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

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