March 28, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg Gadfly – Users Built Facebook’s Empire, and They Can Crumble It – Nir Kaissar 3/26

FT – It is Venezuela’s crisis that is driving the oil price higher – Nick Butler 3/25

  • “While the Maduro-military alliance holds, output is likely to fall further.”

NYT – Live in a Drainpipe? Five Extreme Ideas to Solve Hong Kong’s Housing Crisis – Austin Ramzy 3/26

NYT – Repeal the Second Amendment – John Paul Stevens (retired associate justice of US Supreme Court) 3/27

NYT – New Leadership Has Not Changed Uber – Steven Hill 3/26

  • “The problem with Uber was never that the chief executive had created a thuggish ‘Game of Thrones’-type culture, as Susan Fowler, an engineer, described it in a blog post. The problem was, and still is, Uber’s business model: Its modus operandi is to subsidize fares and flood streets with its cars to achieve a transportation monopoly. In city after city, this has led to huge increases in traffic congestion, increased carbon emissions and the undermining of public transportation.”
  • Most customers who love Uber don’t realize that the company subsidizes the cost of many rides. This is likely a major factor in Uber’s annual losses surging from 2.8 billion in 2016 to $4.5 billion in 2017. This seemingly nonsensical approach is actually Uber’s effort to use its deep pockets to mount a predatory price war and shut out the competition. That competition is not only taxis and other ride-sharing companies, but public transportation.”
  • Ridership on public transportation is down in nearly every major American city, including New York City (which recorded its first ridership dip since 2009). This is hurting the revenue that public transportation needs to sustain itself. Uber passengers and public transportation users alike now find themselves stuck in heavy traffic for far longer because of what’s been called ‘Uber congestion.’ In Manhattan, there are five times as many ridesharing vehicles as yellow taxis, which has caused average speeds to decline by 15% compared with 2010, before Uber.
  • “Ride-sharing services could potentially add something positive to our transportation options, but only if they are regulated properly.”
  • “First, regulators should limit the number of ride-sharing cars. Traditional taxis already have a sensible limit to minimize congestion. A balance must be found between having enough taxi-type vehicles but not so many that the streets are choked with traffic. Fix NYC, a panel appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, has called for all Ubers, Lyfts and taxis to be outfitted with GPS technology to track congestion and to charge a fee on for-hire vehicles that could help reduce traffic and generate hundreds of millions of dollars for public transportation.”
  • “Second, Uber should be prohibited from subsidizing its fares. It should be required to charge at least the true cost of each ride. If Uber refuses, a ‘fairness fee’ should be added to each fare.”
  • “Third, ride-sharing companies and their vehicles should be required to follow the same laws as traditional taxis, especially in terms of background checks for drivers and insurance requirements.”
  • “Fourth, Uber should be required to share its data with regulators, including information about its drivers and their contact information, so that members of this ‘distributed work force’ can more easily contact one another and organize collectively if they choose.”
  • “Finally, regulations should ensure that Uber treats its drivers fairly. Mr. Khosrowshahi asserts that drivers’ wages are adequate, but according to one study, more than half of Uber drivers earn less than the minimum wage in their state, and some even lose money once the costs of driving are taken into account. That helps explain why, according to Uber’s own internal study, half of its drivers leave after a year.”

WSJ – Turkey Is the One to Watch for Emerging Markets Risk – Richard Barley 3/26

WSJ – How a Tiny Latvian Bank Became a Haven for the World’s Dirty Money – Drew Hinshaw, Patricia Kowsmann, and Ian Talley 3/26

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Libor’s Rise Accelerates, Squeezing Short-Term Borrowers – Ben Eisen and Chelsey Dulaney 3/27

  • “The three-month London interbank offered rate climbed to 2.29% in the U.S. on Monday, its highest since November 2008. Libor measures the cost for banks to lend to one another and is used to set interest rates on roughly $200 trillion in dollar-based financial contracts globally, from corporate loans to home mortgages.”
  • “Libor has been rising for the last 2½ years as the Federal Reserve lifts its key policy rate, but recently the pace has picked up. It has climbed nearly a full percentage point in the last six months—outpacing the Fed—and could rise further with the approaching end of the quarter, typically a time of elevated demand for short-term funds in the banking sector, analysts say.”
  • “Demand for dollars at the end of the first quarter could send Libor up an additional 0.2 percentage point in the coming days, market analysts say, as investors rebalance their portfolios and banks rein in their balance sheets. The end of March also marks the finish of Japan’s fiscal year, potentially compounding the moves as big investors bring money back to Japan.”
  • “Libor has already sprinted ahead of the rates indicated by central bank policies, an acceleration that has baffled economists and traders. That widening gap has alarmed those who watch it as a signal of stress in the financial system. Others have pinned it on a series of technical factors, such as rising short-term debt sales by the U.S. government and new corporate tax policies.”
  • “Other markets that can be tapped for dollars—including through the swaps market and liquidity lines maintained by global central banks—aren’t yet showing a big dollar squeeze.”

Real Estate

The Big Picture – WeWork: Manhattan’s 2nd-biggest Private Office Tenant – Barry Ritholtz 3/27

FT – House prices falling in two-fifths of London postcodes – James Pickford 3/26

  • “House prices are falling in two out of five London postcodes, according to research that underlines the growing divergence between prices in southern English cities and those elsewhere in the UK.”
  • “The average annual rate of price growth in the capital has slowed to 1%, down sharply from 4.3% a year ago, meaning it is at its lowest level since August 2011, according to research by Hometrack, a housing market analyst. This stands in contrast to UK-wide average house price growth of 5.2% in the year to February 2018, up from 4% a year ago.”
  • “Prices are under greatest pressure in central London, where owners of the most expensive types of property began cutting prices in 2015 responding to the impact of higher taxes. In the past year, however, the trend has deepened in areas beyond the prime zones of Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea. The boroughs that saw the greatest drop in value were the City of London, Camden, Southwark, Islington and Wandsworth, according to Hometrack’s research.”
  • “Hometrack is predicting that the number of areas of the capital experiencing falling house prices will multiply during this year as trapped sellers reduce their asking prices to drive through transactions. ‘The net result will be a negative rate of headline price growth for London by the middle of 2018,’ the research said.”
  • “Outside southern England, house prices are more likely to be rising, in some places at a substantial pace. Edinburgh, Liverpool, Leicester, Birmingham and Manchester are adding more than 7% a year to their average house price, Hometrack found, with Leeds, Nottingham and Sheffield pegging rises of 6% or more.”
  • “The laggards in the 20-city index were Aberdeen (down by 7.7%), Cambridge (down by 1.5%) and Oxford (up by just 0.5%).”

NYT – Grocery Wars Turn Small Chains Into Battlefield Casualties – Michael Corkery 3/26

WSJ – Homeowners Ditch Refinancings as Mortgage Rates Rise – Christina Rexrode 3/26

  • “Last year, 37% of mortgage-origination volume was because of refinancings, according to industry research group Inside Mortgage Finance. That is the smallest proportion since 1995, and the number of refinancings is widely expected to shrink again this year. In 2012, refinancings were 72% of originations.”
  • “While purchase activity has climbed steadily from a post-financial-crisis nadir in 2011, growth in 2017 wasn’t enough to offset a $366 billion decline in refinancing activity. The result: The overall mortgage market fell around 12%, to $1.8 trillion, according to Inside Mortgage Finance.”
  • “What’s more, there are fewer homeowners eligible to refinance because of rising rates. The number of borrowers who could benefit from a refinancing is down about 37% from the end of last year, estimates Black Knight Inc., a mortgage-data and technology firm. At 2.67 million potential borrowers, this group is at its smallest since 2008.”
  • “Home-purchase activity has so far been holding up. Sales of previously owned homes in February rose 1.1% from a year earlier, countering worries that a downturn the previous month signaled a peak for the market.”
  • “Still, rising interest rates, a shortage of housing inventory and higher home prices are all long-term threats to purchase activity.”
  • “For refinancings, rising rates are a more immediate worry. Freddie Mac said last week that the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 4.45%, up from 3.95% at the beginning of the year.”
  • “The Mortgage Bankers Association expects mortgage-purchase volume to grow about 5% in 2018 but refinancing volume to drop 27%. Refinance applications fell 5% in the week ended March 16 from the prior one, according to the group.”

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

Bloomberg – Fewer Americans Hold Cryptocurrencies Than You Probably Think – Olga Kharif 3/16

  • “More than 90% of American adults don’t own cryptocurrencies – and most have a lot of concerns about the coins, a new survey from Finder found.”

Fishing

Bloomberg – Maine’s Lobster Tide Might Be Ebbing – Justin Fox 3/23

  • “The numbers came in earlier this month on Maine’s 2017 lobster harvest. By historical standards, the 110.8 million-pound, $434 million haul was pretty spectacular. But it was a lot lower than 2016’s 132.5 million-pound, $540 million record, and it was another sign that the Great Lobster Boom that has surprised and delighted Maine’s lobster fishermen since the 1990s — and brought lobster rolls to diners from coast to coast — may be giving way to … something else.”
  • “The lobster boom does not seem to be the result of overfishing; Maine’s lobster fishermen figured out a set of rules decades ago that appear to allow them to manage the catch sustainably. There are just lots and lots more lobsters off the coast of Maine than there used to be. Why? In a column last spring, I listed four reasons that I’d heard during a trip to Maine:”
    • “Warmer temperatures in the Gulf of Maine.”
    • “A collapse in the population of cod, which eat young lobsters.”
    • “Reduced incidence of a lobster disease called gaffkemia.”
    • “Increased effort and efficiency on the part of lobstermen, who go farther offshore and can haul in more traps in a day than they used to.”
  • “Given how quickly the lobster harvests grew, though, especially from 2007 through 2012, it’s hard not to wonder whether they might not eventually collapse. They already have in several states farther down the Atlantic coast. Lobster landings were still on the rise as of 2016 (data aren’t available yet for 2017) in New Hampshire and Massachusetts but peaked in Rhode Island in 1999, Connecticut in 1998, New York in 1996 and New Jersey in 1990.”
  • “So that’s some evidence for the warming-ocean-temperatures theory of the lobster boom. This would imply that eventually even the oceans off Maine will get too warm, although it doesn’t give much of a hint as to when.”
  • Canada has been benefiting as well.

 

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