Month: October 2017

October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween!

If you were only to read one thing…

FT – Billionaire boom is a sign that rates need to rise – Merryn Somerset Webb 10/27

  • “It has been a good week for billionaires. The UBS/PwC Billionaires Report 2017 claimed the combined wealth of the world’s 1,542 billionaires rose by almost a fifth last year to $6tn: more than double the UK’s gross domestic product.”
  • “It has not been a particularly good week for governments. They have to deal with the fallout from rising wealth inequality, and that fallout is getting increasingly nasty. This kind of report does not do much for central bankers, either: the rise of the billionaires is as much about financial globalization as it is easy money, but every time a report lands on their desks, central bankers must stop to think about the economic, social and political havoc their policies have caused over the past 10 years.”
  • “The desperate attempt to avoid deflation via quantitative easing and record-low interest rates has had horrible side effects, and this observation is hardly controversial. The rich have become much richer; corporate wealth has become more concentrated; soaring house prices have created intergenerational strife; low yields have made all but the super-rich paranoid that they will be entirely unable to finance their futures. Most markets have ended up overvalued (this will really matter one day), while pension fund deficits and a constant sense of crisis have discouraged capital investment — and have possibly held down wages in the UK.”
  • “Set a target, get a distortion. This is standard stuff. But the fact that extreme monetary policy has been going on for so long means that central bankers do not just have macro problems to feel bad about. They are also effectively responsible for the increasingly dodgy micro policies governments have felt forced to put in place in an attempt to alleviate the nasty side effects of very low interest rates, over which they have no control.”
  • “A bit of good news is that this monetary experimentation has been about inflation targeting (everyone, for no obvious reason, is after 2%). And if you set a target and pursue it at the cost of everything else you usually get to it. So inflation is back. In the US, where expectations of inflation are low, September numbers showed average hourly earnings jumping 2.9%, the biggest rise in a decade.”
  • “The Monetary Policy Committee could dig out a list of excuses not to raise rates despite the last GDP growth numbers being rather better than expected. Raising rates will do harm at some point (asset prices will fall and the indebted will suffer). But not reversing is beginning to look like it could do more harm. Unless, of course, you are a billionaire.”

Perspective

Axios – ‘Degree inflation’ may be pushing workers out of the middle class – Christopher Matthews 10/25

  • “A growing number of U.S. employers are requiring bachelor’s degrees for jobs that have long been performed by workers without them, contributing to a rise in income inequality, according to a report published today.”
  • “Why it matters: The report, by Harvard Business School, Accenture, and Grads of Life estimates that 6 million American jobs are at risk of ‘degree inflation,’ a result of employers increasingly using a bachelor’s degree ‘as a proxy for a candidate’s range and depth of skills.'”

  • “‘This phenomenon is a major driver of income inequality,’ Joe Fuller of Harvard Business School tells Axios. ‘We’re hollowing out middle-class jobs and driving everyone to the extremes of the income spectrum.'”
  • “The number of U.S. job openings has reached an all-time high, but more than 13 million Americans — the vast majority with less than a four-year college degree — are unemployed or working part-time when they want full-time positions.”
  • “The costs of the shift are ‘profound’ for the two-thirds of American adults who lack a college degree, Fuller says.”
    • “90% of companies use screening software to weed out applicants lacking the education requirement. That means, even with the right experience, an applicant won’t even be considered by a human.”
    • “‘This puts significant pressure for people with certain aspirations to get a degree even when it’s not directly relevant to their career.'”
    • “When the 6-year graduation rate for 4-year schools in America is just 59%, that means Americans lacking the aptitude to excel in college take on debt for degrees they’ll never receive.”
    • “Hispanics and African Americans are disproportionately hurt by the phenomenon, because they have lower college graduation rates than the population at large.”

Visual Capitalist – Commuters and Computers: Mapping U.S. Megaregions – Nick Routley 10/28

  • “We tend to think of cities as individual economic units, but as they expand outward and bleed together, defining them simply by official jurisdictions and borders becomes difficult. After all, many of the imaginary lines divvying up the country are remnants of decisions from centuries ago – and other county and state lines exist for more counterintuitive reasons such as gerrymandering.”
  • “By ignoring borders and looking purely at commuter data, geographer Garrett Nelson and urban analyst Alasdair Rae looked to map the relationship between population centers in their paper, An Economic Geography of the United States: From Commutes to Mega-regions.”

  • “The study used network partitioning software to link together 4 million commutes between census tracts. This gives us a very granular look at the ‘gravitational pull’ of America’s population centers, and helps us better understand the economic links that bind a region together.”
  • “By combining visual and mathematical approaches, and some creative place-naming, the researchers created a map that they hope reflects America’s true economic geography.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: State College Graduation Rates – Highest & Lowest 10/29

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

The Atlantic – Harvey Weinstein and the Economics of Consent – Brit Marling 10/23

  • “The blunt power of the gatekeeper is the ability to enforce not just artistic, but also financial, exile.”

Bloomberg View – When Wall Street Looks Pricey, the Rest of the U.S. Thrives – Conor Sen

  • “When stocks are expensive, those with capital are more inclined to expand a business or start a new one.”
  • We’ll see…

Bloomberg View – Faster Growth Begins With a Land Tax in U.S. Cities – Noah Smith 10/24

  • This would cause a major political fight. The odds are that a land value tax would initially be passed onto tenants, until of course there is enough push back.
  • Granted, this goes against the goal of having property in core markets with the ability to benefit from economic rents…

Business Insider – Jeff Flake isn’t brave, he’s helpless – and he doesn’t understand why – Josh Barro 10/24

FT – Investors pass the buck on governance – Rana Foroohar 10/29

  • “Proxy advisers incentivize the wrong company behavior by creating rigid checklists.”

NYT – A Long-Delayed Reckoning of the Cost of Silence on Abuse – Jim Rutenberg 10/22

NYT – Forget Washington. Facebook’s Problems Abroad Are Far More Disturbing. – Kevin Roose 10/29

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – US Single Family Home Sales 10/29

  • “Moody’s is projecting that many more homes will be sold next year as homeowners finally make their move.”

Others are not as optimistic.

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – US Existing Single Family Home Sales 10/29

FT  – Sand castles on Jersey Shore: property boom defies US flood risk – Gregory Meyer 10/29

  • “Sandy exposed the perils of shoreline living, as the climate warms and sea levels creep higher. In the US alone it left 162 dead, laid waste to 650,000 homes and cost $65bn — the second most expensive weather disaster in history.”
  • “On New Jersey’s fragile barrier islands, the response to Sandy has not been to withdraw inland but rather to build bigger. ‘They did not rebuild bungalows. They knocked those down and built McMansions,’ says Walter LaCicero, Lavallette’s mayor.”
  • That’s one way to do eminent domain.
  • “Improbably, the disaster created a once-in-a-lifetime buying opportunity. Older families unable to pay for repairs sold properties.”
  • “House prices in the worst-hit communities cratered after Sandy. In Lavallette, the median sale price of $532,500 in October 2012 had more than halved to $225,000 by February 2013, according to New Jersey Realtors. This past summer, median prices reached $660,000 and were higher by the beach.”
  • “The Federal Emergency Management Agency has paid out more than $25bn in New Jersey and New York alone, reimbursing towns for the cost of removing debris, repairing roads and bridges, and renting emergency equipment. Gaps in local tax revenue lost when assessed property values collapsed were filled with federal money. The agency granted $1.4bn to 179,000 people and households in the region to cover their costs of shelter and rebuilding.”
  • “Critics say federal policy rewards local officials for hazardous coastal development. ‘If someone told you you’re going to get a new beach every time the oceans washed yours away, you’re probably going to feel more secure allowing high-priced homes to be built there,’ says Rob Moore, senior policy analyst at the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council).”
  • “The aid has strings attached: all new and rebuilt houses must now rest on stilts at least one foot above the estimated crest of a once-in-a-100-year flood.”
  • “Relatively cheap schemes such as hazard zoning and land purchases have typically received about 5% of disaster relief funds, according to a report by the National Research Council, an expert body. Washington is also picking up a bigger tab from coastal disasters, covering 75% of the damages from Sandy compared with 6% for Hurricane Diane in 1955.”
  • “‘Developers, builders and state and local governments reap the rewards of coastal development but do not bear equivalent risk, because the federal government has borne an increasing share of the costs of coastal disasters,’ the council’s study said.”
  • “The prospect of higher and more frequent floods driven by climate change comes as the Trump administration unravels US commitments to rein in carbon emissions, including pulling out of the Paris agreement and abandoning an initiative to factor climate risks into infrastructure spending. As Irma bore down on Florida last month Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said the time to discuss the causes and effects of the storm was ‘not now’.”

WSJ – Stuck in Place, U.S. Homeowners Hunker Down as Housing Supply Stays Tight – Laura Kusisto and Christina Rexrode 10/29

FT – Boston prices its graduates out of starter homes – Hugo Cox 10/24

Energy

WSJ – Your Next Home Could Run on Batteries – Christopher Mims 10/15

  • “The rise of these home batteries isn’t just a product of our collective obsession with new tech. Their adoption is being driven by a powerful need, says Ravi Manghani, of GTM Research: renewable energy.”

  • “Without batteries and other means of energy storage, the ability of utility companies to deliver power could eventually be threatened.”
  • “Solar power, especially, tends to generate electricity only at certain times—and it’s rarely in sync with a home’s needs. In some states, such as California and Arizona, there’s an overabundance of solar power in the middle of the day during cool times of the year, then a sudden crash in the evenings, when people get home and energy use spikes.”
  • “For utilities, it’s a headache. The price of electricity on interstate markets can go negative at certain times, forcing them to dump excess electricity or pay others to take it.”
  • “’This is not a long-term theoretical issue that might happen—this is now,’ says Marc Romito, director of customer technology at Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest electric utility.”

Finance

FT – Wall St banks ride boom in leveraged loans as volumes soar – Joe Rennison and Eric Platt 10/29

  • “Wall Street banks are having a strong year underwriting and selling riskier loans, with the volume so far this year already surpassing the whole of 2016.”
  • “The overall industry has underwritten leveraged loans worth $1.251tn, and earlier this month eclipsed its previous full-year record set in 2013, according to Dealogic. Volumes are up 38% from a year earlier and more than 60% of the deals have been companies refinancing existing loans.”
  • “The relative dearth of new loans, as opposed to refinancings, has also given borrowers the upper hand. As well as lower rates, borrowers are also able to cut the number of investor protections, called covenants, written into the loans.”
  • “’Net new supply is relatively low so demand is exceeding supply,’ said Christina Padgett, an analyst at Moody’s. ‘Investors are going to get squeezed on price and the issuers are going to take advantage so they have really flexible credit agreements.’”

FT – Why credit is the Hotel California of markets – Michael Mackenzie 10/24

  • “The endless debate over valuation metrics that have accompanied the storming bull run in stocks misses a much bigger point about investing in 2017. Thanks to the outsized role of central banks, it is the credit markets that run the show. If you want clues on when the bull run in equities is entering the red zone, keep your eyes on the corporate debt market.”
  • “Before central banks’ quantitative easing policies engineered the current cycle of financial suppression, credit markets had already established their bona fides as an early warning system for investors. When equities peaked in October 2007, the credit market had already begun turning lower.”
  • “A decade on, the risk premium, or additional yield, offered by corporate bonds over that of a US government bond is at its narrowest since 2007. That provides very little protection for buyers, with even a modest drop in bond prices erasing the meagre fixed income being paid by borrowers.”
  • The big lesson digested by investors since the financial crisis is that you need to own yield, and the money gushing into bond funds remains immense. About $241bn flowed into US high grade bond funds and exchange traded funds in the first nine months of the year, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimates. That’s a whopping 34% higher than 2012’s full-year record of $180bn, the bank says.”
  • “This high tide of money means companies can keep selling debt — running at a record $1.4tn pace this year in the US — at very low interest rates. The resulting higher leverage in the system helps explain why the equity market keeps updating the record books with alacrity.”
  • “’As long as people are tripping over themselves to buy bonds, it remains a very favorable environment for risk taking,’ says Jack Ablin, chief investor officer at BMO Wealth Management.”
  • “True, a number of strategists concede the current credit cycle is looking a little long in the tooth, but they also think the water can remain warm and soapy for a while yet.”
  • “The Federal Reserve may have begun trimming its balance sheet, but other central banks are still buying and the scale of their largesse keeps US credit spreads tight as international money hunts yield. Not until next March will collective bond buying from the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England peak at around $15.3tn, according to BofA.”
  • “But kick the tires of the credit machine a little harder and there are nascent signs of trouble.”
  • “The quality of covenants — designed to protect bondholders from a borrower defaulting — loiters in the gutter, reflecting a market awash with far too much money.”
  • “In another troubling sign, companies have raised just $215bn from the US high yield market in 2017, the second-slowest figure since 2011, as flows of money into the sector have been choppy this year. While this suggests that some money managers are doing their credit homework, the recent bankruptcy filing of Toys R Us sends a grim tiding about market complacency.”
  • “Bonds in the highly indebted retailer were trading near par and then plunged below 30 cents on the dollar.”
  • “So where does this leave investors? Sure the music is still playing and will probably do so for some time yet. But watch the yield curve. The Fed’s autopilot sequence of rate increases has sharply narrowed the difference between yields on short and long dated Treasuries. This reflects expectations that inflation will stay low — bad for debtors — as well as concern that the economy’s growth prospects are limited.”
  • “If there’s further curve flattening after a tax reform deal, that will send a gloomy signal about the economy, finally push credit spreads wider and should worry the most ardent of equity bulls.”
  • “As we know from 2008, there is no exit once the credit market turns. Credit is the Hotel California of markets — and equity investors usually discover they are trapped in the basement.”

China

FT – Inside China’s secret ‘magic weapon’ for worldwide influence – James Kynge, Lucy Hornby, and Jamil Anderlini 10/25

  • “Xi is quietly ramping up a Communist party department to expand Beijing’s soft power.”

India

FT – India agrees $32bn plan to recapitalize state banks – Simon Mundy 10/24

  • “India’s government has announced a $32bn recapitalization plan for the country’s ailing state-controlled banks in a bid to tackle a festering economic problem.”
  • “The finance ministry promised on Tuesday to take a ‘massive step . . . to support credit growth and job creation’ by shoring up bank balance sheets strained by soaring corporate defaults over the past three years.”
  • “The state banks have been faced with weak credit demand this year and have lost market share to private sector rivals.”
  • “Concerns about the condition of the state-owned banks, which account for more than two-thirds of sector assets, have been mounting along with estimates of their bad loans.”
  • “This is because of a spurt in loans to companies in sectors such as steel and infrastructure over much of the past decade, many of which subsequently turned sour. Gross non-performing loans at the state-controlled banks rose to 13.7% of their assets at the end of June, up from 5.4% in March 2015.”
  • “Beyond the recapitalization, the government promised to push the banks to step up their lending to small and medium-sized enterprises, including by partnering with financial technology companies.”
  • “This sector was badly hit by India’s demonetization last year, which triggered a shortage of bank notes that rocked companies long used to dealing entirely in cash.”

Japan

WSJ – Japan to Young Investors: Loosen Up – Suryatapa Bhattacharya 10/29

Puerto Rico

Rhodium Group – America’s Biggest Blackout – Trevor Houser and Peter Marsters 10/26

Russia

NYT – In Russia, a Bribery Case Lifts the Veil on Kremlin Intrigue – Andrew Kramer 10/21

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Latinobarometro – Does Your Government Favor the Elite 10/29

  • It would be hard to argue it doesn’t.

October 30, 2017

The tally is in – daily (or at least close to it).

Perspective

WEF – This chart might change how you think about migration – Frank Chaparro 8/29

How Much – How Trump Tax Rate Changes Affect You – Raul 10/22

Economist – Globalization has marginalized many regions in the rich world 10/27

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg Businessweek – Italians Have Perfected the Art of Waiting It Out – Vernon Silver 10/18

Bloomberg Businessweek – Amazon Is Getting a Good Deal in Ohio. Maybe Too Good – Mya Frazier 10/26

  • “Amazon’s nine-figure tax incentives in Ohio have strained local public services as the state’s employment growth continues to lag the national average.”

Bloomberg View – Morningstar’s Star System Was Always a Bright Shinny Object – Barry Ritholtz 10/26

  • “Retail and professional investor alike seem to ignore the fact that every single document ever generated by any investment-related firm has a warning on it to the effect that ‘Past performance is not an indicator of future returns.’ Every chart ever drawn, each investing idea back-tested and every single historical comparison is testament to how little mind humans pay to that disclaimer.”

Bloomberg View – Think the U.S. Has a Facebook Problem? Look to Asia – Editorial Board 10/22

  • “…its platform exacerbates the potential for violence and social breakdown.”

Economist – Globalization’s losers: The right way to help declining places – Leaders 10/21

  • “Mainstream parties must offer voters who feel left behind a better vision of the future, one that takes greater account of the geographical reality behind the politics of anger.”
  • “Economic theory suggests that regional inequalities should diminish as poorer (and cheaper) places attract investment and grow faster than richer ones. The 20th century bore that theory out: income gaps narrowed across American states and European regions. No longer. Affluent places are now pulling away from poorer ones. This geographical divergence has dramatic consequences. A child born in the bottom 20% in wealthy San Francisco has twice as much chance as a similar child in Detroit of ending up in the top 20% as an adult. Boys born in London’s Chelsea can expect to live nearly nine years longer than those born in Blackpool. Opportunities are limited for those stuck in the wrong place, and the wider economy suffers. If all its citizens had lived in places of high productivity over the past 50 years, America’s economy could have grown twice as fast as it did.”

Economist – Why Airbus’s tie-up with Bombardier is so damaging for Boeing 10/19

Economist – Firms that burn up $1bn a year are sexy but statistically doomed – Schumpeter 10/21

  • “Consider Tesla, a maker of electric cars. This year, so far, it has missed its production targets and lost $1.8bn of free cashflow (the money firms generate after capital investment has been subtracted). No matter. If its founder Elon Musk muses aloud about driverless cars and space travel, its shares rise like a rocket—by 66% since the start of January. Tesla is one of a tiny cohort of firms with a license to lose billions pursuing a dream. The odds of them achieving it are similar to those of aspiring pop stars and couture designers.”
  • Investing today for profits tomorrow is what capitalism is all about. Amazon lost $4bn in 2012-14 while building an empire that now makes money.”
  • Tell that to the mom and pop shops that are crowded out because they have to be profitable.
  • “Most billion-dollar losers today are energy firms temporarily in the doldrums as they adjust to a recent plunge in oil prices. Their losses are an accident.”
  • “But a few firms love life in the fast lane. Netflix, Uber and Tesla are tech companies that say their (largely unproven) business models will transform industries. Two others stand out for the sheer persistence of their losses. Chesapeake Energy, a fracking firm at the heart of America’s shale revolution, has lost at least $1bn of free cashflow a year for an incredible 14 years in a row. Nextera Energy, a utility that runs wind and solar plants, and which investors value highly, has managed 12 years on the trot.”
  • “Collectively these five firms have burned $100bn in the past decade, yet they boast a total market value of about $300bn… The experience of the five suggests that bending reality today has three elements: a vision, fast growth, and financing.
  • “…Sustaining a reality distortion field is possible, but the longer it goes on for, the harder it gets. More capital has to be raised and, in order to justify it, the bigger the firm’s projected ultimate size—its terminal value—has to be.”
  • “A few firms other than Amazon have defied the odds. Over the past 20 years Las Vegas Sands, a casino firm, Royal Caribbean, a cruise-line company, and Micron Technology, a chip-maker, each lost $1bn or more for two consecutive years and went on to prosper. But the chances of success are slim. Of the current members of the Russell 1000 index, since 1997 only 37 have lost $1bn or more for at least two years in a row. Of these, 21 still lose money.”
  • “To justify their valuations, the five firms examined by Schumpeter must grow their sales by an estimated 8-33% each year for a decade. Based on the record of all American companies since 1950, and the five firms’ present revenue levels, the probability of this happening ranges between 0.1% and 25%, using statistical tables from Credit Suisse, a bank.”

FT – The downside of the race to be Amazon’s second home – Richard Florida 10/23

  • For Amazon to really make an impact, forgo the offered public incentives, among other things.

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Businessweek – Under Trump, Made in America Is Losing Out to Russian Steel – Margaret Newkirk and Joe Deaux 10/25

  • “Foreign steel imports into the U.S. are up 24% in 2017. As the industry grows angry at Trump’s lack of trade action, Russia’s Evraz continues winning pipeline contracts.

WSJ – Daily Shot: Overstock.com 10/24

  • Overstock.com which has been languishing for some time now is on a tear since it announced an initial coin offering (ICO). I suspect that other companies that have been struggling for growth will follow.

WSJ – Daily Shot: Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena 10/25

  • “Shares of the bailed-out Italian bank Monte dei Paschi resumed trading on Wednesday and promptly declined 70% from the last closing price.”

Real Estate

WP – America’s affordable-housing stock dropped by 60 percent from 2010 to 2016 – Tracy Jan 10/23

  • “The number of apartments deemed affordable for very low-income families across the United States fell by more than 60% between 2010 and 2016, according to a new report by Freddie Mac.”
  • “The report by the government-backed mortgage financier is the first to compare rent increases in specific units over time. It examined loans that the corporation had financed twice between 2010 and 2016, allowing a comparison of the exact same rental units and how their affordability changed.”
  • “At first financing, 11% of nearly 100,000 rental units nationwide were deemed affordable for very low-income households. By the second financing, when the units were refinanced or sold, rents had increased so much that just 4% of the same units were categorized as affordable.”
  • “’We have a rapidly diminishing supply of affordable housing, with rent growth outstripping income growth in most major metro areas,’ said David Brickman, executive vice president and head of Freddie Mac Multifamily. ‘This doesn’t just reflect a change in the housing stock.’”
  • “Rather, he said, affordable housing without a government subsidy is becoming extinct. More renters flooded the market after people lost their homes in the housing crisis. The apartment vacancy rate was 8% in 2009, compared to 4% in 2017. That trend, coupled with a stagnant supply of apartments, resulted in increased rents.”
  • “The study defined ‘very low income’ as households making less than 50% of the area median income, and ‘affordable’ rent as costing less than 30% of household income.”
  • “Most new construction of multifamily housing generally serves high-income renters, according to Freddie Mac. The corporation — along with Fannie Mae, another government-sponsored enterprise with a similar mission — significantly reduced its role in financing multifamily housing after the Great Recession.”
  • “Together, they had financed about 70% of all original loans for multifamily properties in 2008 and 2009 as private capital pulled back, said Karan Kaul, a research associate at the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute. By the end of 2014, their market presence declined to 30%.”
  • “‘The affordability issues are becoming more severe at the lower end of the market,’ said Kaul, a former researcher at Freddie Mac. ‘Absent some kind of government intervention or subsidy, there is just not going to be any investments made at that lower end of the market.'”

Energy

FT –  US oil floated on cheap money – John Dizard 10/28

Construction

WSJ – Daily Shot: CME Lumber Futures 10/23

  • “Lumber futures are soaring in response to the NAFTA jitters. US home construction/renovation costs are sure to rise.”

Middle East

Economist – The boycott of Qatar is hurting its enforcers 10/19

  • “If Saudis and Emiratis will not trade with Doha, Iranians will.”

October 20 – October 26, 2017

Polluted waterways in India…

It’s a light posting – I’ve been out of pocket for the last several days. Regardless, I will catch up with the content from those days and mix it in with new content.

However, since I’ve had some mixed feed back, I would like to open it up in a poll. Do you prefer daily or weekly posts?

Headlines

FT – Pollution-related deaths exceed 9m per year 10/19. “…Equivalent to one in six of all deaths across the world.” Of which, 6.5m are from air pollution, 1.8m from water pollution, and 0.8m from pollution in the workplace.

FT – China lifts ban on Anbang sales of high-yield investment products 10/21. After being banned from selling new products in May, the insurance group (known for its purchase of the Waldorf Astoria in New York and a $6.5bn hotel portfolio from the Blackstone Group), has been enabled to get back to it.

NYT – Puerto Ricans Ask: When Will the Lights Come Back On? 10/19. “…80% of Puerto Rico still does not have electricity. Some residents have not had power for 45 days…”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Politico – The Boomtown (Cape Coral, FL) That Shouldn’t Exist – Michael Grunwald 10/20

Perspective

National Geographic – These Are the World’s Happiest Places – Dan Buettner 10/18

NYT – A Boom in Credit Cards: Great News for Banks, Less So Consumers 10/19

National Geographic – Where to Find The Good Life – Manuel Canales & Kennedy Elliott 10/18

Real Estate

13D Research – The destabilizing truth of the retail apocalypse: it’s more about inequality than e-commerce – 10/5

Asia – excluding China and Japan

NYT – Myanmar, Once a Hope for Democracy, Is Now a Study in How It Fails 10/19

Europe

FT – EU opens investigation into Chinese e-bike dumping – Michael Pooler 10/20

Featured

WSJ – The World’s Next Environmental Disaster – Krishna Pokharel and Preetika Rana 10/20

  • “The Yamuna River that flows through this ancient city has helped sustain some of India’s greatest empires. Hindu poets celebrated its life-giving properties. The Mughal dynasty built the Taj Mahal and other monuments along its banks.”
  • “Today, the Yamuna is a foul sludge for much of its 855-mile run. In Delhi, it is black and nearly motionless, covered in many areas with a foam of industrial chemicals, floating plastic and human waste.”
  • “Every 100 milliliters of the Yamuna in Delhi contains 22 million fecal coliform bacteria, up from 12,250 in 1988, scientists say. Anything over 500 is unsafe for bathing, India’s government says. The comparable standard in Vermont is 235.”
  • “Illnesses ranging from diarrhea to brain worms are reported along the river’s edges. By the time the Yamuna exits Delhi, it is so defiled that scientists have declared the next 300 miles ‘eutrophic,’ or incapable of sustaining animal life.”
  • “For years, global environmentalists have focused on China, whose rapid industrialization made it one of the world’s most polluted major nations. Now it’s India’s turn.”
  • “Unlike China, which has become wealthier and is starting to clean up, India is in the early stages of industrial growth. It is following the same road China took to get richer, meaning more factories and cars. Yet, it already has some of the world’s worst environmental problems.”
  • “A government report in 2015 found that 275 of 445 rivers in India are severely polluted, including the Ganges. An international nonprofit, WaterAid, says 70% of India’s surface water is contaminated. Diarrhea, often caused by drinking bad water, is the fourth-leading cause of death in India, ahead of any cancer, and kills far more people than in China, which has a larger population.”
  • “Greenpeace says that in 2015, the average Indian was subjected to more air pollution than the average Chinese for the first time, as China’s ‘systematic efforts’ to improve air have started working. A 2016 WHO report found that 10 out of the world’s 20 most polluted cities were in India, based on residents’ exposure to deadly small particulate matter.”
  • “One reason India is an environmental mess at such an early stage of its development is that it has failed to master the basic services of sewage and water treatment which some other developing nations addressed when incomes rose.”
  • “Of the over 16 billion gallons of sewage that India produces every day, 62% ends up on nearby water bodies untreated, according to the Central Pollution Control Board, a federal pollution monitor.”
  • “Many Indian cities that built wastewater treatment systems don’t fully use them because of electricity shortages or other problems. Several others haven’t built them at all.”

October 13 – October 19, 2017

The corporate drug industry has had many friends in Washington D.C. until now… Amazon is taking over the package room of your apartment building. China’s property boom unlikely to end anytime soon.

Headlines

Economist – The Philippine army recaptures a city seized by Muslim insurgents 10/17. After 5 months, the Philippine forces of President Rodrigo Duterte took back the city of Marawi on the island of Mindanao.

FT – Wanda golf courses closed in China austerity push 10/15. The two courses are in the $3bn Changbaishan resort in Fusong. The why – because new courses were banned in 2004; however, many developers were able to work their way around the rules…until now.

NYT – Kobe Steel Problems May Be More Widespread, Raising Fears on High-Speed Rail 10/12. So about that falsified data…we…didn’t…quite…tell…you…about…all…of…it…sorry.

WSJ – Nordstrom Family Suspends Effort to Take Retailer Private 10/16. That’s how strong the narrative is right now against the retail industry, even the Nordstrom family is having difficulty finding investors to fund the debt of the acquisition (despite the world being awash in cash and the tight spreads on high yield products).

WSJ – Hedge Fund Maverick Capital Debuts 0% Performance Fees 10/19. After losing 10% in 2016 and being down 2% so far this year (mind you that the market is up over the same time period), Maverick is offering some investors a 0% performance fee and 1% management fee on new money for its “recovery shares”.

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Teachable Moment – Generation Kill – Anthony Isola 10/16

  • “Young people are killing their chances of building wealth.”

A Wealth of Common Sense – How to Invest At All-Time Highs – Ben Carlson 10/18

  • “The S&P 500 Index has recorded more than 150 new all-time highs since eclipsing its previous peak in late March of 2013. In 2017 alone, there have been 30 new record highs through the end of last week. To put this into perspective, there were only 13 new highs for the entire decade of the 2000s.”

BuzzFeed – Watching Harvey Weinstein Fall, Trump’s Accusers Feel Frustrated – Kendall Taggart & Jessica Garrison 10/14

Economist – Crafty app developers are ripping off big-name brands 10/12

  • Be careful which apps you load onto your phones.

FT – Under Xi Jinping, China is turning back to dictatorship – Jamil Anderlini 10/10

  • “The rejection of ‘western’ political systems has been made easier recently by what the Chinese see as the ludicrous buffoonery of Donald Trump and, to a lesser extent, the self-inflicted damage of Brexit and EU infighting.”
  • “As a top foreign policy adviser recently told one of my colleagues: ‘Trump never talks about democracy or American leadership or liberty — we should not be so stupid to worship things that in the western world are now in doubt.’”
  • Be cautious in your use of ‘private’ messaging services such as WeChat. Big brother is watching.

FT – Hollywood’s masculinity problem – the full picture – Kate Muir 10/12

FT – The implications of shelving the Aramco IPO – Nick Butler 10/14

FT – The disruptive power of renewables – Nick Butler 10/15

NYT – Stranded by Maria, Puerto Ricans Get Creative to Survive – Caitlin Dickerson 10/16

NYT – Inside a Secretive Group Where Women Are Branded – Barry Meier 10/17

  • Another example of the power of peer pressure and social learning.

Project Syndicate – The Psychology of Superstar Sex Predators – Raj Persaud & Peter Bruggen 10/19

The Guardian – Meet the new class traitors who are coming out as rich – Alissa Quart 10/16

The New Yorker – Carl Ichan’s Failed Raid on Washington – Patrick Radden Keefe 8/28

Perspective

How Much – The Largest Industry In Each State by GDP – Raul 10/9

WEF – Tech Insider: World Forecasted Population Growth – Gerald Chirinda 10/11

How Much – Can you Retire on $1 Million? Here is How Long You Can Survive in Every State… – Raul 10/12

Top 5 Friendly States for Retirement

  1. Mississippi  – $1 million lasts 25 yrs 6 months
  2. Arkansas – $1 million lasts 25 yrs
  3. Tennessee – $1 million lasts 24 yrs 5 months
  4. Kansas – $1million lasts 24 yrs 5 months
  5. Oklahoma – $1million lasts 24 yrs 4 months

Top 5 least Friendly States for Retirement

  1. Hawaii – $1 million lasts 13 yrs 1 months
  2. District of Columbia – $1 million lasts 14 yrs 2 months
  3. California – $ 1million lasts 15 yrs
  4. Oregon – $1 million lasts 16 yrs 7 months
  5. New York – $1 million lasts 16 yrs 7 months

VC – The Global Leaders in R&D Spending, by Country and Company – Jeff Desjardins 10/13

Pew – Share of counties where whites are a minority has doubled since 1980 – Drew Desilver 7/1/15

How Much – Best US Cities for Families to Save Money – Raul 10/16

The Best Places for Families to Save Money

  1. Spokane, WA; +$83,400
  2. Henderson, NV; +$59,100
  3. North Las Vegas, NV; +$56,600
  4. Las Vegas, NV; +$55,900
  5. Reno, NV; +$48,800

The Worst Places for Families to Save Money

  1. San Francisco, CA; -$62,300
  2. New York, NY; -$54,100
  3. Boston, MA; -$34,000
  4. Washington DC; -$22,200
  5. Philadelphia, PA; -$9,100

VC – How Many Hours Americans Need to Work to Pay Their Mortgage – Jeff Desjardins 10/17

The Republic – Phoenix is getting hotter – and so is the danger – Brandon Loomis 10/18

Pew – Amid decline in international adoptions to U.S., boys outnumber girls for the first time – Abby Budiman and Mark Hugo Lopez 10/17

Bloomberg – Smartphones Are Killing Americans, But Nobody’s Counting – Kyle Stock, Lance Lambert, and David Ingold 10/17

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Businessweek- Dollar General Hits a Gold Mine in Rural America 10/11

Bloomberg – The Glut of Private Jets Means ‘Insane’ Bargains for Buyers 10/8

Bloomberg – One of the Biggest ICOs Yet Crashes Before It Even Launched 10/19

WSJ – This Market’s Running on Hope, Not Profits 10/12

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 10/17

Bloomberg – JPMorgan, Citigroup Expect More Credit-Card Users to Default – Hugh Son, Dakin Campbell and Jennifer Surane 10/12

Real Estate

Bloomberg Businessweek – Distressed Investors Are Already Buying Houston Homes for 40 Cents on the Dollar 10/12

WSJ – Global Investors Pour Billions Into Hudson Yards in Major Bull Market Bet 10/17

WSJ – How Some Malls Manage to Stay Alive Years After Losing Their Mojo 10/17

WSJ – In London, Some Home Buyers Can Only Stay a Few Years 10/19

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – US Housing Supply Overview 10/17

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Multifamily Housing Units Under Construction 10/19

Finance

Economist – Buttonwood: The finance industry ten years after the crisis 10/14

WSJ – Daily Shot: Commonwealth of Puerto Rico GO Bond 10/15

  • “Puerto Rico’s general obligations (GO) debt keeps tumbling. The 8%-coupon bond ‘maturing’ in 2035 is trading at 33 cents on the dollar.”

WSJ – As Edward Jones Tops $1 Trillion in Assets, It Seeks Street Cred – Lisa Beilfuss 10/16

WSJ – Daily Shot: Corporate High-Yield Bond Spreads 10/18

Environment / Science

Economist – Offshore wind farms will change life in the sea 10/12

Bloomberg – There’s a Climate Bomb Under Your Feet 10/6

NYT – LIGO Detects Fierce Collision of Neutron Stars for the First Time – Dennis Overbye 10/16

Project Syndicate – Hurricanes’ Unnatural Toll 10/13

WSJ – Your Next Home Could Run on Batteries 10/15

Economist – Why the North American west is on fire 10/13

  • “The west of the United States has endured some 50,000 wildfires this year, and over 8.5m acres (3.4m hectares) have burned. Northern California has suffered in particular recently as flames have swept through parts of the landscape, killing at least 23 people and devastating wineries. In Canada, as of August 30th (the latest available figure), 7.4m acres had burned.”
  • “Ernesto Alvarado of the University of Washington, who specializes in large fires, says that historically portions of the forests of America’s north-west would burn every five to 20 years. In many areas, however, these fires have been suppressed for over a century by the needs of loggers and residents. Over time, undergrowth, saplings and dead trees accumulate, creating conditions in which a fire can spread very rapidly. Furthermore, a recent reduction in logging has led to an even closer packing together of trees. ‘To maintain good forest health in many of these forests, you need fire,’ says Dr. Alvarado. While some burns are prescribed, they are a fraction of what is required. In Washington, for instance, between 2001 and 2014 the Forest Service burned just 2% of the state’s 9.3m acres of forest.”
  • “In terms of scale, 2017 is not actually an outlier. In the past decade, wildfires have burned an average of 6.6m acres each year in the United States and 6.2m acres in Canada. The particular problem this year is the dispersed nature of the blazes.”
  • “The current state of the north-western forests, combined with the effects of climate change, increase the likelihood that wildfires will be worse in future… Little can be done to reduce the danger without a dramatic increase in prescribed burns, and these are unlikely as people continue to move into forested areas. One further consequence: the smoke and ash that drift across densely inhabited areas affect human health, too. A study by the universities of Harvard and Columbia of slash-and-burn fires in Indonesia in 2015 blamed the fires for 100,000 additional deaths and 500,000 injuries in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire: this year’s haze presages years of potentially more ferocious burns.”

Asia – excluding China and Japan

NYT – U.S. Stood By as Indonesia Killed a Half-Million People, Papers Show 10/18

WSJ Video – Inside the Philippines’ Bloody War Against Islamist Militants 10/18

Canada

WSJ – Canada Imposes Tougher Mortgage Rules Effective 2018 – Paul Vieira and Vipal Monga 10/17

  • “Canada’s banking watchdog unveiled tougher mortgage-financing rules that take effect on Jan. 1 that real estate watchers and economists say could dramatically slow house buying and borrowing.”
  • “The most notable measure is a provision that would require all prospective buyers—even those with a down payment of over 20%—to undergo a so-called stress test before a bank can issue a loan. Previously, only buyers with a down payment of less than 20% had to undergo a stress test. Under the stress test, prospective buyers would have to qualify for a mortgage at a rate at whichever is greater: either 2 percentage points above the negotiated rate, or the Bank of Canada’s five-year benchmark rate. The central bank’s five-year rate stands at 4.89%. The regulator originally proposed the test just cover two percentages point above the negotiated mortgage.”
  • “Robert McLister, founder of the Canadian mortgage-rate comparison site RateSpy.com, said the new rules target the fastest-growing part of the mortgage market—uninsured mortgages—and could affect one out of every six prospective home buyers. In Canada, mortgage insurance is mandatory unless the buyer has a down payment of 20% and over.”
  • “’This is easily the most groundshaking mortgage rule of all time, and that’s not an understatement,’ Mr. McLister said in an interview.”
  • “Economists said the tougher mortgage regulations will further hit a softening housing market. Recent data from the Canadian Real Estate Association indicated unadjusted sales in September were 11% below year-ago levels, and price growth has slowed considerably, especially in the Toronto market after the introduction of a foreign-buyer’s tax in southern Ontario.”
  • “TD Bank’s economics team said it anticipates the measures will depress housing demand by 5% to 10% once fully implemented.”

China

FT – China’s $150bn debt-for-equity swap shows signs of fizzling 10/18

WEF – Deloitte: China will grow old before it gets rich – Alex Gray 10/6

WSJ – China’s Greatest Challenge – Anjani Trivedi 10/16

  • Debt…

  • NBFI = Nonbank Financial Institutions

FT – China residential property sales see first fall in 21/2 years – Hudson Lockett 10/18

  • Okay, but look at the volatility. Geez.

Japan

WSJ – Corporate Scandals Say More About Japan Than the Nikkei 10/12

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s Investor Service – Decline of Japan’s Working Age Population 10/18

Middle East

Reuters – Saudi needs Aramco billions as recession slows austerity drive 10/19

FT – Qatar’s wealth fund brings $20bn home to ease impact of embargo – Andrew England and Simeon Kerr 10/18

  • “Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund has brought more than $20bn back onshore to cushion the impact of a regional embargo imposed on the Gulf state.”
  • “Ali Shareef al-Emadi, Qatar’s finance minister, told the Financial Times that Qatar Investment Authority deposits were being used to create a ‘buffer’ and provide liquidity in the banking system after the gas-rich state suffered capital outflows of more than $30bn.”
  • “That followed the decision by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to cut diplomatic and transport links with the nation in June. The move has triggered the Gulf’s worst crisis in years.”
  • “Moody’s, the rating agency, said last month that Qatar had injected $38.5bn into its economy since the crisis erupted.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMI Research  – Saudi Arabia GDP Change Year-over-Year 10/17

South America

FT – IMF crunches the numbers for possible Venezuela rescue 10/15

Featured

WP – The drug industry’s triumph over the DEA – Scott Higham and Lenny Bernstein 10/15

  • Let it be noted the power of this reporting resulted in Rep. Tom Marino withdrawing from consideration to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy and it appears that the public is more aware of this problem…
  • “In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets.”
  • “By then, the opioid war had claimed 200,000 lives, more than three times the number of U.S. military deaths in the Vietnam War. Overdose deaths continue to rise. There is no end in sight.”
  • “A handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills, according to an investigation by The Washington Post and ’60 Minutes.’ The DEA had opposed the effort for years.”
  • “The law was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market. The industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns.”
  • “The chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA was Rep. Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican who is now President Trump’s nominee to become the nation’s next drug czar. Marino spent years trying to move the law through Congress. It passed after Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) negotiated a final version with the DEA.”
  • “For years, some drug distributors were fined for repeatedly ignoring warnings from the DEA to shut down suspicious sales of hundreds of millions of pills, while they racked up billions of dollars in sales.”
  • “The new law makes it virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the companies, according to internal agency and Justice Department documents and an independent assessment by the DEA’s chief administrative law judge in a soon-to-be-published law review article. That powerful tool had allowed the agency to immediately prevent drugs from reaching the street.”
  • “Political action committees representing the industry contributed at least $1.5 million to the 23 lawmakers who sponsored or co-sponsored four versions of the bill, including nearly $100,000 to Marino and $177,000 to Hatch. Overall, the drug industry spent $106 million lobbying Congress on the bill and other legislation between 2014 and 2016, according to lobbying reports.”

WSJ – Amazon and Big Apartment Landlords Strike Deals on Package Delivery – Laura Kusisto 10/17

  • “Amazon.com Inc. is taking over the package rooms of some of the country’s largest apartment landlords, in a move that could help consolidate its control over how goods make it from the warehouse floor to the front door.”
  • “Amazon has signed contracts with apartment owners and managers representing more than 850,000 units across the U.S. to begin installing Amazon locker systems in their buildings, according to the landlords. Amazon has commitments to install the lockers in thousands of properties, many before the peak holiday shopping season, according to a person familiar with the matter.”
  • “Several of the nation’s largest operators, AvalonBay Communities Inc., Equity Residential , Greystar and Bozzuto Group, have signed up, company executives said.
  • For several years, landlords have struggled with how to manage the mountains of packages they receive each day. Staff at larger buildings end up devoting several hours a day sorting mail, while boxes are piled in every spare cranny. Most say it is the single largest problem they face.”
  • “The locker program, dubbed Hub by Amazon, will accept packages from all carriers and not just for purchases made on Amazon. They will be open only to residents, not the wider community. Residents will receive a notification when they have a package and a code allowing them to open one of the slots.”
  • “Apartment owners pay about $10,000 to $20,000 to purchase the lockers initially and don’t pay a monthly fee. Most landlords said they don’t plan to charge residents initially but to offer it as an amenity. They could also make back some of that cost in savings on staff labor.”
  • “Karen Hollinger, vice president of corporate initiatives at AvalonBay, which has an ownership interest in about 80,000 apartments, said the average apartment community in the company’s portfolio receives some 1,000 packages a month, up from 650 a year ago. She said AvalonBay has seen a 20% to 30% annual increase in the volume of packages it receives for the past four years.”
  • “Amazon has been searching for ways to make deliveries cheaper. It has recruited a fleet of citizen drivers via its Flex program, which allows people to drop off packages from their cars. It has developed its own air and cargo networks, too.”
  • “The most expensive leg of any delivery is known as the last mile: getting a package to the doorstep. Amazon already has added lockers throughout the U.S., including an announcement that it is rolling them out at its newly acquired Whole Foods stores.”

FT – Chinese property boom props up Xi’s hopes for the economy – Tom Hancock & Gabriel Wildau 10/18

  • “As China’s Communist party elite gather in Beijing this week to select its top leaders, President Xi Jinping has benefited from the strong recent performance of the economy, which is poised for its first year-on-year acceleration in growth since 2010. On Thursday China reported that gross domestic product grew 6.8% in the third quarter, ahead of Beijing’s full-year target.”
  • “That rebound owes much to the confidence of homebuyers. Housing prices and construction starts rebounded from a slump in 2014-15, boosting overall business investment and driving demand for output from China’s huge manufacturing sector.”
  • “The property sector has been given a helping hand. Urged on by Beijing, 38% of all bank loans issued in the 12 months to August were home mortgages, according to official data, and local governments purchased 18% of all residential floor space sold last year as part of a drive to provide affordable housing, according to estimates by E-House China Research Institute.”
  • “The result has been another heady boom in construction. Rome was not built in a day, but based on residential floor area completed last year, China built the equivalent of a new Rome about every six weeks.”
  • “With the surge in housing investment has come a round of questions about a potential bubble in the market and the implications for the long-term health of China’s economy.”
  • “Some economists and investors warn that short-term growth from the latest housing boom has come at a cost: inflating a property bubble whose eventual bursting will inflict great pain. A senior Chinese legislator recently warned in unusually blunt terms that the economy has been ‘kidnapped’ by property.” 
  • “But others insist that fears of a bubble are overstated. On this view, economic fundamentals justify substantial investment in housing, especially in inland cities where development still lags far behind wealthy coastal areas. These more sanguine observers also note that outrageous price levels for Chinese apartments are mainly restricted to the megacities like Beijing and Shanghai.” 
  • “The stakes in this debate are high. Chinese residential property is arguably the world’s most important asset market. The sector drives global commodity prices, making the difference between growth and stagnation for resource exporters like Australia and Brazil.” 
  • “’It’s never wrong to express worry over China’s housing market,’ says Larry Hu, China economist for Macquarie Securities in Hong Kong. ‘But it’s interesting to consider why the housing sector has become the Bermuda Triangle for economic forecasters. So many smart people have made wrong predictions about it.’”
  • “The leading claim of the housing bears is that after a 15-year construction boom, China has built most of the housing it needs to meet fundamental demand. On this view, investors speculating on price gains, not families seeking shelter, now drive the market.”
  • “’People buy property not because they like the property, but because the price is rising,’ says Ning Zhu, professor at the Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance and author of China’s Guaranteed Bubble. ‘It’s this panic that if they don’t buy now they will never be able to afford it.’” 
  • “Central to this narrative is the notion of ‘ghost cities’ — huge blocks of empty apartments where expected demand never materialized.” 
  • “In Mr. Xi’s speech at the opening of the congress on Wednesday, he repeated his mantra that ‘houses are for living in, not for speculation’.”
  • “Yet even in major cities, evidence suggests that there are a substantial number of empty flats held for investment purposes. A survey by FT Confidential Research, an independent research service owned by the Financial Times, found that 32% of families own at least one home that is vacant.” 
  • “An estimated 50m homes, or 22% of the total urban housing stock, were vacant in 2013, according to the most recent data from the China Household Finance Survey led by Li Gan, economics professor at Texas A&M University.” 
  • “Further underpinning the bearish outlook is the belief that fundamental demand for new housing is drying up.” 
  • “The extraordinary transformation of China’s economy over the past 40 years was driven by the migration of farmers into cities. That urbanization process is now slowing, however, as relatively few young people remain in rural China.” 
  • “The number of migrant workers living outside their home province rose by 12m in the five years through to June this year, compared with an increase of 26m in the five years ending June 2012, according to official data.” 
  • Says Mr. Xie (Andy Xie, an independent economist and former Morgan Stanley chief Asia-Pacific economist): ‘If you go into villages, there are no young and middle-aged people any more. Where is this next wave of urbanization supposed to come from?’”
  • “To longtime observers of China’s economy, the current hand-wringing over the property market feels familiar.”
  • “After two years of falling prices and sluggish sales, analysts were warning in early 2016 that some smaller cities had enough unsold inventory to last for years.” 
  • “Yet by August this year, inventories in the 80 cities tracked by E-House China Research Institute stood at their lowest level in almost five years.” 
  • “Perceptions of unreasonably high housing prices appear to be disproportionately influenced by trends in first-tier cities — Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. All three rank among the world’s most expensive in terms of price-to-income ratio.” 
  • “Of the 70 cities in the official price survey, however, 12 have seen outright price falls in the three years through to August this year. In a further 29 cities, prices rose by less than 10% in the same period. Meanwhile, median per capital disposable income has grown 28% in roughly the same period.”
  • “Despite major concerns about Chinese corporate debt, household borrowing remains low by international standards at 37% of GDP, compared with 79% in the US and 59% in the euro area, according to the Bank for International Settlements. And Chinese homebuyers use less debt and more equity than counterparts in the US. The average down payment on Chinese home mortgages extended in 2016 was 40%.” 
  • Despite their differences, both sides in the debate mostly agree that an outright crash of the housing market is unlikely. Chinese savers have few options for investing their money. The stock market is volatile, returns on bank deposits are meagre and foreign exchange controls largely prevent households from buying foreign assets. Housing is the least bad option for many investors.” 
  • The combination of capital controls with years of monetary stimulus virtually ensures that ‘trapped cash’ will slosh through different asset classes, creating bubble-like conditions that the government either encourages or struggles to contain.” 
  • “Still, given the pain that would result from an abrupt policy shift, analysts widely expect that Beijing will continue the current approach, tightening controls when the market gets too hot, while priming it with cash when it slows too sharply.” 
  • “’The government is really losing its credibility,’ says Mr. Ning. ‘At this point everyone realizes they don’t really intend to crack down on the housing market.’

October 13, 2017

Perspective

NYT – Rohingya Recount Atrocities: ‘They Threw My Baby Into a Fire’ – Jeffrey Gettleman 10/11

  • Deeply disturbing.

WSJ – Daily Shot: OECD – Global Obesity Rates (2015) 10/12

FT – The 30-second ad has had its 15 minutes of fame – Shannon Bond 10/11

  • “The 30-second television ad has been dethroned. As US television networks face growing digital competition for marketing dollars and viewers’ attention, they are selling shorter ads. The result? Thirty-second spots, long the industry standard, now make up fewer than half of all US TV commercials.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – Say Goodbye to the China Bid – Aaron Back 10/12

  • “China’s seemingly insatiable demand for foreign assets has driven up prices for everything from U.S. Treasury bonds to global companies to luxury real estate. Now, a combination of market forces and capital controls are choking off the flow of Chinese cash. Asset markets around the world will have to adjust.”
  • “As Chinese exports boomed starting in the early 2000s and foreign investment flooded into the country, the central bank recycled these inflows into foreign government bonds, mostly Treasurys, to keep the yuan from rising. The buying persisted for over a decade, driving bond prices up and driving yields down globally.”
  • “The form of China’s foreign buying shifted in 2014, when the U.S. began exiting quantitative easing and China’s growth slowed. Ordinary Chinese feared that the yuan, which had steadily risen for years, would fall as growth slowed. Both individuals and companies rushed to get money out of China, snapping up trophy assets and luxury real estate around the world.”
  • “The China bid, or at least the expectation of one, sent prices of luxury properties soaring, fueled real estate bubbles from Vancouver to Sydney and pushed up prices of companies seen as desirable for Chinese buyers.”
  • “Alarmed by the outflow, Beijing began to tighten capital controls in 2015 and 2016, but the deal-making persisted until this year when the government cracked down on money transfers by individuals and discouraged companies from pursuing ‘irrational’ deals abroad. So far this year, outbound mergers and acquisitions by Chinese companies are down 27% from the same period a year earlier, according to Dealogic.”
  • “Now, pretty much the only thing the Chinese government encourages its companies to buy abroad are high-tech companies such as computer chip makers. But these strategic assets are precisely the kind that Western governments increasingly don’t want to fall into Chinese hands.”
  • “In real estate there is no way to say for sure how much Chinese buying drove up prices, but governments from Canada to Australia have moved to control foreign buying to rein in property bubbles.”
  • “Nor is China set to return as a big buyer of U.S. Treasurys. Indeed, if the Federal Reserve keeps tightening, China could be a seller of bonds as it fends off depreciation pressure on the yuan.”
  • “In the years ahead, financial markets around the world will have to live without the ever-present China bid. Whether China was a savvy investor or the dumb money, asset prices will likely be lower.”

WSJ – China’s Next Five Years – Squeezing the People to Feed the State – Nathaniel Taplin 10/11

  • “China achieved its economic miracle by unleashing the entrepreneurial private sector. With President Xi Jinping poised to further consolidate power at the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade leadership shuffle kicking off Oct. 18, the narrative of the next five years is becoming clear.”
  • “The state is pushing back.”
  • “The logic is straightforward. Nominally communist China relies on its vibrant private sector for growth, but state-owned companies are indispensable tools for political patronage, social control and economic policy. Any financial rot in the state sector could weigh on the economy and weaken the Communist Party’s grip.”
  • “With private business already commanding around 70% of the economy, Mr. Xi and his allies have decided to strengthen key state-controlled companies by boosting their market power and easing their debt burdens.”
  • “For investors, the implications are significant: higher global goods prices because state-owned companies are notoriously inefficient, and a smaller chance of the long-feared Chinese debt crisis. Corporate debt, which is largely in the state-owned sector, ticked down as a percentage of GDP in the second quarter, according to J.P. Morgan—the first decline since 2011. The trade-off is slower Chinese growth. Chinese banks, whose shares are currently on a tear, will need to keep subsidizing bloated state enterprises. And those enterprises’ need for a deep pool of capital inside China means a free-floating yuan will remain a distant dream.”
  • “For investors, the tilt back toward the state means that innovative privately owned tech and consumer companies may continue to outperform—but probably less so than in the past. Hulking state-owned titans, enjoying newly privileged market positions, may reward investors more reliably: The state-dominated Shanghai stock market has roundly outperformed the technology-and-consumer-focused Shenzhen market this year.”
  • “Deng Xiaoping, the grandfather of China’s economic reforms, famously said that it was acceptable to let ‘some people get rich first.’ The people are far richer than they were three decades ago. Now it’s the state’s turn once again.”

Forbes – How Blockchain Can Stamp Out China’s Fake Diplomas 10/8

NYT – We’re About to Fall Behind the Great Depression – David Leonhardt 10/12

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – U.S. States General Obligation Debt Ratings 10/12

Real Estate

FT – Airbnb teams up with developer to launch branded apartments – Leslie Hook 10/12

  • “Airbnb is stepping up its challenge to traditional hotel operators, launching branded, purpose-built apartments in Florida in a tie-up with a US real estate developer.”
  • “The partnership with Newgard Development Group marks the first time the San Francisco-based home-sharing group has worked with a property developer. It underscores how Airbnb is expanding beyond simply booking accommodation, its core service that has already hit hotel operators in cities across the world.”
  • “The 300-unit rental complex in Kissimmee, Florida, near Orlando, will be built and owned by Newgard but carry a new brand: ‘Niido powered by Airbnb’.”
  • “Harvey Hernandez, chief executive of Miami-based Newgard, said the company planned to build 2,000 Airbnb-branded units in the next two years. Tenants who rent the apartments can choose to sublet them through Airbnb for up to 180 days a year.”
  • “The Kissimmee apartment building, due to open early next year, includes features such as keyless doors and secure storage that will make it easier for long-term tenants to rent out their rooms when they are away. Through an app, tenant hosts can manage their Airbnb guests’ stay and even co-ordinate services such as changing bedsheets.”
  • “It will have human touches as well. A ‘master host’ will be on site, and all apartments will have a mandatory cleaning service, in the style of a serviced apartment.”
  • “’The demographic that we are targeting are travelling more than ever before,’ said Mr Hernandez. ‘So when that property is empty, they can be making money with it.’”
  • “Newgard, Airbnb and the tenant will all derive revenue from the short-term rentals, with Newgard taking 25% of the nightly room rate, Airbnb taking 3% (the same commission it charges hosts anywhere), and the tenant receiving the remainder.”
  • “Marriott operates serviced apartments whereby it does not own the property but the building carries its branding and Marriott provides hospitality services. Unlike Marriott, Airbnb will not operate the hospitality services and nor is it charging Newgard for the use of its brand.”

Bloomberg – Kushners’ Manhattan Tower on Track for Its Worst Year Since 2011 – Caleb Melby 10/12

Energy

FT – Why the US east coast imports oil despite shale boom – Gregory Meyer 10/11

  • “The US has been shipping its shale oil riches to different parts of the world, including Canada and India, inspiring White House officials to muse about American ‘energy dominance’. But one place that is buying very little of this crude is the officials’ backyard.”
  • “Last week as the US reported a record 2m barrels a day in crude oil exports, refineries located up the highway from Washington on the east coast imported about 900,000 b/d, mainly from Africa.”
  • “A big reason is the Jones Act, a 97-year-old US law that requires all ships starting and ending their voyages on US coasts to be American-flagged, built and crewed.”
  • “What animates critics in the oil market about the Jones Act is that it increases the cost of shipping crude from the Gulf coast to the east coast above the rate charged by foreign-flagged carriers. That helps incentivize exports from Texas oilfields and imports by refiners in the east. The reliance on shipping reflects the fact that no crude oil pipelines link the oilfields of the central US to the east coast.”
  • “’It’s basically a constraint on the efficient operation of the oil market,’ says Sandy Fielden, director of research for commodities and energy at Morningstar.”
  • “US lawmakers liberalized trade in crude oil in December 2015, allowing unfettered exports after years of tight restrictions for every destination but Canada. They let the Jones Act stand, though they gave some refiners temporary tax relief related to oil transport costs.”
  • “The effects are plain to see. In 2015, tankers laden with crude oil from the US gulf coast delivered an average of 50,000 b/d to ports on the US east coast, according to ClipperData, a vessel tracking service. The volumes nearly halved in 2016 and have halved again this year, the data show.”
  • “Ending the export ban has caused shipments to soar to countries previously blocked from buying US oil, including long hauls to Asia. Crude oil exports to countries other than Canada are averaging about 325,000 b/d this year, ClipperData’s records show, more than treble the levels of 2015.”
  • “Meanwhile, US east coast refineries near Philadelphia and New York have been importing nearly 1m b/d from countries such as Nigeria and Angola, about 50% higher than two years ago.”
  • “The increased imports to the east coast come despite falling rates to hire a Jones Act tanker as the industry struggles with a surplus of ships built before the export ban was lifted. The US fleet of Jones Act tankers and tugboat-barge units totals 94 vessels, according to Overseas Shipholding Group, one of the biggest operators in the sector.”
  • “Sam Norton, chief executive of OSG, estimates the cost of hiring one for crude service is about three to four times higher than using a foreign-flagged vessel. Some shipping consultants say it is even higher.”
  • “The Jones Act is unlikely to abolished, despite the longstanding efforts of politicians such as Senator John McCain of Arizona.”
  • “’Since people have been living with it for so long, it’s difficult to say what it would be like if they changed it or if it were repealed,’ says Mr Fielden of Morningstar.”

Environment / Science

NYT – 10 Hurricanes in 10 Weeks: With Ophelia, a 124-Year-Old Record is Matched – Maggie Astor 10/11

  • “With Tropical Storm Ophelia’s transition to Hurricane Ophelia on Wednesday, 2017 became the first year in more than a century — and only the fourth on record — in which 10 Atlantic storms in a row reached hurricane strength.”

China

FT – Wanda’s Wang Jianlin dethroned from top of China rich list – Tom Hancock 10/11

WSJ – Six Reasons Why China Matters – Justin Lahart 10/11

NYT – China to Debtors: Pay Up or Be Shamed – Keith Bradsher and Ailin Tang 10/11

  • “Troubled by huge debts run up by big state companies and politically connected local governments, China is taking steps instead to go after the little guys.”
  • “Chinese officials have ordered provincial governments to establish online platforms naming those who do not pay their obligations, official media reported this week. The lists should be maintained by local news organizations as well as courts and regulators, the report said, with an aim of exposing deadbeats and pressuring them to pay up.”
  • “The new effort is unlikely to affect big borrowers, like major state-owned companies and other big firms, whose debts are almost never called in. But it could intensify and centralize officials’ broader moves to assign ratings to individuals based on creditworthiness and other criteria; practices like credit scoring are only just now taking off in the country.”

Japan

WSJ – Daily Shot: BOJ asset purchases and pace of purchase 10/12

  • “The BoJ is quietly slowing its securities purchases (as part of ‘yield targeting’).”

October 12, 2017

Perspective

Business Insider – Trump’s net approval rating has dropped dramatically in every state – Allan Smith 10/10

Brookings – White, still: The American upper middle class – Richard Reeves and Nathan Joo 10/4

Economist – A new study details the wealth hidden in tax havens 10/7

  • “…A new study by Annette Alstadsaeter, Niels Johannesen and Gabriel Zucman, three economists, (using Bank for International Settlements data) concludes that tax havens hoard wealth equivalent to about 10% of global GDP. This average masks big variations. Russian assets worth 50% of GDP are held offshore; countries such as Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates climb into the 60-70% range. Britain and continental Europe come in at 15%, but Scandinavia at only a few per cent.”
  • “One conclusion is that high tax rates, like those in Denmark or Sweden, do not drive people offshore. Rather, higher offshore wealth is correlated with factors such as political and economic instability and an abundance of natural resources.”
  • “Accounting for offshore holdings suggests wealth inequality is even greater than was thought. In Britain, France, and Spain the top 0.01% of households stash 30-40% of their wealth in tax havens. In Russia, most of it goes there. In America, the share of wealth held by the richest 0.01% is as high today as in early 20th-century Europe. Including offshore data increases the wealth share of the super-rich.”
  • “Yet plenty of data are still missing. A few big centers, including Panama and Singapore, still do not disclose these statistics. The BIS data also cover only bank deposits, not the securities in which most offshore wealth is held. Researchers made estimates to plug the gap, but their figures are likely to be conservative.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – How Israel Caught Russian Hackers Scouring the World for U.S. Secrets – Nicole Perlroth and Scott Shane 10/10

Economist – The bull market in everything – Leaders 10/7

Economist – A deathly silence: After the massacre in Las Vegas, nothing is set to change – Leaders 10/5

Economist – Politicians choosing voters: The Supreme Court ponders whether gerrymandering has gone too far 10/7

Economist – Chiang Kai-shek’s former homes are open to tourists 10/5

Markets / Economy

Economist – From Uber to kinder 10/7

Economist – American public pensions suffer from a gaping hole 10/5

  • “Schools in Pennsylvania ought to be celebrating. The state gave them a $125m budget increase for 2017-18—enough for plenty of extra books and equipment. But John Callahan of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association says all the increase and more will be eaten up by pension costs, which will rise by $164m this year. The same happened in each of the previous five years; cumulatively the shortfall adds up to $586m. The pupil-teacher ratio is higher than in 2010. Nearly 85% of the state’s school boards said pensions were their biggest source of budget pressure.”
  • “A similar squeeze is happening all over America. Sarah Anzia, at the University of California, Berkeley, examined 219 cities between 2005 and 2014 and found that the mean increase in their real pension costs was 69%; higher pension costs in those cities were associated with falls in public-sector employment and capital spending.”
  • “The problem is likely to get worse. Moody’s, a rating agency, puts the total shortfall of American public-sector pension plans at around $4trn. That gap does not have to be closed at once, but it does mean that contributions by employers (and hence taxpayers) will increase even more than they already have (see chart).”
  • “Higher costs are the result of improved longevity, poor investment returns and inadequate past contributions.”
  • As to making plans…
  • “Experts can differ, it seems. But small changes in assumptions can make a huge difference to the amount employers need to contribute. According to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, cutting the return assumption by a quarter of a percentage point increases the required contribution rate (as a proportion of payroll) by two to three points.”
  • “In consequence, it is in no one’s interest to make more realistic assumptions about future returns. Workers (and their unions) fear it might generate calls for their benefits to be cut; states worry it would require them to raise taxes. Don Boyd, the director of fiscal studies at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, a think-tank, reckons that with a 5% assumed rate of return, states would have to stump up an extra $120bn a year just to tread water—i.e., to fund their pensions without making any progress on closing the deficit. So the game of ‘extend and pretend’ continues.”
  • “As years go by, voters and legislators across the country will have to make a trade-off. They can pay more taxes and cut services; or they can reduce the benefits they pay people who teach their children, police their streets and rescue them from fires. There will be no easy answers.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – Home Refinancing 10/11

Health / Medicine

FT – Global childhood obesity rises 10-fold in 40 years – Clive Cookson 10/10

  • “The number of obese children and teenagers across the world has increased 10-fold over the past four decades and is about to overtake the number who are underweight, according to the most extensive analysis of body weight ever undertaken.”
  • “The study, led by Imperial College London and the World Health Organization, used data on 31.5m children and adolescents worldwide to estimate trends in body mass index (BMI) from 1975 to 2016. The results are published in the Lancet.” 
  • “Over this period the number of obese girls, aged 5 to 19, rose from 5m to 50m, while the total for boys increased from 6m to 74m.”
  • “The world’s highest childhood obesity levels are in the Pacific islands of Polynesia and Micronesia. Nauru has the highest prevalence for girls and the Cook Islands for boys: both above 33%.”
  • “Among wealthy countries, the US has the highest obesity rates for girls and boys of about 20%. Levels in most of western Europe are in the 7% to 10% range.” 
  • “A further 213m children are overweight but not sufficiently so to meet the WHO’s obesity criteria, which vary by age. Forty years ago, 0.8% of the world’s children were obese; now the prevalence is close to 7%.” 
  • “The study also looked at adult obesity, which increased from 100m people in 1975 to 671m in 2016. A further 1.3bn adults were overweight (with a BMI above 25) but below the threshold for obesity (BMI above 30).” 
  • “But the authors are most concerned about the findings about childhood obesity, because of their implications for public health many decades into the future.”

Construction

WSJ – Daily Shot: NFIB Labor Quality 10/10

  • “Anecdotal evidence suggests that in some areas of the country, finding workers who can pass a drug test has been challenging.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – Builder Labor Shortages 10/11

  • “Skilled (and drug-free) worker shortages in construction are especially acute.”

  • This will only get tighter in the continental U.S. as natural disasters continue to rack up, resulting in acute demand for labor in the affected areas. Harvey, Irma, Maria, Nate, and now wildfires in Northern California. Of course, this will have effects on the neighboring regional labor pools.

Shipping

Economist – How protectionism sank America’s entire merchant fleet 10/5

  • “In April 1956 the world’s first container ship—the Ideal X—set sail from New Jersey. A year later in Seattle the world’s first commercially successful airliner, Boeing’s 707, made its maiden flight. Both developments slashed the cost of moving cargo and people. Boeing still makes half the world’s airliners. But America’s shipping fleet, 17% of the global total in 1960, accounts for just 0.4% today.”
  • “Blame a 1920 law known as the Jones Act, which decrees that trade between domestic ports be carried by American-flagged and -built ships, at least 75% owned and crewed by American citizens. After Hurricane Irma, a shortage of Jones-Act ships led President Donald Trump on September 28th to waive the rules for ten days to resupply Puerto Rico. This fueled calls to repeal the law completely.”
  • Like most forms of protectionism, the Jones Act hits consumers hard. A lack of foreign competition drives up the cost of coastal transport. Building a cargo ship in America can cost five times as much as in China or Korea, says Basil Karatzas, a shipping consultant. And the cost of operating an American-flagged and -crewed vessel is double that of foreign ones, reckons America’s Department of Transportation.”
  • “Inflated sea-freight rates push most cargo onto lorries, trains and aircraft, even though these are pricier and produce up to 145 times as many carbon emissions. So whereas 40% of Europe’s domestic freight goes by sea, just 2% does in America. Lacking overland routes, Alaska, Guam, Hawaii and Puerto Rico are hardest hit. Hawaiian cattle ranchers, for instance, regularly fly their animals to mainland America. A recent report by the Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico found that the Jones Act inflated transport costs for imports to twice the level of nearby islands.”
  • “Jones-Act shipowners retort that the rules are to help producers, not consumers. Rail firms lobbied for the 1920 law, out of fear that an excess of foreign ships from the first world war was flooding the market. National security was also cited. German submarine warfare, it was argued, showed the need for a merchant fleet built and crewed by Americans. But the law has virtually wiped out American shipping. Between 2000 and 2016 the fleet of private-sector Jones-Act ships fell from 193 to 91. Britain binned its Jones-Act equivalent in 1849. Its fleet today has over three times the tonnage of America’s. Marc Levinson, an economic historian (and former journalist at The Economist ) notes that the laws also made American container lines less able to compete on international routes. Drawn by profits at home they underinvested in their foreign operations, and fell behind their foreign rivals because they lacked the same scale.”
  • “Recognizing the harm to their domestic fleets, countries from Australia to China are loosening the rules protecting their fleets. Not America.”

Africa

Economist – The birthplaces of African leaders receive an awful lot of aid 10/7

  • “Scholars have long had a hunch that Chinese aid could be more easily manipulated than the Western sort, which often comes with strings attached. A Chinese white paper in 2014 stated that the government would not impose any ‘political conditions’ on countries asking for help. The commerce ministry, China’s lead aid agency, says most projects are initiated by recipient states. This approach makes aid more vulnerable to misuse by local leaders, say critics.”
  • “In a working paper, the pundits show that China’s official transfers to a leader’s birth region nearly triple after he or she assumes power. Even when using a stricter definition of aid provided by the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, an increase of 75% was found. They got similar results when looking at the birthplaces of presidential spouses. Crucially, they found no such effect with aid doled out by the World Bank, their benchmark for Western assistance. ‘We believe Chinese aid is special,’ says Andreas Fuchs, a co-author of the study.”
  • “China’s approach to aid has other side-effects. In a paper released earlier this year, Diego Hernandez, an economist, showed that China’s rise as a development financier has increased competition between donors. This, in turn, has strengthened recipients’ bargaining power, says Mr Hernandez. Traditional donors have responded by lowering conditionality, or the number of strings attached to aid. Using data from 1980 to 2013, he finds that African countries have received 15% fewer conditions from the World Bank for every 1% increase in Chinese aid.”