Month: December 2017

December 23, 2017

Happy Holidays everyone! Last post for the year. Cheers, Duff

Perspective

How Much – American Consumption Greatly Varies by State – Raul 12/19

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg – Subprime Auto Defaults Are Soaring, and PE Firms Have No Way Out – Gabrielle Coppola and Claire Boston 12/21

Finance

MarketWatch – How much has been lost in Friday’s cryptocurrency rout? Nearly $200 billion – Ryan Vlastelica 12/22

  • “The entire universe of digital currencies has seen heavy selling pressure on Friday, resulting in a 12-digit decline in total market capitalization since just midnight.”
  • “The size of the entire cryptocurrency space is about $426.14 billion, according to pricing website CoinMarketCap, down from $610.43 billion at the start of the day. (Eastern time; digital currencies trade 24 hours a day.) That’s a decline of more than $184 billion, which is larger than such iconic companies as Boeing Co., PepsiCo Inc., and Walt Disney Co.”  
  • “The weakness was driven by bitcoin the world’s largest digital currency, which has tumbled in recent days. The asset has dropped by more than a third since Sunday’s all-time high; it fell 27% to $11,301.16 on Friday, after nearly breaching $20,000 on Dec. 17.”
  • “The space is notoriously volatile, and other digital currencies also tumbled in Friday trading. Ether, which runs on the Ethereum network, is down 33%, trading at $561.19. It hit a high of $827.68 earlier in the day. Despite that, both remain sharply higher on the year; bitcoin started 2017 below $1,000, while Ether ended 2016 at around $8.03.”

 

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December 22, 2017

Perspective

WEF – In 2020 Bitcoin will consume more power than the world does today – Adam Jezard 12/15

  • “Can the world afford Bitcoin? The cryptocurrency is enjoying something of a resurgence as investment and central banks weighed its benefits and caused its value to balloon.”
  • “But generating Bitcoin requires a truly staggering amount of energy. The electricity used in a single Bitcoin transaction, for instance, could power a house for a month.”
  • “And bitcoin mining (the process of generating a bitcoin) now consumes the same amount of electricity every year as Denmark – 33TWh, according to one recent report.”
  • Bitcoin mining’s energy use is reportedly growing at a rate of 25% per month. At that rate of growth, it will consume as much electricity as the US in 2019.”
  • And by 2020, bitcoin mining could be consuming the same amount of electricity every year as is currently used by the entire world.
  • “A new chain is created every 10 minutes or so and, according to a Business Insider article, the use of complicated and energy-intensive algorithms are part of a deliberate ploy to guarantee a degree of exclusivity.”
  • “The article quotes ING economist Teunis Brosens as saying a single Bitcoin transaction uses 200 kilowatt hours. ‘This number needs some context,’ he says, ‘200 kWh is enough to run over 200 washing cycles. In fact, it’s enough to run my entire home over four weeks, which consumes about 45 kWh per week costing €39 of electricity (at current Dutch consumer prices)’.”
  • “Bitcoin also uses a lot more power when compared with other transaction systems. A typical Visa card payment, for example, requires 0.01 kWh while another cryptocurrency, Ethereum, uses 37 kWh.”
  • “However, although Bitcoin is one of the worst examples of our profligate use of fossil fuels to create wealth, it is not alone. The whole digital world relies on power generation to run the data centers at the heart of the modern economy.”
  • “According to 2013 statistics, Google’s data centers used enough electricity to consistently power 200,000 homes, while the amount of power needed to run a large data center would run a small US town. And as we move to driverless cars and other data-intensive ‘internet of things’ technologies, the demand for energy will only increase.”
  • “It seems that businesses around the world are looking to a digital future while governments are talking of a more sustainable one: how to achieve both goals at the same time needs to be the subject of urgent discussion.”

US Census Bureau – Idaho is Nation’s Fastest-Growing State 12/20

WSJ – Daily Shot: CRFB.org – Largest US Tax cuts as percentage of GDP 12/21

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – Free Exchange: A decade after it hit, what was learnt from the Great Recession? 12/16

Economist – Leaders: Bitcoin is a speculative asset but not yet a systemic risk 12/16

Economist – Leaders: America’s long-running economic expansion 12/16

NYT – Congress Refuses to Do Right by Children’s Health Care – Editorial Board 12/20

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg – U.S. Treasury Sales Are About to Double 2018. Who’s Buying? – Liz McCormick and Katherine Greifeld 12/19

  • “With the U.S. about to sell the most debt in eight years, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin may find himself relying on a buyer base that needs to see higher yields before loading up.”
  • “Government debt sales are set to more than double in 2018, lifting net issuance to $1.3 trillion, the most since 2010, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. estimates. With the Federal Reserve shrinking its bond holdings and deficits poised to swell even before taking into account the tax overhaul, all signs point to higher financing costs.”
  • “The challenge for Mnuchin is that some analysts predict buying by central banks — a pillar of support this year — may fade, in part as international-reserve growth stabilizes. In the view of Credit Suisse Group AG, that will put the onus on more price-sensitive buyers, particularly a group that the Fed classifies as including households, hedge funds, private-equity firms and trusts for wealthy individuals.”
  • “By Credit Suisse’s calculation, with the Fed pulling back and issuance surging, the slice of debt sales available for price-elastic buyers to absorb will rise to about 60% by the end of 2019, from 54% now. It would be their biggest share since the early 2000s.”
  • “The Treasury said last month that it expects to unveil bigger coupon auctions in February for the first time since 2009, and dealers see issuance rising for years to come. With entitlement costs heading higher, the U.S. debt burden was already projected to increase by $10 trillion in the next decade. Now the tax overhaul could boost the deficit by $1 trillion in the period.”
  • “JPMorgan’s 2018 net issuance tally of $1.3 trillion includes $847 billion of coupon debt, ballooning from an estimated $409 billion this year amid a darkening fiscal backdrop. The federal deficit may exceed $1 trillion by fiscal 2020, from about $666 billion in 2017, according to the most dire estimates by primary dealers. Meanwhile, the Fed could roll off about $250 billion of Treasuries in 2018.”
  • “The catch is that demand from China, which with almost $1.2 trillion of U.S. government debt is America’s biggest foreign creditor, may be about to ebb. The bulk of China’s buildup came as it boosted foreign-exchange reserves to help offset a strengthening yuan. But some forecasters see yuan stability in 2018, meaning limited need for currency intervention.”
  • “The wave of supply and the questions about demand come amid expectations for higher yields with the prospect of quicker U.S. growth and inflation. The Fed projects three more rate hikes in 2018, and firms including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. predict 10-year yields will rise to 3% in a year, from 2.46% now.”
  • “’There should be some overall repricing of yields higher, albeit modestly, on the back of the rising supply picture,’ said Subadra Rajappa, head of U.S. rates strategy at Societe Generale. ‘The amount of the supply increase will be quite large, and it’s not clear how much support is going to come from overseas’.’’

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 12/20

  • “The Bitcoin rally has stalled for now, with prices falling to pre-futures launch levels.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Fintech Startups Seek to Shake Up Money-Transfer Industry – Corinne Abrams 12/19

Construction

The Atlantic – The Weird, Wooden Future of Skyscrapers – Amanda Kolson Hurley – Dec. 2017

Asia – excluding China and Japan

NYT – Jakarta Is Sinking So Fast, It Could End Up Underwater – Michael Kimmelman 12/21

  • “Experts say Jakarta has only a decade to halt its sinking.”

India

Bloomberg Quint – Deepest India Bond Rout in 17 Years Shows No Sign of Abating – Kartik Goyal 12/21

South America

WSJ – Venezuela’s Brutal Crime Crackdown: Executions, Machetes and 8,292 Dead – Juan Forero and Maolis Castro 12/21

  • I imagine it will take two generations to recoup what they’ve lost from bad politics – if ever.

December 21, 2017

Perspective

Visual Capitalist – Sellbrite: Breaking Down How Amazon Makes Money – Jeff Desjardins 12/19

NYT – How the Winklevoss Twins Found Vindication in a Bitcoin Fortune – Nathaniel Popper 12/19

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMO & statista – US States with Highest rates of debt collection 12/19

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – The long and short of H&M’s travails – Richard Milne 12/19

  • “Concerns rise that family-controlled Swedish retailer needs radical change.”

ZeroHedge – China Systemic Risk: Liquidity Problem Surfaces at HNA Group Less Than Two Weeks After Company’s Denial 12/18

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Businessweek – Fees Rise for Underfunded Pensions – Katherine Chiglinsky and Brandon Kochkodin 12/14

  • “The largest pension plans held by S&P 500 companies face a $348 billion funding gap. As a result, they’re paying higher annual fees to the U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the government agency that backstops plans. ‘There’s increased awareness that an underfunded plan imposes risk on employees, it imposes risk on shareholders, and it’s getting more expensive,’ says Olivia Mitchell, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and executive director of the Pension Research Council.”
  • “Only about two dozen companies in the S&P 500 have overfunded pensions. Nine of them are banks.”
  • “Offloading risk isn’t on the table for every company. Insurers don’t take on obligations from underfunded plans…”

CNN Money – SEC suspends trading of red-hot bitcoin stock – Paul R. La Monica 12/19

WSJ – Cryptocurrency Exchange Collapses, Files for Bankruptcy After Second Hack – Eun-Young Jeong and Steven Russolillo 12/19

  • “Yaipan, which operates South Korea’s Youbit, said latest security breach caused it to lose 17% of its total assets.”

Bloomberg – South Korean Crypto Exchange Files for Bankruptcy After Hack – Todd White and Kyungjin Yoo 12/19

  • “Korea has emerged as a sort of ground zero for the global crypto-mania. So many Koreans have embraced bitcoin that the prime minister recently warned that cryptocurrencies might corrupt the nation’s youth. The craze has spread so far that, in Korea, bitcoin is trading at a premium over prevailing international rates.”

Real Estate

Yahoo Finance – The hottest housing market of 2017 – Amanda Fung 12/20

  • Spoiler alert: it’s Seattle.

Tech

ARS Technica – Currency-mining Android malware is so aggressive it can physically harm phones – Dan Goodin 12/19

Britain

FT – Help! My house has been hijacked – Lucy Warwick-Ching 12/19

  • “Fake tenants adopt a property owner’s identity and sell the property.”

Europe

WSJ – EU Triggers ‘Nuclear Option’ in Fight With Poland – Valentina Pop 12/20

Other Interesting Links

NYT – ‘Porch Pirates’ Steal Holiday Packages as They Pile Up at Homes – Nick Wingfield 12/19

December 20, 2017

Perspective

Visual Capitalist – Visualizing the Money Made Per Second by Top Companies – Jeff Desjardins 12/18

NYT – A Bitcoin Hedge Fund’s Return: 25,004% (That Wasn’t a Typo) – Nathaniel Popper 12/19

  • “There are hedge funds with blockbuster returns. Then there is the Pantera Bitcoin Fund.”
  • “The fund — one of the first in the world to dedicate itself to virtual currencies — released its returns in a letter sent to investors on Tuesday. The figure for the life of the fund, which was set up in 2013, is eye popping: 25,004%.”
  • “A significant portion of the gains have come this year, thanks to the skyrocketing price of an individual Bitcoin, which hit $19,000 on Monday. (The fund’s 25,004% figure was actually counted back when Bitcoin was at $15,500, a week ago.)”
  • “Currently, the average price of one Bitcoin is about $18,007, according to Blockchain.info, a news and data site.”
  • “For comparison, the top performing hedge fund in the world last year returned 148%, according to Preqin, a hedge fund tracker. Since 2013, the Pantera Bitcoin Fund’s compound annual returns have been around 250%.”
  • “The Pantera Bitcoin Fund did not have to do much to get those returns. It just bought Bitcoins and held them as the price went up. Its performance is a reminder of the unprecedented gains that Bitcoin has experienced, with some analysts arguing that Bitcoin’s moves have been even greater than the movements of Dutch tulip bulb prices back in the 1600s.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – The Flawed Bull Case for Bitcoin – Aaron Back 12/19

  • “The bitcoin network can only handle a limited number of transactions per second, and is being overwhelmed by traffic.”

Real Estate

China’s HNA Group Seeking Sale of $6 Billion in Overseas Property – Wayne Ma and Julie Steinberg 12/18

  • “HNA, an airlines-to-hotels conglomerate that until a few months ago was aggressively scooping up assets around the world, is now trying to raise cash to pay off debt that helped fund over $40 billion worth of acquisitions since 2015. In recent weeks, the company’s liquidity has come under pressure and some of its borrowing costs have climbed.”
  • “HNA has earmarked roughly $6 billion worth of properties for sale, including prime office towers in Midtown Manhattan, London’s Canary Wharf and San Francisco’s Mission District, as well as resorts in French Polynesia and buildings in Australia, according to a person close to the matter.”
  • “The company owns about $14 billion worth of commercial real estate globally, according to Real Capital Analytics, and the assets being considered for sale make up a large portion of its overseas portfolio. HNA paid hefty sums for several of the properties as recently as 2016, such as the City Center, which also houses retail stores Marshalls and Brooks Brothers, as well as plots of land that Hong Kong’s old airport used to sit on.”
  • “HNA, which has assets of more than $140 billion and is based in the Chinese tropical island of Hainan, over the past two years has announced more than 80 deals, scooping up large stakes in Deutsche Bank AG, the Hilton hotel chain, and scores of other businesses. The group previously estimated it has over $100 billion in debt, about a quarter of which is coming due within a year.”
  • “HNA is looking to sell around 20 commercial properties, according to a person familiar with the matter. Some, such as an office building on Mission Street in San Francisco and 850 Third Avenue in New York City were bought as recently as 2016, according to Dealogic. Others, including a building at 1180 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan that HNA earlier this year said it wanted to sell, have been in its portfolio for years.”
  • “Some market participants believe HNA overpaid for some of the assets, which could make it difficult to find buyers for the prices it wants. For example, HNA last year agreed to pay $3.5 billion for the plots of land at what used to be Hong Kong’s airport. One of the parcels was purchased at an 88% premium over a previous valuation.”
  • “The sale plans come as HNA’s borrowing costs have risen sharply and investors have grown concerned about the company’s ability to pay off tens of billions in debt coming due next year. While HNA Group is privately owned, the company has around a dozen listed subsidiaries and other units that have issued bonds. Shares and bonds of several HNA units have plunged in recent months, hampering their ability to sell new securities to raise funds.”
  • “Last week, the yield on a short-term HNA-related bond briefly surged above 20%, a worrying sign for the company and its investors.”

Finance

FT – ‘Retail apocalypse’ trade prompts contrarian bets – Miles Johnson 12/18

Agriculture

WSJ – The Worlds’ Top Banana Is Doomed and Nobody Can Find a Replacement – Lucy Craymer 12/18

  • The headline is a little over the top; however, the Cavendish banana is under threat from a fungus and finding a replacement or beefing up the Cavendish is no easy task.

Other Interesting Links

WP – This angry inventor has a special gift for package thieves: Revenge – Cleve R. Wootson Jr. 12/19

December 19, 2017

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Credit Suisse – US Household Net worth by quantile 12/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: Credit Suisse – US Household Ownership of Equities by quantile 12/15

Bloomberg – He Stole $100 Million From His Clients. Now He’s Living in Luxury on the Cote d’Azur – Liam Vaughan 12/17

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Seeing Both Sides – Ben Carlson 12/17

Economist – Why is America more tolerant of inequality than many rich countries? – C.K. 12/18

  • “Ignorance about the scale of the problem is part of the answer.”

Huffpost – Why millennials are facing the scariest financial future of any generation since the Great Depression – Michael Hobbes 12/14

  • A summary of the numbers provided by Erica Pandey of Axios on 12/17:
  • “300% more student debt than their parents, on average.”
  • “1/2 as likely to own a home as young people — ages 25–34 — were in 1975.”
  • “One in five of young adults live in poverty.”
  • “2.9% average annual returns on 401(k) plans, compared to 6.3% returns for baby boomers.”
  • “Many millennials will have to work until the age of 75, based on an analysis of federal data.”
  • “A typical 2009 college graduate could earn up to $58,600 less than a typical 2007 college graduate over a decade, based on current trends.”
  • “The American racial wealth gap is widening, with the median white household projected to have 86 times more wealth than the median black household by 2020.”

NYT – World’s Most Expensive Home? Another Bauble for a Saudi Prince – Nicholas Kulish and Michael Forsythe 12/16

NYT – What Is Bitcoin Really Worth? Don’t Even Ask. – Robert Shiller 12/15

Project Syndicate – Complacency Will Be Tested in 2018 – Stephen S. Roach 12/14

  • “Alas, there is an important twist today that wasn’t in play back then –central banks’ swollen balance sheets. From 2008 to 2017, the combined asset holdings of central banks in the major advanced economies (the United States, the eurozone, and Japan) expanded by $8.3 trillion, according to the Bank for International Settlements. With nominal GDP in these same economies increasing by just $2.1 trillion over the same period, the remaining $6.2 trillion of excess liquidity has distorted asset prices around the world.”
  • “Therein lies the crux of the problem. Real economies have been artificially propped up by these distorted asset prices, and glacial normalization will only prolong this dependency. Yet when central banks’ balance sheets finally start to shrink, asset-dependent economies will once again be in peril. And the risks are likely to be far more serious today than a decade ago, owing not only to the overhang of swollen central bank balance sheets, but also to the overvaluation of assets.”

The Reformed Broker – Sometimes it’s not complicated – Joshua M. Brown 12/15

Vanity Fair – Of the 1%, By the 1%, For the 1% – Joseph Stiglitz, May 2011

Markets / Economy

FT – Wildfires in California add to ‘horrific year’ of disaster losses – Alistair Gray and Oliver Ralph 12/17

  • “String of catastrophes expected to drive insurance prices higher.”

Real Estate

MarketWatch – We’re still building the wrong kind of homes for renters – Andrea Riquier 12/14

  • “11 million Americans spend more than 50% of their income on rent.”

NYT – The Next Crisis for Puerto Rico: A Crush of Foreclosures – Matthew Goldstein 12/16

  • “About one-third of the island’s 425,000 homeowners are behind on their mortgage payments to banks and Wall Street firms that previously bought up distressed mortgages. Tens of thousands have not made payments for months. Some 90,000 borrowers became delinquent as a consequence of Hurricane Maria, according to Black Knight Inc., a data firm formerly known as Black Knight Financial Services.”
  • “Puerto Rico’s 35% foreclosure and delinquency rate is more than double the 14.4% national rate during the depths of the housing implosion in January 2010. And there is no prospect of the problem’s solving itself or quickly.”
  • “At the moment, dealing with a mortgage lender about a missed payment may be a distant concern for many of the 3.4 million people in Puerto Rico. They are literally still picking up the pieces, struggling to live without electricity or trying to get insurance companies to pay claims to repair their homes. More than 100,000 people are believed to have left to go live with friends and family on the mainland.”
  • “Residents won a reprieve when the federal government imposed a temporary moratorium on foreclosures, which stops banks and investors that bought mortgages at cut-rate prices from evicting delinquent borrowers or starting new foreclosures. Many lenders also have agreed to waive missed payments during the moratorium.”
  • “But that moratorium is scheduled to expire in early 2018, and lawyers and housing counselors expect that to trigger a surge in foreclosures.”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Investing.com – Bitcoin 12/18

  • “The cryptocurrency is gunning for $20k as it hit another record high over the weekend.”

Health / Medicine

WP – ‘We feel like our system was hijacked’: DEA agents say a huge opioid case ended in a whimper – Lenny Bernstein and Scott Higham 12/17

South America

NYT – As Venezuela Collapses, Children Are Dying of Hunger – Meridith Kohut and Isayen Herrera 12/17

December 15, 2017

Perspective

Visual Capitalist: Overflow Data – The U.S. States With the Most Million Dollar Homes – Jeff Desjardins 12/14

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – The choice that could save South Africa, or wreck it – Leaders 12/9

NYT – Trump’s Lies vs. Obama’s – David Leonhardt, Ian Prasad Philbrick, and Stuart A. Thompson 12/14

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Nearly 5 Million Americans in Default on Student Loans – Josh Mitchell 12/13

  • “The number of Americans severely behind on payments on federal student loans reached roughly 4.6 million in the third quarter, a doubling from four years ago, despite a historically long stretch of U.S. job creation and steady economic growth.”
  • “The total number of defaulted borrowers represents about 22% of the Americans who were required to be paying down their federal student loans as of Sept. 30. That figure has increased from 17% four years earlier.”
  • “The money they owe is becoming a bigger share of total outstanding student debt in repayment. Defaulted student loans totaled $84 billion at the end of the quarter, or 13% of the roughly $631 billion that borrowers were required to be paying down.”
  • “The government’s student-loan portfolio now totals $1.37 trillion.”

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: US Total Crude Oil Production 12/13

  • “One of the trends spooking oil traders is what appears to be an acceleration in US crude oil production.”

Environment / Science

Economist – A nasty-tasting shellfish could be just the job for cleaning rivers – 12/7

China

FT – China lenders lobby to soften shadow bank rules – Gabriel Wildau and Yizhen Jia 12/13

December 14, 2017

Perspective

Visual Capitalist – Animation: Visualizing the ICO Explosion – Jeff Desjardins 12/12

WSJ – Thousands of Fake Comments on Net Neutrality: A WSJ Investigation – Paul Overberg and James V. Grimaldi 12/12

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – The twin trap for Tesla investors predicting the future – Vitality Katsenelson 12/12

  • “Fear of diluted stock remains, even if the electric carmaker becomes profitable.”

NYT – Quakes and Fires? It’s the Cost of Living That Californians Can’t Stomach – Conor Dougherty 12/12

The Real Deal – The Long View: HNA, Anbang and the myth of low leverage – Konrad Putzier 12/12

  • “New York’s real estate market now grappling with the Chinese debt binge.”

Markets / Economy

CNN – South Korea is going bitcoin crazy – Jake Kwon 12/12

  • “On any given day, South Korea accounts for as much as 20% of all bitcoin trades around the world.”

Real Estate

FT Due Diligence – M&A is the weapon of choice against Amazon for mall operators – 12/12

China

NYT – Artist Flees Beijing After Filming Devastation of Mass Evictions – Austin Ramzy 12/12

December 13, 2017

Perspective

Bloomberg Businessweek – The Bitcoin Whales: 1,000 People Who Own 40 Percent of the Market – Olga Kharif 12/8

  • “Among the coins people invest in, bitcoin has the least concentrated ownership, says Spencer Bogart, managing director and head of research at Blockchain Capital. The top 100 bitcoin addresses control 17.3% of all the issued currency, according to Alex Sunnarborg, co-founder of crypto hedge fund Tetras Capital. With ether, a rival to bitcoin, the top 100 addresses control 40% of the supply, and with coins such as Gnosis, Qtum, and Storj, top holders control more than 90%. Many large owners are part of the teams running these projects.”

WEF – This is every US state’s biggest trading partner – Andy Kiersz 11/16

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg Businessweek – What Happens When the Government Uses Facebook as a Weapon? – Lauren Etter 12/7

  • “Internet.org was just one part of a decade-long campaign of global expansion for Facebook. In countries such as the Philippines, the efforts have been so successful that the company is able to tout to its advertisers that its network is, for many people, the only version of the internet they know. Repressive governments originally treated Facebook, and all social media, with suspicion—they saw how it could serve as a locus for dissidents, as it had in the Arab Spring in 2011. But authoritarian regimes are now embracing social media, shaping the platforms into a tool to wage war against a wide range of opponents—opposition parties, human-rights activists, minority populations, journalists.”
  • Maria Ressa, co-founder of the country’s leading online news site “recalled that she started as a journalist in the Philippines in 1986, the year of the People Power Revolution, an uprising that ultimately led to the departure of Ferdinand Marcos and the move from authoritarian rule to democracy. Now she’s worried that the pendulum is swinging back and that Facebook is hastening the trend. ‘They haven’t done anything to deal with the fundamental problem, which is they’re allowing lies to be treated the same way as truth and spreading it,’ she says. ‘Either they’re negligent or they’re complicit in state-sponsored hate’.”

Bloomberg Businessweek – Millions Are Hounded for Debt They Don’t Owe. One Victim Fought Back, With a Vengeance – Zeke Faux 12/6

  • “The concept is centuries old: Inmates of a New York debtors’ prison joked about it as early as 1800, in a newspaper they published called Forlorn Hope. But systematic schemes to collect on fake debts started only about five years ago. It begins when someone scoops up troves of personal information that are available cheaply online—old loan applications, long-expired obligations, data from hacked accounts—and reformats it to look like a list of debts. Then they make deals with unscrupulous collectors who will demand repayment of the fictitious bills. Their targets are often poor and likely to already be getting confusing calls about other loans. The harassment usually doesn’t work, but some marks are convinced that because the collectors know so much, the debt must be real.”
  • Americans are currently late on more than $600 billion in bills, according to Federal Reserve research, and almost one person in 10 has a debt in collectors’ hands. The agencies recoup what they can and sell the rest down-market, so that iffier and iffier debt is bought by shadier and shadier individuals. Deception is common. Scammers often sell the same portfolios of debt, called ‘paper,’ to several collection agencies at once, so a legitimate IOU gains illegitimate clones. Some inflate balances, a practice known as ‘overbiffing.’ Others create ‘redo’ lists—people who’ve settled their debt, but will be harassed again anyway. These rosters are actually more valuable, because the targets have proved willing to part with money over the phone. And then there are those who invent debts out of whole cloth.”

The Guardian – Former Facebook executive: social media is ripping society apart – Julia Carrie Wong 12/11

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg – Prime-age male labor-force participation 12/11

Real Estate

FT – New Zealand looks to ban foreigners from buying houses – Jamie Smyth 12/9

FT – Unibail-Rodamco sees 100m annual synergies in $24.7bn Westfield takeover – Jamie Smyth 12/11

FT – Hong Kong investors go defensive in $3bn property auction – Henny Sender 12/11

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 12/11

  • “Bitcoin’s volatility is on the rise as the cryptocurrency hit new highs.”

Health / Medicine

NYT – A Nasty, Nafta-Related Surprise: Mexico’s Soaring Obesity – Andrew Jacobs and Matt Richtel 12/11

  • “Mexico began lifting tariffs and allowing more foreign investment in the 1980s, a transition to free trade given an exclamation point in 1994, when Mexico, the United States and Canada enacted the North American Free Trade Agreement. Opponents in Mexico warned that the country would lose its cultural and economic independence.”
  • “But few critics predicted it would transform the Mexican diet and food ecosystem to increasingly mirror those of the United States. In 1980, 7% of Mexicans were obese, a figure that tripled to 20.3% by 2016, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. Diabetes is now Mexico’s top killer, claiming 80,000 lives a year, the World Health Organization has reported.”

China

WSJ – China’s Clean Energy Future Has a $1.2 Trillion Problem – Nathaniel Taplin 12/11

  • “China’s enormous coal-power debt overhang limits its ability to shift rapidly to cleaner fuels.”

Europe

WEF – Which countries feel they’ve benefitted from the EU? – Niall McCarthy 11/6

Other Interesting Links

Bloomberg Businessweek – This Crowdfunding Site Runs on Hate – Adam Popescu 12/4

December 11, 2017

If you were only to read one thing…

A Wealth of Common Sense: How Does Something Like Bitcoin Happen? – Ben Carlson 12/7

  • The best synopsis of the cryptocurrency I’ve read to date.
  • A taste: “Anyone who tells you they know where this thing is heading, how to value it, where it ends, etc. is nuts. No one has a clue. This is everything you’ve ever read about the markets all wrapped into one — FOMO, supply & demand, human nature, behavioral biases, volatility, booms, busts, uncertainty about the future, etc.”

Perspective

WEF – California is the world’s sixth largest economy. Now is the perfect time for it to step up – Rodrigo Tavares 12/7

WP – Americans are drowning in debt. Here’s where they have it the worst. – Christopher Ingraham 12/8

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Be Inspired: The Power of Morning Routine – Jim Kwik 11/26 (YouTube Video)

Bloomberg – HNA Warning Signs Keep Sprouting Up Over Mounting Debt Costs – Judy Chen and Dong Lyu 12/6

Farnam Street – Maker vs. Manager: How Your Schedule Can Make or Break You – Shane Parrish 12/9

Fortune – Inside Elliott Management: How Paul Singer’s Hedge Fund Always Wins – Jen Wieczner 12/7

FT – Self-driving finance could turn into a runaway train – Gillian Tett 12/7

  • “…at a recent financial technology conference at Michigan Law School, regulators and academics estimated that computers are now generating around 50-70% of trading in equity markets, 60% of futures and more than 50% of treasuries. Increasingly, machine learning and artificial intelligence are being added to the mix, to analyze data, trade securities and offer investment advice.”
  • “What we are seeing, in other words, is the rise of self-driving investment vehicles, matching the auto world. But while the sight of driverless cars on the roads has sparked public debate and scrutiny, that has not occurred with self-driving finance.”

FT – $400m for a Leonardo da Vinci. Has the art world gone mad? – Jan Dalley 12/7

Investment News – Stripped of fat commissions, nontraded REIT sales tank – Bruce Kelly 12/7

  • “The Department of Labor’s fiduciary standard, and new securities industry account statement rules for greater clarity in the prices of products, have forced nontraded real estate investment trusts to slice their commissions. Since then, sales of the product have collapsed.”
  • “No fat commissions on REITs means poor sales by brokers.”
  • “REIT managers and broker-dealer executives are likely reluctant to make the connection, at least publicly. But there is no denying that brokers’ appetite for the product disappeared almost overnight once upfront commissions were cut from 7% on an A share to 3% for a T share.”
  • “When REIT sales were booming a few years ago, the product’s pitch was simple: real estate kicks off an income stream of 6% to 7% annually, real estate is an asset class that is not correlated to the stock market, and with interest rates at record lows, investors needed the yield.”
  • “Those conditions haven’t changed dramatically, but nontraded REIT sales have tanked regardless.”
  • InvestmentNewsreported last month that Robert A. Stanger & Co. expects nontraded REIT sales this year to reach just $4.4 billion, about $100 million less than last year and the lowest levels since 2002.”
  • “If the ‘income, diversify and interest rate’ pitch was accurate back in 2012 and 2013, when REIT sales were booming, why isn’t it working today? There is little change in the narrative.”
  • “Interest rates have risen only marginally, and with the stock market roaring, wouldn’t it make sense for a broker to peel off some clients’ gains and invest in commercial real estate, a hard asset not correlated to stocks?”
  • “With brokers no longer getting juicy commissions for REIT sales, they simply don’t appear interested in selling the product.”
  • “Most brokers who still sell nontraded REITs no longer earn the eye-popping 7% commission, the standard rate paid to brokers who sold the product back in 2013, when REIT sales hit their all-time high and brokers sold $19.6 billion of the product.”
  • “The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. recently put into place a new rule, known as 15-02, that makes pricing of illiquid securities like nontraded REITs more transparent to investors. In the past, client account statements showed illiquid securities like REITs at the value they were bought by the client and did not subtract commissions, which were high.”
  • “‘Now that REITs are getting priced on statements, with Finra 15-02, advisers are having to consider these positions from a total return standpoint, not just income,’ Mr. Rooney said. ‘They are re-evaluating the client’s perception of the product.'”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Treasury Securities Held by the Federal Reserve 12/8

  • “And so it begins… Quantitative tightening is finally here.”

Real Estate

Business Insider – Here’s where the future of retail is headed in 2018 – Stephanie Pandolph 12/5

  • Industry to top $5.5tn by 2020.

FT – Norway’s oil fund makes first Asian property investment – Richard Milne 12/7

  • “Sovereign wealth fun takes stake in 5 buildings in Tokyo and plans more deals.”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: WP – Bitcoin Rising 12/7

  • “Bitcoin blasts past $15k, $16k, $17k in less than 24 hours.”

WSJ – Bitcoin’s Wildest Rise Yet: 40% in 40 Hours – Paul Vigna and Steven Russolillo 12/7

  • “Bitcoin mania reached new highs Thursday as the price of the digital currency jumped about 40% in 40 hours, smashing through five separate $1,000-barriers and surging past $16,000.”

NYT – Bitcoin’s Price Has Soared. What Comes Next? – Nathaniel Popper 12/8

China

WSJ – Jailed for a Text: China’s Censors Are Spying on Mobile Chat Groups – Eva Dou 12/8

  • If only George Orwell could see the tools at Big Brother’s disposal now.

FT – International investors chase the red dragon – Chris Flood 12/9

December 8, 2017

Perspective

Economist – America’s flat-Earth movement appears to be growing 11/28

  • “I am constantly forced to remind myself that while we may one day hope to conquer ignorance, there will never be a cure for stupid.”Barry Ritholtz

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – US States that challenged the Clean Power Plan 12/5

WSJ – Daily Shot: Natixis Investment Management – Global Portfolio Risks 12/7

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Lawsuit shows China losing patience with Venezuela – Jonathan Wheatley 12/6

  • “Subsidiary of state-owned Sinopec files case against PDVSA over unpaid debt.”

FT – US tax reform will benefit shareholders more than workers – Michael Moritz 12/5

  • “During the past year the nation’s 20 largest technology companies have gained $900bn in value in a favorable business climate. As a group, at the end of September, they had about $90bn more cash than they did one year earlier — the bulk being accumulated at Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Oracle, Qualcomm and Priceline. “
  • “But the increase in their cash balances tells less than half the story. There is nothing to suggest in the rest of the data that, if their taxes were cut, they would build more factories, hire more employees or buy more equipment. Quite the contrary.”
  • “Crunch through the data, available through sources such as Bloomberg, and you will gain some remarkable insights on the financials of the giants of the tech sector. Through the first nine months of 2017 these 20 companies paid just over $27bn in taxes. At the same time, they invested almost $55bn in what the accountants label ‘capital expenditures’ — buildings and equipment. But the real message lies elsewhere.”
  • “They generated so much cash that, over and above increasing the cash they held on their balance sheets, they distributed almost $39bn in dividends to shareholders and spent almost $52bn on stock buybacks. That is about $190bn of cash, dividends and stock buybacks compared to $55bn of investment in the sort of areas that might result in more jobs and increased productivity. Even Intel, which operates in the semiconductor industry — an activity which sucks up more cash than internet and software businesses — spent $7.1bn on dividends and stock buybacks during the first three quarters compared to $7.7bn on capital expenditures.”
  • “If someone makes the argument that the corporate tax cuts are likely to change the spending habits of start-ups or emerging companies, forget about it. Investors from around the world are standing in line waiting to invest in young companies, which have all the cash they need. In addition, since most of these companies are losing money, tax payments are irrelevant.”

WP – The world produces more than 3.5 million tons of waste a day – and that figure is growing – Kadir van Lohuizen 11/21

Markets / Economy

Real Estate

NAR – In Which States Do REALTORS Expect Highest Home Price Growth in the Next 12 Months? 12/5

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – Changes in US Property Values 2007 – 2016 12/7

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: US Crude Oil Production 12/6

WSJ – Wall Street Tells Frackers to Stop Counting Barrels, Start Making Profits – Bradley Olson and Lynn Cook 12/7

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 12/6

  • “The cryptocurrency blasted past, $12k, $13k, and $14k in 24 hours.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Meritocracy Capital – CAPME Chart 12/7

  • “Cyclically adjusted price to median earnings (CAPME) and the percentile rank.”

China

Economist – Chinese cities should stop expelling Chinese migrants – Leaders 11/30

India

Economist – India’s new bankruptcy code takes aim at delinquent tycoons 11/30

  • “Defaulters will no longer be able to cling on to ‘their’ companies.”

Middle East

Economist – How-and why-to end the war in Yemen – Leaders 11/30

  • “A pointless conflict has caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”