Tag: 1MDB

June 28, 2018

Perspective

FT – Migrant millennials are redrawing the map of America – Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson 6/26

  • “As a recent analysis by Brookings Institution demographer William Frey found, the strongest growth in America’s millennial population between 2010 and 2015 was not in coastal cities such as New York and LA, but in smaller ones in the south and west. The double-digit increase in 10 large metro areas, from Colorado Springs and Denver to San Antonio and Austin, contrasts with Midwestern cities such as Chicago and St Louis, whose millennial populations rose less than 1%.”
  • “This millennial migration is largely being driven by affordability, says Karen Harris of the macro trends group at Bain & Company, the consultancy. ‘Tier one cities have become incredibly expensive; as a result they have become the province of rich people, single people and empty nesters.’” 
  • “Few places tell this story better than Denver, Colorado. Its middle-of-the-country location, affordable universities, plentiful jobs and easy access to a snowboarder’s paradise in the Rocky Mountains have drawn tens of thousands of millennials in recent years, transforming its population and economy.” 
  • But…
  • “Denver’s residential property prices are 50% above their pre-crisis peak, dividing the city into those who bought and have watched their assets appreciate and those wondering if they will ever get on the housing ladder. Since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, Denver has been rife with stories of dispensary owners driving the market up by putting their unbankable cash into property.” 
  • “For now, disillusioned leavers are outnumbered by new arrivals to Denver, but there are signs that its millennial-fueled population boom is slowing. Its growth rate peaked in 2015 and it has dropped down the Census Bureau’s list of fastest-growing cities, which is now topped by San Antonio and Phoenix.” 
  • “Mike Newlands moved to Denver after college in 2006 to work in the sporting goods industry, and is living with a friend while saving for a down payment on a property. He worries that anyone who did not buy by 2010 is effectively priced out of Denver. ‘People are asking now where the next Colorado is,’ he says, listing more affordable alternatives like Jackson, Wyoming, and Boise, Idaho. ‘People like me who make $75,000 a year are going to be gone.’”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Playing in Traffic – Ben Carlson 5/27

  • “Our brains find it easier to process situations where there’s a clear explanation. Not knowing what’s happening or, more importantly, why it’s happening, makes people extremely uncomfortable.”
  • “Being uncomfortable with uncertainty is one of the reasons a long commute can make people unhappy:”
    • “As Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert argues, ‘You can’t adapt to commuting, because it’s entirely unpredictable. Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.’”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Harley-Davidson Is Fighting the Trade Wars on Two Fronts – John D. Stoll 6/25

Real Estate

Bloomberg – Investors Are Piling In to NYC Condos at a Record Pace – Oshrat Carmiel 6/27

WSJ – Looking for an Apartment? It Is a Great Time to Rent – Laura Kusisto 6/27

  • “It is a great time for anyone looking to rent an apartment: vacancy rates are rising and there are little or no rent increases in many major cities.”
  • “For landlords, though, the U.S. apartment market suffered its worst spring since 2010, near the depths of the housing crisis. Driving this dynamic is a flood of new apartments and weakening demand.”
  • “Rents rose 2.3% in the second quarter compared with a year earlier, the smallest annual increase since the third quarter of 2010, according to data from RealPage Inc. scheduled to be released on Wednesday. Rental growth was flat in major cities with otherwise strong economies—such as Austin, Portland, Seattle, Dallas and Washington, D.C.—due to large amounts of new supply.”
  • “Landlords have enjoyed a record 32 straight quarters of annual rent growth on average, as the U.S. economy strengthened and millennials delayed homeownership. But the reports of slowing, which began in a few markets in late 2016, have intensified to the point that the balance is shifting towards renters and away from landlords.”
  • “The cause of the slowdown is primarily new supply. Developers responded to escalating rents by building the most new apartments in 30 years, sending a flood of new high-end units to downtown areas across the country. Developers are expected to add 300,000 new units over the next year across the U.S., Mr. Willett (Greg Willett, chief economist at RealPage) said.”
  • “At the same time as there are signs renter demand is starting to wane because millennials are marrying, having children and buying homes or moving into single-family rentals. The U.S. added 1.3 million owner households in the first quarter over the same period last year and lost 286,000 renter households, according to U.S. Census data released in April.”
  • “Despite the recent slowdown, apartment owners note that the market is far from crashing and rent growth remains just below historic norms.”
  • “Little concern has arisen that the softening could have broader economic repercussions for the U.S. financial system. Compared with the last real-estate crash, owners say there are unlikely to be many foreclosures because they are carrying much less debt.”
  • “Jay Hiemenz, president and chief operating officer of Phoenix-based Alliance Residential, an apartment company, said banks are only giving loans to developers for about 65% of the cost to build a project, compared to 80% or more previously.”

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

WSJ – Daily Shot: Ripple 6/27

  • “Ripple is down 87% since early January.”

Entertainment

WSJ – The Pop Diva Identity Crisis – Neil Shah 10/18/17

Asia – excluding China and Japan

Bloomberg – Hermes Bags, Diamonds Worth $273 Million Taken in 1MDB Raids – Anisah Shukry 6/26

  • “Malaysia’s police seized about 1.1 billion ringgit ($273 million) of items that included Hermes International handbags, Rolex watches and cash in raids linked to former Prime Minister Najib Razak amid investigations into troubled state fund 1MDB.”
  • “Luxury goods such as a 6.4 million ringgit diamond necklace, 51.3 million ringgit worth of Hermes bags and more than 200 sunglasses valued at 374,000 ringgit were taken from five residences and an office linked to Najib, Amar Singh, commercial crime investigation department director at the police, told reporters on Wednesday.”
  • “The police had to form eight teams consisting of more than 150 officers to analyze the items for weeks, even working through the Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday, Singh said. Valuations may increase as not all items seized have been analyzed.”

FT – Malaysia police value assets seized in 1MDB-linked raids at $275m – Stefania Palma 6/27

China

Bloomberg – Chinese Stocks Enter Bear Market as Trade, Growth Risks Increase – Richard Frost and Jeanny Yu 6/25

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June 27, 2018

Perspective

WSJ – Marriage Is Out of Fashion. So Why Is Tiffany Selling More Engagement Rings? – Suzanne Kapner 6/20

  • Please note that the Y-axis base is 45% (still meaningful).

Tax Foundation – To What Extent Does Your State Rely on Property Taxes? – Ben Strachman and Katherine Loughead 6/20

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – The Best Free Investing Tools on the Web – Ben Carlson 6/25

Bloomberg – U.S. Housing Will Get Even Less Affordable – A. Gary Shilling 6/26

  • “More investor-owned properties and rising construction costs are just two reasons homes are out of reach for many.”

Bloomberg – The ‘Deep Fake’ Threat – The Editors 6/13

  • “High-tech forged videos could wreak havoc on politics. Policy makers must be ready.”

FT – Issues beyond Opec will drive oil prices in coming years – Nick Butler 6/24

  • “US shale oil production is set to have a dramatic effect on the global market.”

WSJ – Has the Big Yuan Short Finally Arrived? – Nathaniel Taplin 6/26

  • “As long as Chinese investors can make money gambling on housing – and companies can make money building or selling them – weakness in the stock and bond markets may not be enough to trigger a full-scale stampede out of the yuan.”
  • “Panic or no panic, a weaker Chinese currency in the months ahead still seems likely.”

Real Estate

Bloomberg Businessweek – The Modular-Home Maker That Could Make Housing Cheaper – Dina Bass 6/21

  • “Katerra saves money by buying everything from wood to toilets in bulk and using software and sensors to closely track materials, factory output, and construction speed. Its architects use software to build a catalog of standard buildings, rather than starting from scratch on each project, and to ensure contractors aren’t making impulsive structural decisions. Each generation of buildings has become steadily more prefab, requiring less work on-site and speeding construction.”
  • “…but Katerra has a lot of serious worries. While there are only a few standard models of iMac or Xbox, apartments are beholden to 110,000 U.S. municipalities’ building codes, each with its own idiosyncrasies. Regional seismic and weather needs can vary widely. And Katerra’s aim to steadily cut labor costs, meaning jobs, won’t exactly endear it to the industry.”

WSJ – Luxury Real Estate Comes to Urban Chinatowns – Katy McLaughlin 5/31

  • “High-end developments are appearing, attracting new residents as well as concerns about the displacement of the existing working-class.”

Energy

Bloomberg – Oil-Sands Outage Upends Global Oil Market, Overshadowing OPEC – Robert Tuttle and Kevin Orland 6/25

  • “The shutdown of a key oil-sands facility in Canada is flipping the global oil market on its head and slamming shares of producers that depend on the plant.”
  • “Just as OPEC and allied producers agreed to pour more oil into global markets, a transformer blast first reported by Bloomberg News last week cut power to Alberta’s giant Syncrude plant, which turns heavy crude into synthetic light oil for U.S. markets.”
  • “As less oil flows from up north, traders are paying a record premium for crude at America’s biggest distribution hub in Cushing, Oklahoma. Globally, the gap between Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate is narrowing rapidly after widening for months. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. called the shutdown the most dramatic event in the oil market last week, as opposed to OPEC’s meeting in Vienna. Shares of Suncor Energy Inc., which controls the plant, plunged the most in more than two years.”
  • “The 350,000-barrel-a-day facility, one of the biggest of its kind in the world, is going to be out of commission until the end of July, the company said.”
  • “While Saudi Arabia’s push to make sure OPEC boosts supplies by close to 1 million barrels a day is strongly weighing down on Brent crude futures in London, the shortage in Canada is supporting U.S. prices. That’s helping narrow the gap between the two benchmarks, reversing months of widening when the focus was on record production from shale fields. It has global implications because the premium helps buyers around the world decide whether to ship crude from the U.S. or elsewhere.”

Tech

CNN – It’s true: Teens are ditching Facebook – Jordan Valinsky 5/31

  • “A new study has confirmed what we’ve long expected: Facebook is no longer the most popular social media site among teens ages 13 to 17.”
  • “The Pew Research Center revealed on Thursday that only 51% of US teens use Facebook. That’s a 20% drop since 2015, the last time the firm surveyed teens’ social media habits.”
  • “Now, YouTube is the most popular platform among teens — about 85% say they use it. Not surprisingly, teens are also active on Instagram (72%) and Snapchat (69%). Meanwhile, Twitter (TWTR) followed at 32%, and Tumblr’s popularity (14%) remained the same since the 2015 survey.”
  • “When it comes to the platform they access most frequently throughout the day, Snapchat is king.”
  • “Although the study was only conducted among nearly 750 teens in a one month period starting this spring, the new numbers might be worrying for Facebook. The company recently rebounded from its first-ever decline in users in the US and Canada. But overall, its global growth has slowed. The two countries account for 185 million daily users.”
  • “But Daniel Ives, chief strategy officer and head of technology research at GBH Insights, argues Facebook-owned Instagram-owned is more important to the parent company than Facebook itself when it comes to younger users.”
  • “‘Instagram has captured that demographic better than anyone could have expected,’ Ives said. The numbers highlight ‘why Instagram is one of the best tech acquisitions done in the past 15 years.'”

Entertainment

WSJ – Comedies’ Misfortunes Are No Laughing Matter for Hollywood – Ben Fritz 6/25

  • “Last year’s most successful adult comedy, Girls Trip, took in $117 million in the U.S. and Canada. The last time the year’s highest-grossing comedy grossed so little was 1995, when tickets cost 52% less on average.”
  • “It wasn’t an anomaly. The five most successful adult comedies grossed an average of $141 million in 2013, $109 million in 2015 and just $85 million last year.”
  • “So far in 2018, the biggest live-action comedy has been Game Night, which took in just $69 million. Melissa McCarthy’s Life of the Party, has grossed $52 million, her lowest-grossing comedy ever. Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty is finishing its box office run with $49 million, less than half of her debut hit Trainwreck. Action Point, from the producer and star of Jackass, has grossed just $5 million, compared with $117 million for Jackass 3-D in 2010.”
  • “Just five years ago, things were quite different. In 2013, Ms. McCarthy and Sandra Bullock’s The Heat and the raucous R-rated We’re the Millers each grossed more than $150 million domestically. Another movie with Ms. McCarthy, Identity Thief, was close behind with $135 million. Grown Ups 2, Anchorman 2, Bad Grandpa, This is the End and even the widely maligned Hangover Part III all exceeded $100 million in domestic ticket sales.”
  • “Now, the only major comedy hits are those made for children. Peter Rabbit, featuring computer-generated critters that outsmart real-life adults, grossed a healthy $115 million in February, and animated comedies like Despicable Me 3 and The Boss Baby were top grossers last year.”
  • The Incredibles 2, which mixes family-friendly action, comedy and drama, scored a massive $182.7 million in its opening weekend.”
  • “Though certain subgenres like romantic comedy have nearly disappeared, most studios aren’t yet abandoning adult comedy. They have, however, slashed spending on them so that they can potentially become profitable on lower grosses than were needed in the past. No comedy stars earn the $20 million per picture that Messrs. Carrey and Sandler and Ms. Roberts sometimes did in the past.”
  • Tag is a recent example of the new approach. Made for just $28 million, it features no major comedy stars and was sold primarily on its concept, a real-life story about grown friends in a decades long game of tag that was based on a Wall Street Journal article.”
  • “’There was a time when comedies were being made for $70 million. Then $45 million. Now the sweet spot is in the 20s,’ said Todd Garner, a producer of Tag who previously produced comedies starring Mr. Sandler.”

Environment / Science

Economist – Climate change is making the Arab world more miserable 5/31

  • “Apathy towards climate change is common across the Middle East and north Africa, even as the problems associated with it get worse. Longer droughts, hotter heatwaves and more frequent dust storms will occur from Rabat to Tehran, according to Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. Already-long dry seasons are growing longer and drier, withering crops. Heat spikes are a growing problem too, with countries regularly notching lethal summer temperatures. Stretch such trends out a few years and they seem frightening—a few decades and they seem apocalyptic.”
  • “The institute forecasts that summer temperatures in the Middle East and north Africa will rise over twice as fast as the global average. Extreme temperatures of 46°C (115°F) or more will be about five times more likely by 2050 than they were at the beginning of the century, when similar peaks were reached, on average, 16 days per year. By 2100 ‘wet-bulb temperatures’—a measure of humidity and heat—could rise so high in the Gulf as to make it all but uninhabitable, according to a study in Nature (though its most catastrophic predictions are based on the assumption that emissions are not abated). Last year Iran came close to breaking the highest reliably recorded temperature of 54°C (129°F), which Kuwait reached the year before.”
  • “Water presents another problem. The Middle East and north Africa have little of it to begin with, and rainfall is expected to decline because of climate change. In some areas, such as the Moroccan highlands, it could drop by up to 40%. (Climate change might bring extra rain to coastal countries, such as Yemen, but that will probably be offset by higher evaporation.) Farmers struggling to nourish thirsty crops are digging more wells, draining centuries-old aquifers. A study using NASA satellites found that the Tigris and Euphrates basins lost 144 cubic kilometers (about the volume of the Dead Sea) of fresh water from 2003 to 2010. Most of this reduction was caused by the pumping of groundwater to make up for reduced rainfall.”
  • “Climate change is making the region even more volatile politically. When eastern Syria was ravaged by drought from 2007 to 2010, 1.5m people fled to cities, where many struggled. In Iran, a cycle of extreme droughts since the 1990s caused thousands of frustrated farmers to abandon the countryside. Exactly how much these events fueled the war that broke out in Syria in 2011 and recent unrest in Iran is a topic of considerable debate. They have certainly added to the grievances that many in both countries feel.”
  • “The mere prospect of shortages can lead to conflicts, as states race to secure water supplies at the expense of downstream neighbors. When Ethiopia started building an enormous dam on the Nile, potentially limiting the flow, Egypt, which relies on the river for nearly all of its water, threatened war. Turkish and Iranian dams along the Tigris, Euphrates and other rivers have raised similar ire in Iraq, which is beset by droughts.”
  • “Politics often gets in the way of problem-solving. Countries are rarely able to agree on how to share rivers and aquifers. In Gaza, where the seepage of saltwater and sewage into an overused aquifer raises the risk of disease, a blockade by Israel and Egypt has made it harder to build and run desalination plants. In Lebanon there is little hope that the government, divided along sectarian lines, will do anything to forestall the decline in the water supply predicted by the environment ministry. Countries such as Iraq and Syria, where war has devastated infrastructure, will struggle to prepare for a hotter, drier future.”

FT – China’s carbon emissions set for fastest growth in 7 years – Lucy Hornby and Leslie Hook 5/29

  • “China’s carbon emissions are on track to rise at their fastest pace in more than seven years during 2018, casting further doubt on the ability of the Paris climate change agreement to curb dangerous greenhouse gas increases, according to a Greenpeace analysis based on Beijing’s own data.”
  • “The latest finding comes as climate researchers express concern over rising emissions in China, which accounts for more than a quarter of global carbon dioxide output.”
  • “Global emissions were flat from 2014-16 but began rising again in 2017 as the Chinese economy recovered and as emission grew in the EU and the rest of Asia. Scientists are concerned the trend in China will continue this year.”
  • “Although China has invested heavily in renewable energy such as wind and solar, a key reason for its emissions growth is rising demand for oil and gas due to increased car ownership and electricity demand.”

Agriculture

WSJ – Daily Shot: CBOT Corn (Dec) Futures 6/25

WSJ – Daily Shot: CBOT Soybean Futures (Nov) 6/25

Asia – excluding China and Japan

FT – 1MDB says audits labelled unreliable by KPMG – Stefania Palma, Edward White and Michael Peel 6/25

  • “KPMG has said its annual audits of 1Malaysia Development Berhad from 2010 to 2012 were unreliable after information was withheld by former 1MDB managers, the scandal-hit fund said.”
  • “’If the documents had been disclosed to the auditors, KPMG believed the information would have materially impacted the financial statements and the relevant audit reports,’ the fund said in a statement on Tuesday.”
  • “The wealth fund, which was established in 2009 under then-prime minister Najib Razak, is the focus of a global corruption investigation, with authorities alleging that $4.5bn has gone missing.”
  • “The allegedly omitted audit details came to light after the new government of Mahathir Mohamad — which won power in a stunning election victory in May — released an auditor-general’s report into 1MDB that had been classified under the previous administration.”
  • “KPMG was sacked as 1MDB auditor at the end of 2013 after raising concerns about more than $2.3bn said to have been held in the Cayman Islands on behalf of the fund, according to an auditor-general draft report seen by the Financial Times in 2015.”
  • “The accounting firm was unhappy because 1MDB would not share documents KPMG wanted to help it assess the fund’s financial activities linked to the Caribbean islands.”

Russia

Economist – Russia’s role in shooting down an airliner becomes official 5/30

  • “It was an important demand, if one with little hope of success. On May 29th the Netherlands’ foreign minister, Stef Blok, insisted at the UN Security Council in New York that Russia ‘accept its responsibility’ in the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. The airliner was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile over Ukraine in 2014, killing 196 Dutch nationals, 38 Australians and 64 others. Last week a UN-mandated Joint Investigation Team (JIT), led by Dutch prosecutors, announced it had determined that the missile belonged to a unit deployed to the area by the Russian Army’s 53rd anti-aircraft brigade, presumably to help Russian-backed secessionists fighting the Ukrainian army.”
  • “The Kremlin has always denied any involvement in the downing of MH17 or the war in Ukraine. (Asked about the JIT’s findings, Mr Putin responded, ‘Which plane are you talking about?’) Instead it has spread conflicting alternative theories blaming the Ukrainians, often backed up with demonstrably fake evidence. But the investigators’ dossier is voluminous. It includes photos and video taken by passers-by that track the convoy carrying the missile from its base near Kursk, in Russia, to the Ukraine border. The JIT also has the fuselage of what appears to be the missile itself, recovered near the crash site. The Netherlands and Australia now say they will hold Russia accountable for its role, and want negotiations on a settlement.”

May 29, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

WSJ – The Tragedy of Venezuela – Anatoly Kurmanaev 5/24

  • “Last weekend, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro dragged his Socialist government into a third decade in power by winning elections that were boycotted by the opposition, ignored by most of his countrymen and rejected by the international community. As sluggish voting drew to a close, a smiling and confident Mr. Maduro posted a video of himself waving not to throngs of adoring supporters but to a largely empty public square.”
  • By the end of 2018, it will have shrunk by an estimated 35% since 2013, the steepest contraction in the country’s 200-year history and the deepest recession anywhere in the world in decades. From 2014 to 2017, the poverty rate rose from 48% to 87%, according to a survey by the country’s top universities. Some nine out of 10 Venezuelans don’t earn enough to meet basic needs. Children die from malnutrition and medicine shortages. An estimated three million Venezuelans, 10% of the population, have left the country in the two decades of Socialist rule, almost half of them in the past two years, according to Tomás Páez, a researcher at the Central University of Venezuela.”
  • “If Mr. Maduro didn’t know when to stop the music, the idea for the endless party came from his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, who died just a month before I arrived in 2013. The strongman charmed his countrymen with a silver tongue, his love of dancing and singing and his disdain for the hated austerity packages imposed by previous Venezuelan presidents. As oil prices shot up in his last decade, Mr. Chavez not only failed to save any of the windfall but buried the country in debt.”
  • “Along the way, he imposed capital controls to try to stop money from fleeing the country. The arbitrary exchange rate system suffocated private enterprise and investment, but the poor got subsidized food and free housing. The middle class got up to $8,000 of almost-free credit card allowances a year for travel and shopping. And the rich and politically connected siphoned off up to $30 billion a year of heavily subsidized dollars through shell companies, according to the planning minister at the time.”
  • “The currency and price controls implemented by Mr. Chávez broke the basic link between supply and demand, creating surreal economic distortions. A business-class Air France return ticket from Caracas to my hometown in Siberia would cost me $400, yet a 15-year-old Suzuki jalopy with no air conditioning and 150,000 miles set me back $4,600.”
  • “Caracas in 2013 reminded me of a tropical version of the Soviet periphery. Basic goods like flour and aspirin had fixed prices and were so cheap that companies had no incentive to make them. When you did find them, it made sense to grab as much as you could carry. Who knew when you would find them again? Like Russia in the 1980s, people dealt with shortages by resorting to the black market, hoarding goods and trading perks of their jobs, like bureaucratic stamps of approval or access to car batteries, for other favors or products.”
  • “But Venezuela’s collapse has been far worse than the chaos that I experienced in the post-Soviet meltdown. As a young person, I was still able to get a good education in a public school with subsidized meals and decent free hospital treatment. By contrast, as the recession took hold in Venezuela, the so-called Socialist government made no attempt to shield health care and education, the two supposed pillars of its program. This wasn’t Socialism. It was kleptocracy—the rule of thieves.”
  • “In Venezuela, I saw children abandon schools that had stopped serving meals and teachers trade their lesson books for pickaxes to work in dangerous mines. I saw pictures of horse carcasses on the grounds of the top university’s veterinary school—killed and eaten because of the lack of food.”
  • “Hyperinflation, set to reach 14,000% this year, has transformed the most basic transactions into Kafkaesque trials. Cash is extremely scarce, card payment networks are overloaded, cell phone coverage is worse than in Syria, and online banking systems constantly crash because of underinvestment. Paying for a cup of coffee can take an hour.”
  • “The crisis has even made it harder for the ruling elite to enjoy its privileged status. Despite access to official dollars and the protection of security details, top apparatchiks now avoid the best restaurants, the plushest resorts and business-class lounges, where they fear encountering the hatred of their compatriots. Sanctions and fears of corruption probes have barred many of them from trips to the U.S. and much of Europe.”
  • “After 2016, I no longer had to travel to report on the toll of the economic crisis. It was visible all around me: in the sagging skin of neighbors, the dimming eyes of janitors and security guards, the children’s scuffles for mangos from a nearby tree. It is profoundly depressing to watch people you know grow thinner and more dejected day by day, year after year. When I look back at my five years in Venezuela, it’s not the time I spent covering riots, violent street protests or armed gangs that stirs the most feeling. It’s the slow decay of the people I encountered every day.”
  • “For most ordinary Venezuelans I know, Mr. Maduro’s foreordained victory last weekend snuffed out the last glimmer of hope that their lives can improve through democratic and peaceful means. What’s left is exile or further misery.”

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: CNN – Global School Shootings Since 2009 5/25

Slate – Eighties Babies Are Officially the Brokest Generation, Federal Reserve Study Concludes – Jordan Weissmann 5/23

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Teachable Moment – When Fees Go Up in Seconds, It’s Time to Go – Dina Isola 5/25

FT – New York property jitters herald declines elsewhere – Gillian Tett 5/24

  • “Clouds are hovering over New York’s housing market. A couple of years ago, property prices were spiraling ever higher — much like the new luxury skyscrapers now springing up in midtown Manhattan.”
  • “But estate agents say that sales volumes in the first quarter of 2018 were at their lowest level for six years. Meanwhile the median price per square foot was 18% lower than a year earlier, according to some reports.”
  • For those of you not living in Manhattan and that don’t own property there, you think, so what? The thing is … “last month the IMF published its first comprehensive analysis of global property and this suggests that real estate is becoming prone to synchronization too. Two decades ago, only 10% of property price movements could be blamed on global — not local — factors. Now it is 30%.”
  • “…What is striking is that this real estate synchronization is affecting urban centers in both emerging and advanced economies. Or as the report notes: ‘House prices in major cities outside the United States — Beijing, Dublin, Hong Kong SAR, London, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, Toronto and Vancouver — are positively associated with US house price dispersions’.”
  • “This might seem unsurprising. After all, the global elite hop across borders at dizzying speed. So does financial capital, and sentiment-shaping news. Meanwhile, the market capitalization of the real estate investment trust sector has tripled in the past 15 years, and large asset managers allocate on average of 11% of their portfolios to property.”
  • “This has made the housing market more ‘financialized’, since some investors are treating housing more like a tradeable asset, chasing yields around the world. No wonder that a decade of ultra-loose monetary policy in the west has lifted so many geographically dispersed real estate boats.”
  • “…the key point is this: if (or when) global financial conditions eventually become less benign, there will probably be downward movement in housing markets too, with some unexpected spillover effects.”
  • “Indeed, the most intriguing point in the IMF report is that ‘heightened synchronicity of house prices can signal a downside tail risk to real economic activity, especially when taking place in a buoyant credit environment’.”
  • “In plain English, this means that a correlated boom in global real estate markets can signal trouble ahead. We should keep a close eye on those estate agents’ reports in New York — as well as London or Hong Kong. The Big Apple’s jitters might yet be a canary in the coal-mine.”

FT View – A wise autocrat knows what he does not control 5/23

  • “Turkey’s president risks losing his fight with the financial markets.”

The Irrelevant Investor – Never Begin With the End in Mind – Michael Batnick 5/25

NYT – Elon Musk, the Donald of Silicon Valley – Bret Stephens 5/25

WSJ – Banks Won Big in Washington. What It Means for Investors – Jason Zweig 5/25

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: US Existing Homes Sales 5/24

WSJ – Daily Shot: NAR US Existing Homes Months Supply 5/25

WSJ – Daily Shot: Change in US Single-Family Homes Sales 5/25

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg – Zillow – Rise in Home Sales – Select markets 5/25

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: eia – US Average regular gasoline price 5/25

Shipping

FT – Maersk raises shipping rates as oil price spike bites – Joe Leahy and Richard Milne 5/24

  • “The world’s biggest container shipping group Maersk Line told customers it is raising prices in response to increased marine fuel costs, showing how the surge in oil prices to their highest levels in four years is rippling through the global supply chain.” 
  • “Bunker prices, as marine fuel is known, have risen more than 20% since the start of the year, and in Europe have hit $440 per metric ton, the highest since 2014. That has forced Maersk to introduce an ’emergency bunker surcharge’, the company told customers in a note.” 

Education

WSJ – Mike Meru Has $1 Million in Student Loans. How Did That Happen? – Josh Mitchell 5/25

  • “Due to escalating tuition and easy credit, the U.S. has 101 people who owe at least $1 million in federal student loans, according to the Education Department. Five years ago, 14 people owed that much.”
  • “More could join that group. While the typical student borrower owes $17,000, the number of those who owe at least $100,000 has risen to around 2.5 million, nearly 6% of the borrowing pool, Education Department data show.”
  • “For graduate-school students especially, there is little incentive for universities to help put the brakes on big borrowing. The government essentially allows grad students to borrow any amount to cover tuition and living costs, with few guardrails on how the final sum will be repaid.”
  • “More than a third of borrowers from one of the government’s main graduate school lending programs have enrolled in some form of federal loan-forgiveness plan.”
  • “Dental school is the costliest higher-education program in the U.S. Private nonprofit schools during the 2015-2016 school year charged an average of $71,820 a year, the Urban Institute found. The USC program now costs $91,000 a year, and $137,000 when living expenses are included.”
  • “Mr. Meru’s financial records—provided to The Wall Street Journal—show he borrowed $601,506 to attend USC—a debt swelled to more than $1 million by fees and interest.”

Asia – excluding China and Japan

FT – Malaysia police seized $28.6m cash in 1MDB probe raid – Ben Bland 5/25

  • “The cash confiscated last week from a luxury Kuala Lumpur apartment linked to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad investigation was worth RM114m ($28.6m), Malaysian police said on Friday.”
  • “The hoard, composed of Malaysian ringgit, US dollars and 24 other currencies, was seized alongside 284 luxury handbags and 37 other bags full of jewelry and watches from an empty apartment at the Pavilion Residences condominiums.”
  • We’re talking liquid-hard currency…
  • “Amar Singh, the head of the commercial crime unit, said it took police and 21 officers from Malaysia’s central bank three days to count the stash, which is now being held in the bank’s vaults.”

Japan

WSJ – In Booming Japan, the Phillips Curve Is Dead – Greg Ip 5/23

May 24, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

FT – Era of ‘lower for longer’ oil prices is dead – Amrita Sen and Yasser Elguindi (Energy Aspects) 5/22

  • “When oil collapsed in 2014 under the weight of US shale production, it ushered in a new-found belief that prices would remain ‘lower for longer’.”
  • “The rampant new source of crude supplies was seen to be capable of meeting rising world demand almost single-handedly, obviating the need for extra Opec barrels ever again.”
  • “As such, the concept of a ‘shale price band’ emerged of roughly $40 to $55 per barrel, reflecting the range within which the majority of US shale producers could turn a profit without the risk of the industry growing so fast that it would again flood the market. And for the better part of three years, from 2015 to 2017, oil prices traded in this range.”
  • “But in 2018, this narrative has been slowly picked apart and is now in the process of disintegrating.”
  • “While there has been breathless attention paid to prompt Brent prices climbing to $80 a barrel for the first time since 2014, what has received less attention is that the entire Brent forward curve is now trading above $60, including contracts for delivery as far out as December 2024.”
  • “This development is an important psychological milestone for the oil market. The market is, in effect, saying that ‘lower for longer’ is dead.”
  • “The reality is that US shale has been unable to meet rising global oil demand, which has averaged 1.7m b/d per year since 2014 — double the level at the start of this decade — and inventories have drawn down as a consequence, eliminating the buffer that had been built up.”
  • “This inventory fall has been helped by strong demand growth and the Opec/non-Opec deal to curtail output since January 2017, which has since been superseded by rapid declines in Venezuelan and Angolan production and, more recently, non-Opec production outside of the US.”
  • “The inevitable supply deficit is very worrying, with very limited spare production capacity available globally.”
  • “Two main themes are now starting to impact investor thinking and drive the new-found interest in exposure to energy.”
  • “First, recent supply data are finally reflecting the ill effects from under-investment due to the collapse in capital expenditure since 2015. The data are now showing accelerating decline rates across important suppliers such as Brazil, Norway and Angola.”
  • “Second, the impressive strength in demand has been overshadowed in the past two years by the narrative dominated by electric cars.”
  • “But slowly this has given way to a recognition that while electric cars will undoubtedly alter the trajectory for global oil demand in the long term, this trend will not reach critical mass in the medium term (the next five years) to sufficiently make up for the expected fall in oil supplies due to the lack of investment.”
  • “So, even though expectations are for oil demand growth to slow from current levels, consumption will still be robust enough that — barring a major recession — the market will need new supplies to meet that growth.”
  • “The physical oil market is only going to face greater strain ahead of the marine fuel specification change in 2020, which is set to boost demand for products such as diesel and ultra-low sulphur fuel oil by 2m to 3m b/d.”
  • “As a result, we believe that oil prices may spike to above $100 per barrel, a price forecast we have held for the latter half of 2019 for three years now.”
  • “The shale price band has been decisively broken and 2018 will be a watershed year: the market will realize that US shale alone cannot meet the world’s incremental demand growth and future prices must rise to re-incentivize long-cycle investments (or curtail demand).”
  • “Nothing ever moves in a straight line, but the broader oil market is perhaps not prepared for what will happen to oil prices over the next couple of years.”

Perspective

Economist – Weather and violence displace millions inside borders every year – The Data Team 5/22

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Boston Globe – Gas and mortgages are getting expensive again. Welcome to a normal economy – Evan Horowitz 5/22

CNBC – Silicon Valley tech bubble is larger than it was in 2000, and the end is coming – Keith Wright 5/22

  • “The age of the unicorn likely peaked a few years ago. In 2014 there were 42 new unicorns in the United States; in 2015 there were 43. The unicorn market hasn’t reached that number again. In 2017, 33 new U.S. companies achieved unicorn status from a total of 53 globally. This year there have been 11 new unicorns, according to PitchBook data as of May 15, but these numbers tend to move around, and I believe the 279 unicorns recorded globally in late February by TechCrunch was the peak, where the start-up bubble was stretched to its limit.”
  • “A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concludes that, on average, unicorns are roughly 50% overvalued. The research, conducted by Will Gornall at the University of British Columbia and Ilya Strebulaev of Stanford, examined 135 unicorns. Of those 135, the researchers estimate that nearly half, or 65, should be more fairly valued at less than $1 billion.”
  • “Don’t let the few recent successes in the 2017 IPO market fool you. After two years of stagnation in terms of the number of IPOs being filed in the United States — 275 IPOs (2014), 170 IPOs (2015) and 105 IPOs (2016) — deal counts have dropped to their lowest figure since 2012.”
  • “Seventy-six percent of the companies that went public last year were unprofitable on a per-share basis in the year leading up to their initial offerings, according to data compiled by Jay Ritter, a professor at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business, and recently featured in The New York Times. This is the largest number since the peak of the dot-com boom in 2000, when 81% of newly public companies were unprofitable.”
  • “The current volatility and correction evolving in the private market will be amplified for companies that have yet to make money and are burning cash faster than they’re bringing it in. Growth at all costs will not weather an economic storm.”
  • “Since the Snap IPO in March 2017 at $17 a share, when its shares surged 44% during its first day of trading, they have now declined to $11. Dropbox also went public. It had a first-day pop of 36%; however, with only 200,000 paying customers compared to its 500 million users, I would be hesitant to rush in to buy, even as it comes off that year-to-date high considerably. Another highly valued start-up, Blue Apron, went public at $10 a share in June and is now trading at $3. Remember Fitbit was a $45 stock in 2015 — it’s currently trading at just over $5.”

Economist – Markets may be underpricing climate-related risk 5/23

FT – Tanking currencies are bad news all round – Jonathan Wheatley 5/22

  • “Currency wars give no edge to exporters but do cause economic harm.”

Fortune – Retail Reckoning: How Private Equity Is Boosting Some Brands and Crushing Others – Phil Wahba 4/24

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bianco Research – Google Search Trends – Consumer Spending 5/23

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bianco Research – Google Search Trends – Consumer Difficulties 5/23

Markets / Economy

CNBC – Inflation is coming to the US economy on an 18-wheel flatbed – Jeff Cox 5/22

  • “Multiple signs of inflation in freight-related industries are at or near historical highs, in what could be an early sign that price pressures are building and ready to reverberate around the economy.”
  • “Freight marketplace DAT keeps track of supply and demand in the freight industry through a bulletin board that matches companies with loads to be delivered to the vehicles that will take the goods to the marketplace. The measures are in the spot market, where vendors that don’t contract their deliveries find drivers for their products.”
  • “Recent readings show demand for vehicles skyrocketing, a sign that generally points to inflationary pressures building up in the supply chain.”
  • “Loads on the spot market in general are up 100% from the same period a year ago. Another measure, the flatbed load-to-truck comparison, which tracks the amount of vendors looking for flatbeds and is generally the highest of all truck types, is up 142%.”
  • “The numbers by themselves, though, don’t indicate that inflation is ready to strike soon. Indeed, the most recent readings, such as the consumer and producer price indexes, show inflation pressures rising though relatively benign.”
  • “But they do jibe with some other indicators showing inflation is rising beneath the surface.”

FT – US has more than 5,600 banks. Consolidation is coming – Ben McLannahan 5/22

  • “The US’s banks have largely sat out the mergers and acquisitions wave of recent years. While deal records have fallen in almost every other sector, big banks have done almost nothing, shrinking rather than expanding. And merger activity among small and mid-sized banks — some 5,607 of them, at last count — has been subdued.”
  • “But when Fifth Third Bancorp of Cincinnati revealed its $4.7bn swoop for Chicago’s MB Financial on Monday morning, shares in other Chicago-area banks began to move, too. Wintrust, a similar-sized bank based in Rosemont, Illinois, ended the day up almost 4%, while First Midwest of Itasca closed up 3%.”
  • “The implications were obvious: after years of thin activity in bank M&A, this deal could mark a turn.” 
  • “The conditions for dealmaking look better than at any time since the financial crisis. Higher interest rates and lower taxes have pumped up bank profits, giving management teams stronger platforms from which to contemplate doing something radical.”

WSJ – Rising Dollar Sparks Tumult in Emerging Markets – Ira Iosebashvili, Josh Zumbrun, and Julie Wernau 5/21

  • “U.S. currency’s rally puts spotlight on weaknesses in a broad range of emerging-market assets.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Who Needs a Down Payment? Trade In Your Old Home Instead – Laura Kusisto 5/22

  • “Opendoor offers to take the hassle out of selling an old home to buy a new one.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE – Home Builder Land Acquisitions 5/23

Energy

FT – The geopolitics of electric cars will be messy – Henry Sanderson 5/22

  • “Oil has had a leading role in geopolitics over the past 100 years, sucking western powers into an often disastrous dependence on the Middle East.”
  • “While black gold, as oil is sometimes known, is not always the overt cause of conflict, it is linked to between one quarter and a half of all interstate conflicts globally between 1973 and 2012, according to a 2013 study by Jeff Colgan of Brown University.”
  • “But it would be a mistake to assume that geopolitical tensions will miraculously ease in a future in which renewable energy sources dominate. Building wind turbines and creating lithium-ion batteries requires metals and raw materials from those countries which are blessed, or potentially cursed, with them.”
  • “And for some of these commodities, their high concentration in particular parts of the world sharpens the risks.”
  • “A clean energy economy will require a staggering volume of metals to be prized from the ground.”
  • “For example, Olivier Vidal of the University Grenoble Alpes estimates that to build the infrastructure for clean energy the amount of copper needed amounts to almost half the total mined since 1900.”
  • “There is also the real risk that the age of the electric car will generate corporate monopolies, echoing those of Standard Oil whose founder John D Rockefeller cornered the oil market more than a century ago as the combustion engine took off.”
  • “Glencore, the Switzerland-based and London-listed miner, is expanding its production of cobalt which is set to give it a 40% share of global supply by 2020.”
  • “The production of lithium, a key ingredient for batteries in electric cars as well as smartphones, is controlled by just five companies.”
  • “However, rather than tensions with the Middle East, the advent of the electric car will usher in greater friction with China. Beijing’s ambitions in clean energy are enormous.”
  • “As part of the ‘Made in China 2025’ plan to advance high-end manufacturing, the government wants to establish a grip on the production of electric cars and clean energy technology.”
  • “The rest of the year will provide further signs of the capital and scale that China is bringing to this competition.”
  • “No one is giving China a free run at the metals that have emerged as central to electric cars.”
  • “Trade tensions with US President Donald Trump are already brewing. This month his administration released a list of 35 minerals, including lithium and cobalt, that are ‘considered critical to the economic and national security of the United States.’”
  • “Chile, which has the world’s largest lithium reserves, is looking to build battery components, while South Africa, a producer of vanadium, wants to produce electrolytes for vanadium batteries, which are used to store energy for the electric grid.”
  • “Europe, too, is beginning to build its own giant battery factories to supply Germany’s car companies and the UK’s innovation agency has backed a study that uses satellites to look for lithium in Cornwall.”
  • “The geopolitics of the era of the electric car are in their infancy. While it is unlikely to lead to military conflict, the tensions, especially with China, over who will control the resources and technologies that will underpin electric cars will be heightened.”
  • “Over the long term, the winners are likely to be those countries and companies that can develop battery technology that relies on materials that are abundant rather than scarce. It might even help make the geopolitics a little less fraught.”

Finance

FT Alphaville – ‘Some of the worst covenants that we’ve ever seen’ – Alexandra Scaggs 5/21

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

WSJ – Buyer Beware: Hundreds of Bitcoin Wannabes Show Hallmarks of Fraud – Shane Shifflett and Coulter Jones 5/17

Environment / Science

Axios – Next climate challenge: A/C demand expected to triple – Ben Geman 5/15

Construction

WSJ – Daily Shot: CME Lumber (Jul) Futures 5/22

Asia – excluding China and Japan

FT – Malaysia says it has been ‘bailing out’ 1MDB – Alice Woodhouse and Harry Jacques 5/22

  • “Malaysia has paid almost RM7bn ($1.8bn) to service debt owed by 1MDB, the south-east Asian nation’s finance ministry said on Tuesday, as investigators ratcheted up their probe into the state investment fund from which $4.5bn is alleged to have gone missing.”
  • “Two weeks after voters ousted the government of Najib Razak, the finance ministry said it had been ‘bailing out’ the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund since April 2017, adding that another RM144m interest payment was due on May 30.”
  • “The revelation ‘confirms the public suspicion that 1MDB had essentially deceived Malaysians by claiming that [the payments] have been paid via a ‘successful rationalization exercise’,’ the ministry said in a statement. ‘All the while it has been the MoF [ministry of finance] who has bailed out 1MDB.'”
  • “Earlier on Tuesday, Malaysia’s new anti-corruption chief said he had been harassed and received a death threat after he pursued a 2015 investigation into 1MDB.”

India

FT – Oil price rise puts heat on Narendra Modi’s government – Amy Kazmin 5/22

  • “In 2016 — as global crude oil prices fell to about $40 per barrel — India, which imports nearly 80% of its petroleum, levied new excise duties on petrol and diesel to stabilize prices and prevent a surge in demand.” 
  • “Since then, New Delhi has come to depend heavily on those revenues to shore up its fragile public finances, especially as receipts from the goods and services tax introduced last year have failed to stabilize at expected levels.” 
  • “But after global crude oil prices hit a four-year high of more than $80 per barrel last week, India’s fuel pump prices — for decades subsidized by the government and held artificially low — have jumped to among the highest in south Asia.”
  • “Industry groups are pressing New Delhi to pare back excise duties on fuel, warning that the high prices will undermine an economy only now recovering from the successive disruption of a dramatic cash ban and the introduction of the goods and services tax.”
  • “But any meaningful rollback to ease pressure on consumers will raise doubts over the ability of Mr Modi’s administration to meet its target of cutting the fiscal deficit to just 3.3% of gross domestic product.”
  • “’India’s reliance on oil revenue has now surpassed the Malaysian government’s reliance on oil revenues — and Malaysia is an oil exporter,’ said Vikas Halan, senior vice-president at Moody’s Investors Service, the rating agency. ‘The government can always roll back excise duty — there is no one stopping them — but the issue is, how will they compensate for the loss of revenue?’”
  • “Last year, excise duties on petroleum products, which are about a quarter of the retail price of petrol and diesel, accounted for 17% of New Delhi’s total revenue collection. For every R1 that the government pares back these excise duties, it will lose an estimated $1.8bn in revenues, or about 0.1% of annual GDP.” 
  • “Adding to the overall pressure is the recent weakening of the Indian rupee, which has fallen 6% this year to a 16-month low of Rs68.1 per dollar. Further depreciation will mean even higher local fuel prices. Bond markets are also jittery, with yields rising.”

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Market Exchange Rate – USD / Venezuelan Bolivar 5/23

WSJ – After Venezuela Strongman’s Victory, Isolated Nation Faces Growing Chaos – Kejal Vyas, Ryan Dube, and Juan Forero 5/21

Other Interesting Links

CNBC – The richest person in every state, according to Forbes – Emmie Martin 5/22

June 19, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

FT – The real risks of the falling oil price – Nick Butler 6/11

  • “In any discussion of the oil market it is all too easy to ignore the real world consequences of the price fall that has occurred over the last three years. We might appreciate a small cut in the price of petrol or gasoline at the pump, even though its effect is dampened by high levels of taxation. But we do not give much thought to the impact of price changes on the supplying countries. That is short-sighted because the structural shift that has taken place is profoundly destabilizing and potentially very dangerous.”
  • “A new note from the Energy Information Administration in the US published last month sets out the impact of the fall in prices in recent years. It is worth summarizing the data, which are expressed in real 2016 dollars.”
  • “These are big numbers for all the countries involved. Very few have diverse economies that can adjust quickly to the fall in the price of a crucial export commodity. Most have large dependent populations, especially of children and young people. Nigeria, for instance, has some 115m people, amounting to 61% of its population, under the age of 25; Angola 13m — 63% of its population.”
  • “But simply looking down on the failings of the oil producers is not an adequate response.”
  • “The price fall has reduced the revenue of the Opec states by some $750bn from the 2012 level — a fall of over 60%. None have fully adapted to that loss of income. Most have assumed that the price change would be temporary and some have even borrowed to cover the shortfall of revenue against current spending — thereby storing up even more problems for the future.”
  • “The real pain of enforced austerity is only just beginning and will deepen as governments realize that the price fall is more structural than cyclical. The latest attempt to manage the market by extending the production quota for another nine months has had no positive effect. Prices for Brent crude on Friday were down to about $48 per barrel.”
  • “The pain will be profoundly destabilizing. At least five Opec states are at risk of very serious political and economic destabilization, including major economies such as Venezuela and Nigeria. Civil unrest is already evident in Libya and latent in Algeria. Across the whole of the cartel there is a substantial and growing group of restless, unemployed youths aged between 15 and 30.”
  • “In reality, the structural fall in the oil price is the most destabilizing economic event to have hit the world since the financial crash of 2008. In this case, the impact is being felt in slow motion but it is building and feeding on existing conflicts and tensions. And just as the collapse of the subprime housing market in the US shook the global economic system, so the problems of the cartel cannot be contained within the countries themselves. When problems are rapidly globalized through migration, terrorism and even health risks if key public services collapse, the deteriorating situation within Opec is all too likely to become our problem too.”

Perspective

Bloomberg – The U.S. Is Where the Rich Are the Richest – Ben Steverman 6/16

cnsnews.com – Census: More Americans 18-to-34 Now Live With Parents Than With Spouse – Terence Jeffrey 4/19

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – How Anbang Could Clog China’s Financial Plumbing – Anjani Trivedi 6/16

  • “China’s decision to detain the chairman of Anbang Insurance Group, one of the country’s most acquisitive companies, is stunning in itself. The knock-on effects on the Chinese financial system could deepen the drama.”
  • “If customers of Anbang—owner of New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel—start surrendering their policies and stop buying new ones, that could accelerate a continuing cash drain at the company. China’s insurance regulator has already been clamping down on the primary source of Anbang’s cash since late last year—short-term, high-yielding investment products disguised as insurance policies. Its premium income plunged 99% in April while its solvency ratio halved in the first quarter from the previous year.”
  • “The company’s tentacles reach far and deep into China’s financial system, with one key route being its lending of short-term funds into Chinese money markets.”
  • “Take its dealings with Chengdu Rural Commercial Bank, a provincial bank of which Anbang owns more than one-third, and which itself has some 40 subsidiaries across towns and villages in China. Anbang provides around 40% of the deposits for Chengdu Rural, and accounts for 80% of its related-party transactions, most of which are short-term, money-market loans. The bank also pays Anbang a high 5% interest on its deposits and holds some of Anbang’s debt.”
  • “Such tight relationships illustrate how financial stress at Anbang could quickly ripple through China’s banking system. Banks like Chengdu Rural have already become increasingly reliant on short-term wholesale funding and have been resorting to capital raises: The loss of a big cash provider like Anbang could cause real pain. Interbank funding conditions are already tight in China—the country’s central bank made its biggest one-day cash injection into the market in nearly six months on Friday. If the detention of Anbang’s chairman leads to the company stepping back more broadly from Chinese markets, the saga could have a while to run.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg – Nissans Crowding Rental-Car Lots Carry Risk as U.S. Sales Slow – Jamie Butters and John Lippert 5/30

Real Estate

Investment News – W.P. Carey exiting the nontraded REIT business – Bruce Kelly 6/16

Energy

Bloomberg – Solar Power Will Kill Coal Faster Than You Think – Jess Shankleman and Hayley Warren 6/15

National Post – This lonely drifting tanker carrying 2 million barrels nobody wants to buy sums up global oil’s struggle – Laura Hurst and Javier Blas 6/14

Asia – excluding China and Japan

FT – US targets $540m in assets bought with 1MDB funds – David Lynch 6/15

  • “The US Department of Justice on Thursday moved to seize an additional $540m in assets purchased with funds stolen from Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, including a luxury yacht, a Picasso painting, jewelery and rights to the movie Dumb and Dumber.” 
  • “The US now estimates that a total of $4.5bn was pilfered by Malaysian public officials and their associates including Jho Low, a well-connected Malaysian businessman who held no formal role in the project.” 
  • “Including the new lawsuit and earlier civil forfeiture actions, the US government has moved to recover $1.7bn of that amount, according to Kendall Day, acting deputy assistant attorney-general. This represents the largest such US seizure action under a DoJ initiative aimed at recovering money stolen by corrupt foreign officials.”

China

Bloomberg Businessweek – Try Getting Your Kid Into a Beijing Public School – Dexter Roberts 6/7

FT – A deal too far for China’s Anbang – Tom Mitchell, Henny Sender, Lucy Hornby, and Gabriel Wildau 6/16

  • “The apparent fall from grace of the founder Wu Xiaohui has shone a spotlight on a brand of Chinese capitalism that has taken root in the financial industry.”

South America

FT – Venezuela’s food parcels prove imperfect solution to crisis – Gideon Long 6/16

  • “According to Fedeagro, an agricultural association, Venezuela produces only enough food to cover between 30-40% of domestic consumption, compared with about 70% a decade ago. Chronic food shortages ensure that Venezuelans regularly skip meals and go hungry. A survey from the Universidad Central de Venezuela found that three-quarters of the Opec nation’s population lost weight involuntarily in 2016.”

Other Links

Tax Foundation – How High Are Wine Taxes In Your State? – Jose Trejos 6/15

May 3, 2017

Markets / Economy

WSJ – China Looks to Export Auto Overcapacity on Slow-Growth World – Anjani Trivedi 5/1

  • But that’s what you do… it’s what the US and Japanese automakers have done before them.

Bloomberg – Paul Tudor Jones Says U.S. Stocks Should ‘Terrify’ Janet Yellen – Katherine Burton and Katia Porzecanski 4/21

  • “Managers expecting the worst each have a pet harbinger of doom. Seth Klarman, who runs the $30 billion Baupost Group, told investors in a letter last week that corporate insiders have been heavy sellers of their company shares. To him, that’s ‘a sign that those who know their companies the best believe valuations have become full or excessive.'”
  • “Share sales by insiders outstripped purchases by $38 billion in the first quarter, the most since 2013, according to The Washington Service, a provider of data and analysis on insider trading.”

Real Estate

NYT – Supreme Court Rules Miami Can Sue for Predatory Lending – Adam Liptak 5/1

  • “The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Miami can sue two banks for predatory lending under the Fair Housing Act of 1968.”
  • “The case arose from the 2008 financial crisis. Miami sued Bank of America and Wells Fargo, saying that their discriminatory mortgage lending practices had led to a disproportionate number of defaults by minority home buyers and, in turn, to financial harm to the city.”
  • “Even as the majority of justices ruled that Miami was entitled to sue under the housing law, the court declined to decide whether the city had asserted a direct enough connection between the banks’ actions and the harm it claimed. The court sent the case back to the federal appeals court in Atlanta for further exploration of that question.”

Tech

Bloomberg – Inside China’s Plans for World Robot Domination – Dexter Roberts and Rachel Chang 4/24

Bloomberg – New iPhone Screen Puts Blue Spotlight on Japanese Supplier – Pavel Alpeyev and Takako Taniguchi 4/24

Environment / Science

Economist – The Arctic as it is known today is almost certainly gone 4/29

  • “In the past 30 years, the minimum coverage of summer ice has fallen by half; its volume has fallen by three-quarters. On current trends, the Arctic ocean will be largely ice-free in summer by 2040.”

Asia – excluding China and Japan

Economist – Cleaning Up: Malaysia and Abu Dhabi strike a deal over 1MDB – 4/27

Middle East

Economist – The smell of burnt rubber: Saudi Arabia’s young prince U-turns on reform 4/27

July 22 – July 28, 2016

How much spare crude oil is there – hard to tell.  Nontraded REIT sales struggling.  There are a lot of dangers lurking in the Chinese P2P market, but the yield is just SO GOOD…

Headlines

Briefs

    • Chinese wealth management products are looking a lot like the junk bonds used for corporate raiding in the late 1980s rather than the traditional insurance policies they are supposed to be.
    • “China’s insurance regulator has warned against insurers becoming ‘automatic teller machines’ for activist shareholders, in a veiled reference to the battle for control of China Vanke, China’s largest residential developer, by insurance conglomerate Baoneng Group.”
    • “We will let those that truly want to do insurance come and do insurance and absolutely not allow companies to become financing platforms and ‘ATMs’ for large shareholders.” – Xiang Junbo, chairman of the China Insurance Regulatory Commission
    • “There are major regulatory gaps that need to be addressed. These ‘universal’ products have absolutely nothing to do with insurance. Some of them are very risky, but commercial banks are distributing them, and people trust the banks.” – senior financial regulator
    • With Puerto Rico facing approximately a $2bn interest and principal payments due on its general obligation bonds on July 1 and not being able to make the payments, the U.S. Congress recently passed a law that was meant to give Puerto Rico a temporary reprieve from “legal sanctions by creditors so it could restructure its obligations in an orderly way, and to maintain essential services.”
    • Well, Puerto Rico took this reprieve to pay about half of the amounts due, only they chose to whom went the payments.  “Puerto Rico did not pay any interest or principal on the most senior, or general obligation bonds, but did make payments on more junior bonds. The government also paid its employees’ pension funds $170m more than what was required for this year, despite the pensions supposedly being legally subordinated to bondholders.”
    • The thing is that US Treasury officials advised on some of this reprioritization… you can see the dangerous precedence this sets for municipal bonds…
    • “The bonds on which interest payments were made on July 1, such as the Puerto Rico convention center district and the Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority, are disproportionately owned by bondholders on the island. Supposedly more-sophisticated mainland US investors had avoided these lower ranked issues on the misinformed premise that financial and legal analysis should outweigh political calculation.”
  • The Buttonwood column of The Economist highlighted a rather large potential problem the world is facing: the vanishing of working age adults
    • “The world is about to experience something not seen since the Black Death in the 14th century-lots of countries with shrinking populations. Already, there are around 25 countries with falling headcounts; by the last quarter of this century, projections by the United Nations suggests there may be more than 100.”
    • “The big question is whether economic growth and rising debt levels go hand-in-hand, or whether the former can continue without the latter. If it can’t, the future can be very challenging indeed. To generate growth in our ageing world may require a big improvement in productivity, or a sharp jump in labor-force participation among older workers.”
  • Christian Shepherd of the Financial Times covered that China is now enforcing its ban on original news reporting.
    • “A spokesman for Beijing Cyber Administration confirmed that state press reports that said conducting original reporting was a gross violation of the regulations (rule in place since 2005) and brought about ‘extremely nasty effects.’ The reports also said that the companies had been given a fixed period to ‘rectify’ the offending sites.”
    • “The trigger for the shutdown, according to media analysts, was coverage of flooding in northern China which – according to the official count – has left 130 dead and racked up damages of more than Rmb16bn ($2.4bn) in Hebei province alone.”
    • “The government does not want these platforms to provide their own news. They are only allowed to forward reports by outlets like Xinhua and the People’s Daily.” – Qiao Mu, a journalism professor in Beijing.

Special Reports

Graphics

FT – Renminbi drops to sixth in international payment ranking 7/20

FT_Top currencies for global payments_7-20-16

FT – Tough outlook for Hong Kong property – 7/21

FT_Tough outlook for Hong Kong property_7-21-16

Visual Capitalist – The Illusion of Choice in Consumer Brands – 7/21

Visual Capitalist_The illusion of choice in consumer brands_7-21-16

Bloomberg – Relief for Renters Will Prolong Fed’s Wait to Hit Inflation Goal 7/24

Bloomberg_Rising MF Supply_7-24-16

The Daily Shot 7/25

Daily Shot_Norway's Oil fund flows_7-25-16

FT – Landscape shifts for pipeline operators – Ed Crooks 7/24

FT_US Pipeline companies flow of funds_7-24-16

Economist – Buttonwood – Vanishing workers: Can the debt-fueled model of growth cope with ageing population? 7/23

Economist_Buttonwood - who will fill the jobs_7-23-16

WSJ – Why Pensions’ Last Defense Is Eroding – Timothy W. Martin 7/25

WSJ_Waning gains in public pensions_7-25-16

Economist – The Big Mac index: Patty-purchasing parity 7/23

Economist_Big Mac Index_7-23-16

Featured

*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.

How Much Oil Is in Storage Globally? Take a Guess. Dan Strumpf and Nicole Friedman. Wall Street Journal. 24 Jul. 2016.

“The historic fall in oil prices has created a pileup of inventories, much of it stashed in tanks in the U.S. and other industrialized countries that are committed to disclosing the latest tally, but millions of barrels of oil are flowing to locations outside the scope of industry trackers.”

“At the beginning of July, 23 supertankers capable of holding 43 million barrels of oil were anchored for a month or more in the Singapore straits, according to Thomson Reuters’s vessel-tracking service, up from 15 ships at the start of the year. If they were full, it would be enough to meet the U.S.’s oil needs for more than two days.”

WSJ_Counting Crude Oil_7-24-16

“‘OPEC has stopped being a swing supplier,” said Antoine Halff, director of the oil market program at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. ‘Given the uncertainty about whether shale-oil production in the U.S. can take the role of swing supplier, it falls on stocks’ to replace lost barrels in the case of a supply disruption.”

“Uncertainty around storage was highlighted after attacks on Nigerian oil facilities in May and June. Following the assaults, some analysts forecast that Nigerian output would fall, which helped push oil prices above $50 a barrel. But shipping data showed Nigerian exports holding steady above 1.5 million barrels a day, according to data provider Windward.”

“Where did the exports come from?”

“In China, another storage mystery is unfolding. Government data show oil imports rising at a faster rate than refiners are processing it. The figures suggest the country has built a surplus 160 million barrels during the first half of the year, enough to meet its oil needs for about two weeks.”

“Analysts believe those barrels have gone to commercial tanks or to government-owned strategic reserves.”

“The distinction is critical. If most of the oil has gone to strategic reserves, demand could shrink once the tanks reach capacity, which some analysts say could happen this year.”

Nontraded REIT sales fall off a cliff as industry struggles to adapt. Bruce Kelly. InvestmentNews. 24 Jul. 2016.

“Over the first five months of the year, sales of full-commission REITs, which typically carry a 7% payout to the adviser and 3% commission to the broker-dealer the adviser works for, have dropped a staggering 70.5% when compared with the same period a year earlier, according to Robert A. Stanger & Co. Inc., an investment bank that focuses on nontraded REITs.”

“Their recent sharp drop in sales is part of a longer cycle. The amount of equity raised, or total sales of nontraded REITs, has been sinking by about $5 billion a year since 2013, when sales hit a high watermark of nearly $20 billion.”

As a result, independent broker-dealer company commissions are down in tandem.  “Industry bellwether LPL Financial said in its first-quarter earnings release that commission revenue from alternative investments, the lion’s share of which comes from nontraded REITs, was just $7.8 million, a staggering decline of 86.7% when compared with the first quarter of 2015.”

IN_Nontraded REIT sales fall off a cliff as industry struggles to adapt_7-24-16

Four key factors have hit the industry.  The blowup of Nicholas Schorsch’s REIT empire, recent FBI raids of United Development Funding (after hedge fund manager Kyle Bass called the company a Ponzi scheme), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. rule 15-02, and the new DOL fiduciary rule.

  • The first two basically have brought the public and regulatory spot light to the industry and has shown the light on the less savory parts of the industry and its excessively high fees.
  • Finra rule 15-02 basically have caused an increase in transparency in the fees that the industry charges, now making them more accurately reflected on account statements.
  • And the DOL fiduciary rule “which will be phased in starting April, requires advisers to select investments for retirement accounts that are in the client’s best interest. Investments with high commission structures might not pass that test.” However, this rule also has a flip side, nontraded REITs may now be placed in retirement accounts (also as of April thanks to a Dept. of Labor ruling).

IN_Public Non-Listed REIT Fundraising since 2013_7-24-16

On the plus side, the industry is changing. New T shares are meant to reduce upfront commissions while spreading them over time (still high commissions) and larger financial institutions like Blackstone Group and Cantor Fitzgerald & Co. are looking at getting into the industry.  Hence references are made to the evolution of the mutual fund industry that also started out with high commission structures.

As Allan Swaringen, CEO of Jones Lang LaSalle Income Property Trust, put it “nontraded REITs have lived almost exclusively across independent broker-dealer channels. I don’t think that’s a model that will be successful going forward. It has to be sold by a variety of advisers.”

IN_2015 Top RE Sponsors_7-24-16

Chinese P2Ps plagued by flaky guarantees (fintech blog). Gabriel Wildau. Financial Times. 25 Jul. 2016.

“‘It’s just too easy to attract investment. That’s why it draws so many scammers,’ says Michael Zhang, chairman of Beijing-based Puhui Finance, a large P2P platform with a clean reputation.”

FT_Chines P2P plagued by flaky guarantees_7-25-16

“Beyond the problem of outright fraud is the thornier issue of raising risk awareness in a culture where debt investments are traditionally seen as carrying an implicit guarantee from issuers who are mainly state-owned institutions.”

FT_Chines P2P growth_7-25-16

“Dianrong.com, one of China’s largest P2P platforms, investment products carry a label that says ‘multiple guarantees.’ While the Chinese term used – baozhang – is distinct from the word for legally binding guarantees, it still translates as ‘guarantee’ or ‘safeguard.’ Many platforms now divert a portion of borrower interest payments into a ‘reserve fund’ used to protect investors from defaults, an arrangement that looks a lot like bank capital.”

“Soul Htite, the co-founder of Dianrong.com who previously co-founded US-based Lending Club, says that in an investing culture where defaults are rare, Chinese investors tend to choose products purely based on yield.”

“In the US we have a very good history of investing and people understand risk. (But) one problem we had in the first couple of years with Chinese investors is, we noticed that when you listed all the loans – this one yields 8% and another one yields 14% – people put all their money on the 14%. And we explained, ‘It’s not guaranteed, it might default.’ Still they put their money there. So that’s when we started forcing diversification on them.” – Soul Htite

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