Tag: Anbang

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

June 16, 2017

Perspective

MarketingDaily – Despite Retail Slump, Consumers Feel Generous At Checkout – Sarah Mahoney 6/14

  • “With retailers closing thousands of stores and malls growing emptier, it’s easy to think Americans would be less inclined to pony up for good causes at the register. But the latest Charity Checkout Champions report says that people contributed $441 million last year to some of the biggest point-of-sale campaigns, up 4.5% from 2014.”
  • “The biggest fund-raiser is eBay for Charity, which raised $56.6 million by allowing sellers to give a portion of sales to one of 34,000 charities. The Miracle Balloon program at Sam’s Clubs and Walmart stores came in at No. 2, raising $37 million for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in just seven weeks. And Petco bumped the McDonald’s Coin Collection program, benefitting Ronald McDonald House, out of third place, generating $28.3 million in gifts for the Petco Foundation, which funds pet welfare and adoption groups.”

The Big Picture – Sharing Economy – Barry Ritholtz 6/15

Our World in Data – Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments 6/15

WSJ – A Test of Loyalty at Macy’s – Miriam Gottfried 6/15

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – Oil Outlook Now So Bleak It May Be an Opportunity – Spencer Jakab 6/14

  • “Things look bleak, but oil bulls nursing losses should take solace in the fact that the consensus view in this market is usually wrong.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Used cars and trucks price index 6/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: Capital Economics – Projected Fed Asset Holdings 6/15

Real Estate

Bloomberg – Blackstone Plans to Sell San Francisco’s Ferry Building – David Carey and Hui-yong Yu 6/9

NYT – A $664,000 Parking Spot Symbolizes Hong Kong’s Property Frenzy – Austin Ramzy 6/15

  • The last time this happened I covered in my 10/28/16 – 11/3/16 post. Well now the record is $664,000.
  • “The buyer was listed as Kwan Wai-ming, whom local news outlets identified as executive director of the Huarong Investment Stock Corporation. His company declined to comment. That price, paid for a spot in an apartment complex on Hong Kong Island, was a new local record, breaking the previous $615,000 paid for a slightly smaller spot last year.”
  • “For his money, Mr. Kwan may get convenience. He already owns property in the same apartment complex where the parking spot is situated, called the Upton, in the Sai Ying Pun district. He previously bought two apartments for $9.7 million and two other parking spots in the complex for $995,000, according to the Hong Kong land registry.”
  • “But some wealthy residents revel in the recognition that comes with a Lamborghini or even a coveted license plate. Last year, a plate carrying the number 28, which sounds like a phrase for ‘easy money’ in Cantonese, sold for a record $2.3 million at auction.
  • Seriously?

WSJ – Google Will Buy Modular Homes to Address Housing Crunch – 6/14

  • “The Mountain View, Calif., company is finalizing an order to buy 300 apartment units from Factory OS, a modular-home startup, in a building likely to serve as short-term housing for Google employees, according to executives from both companies.”

Energy

WSJ – OPEC Stumbles in Face of Oil Glut – Summer Said, Georgi Kantchev, and Neanda Salvaterra 6/14

  • “The global oil glut is proving immune to the limits set by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its big-producer allies like Russia, fueling the idea that output caps withholding almost 2% of world crude supply were a miscalculation.”
  • “In the U.S., the Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that crude stockpiles fell last week by 1.7 million barrels, less than the 2.6 million drop forecast by a Wall Street Journal survey. At the same time, gasoline inventories rose by 2.1 million barrels, compared with the survey’s expectation of a 700,000 decline, underlining worries about the oversupply extending to crude oil’s products.”
  • “Oil stockpiles in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development—a club of 35 countries with industrialized economies—rose by 18.6 million barrels in April and were higher than they were when OPEC agreed to its cut late last year, said the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based group that advises governments on energy trends.”
  • “Adding to oil traders’ angst: U.S. oil production has come roaring back to life. The IEA said U.S. crude supply will grow almost 5% on average this year, and nearly 8% in 2018, potentially vaulting American producers ahead of Saudi Arabia in daily output.”
  • “’Such is the dynamism of this extraordinary, very diverse industry it is possible that growth will be faster,’ the IEA said.”
  • “Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih said this week that the production cuts would start having an impact this summer, accelerating a drop in stored oil that OPEC said began in January. He has said OPEC and Russia would do ‘whatever it takes’ to bring supply back in line with demand.”
  • “Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of IHS Markit and a long-time oil market watcher, said OPEC wouldn’t abandon its production-cut agreement, which took almost a year to put together through 2016.”
  • “’When OPEC and the other producers agreed to this deal, they hoped that, as the old adage says, time heals all—and time will heal the inventory problem,’ Mr. Yergin said. ‘They should now take a deep breath and realize this will take a lot more time.’”
  • “The cartel set a tough goal last December, when its officials said they wanted to cut oil-storage levels to the five-year average.”
  • “OPEC said OECD storage levels actually have been falling but by only 88 million barrels in the first four months of 2017. At that pace, it would take until March 2018 for stockpiles to fall another 250 million barrels to the five-year average.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: eia – US Wind and Solar Electricity Generation 6/15

WSJ – Beijing Gives Banks the Go-Ahead for Yet Another Lending Binge – Anjani Trivedi 6/14

  • “While Beijing is carrying out a high-profile campaign to reduce leverage in its financial markets with one hand, with the other it is encouraging more potentially reckless borrowing. This week, the regulator put pressure on the country’s big banks to lend more to small companies and farmers, while the government announced tax breaks for financial institutions that lend to rural households.”
  • “If the goal of lending to poorer customers sounds noble, the concern is that the execution will only worsen Chinese banks’ existing problems, namely high levels of bad loans and swaths of mispriced credit. Bank lending to small companies is already growing pretty fast, with non-trivial sums involved: It jumped 17% in the year through March to 27.8 trillion yuan ($4.084 trillion). That compares favorably with the 7% rise in loans to large- and medium-size companies over the same period.”
  • “But lending standards are set to get even looser. Banks have been told they should tolerate higher nonperforming loan ratios for small companies and agriculture-related lending, meaning they need to worry less about credit quality. The regulator also asked banks to keep interest rates on such loans at an ‘appropriate’ level—effectively allowing banks to ignore the proper pricing of risk.”
  • “This all flies in the face of efforts to cull bad credit from the economy. Chinese banks are already given plenty of leeway to classify loans how they like: The new measures may only encourage them to avoid writing off bad debt. It isn’t clear, either, how allowing small businesses and farmers to borrow even more will help China Inc. cure its addiction to debt-fueled growth.”

WSJ – Chinese Banks Limit Exposure to Anbang – James T. Areddy 6/15

  • “A number of banks have slowed marketing of Anbang-branded investments to their customers in recent days, according to people with knowledge of the situation.”

June 6, 2017

Perspective

Economist – The super-rich are different: they pay less tax 6/1

Visual Capitalist – The Problem With Our Maps – Nick Routley 6/2

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Grantham says higher valuations will persist – Robin Wigglesworth 6/1

  • “The US stock market has entered an era of higher valuations and probably has further room to rise, according to Jeremy Grantham, the founder of asset manager GMO and a known bearish spotter of financial bubbles.”
  • “Mr. Grantham, a notoriously bearish ‘value investor’ who correctly called and dodged the Japanese, dotcom and housing bubbles, sees little to worry him in the US market today. Expressing a preference for emerging market equities to US stocks, GMO’s founder points to seemingly durable pillars of healthy corporate profits, low interest rates and any lack of euphoria.”
  • “’I’ve dedicated my life to financial bubbles, and I don’t think it is a bubble,’ he told the Financial Times. ‘This is the broadest market of all time . . . That is not the nature of a bubble.’”
  • “Moreover, the normally bearish investor — who has built much of his career on the observation that market levels ultimately tend to revert to their long-term average — has even reluctantly conceded that US share prices may have shifted durably to a higher level since the late 1990s.”
  • “He laid out the case for why ‘this time seems very, very different’ in his quarterly letter to investors, pointing out that despite some wild swings in recent decades — caused by the dotcom bubble and subsequent crash, and then the global financial crisis — US price-to-earnings have averaged over 23 times since 1997, compared with nearly 14 times in the preceding decades, when he started his career.”
  • “The central reasons are globalization increasing the earning power of US multinationals, the growing political influence of American corporations and more onerous regulations stifling the growth of disruptive upstarts, in turn leading to increasingly monopolistic US companies, and above all a secular and durable decline in interest rates.”
  • “Mr. Grantham admits his new tone gets ‘groans from fellow value investors’ where it has ‘rattled a lot of cages’, but argued that previously dependable rules have to be re-examined and some even cast aside, given that the ‘world has changed’.”
  • “’You now have to treat previously cast-iron rules with suspicion. They’re more like aluminum rules now.’’’

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns Real Estate Consulting – US Investor Purchase Percentage 6/1

WSJ – Riksbank Chief Wants Swedish Government to Cool Red-Hot Property Market – Nina Adam 6/1

  • “Sweden’s central bank governor Stefan Ingves said a red-hot housing market and record-high level of household debt will put the Scandinavian country’s economy in peril unless the government cools the property sector down.”
  • “Swedish property prices have soared in recent years, fueled by low borrowing costs and strong economic growth. The Riksbank estimates that house prices have doubled and apartment prices have tripled over the past 10 years. At the same time, household debts have risen to 180% of disposable incomes, which is a record high.”
  • “Goldman Sachs earlier this month attached about a 35% chance to a housing bust in Sweden over the next five to eight quarters.”
  • “The Bank for International Settlements and others have warned that a long period of very low global interest rates could lead to a fresh cycle of boom and bust in housing markets. While that seems like a distant prospect in many parts of the world, Sweden may be an early test of how much has changed since the last financial crisis.”

Finance

NYT – In Texas, Some Rare Good News About Cities With Pension Woes – Mary Williams Walsh 6/1

  • “Detroit. Stockton. Puerto Rico. The list of places bankrupted by ballooning pension obligations and other debts is growing. But now comes some good news about two cities, Dallas and Houston, that have pulled back from the brink.”
  • “Just six months ago, the mayor of Dallas, Michael S. Rawlings, was warning that his city might need to declare bankruptcy after a panic led stampeding retirees to pull half a billion dollars out of its pension fund for police officers and firefighters.”
  • “But instead of going to bankruptcy court, Mr. Rawlings went to Austin, the state capital, to lobby for state pension laws that would stop the bleeding. So did the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, who faced other pension problems and had persuaded the city’s labor groups to agree to concessions worth $1.3 billion over the next 30 years.”
  • “Each city had its own bill, because each had its own unique problems. But both bills involve measured reductions in pension accruals for workers and retirees — mainly in secondary benefit categories like inflation adjustments and lump-sum payouts. In exchange, the pension funds will receive more money from the cities to protect the core benefits.”
  • “As happy as the resolution may seem, the steps that Texas took are illegal in other places where public pensions are imperiling the finances of cities and states. Illinois, California, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Kansas are among the states where, by law, public pensions cannot be reduced — not even the pensions that current workers hope to earn in the future.”
  • “That doctrine, known as the California Rule, explains why California cities like Vallejo and Stockton reduced their payments to other creditors when they went into bankruptcy but did not touch their workers’ costly pension plans.”
  • “Both cities were spurred to act by the risk of credit downgrades and by a recent accounting change that calls for cities to calculate the number of years before their pension funds will run out of money — a once-unthinkable catastrophe that has come to pass in Prichard, Ala.; Central Falls, R.I.; and now Puerto Rico.”
  • “Those developments — and Detroit’s bankruptcy — have shown that Washington will not bail out government pension funds that go bust; officials had to patch together money from other sources, and even then, the retirees of Prichard, Central Falls and Detroit had their benefits cut. Cuts are expected soon in Puerto Rico, too.”

China

WSJ – Baidu’s Turn as a Bank Is Unwelcome – Jacky Wong 6/1

  • “Everything is a bank in China these days it seems—even its biggest internet search engine.”
  • “Eager to get a bigger slice of the pie, Baidu has been aggressively selling its own wealth management products. Assets in its financial services business had more than doubled to $3.7 billion by the end of March from three months previously, according to Fitch. It has also been offering microloans, many of them unsecured, to consumers who may be unable to borrow from banks.”
  • “Fitch, rightly, is worried that Baidu is running the same risk as China’s banks: its aggressive selling of investment products and microloans could come back to bite the company if there is a wave of defaults. Baidu has around $5 billion of net cash to cover any losses. But with its core search business stagnant, investors shouldn’t welcome Baidu taking on such new risks.”

FT – Billionaire Anbang boss Wu Xiaohui barred from leaving China – Henny Sender and Lucy Hornby 6/2

Puerto Rico

Bloomberg – Puerto Rico’s Exodus Is Speeding the Island’s Economic Collapse – Jonathan Levin and Rebecca Spalding 6/2

  • “The choice is heartbreaking: stay to help other families, or leave to help your own.” 
  • “That’s the calculation thousands in Puerto Rico are making. The bankruptcy of the U.S. commonwealth, the culmination of years of decline, has accelerated an exodus that’s adding to the island’s economic misery.”
  • “The population drop is astonishing. The island has lost 2% of its people in each of the past three years. A comparable departure from the 50 states would mean 18 million people moving out since 2013. About 400,000 fewer Puerto Ricans live on an island of 3.4 million today compared with a decade ago, when its economy began contracting.” 
  • “The departures have trapped Puerto Rico in a downward spiral. A grinding recession, with joblessness at 11.5%, and $74 billion mountain of debt that pushed the island to insolvency has made collecting taxes key to an economic rebound. At the same time, more Puerto Ricans from all walks of life are moving away to better their lives, meaning government revenue is dwindling.”
  • “Puerto Rico’s bond debt has grown 87% since 2006. A simple way for individual islanders to avoid having to pay it is to move to the mainland.”
  • “The government doesn’t seem to have come to grips with the outflow. Puerto Rico’s turnaround plan — a path to sustainability approved by a U.S. oversight board — assumes the population will shrink just 0.2% each year for the next decade. It uses that number as the basis for its projections of tax receipts and economic growth.”
  • Further, “the exodus isn’t confined to professionals. Among the throngs leaving are construction workers and taxi drivers. Research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that college graduates make up roughly the same proportion of emigres as they do in the island’s general population, suggesting that the departures have touched every corner of the commonwealth.”
  • “While migration is the main driver in population fluctuation, a declining fertility rate isn’t helping either. The natural population increase — excess births over deaths — fell to 3,000 last year from 20,000 a decade ago, as families facing poorer economic prospects and the threat of the Zika virus put off having kids. At the same time, younger generations of child-bearing age are more likely to take off for the mainland.”
  • Seems like the only way to stop this trend is to make Puerto Rico a full-fledged state. Question is whether or not all the vested parties are willing to go along with it.

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Brazil GDP 6/1

May 19, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

FT – Chinese insurer warns of defaults as ban on new products bites – Gabriel Wildau and Nan Ma 5/17

  • “One of China’s largest insurers has warned of mass defaults and social unrest unless the regulator lifts a ban on its issuance of new products, the latest sign of stress in the industry caused by a crackdown on financial risk.”
  • “In a letter to China’s insurance regulator seen by the Financial Times, Foresea Life Insurance warns that the company expects Rmb60bn ($8.7bn) in redemptions this year and might be unable to meet payouts unless it is able to sell new products.” 
  • “In December, the China Insurance Regulatory Commission banned Foresea for three months from applying to sell new products. In February, the agency banned Foresea chairman Yao Zhenhua, China’s fourth-richest man, from the industry for 10 years.”
  • “Foresea is a unit of Baoneng Group, a property and financial conglomerate that Mr Yao also chairs. Baoneng made headlines last year by attempting a hostile takeover of China Vanke, one of China’s largest residential developers.” 
  • “Baoneng has used the sale of so-called ‘universal insurance’ products to finance its stake in Vanke and other listed companies. Such policies are, essentially, investment vehicles offering high yields and guaranteed payouts on maturities. Distributed through banks, they bear little resemblance to traditional insurance, which pays out only in the event of a risk incident such as death, illness, or accident.”
  • “Deregulation of the insurance industry in recent years has led to the sharp rise of universal insurance sales, which has helped groups such as Foresea and Anbang Insurance Group to grow.”
  • “Foresea’s premiums soared from Rmb32bn in 2014 to Rmb100bn last year but tumbled 61% in the first quarter this year. The date of Foresea’s letter indicates that, by late April, the regulator had not yet approved new Foresea products, despite the expiration of the three-month ban.”
  • “Beyond Foresea, the CIRC has moved to contain universal insurance in recent months, amid President Xi Jinping’s call to curb financial risk. Analysts warn that the high yields offered by universal insurance force issuers to take risks in order to earn the returns necessary to meet promised payouts.” 
  • “Many universal insurance products ostensibly carry long durations of five or even 10 years but the policies often include generous redemption terms, enabling investors to cash out of the products with minimal penalties.” 
  • “Foresea’s warning that mass redemptions could leave the group unable to meet payouts highlights the liquidity risk created by taking on short-term liabilities to purchase long-term, illiquid assets.”
  • “This month, the CIRC imposed a similar three-month ban on Anbang and accused the group of ‘wreaking havoc’ in the market with aggressive sales tactics. The agency specifically criticized Anbang for selling products with short maturities.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Murder case highlights property money trail from China to US – Leslie Hook and Lucy Hornby 5/17

  • “A record bail posted in a California court for one of the accused in a murder case has thrown the spotlight on a property fortune that traces its roots to the Chinese military, in a graphic illustration of how money made in China has flooded overseas real estate markets.” 
  • “Tiffany Li is a Chinese-American heiress accused of ordering a hit on her ex-boyfriend in San Mateo county, a leafy suburb of San Francisco where Teslas are more common than violent crime. In April she posted $4m in cash and $62m in California property as bail — among the highest ever posted in the US.”

Real Estate

Bloomberg – Real Estate Deals Vanish in New York – Sarah Mulholland 5/18

  • “In New York City, first-quarter property sales plummeted 58%, to $4.3 billion, compared with a year earlier, according to data from brokerage Cushman & Wakefield Inc. It marked the lowest quarterly sales volume in six years. Nationwide, the picture wasn’t much better. Sales dropped 18%, research firm Real Capital Analytic Inc. found.”

WSJ – Mall Owners Flex Hidden Muscles Over Lenders – Esther Fung 5/16

  • “At a time when retailers are closing thousands of stores across the U.S., some lenders are deciding to renegotiate loans backing malls—and suffer guaranteed losses—rather than run the risk of being stuck owning or operating the malls themselves.”
  • “Shopping mall owner Washington Prime Group last June defaulted on an $87.3 million loan backing Mesa Mall in Grand Junction, Colo., and turned the keys over to creditors.”
  • “Rather than operate the mall, the creditors quickly sold the property—right back to Washington Prime—at a lower price. Late last month, Washington Prime told investors it had repurchased the mall and secured a discounted payoff of the original loan for $63 million.”
  • “The Mesa Mall deal is among the first known instances of mall landlords securing discounted payoffs rather than walking away entirely, but more such deals could be in the offing. In the past 12 months, 318 loans backing retail real estate suffered losses totaling $1.85 billion, with the percentage of lost principal reaching 43.3%, according to data from Trepp LLC, a real-estate data provider.”
  • “Discounted payoffs are warranted in some situations, analysts said. Many malls with otherwise viable business operations are still carrying debts made during the boom years of 2006 and 2007, often at inflated valuations.”

Energy

FT – The Big Green Bang: how renewable energy became unstoppable – Pilita Clark 5/18

  • “These advances have become too significant for the oil and gas industry to ignore. In the first three months of this year, the heads of some of the world’s largest oil companies have spoken of a ‘global transformation’ (Saudi Aramco) that is ‘unstoppable’ (Royal Dutch Shell) and ‘reshaping the energy industry” (Statoil). Isabelle Kocher, chief executive of French power and gas group Engie, calls it a new ‘industrial revolution’ that will ‘bring about a profound change in the way we behave’.”
  • “None of this means the problem of climate change has been solved, or that fossil fuels will vanish in the near future. Oil, gas and coal still account for about 86% of the energy keeping the world’s lights on, cars running and homes warm — a share that has barely changed in 25 years. Coal and gas-fired power plants are still being built, especially in the developing world where 1.2bn people lack electricity.”
  • “Modern renewables, in contrast, are growing from a tiny base and are often less dependable than dirtier power generators that do not rely on the weather. Wind and solar power accounted for a puny 4.4% of global electricity in 2015, and big battery systems can only store enough power to satisfy a few seconds of global electricity demand, says the International Energy Agency. Electric vehicle sales last year were just 0.9% of all vehicles sold, according to the EV-Volumes consultancy.”
  • “But the emerging energy transition is already causing trouble for companies around the world, from write downs and shrinking sales to sliding share prices and wholesale break-ups:”
    • “In sunny Nevada, casino companies are unplugging from the state utility. NV Energy lost nearly 6% of its customer base virtually overnight in October after MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts agreed to pay a combined $103m to defect and buy their power elsewhere. MGM cited “the sharp decline in the cost of renewable energy” as a primary driver of its decision. Caesars later did a $47.5m deal to quit.”
  • “When the definitive history of the energy transition is written, the taxpayers of Germany will deserve their own chapter. They bankrolled the green energy revolution known as the Energiewende, pioneering generous subsidies nearly 20 years ago that helped drive renewables up from 9% of Germany’s electricity mix in 2004 to 32% last year.”
  • “As other European nations — and some US states — boarded the green power wagon, it kindled a wave of demand for wind turbines and solar panels that helped drive costs down worldwide. Solar’s price fall was especially steep after a Chinese manufacturing boom spurred global over-supply.”
  • “The result was doubly miserable for conventional fossil fuel generating companies: renewables crowded them out while simultaneously driving down wholesale power prices, causing billions of euros in losses.”
  • “’Renewables have reached a tipping point globally,’ says Simon Virley, head of power and utilities at KPMG. ‘A subsidy-free future is now in reach for a number of technologies and geographies.'”
  • “None of this means the future of clean energy will be entirely smooth. Indeed, its very success poses a raft of questions for governments that some have barely contemplated.”
  • “Chief among them: what to do with power markets that were never designed for millions of people turning their rooftops into mini power stations?”
  • “How to pay for upgrading grids to cope with the influx of all this renewable power? What to do about incumbent companies calling for the brakes to be slammed on to protect them from green power incursions? Then there is Mr. Trump, who is seeking to unwind the clean power policies of his predecessor.”
  • “In the rest of the world, however, the future of green power appears assured. So much so that an industry that has spent years on the defensive is beginning to show a rising sense of confidence.”
  • “’Fossil fuels have lost,’ says Eddie O’Connor, chief executive of Ireland’s Mainstream Renewable Power. ‘The rest of the world just doesn’t know it yet.’”

Asia – excluding China and Japan

FT- Thai junta nears third year and settles in for longer stay – Michael Peel 5/18

  • “Thailand’s ruling generals were supposed to quit within barely 18 months but they seem more firmly entrenched than ever as they prepare to celebrate the third anniversary of their May 2014 coup.”
  • “A country once among the more democratic in a mostly authoritarian region is now in its longest spell under hardline military rule for decades – and, as the junta flaunts a 20-year ‘reform’ plan, it seems more and more like the new normal.”

Canada

Economist – The end of Canada’s housing boom? 5/18

April 28, 2017

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

  • ZeroHedge – Canada’s Housing Bubble Explodes As Its Biggest Mortgage Lender Crashes Most In History – Tyler Durden 4/27
    • “Call it Canada’s ‘New Century’ moment.”
    • “We first introduced readers to the company we said was the ‘tip of the iceberg in Canada’s magnificent housing bubble‘ nearly two years ago, in July 2015 when we exposed a major problem that we predicted would haunt Home Capital Group, Canada’s largest non-bank mortgage lender: liar loans in particular, and a generally overzealous lending business model with little regard for fundamentals. In the interim period, many other voices – most prominently noted short-seller Marc Cohodes – would constantly remind traders and investors about the threat posed by HCG.”
    • “Today, all those warnings came true, when the stock of Home Capital Group cratered by over 60%, its biggest drop on record, after the company disclosed that it struck an emergency liquidity arrangement for a C$2 billion ($1.5 billion) credit line to counter evaporating deposits at terms that will leave the alternative mortgage lender unable to meet financial targets, and worse, may leave it insolvent in very short notice.”
    • “As part of this inevitable outcome, one which presages the company’s eventual disintegration and likely liquidation, Bloomberg reports that the non-binding rescue loan with an unnamed counterparty will be secured by a portfolio of mortgage loans originated by Home Trust, the Toronto-based firm said in a statement Wednesday. Home Capital shares dropped by 61% in Toronto to the lowest since 2003, dragging down other home lenders. Equitable Group Inc. fell 17%, Street Capital Group Inc. fell 13%, while First National Financial Corp. declined 7.6%. In short, the Canadian mortgage bubble has finally burst.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Businessweek – Zombie Nation: In Japan, Zero Public Companies Went Bust in 2016 – Jason Clenfield 4/4

  • “Corporate Japan achieved a rare feat in the fiscal year that ended in March. Not one of its almost 4,000 publicly-traded firms filed for bankruptcy protection.”
  • But they’re not alone.
  • “In China, roughly 10% of the country’s publicly-traded companies are ‘among the walking dead,’ being kept alive by continuous support from government and banks, according to research by He Fan, an economist at Beijing’s Renmin University.”
  • “Across much of Europe, inefficient bankruptcy laws are partly to blame for rising numbers of undead companies. The problem is especially acute in Italy, where zombies represent 6% of all businesses, double the rate in 2007, according to the OECD report.”
  • “A 2016 academic paper co-authored by University of Maryland economist John Haltiwanger showed the rate of business start-ups has been falling steadily since the 1980s. The drop has been so steep since the financial crisis that in some recent years more U.S. companies have closed than opened-there’s destruction but not much creation.” Referencing Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter’s concept of ‘creative destruction.’
  • “Paul Donovan, global chief economist at UBS Wealth Management in London, says that cheap credit has made business around the world less efficient, and that the real walking dead will remain hidden until borrowing costs begin to climb.”

Real Estate

Bloomberg – Robots May Help Build Your Next Home and Fill the Labor Gap – Prashant Gopal and Heather Perlberg 4/17

WSJ – The Hedge Fund Manager Who’s Shorting America’s Malls – Serena Ng and Esther Fung 4/26

WSJ – S&P’s Warning: Here Are 10 Public Retailers Most in Danger of Default – Khadeeja Safdar 4/26

  • “The number of bankruptcies so far this year has already come close to the total in 2016, with 14 retailers filing compared with 18 last year, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.”
  • Further, “researchers at S&P Global Market Intelligence last week released a list of 10 publicly traded retailers they consider most at risk of default within the next 12 months.”
    • Sears Holdings Corp.
    • DGSE Companies Inc.
    • Appliance Recycling Center of America Inc.
    • The Bon-Ton Stores Inc.
    • Bebe Stores Inc.
    • Destination XL Group Inc.
    • Perfumania Holdings Inc.
    • Fenix Parts Inc.
    • Tailored Brands Inc.
    • Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores Inc.

Finance

WSJ – There’s Trouble in Capital One’s Wallet 4/26

  • “Credit losses aren’t at dangerous levels, though the rising charges are a bit worrisome given the strong jobs market. More concerning is the inability of Capital One to predict its own losses. Investors should be on guard for more nasty surprises from the entire credit-card industry.”

Bloomberg – Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Wary of Auto Loans, Pack Them in Bonds – Matt Scully 4/27

  • “Depending whose money they’re using, Wells Fargo & Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. either love subprime car loans or fear them.”
  • “Both banks have grown more reluctant to make new subprime loans using money from their own balance sheets. Wells Fargo tightened its underwriting standards and slashed the volume of all loans it made to car buyers in the first quarter by 29% after greater numbers of borrowers fell behind on payments. JPMorgan’s consumer and community banking head Gordon Smith earlier this year said the bank had cut its new lending for subprime auto loans ‘dramatically.'”

China

The Real Deal – Rumors circulate of Chinese government detaining Anbang chief Wu Xiaohui – EB Solomont and Cathaleen Chen 4/26

  • “According to the media reports, the investigation into Wu is connected to a $14.5 billion loan the Anbang chairman allegedly obtained illegally from Minsheng Bank. Wu used the illegal loan to invest in the stock market, the reports say. He may also have partly funded Anbang’s acquisitions with the loan, according to the reports.”
  • Oh by the way, “in January 2015, Reuters reported that Anbang had upped its stake in Mingsheng, the country’s largest private lender, to nearly 20%.”
  • Isn’t there a conflict of interest there?

Other Links

Bloomberg Businessweek – How a Gift of Coke Shares Helped Make These Colleges Richer – Janet Lorin 4/20

Bloomberg Businessweek – This Lawsuit Goes to 11 – Robert Kolker 4/20

December 30, 2016 – January 5, 2017

China insurance crackdown – meaningful implications. Fewer and fewer U.S. public companies.

Headlines

 Special Reports / Opinion Pieces

Briefs

  • Yuan Yang of the Financial Times highlighted recent promises made by Beijing’s mayor that house prices will not rise in 2017.
    • So here’s a new approach, with prices haven risen by more than 25% in 2016 “Beijing’s mayor has promised that house prices in the capital will not rise in 2017 in an attempt to ease concerns over the city’s property bubble.”
    • Good for people wanting to get in on the action, bad for those that own property.
    • “We must be firm in stamping out speculative investment [in property], increase the supply of residential housing, and guarantee that there will be no month-on-month increases in house prices.” – Mayor Cai Qi
    • This message is consistent with national policy that “houses are for living in, not for speculating with.”
    • The trick though will be to apply the break and the gas in a manner that keeps pricing static and not falling.
  • Tom Hancock of the Financial Times covered the new NGO regulation in effect in China.
    • In a previous post I highlighted Edward Wong’s article on China’s new regulations on Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) requiring each NGO within the country to have an official sponsor.  Well the policy is in effect as of January 1, and guess what…
    • “China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) waited until last week to publish a list of eligible sponsors, meaning that almost none of the thousands of foreign non-profits in China – ranging from charities such as Greenpeace and Oxfam to funds such as the Ford Foundation – will meet the law’s conditions before the January 1 deadline.”
    • Oh and there is no grace period.
    • As a result organizations are dialing down their operations to shuttling out personnel before December 31.
    • At issue is that “the law puts foreign organizations under direct supervision of Chinese police, who in the last two years have detained scores of human rights lawyers and cracked down on local groups advocating for reform via the courts. This month an office of the MPS promoted a video accusing foreign governments of using civil society to promote ‘color revolution’ in China.”
    • Bottom line, “the law says: ‘Foreign NGOS carrying out activities within mainland China shall abide by Chinese laws, must not endanger China’s national unity, security or ethnic unity; and must not harm China’s national interests.'”
    • As it stands “the MPS has said there are 7,000 foreign NGOs in China, suggesting it has a more expansive definition of the term than foreign experts who put the number closer to 1,000.”
  • Jacky Wong of The Wall Street Journal illustrated an interesting ploy by China Evergrande to sell equity that acts a lot like debt.
    • In a word, shenanigans.
    • “China Evergrande Group, the country’s largest developer by assets, said Monday that it has agreed to sell a 13.2% stake in its major subsidiary, Hengda Real Estate, to eight investors for 30 billion yuan ($4.3 billion). This values Hengda, which owns Evergrande’s core property development business, at $33 billion – almost four times the parent’s current market capitalization.”
    • So the rest of the company is worth much less than $0?
    • “The investment is basically a form of bridge financing in preparation for the company to list Hengda in mainland China, something the developer proposed back in October.”
    • Basically, the company is “effectively guaranteeing the investors an average 7.8% yield for the next three years. That is more cash drain for a company that hasn’t had a full year of positive operating cash flow since 2009 and has net debt equal to more than four times its equity, counting perpetuals as debt, among the highest in the sector.”
    • wsj_china-evergrande-operating-cash-flow_1-3-17
  • Dave Gershgorn of Quartz pointed to the automation of Japanese white-collar workers in the insurance industry.
    • “One Japanese insurance company, Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance, is reportedly replacing 34 human insurance claim workers with ‘IBM Watson Explorer,’ starting January 2017.”
    • “Fukoku Mutual will spend $1.7 million (200 million yen) to install the AI system, and $128,000 per year for maintenance, according to Japan’s The Mainichi. The company saves roughly $1.1 million per year on employee salaries by using the IBM software, meaning it hopes to see a return on investment in less than two years.”
    • “Watson AI is expected to improve productivity by 30%, Fukoku Mutual says.”
    • “Artificial intelligence systems like IBM’s are poised to upend knowledge-based professions, like insurance and financial services, according to the Harvard Business Review, due to the fact that many jobs can be ‘composed of work that can be codified into standard steps and of decisions based on cleanly formatted data.’ But whether that means augmenting workers’ ability to be productive, or replacing them entirely remains to be seen.”

 Graphics

WSJ – Daily Shot: Cities Where Rent Swallows Your Salary 12/29

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WSJ – Daily Shot: Selfie-Fatalities 12/29

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FT – China/US real estate: safe as houses – Lex 12/30

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WSJ – China and the Debt-Refinancing Game in 2017 – Nathaniel Taplin 1/3

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WSJ – Luxury Apartment Boom Looks Set to Fizzle in 2017 – Laura Kusisto 1/2

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Featured

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

How China’s Insurance Crackdown Spawns More Risks. Anjani Trivedi. The Wall Street Journal. 4 Jan. 2017.

“Following a year in which Chinese insurers aggressively built risky and illiquid portfolios, acquired real estate, companies and stakes in companies at home and across the world, under loose regulation, China’s insurance regulator has taken to severe tightening measures in recent weeks. Regulators have effectively barred insurers from making risking investments and banned certain insurers and insurance products with high cash value and low protection.”

“The repercussions could cause trouble far and wide. Almost 60% of China’s wealth-management products are invested in bond and money-market funds and a growing portion of these products are backed by bonds. And, they account for almost 20% of banking-system deposits.”

“China’s unlisted insurers-infamous among them, Anbang-will now see their wealth-management, product-backed financing platforms squeezed under new rules that bar investing cash raised from investment products. With policyholder deposits accounting for more than 70% of written premiums, more asset-selling may be on the cards.”

Chinese insurers under pressure to rein in overseas deals. Henny Sender. Financial Times. 3 Jan. 2017.

Adding to the WSJ article.

“Regulators now say that any deal with a price tag of more than $5m needs approval; while big strategic acquisitions are likely to receive the nod, acquisitions of noncore assets, such as real estate, are not. Meanwhile, the slide in the renminbi, which makes diversification offshore more attractive, also makes deals increasingly expensive.”

“Until recently, many analysts expected Chinese insurers to increase their offshore activity.”

Further, due to low interest rates worldwide, insurance companies have been seeking higher return investment categories. As Boston-based consultancy Cerulli Associates notes “investments in the ‘others’ category – which includes listed and unlisted long-term equity investments, bank wealth management products, trusts, private equity, venture capital, loans and real estate – rose from 23.7% in 2014 to 34.2% in June 2016.”

“Fitch Ratings, meanwhile, is worried about the overall health of Chinese insurers, which have largely been overlooked amid concerns about the country’s banks. Its analysts noted that ‘the insurers have shifted to investing in riskier assets to sustain investment yields. This make their credit profiles more vulnerable to unfavorable capital market fluctuations and potential credit-quality deteriorations amid an economic slowdown.”

Thus considering these insurers will find it quite difficult purchase overseas assets with capital from China, they will have to already have the cash overseas, have a means to raise cash abroad, or they will need to sell overseas assets to pursue continued investments.

“Anbang, which does not have an offshore equity listing, has not sold any large overseas assets so far. People briefed on its plans said it would probably not proceed with an international bond offer after US ratings agencies suggested that it was likely to receive a non-investment grade rating.”

In fact, “Anbang may also have trouble finding the financing it needs to complete some of the overseas acquisitions it has already agreed (to). That in turn would crimp its ability to buy more.”

“In recent years, bankers with assets to sell have often counted on bidders from China to help push up the price. With commodity prices subdued (hurting SWF liquidity), and the US focused inward, it is not clear who will take their place.”

America’s Roster of Public Companies Is Shrinking Before Our Eyes. Maureen Farrell. The Wall Street Journal. 4 Jan. 2017.

“With interest rates hovering near record lows, big investment funds seeking higher returns are showering private companies with cash. Companies also are leaving the stock market in near-record numbers through mergers and acquisitions.”

“The U.S. is becoming ‘de-equitized,’ putting some of the best investing prospects out of the reach of ordinary Americans.”

“The number of U.S.-listed companies has declined by more than 3,000 since peaking at 9,113 in 1997, according to the University of Chicago’s Center for Research in Security Prices. As of June, there were 5,734 such public companies, little more than in 1982, when the economy was less than half its current size. Meanwhile, the average public company’s valuation has ballooned.”

wsj_number-of-us-public-companies_1-4-17

“In the technology industry, the private fundraising market now dwarfs its public counterpart. There were just 26 U.S.-listed technology IPOs last year, raising $4.3 billion, according to Dealogic. Meanwhile, private U.S. tech companies tapped the late-stage funding market 809 times last year, raising $19 billion, Dow Jones VentureSource’s data show.”

“‘There’s no great advantage of being public,’ says Jerry Davis, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and author of ‘The Vanishing American Corporation.’ ‘The dangers of being a public company are really evident.'”

“Among them, Mr. Davis and other say: having an investor base that clamors for short-term stock gains and being forced to disclose information that could be useful to competitors.”

“While it is difficult to quantify, there has been an explosion in private investment capital in recent years. Sovereign-wealth funds-pools of capital invested by nations-have roughly $7.4 trillion under management, more than double the $3.5 trillion they held in 2007, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, a research and data firm. Assets under management at U.S. private-equity firms totaled $1.4 trillion, an increase of more than 30% since 2007 and nearly four times the tally in 2000, according to the most recent data from PitchBook, a data provider and research unit of Morningstar Inc.”

Last year, 111 companies went public on U.S. exchanges, raising $24.2 billion, a dollar-volume drop of 33% from the previous year and the lowest dollar volume since 2003, according to Dealogic.”

“Meanwhile, M&A activity targeting U.S. listed companies has risen since 2012 to more than 9,300 transactions a year, on a 10-year rolling average. Before 2012, the average ranged from 8,000 to 9,200.”

“With fewer places for investors to spread their cash and more companies combining, the average size of a public company in the U.S. has swelled, hitting an all-time high of $4.7 billion in 2014… the average public company is more than three times as large as it was in 1997, after adjusting for inflation.”

Unfortunately for investors, it is unlikely that they’re going to be able to invest in a start-up with huge upside potential through the public markets…

wsj_private-investing-climate_1-4-17

Other Interesting Articles

Bloomberg Businessweek

Bloomberg – Wall Street, America’s New Landlord, Kicks Tenants to the Curb 1/3

Bloomberg – Harvard Academic Sees Debt Rout Worse Than 1994 ‘Bond Massacre’ 1/4

FT – French luxury hotels woo daytime lovers 12/29

FT – Chinese government enters storm over domestic filmmaking 12/30

FT – Stalling Chinese box office raises Hollywood fears 12/30

FT – Uber and Airbnb business models come under scrutiny 12/30

FT – Tesla falls short of vehicle delivery target in 2016 1/3

FT – Apple removes New York Times app from its China store 1/4

FT – Apple-SoftBank: noncore bets 1/4

FT – German push for home ownership drives price bubble fears 1/4

NYT – A Peek Inside the Strange World of Fake Academia 12/29

NYT – Uncertainty Over New Chinese Law Rattles Foreign Nonprofits 12/29

NYT – In a Brutal Year in Venezuela, Even Crime Fighters Are Killers 12/30

Visual Capitalist – Infographic: Vancouver Real Estate Mania 6/2/16

WSJ – The Chinese Theme-Park Honey Trap 1/3

WSJ – Shanghai Tower Fails to Meet High Leasing Hopes 1/3

WSJ – Slippery Logic to Russia’s Oil-Cut Claim 1/4

WSJ – Ignore Tesla’s Latest Slip at Your Peril 1/4

 

 

July 1 – July 7, 2016

The bad debt in Italian banks is looking like a BIG problem. The world has become more reliant on Middle Eastern oil. Not looking so rosy for hedge fund reinsurers.

Headlines

Briefs

    • As yields the world over drop “the effective yield on 7-to-10 year investment-grade corporates was 3.19%, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.” But relative to everything else, that’s really quite attractive.
    • “Indeed, in the universe of investment-grade debt, U.S. corporate bonds are close to the only game in town for investors looking for any yield. BofA Merrill Lynch credit strategist Hans Mikkelsen calculates that U.S. corporate bonds account for around 12% of all investment-grade debt outstanding world-wide yet they now represent about 33% of investment-grade yield income. Put otherwise, U.S. corporate bonds generate one out of every three dollars paid out by the entire universe of investment-grade debt.
    • “Almost 87% of Japanese government bond yields are now below zero.”
    • “Unlike other major central banks, the BOJ is a buyer at almost any price and mainly purchases government bonds, which represent almost two-thirds of negative-yielding global sovereign debt globally.”
    • “Further buying will only push yields lower. Cutting back, while helpful in the short- to medium-term, means that the BOJ has to find other Japanese securities. But, unlike Europe or the U.S., asset-backed securities and corporate bonds are hardly an option because of their relatively small market sizes.”
    • For reference, “the BOJ now holds almost 30% of its government’s bonds.”
  • Rich Miller and Steve Matthews of Bloomberg called attention to the challenge that Janet Yellen faces in regard to setting rates when the US economy is running short of labor.
    • “Seven years into the economic expansion, the U.S. is showing signs it’s running short of job seekers qualified to fill openings. The shortfall, which has been evident for some time for highly skilled workers, is spreading to workers with less education as unemployment falls further.”
    • “We are now close to eliminating the slack that has weighed on the labor market since the recession.” – Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve Chair on June 6
    • “At 4.7% in May, the jobless rate is around the level that most Fed policymakers consider to be full employment.”
  • Central Banks are putting a squeeze on the bond market according to Min Zeng and Christopher Whittall of the Wall Street Journal.
    • “A buying spree by central banks is reducing the availability of government debt for other buyers and intensifying the bidding wars that break out when investors get jittery, driving prices higher and yields lower.”
    • “Central banks themselves are having trouble finding all the bonds they need. The ECB, for example, can’t buy bonds with a yield lower than its deposit rate of minus -0.4%. As of July 1, 58% of German bonds eligible for ECB purchases traded below that level, according to Frederik Ducrozet, a senior economist at Pictet Wealth Management.”

Special Reports

Graphics

FT – Government bond yields fall to fresh record lows led by UK Gilts 7/1

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WSJ – Debt for Cheap: U.S. Companies Can Profit from Sinking Rates – Justin Lahart 7/1

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The Big Picture – China spends more on economic infrastructure annually than North America and Western Europe combined 7/4

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FT – Bad-debt warnings triggers fresh fears for Italian banks 7/4

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Visual Capitalist – This Map Shows the Average Income of the Top 1% by Location 7/6

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WSJ – Central Bank Buying Puts Squeeze on Bond Market – 7/6

WSJ_Central bank holdings of govt bonds_7-6-16

Featured

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

Bad Debt Piled in Italian Banks Looms as Next Crisis. Giovanni Legorano. Wall Street Journal. 4 Jul. 2016.

In Italy, 17% of banks’ loans are sour. That is nearly 10 times the level in the U.S., where, even at the worst of the 2008-09 financial crisis, it was only 5%. Among publicly traded banks in the eurozone, Italian lenders account for nearly half of total bad loans.”

“Although Italy has only one bank classified as globally significant under international banking regulations – UniCredit – some analysts say bank stresses worsened by Brexit could threaten Italy’s stability and, potentially, even that of the EU.”

According to Lorenzo Codogno, former director general at the Italian Treasury, “Brexit could lead to a full-blown banking crisis in Italy. The risk of a eurozone meltdown is clearly there if Brexit concerns are not immediately addressed.”

“The profitability of Italian banks has long been among the worst in Europe, weighed down by bloated staffs and too many branches, leaving the banks with little extra capital to cover loans that go bad. Today’s low interest rates have hit Italian banks especially hard because of their heavy focus on plain-vanilla lending activities, with relatively little in fee-generating activities such as asset management and investment banking.”

“…impaired loans at Italian banks now exceed 360 billion – quadruple the 2008 level – and they continue to rise.”

“Banks’ attempts to unload some of the bad loans have largely flopped, with the banks and potential investors far apart on valuations. Banks have written down nonperforming loans to about 44% of their face value, but investors believe the true value is closer to 20% or 25% – implying an additional 40 billion in write-downs.”

“One reason for the low valuations is the enormous difficulty in unwinding a bad loan in Italy. Italy’s sclerotic courts take eight years, on average, to clear insolvency procedures. A quarter of cases take 12 years.”

“There is an epidemic, and Italy is the patient that is sickest… if we don’t stop the epidemic, it will become everybody’s problem… The shock of Brexit has created a sense of urgency.” – Pierpaolo Baretta, an undersecretary at the Italian Economy Ministry

However, European officials are loath to let the Italians use the Brexit as an impetus to gain permission to bend the rules of the banking regime that were only just established at great pains.  The Italians though are concerned “about the 187 billion of bank bonds in the hands of retail investors that would be wiped out by a bank resolution under the EU banking rules.”

IEA warns of ever-growing reliance on Middle Eastern oil supplies. Anjli Raval and David Sheppard. Financial Times. 6 Jul. 2016.

“The world risks becoming ever more reliant on Middle Eastern oil as lower prices derail efforts by governments to curb demand, the west’s leading energy body has warned.”

“Middle Eastern producers, such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq, now have the biggest share of world oil markets since the Arab fuel embargo of the 1970s.”

“Demand for their crude has surged amid a collapse in oil prices over the past two years that has cut output from higher-cost producers such as the US, Canada and Brazil.”

“Middle Eastern producers now make up 34% of global output, pumping 31m barrels a day, according to IEA data. This is the highest proportion since 1975 when it hit 36%. In 1985, when North Sea production accelerated, their share fell to as little as 19%.”

Further, the adoption of more fuel efficient vehicles has slowed since the cost of gas has come down significantly. “In the US, more than two-and-a-half times as many sport utility vehicles were being bought compared with standard cars.” – Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency.

“Even more concerning for policymakers is China, where more than four times as many SUVs were bought, suggesting the country’s rapidly growing car culture has adopted America’s taste for larger more fuel-hungry cars.”

“Lower oil prices are proving to be bad news for efficiency improvements.” – Fatih Birol

Bottom line, “‘the Middle East is reminding us that they are the largest source of low-cost oil,’ said Mr. Birol. He said the region was expected to meet three-quarters of demand growth over the next two decades.”

“Mr. Birol said policymakers needed to impose stricter fuel efficiency targets to reduce demand, arguing it was not feasible in a world market to completely sever reliance on Middle Eastern oil.”

“US oil production will increase, but it is still an oil importer and will be for some time.” – Birol

S&P sounds alarm on hedge fund reinsurers. Alistair Gray and Miles Johnson. Financial Times. 6 Jul. 2016.

“So-called hedge fund reinsurers (HFRs) have failed to make a profit from providing reinsurance cover for more than four years, according to Standard & Poor’s.”

“S&P found that HFRs had performed considerably worse than traditional reinsurers, which have complained that the entry of new money into their sector has driven profitability down for all.”

“Conventional reinsurers tend to invest their income in conservative assets such as corporate bonds, since they do not know in advance how much they will need to pay out in claims.”

“In contrast, HFRs pursue what S&P described as ‘meaningfully risker’ investment strategies. Their assets are managed by their affiliated hedge funds. Allocations vary but include exposure to speculative-grade leveraged loans, private equity and short positions.”

“So-called combined ratio for the HFRs – claims paid and expenses incurred as a proportion of premium income 0 has been above 100 in every year since 2012, meaning a loss from underwriting.”

“Last year the ratio came in at 110.2%, compared with a profitmaking 88.6% for their conventional reinsurance peers.”

“S&P said the HFRs’ investment performance had also been ‘rough’. Overall net investment income dropped 63% from 2014 to $247m last year.”

Other Interesting Articles

Bloomberg Businessweek

The Economist

Bisnow – SMU, Yale Endowments Unload Real Estate Assets Due to Cooling Markets 7/1

Bloomberg – Blackstone Tenants Get a Shot at Buying Their Rental Houses 7/4

Bloomberg – Treasuries Deliver $700 Billion Windfall to World Safety Seekers 7/6

CNBC – This private equity giant wants to give landlords millions – here’s how 6/30

FT – Mexico raises interest rates to shore up peso 6/30

FT – Zenefits agrees to halve its valuation to $2bn 6/30

FT – Puerto Rico declares moratorium on debt payments 6/30

FT – Cash-starved Zimbabwe closes in on IMF deal to clear debts 7/6

MarketWatch – This economist thinks China is headed for a 1929-style depression 7/1

NYT – Italy’s Plan for Banks Could Roil Europe 7/6

Vanity Fair – Are We At The Start Of  A Tech World War? 7/6

Wharton – The Case for ‘Regrexit’: Why Britain Won’t Really Leave the EU 6/30

WSJ – Manhattan Apartment Sales Sputter 6/29

WSJ – Why Vanke Sank After Its Wake-Up Call 7/4

WSJ – Foreign Interest in U.S. Homes Cools 7/6