Tag: Agriculture

July 2, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg – Forget Banks and Worry About High Stock Prices – Nir Kaissar 6/29

  • “It’s time for investors to stop fighting the last war. The next downturn most likely won’t be triggered by another meltdown of the financial system.”
  • “Investors didn’t need the Fed to tell them that banks are in better shape than they were a decade ago. The signs are everywhere. Profits have fallen across the industry since the financial crisis, an  indication that banks are taking on less risk. Profit margins for the S&P 500 Financials Index averaged 9.3% from 2008 to 2017, down from an average of 13.8% from 2003 to 2007, the years leading up to the crisis. Return on equity is down to an average of 5.2% from 14.5% over the same periods.”
  • “The biggest of those risks is leverage — or piling on debt to boost profits — and banks have a lot less of it than they used to. The debt-to-equity ratio of the financials index has dropped to 159% as of the first quarter from 563% at the end of 2007. The debt-to-assets ratio has fallen to 19% from 43% over the same period.”
  • “But if the numbers don’t persuade investors that the next crisis won’t look like the last one, then maybe a look at previous bear markets would. In reverse chronological order: The bursting of the dot-com bubble was behind the downturn from 2000 to 2002. A mass panic or newly introduced computerized trading, depending on whom you ask, set off the 1987 crash. Stagflation brought down the market from 1980 to 1982. A global oil embargo hit stocks from 1973 to 1974. I could keep going, but you get the idea.”
  • “There is a common thread running through the scariest episodes: high stock prices. The average cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings, or CAPE, ratio for the S&P 500 has been 18 since 1928, according to numbers compiled by Yale professor Robert Shiller. The five worst bear markets during those nine decades, as measured by peak to trough declines, commenced in 1929, 1937, 1973, 2000 and 2007. The average CAPE ratio on the eve of those downturns was 29 and the median was 27.”
  • “The current CAPE ratio: 32. And it’s never just stocks. Other assets in the U.S. look frothy, too, such as private equity and real estate.”

Bloomberg – How to Avoid Going Broke After Making $650 Million – Barry Ritholtz 6/29

Economist – How oil transformed the Gulf – Special report 6/21

Economist – Why Gulf countries are feuding with Qatar – Special report 6/21

Economist – Saudi Arabia turns against political Islam – Special report 6/23

Pragmatic Capitalism – Let’s Talk About that “Rapidly” Falling Deficit – Cullen Roche 6/29

  • “Don’t be scared Larry (Kudlow), just tell it like it is – you guys are boosting spending, boosting the deficit and the USA can afford it!”

Real Estate

WEF: statista – The world’s most expensive prime property – Adam Jezard 4/12

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

Bloomberg – Bitcoin Bloodbath Nears Dot-Com Levels as Many Tokens Go to Zero – Adam Haigh and Eric Lam 6/28

howmuch.net – The ICO Explosion in the Past 5 Years – Raul 6/27

Environment / Science

Bloomberg – The Recycling Game Is Rigged Against You – Faye Flam 6/27

  • “Americans were not set up for success in recycling plastics. Even before China stopped accepting plastic refuse from abroad, 9% of potentially recyclable plastic in the U.S. ended up in landfills – or worse, in the oceans. Europe does a little better, with only 70% getting tossed.”
  • “Why such terrible rates? Partly because some changes that were supposed to make recycling simpler ended up making it almost impossible.”
  • “University of Georgia engineering professor Jenna Jambeck said that indeed, part of the reason China is now refusing to process American and European plastic is that so many people tossed waste into the wrong bin, resulting in a contaminated mix difficult or impossible to recycle.”
  • “In a paper published last week in Science Advances, she and her colleagues calculated that between now and 2030, 111 million metric tons of potentially recyclable plastic will be diverted from Chinese plants into landfills.”
  • “Plastic matters because it takes centuries to degrade, and there’s a lot of it. Jambeck has estimated that the world has produced more than 8 billion metric tons since the 1950s. To help grasp this quantity, paleontologist Jan Zalasiewicz has estimated that this is enough to wrap our entire planet in cling wrap. Others have calculated that it would make four mountains the size of Everest.”
  • “Given what scientists already know how to do, the future could bring a greener, more fool-proof system. Right now, she said, she and other scientists are starting to develop ways to recycle mixtures of plastics – a tough job because many plastics repel one another like oil and water. One of the reasons China imported recycling was that it was possible there to hire cheap labor to sort the different plastic types by hand.” 
  • “Curing the plastic problem is a lot like fighting cancer. Even if everyone stopped smoking, there would still be cancer. And even if we all figure out whether our municipalities accept yogurt containers, plastic waste will still pollute the environment. Compliance won’t be a cure until innovations from the lab set us up for success.”

WIRED – Data Shows Rising Seas Threaten Over 300,000 Homes – Oliver Milman 6/19

  • “Sea level rise driven by climate change is set to pose an existential crisis to many US coastal communities, with new research finding that as many as 311,000 homes face being flooded every two weeks within the next 30 years.”
  • “The UCS used federal data from a high sea level rise scenario projected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and combined it with property data from the online real estate company Zillow to quantify the level of risk across the lower 48 states.”
  • “Under this scenario, where planet-warming emissions are barely constrained and the seas rise by about 6.5 feet globally by the end of the century, 311,000 homes along the US coastline would face flooding on average 26 times a year within the next 30 years—a typical lifespan for a new mortgage.”
  • “The losses would multiply by the end of the century, with the research warning that as many as 2.4 million homes, worth around a trillion dollars, could be put at risk. Low-lying states would be particularly prone, with a million homes in Florida, 250,000 homes in New Jersey and 143,000 homes in New York at risk of chronic flooding by 2100.”
  • “The oceans are rising by about 3 mm a year due to the thermal expansion of seawater that’s warming because of the burning of fossil fuels by humans. The melting of massive glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica is also pushing up the seas—NASA announced last week that the amount of ice lost annually from Antartica has tripled since 2012 to an enormous 241 billion tons a year.”
  • “This slowly unfolding scenario is set to pose wrenching choices for many in the US. Previous research has suggested that about 13 million Americans may have to move due to sea level rise by the end of the century, with landlocked states such as Arizona and Wyoming set for a population surge.”

Agriculture

FT – US farmers plant more soya than corn for first time since 1983 – Gregory Meyer 6/29

  • “Farmers planted 89.6m acres with soya beans this spring, the government reported Friday, surpassing the 89.1m acres planted with corn. The only other year soya topped corn was in 1983, because of a one-off quirk of agricultural policy.”

Britain

NYT – In Britain, Austerity Is Changing Everything – Peter S. Goodman 5/28

  • “After eight years of budget cutting, Britain is looking less like the rest of Europe and more like the United States, with a shrinking welfare state and spreading poverty.”

Japan

FT – Japan’s elderly care bill soaks up worker pay rises – Robin Harding 5/27

  • “Monthly premiums for care insurance have doubled from ¥3,000 to almost ¥6,000 ($55) since the system began in 2000. Meanwhile, the average annual cost of employer-based health insurance is up from ¥386,038 in 2008 to ¥486,042 this year, equivalent to a two percentage point rise in income tax.”
  • “The rise in health and care costs helps to explain why moderate wage growth, after five years of economic stimulus under prime minister Shinzo Abe, is doing so little to boost consumption. It poses a conundrum for the Bank of Japan, which is relying on spending pressure to push inflation towards its 2% objective.”
  • “Japan’s future holds more of the same, especially after 2020, when the baby boom generation starts to reach the age of 75 and needs more care. Recent government figures suggest that by 2040 social insurance costs will rise another 2.5 percentage points to 24% of gross domestic product.”

South America

Axios – It’s nearly impossible to afford a cup of coffee in Venezuela – Stef W. Kight 6/28

  • “Less than two years ago, a cup of coffee cost 450 bolivars in Venezuela. Today, as the nation’s hyperinflation continues to skyrocket, a cafe con leche costs 1 million bolivars — or a mere 29 U.S. cents, according to Bloomberg.”

Advertisements

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 15, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – Faced with a housing crisis, California could further restrict supply 5/10

  • “Rent control sounds appealing but is counter-productive.”

Economist – The meaning of the Vision Fund – Leaders 5/12

  • “Succeed or fail, Masayoshi Son is changing the world of technology investing.”
  • “The fund is the result of a peculiar alliance forged in 2016 between Mr Son and Muhammad bin Salman. Saudi Arabia’s thrusting crown prince handed Mr Son $45bn as part of his attempt to diversify the kingdom’s economy. That great dollop of capital attracted more investors—from Abu Dhabi, Apple and others. Add in SoftBank’s own $28bn of equity, and Mr Son has a war chest of $100bn. That far exceeds the $64bn that all venture capital (VC) funds raised globally in 2016; it is four times the size of the biggest private-equity fund ever raised.”
  • “The fund has already spent $30bn, nearly as much as the $33bn raised by the entire American VC industry in 2017. And because about half of its capital is in the form of debt, it is under pressure to make interest payments. This combination of gargantuanism, grandiosity and guaranteed payouts may end up in financial disaster. Indeed, the Vision Fund could mark the giddy top of the tech boom.”

Economist – Will Argentina’s woes spread? – Leaders 5/12

  • “Argentina has much in common with yesterday’s emerging markets, but little in common with today’s.”

FT – Apple sows seeds of next market swing – Rana Foroohar 5/13

  • “Rapid growth in debt levels is historically the best predictor of a crisis. And this year the corporate bond market has been on a tear, with companies issuing a record $1.7tn last year, and over half a trillion already this year. Even mediocre companies have benefited from easy money. But as the rate environment changes, perhaps more quickly than is imagined, many could be vulnerable.” 

WSJ – In a Dollarized World, a Rising Dollar Spells Pain – Greg Ip 5/9

  • “Even as U.S. economic influence shrinks, the dollar’s clout in global trade and borrowing is growing, magnifying impact of its rise in value.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg – U.S. Tariffs Lead to Record Increase in Washing Machine Prices – Alexandre Tanzi 5/10

Bloomberg Businessweek – No, the U.S Economy Isn’t Overheating – Peter Coy 5/11

  • “Some indicators are flashing red, but there’s still a little slack in the system.”

WSJ – Company Costs Are Rising, but Getting Shoppers to Pay More Is Hard – Eric Morath, Heather Haddon, and Jacob Bunge 5/9

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg – Relative Hard Currency Reserves 5/14

Real Estate

WSJ – WeWork, the Workspace Giant, Wants to Be Its Own Landlord, Using Other Investors’ Money – Eliot Brown 5/13

  • “WeWork’s new investment fund aims to buy buildings where the company would become a tenant, raising conflict-of-interest questions.”

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: AAA Daily National Average Gasoline Prices 5/13

Finance

FT – Landmark bond sales hit by emerging markets downturn – Kate Allen 5/14

  • “Investors who bought some of the riskiest emerging market sovereign bond sales in the past year have been left nursing paper losses as a strengthening dollar has rattled sentiment for emerging markets.”
  • “JPMorgan’s emerging markets bond index has lost 5.1% since the start of this year.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – BOJ Assets YoY Change 5/13

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

howmuch.net – The Biggest Cryptocurrency Hacks and Scams – Raul 5/9

Agriculture

Bloomberg Businessweek – These Shipping Containers Have Farms Inside – Adam Popescu 5/9

Construction

WSJ – Daily Shot: CME Lumber (JuL) 5/11

  • “Lumber futures blasted past $600 per 1,000 board feet (mbf).”

Education

NYT – Education Department Unwinds Unit Investigating Fraud at For-Profits – Danielle Ivory, Erica L. Green, and Steve Eder 5/13

South America

Economist – How chavismo makes the taps run dry in Venezuela 5/10

  • “Plentiful rains plus Bolivarian socialism equals water shortages.”

WSJ – Venezuela’s Oil Meltdown Is Getting Worse – Spencer Jakab 5/13

  • “A rush of creditors trying to seize assets has disrupted Venezuela’s oil exports at a time when they already are plunging.”

Other Interesting Links

Cannabis Benchmarks – Weekly Report 5-11-18

May 9, 2018

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: OECD – Levels of Working Poor by Country 5/8

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Bad Advice Can Be Expensive – Ben Carlson 5/6

Bloomberg Businessweek – The Future of News – John Micklethwait 5/3

  • “…is journalism really in such a parlous state? Look closer. News is an industry in transition, not in decline. It is reemerging as something more digital, more personalized, more automated, more paid for—and (eventually) less fake. In many ways history is repeating itself, with the main surprise being the survival of so many established names. And good journalism still does have the power to change lives.”
  • “In a world where the facts are known, commentary will become ever more important…”
  • “That points to the final series of changes: the multiplicity of formats. The standard print news story is being broken up, split among explainers, videographics, podcasts, and so on. Editorship is increasingly a matter of choosing the best way to deliver information to a time-starved consumer. News is likely to get shorter, quicker, and more graphical. But if you need to understand Syria or cryptocurrencies, you may save time reading one long story in Businessweek or the New Yorker rather than endless small ones.”
  • “The newspaper has not so much died as transmuted. News is in a state of transition—and what’s emerging is molded by both new technology and old verities. As journalists, we have to work harder to keep our audiences. But I’m still optimistic—not least about fake news. It won’t go away; it never has. But it will play a smaller role. And the big winner will be you, the consumer. Even if you have to pay a little more for it.”

Economist – So long, farewell – Buttonwood 5/8

The Registry – Does WeWork at All? – John McNellis 5/8

Visual Capitalist – Interactive: Comparing Asian Powers to the U.S. (Lowy Institute) – Jeff Desjardins 5/8

Markets / Economy

FT – Walmart takes on Amazon in India with Flipkart deal – Simon Mundy and Arash Massoudi 5/8

  • “US retailer to pay $15bn for 75% stake in India’s largest ecommerce group.”

FT – Retail: Is the beauty industry ‘Amazon-proof’? – Anna Nicolaou and Aimee Keane 5/6

WSJ – Daily Shot: LPL Research – Length of Economic Expansions 5/8

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Green Street Advisors – US Commercial Property Price Index 5/8

Energy

WSJ – Oil Costs How Much? How the Oil Rally Took Forecasters by Surprise – Alison Sider and Georgi Kantchev 5/6

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bianco Research – State Muni Yields vs. S&P Muni Index 5/8

WSJ – Pension Funds Still Making Promises They Probably Can’t Keep – Heather Gillers 5/8

  • “Retirement plans across the country still project their investments will grow at a median rate of 7.25%, according to Wilshire Consulting, an adviser to pension funds. Yearly returns on public pension plans have returned a median 6.79% over the past decade and 6.49% over the past 20 years, according to Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service, a database.”
  • “Unlike corporations, public pensions have wide latitude in projecting investment returns.”
  • “Public retirement systems had an average 72% of assets they need to pay for retirement promises in 2016, according to the latest data available in the Public Plans Database, which tracks about 170 pension funds. The figure a decade earlier was 85%.”
  • “Companies don’t have the same flexibility to set return expectations on their pension plans. Pension plans sponsored by S&P 1500 companies have an average 87% of assets needed to cover their pensions promises, according to Mercer, a consultancy.”

Agriculture

WSJ – Scientist in China Race to Edit Crop Genes, Sowing Unease in U.S. – Jacob Bunge and Lucy Craymer 5/6

Construction

WSJ – Daily Shot: CME Lumber (Jul) 5/7

Education

Axios – The disappearing Chinese student visa – Stef W. Kight 5/6

China

Bloomberg Businessweek – The $94 Billion Mystery: What Will Be Left of HNA’s Empire? – Matthew Campbell and Prudence Ho 5/3

  • “An annual report released in late April revealed that HNA spent more on interest than any nonfinancial company in Asia last year, a $5 billion bill that represented a more than 50% increase from the year before.”
  • “Overall debt rose 21% in 2017, according to the report, with short-term borrowing climbing by 25%, to about $30.3 billion. Total debt amounted to about 20 times HNA’s earnings before interest and taxes…”
  • “Nonetheless, HNA, which Chen co-founded in the 1990s, counting George Soros among its early investors, isn’t at risk of immediate catastrophe. At the start of 2018, according to people familiar with the matter, it told creditors it would sell about $16 billion in assets in the first half to lighten its balance sheet. Happily for the banks that financed its rise, HNA is already nearing that goal, thanks largely to the Hilton sale ($8.5bn).”

FT – Chinese group with $7bn in debt seeks Beijing bailout – Gabriel Wildau 5/7

  • “In a test of Chinese authorities’ commitment to reducing financial risk, a large Chinese manufacturing group has begged for a government bailout to avoid default on up to $7bn in debt after a regional lender withdrew loans.”
  • “Over the past year, China has tightened credit in a bid to tackle an explosion of corporate debt that the International Monetary Fund has called ‘dangerous’. But the plea highlights how painful Beijing’s deleveraging campaign has been for some indebted groups.” 
  • “According to Caixin, a respected Chinese financial news website, the crisis involving DunAn began when Zheshang Bank, a regional lender in Zhejiang, demanded early repayment of loans, causing other banks to restrict lending to the group.” 
  • “DunAn employs 29,000 workers and manufactures a range of equipment including air-conditioning parts, civil explosives and wind power equipment. It has also expanded into asset management and real estate.” 
  • “Government bailouts are most common for state-owned companies, but officials have also rescued private groups when their potential collapse raised the prospect of contagion.” 
  • “The Shanghai government shielded investors from losses on bonds from privately owned Chaori Solar, whose 2014 default was the first in China’s domestic bond market.” 

 

March 01, 2018

Perspective

NYT – By Day, a Sunny Smile for Disney Visitors. By Night, an Uneasy Sleep in a Car. – Jennifer Medina 2/27

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – How Putin meddles in Western democracies – Leaders 2/22

FT – A world of debt mortgages our economic future – Derek Scissors 2/22

  • “Irresponsible borrowing by the US, China and India imperils global growth.”

WSJ – The Wayfair Riddle – Elizabeth Winkler 2/26

  • “The furniture retailer’s business has serious flaws, but the stock keeps soaring.”

Energy

FT – Rising interest rates punish US power sector – Ed Crooks 2/22

  • “US utilities, sustained for years in a warm bath of favorable financial conditions, are facing a cold shower.”
  • “An expected rise in interest rates and the shake-up of the tax system passed into law at the end of last year are threatening to squeeze utilities’ finances. Already, the S&P 500 utility sector index has dropped 13% from its peak in November.”

FT – Fundamentals do not matter to new breed of oil speculator – Gregory Meyer 2/27

Finance

FT – Rising tide of debt to hit rich countries’ budgets, warns OECD – Kate Allen and Chris Giles 2/22

  • “Developed nations face a rising tide of government debt that poses ‘a significant challenge’ to budgets as interest rates increase around the world, the OECD has warned.”
  • “Low interest rates have helped sustain high levels of government debt and persistent budget deficits since the financial crisis, according to the OECD, but the ‘relatively favorable’ sovereign funding environment ‘may not be a permanent feature of financial markets’.”
  • “The warning on the longer-term consequences of high public borrowing marks a shift in stance by the OECD, which as recently as November was praising countries for easing fiscal policy to help global growth.”
  • “In an Economic Outlook, published at that time, the Paris-based organization said that ‘even a lasting increase in 10-year government bond yields of 1 percentage point . . . might worsen budget balances on average by only between 0.1% and 0.3% of GDP annually in the following three years’.”
  • “The total stock of OECD countries’ sovereign debt has increased from $25tn in 2008 to more than $45tn this year. Debt to GDP ratios across the OECD averaged 73% last year, and its members are set to borrow £10.5tn from the markets this year.”
  • “Because much of the debt raised in the aftermath of the financial crisis is set to mature in the coming years, developed nations will have to refinance 40% of their total debt stock in the next three years, the OECD said.”

Health / Medicine

Economist – How to stop lead poisoning – Leaders 2/22

Agriculture

WSJ – Daily Shot: To Stay on the Land, American Farmers Add Extra Jobs – Jacob Bunge and Jesse Newman 2/25

Sovereign Wealth Funds

FT – Norway oil fund posts $131bn return for 2017 – Richard Milne 2/27

  • “Norway’s $1.1tn oil fund returned 13.7% — or NKr1tn ($131bn) — beaten only by 2009 and 2013 in percentage terms.”
  • “Strong stock markets contributed to a 19.4% return for equities while property returned 7.5% and bonds 3.3%.”

China

Nikkei Asian Review – The hidden risks of China’s war on debt – Yusho Cho 2/28

India

FT – Huge fraud at Indian bank spurs privatization calls – Amy Kazmin 2/27

  • “In 1969, India’s then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, transformed the country’s banking landscape when she nationalized its 14 biggest commercial lenders, which together accounted for around 70% of the system’s deposits.”
  • “Nationalization was touted as way to protect depositors and force banks — which mainly catered to big industrial houses — to lend to a broader swath of the population, including farmers, traders and small businesses.” 
  • “State dominance over the banking system has not worked out so well for India. Politically driven lending decisions, difficulties agreeing realistic debt workouts when loans sour, as well as uninspired, even fearful bureaucratic management and outdated IT systems have left state lenders with a far higher bad debt burden than their private rivals, hindering India’s economic prospects.” 
  • “Now, the discovery of an alleged $1.8bn fraud at India’s second-largest state lender, Punjab National Bank, is prompting vigorous and concerted calls for New Delhi to admit the failure of Mrs. Gandhi’s bank nationalization — and reverse it.” 
  • “According to PNB, staff at one of its Mumbai branches issued fraudulent bank guarantees for luxury jeweler Nirav Modi, and his diamond-trader uncle Mehul Choksi, to take cash advances from the overseas branches of other Indian banks — all ostensibly guaranteed by PNB.”
  • “Antiquated software systems — guarantees were issued without requisite documents or collateral — meant PNB’s management had no idea of the obligations mounting in its name. Nor did the banks that received the guarantees, mostly other state lenders, suspect any impropriety.” 
  • “Analysts say the scam, which PNB says went on for several years without detection, highlights the rot in state banks and the need for radical change.” 
  • “At the heart of India’s banking crisis, however, is New Delhi’s political control over what should be run as commercial entities and the inherent conflict of interest in the state’s multiple roles as economic policymaker, the largest bank owner and the industry regulator.” 
  • “While New Delhi is now in the middle of a $32bn recapitalization scheme to shore up bank balance sheets after the last wave of bad debts, the PNB fraud has raised fears the government is simply throwing good money after bad.” 
  • “Privatization of some, or even most, of India’s state banks is not a simple or quick solution to the sector’s problems. Analysts say the legacy of five decades of state ownership — and its impact on personnel, incentives and decision-making — will take years to undo. But the PNB fraud has persuaded many Indians it is time to start.”

Japan

WSJ – Daily Shot: TD Securities – Japanese Investors Looking For Returns Abroad 2/27

Puerto Rico

WSJ – Daily Shot: CNN – ‘Exodus’ from Puerto Rico: A visual guide – John D. Sutter and Sergio Hernandez 2/21

South America

Bloomberg – Hungry Venezuelan Workers Are Collapsing. So Is the Oil Industry – Fabiola Zerpa 2/22

  • “Starving employees are growing too weak for heavy labor, hobbling the refineries that keep the economy running.”

January 18, 2018

Perspective

Visual Capitalist – Over the Next Year, Germany Will Hit a Scary Demographic Milestone – Jeff Desjardins 1/16

WSJ – Daily Shot: Amerisleep – The State of Sleep 1/17

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Mauldin Economics – The Fed Has Put Itself Out of Business, Where to Now? – John Mauldin / Lacy Hunt 1/16

Pragmatic Capitalism – Will Centralized Entities Ruin the Decentralized Party? – Cullen Roche 1/15

  • “One of the key aspects of the crypto boom that keeps bothering me is the inherent conflict between centralized entities and decentralized entities.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Reuters – Dow Double 1/16

  • “It took just over five years for the Dow to double.”

Energy

Reuters – U.S. oil industry set to break record, upend global trade – Liz Hampton 1/15

  • “Surging shale production is poised to push U.S. oil output to more than 10 million barrels per day – toppling a record set in 1970 and crossing a threshold few could have imagined even a decade ago.”
  • “And this new record, expected within days, likely won’t last long. The U.S. government forecasts that the nation’s production will climb to 11 million barrels a day by late 2019, a level that would rival Russia, the world’s top producer.”
  • “The economic and political impacts of soaring U.S. output are breathtaking, cutting the nation’s oil imports by a fifth over a decade, providing high-paying jobs in rural communities and lowering consumer prices for domestic gasoline by 37% from a 2008 peak.”
  • “U.S. energy exports now compete with Middle East oil for buyers in Asia. Daily trading volumes of U.S. oil futures contracts have more doubled in the past decade, averaging more than 1.2 billion barrels per day in 2017, according to exchange operator CME Group.”
  • “The United States now exports up to 1.7 million barrels per day of crude, and this year will have the capacity to export 3.8 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas. Terminals conceived for importing liquefied natural gas have now been overhauled to allow exports.”

Cryptocurrency

FT – Investors face barriers trying to turn bitcoin profits into pounds – Kate Beioley 1/16

MarketWatch – 5 key reasons bitcoin, other cryptocurrencies have lost a stunning $400 billion in 10 days – Mark DeCambre 1/17

  1. South Korea
  2. Russia
  3. China
  4. Bitconnect $BCC
  5. Bitcoin futures

WSJ – Bitcoin Extends Rout, Dipping Below $10,000 – Paul Vigna and Gregor Stuart Hunter 1/17

  • “Bitcoin fell as low as $9,966, down around 6% on the day and nearly half from its Dec. 17 record of $19,783.21, according to data from CoinDesk. A day earlier, the cryptocurrency plunged as much as 25%. Later in the U.S. morning, the price bounced back above the $10,000 mark.”
  • “Wednesday’s drop spread quickly to other major digital currencies. Ether was down as much as 33%. XRP was down 47%. Litecoin was down 35%. Newer tokens like Cardano, EOS and Monero were down 35% or more.”
  • “’We have very fast-moving weather systems in the crypto world,’ said Charles Hayter, the chief executive of research firm CryptoCompare. ‘One moment it’s absolute exuberance, and then it’s pure fear and panic, running for the exits. It’s quite interesting’.”
  • “’This is what you’d expect in a nascent market with a lot of misinformation,’ said Mr. Hayter.”
  • “For all the volatility, bitcoin prices remain in a general uptrend, measured by technical analysis. ‘Suggestions that this is the start of the demise of cryptos is very premature,’ said Fawad Razaqzada, a market analyst at Forex.com.”
  • “The first of Cboe’s (Chicago Board Options Exchange) futures contracts expired on Wednesday, prompting a flurry of trading as market makers rushed to settle transactions and roll over some contracts into next month. Futures traders make a profit if the value of prices and futures diverge when they expire.”
  • “But the assumption that opening a path for bitcoin to institutional buyers would accelerate that momentum hasn’t happened. In fact, the ability to short bitcoin appears so far to be a winning bet. Bitcoin touched its record high the day before futures began trading on Dec. 11 and has been falling since then.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Ripple 1/16

WSJ – Daily Shot: Capital Economics – Bitcoin Mining Locations 1/17

Health / Medicine

NYT – After a Debacle, How California Became a Role Model on Measles – Emily Oster and Geoffrey Kocks 1/16

Agriculture

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg Agriculture Subindex 1/16

  • “Bloomberg’s agriculture index continues to hit cycle lows. As a result, US net farm income is down by over 50% since 2013 (according to the USDA).”

Education

MyinTuition – Quick College Cost Estimator – Content below by David Leonhardt at the NYT 1/17

  • “Many people believe that college costs more than it actually does.”
  • “Average net tuition at community colleges is less than zero — seriously — once financial aid is taken into account. Average in-state tuition at public colleges will be just $4,140 this year. And many elite private colleges cover much of their sky-high list-price tuition through scholarships.”
  • “Yet many middle-class and low-income families believe tuition will cost them tens of thousands of dollars a year. This misperception has a serious downside. It keeps some people from attending college, even though the financial (and nonfinancial) benefits of a degree are enormous.”
  • “Fortunately, a growing number of colleges are starting to take tuition misperceptions seriously. Sixteen top colleges are announcing this morning that they’re joining an effort called MyIntuition — an online calculator that lets people answer just a few questions, anonymously, and receive an estimate of how much attending each college would cost.”
  • “The 16 include Boston College, Brown, Davidson, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, St. Olaf and Yale. They’ve joined 15 others that already participate. The calculator was created by Phillip Levine, an economist at Wellesley College.”

China

FT – China infrastructure projects fall foul of debt concerns – Tom Mitchell 1/16

  • “Costly projects abandoned after Beijing focuses on meeting ‘needs of the people'”

December 20, 2017

Perspective

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

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

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

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

Real Estate

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

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

Finance

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

Agriculture

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

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

Other Interesting Links

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

September 29, 2017

Perspective

NYT – Why Aren’t Paychecks Growing? A Burger-Joint Clause Offers a Clue – Rachel Abrams 9/27

  • “As economists try to understand why wages have stagnated across the country’s economy, they are examining the cheap labor part of the equation closely. A few have zeroed in on an obscure clause buried in many fast-food franchise agreements as a possible contributor to the problem.”
  • “Some of fast-food’s biggest names, including Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Pizza Hut and, until recently, McDonald’s, prohibited franchisees from hiring workers away from one another, preventing, for example, one Pizza Hut from hiring employees from another.”
  • “The restrictions do not appear in a contract that employees sign, or even see. They are typically included in a paragraph buried in lengthy contracts that owners of fast-food outlets sign with corporate headquarters.”
  • “Yet the provisions can keep employees tied to one spot, unable to switch jobs or negotiate higher pay. A lack of worker mobility has long been viewed as contributing to wage stagnation because switching jobs is one of the most reliable ways to get a raise.”
  • “Defenders of the practice argue that the restaurants spend time and money training workers and want to protect their investment. But two lawsuits, filed this year against McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr.’s parent company, CKE Restaurants Holdings, contend that such no-hire rules violate antitrust and labor laws.”
  • “The no-hire rules affect more than 70,000 restaurants — or more than a quarter of the fast-food outlets in the United States — according to Alan B. Krueger, an economist at Princeton University and a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration who examined agreements for 40 of the nation’s largest fast-food companies.”
  • “The provisions, he said, were ‘ubiquitous’ among the companies and appeared to exist mainly to limit both competition and turnover, which can keep labor costs low.”
  • “The restrictions are different from what are known as noncompete agreements — clauses in employee contracts that keep an employee from jumping to a rival. Such agreements are typically described as a means of preventing employees from bringing trade secrets to a competitor.”
  • “’I think it’s very hard to make the argument that noncompetitive agreements are necessary for low-educated, low-wage workers because they have trade secrets,’ Professor Krueger said. ‘This practice does have the potential to restrict competition and significantly influence pay.’”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Uber: the triumph of wallet over spirit – Robert Shrimsley 9/27

  • “I am quietly pleased London has taken a stand because, frankly, I wasn’t going to…”
  • “Free markets are a general good but they need someone looking beyond instant gratification to the wider consequences because the bottom line is consumers are like children. We need to be told that convenience is not the only issue. We need to be told to eat our greens.”

NYT – With Tax Cuts on the Table, Once-Mighty Deficit Hawks Hardly Chirp – Thomas Kaplan 9/28

Economist – How China is battling ever more intensely in world markets 9/23

Economist – How the use of antibiotics in poultry farming changed the way America eats 9/21

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Businessweek – Midsize U.S. Sedan Demand Stalls Out to Lowest on Record – Anne Riley Moffat 9/27

  • “Only about one in 10 new cars sold in the U.S. is a midsize sedan, a sharp decline for the best-selling vehicle segment in 20 of the last 27 years, according to data from car-shopping website Edmunds.”

Real Estate

Fortune – The U.S. Housing Market Is Getting Squeezed. See Where Prices Are Spiking the Highest – Nicolas Rapp and Brian O’Keefe 9/15

WSJ – Blame Canada? Toronto, Vancouver Top Housing  Bubble Risks – Brian Blackstone 9/28

  • “Blame Canada?”
  • “It isn’t just the tune made famous by the South Park movie. It may become a motto among economists if frothy housing values around the world turn into a destabilizing bubble.”
  • “UBS published its latest global real estate ‘bubble index’ on Thursday, listing the major cities most at risk of housing bubbles. Canada took two of the top four spots, with Toronto on top and Vancouver at number four, and Northern Europe’s Munich and Stockholm sandwiched between.”
  • “U.S. cities featured pretty highly, with San Francisco and Los Angeles in ‘overvalued,’ but not bubble territory. New York was deemed fairly valued, and Chicago was the only city in the 20 listed that was undervalued.”
  • “UBS lists Boston’s real-estate market as fair-valued. Its uses sub-indexes such as price-to-income and mortgage-to-gross domestic product ratios to construct an overall index. Index readings above 1.5 are in bubble territory and the overvaluation scale slides down from there.”
  • “UBS noted that Toronto and Vancouver weren’t ‘dragged down’ by the global financial crisis, as a weaker Canadian dollar cushioned the blow. ‘Overly loose monetary policy, for too long, in addition to buoyant foreign demand, unmoored their housing markets from economic fundamentals—and both markets are now in bubble risk territory.’”
  • “’A strengthening Canadian dollar and further interest rate hikes would end the party,’ the report added.”
  • “In the U.S., housing prices in cities are still below their 2008 peak in inflation-adjusted terms, UBS said, except for San Francisco which ‘shows signs of overvaluation but no bubble risk, given its strong economic fundamentals amid the astonishing boom of tech companies.’”
  • “Turning to Europe, UBS said that ‘improving economic sentiment, partly accompanied by robust income growth in the key cities, has conspired with excessively low borrowing rates to spur vigorous demand for urban housing.’”
  • “In the Asia-Pacific region, Tokyo shows ‘moderate signs of overheating’ since the Bank of Japan launched its quantitative easing program in 2013, while residential prices in Hong Kong reached all-time highs mid-year ‘thanks to insatiable investor demand and speculative price expectations.’”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Danske Bank – S&P 500 Volatility 9/28

  • “For the first time since 2005, there hasn’t been a 2% daily move in the S&P 500.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Reformed Broker – S&P 500 Maximum Drawdowns 9/28

China

Economist – China’s demographic divisions are getting deeper 9/21

September 15, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

FT – To coin a craze: Silicon Valley’s cryptocurrency boom – Richard Waters 9/13

  • “So-called initial coin offerings, or ICOs, like this have turned into the year’s most striking financial craze. More than $1.8bn has been raised by software developers from the sale of new currencies with names such as Tezzies, Atoms and Basic Attention Tokens.”
  • “In unofficial online markets where these and other digital tokens are traded, the mania has hit even more bizarre levels. The value of Ripple — at five years, a cryptocurrency veteran — soared this year on a wider boom that was led by bitcoin. Ripple’s notional value, including coins held by the company for later sale, jumped from $500m at the start of the year to more than $35bn, before falling back to $19bn.”
  • “The boom in cryptocurrency prices has been fed by uncontrolled speculation, leading regulators to act. In recent days, Chinese authorities have banned ICOs and are now reported to be on the brink of shutting down all cryptocurrency exchanges. The Financial Conduct Authority, the UK regulator, warned anyone thinking of buying coins in an ICO that they should only do so if they are prepared to lose everything. Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan, sent bitcoin prices down 10% on Tuesday when he called the currency a ‘fraud’ and threatened to sack anyone at his bank caught trading it.”
  • “But cryptocurrencies’ promoters argue that beyond the speculative mania, something profound is taking place. It has created a new way for start-ups developing platforms based on blockchain and other technologies to raise money, using online crowdfunding techniques.”
  • “Networks such as IPFS are based on a vision of decentralized online services where ordinary users interact directly with each other, rather than through internet companies that set themselves up as gatekeepers to the online world. According to the enthusiasts, many of the most popular internet applications could be remade in this way, leaving the control — and the profits — in the hands of the users.”
  • “But there is another view that draws on a different aspect of internet investment history. ‘There’s a tendency to turn the brain off and jump in. It’s like Pets.com [which shut down in 2000],’ says Mark Williams, a lecturer in financial risk management at Boston University. The speculation is being fed by a hype that is as insidious as the dotcom craze of the late 1990s, he says: ‘People are treating it like a lottery ticket.’”
  • “The value of the best-known digital currency, bitcoin, has risen eightfold in the past year. That has led to a hunt for the next untapped markets, lifting the notional value of all cryptocurrencies to more than $130bn. With nothing more needed to launch a coin sale than a ‘white paper’ — the document that coin promoters use to lay out their grand plans — and the promise of some computer code, the steady flow of ICOs in the past year has turned into a flood.”
  • “The boom, which began in early summer, is already exhibiting many of the characteristics of other speculative crazes. New coins have proliferated: more than 150 token sales have been conducted or announced this year. CoinMarketCap lists prices for about 1,100 coins, with more than 120 ICOs planned before the end of September.
  • “Celebrity endorsements have followed. Paris Hilton used Twitter to boost LydianCoin, a currency for a mooted advertising market that its backers hope will raise $100m. Boxer Floyd Mayweather got there before her, using the run-up to his late August bout with Conor McGregor to promote the prediction market Stox.com and content marketplace Hubii Network.”
  • “Underpinning new blockchain-based networks such as IPFS are protocols, or rules, embedded in software that govern how participants interact. At least in theory, many of the interactions that happen online, such as those on social networks, ecommerce sites and search engines, could take place between willing users on decentralized networks.”
  • “What supporters see as a profound financial innovation, however, others warn can be an easy route to creating funny money. When buyers have been so willing to purchase currencies issued on nothing more than the promise of a future market, it’s not surprising that so many are trying to mint new ones.”
  • “Selling coins has another advantage that the ICOs are less keen to highlight: it exploits a regulatory loophole. By selling a currency rather than shares they stay outside the scope of securities regulation, removing any constraints on how they market their offerings.”
  • “Regulators are working on closing this loophole. The US Securities and Exchange Commission said in July that it had determined that many coins were in fact a type of security, and would look at the underlying nature of each ICO to determine whether they should be regulated as securities.”
  • “For their creators, ICOs have another obvious attraction. They have made it possible to raise far larger amounts than start-ups can usually tap, at least as long as enough investors can be persuaded to suspend their disbelief.”
  • Caveat emptor.

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – China exploits the vulnerability of open democracy – Jamil Anderlini 9/13

  • “Soft targets like New Zealand are testing grounds for Chinese global espionage.”

WSJ – The Life of a Contractor Worker Is a Grind of Snubs, Anxiety and Stagnation – Lauren Weber 9/13

Bloomberg Businessweek – Kim’s Nukes Aren’t a Bargaining Chip. They’re an Insurance Policy – Michael Shuman 9/7

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – US State Pension Burdens 9-14

Environment / Science

NYT – Cassini’s Mission to Saturn in 100 Images – Jonathan Corum 9/14

WEF – Business Insider – This map reveals that temperatures have risen in nearly every US state over the last century – Leanna Garfield 9/13

Agriculture 

Bloomberg Businessweek – This High-Tech Vertical Farm Promises Whole Foods Quality at Walmart Prices – Selina Wang 9/6

August 8, 2017

Perspective

FT – US haul from credit crisis bank fines hit $150bn – Kara Scannell 8/6

  • “A single bank, Bank of America, has paid more than one-third of all recoveries to US authorities, according to an analysis by the Financial Times. Its $56bn in settlements with state and federal regulators and the DOJ cover its own mortgage sales and actions by two companies it acquired — subprime mortgage lender Countrywide and broker Merrill Lynch.”
  • “JPMorgan Chase, which acquired Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, has paid the second-largest amount, with $27bn in fines and relief.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – The Debt-Ceiling Crisis Is Real – Edward Kleinbard 8/7

FT Alphaville – Electric vehicle realities – Izabella Kaminska 8/3

  • “Electric vehicles (EVs) are all the rage. But they’re also fast becoming the sacred cows you can’t criticize for fear of being shredded by the EV, renewable, and tech lobbies.”
  • “Questioning the cost structures of the industry in general is not allowed in public forums. My colleague Jonathan Ford discovered this recently when he dared to question the economic realities underpinning the renewable sector.”
  • “Brian Piccioni and team at BCA Research offer a good starting point to our questions on Thursday, in a report entitled Electric Vehicles Part 1: Costs of Ownership.”
  • “The bad news for EV fans is their work determines that the cost of ownership of an EV still far exceeds that of an internal Combustion Engine Vehicle (ICEV), even after subsidies are accounted for.”
  • A couple of points.
    • Battery packs are expensive and more expensive than generally claimed.
    • Batteries degrade and the cost of replacing them are expensive (more so than the manufacturers let on).
    • Additionally, think of your experience with the value of your old cell phones or computers. While the hardware may still work, the value of your device tends to decline rapidly with an old battery.
  • Back to the subsidies.
  • “Nevertheless, most people are encouraged to buy EVs because of the fuel subsidies or free parking promises. Yet is difficult to assess how long EV subsidies will persist. Fundamentally, the economics dictate that they can only really be affordable to governments as long as the number of vehicles sold remains small. If EV sales accelerate swiftly, these subsidies would get very costly for government coffers very quickly — straining public finances if not creating massive implied contingent liabilities.”
  • “On that basis, when electric car subsidies start eating into the funding that’s available for other vital government services, public perceptions of EV efficiency will change markedly.”
  • All for EV adoption, just trying to be more aware of the factors in play.

Bloomberg Gadfly – OPEC’s Existential Sucker Punch – Julian Lee 7/30

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Prime-Age Labor Force Participation 8/7

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Civilian Labor Force Participation by Gender 8/7

Environment / Science

NYT – Let Forest Fires Burn? What the Black-Backed Woodpecker Knows – Justin Gillis 8/6

  • “Scientists say that returning forests to a more natural condition would require allowing 10 million or 15 million acres to burn every year, at least.”
  • “Today, closer to four million or five million acres burn every year.”

Agriculture 

WSJ – Daily Shot: CBOT Soft Red Winter Wheat 8/7

  • “The US wheat rally has been fully reversed on improved crop conditions.”

India

FintechFT – India’s fintech revolution – Don Weinland 8/7

Bloomberg Gadfly – Indian Banks’ Soaring Price-to-Truth Ratio – Andy Mukherjee 8/7

  • Several Indian banks have more non-performing loans in their books than they are letting on and are aware of. Worse, there a quite a few loans issued to companies (i.e. Videocon) with too few restrictions, who are then using the funds to pursue moonshot projects out of their core competencies.

Middle East

WSJ – Egypt’s Leader Makes a Risky Bet on the Healing Power of Economic Pain – Yaroslav Trofimov 8/6

  • “Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi is cutting food and fuel subsidies, a program long plagued by waste and corruption, in a high-stakes gamble to aid the stalled economy that none of his predecessors dared execute.”
  • “The economic shock therapy, coupled with a steep currency devaluation, has rocked the Arab world’s most populous country. Fuel prices went up 50% in June, cooking-gas prices have doubled and the annual inflation rate has surpassed 30%.”
  • “Every day, millions of Egyptians line up at government bakeries to buy five loaves of bread for less than two U.S. cents, a fraction of the wheat’s cost. The food subsidies extend to some 80% of Egypt’s families and were first instituted as part of rationing during World War II.”
  • “Farmers across Egypt nurture their crops with water pumps operating on diesel that, even after June’s 55% increase, still retails for 77 cents a gallon, less than a third of retail prices in the U.S.”
  • “The government’s goal is to end the subsidies in three to five years, according to Mr. Kabil, the trade and industry minister. ‘The right thing to do is to lift them totally,’ he said. ‘But you cannot do it today because you cannot correct 40 years of problems in one day.’”
  • The question is whether or not the people of Egypt will be able to make to that point without changing course?

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Caracas (Venezuela) Stock Exchange Market Index 8/4

  • If you live in Venezuela, there is nowhere else to preserve your money (outside of hard currencies – if you can get them).

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Market Bolivar (Venezuela) USD Exchange Rate 8/7

Other Links

NY Post – Hedge fund manager (Raymond Montoya) charged for scamming investors out of millions – John Aldan Byrne 8/5