Month: September 2017

September 29, 2017

Perspective

NYT – Why Aren’t Paychecks Growing? A Burger-Joint Clause Offers a Clue – Rachel Abrams 9/27

  • “As economists try to understand why wages have stagnated across the country’s economy, they are examining the cheap labor part of the equation closely. A few have zeroed in on an obscure clause buried in many fast-food franchise agreements as a possible contributor to the problem.”
  • “Some of fast-food’s biggest names, including Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Pizza Hut and, until recently, McDonald’s, prohibited franchisees from hiring workers away from one another, preventing, for example, one Pizza Hut from hiring employees from another.”
  • “The restrictions do not appear in a contract that employees sign, or even see. They are typically included in a paragraph buried in lengthy contracts that owners of fast-food outlets sign with corporate headquarters.”
  • “Yet the provisions can keep employees tied to one spot, unable to switch jobs or negotiate higher pay. A lack of worker mobility has long been viewed as contributing to wage stagnation because switching jobs is one of the most reliable ways to get a raise.”
  • “Defenders of the practice argue that the restaurants spend time and money training workers and want to protect their investment. But two lawsuits, filed this year against McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr.’s parent company, CKE Restaurants Holdings, contend that such no-hire rules violate antitrust and labor laws.”
  • “The no-hire rules affect more than 70,000 restaurants — or more than a quarter of the fast-food outlets in the United States — according to Alan B. Krueger, an economist at Princeton University and a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration who examined agreements for 40 of the nation’s largest fast-food companies.”
  • “The provisions, he said, were ‘ubiquitous’ among the companies and appeared to exist mainly to limit both competition and turnover, which can keep labor costs low.”
  • “The restrictions are different from what are known as noncompete agreements — clauses in employee contracts that keep an employee from jumping to a rival. Such agreements are typically described as a means of preventing employees from bringing trade secrets to a competitor.”
  • “’I think it’s very hard to make the argument that noncompetitive agreements are necessary for low-educated, low-wage workers because they have trade secrets,’ Professor Krueger said. ‘This practice does have the potential to restrict competition and significantly influence pay.’”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Uber: the triumph of wallet over spirit – Robert Shrimsley 9/27

  • “I am quietly pleased London has taken a stand because, frankly, I wasn’t going to…”
  • “Free markets are a general good but they need someone looking beyond instant gratification to the wider consequences because the bottom line is consumers are like children. We need to be told that convenience is not the only issue. We need to be told to eat our greens.”

NYT – With Tax Cuts on the Table, Once-Mighty Deficit Hawks Hardly Chirp – Thomas Kaplan 9/28

Economist – How China is battling ever more intensely in world markets 9/23

Economist – How the use of antibiotics in poultry farming changed the way America eats 9/21

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Businessweek – Midsize U.S. Sedan Demand Stalls Out to Lowest on Record – Anne Riley Moffat 9/27

  • “Only about one in 10 new cars sold in the U.S. is a midsize sedan, a sharp decline for the best-selling vehicle segment in 20 of the last 27 years, according to data from car-shopping website Edmunds.”

Real Estate

Fortune – The U.S. Housing Market Is Getting Squeezed. See Where Prices Are Spiking the Highest – Nicolas Rapp and Brian O’Keefe 9/15

WSJ – Blame Canada? Toronto, Vancouver Top Housing  Bubble Risks – Brian Blackstone 9/28

  • “Blame Canada?”
  • “It isn’t just the tune made famous by the South Park movie. It may become a motto among economists if frothy housing values around the world turn into a destabilizing bubble.”
  • “UBS published its latest global real estate ‘bubble index’ on Thursday, listing the major cities most at risk of housing bubbles. Canada took two of the top four spots, with Toronto on top and Vancouver at number four, and Northern Europe’s Munich and Stockholm sandwiched between.”
  • “U.S. cities featured pretty highly, with San Francisco and Los Angeles in ‘overvalued,’ but not bubble territory. New York was deemed fairly valued, and Chicago was the only city in the 20 listed that was undervalued.”
  • “UBS lists Boston’s real-estate market as fair-valued. Its uses sub-indexes such as price-to-income and mortgage-to-gross domestic product ratios to construct an overall index. Index readings above 1.5 are in bubble territory and the overvaluation scale slides down from there.”
  • “UBS noted that Toronto and Vancouver weren’t ‘dragged down’ by the global financial crisis, as a weaker Canadian dollar cushioned the blow. ‘Overly loose monetary policy, for too long, in addition to buoyant foreign demand, unmoored their housing markets from economic fundamentals—and both markets are now in bubble risk territory.’”
  • “’A strengthening Canadian dollar and further interest rate hikes would end the party,’ the report added.”
  • “In the U.S., housing prices in cities are still below their 2008 peak in inflation-adjusted terms, UBS said, except for San Francisco which ‘shows signs of overvaluation but no bubble risk, given its strong economic fundamentals amid the astonishing boom of tech companies.’”
  • “Turning to Europe, UBS said that ‘improving economic sentiment, partly accompanied by robust income growth in the key cities, has conspired with excessively low borrowing rates to spur vigorous demand for urban housing.’”
  • “In the Asia-Pacific region, Tokyo shows ‘moderate signs of overheating’ since the Bank of Japan launched its quantitative easing program in 2013, while residential prices in Hong Kong reached all-time highs mid-year ‘thanks to insatiable investor demand and speculative price expectations.’”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Danske Bank – S&P 500 Volatility 9/28

  • “For the first time since 2005, there hasn’t been a 2% daily move in the S&P 500.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Reformed Broker – S&P 500 Maximum Drawdowns 9/28

China

Economist – China’s demographic divisions are getting deeper 9/21

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September 28, 2017

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Goldman Sachs – Rise and Fall of New Technology – Share Price Performance 9/27

Real Estate

CNBC – Stop sugarcoating the housing market: Economist warns that buyers face increasing troubles – Diana Olick 9/26

  • “From a broad view, the U.S. housing market looks very healthy. Demand is high, employment and wages are growing, and mortgage rates are low.”
  • “But the nation’s housing market is assuredly unhealthy; in fact, it is increasingly mismatched with today’s buyers. While the big numbers don’t lie, they don’t tell the real truth about the affordability and availability of U.S. housing for the bulk of would-be buyers.”
  • “First, several reports out this week point to both continued heat in home values as well as pushback from homebuyers. Prices remain nearly 6% higher than they were a year ago, nationally, with some local markets seeing double-digit annual price gains. Those prices are being driven by a severe lack of supply at the low end of the market, which is where the most demand exists. That means lower-priced homes are seeing bigger price gains than higher-priced homes because of the competition.”
  • “At the same time, sales are falling, again, because there are too few homes on the low end, and the homes that are available are very expensive.”
  • “‘It sets up a situation in which the housing market looks largely healthy from a 50,000-foot view, but on the ground, the situation is much different, especially for younger, first-time buyers and/or buyers of more modest means,’ wrote Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Zillow in a response to the latest home-price data. ‘Supply is low in general, but half of what is available to buy is priced in the top one-third of the market.'”
  • “Supply on the low end is tight because during the housing crash investors large and small bought hundreds of thousands of foreclosed properties and turned them into rentals. There are currently 8 million more renter-occupied homes than there were in 2007, the peak of the housing boom, according to the U.S. Census.
  • “Investors could take the opportunity of high prices and high demand to sell these properties, but today’s high rents offer them better returns.”
  • “Low supply of homes for sale might also seem like a great opportunity for the nation’s homebuilders. Yes, they went through an epic housing crash, but they have since consolidated market share and righted their balance sheets. Homebuilders are simply not building enough inexpensive houses that the market needs.”
  • “Builders say they would like to build more affordable homes but cannot because the math doesn’t work. The costs of land, labor, materials and regulatory compliance are just too high. In addition, younger homebuyers want to live closer to urban areas, not in the far-out exurbs, where builder costs are far lower.”
  • “‘It’s time we stopped sugarcoating the truth with this data — the simple fact is that we are severely underproducing housing in this country, relative both to basic demographics and currently high demand from buyers,’ wrote Gudell, who notes that inventory is stuck at roughly mid-1990s levels, but the country has grown by more than 60 million people since then. ‘Buying conditions, in theory, are great right now: Jobs and incomes are growing, and rock-bottom mortgage interest rates are helping keep financing costs low. What’s missing from the equation is a lack of homes actually available to buy at a price point that’s reasonable for most buyers.'”
  • “The trouble is, even though the market is woefully mismatched, home prices will not come down as long as there are some buyers out there willing and able to spend more and more money for less and less house.”
  • “So, what does all this mean for the economy and personal wealth? It means the renter nation will persist and fewer Americans will be able to save and grow their money in a home. It also means rents will continue to rise due to high demand, leaving more Americans with less disposable income to spend.”

China

WSJ – Chinese Developers Face Debt Reckoning After Boom – Dominique Fong 9/27

  • “A wave of local-currency debt coming due next year alongside new stricter lending rules are bearing down on China’s developers and posing a risk to the country’s economy.”
  • “Meanwhile, many yuan bondholders have the option to demand early repayment starting next year and increasingly in 2019 and 2020. The scenario could force a wave of asset sales and deprive developers of cash to build new projects, leading to a further potential deterioration in their finances, credit analysts say.”
  • “Developers also are likely to pay more dearly for debt after home prices slowed for three straight months this summer, save a few small cities. Last year, only about 25% of developers paid 6% or higher for their yuan bonds, according to Wind. This year the ratio is more than 33%. Credit analysts expect that to climb further.”
  • “Since many loans use property as collateral, declines in value could exacerbate any chain of defaults for yuan bonds, bank loans and China’s informal, lightly-regulated lending sector, potentially infecting China’s financial system.”
  • “’The wall of bonds is just one symptom of the whole problem,’ said Anne Stevenson-Yang, founder of J Capital Research.”
  • “Smaller developers are particularly vulnerable because of their high debt loads, experts say. For example, the net debt of state-backed Yunnan Metropolitan Real Estate Development Co. is 57 times earnings before interest and taxes, according to research firm Granite Peak Advisory. The ratio is 37 times for Fuzhou-based commercial real-estate developer Tahoe Group Co., and more than 23 times for Shanghai-based Yango Group Co.”
  • “In comparison, the leverage for all mainland-listed developers is 6.4 times, and 4 times for all Chinese companies excluding financial institutions, according to Granite Peak Advisory.”
  • “Most developers have adequate liquidity if they can’t refinance debt and must repay bonds in full with cash next year, Moody’s says. But their ability to do so is weakening. Rated developers’ cash was 1.6 times short-term debt coverage, compared with 2 times last year, S&P Global Ratings says.”

South America

FT – Venezuelan politicians seek refuge abroad – John Paul Rathbone and Gideon Long 9/26

  • “Exiled mayor David Smolansky says country has moved closer to a totalitarian regime.”

September 27, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

Bloomberg Businessweek – Ronaldo Is Hawking One of the World’s Riskiest Derivatives – Donal Griffin 9/20

  • The product: Contracts For Difference (CFDs)
  • “CFDs, called ‘a volatile form of gambling’ by an Irish judge in 2014, make up one of the last bastions of opaque, lightly regulated financial speculation in Europe. The contracts, which allow investors to bet on the direction of stocks, bonds, currencies and commodities without buying the underlying assets, aren’t traded on public exchanges and are largely prohibited for retail customers in the U.S. They’ve surged in popularity across Europe since 2010, triggering concerns of regulators, who say customers don’t grasp the risks involved.”
  • “Regulators from the Central Bank of Ireland to Polish markets watchdog KNF are now circling the CFD industry, and several countries have imposed leverage caps, limits on client losses and marketing restrictions. Cyprus (where most of the operators are based) introduced rules last year requiring CFD firms to offer a default leverage amount of no more than 50 times and limit client losses. Still, investors can get more if they ask for it and pass a firm’s ‘appropriateness test,’ according to a statement from the regulator, known as CySEC, which declined to comment further.”
  • “CFD users in Spain lose money 82% of the time, according to a study by the regulator that found about 31,000 traders in the country lost 142 million euros ($170 million) over a 21-month period ended in September 2016, including transaction costs. Other regulators have reported a similar percentage of losing bets.”
  • “Javier Paz, an analyst with Aite Group LLC in Boston who tracks the industry, estimates that European traders have lost about $2.1 billion on the derivatives over the past 15 years.”
  • “‘This is like a casino, and it looks very dangerous,’ Patricia Suarez, president of the Association of Financial Users in Madrid, which campaigns against abusive banking products, said of CFD trading.”
  • “One reason for the losses, regulators say, is the borrowed funds that CFD firms offer investors to magnify their bets. The leverage allows customers to deposit a small percentage of the total value of their trades. The CFD firm funds the remainder of the bet at a specified rate of interest. Trading this way can result in inflated profits, but the client can lose more than his deposit if the market moves even slightly in the wrong direction.”

Perspective

Axios – The large parts of America left behind by today’s economy – Kim Hart 9/25

  • “U.S. geographical economic inequality is growing, meaning your economic opportunity is more tied to your location than ever before. A large portion of the country is being left behind by today’s economy, according to a county-by-county report released this morning by the Economic Innovation Group, a non-profit research and advocacy organization. This was a major election theme that helped thrust Donald Trump to the White House.”
  • Key findings:”
    • “New jobs are clustered in the economy’s best-off places, leaving one of every four new jobs for the bottom 60% of zip codes.”
    • “57% of the national rise in business establishments and 52% of employment growth from 2011-2015 were in prosperous areas.”
    • “Most of today’s distressed communities have seen zero net gains in employment and business establishment since 2000. In fact, more than half have seen net losses on both fronts.”
    • “Half of adults living in distressed zip codes are attempting to find gainful employment in the modern economy armed with only a high school education at best.”
    • “The healthier the economy, the healthier the person — people in distressed communities die five years earlier.”

FT – Millions mired in poverty as US upturn passes them by, study finds – Sam Fleming and Lauren Leatherby 9/25

  • “More than 50m Americans live in districts that are mired in a ‘deep ongoing recession’, with falling employment and a shrinking business base, according to a report that highlights the fractured nature of the US recovery.”
  • “According to research from the Economic Innovation Group think-tank, one in six Americans resides in a zip code it defines as a ‘distressed community’. These are areas with a falling number of businesses and in which the local population has low median income, poor labor force participation, high levels of poverty and low educational achievement.”

WSJ – Then and Now: The Big Shift at Work – Lauren Weber and Stephanie Stamm 9/2

  • “The biggest share of companies’ output still goes to workers, but that share is shrinking as companies spend less on both employee compensation and capital investment. Meanwhile, investors are getting three times the payout they did 30 years ago.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – Tyranny of the Minority – Michelle Goldberg 9/25

The Registry – Leaving Retail – John McNellis 9/26

Markets / Economy

RIAA – U.S. Sales Database: Recorded Music Revenues by Format 9/25

VC – Economic Might by U.S. Metro Area – Jeff Desjardins 9/26

Real Estate

WSJ – E-Commerce Mania Spreads To Warehouse Market – Esther Fung 9/26

  • “E-commerce is setting off a scramble for industrial real estate near urban centers, giving landlords of once-unglamorous properties a chance to push up rents to record levels.”
  • “A well-located last-mile facility ‘has the functional equivalent of a high-end retail store,’ said Hamid Moghadam, chairman and chief executive officer of industrial real-estate investment trust Prologis Inc. Such facilities are productive for the tenant and reduce transportation and labor costs.”
  • “When a company is shipping to individual customers rather than in bulk to stores, most of their costs are in transportation and labor, and reducing them is a priority, said Eric Frankel, an analyst at real-estate research firm Green Street Advisors. Warehouse rent, by contrast, represents just 5% or so of costs in a supply chain.”
  • “Modest levels of new warehouse supply are coming onto the market at a time when some e-commerce companies are expanding rapidly. Amazon is now the largest tenant of Prologis, Duke Realty Corp. , Jones Lang LaSalle Income Property Trust and DCT Industrial Trust by percentage of rental revenue at year-end 2016, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.”

Environment / Science

Bloomberg Businessweek – Climate Change Could Dampen Argentina’s Recovery – Jonathan Gilbert 9/19

Asia – excluding China and Japan

WSJ – Bali Volcano Eruption ‘Imminent,’ Nearly 50,000 Flee – Ben Otto 9/25

  • “The number of people fleeing a rumbling volcano no the Indonesian resort island of Bali rose to nearly 50,000, with the country’s disaster agency saying an eruption appears imminent after a half-century of calm.”

China

FT – WhatsApp messaging service hit by full blockage in China – Hannah Kuchler 9/25

  • “WhatsApp suffered a complete blockage in China this week, prompting suggestions the government was cracking down on the Facebook-owned messaging app ahead of the Communist party congress next month.”

Bloomberg Pursuits – The World’s Best Caviar Doesn’t Come From Russia Anymore – Kate Krader 9/18

September 26, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

NYT – How Did Marriage Become a Mark of Privilege? – Claire Cain Miller 9/25

  • “Marriage, which used to be the default way to form a family in the United States, regardless of income or education, has become yet another part of American life reserved for those who are most privileged.”
  • “Fewer Americans are marrying over all, and whether they do so is more tied to socioeconomic status than ever before. In recent years, marriage has sharply declined among people without college degrees, while staying steady among college graduates with higher incomes.”
  • “Currently, 26% of poor adults, 39% of working-class adults and 56% of middle- and upper-class adults are married, according to a research brief published today from two think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and Opportunity America. In 1970, about 82% of adults were married, and in 1990, about two-thirds were, with little difference based on class and education.”
  • “A big reason for the decline: Unemployed men are less likely to be seen as marriage material.”
  • “As marriage has declined, though, childbearing has not, which means that more children are living in families without two parents and the resources they bring.”
  • “’The sharpest distinction in American family life is between people with a bachelor’s or not,’ said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins and author of Labor’s Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America.”
  • “Just over half of adolescents in poor and working-class homes live with both their biological parents, compared with 77% in middle- and upper-class homes, according to the research brief, by W. Bradford Wilcox and Wendy Wang of the Institute for Family Studies. 36% of children born to a working-class mother are born out of wedlock, versus 13% of those born to middle- and upper-class mothers.”
  • “The research brief defined ‘working class’ as adults with an adjusted family income between the 20th and 50th percentiles, with high school diplomas but not bachelor’s degrees. Poor is defined as those below the 20th percentile or without high school diplomas, and the middle and upper class as those above the 50th percentile or with college degrees.”
  • “Americans across the income spectrum still highly value marriage, sociologists have found. But while it used to be a marker of adulthood, now it is something more wait to do until the other pieces of adulthood are in place — especially financial stability. For people with less education and lower earnings, that might never happen.”
  • “Evidence shows that the struggles of men without college degrees in recent years have led to a decline in marriage. It has been particularly acute in regions where well-paying jobs in male-dominated fields have disappeared because of automation and trade.”
  • “’A bad economy lowers the cost of having bad values — substance abuse, engaging in crime, not looking for a job right away,’ said Gordon Hanson, an economist at the University of California, San Diego, who wrote the paper with David Autor of M.I.T. and David Dorn of the University of Zurich.”
  • “Never-married adults cite financial instability as a major reason for being single, especially those who are low-income or under 30, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Most men feel it’s important for a husband to be a financial provider, especially men without college degrees, according to another new Pew survey.”
  • “Women, meanwhile, have learned from watching a generation of divorce that they need to be able to support themselves. And many working-class women aren’t interested in taking responsibility for a man without a job.”
  • “’They say, ‘If he’s not offering money or assets, why make it legal?’’ said June Carbone, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and the author with Naomi Cahn of Marriage Markets: How Inequality Is Remaking the American Family.”
  • “While researchers say it’s stability, not a marriage license, that matters for children, American couples who live together but don’t marry are generally less likely to stay committed.”
  • Clearly changing this momentum will take a lot. From an improved economy to strengthened cultural supports. A recommendation from Mr. Wilcox – “a bigger emphasis in high schools and pop culture on what’s known as the success sequence: degree, job, marriage, baby. ‘The idea is that if people follow that sequence, their odds of landing in poverty are much lower.'”

Perspective

NYT – The Best Investment Since 1926? Apple – Jeff Sommer 9/22

  • “The iPhone helped to catapult Apple into its position as the world’s most valuable publicly traded company. But now Apple has another and, arguably, more exalted stock market distinction.”
  • “In the history of the markets since 1926, Apple has generated more profit for investors than any other American company.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – Ray Dalio and the Market’s Pulse – Andy Kessler 9/24

  • “The core of investing is quite simple: Determine what everyone else thinks, and then figure out in which direction they are wrong. That’s it. No one tells you what they think. You’ve got to feel it.”
  • “It’s all about figuring out what is priced into a stock right now. That’s the pulse of the market, the collective mind meld aggregated into stock prices. I know from experience this is the hardest part of running a hedge fund. You can find the greatest story ever, but if everyone already knows it, there’s no money to be made.”
  • “And the pulse changes with each government statistic, each daily ringing of cash registers and satellite images taken of parking lots. That’s why stocks trade every day. Real-world inputs and the drifting pulse drive the psychotic tick of the stock market tape. Once you feel the pulse, then and only then can you figure out how everyone’s wrong about tomorrow, next month or next year. And believe me, they’re always wrong. Stocks rarely tread water.”
  • “How do you find that pulse? It’s hard enough to invest your IRA. Can you image managing $160 billion?”

FT – Plentiful oil will sustain the age of hydrocarbons – Nick Butler 9/24

  • “The aggregate message is that there is no shortage. Sporadic spikes and volatility will be driven by political instability but demand can be supplied at a relatively high level for many years to come. Oil is not going away any time soon. That will comfort those companies that are unprepared for the energy transition but is more disturbing in terms of emissions and climate change.”
  • “David Howell, the UK’s former energy secretary, writes in the new edition of his fascinating book on energy policy that there is a fundamental conflict between different views of the energy future — what he describes as the Black and the Green. That conflict will shape the public debate on energy for a long time to come. The age of hydrocarbons is far from over.”

Bloomberg Gadfly – Harvard Should Ignore the Freshman Slump – Nir Kaissar 9/25

  • “It doesn’t take fancy consultants to spot the problem. Harvard abandoned one of the stalwart adages in finance: Pick an investment philosophy and stick to it. With its revolving door of chief executives, the endowment has been anything but stable.”

Inc. – 6 High-Performance Habits Only the Most Extraordinary People Share, Backed by Science – Jeff Haden 9/19

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Consumer Staples Selloff 9/25

  • Consumer push back against food incorporated.

Examples…

WSJ – Daily Shot: General Mills, Inc Stock Price 9/25

WSJ – Daily Shot: Kellogg Company Stock Price 9/25

WSJ – Daily Shot: Kraft Heinz Stock Price 9/25

FT – The return of the stock picker – Robin Wigglesworth 9/24

Energy

Bloomberg – In World’s Hottest Oil Patch, Jitters Mount That a Bust Is Near – Dan Murtaugh 9/25

  • “Ups and downs are so ingrained in this business that crazy success in the Permian Basin is seen as an omen that a crash looms.”

Finance

WSJ – The Global Stock Market’s Hidden Juice – Paul J. Davies 9/24

  • “One common sign of trouble ahead is people borrowing heavily to buy equities.”
  • “Investors should be worried then that stocks are being supported by record amounts of margin debt, according to research released last week from the Bank for International Settlements, the Switzerland-based central bank for central banks.”
  • “These kinds of loans secured against stocks have often proved dangerous in a downturn because when share prices fall borrowers are forced to sell.”
  • “In the U.S., margin debt is more than three-times the level ahead of the 2008 crisis and is greater even than its peak in 2000 before the dot-com crash, according to the B.I.S.”
  • “However, lending volume alone isn’t a clear indicator of risk because equity values have increased, too. In the U.S. at least, lending as a share of market capitalization has been relatively steady for the past four years, most recently at 2.12%. But that level is much higher than the period before 2007 and above even the dotcom-era peak of 2.05%.”
  • “Rich clients’ desire to borrow against stocks has been stoked by the low interest rates and rising stock markets. It is attractive for banks, too. Lending against shares is seen as less risky than mortgages because stocks can be sold more quickly than a house, so banks can hold less capital against margin loans. Also, if the borrowed money is invested with the bank, rather than spent on yachts or cars, that boosts assets under management.”
  • “The banks themselves all say that while lending looks high, their own approach is conservative and the general competition for clients is less aggressive than in the past. But neither the banks nor their investors have a full view of leverage across the system and the risk that may pose.”
  • “Equities have to fall 20% to 30% before margin loans are underwater. That protects the banks, but doesn’t stop a wave of selling to repay debt when a downturn comes. That could spell real pain for everyone else.”

WSJ – Leveraged Loans Are Back and on Pace to Top Pre-Financial Crisis Records – Christopher Whittall 9/24

Construction

San Gabriel Valley Tribune – California construction workers are among the highest paid in the nation – Kevin Smith 9/24

  • “Construction workers in California are among the highest paid in the nation, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
  • “Fixr.com, an online website that provides cost guides, comparisons and other information for people looking to do remodeling or repair projects, crunched the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers to create a state-by-state ranking of average hourly wages for workers in the industry.”
  • “California landed 10th on the list of the 10 Highest Wage States, with average hourly earnings of $21.26. Connecticut and Washington ranked just above California with slightly higher pay, and Hawaii and Illinois were tied for the top slot. Construction workers in both of those states earn an average of $27.01 an hour.”
  • “Massachusetts, followed with $25.84 an hour and New Jersey ranked fourth with an average hourly wage of $24.05. Construction workers in Arkansas are hurting the most, according to the report, as their average wage is just $12.38 an hour.”
  • “The national average wage for construction workers is $18.22 an hour, which equates to $37,897 a year. In California, construction workers earn an average of $44,221 a year.”
  • “Mike Balsamo, CEO of the Building Industry Association of Southern California, isn’t surprised that California ranks near the top. But he said wages can be considerably higher for someone with specific skills and more experience.”

China

NYT – As China Piles on Debt, Consumers Seek a Piece of the Action – Keith Bradsher and Ailin Tang 9/25

  • Get Chinese citizens to adopt the consumer and debt habits of the Americans. This has always been the goal – at least for the MNCs (Multi-National Corporations) and it takes a burden off the central government in regard to boosting demand.

FT – China property developers dip on new sales restrictions – Hudson Lockett 9/24

  • “Hong Kong-listed developers saw share prices drop on Monday as investors reacted to new property sales restrictions imposed across eight major Chinese cities in response to rising house prices.”
  • “The cities of Changsha, Chongqing, Guiyang, Nanchang, Nanning, Shijiazhuang, Wuhan and Xi’an had all tightened controls on housing sales since Friday, with state news agency Xinhua stating most had banned sales within two to three years of purchase.”
  • “Authorities in Shijiazhuang imposed particularly strict limits, requiring home buyers to wait for five years before reselling property.”

Puerto Rico

NYT – Puerto Rico’s Agriculture and Farmers Decimated by Maria – Frances Robles and Luis Ferre-Sadurni 9/24

  • “There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico. And there won’t be any for a year or longer.” – Jose A. Rivera, farmer
  • “In a matter of hours, Hurricane Maria wiped out about 80% of the crop value in Puerto Rico — making it one of the costliest storms to hit the island’s agriculture industry, said Carlos Flores Ortega, Puerto Rico’s secretary of the Department of Agriculture.”
  • “Plantain, banana and coffee crops were the hardest hit, Mr. Flores said. Landslides in the mountainous interior of the island took out many roads, a major part of the agriculture infrastructure there.”
  • “The island suffered a loss of $780 million in agriculture yields, according to the department’s preliminary figures. Hurricane Georges in 1998 wiped out about 65% of crops and Hurricane Irma, which only grazed the island, took out about $45 million in agriculture production.”
  • “Puerto Rico already imports about 85 percent of its food, and now its food imports are certain to rise drastically as local products like coffee and plantains are added to the list of Maria’s staggering losses. Local staples that stocked supermarkets, school lunchrooms and even Walmart are gone.”

September 25, 2017

Perspective

BBC – ‘Monster’ fatberg found blocking east London sewer 9/12

  • “A 250-metre long fatberg weighing 130 tons has been found blocking a sewer.”
  • “The solid mass of congealed fat, wet wipes, nappies, oil and condoms formed in the Victorian-era tunnel in Whitechapel, London.”
  • “Thames Water described it as one of the largest it had seen and said it would take three weeks to remove.”
  • “The company says fatbergs form when people put things they shouldn’t down sinks and toilets.”

VC – Which Cities are Fueling America’s Craft Beer Boom? – Nick Routley 9/23

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – Americans Are Richer; Why Are They Still Cautious? – Justin Lahart 9/21

  • “Getting richer doesn’t make people spend like it used to. That should give the Federal Reserve less to worry about when it comes to consumers, but more to worry about when it comes to asset prices.”
  • “Lifted by rising home prices and a buoyant stock market, U.S. household net worth reached a record $96.2 trillion in the second quarter, the Fed reported Thursday, up $1.7 trillion from the first quarter. That compared with $68.2 trillion a decade earlier, just before the recession hit. The wealth-to-income ratio hit a new high of 670%.”
  • “But if households are feeling flush they aren’t acting like it. Consumer spending has been tepid, and people have been far less willing to tap wealth to fuel spending than they used to be. Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimates that for each dollar gain in housing wealth, people increase their spending by just two cents, versus five cents in the mid-1990s. For stock gains, the figure has slipped to one cent from four cents.”
  • “There are few likely reasons for the change in behavior. First, people don’t put as much trust in the staying power of wealth gains. The big stock market drops following the dot-com bust and the financial crisis are hard to forget, and the housing bubble ended the old notion that home values are safe. Second, a greater share of U.S. stock market and housing wealth is concentrated in the hands of the rich, who don’t boost their spending in response to wealth gains as much as other people do. Finally, tighter lending standards have made it more difficult to tap into housing wealth than it was before the financial crisis.”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Goldman Sachs – BOJ Slowing Purchase of JGBs 9/22

China

WSJ – Daily Shot: Natixis – Relative Scale of China Investment in the Middle East 9/22

WSJ – Daily Shot: Natixis – China Capital Projects in the Middle East 9/22

September 22, 2017

Perspective

Economist – Daily Chart: Modern slavery is disturbingly common 9/20

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – In Detroit, the end of blight is in sight 9/16

  • “What happens when a city accustomed to bad government elects a good one.”
  • A good test case for a city in transition from a larger population/footprint to a smaller one and what to do with all of that excess infrastructure.

Economist – Buttonwood: Initial Coin Offering means investor caution obligatory 9/16

  • A good primer on ICOs.
  • “Nothing makes individuals more willing to take risks than the sight of other people getting rich.”

Markets / Economy

FT – Toys R Us buckled under private equity ownership – Anna Nicolaou and Kara Scannell 9/19

  • “Retailer’s debts played a bigger role than Amazon or Walmart in its bankruptcy.”

September 21, 2017

Perspective

NYT – Before Wisconsin, Foxconn Vowed Big Spending in Brazil. Few Jobs Have Come. – David Barboza 9/20

  • “Before the Taiwanese manufacturing giant Foxconn pledged to spend $10 billion and create 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin, the company made a similar promise in Brazil.”
  • “At a news conference in Brazil, Foxconn officials unveiled plans to invest billions of dollars and build one of the world’s biggest manufacturing hubs in the state of São Paulo. The government had high expectations that the project would yield 100,000 jobs.”
  • “Six years later, Brazil is still waiting for most of those jobs to materialize.”
  • “Foxconn’s experience in Brazil and other parts of the world illustrates how difficult it has been for it to replicate its enormously successful Chinese manufacturing model elsewhere.”
  • “In China, Foxconn has built vast factories backed by large government subsidies. Its operations — assembling iPhones for Apple, Kindles for Amazon and PlayStations for Sony — employ legions of young assembly-line workers who often toil 60 hours a week for about $2.50 an hour. Labor protests in China are rare, or quashed swiftly.”
  • “But the model does not translate easily to other countries, where Foxconn must navigate different social, political and labor conditions.”

VC – These Maps Show Where a Dollar Goes Furthest in the U.S. – Jeff Desjardins 9/20

WSJ – Some NYC K-12 Schools Cross $50,000-a-Year Mark – Leslie Brody 9/18

  • “Five years ago, parents gulped when the price for attending some private K-12 schools in New York City hit $40,000 a year.”
  • “Now, a few have crossed the $50,000 threshold.”
  • “The cost of private education in the city has long risen faster than inflation, and is almost double the national average for such schools. Median tuition and fees at Manhattan private schools climbed to $44,050 last school year, up 23% from $35,867 five years earlier, according to the National Association of Independent Schools.”
  • “The charges, many private-school leaders say, don’t cover the full cost of the rigorous educations provided. Their customers want small classes, arts, extracurricular activities, intensive college advising and teachers with advanced degrees. Leaders of these institutions say most depend on fundraising to fill the yearly shortfalls, in addition to holding capital campaigns for new construction.”
  • “Drivers of mounting tuitions include teacher salaries, health insurance, technology upgrades, more services for students with learning disabilities, and maintenance for expanded facilities, school leaders said.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Medium – Starting Your Day on the Internet Is Damaging Your Brain – Srinivas Rao 9/18

  • “If we start our days by checking email, instagram, or the internet, we keep reinforcing the behavior of distraction until it becomes our new habit. Some of the smartest behavioral scientist and designers in the world have worked really hard to make sure that their products are addictive, habit forming, and only provide you with a temporary sense of fulfillment so the you are always jonesing for your next fix. As Mark Manson so brilliantly said, cell phones are the new cigarettes, And a significant amount of what’s on the internet is nothing more than junk food for the brain.”

A Wealth of Common Sense – Social Proof in the Markets – Ben Carlson 9/19

  • “Social proof is the idea that we look to others to figure out what the correct behavior should be. We follow narratives instead of evidence. It feels more comfortable to go along with the crowd when making tough decisions because we look at what others are doing in times of uncertainty.”
  • I’m always surprised how people latch on to a narrative because it sounds right, regardless of its likelihood or the conditions that would have to exist to make it so.
  • “Being right is easy. How you handle being wrong is the true test of any successful investor or decision-maker.”
  • “Many investors assume they must be right no matter what the market does.”
  • “‘I’m not wrong, I’m just early. It’s the market that must be wrong and all of those other idiots, but surely not me.'”
  • “One of the most fascinating aspects of the markets today is that most investors assume everyone else must be crazy. Those who have been sitting on the sidelines in cash assume everyone in the markets at current valuation levels must be nuts. And everyone who is sitting on gains from being invested in the markets assumes that those who are worried must be nuts because they’ve missed out. Maybe everyone is right (or no one) depending on the time frame.”
  • Just because something should be so, doesn’t mean it will be so.

Environment / Science

Market Watch – Hurricane Maria upgraded to Category 5 as it smashes into Caribbean – Ciara Linnane 9/19

Health / Medicine

NYT – Playing Tackle Football Before 12 Is Tied to Brain Problems Later – Ken Belson 9/19

  • “Athletes who began playing tackle football before the age of 12 had more behavioral and cognitive problems later in life than those who started playing after they turned 12, a new study released on Tuesday showed.”
  • “The findings, from a long-term study conducted by researchers at Boston University, are likely to add to the debate over when, or even if, children should be allowed to begin playing tackle football.”
  • “In phone interviews and online surveys, the researchers found that players in all three groups who participated in youth football before the age of 12 had a twofold ‘risk of problems with behavioral regulation, apathy and executive function’ and a threefold risk of ‘clinically elevated depression scores.'”
  • “’The brain is going through this incredible time of growth between the years of 10 and 12, and if you subject that developing brain to repetitive head impacts, it may cause problems later in life,’ Robert Stern, one of the authors of the study, said of the findings.”
  • “A growing number of scientists argue that because the human brain develops rapidly at young ages, especially between 10 and 12, children should not play tackle football until their teenage years.”

China

WSJ – Too Little, Too Late? China Can’t Seem to Get a Grip on Fintech Regulation – Chuin-Wei Yap 9/18

Europe

FT – Norway’s oil fund tops $1tn in assets for first time – Richard Milne 9/19

  • “Norway’s oil fund, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, has topped $1tn in assets for the first time in its history.”
  • “The oil fund, which started in 1996, reached NKr7,811bn ($1.001tn) in market value on Tuesday. Officials confirmed it was the first time it has breached the trillion-dollar barrier.” 
  • “In a country of just 5.2m people, the oil fund has been an extraordinary success, growing faster than ministers imagined to become one of the world’s largest investors, owning on average 1.3% of every listed company in the world.”
  • “The fund was set up to help manage Norway’s oil wealth for future generations by taking all the revenues the state receives from petroleum and investing it in financial assets abroad.”
  • “The fund has grown at a dizzying pace, with its assets rising 13-fold since 2002.”
  • “At the end of 2016, about half of the fund’s assets were due to the returns on its investments, approximately 45% due to inflows from oil and gas revenues, and the rest due to currency movements.”
  • “The oil fund has undergone significant changes over its history. It started by investing purely in bonds but now holds close to 65% of its assets in shares.”
  • “It made its first investment in property in 2011 and has now built up a $30bn portfolio, mostly in the US and Europe.”

September 20, 2017

Perspective

Economist – Ryanair’s mass cancellations are a problem of its own making – Gulliver 9/19

  • “When Ryanair convinced many of its pilots to take fewer holidays during peak summer-travel season, it probably thought it was being clever. But poor planning and a bit of bad luck have left the airline with a shortage of working pilots, many of whom have now taken time off, for the autumn. The shortfall has forced Ryanair to cancel some 2,100 flights starting on September 16th and continuing through October.” 
  • “Ryanair’s woes were caused in part by a change in the way the airline determines employee leave. Previously, Ryanair counted holidays in the year from April. In 2016, under pressure from the Irish Aviation Authority, Ryanair adopted the calendar year instead. As part of the transition, it needed to allow its employees to take the entirety of their leave between April and December of this year, leaving it with a staff shortage. As a result, the airline will probably have to scrap around 50 flights every day until the end of October.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – The Fed, a Decade After the Crisis, Is About to Embark on the Great Unwinding – Nick Timiraos 9/18

  • “The central bank is likely to announce Wednesday it will start slowly shrinking its $4.2 trillion portfolio of mortgage and Treasury bonds purchased during and after the financial crisis. It will do so passively by allowing some bonds to mature without replacing them next month.”
  • “In June, the Fed said when it started to shrink its balance sheet it would do so by allowing a small initial amount of bonds—$4 billion of mortgages and $6 billion in Treasurys per month—to run off the portfolio without reinvestment. Every quarter, it will let a slightly larger amount do so, up to a maximum of $20 billion in mortgages and $30 billion in Treasurys per month.”
  • “For the next year or so, the Fed should still end up buying bonds in most months, since only a small fraction will mature and go not replaced, said Richard Clarida, an economist at Pacific Investment Management Co., or Pimco. He compared the start of the plan to losing weight by eating only two desserts a day instead of three.”
  • “One question the central bank hasn’t yet decided: How large should its balance sheet be at the end of the process?”
  • “Its holdings have swelled to $4.5 trillion from less than $900 billion before 2008. Though they will fall, the Fed will end up with more assets than it had before the crisis because its liabilities have grown—there’s more currency in circulation. The balance sheet size could settle out at between $2.4 trillion and $3.5 trillion sometime early next decade, New York Fed President William Dudley said in a speech earlier this month.”
  • “That would mean the Fed would end up allowing only around $1 trillion to $2 trillion in securities to mature, after having added $3.7 trillion between 2008 and 2014.”
  • “One reason markets have been relatively unfazed is that central banks in Europe and Japan are still purchasing assets. Mr. Spector (David Spector, CEO) of PennyMac expects the start of the Fed’s unwinding to have little effect on mortgage rates, which in early September hit their lowest levels of the year.”

FT – Private equity: wing and a prayer – Lex 9/18

China

WSJ – China’s Backdoor Real-Estate Bailout – Nathaniel Taplin 9/18

  • “Chinese property data out Monday showed housing prices weakening across the board in August. Usually this would be a good point to exit China growth plays.”
  • “But another 2015-style collapse in Chinese commodity demand remains unlikely. The reason? Slum clearance. Local governments are directly buying up large quantities of houses developers haven’t been able to sell and filling them with citizens relocated from what they call ‘slums’—old, sometimes dilapidated neighborhoods.”
  • “That helps explain why the drop in unsold inventories of apartments over the past year has been so sharp—down 22% on the year in August. That has helped prop up the market, especially in China’s smaller cities, despite more restrictions on housing purchases and slowing official figures on sales growth.”
  • “The scale of the program is large, accounting for 18% of floor space sold in 2016, according to Rosealea Yao, senior analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics, and is being partly funded by state policy banks like China Development Bank. That fits with Beijing’s broader strategy to head off a debt crisis by helping overextended property and industrial companies shift their debts and bad assets onto the government. Part of that is through a massive expansion of municipal debt and by getting consumers to carry more of the load through cheap mortgages. China Development Bank’s slum-redevelopment lending hit nearly one trillion yuan ($152.6 billion) last year, more than half of which went to purchasing existing commercial housing.”
  • “As a result, real-estate investment has held up reasonably well this year and inventories continue to fall: Vacant residential floor space was down another 10 million square meters in August, even though traditional sales have been lukewarm for months.”

September 19, 2017

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Big Tech makes vast gains at our expense – Rana Foroohar 9/17

  • “Data-driven companies have a license to print money, with few restrictions.”

Bloomberg – The Way Humans Get Electricity Is About to Change Forever – 9/13

Markets / Economy

WSJ – New Data Shows Retirees Are on the Move, But Young Folks Are a Different Story  – Andrew Van Dam and Paul Overberg 9/15

Health / Medicine

BuzzFeed – Harvey Damaged 13 Toxic Waste Sites. It Could Take Years to Know The True Health Risks. – Nidhi Subbaraman and Peter Aldhous 9/3

Shipping

FT – Container shipping: surf’s up – Lex 9/17

  • “If only investors in shipping had the equivalent of a mariner’s tide tables. They can see where the low water mark in share prices lies, but must divine for themselves how high the waters might now rise.”
  • “In this particular cycle, the ebb lasted a long time after container lines ordered too many ships and then struggled to fill them. The low point was probably last autumn, when Korean line Hanjin filed for bankruptcy.”
  • “The market has improved markedly since then. Industry volume growth is expected to hit 5% this year, from 3.8% last year. Scrapping rates have picked up, while new capacity on order is finally falling. Such newfound discipline might last longer than in previous cycles because consolidation has increased the market share of the top six operators to almost two-thirds, from two-fifths in 2013. Four alliances have become three. In other industries — airlines, for instance — concentration of this sort led to greater self-control.”
  • “Such developments have not gone unnoticed. Antitrust regulators have raised concerns about the shrinking number of alliances and their control over certain routes. And the Dax global shipping index has risen 15% (in dollar terms) since January.”

September 18, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

NYT – How Big Business Go Brazil Hooked on Junk Food – Andrew Jacobs and Matt Richtel 9/16

  • “A New York Times examination of corporate records, epidemiological studies and government reports — as well as interviews with scores of nutritionists and health experts around the world — reveals a sea change in the way food is produced, distributed and advertised across much of the globe. The shift, many public health experts say, is contributing to a new epidemic of diabetes and heart disease, chronic illnesses that are fed by soaring rates of obesity in places that struggled with hunger and malnutrition just a generation ago.”
  • “The new reality is captured by a single, stark fact: Across the world, more people are now obese than underweight. At the same time, scientists say, the growing availability of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods is generating a new type of malnutrition, one in which a growing number of people are both overweight and undernourished.”
  • “Even critics of processed food acknowledge that there are multiple factors in the rise of obesity, including genetics, urbanization, growing incomes and more sedentary lives. Nestlé executives say their products have helped alleviate hunger, provided crucial nutrients, and that the company has squeezed salt, fat and sugar from thousands of items to make them healthier. But Sean Westcott, head of food research and development at Nestlé, conceded obesity has been an unexpected side effect of making inexpensive processed food more widely available.”
  • “Part of the problem, he added, is a natural tendency for people to overeat as they can afford more food. Nestlé, he said, strives to educate consumers about proper portion size and to make and market foods that balance ‘pleasure and nutrition.’”
  • “The story is as much about economics as it is nutrition. As multinational companies push deeper into the developing world, they are transforming local agriculture, spurring farmers to abandon subsistence crops in favor of cash commodities like sugar cane, corn and soybeans — the building blocks for many industrial food products. It is this economic ecosystem that pulls in mom-and-pop stores, big box retailers, food manufacturers and distributors, and small vendors like Mrs. da Silva.”
  • “In places as distant as China, South Africa and Colombia, the rising clout of big food companies also translates into political influence, stymieing public health officials seeking soda taxes or legislation aimed at curbing the health impacts of processed food.”
  • “For a growing number of nutritionists, the obesity epidemic is inextricably linked to the sales of packaged foods, which grew 25% worldwide from 2011 to 2016, compared with 10% in the United States, according to Euromonitor, a market research firm. An even starker shift took place with carbonated soft drinks; sales in Latin America have doubled since 2000, overtaking sales in North America in 2013, the World Health Organization reported.”
  • “The same trends are mirrored with fast food, which grew 30% worldwide from 2011 to 2016, compared with 21% in the United States, according to Euromonitor. Take, for example, Domino’s Pizza, which in 2016 added 1,281 stores — one ‘every seven hours,’ noted its annual report — all but 171 of them overseas.”
  • “Industry defenders say that processed foods are essential to feed a growing, urbanizing world of people, many of them with rising incomes, demanding convenience.”
  • “’We’re not going to get rid of all factories and go back to growing all grain. It’s nonsense. It’s not going to work,’ said Mike Gibney, a professor emeritus of food and health at University College Dublin and a consultant to Nestlé. ‘If I ask 100 Brazilian families to stop eating processed food, I have to ask myself: What will they eat? Who will feed them? How much will it cost?’”
  • “In many ways, Brazil is a microcosm of how growing incomes and government policies have led to longer, better lives and largely eradicated hunger. But now the country faces a stark new nutrition challenge: over the last decade, the country’s obesity rate has nearly doubled to 20%, and the portion of people who are overweight has nearly tripled to 58%. Each year, 300,000 people are diagnosed with Type II diabetes, a condition with strong links to obesity.”
  • “’What we have is a war between two food systems, a traditional diet of real food once produced by the farmers around you and the producers of ultra-processed food designed to be over-consumed and which in some cases are addictive,’ said Carlos A. Monteiro, a professor of nutrition and public health at the University of São Paulo.”
  • “’It’s a war,’ he said, ‘but one food system has disproportionately more power than the other.’”
  • “Nearly 9% of Brazilian children were obese in 2015, more than a 270% increase since 1980, according to a recent study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. That puts it in striking distance of the United States, where 12.7% of children were obese in 2015.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Tech companies in the city: the backlash – Leslie Hook 9/14

  • “Cities and big tech companies usually do not get along very well. Just look at San Francisco or Seattle — many locals love nothing more than a good gripe against Google or Uber or Amazon.”
  • “It’s been curious, then, to watch cities rush forward after Amazon said it was looking for a site to build a second headquarters in North America. Mayors from Pittsburgh to Chicago to Memphis have jumped on Twitter and on the phone to woo Amazon, promising their constituents they will work hard to win the company’s favor.”

Markets / Economy

FT – How Apple and co became some of America’s largest debt collectors – Eric Platt, Alexandra Scaggs and Nicole Bullock 9/15

Finance

NYT – China Bitcoin Exchange to Stop Trading Virtual Currencies Amid Crackdown – Cao Li 9/14

  • “A major Chinese exchange specializing in the trading of Bitcoin announced on Thursday that it would stop trading by the end of the month, amid a broader crackdown against virtual currencies by the authorities in Beijing.”
  • “The announcement by BTC China, the country’s first and largest digital currency exchange, came days after the Chinese authorities banned fund-raising for new digital currencies, and amid worries that regulators would tighten rules surrounding currencies like Bitcoin.”
  • “The exchange’s decision is the first of its kind in China, and it raises the specter of other exchanges shutting down Bitcoin trading in the future.”
  • “The price of Bitcoin dropped more than 10% on Thursday, to around $3,500, in the hours after the announcement.”

Bloomberg – The Summer of Bitcoin Ends Badly – Ogla Kharif and Belinda Cao 9/15

Australia

WSJ – Australian Banks Could Finally Head Down Under – Jacky Wong 9/15

  • “Investors have been calling the Australian housing market a “bubble” for years, yet prices keep charting higher. The market, though, could finally be about to turn south. That won’t be pretty for the country’s banks.”
  • “The property market has been skyrocketing Down Under—prices in Sydney have gone up 80% since 2012 while in Melbourne they have gained 54%. In turn, houses have become unaffordable for many Australians as prices keep outpacing income growth. An average home in Sydney now costs more than 12 times the median income there, according to research firm Demographia.”
  • “To keep houses within the reach of buyers, banks seem to have loosened their lending standards. Home lending is big business for Australian banks—more than half of their loan books consist of residential mortgages, amounting to $1.2 trillion, a figure that has risen 47% in the past five years. Analysts say much of this new lending has been dubious: Around a third of Australian mortgage applications contain inaccurate information, resulting in around $400 billion of so-called Liar Loans, according to UBS.
  • “Nearly 40% of outstanding home loans are interest-only. The risk is that borrowers will be unable to repay these loans once their interest-only period expires.”
  • “This is fine as long as the property market keeps going up, as homeowners can sell their houses to cover loan repayments. Once the market stops rising, though, it will become much harder for stretched households to avoid problems.”
  • “Australian regulators are trying to cool the property market, by reining in the use of interest-only loans. But they face another difficulty. Tightened capital controls in China have dampened property demand in Australia, previously a popular venue for Chinese buyers. Direct overseas property investment from China plunged 82% in the first half globally, according to Morgan Stanley , with investors there finding it harder to get their money out of the country.”

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Venezuela Econ – Black Market Bolivares to USD exchange rate 9/15