October 2, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

Reuters – Chaos and hackers stalk investors on cryptocurrency exchanges – Steve Stecklow, Alexandra Harney, Anna Irrera and Jemima Kelly 9/29

  • “Online exchanges for trading bitcoins and other virtual currencies can make fortunes for their owners. But they are largely unregulated, besieged by hackers and thieves, and fraught with risk for consumers.”
  • “Cryptocurrencies were supposed to offer a secure, digital way to conduct financial transactions, but they have been dogged by doubts. Concerns have largely focused on their astronomical gains in value and the likelihood of painful price crashes. Equally perilous, though, are the exchanges where virtual currencies are bought, sold and stored. These exchanges, which match buyers and sellers and sometimes hold traders’ funds, have become magnets for fraud and mires of technological dysfunction, a Reuters examination shows, posing an underappreciated risk to anyone who trades digital coins.”
  • “Huge sums are at stake. As the prices of bitcoin and other virtual currencies have soared this year – bitcoin has quadrupled – legions of investors and speculators have turned to online exchanges. Billions of dollars’ worth of bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies – which aren’t backed by any governments or central banks – are now traded on exchanges every day.”
  • “’These are new assets. No one really knows what to make of them,’ said David L. Yermack, chairman of the finance department at New York University’s Stern School of Business. ‘If you’re a consumer, there’s nothing to protect you.’”
  • There have been at least three dozen heists of cryptocurrency exchanges since 2011; many of the hacked exchanges later shut down. More than 980,000 bitcoins have been stolen, which today would be worth about $4 billion. Few have been recovered. Burned investors have been left at the mercy of exchanges as to whether they will receive any compensation.”
  • “Nearly 25,000 customers of Mt. Gox, once the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, are still waiting for compensation more than three years after its collapse into bankruptcy in Japan. The exchange said it lost about 650,000 bitcoins. Claims approved by the bankruptcy trustee total more than $400 million.”
  • “So-called ‘flash crashes’ – when cryptocurrencies suddenly plummet in value – are also a threat. Unlike regulated U.S. stock exchanges, cryptocurrency exchanges aren’t required to have circuit breakers in place to halt trading during wild price swings. Digital coin exchanges are also frequently under assault by hackers, resulting in down times that can sideline traders at critical moments.”
  • Caveat emptor.

Perspective

Vox – What every American needs to know about Puerto Rico’s hurricane disaster – Brian Resnick and Eliza Barclay 9/29

  • “3.4 million US citizens live in Puerto Rico, and they are entitled to the same government response as any state. But half of Americans don’t even know that.”
  • “Puerto Ricans have been citizens of the United States since 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act. Citizens mean citizens. Puerto Ricans can travel freely to and from the continental United States without a passport. They’re protected by the same Bill of Rights as anyone else born in the United States. They vote in presidential primaries.”
  • “The island does not get electoral votes in general presidential elections. It also does not have voting representatives in Congress. Jenniffer González-Colón serves as resident commissioner of Puerto Rico, a non-voting member of the US House of Representatives.”
  • “If Puerto Rico were a state, it would be the 30th most populated — with more people than Wyoming, Vermont, and Alaska combined.”
  • “This hurricane season has been punishing for Puerto Rico. First, it got clipped by Hurricane Irma, a huge Category 5 storm whose eye passed just north of the island. That storm — which had ravaged several Caribbean islands — left 1 million people without power on Puerto Rico. By the time Maria hit, 60,000 people were still without electricity. That means there are many people on the island who haven’t had power for 20 days (Irma passed by on September 7).”
  • “Maria was a slightly smaller storm, but it was far, far more devastating. That’s because it charted a course directly over Puerto Rico, hit near its peak intensity, and passed around 25 miles away from San Juan, the capital, which is home to about 400,000 people. No nation or territory could suffer such a direct hit without some damage.”
  • “’It was as if a 50- to 60-mile-wide tornado raged across Puerto Rico, like a buzz saw,’ Jeff Weber, a meteorologist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, says. ‘It’s almost as strong as a hurricane can get in a direct hit.’”
  • “By the record books, it was the fifth-strongest storm ever to hit the US, and the strongest storm to hit the island in 80 years.”
  • “Exact figures on the extent of the damage and the costs of repairs on the island are not yet known. This is partly due to the fact that communications on the island are strained. But it’s also because many roads are damaged and it’s hard to get around. AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe risk consultancy, estimates the storm caused $40 billion to $85 billion in insurance claims throughout the Caribbean, with 85% of those losses in Puerto Rico.”
  • “It could be four to six months before power is fully restored on the island. That’s half a year with Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents relying on generators, half a year without air conditioning in the tropical climate, half a year that electric pumps can’t bring running water into homes, half a year when even the most basic tasks of modern life are made difficult.”
  • “PREPA, the electric company on the island, has a massive $9 billion debt, as Vox’s Alexia Fernández Campbell has explained, and in July it defaulted on an interest payment. For years, it hasn’t had the money to invest in modernizing Puerto Rico’s electrical systems. Even without hurricanes, power outages are frequent on the island. Making things worse: There aren’t enough workers to fix the infrastructure. Young people have been leaving the island in droves as the economy has tightened, and older workers have been retiring en masse, securing their pensions.”
  • “No electricity means no power to pump water into homes, no water to bathe or flush toilets. FEMA said Saturday that 55% of people on the island still are without potable water.”
  • “The storm knocked out 1,360 out of 1,600 cellphone towers on the island. Many communities have been isolated from the outside world for days, relying only on radios for news.”
  • It’s bad. And of course, Puerto Rico is not alone. “The island of Barbuda has been completely abandoned, and residents still can’t return home. Twenty-seven people died in Dominica. And 48,000 people are still without power in the US Virgin Islands.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – For Homeless Advocates, a Discouraging Lesson in Los Angeles: Money Is Not Enough – Adam Nagourney 9/29

Markets / Economy

FT – Value of private equity dealmaking at highest level since 2007 – Javier Espinoza, Robert Smith, and Arash Massoudi 9/28

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index 9/29

Finance

FT – South Korea joins global backlash against initial coin offerings – Bryan Harris and Edward White 9/29

  • “Country is latest to ban the fundraising platform involving digital currencies.”

Health / Medicine

Bloomberg – This State Has the Best Health Care in America – Vincent Del Giudice and Wei Lu 9/28

  • Hint, according to Bloomberg, it’s Hawaii.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

FT – SWFs pull money from asset managers for 12th consecutive quarter – Jennifer Thompson 9/29

  • “Sovereign wealth funds have withdrawn billions of dollars from asset managers for a 12th consecutive quarter as low oil prices continue to take their toll. The net amount repatriated in the past three years has reached $182bn.”
  • “The state-backed funds, which many oil-rich nations use to save for a rainy day or to provide money for future generations, withdrew a net $6bn in the three months to the end of June, according to eVestment, the data provider.”
  • “Redemptions by SWFs began in the latter half of 2014, shortly after a glut in oil supply, due to increased US shale production, triggered a sharp drop in the oil price.”
  • “However, disenchantment with high fees charged by fund managers as well as a desire by some state-backed vehicles to put cash to work themselves are additional inducements for SWFs to take back control.”
  • “There are signs of moderation. The net outflow in the second quarter of 2017 was below the quarterly average of the past three years, which has been around $15.1bn every three months.”

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