May 11, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg – Middle-Class Doldrums Don’t Add Up to a Crisis – Noah Smith 5/9

  • “The U.S. economy is back to normal again. Unemployment is low. Business investment is up. Wages are slowly rising. The traumatic memories of the Great Recession and the global financial crisis are finally beginning to fade.”
  • “The absence of pressing crises means that it’s a good time to step back and take stock of deeper issues in the U.S. economic system. For several years, there has been a rising outcry over inequality… Adjusted for inflation, wages for production and nonsupervisory workers fell from their peak until the early 1990s, and haven’t yet climbed back to their former heights:”
  • “But the story isn’t quite true. The average American has, in fact, seen modest gains since the early 1970s; the falling wages of production workers don’t tell the whole story.”
  • “What explains the difference between wages and income? Two things. First, wages aren’t the only way Americans make money in the market. Income from assets, like retirement accounts and pensions, is increasingly important, as are nonwage compensation like employer contributions to retirement accounts. Second, the income numbers include government transfers, which have shifted more and more income from rich Americans to those who earn less in the market. These factors are all bigger than in the 1970s:”
  • “Increased redistribution has been helping the poor as well as the middle class. Recent calculations by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities show that child poverty in the U.S. has fallen to record lows once government assistance is taken into account.”
  • “Meanwhile, gains in income haven’t come from increased toil. Despite women’s increased labor force participation, working-age Americans in 2014 tended to labor little more than their predecessors in the late 1970s:”
  • “In fact, the working hours data makes the 2000s and 2010s look less awful in comparison to the ’80s and ’90s. Gains in those earlier decades came partly from women entering the workforce en masse. But those gains were preserved in recent decades despite Americans working fewer hours on average.”
  • “It was during the early 1970s that total factor productivity growth began to slow down. It accelerated again in the 1990s and early 2000s, only to fall back to a crawl about the middle of that decade.”
  • “It’s therefore possible to interpret the slower growth of Americans’ incomes as the result of slowing productivity. Inequality has certainly contributed as well, but increasing government transfers have helped cancel out some of that. But with slowing productivity growth, there’s simply less to redistribute than if productivity had maintained the torrid pace of the early and mid-20th century.”
  • “Capitalism may not be in crisis, but it’s troubling that a few super-rich individuals have managed to amass vast fortunes even as productivity has stagnated. That is a phenomenon whose cause must be carefully investigated. For the typical American, gains in living standards have continued at a slow, steady pace. Increasing that pace should be a top priority.”

FT – Investors should be cautious of simplistic indices – Kate Allen 5/9

  • “Poland’s upgrade to developed status shines a light on [an] outdated approach to classification.”

Markets / Economy

FT – Daimler leads new investors in SoftBank’s $100bn Vision Fund – Arash Massoudi, Leo Lewis, and Patrick McGee 5/10

  • “Germany’s Daimler and Japan’s three largest banks are set to become investors in SoftBank’s Vision Fund as the Masayoshi Son-led company looks to complete fundraising for its $100bn technology investment fund, according to people briefed on the matter.”
  • “The Mercedes-Benz maker along with MUFG, Mizuho and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp will be among the final investors in the fund, which is the largest ever created in private equity or venture capital, these people said.”
  • “They added that other new investors will include Larry Ellison, the billionaire US co-founder of software group Oracle who is investing personally, and the sovereign wealth fund of Bahrain.”
  • “Daimler and the Japanese banks are set to be among the smaller ones in the fund, alongside earlier participants such as Apple, Qualcomm, Foxconn and Sharp. About $88bn of the fund comes from SoftBank, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.”
  • “Individuals close to the three Japanese banks said their decision to invest had a twin motivation: the quest for returns in Japan’s ultra low-interest environment and the desire to further strengthen their relationships with what is by far Japan’s most active corporate name.”
  • “All the new investors will be participating under the terms of the fund’s unusual structure, which sees them receive 62% in preferred units paying out an annual coupon of 7% over the fund’s 12-year life cycle, and the rest with equity.”
  • “SoftBank itself is the only investor that has full equity exposure, giving it the most upside to the fund’s investments in addition to the management and performance fees.”
  • “SoftBank outlined on Wednesday in a presentation that it had spent $29.7bn of the Vision Fund since inception. It has placed bets on more than 30 companies including ride-hailing group Uber, shared-office provider WeWork and chipmaker Nvidia.”

Real Estate

Bisnow – California Super-Commuters Are Transforming Sleepy Suburbs Into Busy Metros – Julie Littman and Joseph Pimentel 5/9

WSJ – California Takes Big Step to Require Solar on New Homes – Erin Ailworth 5/9

Energy

FT – US oil producers battle to meet Iran shortfall – Ed Crooks 5/9

  • “Pipeline constraints mean shale cannot come to rescue as sanctions push up prices.”
  • “Inadequate transport capacity in the region is reflected in the soaring discount for oil in Midland, west Texas, compared with US benchmark crude. That discount hit $13 a barrel this week, meaning that while the easier-to-trade West Texas Intermediate was selling for about $70 a barrel, oil in Midland was just $57 a barrel.”

WSJ – Venezuela’s Brewing Oil Shock May Be Bigger Than Iran’s – Spencer Jakab 5/10

  • “The oil headlines this week have all been about Iran, but the slowly unfolding disaster in Venezuela may be even more significant.”
  • “Venezuela faces two risks that, if both come to pass, could cut its oil output by more than the biggest estimates of what could happen to Iran if sanctions were reimposed. The risks stem from Venezuela’s dependence on importing lighter varieties of crude to mix with the heavy oil it produces, and its need for products imported from the U.S. to enable its thick oil to be transported.”
  • “The first situation is playing out in the Dutch-administered islands of Curaçao and Bonaire, where Venezuela’s state oil company owns refining and storage facilities. U.S. producer ConocoPhillips is attempting to take physical control of those facilities after winning an arbitration award against Venezuela for seizing its assets in 2007. Venezuela appears to be telling its suppliers not to ship oil to these facilities for fear ConocoPhillips will seize that too, potentially shutting down refining.”
  • “The second situation would play out if the U.S. halts exports to Venezuela of a product called diluent, which allows the thick oil to be transported. Such a move would imperil half or more of the country’s remaining production. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has already called the presidential election a sham.”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: DISH Network Bond Price 5/19

Environment / Science

Economist – Climate change will affect developing countries more than rich ones – The Data Team 5/9

Construction

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – PPI Concrete Products 5/10

Asia – excluding China and Japan

Economist – Malaysia’s chance to clean up – Leaders 5/10

  • “Elections in Malaysia are normally predictable. In fact, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and various allies had won all of them since 1955, until this week. Over the years UMNO has resorted to every conceivable trick to remain in power: stirring communal tensions among Malaysia’s ethnic groups, locking up critics, rigging the electoral system in its favor, bribing voters with populist handouts and threatening chaos if it lost. In the run-up to the election on May 9th it did all of that. It was testimony to the awfulness of the government of Najib Razak that the opposition was even in contention. And it is testimony to the good sense of Malaysian voters that the opposition won, convincingly, paving the way for Malaysia’s first ever change of government.”
  • “For a country where politics has always been run along communal lines, the shocking upset holds out the prospect of a more meritocratic form of government. For the region, where rulers with authoritarian instincts have been steadily curbing political freedoms, it is a heartening victory for democracy. And for Mr Najib, who was accused by America’s Department of Justice of personally pocketing $681m looted from a Malaysian government agency, it is a welcome comeuppance.”
  • “Sceptics note that it is led by Mahathir Mohamad, a former five-term UMNO prime minister who pioneered many of the underhand tactics to which Mr Najib resorted in his failed bid to remain in power. Dr Mahathir was also a champion of Malaysia’s odious system of racial preferences, which he expanded to keep Malay voters loyal to UMNO.”
  • “Perhaps the new government will succumb to infighting and fail to get much done. But its very existence is a potent reminder to Malaysians and their neighbors that governments can and should, from time to time, change peacefully. With luck, Cambodians, Singaporeans, Thais and Vietnamese, among others, will begin to wonder if something similar might one day happen to them.”

China

FT – China credit spreads near 2-year highs on default worries – Gabriel Wildau 5/9

“China credit spreads hit their widest level in nearly two years this week following new regulations that undermined long-held assumptions about implicit guarantees on debt linked to local governments.”

FT – Hong Kong’s tycoons: handing over power in troubled times – Ben Bland 5/9

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