November 1, 2017

Perspective

Economist – The political economy of witchcraft – Daily Chart 10/31

  • “How early modern witch-hunters resemble contemporary politicians.”

Tax Foundation – 2018 State Business Tax Climate Index 10/31

Axios – Cost-cutting could stunt the health care jobs expansion – Christopher Matthews 10/25

NYT – A Peek at Future Jobs Shows Growing Economic Divides – Ben Casselman 10/24

FT – US conservative media deflects from Mueller probe – Shannon Bond 10/31

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Iraq and the risks to the oil market – Nick Butler 10/30

LinkedIn – California’s Housing Bleeding Out While We Apply Band-Aids – John McNellis 10/30

  • A very insightful read on the affordable housing crisis in California (or substitute any high cost metro/area), the proposed efforts to combat it, an insiders understanding of why these efforts will fall short, and some real solutions.

LinkedIn – Our Biggest Economic, Social, and Political Issue The Two Economies: The Top 40% and the Bottom 60% – Ray Dalio 10/23

Markets / Economy

NYT – Thanks to Wall St., There May Be Too Many Restaurants – Rachel Abrams and Robert Gebeloff 10/31

  • “After a prolonged stretch of explosive growth, fueled by interest from Wall Street, experts say there are now too many fast-food, casual and other chain restaurants.”
  • “Since the early 2000s, banks, private equity firms and other financial institutions have poured billions into the restaurant industry as they sought out more tangible enterprises than the dot-com start-ups that were going belly-up. There are now more than 620,000 eating and drinking places in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the number of restaurants is growing at about twice the rate of the population.”
  • “The glut of restaurants has increased the pressure on individual restaurant owners. Industry sales are up nationally, but growth has slowed to the lowest rate since 2010.”
  • “Customers continue to spend a large share of their food budget in restaurants, but they’re spreading the money across a larger number of establishments, so profits are split into smaller individual pieces. Yet the industry — particularly chain restaurants — continues to expand, a strategy that both masks the problem and makes it likely that more places will falter.”
  • “Sales at individual chain restaurants, compared with a year earlier, began dropping in early 2016, analysts reported. A majority of restaurants reported sales growth in just four of the last 22 monthly surveys from the National Restaurant Association. Before that, most restaurants had reported growth for 20 consecutive months, from March 2014 through October 2015, the survey found.”
  • “As Americans work longer hours and confront an ever-growing array of food options, they are spending a growing share of their food budget — about 44 cents per dollar — on restaurants, according to food economists at the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service.”
  • “But while consumer demand contributed to the restaurant boom, it was changes on Wall Street that really fueled the explosion. Chains like Del Taco, Papa Murphy’s and others began attracting money from private equity firms, and banks like Wells Fargo and Bank of America saw lending opportunities in the restaurant industry.”
  • “…some franchisees say they’re being pressured to open too many stores as food companies push for new revenue streams. Buying an existing restaurant, for example, may mean agreeing to build 10 new ones.”
  • “’They want us to sign aggressive development agreements,’ said Shoukat Dhanani, the chief executive officer of the Dhanani Group, which owns hundreds of Burger King and Popeyes restaurants. ‘I didn’t see that even five years ago.’”
  • “The shuttering of restaurants could have a major impact on the labor market. Since 2010, restaurants have accounted for one out of every seven new jobs, and many restaurateurs complain that it has become increasingly difficult to hire and retain workers.”
  • “Those positions could be in jeopardy if sales continue to fall and force more restaurants to close. Over the summer, the parent company of Applebee’s announced it would close more than 100 locations. In 2016 Subway, the nation’s largest fast-food chain by location count, closed more locations than it opened, the first time in its history that had happened.

Real Estate

NYT – Investors Push Into a Resurging Market: House Flipping – Paul Sullivan 10/20

WSJ – When Sellers Compete Against Their Building’s Developers – Katherine Clarke 10/25

  • “It is a seller’s nightmare: Putting a luxury condo on the market, only to find that upstairs, another unit that has never been lived in is on the market for the same price or less. And to make matters worse, the seller upstairs has the resources to keep cutting his price if his place doesn’t sell.”
  • “This is the plight that some owners of luxury condos built in the past few years are encountering, as they find themselves in direct competition with their building’s developer when it comes time to sell.”
  • “It isn’t supposed to work this way. Typically, developers don’t allow buyers to resell for the first year after a building is completed, to prevent owners from quickly flipping their homes for a profit. In a hot market, a year gives the developer plenty of time to sell most of a building’s units.”
  • “But now sales at the top end of the luxury market are starting to slow. In total, the number of sales for Manhattan apartments priced at $10 million or more fell by 25% in the third quarter, compared with the same period last year, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of public property records.”
  • “’There are lots of buyers out there who are finding that their assets are being devalued by their own sponsor,’ said Frances Katzen of Douglas Elliman, an agent preparing to put a resale on the market at 30 Park Place. ‘I think that there are plenty of people who are very angry to see that.’”
  • “Take One57, the ultraluxury tower on New York’s West 57th Street which quickly became known for its high-end amenities, top prices and wealthy buyers when it launched sales in 2011. Despite the buzz, nearly a dozen available listings are still posted online after six years of sales efforts by Extell Development, the building’s developer. The result: The developer is cutting its prices.”
  • “For example, a four-bedroom, 43rd floor unit is currently on the market for $17.5 million after listing for $19 million in 2015, and a three-bedroom, 42nd floor unit is asking $16.9 million, down from $18.75 million in 2015, according to listings website StreetEasy.”
  • “Owners in the building who wish to resell are doing the same. Late last year, a seller at One57 swallowed a more than $8 million loss when the unit sold for $23.5 million, far less the $31.7 million it sold for two years prior.”

Energy

WSJ – Trump Plan for Coal, Nuclear Power Draws Fire From Environmental, Oil Groups – Timothy Puko 10/22

  • “A Trump administration proposal aimed at shoring up coal-fired and nuclear power plants across the nation has generated opposition from an array of energy and consumer interests, including some who are often at odds on energy policy.”
  • “Oil and gas companies, wind and solar power producers, some public utilities, electricity consumers and environmentalists—rarely natural allies—are all publicly opposing the Energy Department’s proposal. The plan would effectively guarantee profits for some nuclear and coal-fired power plants, prompting critics that also include former federal regulators to call it a bailout for struggling plants that undermines competitive markets.”

Finance

Bloomberg – There’s Now a Cryptocurrency Fund-of-Funds – Camila Russo 10/24

Tech

FT – Big Tech and Amazon: too powerful to break up? – David Lynch 10/29

China

WSJ – Foreign Companies in China Get a New Partner: The Communist Party – Chun Han Wong and Eva Dou 10/29

CNBC – China central bank chief raises new worry in China: Mortgage-driven household debt – Evelyn Chang 10/23

  • “China’s central bank chief just warned about a potential bubble in China: Rising household debt.”
  • “‘Regarding household debt levels, China doesn’t rank that high on a global scale, but the pace of growth has picked up in the last few years,’ People’s Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan said Thursday. He didn’t expect any action should be taken immediately but said the debt levels should be monitored for quality and a steady pace of growth.”
  • “The bigger worry about China has been high levels of corporate and local government debt. The Chinese government has spoken about the need to limit that growth, and most analysts expect authorities will gradually rein it in. But this year, household debt has arisen as another area of concern about financial leverage in China.”
  • “‘China’s household debt has been rising at an ‘alarming’ pace over the past two years,’ Citi analyst Li-Gang Liu said in an Oct. 10 note. The report pointed out that outstanding household debt in China has doubled from 29.6% of gross domestic product at 16 trillion yuan ($2.41 trillion) in 2012 to 44.3% of GDP at 33 trillion yuan last year.”
  • “In order to prevent speculation from sending property prices even higher, local Chinese governments have implemented policies to restrict purchases such as limiting the number of apartment units someone can own and how soon they can resell them.”
  • “The IMF pointed out in its Global Financial Stability Report earlier this month that Chinese banking sector assets are now 310% of GDP, up from 240% at the end of 2012 and nearly three times the emerging market average.”
  • “‘Debt in China is our No. 1 risk in the whole world,’ said Paul Christopher, head global market strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute. But rather than worrying about financial disruption from China, ‘I would worry more about the prospect of slowing China demand.'”
  • “In a report last Monday about how increasingly wealthy Chinese will boost demand for high-end products, Sanford C. Bernstein analysts said the property market has been the ‘single largest driver’ of the increase in Chinese wealth. They estimate the property market has increased in value by about $12 trillion since 2010, while overall private wealth among Chinese households has increased from $10 trillion in 2010 to $34 trillion.
  • “‘As one example, since 2010 the owner of an average 90-square-meter apartment in Shenzhen has experienced a capital gain of almost US$500,000 (nearly a quadrupling in value),’ senior equity research analyst Euan McLeish and a team of analysts wrote. ‘That kind of appreciation in personal assets changes behavior.'”

Europe

NYT – As European Central Bank Eases Emergency Measures, Risks May Lurk – Jack Ewing 10/25

  • “Signaling fresh confidence in the region, the European Central Bank began on Thursday to gingerly dismantle an arsenal of emergency measures that for a decade helped to keep the currency and economy from disintegrating in the face of financial turmoil.”
  • “The decision marks a new phase of the recovery, after four years of economic expansion and falling unemployment. Mario Draghi, the central bank’s president, heralded what he called ‘the unabated growth momentum’ in the 19-country euro area.”
  • “The European Central Bank, which held the benchmark interest rate steady at a historic low of zero percent, provided a timetable on Thursday for rolling back purchases of government and corporate debt, a program known as quantitative easing.”
  • “It had been buying 60 billion euros, or about $70 billion, of such bonds every month, and will scale that back to €30 billion a month for nine months, starting in January. The bank will also reinvest the proceeds when bonds mature, so that in practice the monthly purchases will be well above €30 billion. Over all, the measures were in line with expectations.”
  • “To avoid provoking renewed turmoil, the European Central Bank is moving slowly.”
  • “It stressed on Thursday that it ‘stands ready’ to increase the asset purchases in response to worsening financial conditions or if inflation failed to rise.”
  • “Historically low interest rates will remain in place for the foreseeable future. The central bank has said it will not begin raising rates until it has stopped buying bonds, and only if the eurozone inflation rate is on track to hit the official target of 2%”

Middle East

FT – Post-caliphate Isis prepares for its reincarnation – David Gardner 10/20

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