March 21, 2018

Perspective

AEIdeas – Creative Destruction, the Uber effect, and the slow death of the NYC taxi cartel – Mark J. Perry 3/17

WP – Toys R Us’s baby problem is everybody’s baby problem – Andrew Van Dam 3/15

  • “There are endless reasons a big-box toy store would collapse during a retail apocalypse — and Toys R Us acknowledged a number of them in its most recent annual filing: the teetering tower of debt incurred by its private-equity owners, competition from Amazon, Walmart and Target.”
  • “They even wrung their hands about app stores, labor costs and potential tariffs raising the costs of the imported goods they sell.”
  • “But one risk stood out. Toys R Us said there just weren’t enough babies…”
  • “It may not have been the biggest existential threat confronting Geoffrey the Giraffe (the store’s mascot), but it’s the one with the broadest implications outside of the worlds of toys and malls.”
  • “Measured as a share of overall population, U.S. births have fallen steadily since the Great Recession. They hit their lowest point on record in 2016 — the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has comparable data.”
  • “Even adjusted for the aging population and declining share of women of childbearing age, U.S. fertility rates are at all-time lows.”
  • “That’s problematic for Toys R Us, which also operates the Babies R Us stores. The company claims in its annual report that its income is linked to birthrates, and it appears to be right.”
  • “There are, to be sure, numerous other factors at play. The same economic forces that encourage people to have children may also encourage them to splurge on toys, for example.”
  • “But it’s nonetheless apparent that Toys R Us’s fortunes rise and fall with the population of its target market.”
  • “And that’s why the company’s demise should worry the rest of us. Toys R Us focuses on kids, so it’s feeling the crunch from declining birthrates long before the rest of the economy. But it’s just a matter of time before the trends that toppled the troubled toy maker put the squeeze on businesses that cater to consumers of all ages.”
  • “Eventually, unless the country does something significant to encourage larger families or immigration, that narrowing base of the population pyramid will crawl upward.”
  • “In the end, Toys R Us will just have been the first of many businesses of all descriptions facing the same hard demographic truth: Economic growth is extremely difficult without population growth.

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg – How Amazon’s Bottomless Appetite Became Corporate America’s Nightmare – Shira Ovide 3/14

Bloomberg Quint – The World Economy Risks Turning Too Hot to Handle as G-20 Meets – Enda Curran and Rich Miller 3/15

CNN Money – Amazon didn’t kill Toys ‘R’ Us. Here’s what did – Chris Isidore 3/15

Economist – Malaysia’s PM is about to steal an election – Leaders 3/10

  • Impunity…

FactsMaps – US News – U.S. Best States Overall Ranking – 2018

FT – Fresh blood: why everyone fell for Theranos – Andrew Hill 3/18

FT – Saudi Aramco: sand trap – Lex 3/12

  • “Justifying a $2tn valuation for the state oil company requires hard persuasion.”

Maps on the Web – Average ACT score by US State – Reddit 3/19

NYT – Big Sugar Versus Your Body – David Leonhardt 3/11

Markets / Economy

Economist – America’s companies have binged on debt; a reckoning looms 3/8

  • “The total debt of American non-financial corporations as a percentage of GDP has reached a record high of 73.3%”

WalletHub – Credit Card Debt Study: Trends & Insights – Alina Comoreanu 3/8

Real Estate

Business Insider – American homes are more affordable than they’ve been in 40 years – but that could change sooner than you think – Tanza Loudenback 3/19

  • “‘Thanks to low mortgage rates, buying a home is actually more affordable now than in the past 40 years,’ Alexandra Lee, a housing data analyst at Trulia, told Business Insider.”
  • “Mortgage interest rates hit 16.6% in 1981 in response to massive inflation in the US. In 2016, interest rates fell to about 3.5%, and they’re about 4.5% right now.”
  • “Trulia found that the typical household in 1980 could afford only about three-fourths of the median home price, compared with the median household in 2016, which could afford a home 1 1/2 times the median home price.”
  • “Twenty-two US metros crossed the threshold from unaffordable to affordable over the past four decades, according to the data. The markets that are too expensive for the average buyer now, including San Francisco, Seattle, and San Jose, California, were always too expensive.”
  • “Trulia ultimately found that Americans’ homebuying power has strengthened in the past 40 years.”
  • “Take Salt Lake City, for example. From 1990 to 2016, home prices increased 53%, but the affordability index jumped to 131 from 122. That is because interest rates dropped to 3.4% from 10% during that time. Homeownership in Salt Lake City became even more affordable over the 26-year period — and the case appears the same for many of the largest US metros.”
  • “Only the Denver, Miami, and Portland, Oregon, metro areas dropped in affordability during that time, Lee said.”
  • “By the end of 2017, a monthly mortgage payment on the median home in the US required just 15.7% of the typical household income, according to a report by Trulia’s parent company Zillow. Back in the late 1980s and 1990s, a mortgage payment took up 21% of the typical American’s income.”
  • Granted, coming up with a down payment on a house these days is no easy task.

Effect of interest rate rises are starting to bite.

CNBC – Mortgage refinances fall to decade low – Diana Olick 3/14

  • “Interest rates for home loans have risen each week this year, so each week homeowners have had less incentive refinance their mortgages.”
  • “Higher interest rates caused applications to refinance a home loan to fall 2% for the week and 18% from a year ago, when rates were lower. The refinance share of all mortgage applications fell to 40%, the lowest since 2008.”
  • “Housing is more expensive today than it has been in a decade, and a decade ago credit was a lot easier to get. The average monthly mortgage payment is now up nearly 13% from a year ago, according to Realtor.com — a combination of higher home prices and higher interest rates.”

Economist – Asian and European cities compete for the title of most expensive city – The Data Team 3/15

  • “Singapore remains the most expensive city in the world for the fifth year running, according to the latest findings of the Worldwide Cost of Living Survey from The Economist Intelligence Unit.”

FT – WeWork is ‘victim of own success’ as office rivals gather – Aime Williams 3/12

  • “A wave of lease purchases by flexible workspace providers is driving commercial demand in leading cities.”

Honolulu Star Advertiser – Mayor signs bill temporarily banning permits for new ‘monster houses’ – Gordon Y.K. Pang 3/13

  • “Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed into law today a bill imposing a moratorium of up to two years on building permits for ‘monster’ houses, giving the city Department of Planning and Permitting time to come up with permanent rules to deal with the growing phenomenon.”
  • “DPP will, for the most part, not approve building permit applications during the moratorium for houses that cover more than seven-tenths of a lot under Bill 110 (2017). For example, a 5,000-square-foot lot could not have a living space that’s 3,500 square feet or larger.”
  • Another instance of a market where housing prices have gone well beyond what local incomes can support. As a result, people come up with ‘work-arounds’ which tend to overburden the local infrastructure and upset neighborhoods, resulting in blunt regulatory reaction. Honolulu is not unique to this problem.

WSJ – The Next Housing Crisis: A Historic Shortage of New Homes – Laura Kusisto 3/18

  • “America is facing a new housing crisis. A decade after an epic construction binge, fewer homes are being built per household than at almost any time in U.S. history.
  • “Home construction per household a decade after the bust remains near the lowest level in 60 years of record-keeping, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.”
  • “What makes the slump puzzling is that by most other measures, the American economy is booming. Jobs are plentiful, wages are on the rise and the stock market is near record highs. Millennials, the largest generation since the baby boomers, are aging into home ownership.”
  • “A combination of tightened housing regulations, a lack of construction labor and a land shortage in highly prized areas is driving the crisis, according to industry experts.”
  • “Even during the deep recession of the mid-1970s and the downturn in the early 2000s, builders put up significantly more homes per U.S. household than they are constructing now, in the ninth year of an economic expansion. Only at the bottom of the 1981 and 1991 economic downturns were per-household construction levels near what they are now, according to Jordan Rappaport, an economist at the Kansas City Fed. He says the only period when the U.S. might have built fewer homes by population was during World War II.”
  • “The National Association of Home Builders estimates builders will start fewer than 900,000 new homes in 2018, less than the roughly 1.3 million homes needed to keep up with population growth. The overall inventory of new and existing homes for sale hit its lowest level on record in the fourth quarter of 2017, at 1.48 million, according to the National Association of Realtors.”
  • “That, in turn, is pushing up prices at what economists say is an unsustainable pace. The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index rose 6.3% in 2017. That was roughly twice the rate of income growth and three times the rate of inflation.”
  • “Builders cite numerous factors contributing to the construction slump. A decades long push for young people to go to college has driven down trade-school enrollment, depriving builders of skilled labor. Declining numbers of immigrant construction workers have sapped builders of unskilled labor.”
  • “The construction workforce in the U.S. declined to 10.5 million in 2016, from 10.6 million in 2010, when the real-estate market was near bottom, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by Issi Romem, an economist at BuildZoom, a startup that tracks construction data for building contractors.”
  • “Nationwide, membership in the National Association of Home Builders peaked at 240,000 in 2007, then dropped to 140,000 in 2012, where it has remained throughout the recovery.”
  • “Builders in far-flung exurbs are encountering stiffer resistance from young buyers even as prices ratchet higher for land closer to cities. Economists say that in many large metropolitan areas, suburbanization might simply have reached its limits, as potential buyers increasingly reject long commutes. During the 1950s, buying a home in a new suburb, where land was plentiful and cheap, often meant driving half an hour to a job in the city. Today, commutes from new developments can be several times that long.”
  • “’There’s a tremendous mismatch between the places where people want to live and the places where it’s easiest to build,’ says Edward Glaeser, a professor of economics at Harvard University who studies constraints on housing supply.”
  • “But building remains below historical averages, and economists say it is unlikely to return to those levels before the next recession.”
  • “’It’s hard for me to see on single-family how you can build your way out of this,’ Mr. Rappaport says. ‘Even with these heroic efforts’ to overcome barriers to building new housing, he says, there is little chance ‘that you’re going to get a new stream of single-family homes that can relieve demand.’”
  • “Coastal cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Boston have taken criticism for their restrictive building codes, which make it more difficult to create enough housing to keep up with population growth.”
  • “Even metropolitan areas with more permissive approaches to building are lagging behind their historical construction levels. Housing permits in Memphis, Tenn., were 44% below their historical average in 2017, according to the latest Census figures analyzed by real-estate data firm Trulia, while permits in the Minneapolis metropolitan area were 16% below average.”

Finance

FT – Private equity groups are calling the shots – Javier Espinoza 3/14

  • “In business, the mantra goes, the customer is always right and should get the best deal.”
  • “The opposite is happening in private equity where investors, including large pension funds, endowments, sovereign wealth funds and family money, face unfavorable fund terms and, in all likelihood, lower returns.”
  • “Private equity firms are clearly calling the shots and that is illustrated by the record amount of money they are turning away.”
  • “Huge institutional investors have so much money burning a hole in their pockets (Singapore’s GIC alone has $100bn of assets under management) they are under enormous pressure to find a home for this cash somewhere.”
  • “Hence their willingness to commit their cash to funds even if managers cut or reduce the so-called hurdle rate, which is the return that is guaranteed before a buyout group can claim a share of the profits. The industry standard is a preferred return of 8% on deals.”
  • “Advent International, the Boston and London-based group, raised eyebrows in 2016 when it announced it was closing a mega $13bn buyout fund without offering minimum returns to its investors. Last year, CVC, the former owner of F1, also said it was cutting its hurdle rate from 8% to 6%. The buyout firm also scrapped early-bird discounts given to new investors.”
  • “Rather than take their money and run from unfavorable terms, investors have doubled down on these private equity funds, which raised record amounts of cash in their fastest time ever. Advent had set out to raise $12bn and received more than $20bn of interest from investors. CVC raised €16bn but closed the door on billions more because demand was close to €30bn.”
  • “Rubbing salt into the wound of poorer terms, private equity managers are also warning them that returns should come down.”
  • “’The investors have accepted the idea of lower returns as OK,’ said the head of a private equity group. ‘It used to be that investors would earn 20% net internal rate of returns. Now they are happy with 14% or 15% net internal rate of returns.’”

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

Visual Capitalist – The Rising Problem of Crypto Theft, and How to Protect Yourself – Jeff Desjardins 3/20

Tech

WSJ – The Battery Boost We’ve Been Waiting for Is Only a Few Years Out – Christopher Mims 3/18

Health / Medicine

NYT – How to Stop Eating Sugar – David Leonhardt 3/18

China

Bloomberg – Xi Gives Stark Taiwan Warning in Hands-Off Message to Trump – Keith Zhai, Peter Martin and Dandan Li 3/20

NYT – Hard-Charging Chinese Energy Tycoon Falls From Xi Government’s Graces – Alexandra Stevenson 3/14

  • The tycoon: Ye Jianming. The company: CEFC China Energy.

India

Bloomberg Gadfly – Ambani’s Jio Triple Play Deserves to Upend This Cozy Club – Andy Mukherjee 3/20

Russia

NYT – Russian Election: Videos Show Possible Fraud – Camilla Schick 3/20

  • Did Putin really need the help?…
Advertisements

Leave a Reply