Gulf delta lands below the level of the sea and their gradual abandonment.’ But while he warned that “the present generation should not be selfish,’ Mr Corthell assumed the economic benefits of protecting the flood zone would ‘be so remarkable that people of the whole United States can well afford, when the time comes, to build a protective levee against the Gulf waters.’”
  • “That illustrates two related weaknesses in much environmental policymaking: an assumption that future politicians will take a longer-term view than current ones, and an excessive willingness to discount the future costs of solving environmental problems caused today… In any event, it is doubtful such a scheme would be affordable or otherwise practical, considering the effects of rising sea levels and fiercer storms, both consequences of global warming…”

Britain

WSJ – Daily Shot: Datastream – UK Household Savings Ratio 8/29

  • “UK’s households are struggling. With real wage growth in negative territory, the household savings ratio is collapsing.”

China

WSJ – Evergrande’s Ever More Risky Bet on Chinese Housing – Jacky Wong 8/28

FT – China orders videotaping of retail investment sales – Tom Mitchell 8/29

  • “China’s banking regulator has issued new rules requiring financial institutions to make video and audio recordings of all investment product sales, saying they were needed to ‘further regulate market order and protect customer rights’.” 
  • “The recordings will also help state-owned banks and the government fend off compensation demands from retail customers when their investments turn sour.” 
  • “’If investors make irrational choices after sales staff have clearly explained the risks, then they will have to accept the consequences,’ said Zhao Xijun, a finance professor at Renmin University in Beijing. ‘In the event there is a dispute, the recordings can be used as evidence’.” 
  • “The new surveillance rules issued by the China Banking Regulatory Commission require financial institutions to preserve the recordings for six months after the relevant investment product has expired. Banks are also not allowed to market investments to customers who refuse to be recorded.” 
  • “The value of outstanding [Wealth Management Products] WMPs has soared from Rmb4.6tn ($690bn) at the end of 2011 to Rmb29tn last year, according to data from Wind Information. But year-on-year growth moderated in 2016 to 23%, compared to a 56% increase in the value of outstanding WMPs in 2015.” 
  • “Data for the value of WMP products sold this year are not yet available. In volume terms, Chinese financial institutions sold 43% more WMP contracts through August 25 compared to the same period a year earlier.” 

FT – Huarong chief warns of bubble in China’s distressed debt market – Don Weinland 8/28

  • “Bubbles in credit and real estate have led to a steady flow of bad debt in China for years. But now a bubble is forming in the market for the bad loans themselves, says the chairman of China’s largest state-controlled ‘bad bank’.”
  • “Banks in China are dealing with an onslaught of non-performing loans that have resulted from poor risk controls and years of loose monetary policy. Investors estimate that China’s stock of bad debt has risen to $3tn this year, in step with a decelerating economy. One prominent analyst said recently that the figure could be as high as $6.8tn.”
  • “As the pool of bad assets rises, so too has the number of Chinese investors willing to chase after bad debt portfolios.”
  • “But many of the newcomers had little experience investing in distressed debt and were pushing up prices for the assets at auctions, said Lai Xiaomin, chairman of China Huarong Asset Management, and a deputy to the 12th National People’s Congress.”
  • “Inexperienced investors presented the risk of creating new losses while also failing to resolve troubled loans, he said.”
  • “China has experienced steady deregulation in how distressed debt is bought and sold since the industry was launched 18 years ago.”
  • “Huarong, along with three other centrally controlled asset managers, was created by the ministry of finance in 1999 to absorb perilously high levels of bad debt from China’s largest commercial banks. At the time, the government directed banks to transfer $1.4tn to the four groups.”
  • “Since then, the asset managers have greatly expanded their businesses in China and globally, operating more like investment banks than bad debt investors. Huarong went public in Hong Kong in late 2015.”

India

Economist – Undue reverence for company founders harms Indian firms 8/26

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