September 5, 2017

Perspective

Howmuch.net – The Working Class Can (Not) Afford the American Dream – Raul 8/31

Howmuch.net – The Rising Costs of Sending Your Kids to a Private School – Raul 8/20

Howmuch.net – Status of US State Economies – Raul 8/15

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg Businessweek – Why Private Equity Has $963 Billion in Dry Powder – Melissa Mittelman 8/31

  • “Investors give private equity managers their capital with the expectation that they’ll make it grow. But today these managers are sitting on a record $963.3 billion of dry powder, as they call money that they’ve raised but have yet to invest. The size of that pile, and the fact that it keeps rising, is making everyone antsy. A little dry powder is great if managers are holding out for better deals. But a lot can make for overly itchy trigger fingers, or can start to make investors wonder if there are cheaper ways to do nothing with cash.”

LA Times – Yes, ExxonMobil misled the public – Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran 9/1

NYT – To Understand Rising Inequality, Consider the Janitors at Two Top Companies, Then and Now – Neil Irwin 9/3

Bloomberg View – The Flaws in India’s Growth Model Are Becoming Clear – Mihir Sharma 9/3

  • “India has a way of confounding expectations. Analysts agreed that, months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ill-fated decision to withdraw 86 percent of currency from circulation overnight, growth would bounce back. Economists polled by Bloomberg expected growth in the April to June quarter to be 6.5%; other estimates were even higher. So when the government’s official statisticians released the real number last week — 5.7% over the equivalent quarter of the previous year — there was general surprise, even shock.”
  • “India’s economy has been growing less and less healthy for awhile. GDP growth has now declined steadily for six straight quarters. This is a slowdown caused by factors deeper than the cash ban or any other temporary phenomenon. Something is broken in the Indian government’s policy mix.”
  • “…Government spending and low oil prices have deceptively boosted the growth numbers, masking the true state of the economy. In fact, if public spending is excluded, growth in the past quarter barely topped 4%. Export growth is terrible and industrial growth is the lowest in five years. And the government will struggle to keep investing at these levels; it started spending big unusually early in India’s financial year, which starts in April, and has already run through 93% of its budgeted fiscal deficit.”
  • “…Effective reform — and political will — is precisely what’s needed now. The government’s first task should be to clean up bad debts far quicker than it has so far — even if powerful people, including company owners, lose money in the process. Second: The government needs to stop chasing after foreign capital to replace shy domestic capital, if it means that the rupee stays high and exports struggle. And third: Officials must quickly fix those parts of the GST that are putting small companies and exporters out of business.”

Finance

Visual Capitalist – The Unparalleled Explosion in Cryptocurrencies – Jeff Desjardins 9/1

FT – University start-ups aim for the Facebook formula – Hugo Greenhalgh 8/31

  • Rather than watch their students leave University to pursue a worthwhile business start-up, Universities are getting in on the venture capital business seeking to support and nurture the talent within.

FT – Credit cards: dealing with delinquency – Lex 8/31

Tech

Fortune – Everything You Needed to Know About Overvalued Unicorns in One Chart – Anne VanderMey 8/24

Fortune – 5 Ways Businesses Are Already Using Blockchains – Jeff John Roberts – 8/21

Health / Medicine

NYT – The First Count of Fentanyl Deaths in 2016: Up 540% in Three Years – Josh Katz 9/2

  • “The first governmental account of nationwide drug deaths in 2016 shows overdose deaths growing even faster than previously thought.”
  • “Drug overdoses killed roughly 64,000 people in the United States last year, according to the first governmental account of nationwide drug deaths to cover all of 2016. It’s a staggering rise of more than 22% over the 52,404 drug deaths recorded the previous year.”
  • “Drug overdoses are expected to remain the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, as synthetic opioids — primarily fentanyl and its analogues — continue to push the death count higher. Drug deaths involving fentanyl more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, accompanied by an upturn in deaths involving cocaine and methamphetamines. Together they add up to an epidemic of drug overdoses that is killing people at a faster rate than the H.I.V. epidemic at its peak.
  • “It’s an epidemic hitting different parts of the country in different ways. People are accustomed to thinking of the opioid crisis as a rural white problem, with accounts of Appalachian despair and the plight of New England heroin addicts. But fentanyls are changing the equation: The death rate in Maryland last year outpaced that in both Kentucky and Maine.”

Canada

WSJ – The Underappreciated Risks to Canadian Banks – Aaron Back 8/31

  • “Americans looking north to Canada see a housing market that echoes their own before the financial crisis. While there are substantial differences that make Canadian lenders more resilient, investors still should be on guard.”
  • “Canadian housing prices have been rapidly rising for years, prompting local governments in frothy areas to take draconian measures such as a 15% tax on foreign buyers.”
  • “It isn’t all foreign cash—Canadian debt levels also have soared. Last year its households had debt equivalent to 176% of disposable income, according to the OECD. That compares to 112% in the U.S., down from a 2007 peak of 144%.”
  • “Canada’s banks, however, are showing no signs of stress. The country’s six biggest lenders that dominate this highly concentrated market have just reported solid quarterly earnings. Mortgage delinquency rates are remarkably low, at only around 0.2%.”
  • “It helps that most Canadian mortgages are ‘full recourse’ loans, making it much harder for borrowers to default and walk away. Around half of the mortgages written by the big six banks are also insured, directly or indirectly, by the Canadian government.”
  • “Nonetheless, the risks are substantial. Unlike in the U.S., where 30-year fixed rates are the norm, the standard Canadian mortgage rate resets every five years. In July, Canada’s central bank raised rates for the first time in seven years. Analysts expect more hikes, especially after Canada reported strong 4.5% annualized gross domestic product growth for the second quarter. That will make regular debt payments even more burdensome for Canadian households.”

China

FT – Beijing’s uneasy deals with overseas car groups under strain – Charles Clover 8/31

  • “A spate of new foreign joint ventures in China’s car industry has revived debate about an often criticized three-decade-old policy of trading market access for technology.”
  • “This week, the Renault-Nissan alliance became the latest car group to sign a joint venture to produce electric vehicles with longtime partner Dongfeng Motor Corporation, based in Wuhan, following an announcement by Ford in August that it plans to partner with little-known Zotye Auto to make EVs.” 
  • “The Renault-Nissan Dongfeng partnership is significant because it goes further than other JVs and calls for the groups to share a common technological platform. It is not clear whether other overseas car groups will follow this course because of issues over trust on the sharing of technology.”
  • “The new EV joint ventures are part of a Chinese effort to master the technology for electric vehicles — and rely on a tried and tested model of working with the global car industry since the 1980s. In a nutshell, joint ventures are the only way for foreign groups to access the world’s largest and most lucrative market. China gives the overseas companies the right to sell cars in exchange for their technology, management expertise and a share of their profits.” 
  • “’China’s central planners said ‘how can we basically force global automakers to participate and bring their very best electric vehicle technology to China?’’ says Michael Dunne, president of Dunne Automotive, a Hong Kong-based car consultancy.” 
  • “Since 1984, starting with Jeeps, foreign carmakers have been allowed to produce cars in China — but only in concert with a local partner holding at least 50 per cent of the venture. In practice, this is almost always one of six anointed state companies.”
  • “The results of the three-decade-old policy have been mixed. Rather than transforming Chinese car companies into technology giants, the joint venture companies have arguably made Chinese carmakers complacent, according to Chinese policymakers. He Guangyang, a former minister of industry, controversially described the JVs as ‘like opium’ in an interview five years ago.”
  • “Bart Demandt of carsalesbase.com says this is a legacy of the joint ventures. ‘The state-owned companies, especially those which have 50/50 joint ventures with foreign automakers, have had little incentive to invest in their domestic brands as the profits have been pouring in from producing import-brand cars for their partners.’” 
  • “However, the Chinese government is still relying on this model, and recently set its sights on the nascent battery powered car industry. Last year it included EVs as one of 10 sectors that it wants to be internationally competitive by 2025 as part of a new industrial policy ‘Made in China 2025’.” 
  • “Foreign carmakers are wary of the new requirements and have pressed on China to delay the EV quotas by at least a year. But they have few alternatives. ‘The global automakers say ‘wow, this really has teeth, because if we want to grow in this market we don’t have a choice. There is no work around’,’ says Mr Dunne.” 
  • “The second prong of the policy is to pressure foreign carmakers to ‘localize’ their electric vehicle technology, meaning in practice to share it with their joint venture partners.” 
  • “Bill Russo, head of Gao Feng Advisory in Shanghai, calls this ‘a real game-changer for the multinational carmakers’.” 
  • “’They must comply with a new set of regulations for both component localization and credits for EV sales in order to be in the game. As carmakers will be required to pay fines if they are not selling EVs, they will be required to add EV production in order to sustain their existing business in China.’” 
  • “This has created fears that their proprietary technology could be stolen. Over the past two decades, foreign makers of everything from high-speed trains to fighter planes have licensed the technology to local Chinese partners only to find a few years later that their partner is a major international competitor.” 

FT – Anbang sells stakes in Chinese megabanks amid troubles – Gabriel Wildau 8/31

  • “Anbang Insurance Group, the Chinese conglomerate that captured global attention with splashy foreign acquisitions, sold stakes worth as much as $1bn in the country’s largest banks this year, as the company struggles with a sudden drop in premiums.”
  • “In May, China’s insurance regulator banned Anbang’s life insurance unit from selling policies for three months and accused the group of ‘wreaking havoc’ on the market with aggressive pricing.” 
  • “Anbang had relied on sales of high-yield investment products to fund foreign private-equity acquisitions as well as stakes in Chinese listed companies. Chinese investors flocked to so-called ‘universal insurance’, which combined high yields with short maturities and bore little resemblance to traditional insurance.” 
  • “But an industry-wide crackdown on universal insurance has caused premiums from such products to drop more than half in the first half of the year, according to data from the China Insurance Regulatory Commission. At Anbang, such premiums fell 98%, due in part to the CIRC ban.” 
  • “The sales of shares in China’s ‘big four’ state-owned commercial banks appear to suggest that, with cash inflows from product sales drying up, Anbang sold assets to meet payouts on maturing products. Anbang said the share sales did not reflect cash flow problems.” 
  • “Last month, a Chinese credit-rating agency downgraded Anbang’s Life Insurance, saying that ‘income has fallen substantially [and] the availability of debt financing is reduced’. The agency also noted that Anbang Life posted a net loss in the first half.” 
  • “Anbang dropped off the lists of the top 10 shareholders in three of China’s big four state-owned commercial banks in the second quarter, according to the banks’ financial statements released this week. In the fourth bank, Anbang also reduced holdings but remained in the top 10.” 
  • “Anbang is also not the only insurer to sell stakes in big banks in the second quarter. Ping An Insurance, the country’s largest insurer by assets, sold down in ICBC.”

NYT – As Bike-Sharing Brings Out Bad Manners, China Asks, What’s Wrong With Us? – Javier Hernandez 9/2

  • “There are now more than 16 million shared bicycles on the road in China’s traffic-clogged cities, thanks to a fierce battle for market share among 70-plus companies backed by a total of more than $1 billion in financing. These start-ups have reshaped the urban landscape, putting bikes equipped with GPS and digital locks on almost every street corner in a way that Silicon Valley can only dream of.”
  • “But their popularity has been accompanied by a wave of misbehavior. Because the start-ups do not use fixed docking stations, riders abandon bicycles haphazardly along streets and public squares, snarling traffic and cluttering sidewalks. Thieves have taken them by the tens of thousands, for personal use or selling them for parts. Angry and mischievous vandals hang them in trees, bury them in construction sites and throw them into lakes and rivers.”
  • “Such problems have raised questions about the sustainability of China’s bike-share boom. But the debacle has also led many Chinese to look for deeper explanations and ask if bike-sharing has revealed essential flaws in the national character, prompting a far-reaching debate about social decay and the decline of decorum and morality in the country.”
  • “Some say abuse of the bicycles reflects an every-man-for-himself mentality in China that has its roots in the extreme poverty of the last century. Others are bothered by what they see as a lack of concern for strangers and public resources. The transgressions have been chronicled in the local news media with a tone of disbelief, in part because Chinese generally see themselves as a law-abiding society and crime rates are relatively low.”
  • “In many cities, the supply of bicycles far exceeds demand, bringing chaos to sidewalks, bus stops and intersections and prompting grumbles that excessive competitiveness — seen as a national trait — is spoiling a good thing. In Shanghai, where officials have struggled to maintain order, there is now one shared bike for every 16 people, according to government statistics.
  • “In some places, the authorities have confiscated tens of thousands of bicycles and imposed parking restrictions. News outlets have documented the waste with astounding images of mountains of candy-colored bicycles, each hue representing a different bike-share company.”

FT – China’s migrant workers feel pinch as Beijing pulls back on wages – Tom Hancock 9/3

Europe

Bloomberg Businessweek – Germany’s Housing Market is Red Hot, But Don’t Call It a Bubble – Stephan Kahl and Andrew Blackman 8/21

  • A different way of engaging with rising real estate values…

South America

Bloomberg Businessweek – Brazil’s Lost Decade: The Invisible Costs of an Epic Recession – David Biller and Gabriel Shinohara 8/21

  • “Once the emerging-market darling of Wall Street, Brazil’s economy went from growth of 7.5% in 2010 to shrink by virtually the same amount in the last two years. Unemployment has risen to a near-record high, GDP per capita fell to 2009 levels and the budget deficit is hovering around 10% of GDP. There is no sign the Latin American giant will recover its investment-grade status any time soon.”
  • Fortunately…

FT – Brazil ends worst recession as GDP expands for second straight quarter – Joe Leahy 9/1

  • “Brazil’s gross domestic product expanded for the second consecutive quarter in the three months ended June, officially ending the worst recession in Latin America’s largest economy.”
  • “GDP grew just 0.2% in the quarter compared to the first three months of the year and 0.3% compared with the same quarter a year earlier, the state statistics agency, IBGE, said.”

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