Tag: Bonds

April 18, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

FT – Venezuela’s imploding economy sparks refugee crisis – Gideon Long and Andres Schipani 4/15

  • “While the eyes of the world have been on the Syrian refugee crisis and the exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, Venezuela’s humanitarian disaster has gone relatively unnoticed.”
  • “But the sheer number of people now fleeing the country is changing that. The UNHCR says 5,000 migrants are leaving every day: at that rate, 1.8m people, more than 5% of Venezuela’s population, will depart this year.
  • “It was not always like this. For decades, Venezuela was a net importer of people, luring Europeans with lucrative oil jobs. A generation ago, it was the wealthiest country in Latin America.”
  • “’We are potentially facing the biggest refugee crisis in our hemisphere in modern history’ says Shannon O’Neil, senior fellow for Latin America at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.”
  • “Many are heading west to Colombia which, emerging from a long civil conflict of its own, is ill-equipped to receive them. There are now more than 600,000 Venezuelans in Colombia, twice as many as a year ago. Thousands have poured over the footbridge that separates the Venezuelan town of San Antonio from the Colombian city of Cúcuta. Walk the streets of Cúcuta and you find Venezuelans everywhere, selling cigarettes at the traffic lights, working as prostitutes, sleeping rough.”
  • “The collapse of the Venezuelan health system has prompted a resurgence of long-vanquished diseases. The government no longer provides reliable medical data and when the health minister revealed last year that the number of malaria cases had jumped 76% in a year, pregnancy-related deaths had risen 66% and infant mortality had climbed 30%, she was promptly sacked. A recent opposition-led survey suggested 79% of Venezuelan hospitals have little or no running water. The days when the Chávez government prided itself on decent medical care for the poor are long gone.”
  • Measles, eradicated in much of Latin America, has returned. Of the 730 confirmed cases in the region last year, all but three were in Venezuela. As people flee, they are taking the disease with them. In the first months of this year, there were 14 confirmed cases in Brazil and one in Colombia. All 15 victims were Venezuelan migrants.”
  • “’The infant mortality rate is on a par with Pakistan and the poverty rate of 85% in on a par with Haiti and sub-Saharan Africa,’ says Dany Bahar of the Brookings Institution in Washington. ‘People are fleeing because if they stay, they die. They die because they don’t get enough food to eat, they die because they get malaria and can’t get treatment, they die because they need dialysis and can’t get it’.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Teachable Moment – Three Ways to Fail Slow – Anthony Isola 4/16

Civil Beat – What Honolulu Rail Officials Know They Don’t Know – Randall Roth and Cliff Slater 4/17

FT – Norway snub turns up heat on private equity fee model – Javier Espinoza 4/16

  • “Industry costs for investors are high and hard to track.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Homebuilding Isn’t Keeping Up With Growth, Development Group Says – Laura Kusisto 4/16

  • “Some 22 states and the District of Columbia have built too little housing to keep up with economic growth in the 15 years since 2000, resulting in a total shortage of 7.3 million units, according to research to be released Monday by an advocacy group for loosening building regulations.”
  • “California bears half of the blame for the shortage: The state built 3.4 million too few units to keep up with job, population and income growth.”
  • “There is growing awareness that the housing shortage is widespread and it affects states not often thought of as being especially anti-development. Home prices nationally rose 6.2% in the year that ended in January, roughly twice the rate of incomes and three times the rate of inflation, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index.”
  • “Arizona and Utah are among the states that have built too little housing in the 15-year period, according to the report. The shortage in these places likely reflects strong demand as they become top destinations for retirees and people priced out of the Northeast and California.”
  • “At the same time, it is becoming more difficult to build all across America due to shortages of land, labor and materials.”
  • “Economists who have reviewed the report caution that measuring the present need for housing by extrapolating from past production is imperfect. Western states that were sparsely populated 60 years ago and experienced huge building booms in the latter half of the 20th century may not need to build at such a rapid clip today.”
  • “Housing shortages also are difficult to measure because most people will find somewhere to live by doubling up with family or roommates or moving to areas where homes are abundant but jobs may be scarce.”
  • “Nonetheless, the data underscore what economists say is a clear trend. ‘We have a housing deficit,’ said Chris Herbert, managing director at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. ‘I think we can all agree we should be building more.’”

Energy

FT – China to miss shale production target by ‘considerable margin’: report – Edward White 4/16

Finance

Bloomberg – How Hedge Funds Are Winning Back Investors – Katia Porzecanski 3/6

China

WSJ – Daily Shot: China Government Bond Yields 4/17

  • “Bond yields are falling, especially on the shorter end of the curve. Sensing a slowdown, Beijing is pulling back from its “deleveraging” campaign.”

April 10, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – Federal Budget Deficit Projected to Top $1 Trillion in 2020 – Thomas Kaplan 4/9

  • “The federal government’s annual budget deficit is set to widen significantly in the next few years, topping $1 trillion in 2020 despite healthy economic growth, according to new projections from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released Monday.”
  • “The national debt, which has topped $21 trillion, is expected to soar to more than $33 trillion in 2028. By then, debt held by the public will almost match the size of the nation’s economy, reaching 96% of gross domestic product, a higher level than any point since just after World War II and well past the level that economists say could court a crisis.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Garth Friesen – 10-year Government Yield Comparison 4/9

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: MBA – Top 10 Commercial & Multifamily Mortgage Originators in 2017 4/9

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

FT – Celebrities warned over risk of cryptocurrency endorsements – Joshua Oliver and Hannah Murphy 4/8

  • “Celebrity endorsers of cryptocurrency fundraisers are at risk of legal action from regulators and investors, legal experts have warned, following a US case that highlighted the involvement of famous promoters in a so-called initial coin offering that collapsed.”
  • “The Securities and Exchange Commission last week charged two men with taking $32m from thousands of investors via an ICO, a crowdfunding mechanism used to raise money for digital currency ventures. The co-founders allegedly raised the funds for a ‘fraudulent’ start-up called Centra Tech, with the scheme touted on social media by champion boxer Floyd Mayweather and musician DJ Khaled.”
  • “While the SEC stopped short of naming the celebrity promoters in their statement, it noted their involvement — an unusual move because they are not defendants in the case. Experts said celebrities who have endorsed ICOs could now face legal action from regulators, as well as investors who believe they have been scammed.”
  • “Charles Whitehead, a professor at Cornell Law School, warned that even if an ICO was not a scam, promoters could face legal action. In most cases, someone who promoted an ICO that was not registered with the regulator could have violated market rules, he said, noting that US laws tightly regulate publicity around the sale of new securities.”

Asia – excluding China and Japan

Economist – Cases against two ex-presidents of South Korea fit an alarming pattern 4/7

  • “The past seven heads of state have all been embroiled in corruption scandals.”

China

FT – China’s fund industry predicted to grow fivefold by 2025 – Chris Flood 4/8

  • “China will provide the ‘single largest growth opportunity’ for global investment managers, with the country’s mutual fund assets forecast to multiply fivefold to reach $7.5tn (Rmb47tn) by 2025.”
  • “This expansion could create a fee pool for running mutual funds worth $42bn a year, a lucrative new stream of profits for international managers with an established Asian presence, according to UBS, the Swiss bank.”
  • “China is on course to become the world’s second biggest fund market, behind the US.”
  • “Beijing unveiled far-reaching reforms in November intended to accelerate the growth of China’s under-developed investment industry with less than 5% of Chinese household assets held in mutual funds.”
  • “It plans to relax or eliminate foreign ownership limits on Chinese financial services groups, including asset managers, a change that is designed to attract greater involvement by large international players.”
  • “Stewart Aldcroft, Asia chief executive of CitiTrust, the securities and fund services arm of US bank Citigroup, said Beijing’s decision to allow foreigners to own 100% of mainland fund management companies as early as 2020 had provided a ‘huge opportunity’ for international players.”
  • “He noted that about $17tn in assets is held in unregulated wealth management products.”
  • “’Chinese regulators want a large proportion of those assets to move to the regulated areas so they are making it easier for fund management companies to operate,’ said Mr Aldcroft.”

April 5, 2018

Perspective

The Verge – South Korean millennials are reeling from the Bitcoin bust – Rachel Premack 4/3

  • “From the outside, the Korean economy appears to be flourishing: the country is home to major industry leaders such as Samsung, Hyundai, and Kia. It’s the 11th-largest economy in the world, with semiconductors, car LCDs, and other high-tech products dominating its exports. The overall unemployment rate is just 4.6%.”
  • “Still, young people can’t find jobs. Youth unemployment has hovered around 10% in Korea for the past five years. The underemployment rate — defined by those involuntarily working jobs they’re overqualified for or are part-time — is even higher as of this year: it hovered at 38% in 2016, according to Dongseo University professor Justin Fendos.”
  • “In this highly educated economy, it can be hard for young Koreans to distinguish themselves from their peers. Nearly 70% of all Koreans ages 25–34 have a post-secondary degree, the highest of all Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, and a high school degree is nearly universal. Entire neighborhoods in Seoul are full of college graduates studying to pass hiring exams in order to get in at Korea’s biggest companies or the enviable public sector.”
  • “’The design of Korean society is a big reason why the cryptocurrency became so popular,’ says Yohan Yun, a 25-year-old assistant reporter in Seoul who invested around $400 in Ethereum. ‘People here are generally unhappy with their current status in society.’”
  • “Even employed young people are pessimistic about their economic prospects: a survey conducted in 2015 showed that half of young Koreans don’t believe that they will do better than their parents’ generation, compared to 29% in 2006.”
  • “For young Koreans, cryptocurrency seems like a rare shot at prosperity. Months after last year’s bubble started to implode in February, the Korean won remains the third most traded currency for Bitcoin. The country of 52 million comprises 17% of all Ethereum trading, and it was the location of two-thirds of world’s biggest exchanges this winter, Korea Expose reported in February.”
  • “An estimated three in 10 salaried workers in Korea had invested in e-currencies by December 2017, according to a survey by Korean recruiting firm Saramin. Eighty percent of those people were in their 20s and 30s.”
  • “But now that the prices of cryptocurrency coins like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Ripple have tanked, many Korean youths are dealing with the mental and financial aftermath of their losses. Korean psychologists have reported an uptick of patients from the so-called ‘Bitcoin blues,’ divorce counselors say marriages are splitting from failed investments, and even the country’s prime minister said that virtual currencies are on track to cause ‘serious distortion or pathological social phenomena’ among Korea’s young population.”
  • “Real estate used to be the traditional way to grow one’s fortune in Korea, but prices have become exceedingly expensive for even upper-middle-class people. And interest rates for savings accounts are rarely more than a few percentage points a year.” 
  • “Koreans’ hyperconnectivity helped spur Bitcoin’s popularity. Teens and young adults spend around four hours a day using mobile phones in Korea. Nearly every Korean home has internet access, and 88% have smartphones, the highest percentage globally. Such an abundance of connectivity allowed potential traders of all ages to learn about the craze and hear about the insane amounts of money one could make on trading. Cryptotrading clubs, where people can meet like-minded traders and share tips, popped up at many Korean universities.”
  • “Thanks in part to the frenzy, some coins cost up to 51% more in Korean markets than anywhere else. Bitcoin’s price was up nearly $8,000 in January, Bloomberg reported. The ‘kimchi premium’ drew foreign traders to buy their coins abroad and trade them in the Korean market.”
  • “But then came the crash. From January 6th to January 16th, 2018 the price of Bitcoin to Korean won tumbled from a high of a US-equivalent $25,065 to $13,503, according to Korbit. It continued to fall to $7,410 by February 5th, and as of April 2nd, the price of a bitcoin sits at $7,241.”
  • “In total, the Bitcoin crash wiped out $44 billion of value in January, or more than Ford’s entire market capitalization, according to Bloomberg. New regulations against cryptocurrency trading, particularly ones from a worried South Korean government, helped usher the fall.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Business Insider – People have stopped paying their mobile-home loans, and it’s a warning sign of the economy – Matt Turner 4/3

  • “The mobile-home market is showing signs of stress.”
  • “The delinquency rate on mobile-home loans has increased by 200 basis points, or 2 percentage points, over the past year, according to research cited by UBS. The 30-day-plus delinquency level is now about 5%, the highest level since 2005.”
  • “The increase in the number of struggling mobile-home borrowers suggests that a large chunk of these people haven’t benefitted from the economic growth of the past few years, despite the low unemployment level.”
  • “This data represents a piece of a jigsaw puzzle of the condition of consumer finances in the US. And the picture that’s emerging, according to UBS, is of a two-speed economy, with lower-income consumers and younger borrowers with substantial student debt moving at a slower pace than more affluent and established participants.”
  • “‘We believe weakness in these two groups (lower-income consumers and younger borrowers) will drive higher credit losses at some stage over the next few years — particularly in credit card, installment, and student loans — with macroeconomic inflection from job growth to job loss as a likely catalyst,’ UBS said.”

NYT – How Dr. King Lived Is Why He Died – Jesse Jackson 4/3

WSJ – Telsa’s Model 3 Is No Model T – Charley Grant 4/3

  • “First-quarter production is not as rosy as the electric-car maker believes.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Deutsche Bank – US Actual vs Potential GDP 4/4

WSJ – Iowa’s Employment Problem: Too Many Jobs, Not Enough People – Shayndi Raice and Eric Morath 4/1

Real Estate

John Burns RE Consulting – California Has Density Solutions, but Not Enough New Housing – Pete Reeb 4/3

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Deutsche Bank – European Bond Issuance v ECB Purchases 4/4

WSJ – Daily Shot: Deutsche Bank – Emerging Market USD & EUR Debt Issuance 4/4

China

WSJ – Daily Shot: Deutsche Bank – Credit Expansion in BRIC Countries 4/4

WSJ – Daily Shot: Hong Kong Retail Sales 4/4

  • “Hong Kong’s retail sales jumped by most in eight years as wealthy shoppers from the mainland return.”

Japan

WSJ – Daily Shot: Deutsche Bank – Declining Service Quality in Japan 4/4

  • “Instead of inflation, Japan’s extremely tight labor markets are translating into reduced-quality services for consumers. The US is starting to experience this trend as well.”

Puerto Rico

Bloomberg – Stunned Investors Reap 95% Gains on Defaulted Puerto Rico Bonds – Michelle Kaske 4/3

  • “Not only are Puerto Rico’s bonds the top performer in the $3.9 trillion municipal market, they’ve gained more than any other dollar-denominated debt in the world, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Puerto Rico General Obligation Bonds 4/4

April 4, 2018

Perspective

FT – Naspers trims Tencent stake with $10bn share sale – Joseph Cotterill and Louise Lucas 3/22

  • “Naspers, the South African media company that is one of the biggest shareholders in Tencent, said that it would sell down part of its stake in the Chinese technology giant for the first time in almost two decades.”
  • “In a statement on Thursday, Naspers said that it would sell stock worth more than $10bn, equivalent to 2% of the shares in Asia’s biggest company by market capitalization, to fund investments elsewhere.”
  • “The transaction would reduce Naspers’ stake in Tencent, the world’s biggest gaming company and the owner of China’s WeChat and QQ social networks, from 33% to 31%.”
  • “Naspers added that it did not plan to sell any more of its Tencent shares for at least the next three years.”
  • “But even Thursday’s limited sell down is a landmark for what has been one of the most successful venture capital investments in history, and comes as Hong Kong-listed Tencent shifts strategy after years of explosive growth.”
  • Naspers’ investment of $32m in Tencent in 2001, now worth $175bn, powered its rise from a publisher and pay-TV operator to Africa’s biggest company by market capitalization.”
  • Approximately a 65.91% compound growth rate over 17 years. How do you like them apples?

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Forbes – Canadian Real Estabe Bubble Blowing Up North – Bob Haber 4/2

  • “According to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, single detached homes in Vancouver (on a local currency basis) have risen from approximately $400K CAD to $1.75 million CAD since 2002. That’s a 337% increase in 15 years. With incredibly fast rising prices, a large portion of the population is engaged in real estate brokerage, real estate development, construction, renovations, and everything that goes along with that. The echoes of Phoenix, Las Vegas, and San Diego from 2006 cannot be ignored.”
  • “…Taxation and interest rates are going higher. Cap rates on rentals or commercial properties are shockingly low (think 1% to 3% in most circumstances). In fact, Canada’s price-to-rent ratios are now well above what they were in the U.S. during the 2006 housing debacle. According to the Bank of Canada, 47% of Canada’s mortgages will reset in the next 12 months. To put that in perspective, a five-year fixed mortgage rate in Canada averages approximately 5.14%. This is 11% higher versus the 4.64% that it averaged for most of the past 2 years.”

NYT – Teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky Walk Out: ‘It Really Is a Wildfire’ – Dana Goldstein 4/2

Markets / Economy

engadget – New York approves surcharge for Uber and Lyft rides in Manhattan – David Lumb 4/2

  • “As part of the budget that New York lawmakers passed last Friday, ride-hailing services and taxis face a new fee if they drive in Manhattan. These aren’t nickel-and-dime increases, either: Uber, Lyft and the like face a $2.75 charge for each ride, taxis get a $2.50 increase and group ride services like Via and uberPOOL will be charged $0.75 per customer. It’s meant to combat congestion and help fund subway repair and improvements, providing an expected $400 million per year going forward for the MTA.”
  • “Unsurprisingly, it’s already catching flak from customers and from taxi drivers, who have become far outnumbered by ride-sharing cars in the last several years. Of the 103,000 vehicles for hire in NYC, 65,000 are driven by Uber contractors alone, while taxis remain capped by law at 13,600, The New York Times reported. As a result, average traffic in Manhattan has slowed from 6.5 miles per hour to 4.7.”
  • “Other cities have enacted their own surcharges for ride-hailing services in recent years, but they are far lower than those New York just passed. Seattle instated a $0.24 charge for each trip in 2014, Portland, OR agreed to levy a $0.50 fee per customer in 2016, both of which funnel money collected toward regulating ride-sharing services. Chicago passed one in 2014 that will reach $0.65 this year and directs part of the funds raised toward public transit, much like New York’s will.”

FT – Walmart extends money transfer operation to 200 countries – Anna Nicolaou and Ben McLannahan 4/2

  • “Walmart is expanding its money transfer operation to 200 countries, the latest move in the retail giant’s slow but steady push into financial services.”
  • “Through the new scheme, people will be able to deliver money from Walmart’s nearly 5,000 US stores to locations abroad within 10 minutes, the company said.” 
  • “Arkansas-based Walmart first unveiled a money transfer service four years ago, allowing customers to send funds between its stores, and aiming to reach the “underbanked” — about 27% of Americans have limited access to traditional banking, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Walmart claims it has saved customers $700m in fees because it charges cheaper rates.” 
  • “The retailer has partnered with MoneyGram, one of the big wire transfer groups, to expand globally this month. The service will allow US residents to send money to countries such as Mexico, which received nearly $30bn in remittances last year, according to Mexico’s central bank.”
  • “Walmart’s push into money transfers comes a few months after it announced it was partnering with PayActiv and Even, two financial-technology firms, to offer its 1.4m US employees tools for money management and on-demand access to their earned wages.”
  • “The moves suggest the retailer may see itself as a partner of the big financial services companies rather than a direct rival going head to head with basic products such as checking accounts or credit cards.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Political Calculations – Why Bad News for Big Tech Is Bad for Stocks 3/29

WSJ – Daily Shot: SPDR Americas – Equity Geographical Flows 4/3

WSJ – Daily Shot: Deutsche Bank – Drawdown Durations 4/3

Real Estate

FT – Manhattan apartment sales plunge – Lindsay Fortado 4/2

  • “The number of co-op and condominium sales in Manhattan fell nearly 25% during the first quarter compared to the same period last year, according to new research by Miller Samuel real estate appraisers and Douglas Elliman real estate brokers.”
  • “It was the largest annual decline in sales in nine years, according to the report.”
  • “The average sale price across Manhattan fell by 8.1% from the year-earlier quarter, and the average price per square foot also recorded a sharp decline, falling by 18.5% to $1,697.”
  • “Luxury apartment sales, considered the most expensive 10% of all properties, were hit particularly hard, as were new developments.”
  • “The average sales price of a luxury apartment fell 15.1%, down from $9.36m in the first quarter of 2017 to $7.94m in the first quarter of this year, and the number of sales was down 24.1%. The number of newly built apartments that went into contract fell 54%.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Knight – Mortgage Equity 4/3

  • “Turning to consumer credit, how much borrowing capacity do households have against their homes? The answer is $5.4 trillion. $2.8 trillion of that capacity is with borrowers who have the highest credit scores.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Knight – Hurricane-related mortgage delinquencies in Florida and Puerto Rico 4/3

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Deutsche Bank – Countries with Negative-Yielding Bonds 4/3

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

Bloomberg – The Crypto Hedge-Fund Bubble Is Starting to Deflate – Olga Kharif 4/2

Tech

FT – Why south-east Asia’s politics are proving  problem for Facebook – John Reed and Hannah Kuchler 4/2

  • “One of the company’s fastest-growing markets is also one of its most complex where hate speech and political manipulation are making it hard to remain neutral.”

China

FT – China moves its factories back to the countryside – Emily Feng 4/2

  • “After decades of urbanization and rural neglect, China’s Communist party is seeking to revitalize the countryside, where wages and standards of living have stagnated compared with those of big cities.”

FT – Chinese developers seek piece of booming education market – Emily Feng 4/2

  • “When China’s premier Li Keqiang recently vowed progress on a property tax intended to rein in home prices, it signaled to the country’s real estate developers that more than a decade of double-digit growth would soon end.”
  • “Facing slowing growth in their core business, top developers are betting on the education market, building and operating international schools for tens of thousands of students.”
  • “The country’s three biggest property developers — Country Garden, Evergrande and Vanke — have seen sales slow in the first quarter of this year, according to an industry ranking compiled by research agency China Real Estate Information Corp. Meanwhile, home price growth has dipped following a clampdown on lending and property speculation.”
  • “That has already made a dent in developers’ financials. Dalian Wanda reported a revenue drop of almost 11% in 2017 while other residential developers are girding for longer-term impact. JPMorgan Chase has forecast as much as a 6% decline in mainland Chinese home sales this year.
  • “Now developers are ‘looking at other sectors in which to invest in order to get the returns that they need to continue growth’, says John Mortensen, regional director of real estate investment and management company JLL, which often works with universities.”
  • “Meanwhile, China’s education market is booming. The sector will grow from Rmb1.64tn ($261bn) in revenue in 2015 to Rmb2.9tn ($461bn) in 2020, according to Deloitte, with particularly high demand for English-language curriculums.”
  • “Amid fierce competition to get into good universities at home and overseas, proximity to a good school is often a key factor in determining Chinese property prices. A 2012 study of Shanghai housing found that prices were more than 40% higher in top-rated school districts.”
  • “That has prompted residential developers to build new complexes with schools within walking distance of apartments, hiring or building in-house education teams to recruit teachers and design bilingual curriculums.”
  • “Guangzhou-based Country Garden, China’s top residential developer by sales, is now also among the country’s biggest private education providers. Its education subsidiary, Bright Scholar, runs 52 bilingual international schools that each offer a full education from kindergarten to secondary school. Bright Scholar listed on the New York Stock Exchange last year, raising more than $150m.”
  • “Vanke Group, China’s second biggest residential developer by sales, set up its own education group in 2015 as part of a strategic shift aimed at offering a ‘full ecology’ to families.”
  • “Dalian Wanda is another property group with a growing interest in schools — its children’s education and entertainment group almost tripled its sales last year even as the group’s total revenues fell more than 10%.”

India

NYT – Jeweler to the Stars Flees as India Seethes Over Bank Fraud – Maria Abi-Habib 4/3

  • “About a week after Mr. Modi grinned for the cameras with the prime minister, a state-run Indian bank told regulators that it had found nearly $1.8 billion in fraudulent transactions linked to the jeweler’s account. Indian officials now accuse Mr. Modi, his family and business associates of assembling a global empire with nearly $3 billion in money obtained illegally, mostly from government-run banks. He denies wrongdoing.”
  • “For many Indians, the allegations against Mr. Modi further cement the notion that taxpayer-owned banks are footing the bill for the lavish lifestyles of a rising elite. That idea has particular resonance in a country where stark poverty — India is home to a third of the world’s poorest people — remains dire.”
  • “Just a decade ago, during the global financial crisis, Indian lenders were held up as a bastion of stability. Today, they are considered more vulnerable than those in other leading emerging markets, mostly because state-controlled lenders dominate the sector, according to the International Monetary Fund.”
  • “Of the $6.5 billion in fraudulent loans that have hit the industry over the past two years, the most egregious cases were at government-owned banks, according to figures released by Parliament. Executives at those lenders are more likely to be appointed for their political connections than for their talent, financial analysts say.”

Russia

FT – Russia plans ‘bad bank’ for $19bn in toxic assets – Max Seddon 4/2

  • “Russia’s central bank is to create a ‘bad bank’ to ringfence Rbs1.1tn ($19bn) in toxic assets from three nationalized top-10 lenders, vastly increasing the total bill for bailing them out.” 
  • “Vasily Pozdyshev, a deputy central bank governor, told Russian news agencies on Monday that the central bank would transfer assets from three collapsed banks into Trust, another failed lender.” 
  • “Taxpayers are footing the largest bank rescue bill in Russia’s history to fund the central bank’s takeover of three privately held banks last year to stave off a collapse in the sector.”
  • “The largest of them, Otkritie, was Russia’s biggest privately held bank by assets until it was nationalized in August. The central bank then nationalized B & N Bank, another top-10 lender, and Promsvyazbank to stop them from going under.” 
  • “Under Ms Nabiullina (Elvira Nabiullina, Russian central bank governor), the central bank is conducting an unprecedented clear-up of the sector under which it has wound down more than 300 banks since 2013. To rescue the three top-10 lenders, however, Ms Nabiullina had to create a separate bailout mechanism that allowed the central bank to take direct stakes in their capital.” 

FT – Russia’s $55bn pipeline gamble on China’s demand for gas – Henry Foy 4/2

  • “The pipeline is Russia’s most ambitious, costly and geopolitically critical energy project since the fall of the Soviet Union, and represents a $55bn bet on uncharted territory by the world’s biggest gas company.”
  • “Russia’s first eastern pipeline is the most striking physical manifestation of President Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic pivot towards China amid rapidly worsening relations with the west. It is the biggest and most critical element in a suite of energy deals, funding packages and asset sales that seek to warm a once frosty relationship.”
  • “For Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled gas export monopoly behind the pipeline, the mega-project is the largest and most expensive in its history. When the taps are switched on in December 2019, the world’s largest gas exporter will be connected for the first time with its largest energy importer.”

February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

The Atlantic – How Humans Sank New Orleans – Richard Campanella 2/6

Economist – The roots of hyperinflation – J.O’s 2/12

  • “Fifty-seven cases of runaway inflation have been documented. They have common patterns.”
  • “In a country where the annual inflation rate is in four figures, the previous month can seem like a golden age. Venezuela’s currency, the bolívar, has lost 99.9% of its value in a short time. It is hard to fathom how a government can get its economic policy so wrong when the effects of hyperinflation are so severe.”
  • “Hyperinflations do not last long. They end in one of two ways. With the first, the paper currency becomes so utterly worthless that it is supplanted by a hard currency. This is what happened in Zimbabwe at the end of 2008, when the American dollar took over, in effect. Prices will stabilize, but other problems emerge. The country loses control of its banking system and its industry may lose competitiveness. With the second, hyperinflation ends through a reform program. This typically involves a commitment to control the budget, a new issue of banknotes and a stabilization of the exchange rate—ideally all backed with confidence-inspiring foreign loans. Without such reform, Venezuela’s leaders, though scornful of America, may find that its people are forced eventually to adopt its dollar anyway.”

FT – HNA/HK property: throttling back – Lex 2/13

  • “On Tuesday it (HNA Group) sold two parcels of land near the old airport to Hong Kong developer Henderson Land for HK$15.8bn ($2bn). The pull back of a formerly acquisitive group is a warning sign for the territory’s property market.”
  • “True, Henderson is paying 11.2% more than the sum HNA paid for the plots less than a year and a half ago. Back then, a report by real estate services group JLL estimated that the initial price was 13% above the higher end of the market.”
  • Bottom line, the recent run up has been juiced by mainland developers and expect them to be pulling back.

FT – ‘Self-inspection’ campaign looms for China’s online lenders – Henny Sender 2/12

  • “Regulators tighten their grip on fears that borrowers are overstretched.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Businessweek – This Bond Market Could Get Uglier – Brian Chappatta, John Gittelsohn, and Liz McCormick 2/6

FT – US craft beer slowdown sends hops market from boom to bust – Emiko Terazono 2/12

  • “A sharp slowdown in US craft beer sales growth has sent the specialty hop market from boom to bust with its effects starting to be felt by growers beyond its shores.”
  • “Many of the hop varieties popular among craft beer makers have plunged from their peaks between 2015 and 2016. For example, Citra, known for its smooth floral and citrus aroma and flavor, has almost halved from $23 a pound, according to Lupulin Exchange, a US online hop exchange.”
  • “Another variety, Cascade, was trading at $6-$7 a pound in 2015-16, but is now on the market for $1.20, said Mr MacKinnon (Douglas MacKinnon, chief executive of trader 47hops).”
  • “The main issue has been the sudden slowing of growth in the craft beer market, which until a few years ago had been rising annually by double digits. However, market saturation, as well as competition from other alcoholic beverages, have affected growth, which peaked in 2014 at 18%, slowing to about 5% last year.”
  • “The oversupply situation has been made worse by the jump in hop production and acreage which almost doubled in the past five years. Brewers fearing a shortage rushed to sign three- to five-year contracts with farmers, who increased plantings on the back of those contracts and high prices.”
  • “The rising output amid falling demand has resulted in a hop glut, with inventories in pre-harvest September rising 15% to a record 98m pounds, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Of the total, growers and merchants held an all-time-high share of 65%.”
  • “But despite the supply overhang, hop farmers — who on the back of demand invested in expanding operations, need to repay bank loans — are still expected to plant about 1,500 new acres.”

Investment News – SEC offers advisers amnesty to move clients out of high-fee mutual fund share classes – Jeff Benjamin 2/12

  • “Enforcement division giving advisers until June 12 to declare intentions to self-report fiduciary violations and make financial restitution.”

Real Estate

Bloomberg – This Mall Is Only for the Rich, and It’s Doing Fine – Kim Bhasin 2/8

Visual Capitalist – UBS: Real Estate Bubbles: The 8 Global Cities at Risk – Jeff Desjardins 2/13

WSJ – Daily Shot: Lawler Economic & Housing Consulting – Home Builder Net Orders 2/12

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg – Broadcom Lines Up Biggest Debt Financing Ever for Qualcomm – Molly Smith and Jacqueline Poh 2/12

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – LIBOR and Bank Rate Spread 2/12

  • It’s good to be a banker again.

Cryptocurrency

BBC – Bitcoin energy use in Iceland set to overtake homes, says local firm – Chris Baraniuk 2/12

Bloomberg – Bitcoin Risks Crashing to $900 If Dot-Com Mania Is Any Guide – Eddie Van Der Walt 2/12

  • “Already slashed by more than half since hitting a record near $20,000 in December, the cryptocurrency could plunge a further 90% in an environment of unsustainably growing supply, according to Bloomberg Intelligence commodity strategist Mike McGlone.” 
  • While the creators of Bitcoin intended to limit supply to 21 million coins, forks mean that there are already more than 50 million outstanding coins based on the original blockchain. There’s also nothing preventing rivals from spawning an infinite amount of clones, he said. The number of tradable cryptocurrencies jumped 120% in the past year.”
  • “’Parabolically increasing supply is the primary limitation to cryptocurrency market-price appreciation,’ McGlone said. ‘There’s strong gravitational pull toward $900, the average price since inception and the start of 2017’.”

Environment / Science

NYT – Here Are the Places That Struggle to Meet the Rules on Safe Drinking Water – Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich 2/12

 

February 5, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg Gadfly – Still Clutching an Old iPhone? You’re Not Alone – Shira Ovide 1/4

Bloomberg_Smartphone sales growth_1-4-18

Bloomberg Businessweek – What If China Is Exempt From the Laws of Economics? – Michael Schuman 1/24

Bloomberg Businessweek – How Hedge Funds (Secretly) Get Their Way in Washington – Zachary Mider and Ben Elgin 1/25

FT – Forget bitcoin, give me old-fashioned gold as an inflation hedge – Merryn Somerset Webb 2/1

  • Ms. Webb offers an interesting perspective at why inflation may not be that far away. Why…because the primary source of deflation – China – appears to have changed tact.
  • “For years, party officials have been incentivized to force growth out of their regions, regardless of the effects on prices, global macroeconomics or, for that matter, pollution. But in the party conference in October, Xi Jinping shifted emphasis.”
  • “Instead of focusing on growth, China’s leader talked of ‘three tough battles’: against preventing major risks (mainly financial — the new target is to be ‘further deleveraging’); poverty (Xi fancies a ‘moderately prosperous society’ in all respects); and pollution (he wants to see the sky blue again).”
  • “The result has been pretty instant. Almost as the delegates headed home, say the analysts at Gavekal, prices of natural gas (a ‘clean fuel’) doubled; steel output stalled; and cement sector output actually fell even as demand for it and hence prices rose. China doesn’t seem to be adding new capacity to the global economy in the way that it was and that should mean it isn’t exporting deflation to the rest of the world any more either.”
  • “That is a dynamic that is arguably beginning to show up everywhere else. The slack is disappearing. There is no spare capacity left in Japan (or you would see new cuts to it). Industrial production in the US hit a record high in December, despite the US being too busy with buybacks and financial engineering over the past decade to build new capacity. Manufacturing output in the UK is at its highest in 10 years.”
  • “This could all lead us to several interesting conclusions. The first, highlighted by Gavekal, is that it is an explanation for the way stock markets in countries that have been hampered with too much productive space in the past are suddenly breaking out. See China, Japan and Korea — markets you might want to stick with for a bit.”
  • “The second is that, guess what, the boom in the US might not be entirely down to Donald Trump’s policies. The factories could be humming because global capacity constraints are being hit rather than because he’s the best economic manager ever. And the third is that the real inflation our great leaders (the central banks) think is impossible however much they might print, isn’t impossible at all.”

Markets / Economy

NYT – Cash-Strapped Chinese Giant Taps a New Money Source: Its Workers – Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li 2/1

  • “Just before payday, an email went out to employees from top executives: Give us your money, and we’ll make it worth your while.”
  • “It was one of many pitches by HNA Group, a Chinese conglomerate struggling under an estimated $90 billion in debt accumulated during a global shopping spree that included buying stakes in multinationals like Hilton Hotels and Deutsche Bank.”
  • “The company, in an email, advertised an ’employee treasure’ product with an 8.5% return if workers handed over $1,500. A similar one dangled 9%. A third mentioned a return as high as 40% if employees ponied up $15,000.”
  • “These pitches, more than a dozen of which were reviewed by The New York Times, were not part of an employee stock program. Instead, they appear to be high interest loans, with the company as borrower and its workers as lenders.”
  • “The conglomerate has seen its borrowing costs rise sharply on the global bond market in recent months, an indication that some investors are increasingly worried about the company’s ability to pay its debts. Seven public companies under the umbrella of HNA have suspended trading of their stock, suggesting that big announcements that could affect key businesses are in the works. The company is also starting to sell assets.”
  • “It is unclear how much money HNA has raised from employees. The company has long offered such investments to its employees as a way to incentivize them and to share in the company’s success, Thomas A. Clare, an attorney for HNA, said in an email.”
  • “Companies around the world allow employees to buy stock or provide other ways for workers to invest in the business. But the HNA pitches do not offer direct ownership stakes in the business.”
  • “The offers reviewed by The Times had similar hallmarks, namely high returns for funding certain operations.”
  • “Chinese companies have often turned to individual investors or their own workers to raise money. But such moves, according to some China finance experts, can signal problems.”
  • “’It’s a desperation measure when companies really have no other source of financing and they are stuck,’ said Anne Stevenson-Yang, co-founder of J Capital Research, a corporate research firm.”
  • “A small company in the southeastern Chinese city of Wenzhou called Wenzhou Liren Educational Group made national news in 2011 after it went bankrupt and was unable to pay nearly $790 million it borrowed from employees and local residents. In 2015, an online peer-to-peer platform called Great Group pressured employees to buy investments in order to raise funds when it found itself in a financial bind, the Chinese news media widely reported. The two companies did not respond to requests for comment.”
  • “As HNA has faced more questions about its operations by both the local and foreign media, the company has issued groupwide emails urging employees to not speak to reporters. In January, HNA’s human resources department told employees they would be required to take a test on how to deal with the news media, according to an internal document reviewed by The Times.”

Real Estate

Bloomberg – Rental Glut Makes NYC the Worst Performer for Equity Residential – Oshrat Carmiel 1/31

Energy

eia – U.S. monthly crude oil production exceeds 10 million barrels per day, highest since 1970 – Jack Perrin and Emily Geary 2/1

eia_US monthly crude oil production_2-1-18

eia_US monthly crude oil production by production method_2-1-18

eia_US monthly crude oil production by location_2-1-18

Reuters – Suncor to cut 400 jobs as it rolls out self-driving trucks – Julie Gordon 1/31

  • “Suncor Energy Inc said on Wednesday that it expected to cut some 400 heavy-equipment operator positions over the next six years as it rolls out a fleet of self-driving trucks at its Canadian oil sand mining operations.”

Finance

Bloomberg – Tesla Sells $546 Million of Bonds as Buyers Can’t Get Enough – Claire Boston 1/31

Cryptocurrency

WSJ – Daily Shot: Investing.com – Bitcoin 2/1

WSJ_Daily Shot_Investing.com - Bitcoin_2-1-18

WSJ – Bitcoin Is Falling Fast, Losing More Than Half Its Value in Six Weeks – Steven Russolillo and Kenan Machado 2/2

WSJ_Bitcoin sell-offs_2-1-18

Britain

FT – Chinese investments in UK fail to materialize – Andy Bounds and Tom Mitchell 2/1

  • “Even as Theresa May inks new deals in Beijing, English cities left waiting for cash.”

China

Bloomberg Businessweek – China Starts Experiment to Tame Its Wild Property Market – Emma Dong and Paul Panckhurst 1/24

Bloomberg_China housing price gains in comparison_1-24-18

WSJ – China’s Bad Banks Face a Case of Indigestion – Anjani Trivedi 2/2

India

Economist – Low-caste Indians are better off than ever-but that’s not saying much 1/25

Economist_Indian caste statistics_1-25-18

South America

FT – Bolivar rallies after Venezuela unifies exchange rates – Gideon Long 2/1

New Zealand

FT – British and US migrants flock to New Zealand – Jamie Smyth 2/1

  • “Immigration surges after Brexit vote and Trump election shocks.”

February 2, 2018

Perspective

statista – The U.S. Cities With The Most Homeless People – Niall McCarthy 1/26

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Short sellers eye better days after Steinhoff and Carillion wins – Miles Johnson and Robert Smith 1/31

  • “A rising tide, as the saying goes, lifts all boats. This effect, which has been played out across financial markets for several years, has inflicted pain and frustration on specialist short sellers of stocks and bonds who try and profit by betting against companies they believe harbor accounting irregularities.”
  • “But after years of frustration, some of the funds who have been doggedly shorting certain companies have been rewarded. Hedge funds that made bearish bets against the South African retailer Steinhoff International and the UK construction group Carillion saw these trades dramatically pay off as both companies collapsed under the weight of their debts.”
  • “’In the past few months there have been a number of accounting-related shorts, such as Steinhoff International and Carillion, that have been big money makers,’ says Alper Ince, an investor in hedge funds at Paamco. ‘I think there is an expectation among short sellers that we may see more of these after years of companies making big acquisitions and taking on more leverage’.”
  • “’There had been chatter about Steinhoff’s accounting for years, but being short investment grade companies has been an absolute death trade,’ says a London based credit trader. ‘It’s a bit like the old mantra ‘don’t fight the Fed’ — you can’t short investment grade bonds when you know the ECB is buying them on the other side’.”
  • “The ECB was one of the largest holders of Steinhoff’s outstanding €800m bond, owning around €100m of the debt before it sold its position entirely at a deep loss earlier this month.”

NYT – Worries Grow That the Price of Bitcoin Is Being Propped Up – Nathaniel Popper 1/31

  • “A growing number of virtual currency investors are worried that the prices of Bitcoin and other digital tokens have been artificially propped up by a widely used exchange called Bitfinex, which has a checkered history of hacks and opaque business practices.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: German 5yr Bond Yield 1/31

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: US Crude Oil Production 1/26

FT – Shale powers US oil output to heights of 1970 – Ed Crooks 1/31

Cryptocurrency

Bloomberg Quint – India to Curb Cryptocurrency Use While Embracing Blockchain – Anto Antony 2/1

  • “India’s government said it doesn’t consider cryptocurrencies as legal tender and will take all measures to eliminate payments using them.”

How much.net – Visualizing The Meteoric Rise of Cryptocurrency in the Past 5 Years – Raul 1/30

Reuters – South Korea says no plans to ban cryptocurrency exchanges, uncovers $600 million (in) illegal trades – Dahee Kim, Cynthia Kim 1/30

Social Media

NYT – Twitter Followers Vanish Amid Inquiries Into Fake Accounts – Nicholas Confessore, Gabriel Dance, and Rich Harris 1/31

China

FT – Distressed debt investors line up to offer HNA financing – Henny Sender and Don Weinland 1/31

  • “Chinese conglomerate seeks up to $2bn secured against Hong Kong land holdings.”

Other Interesting Links

NYT – San Francisco Will Clear Thousands of Marijuana Convictions – Timothy Williams and Thomas Fuller 1/31

  • “Thousands of people with misdemeanor convictions for marijuana possession dating back 40 years will have their criminal records cleared, the San Francisco district attorney’s office said Wednesday. San Diego is also forgiving old convictions.”

January 29, 2018

Perspective

BLS – TED: The Economics Daily – Union Membership Rates in each State, 2017 1/25

  • “New York continued to have the highest union membership rate (23.8%), while South Carolina continued to have the lowest (2.6%).”

statista – The Countries Most Optimistic About 2018 – Niall McCarthy 1/22

Visual Capitalist – Visualizing a Global Shift in Wealth Over 10 Years – Jeff Desjardins 1/26

WSJ – Daily Shot: US Upward Mobility 1/26

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Some Lessons For Living From Older Generations – Ben Carlson 1/25

Project Syndicate – Blockchain’s Broken Promises – Nouriel Roubini 1/26

WSJ – My 10-Year Odyssey Through America’s Housing Crisis – Ryan Dezember 1/26

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg – Worthless Auto Trade-Ins Signal Riskier Loans – Claire Boston 1/25

  • “A growing share of the trade-ins that U.S. auto dealers and lenders accept for car-purchase financing are worthless on paper, a sign that banks and finance companies are making riskier loans to keep up revenue as vehicle sales slow.”
  • “Almost a third of cars traded in last year were worth less than the loans that had been financing them, according to car-shopping website Edmunds. That’s up from about a quarter a decade earlier, said Edmunds, which looked at cars traded in as part of financing packages for new auto purchases in the U.S.”
  • “Underwater trade-ins are just one example of the greater risks that lenders are taking now. New vehicle sales fell 1.8% to 17.2 million in 2017, but lending volume for new and used car purchases was on track to be higher than ever, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and consumer credit bureau Experian. The growth in the average amount financed for a new car outpaced median income growth between 2013 and 2016, Moody’s said, suggesting borrowers are getting more strained.”
  • “Any pain from car-loan trouble will likely be just a shadow of the housing bubble collapse, because the auto debt market is much smaller. There were around $9 trillion of mortgages outstanding at the end of the third quarter, compared with $1.2 trillion of auto debt, the New York Fed said. And so far, many of the bonds backed by subprime auto loans are performing well thanks to built-in protections for investors. Wells Fargo analysts said in a note Wednesday that bonds issued by two of the biggest subprime auto lenders — Santander Consumer USA Holdings Inc. and General Motors Co.’s finance arm — have room to reach prices not seen since before the financial crisis.”
  • “The higher percentage of underwater loans on trade-ins may be a sign that car owners are trading in their vehicles sooner than they had previously. A consumer is often the most underwater on his or her auto loan in the first few years of ownership, because the value of the vehicle drops fastest over that time.”
  • “For borrowers who do trade in their underwater cars, lenders are essentially giving them the money to pay down their loan. The dealer sells the used car, and whatever balance remains on the old loan is folded into the new loan. The borrower might get a longer-term loan than he or she had before to help keep monthly payments manageable.”

Real Estate

Commercial Property Executive – REIT Gets SEC OK for St. Regis Aspen Resort IPO – Gail Kalinoski 1/26

  • “Aspen REIT Inc. has been given approval by the Securities and Exchange Commission for a $33.5 million initial public offering allowing investors to buy shares in the luxury St. Regis Aspen Resort in Colorado.”
  • “Upon closing of the IPO, Aspen REIT will be the first single-asset REIT to list on a national securities exchange in the U.S., according to the company.”
  • “Aspen REIT is offering 1,675,000 shares at $20 per share in the Regulation A+ IPO. The REIT applied to list its common stock on the NYSE American stock exchange under the ticker symbol AJAX. Aspen REIT intends to use substantially all of the net proceeds from the IPO, together with equity in Aspen REIT’s subsidiary operating partnership, to acquire the St. Regis Aspen Resort, a full-service, 179-key luxury hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain in the Rocky Mountains.”
  • Well that’s another way to ‘crowd source’ / syndicate funds.

Finance

Topdown Charts – ChartBrief 182 – Bond Yield Outlook – Callum Thomas 1/24

  • “There has been a lot of talk lately about trendlines, key levels and breakouts by some of the big names… Ray Dalio, Jeffrey Gundlach, Bill Gross.  But anyway, you don’t need to be a famous hedge fund manager to see the writing slowly showing up on the wall here across the major global sovereign bond markets.  The charts below show US and German 10-year bond yields have already broken out, and Japan/UK are getting close.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: US 3 Month LIBOR Rate 1/24

Cryptocurrency

Bloomberg – Coincheck Says It Lost Crypto Coins Valued at About $400 Million – Yuji Nakamura and Andrea Tan 1/26

Environment / Science

Yale News – 2018 Environmental Performance Index: Air quality top public health threat 1/23

Mexico

Reuters – Mexico’s drug cartels, now hooked on fuel, cripple the country’s refineries – Gabriel Stargardter 1/24

Puerto Rico

NYT – Hurricane-Torn Puerto Rico Says It Can’t Pay Any of Its Debts for 5 Years – Patricia Mazzei and Mary Williams Walsh 1/24

  • “The devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria has made Puerto Rico’s already dire financial situation even worse: The island’s leaders acknowledged late Wednesday that they will not be able to pay down any portion of their more than $70 billion debt for the next five years because of the damage.”
  • “Just before the hurricane, Puerto Rico had made plans to pay creditors a total of $3.6 billion through 2022. That was a fraction of the amount due, had the island, a United States territory, not gone into default.”
  • “Now, Puerto Rico expects its budget to be $3.4 billion in the red this year — a deficit that will take five years to close — because of the storm’s toll.”
  • “Nearly a third of customers remain without electricity, more than four months after the storm.”
  • “The government projects its population will shrink by 19.4% over the next five years, with a total exodus of over 600,000 people.”

 

January 19, 2018

Perspective

Freedom House – Freedom in the World 2018 – Democracy in Crisis 1/17

WSJ – Daily Shot: Maps on the Web – Global Fertility Rates 1/17

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

The Atlantic – Raising a Social-Media Star – Taylor Lorenz 1/17

  • “The parents of teen internet celebrities get a crash course in a new kind of fame while trying to maintain boundaries for their newly rich and powerful children.”

Washington Monthly – How to Fix Facebook – Before It Fixes Us – Roger McNamee 1/7

  • “An early investor explains why the social media platform’s business model is such a threat – and what to do about it.”

WP – In Venezuela, money has stopped working – Francisco Toro 1/17

  • “Hyperinflation is disorienting. Five or six years ago, the 500 bolivars on the floor would’ve bought you a meal for two with wine at the best restaurant in Caracas. As late as early last year, they would’ve bought you at least a cup of coffee. At the end of 2016, they still bought you a cup of café con leche, at least. Today, they buy you essentially nothing … well, except for 132 gallons of the world’s most extravagantly subsidized gasoline.”
  • “Prices are now rising more than 80 percent per month, according to the opposition-led National Assembly’s Finance Committee. (The government itself stopped publishing official inflation data long ago.) At that rate, prices double every 34 days or so. Salaries lag far behind, leaving more and more of the country to face outright hunger. Thus, the looting.”
  • “Rule No. 1 of surviving hyperinflation is simple: Get rid of your money. Given the speed with which money is shedding its value, holding on to it means you’re losing out. The second you’re paid you run out as fast as you can to buy something – anything – while you can still afford it. It’s better to hold almost any asset than money, because assets hold their value and money doesn’t.”
  • “I think this is what’s so hard to wrap your mind around if you’ve never experienced hyperinflation. It sounds like it’s about prices rising fast, but it really isn’t. It’s about money breaking down. Under hyperinflation, money no longer works. It doesn’t store value. It just stops doing the basic things people expect money to do. It stops being something you want to have and turns into something you’ll do anything to avoid having: something so worthless you won’t even bend down and scoop it up off the floor while you’re looting.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg – Beware the $500 Billion Bond Exodus – Liz McCormick and Molly Smith 1/17

  • “For years, the likes of Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have stashed billions of dollars offshore to slash their U.S. tax bills. Now, the tax-code rewrite could throw that into reverse.”
  • “The implications for the financial markets are huge. The great on-shoring could prompt multinationals — which have parked much of their overseas profits in Treasuries and U.S. investment-grade corporate debt — to lighten up on bonds and use the money to goose their stock prices. Think buybacks and dividends.”
  • “It’s hard to say how much money the companies might repatriate, but the size of their overseas stash is staggering. An estimated $3.1 trillion of corporate cash is now held offshore. Led by the tech giants, a handful of the biggest companies sit on over a half-trillion dollars in U.S. securities. In other words, they dwarf most mutual funds and hedge funds.”
  • “The $14.5 trillion Treasury market, of course, can absorb the selling pressure of even the largest corporate holders. There’s little to suggest multinationals will immediately liquidate their investments. Many analysts say companies, rather than selling, could just let their holdings gradually mature.”
  • “Yet even at the margin, a drop-off in demand could add to the government’s burgeoning funding costs. Not only are interest rates on the rise, but the most sweeping tax cuts in a generation, which could end up mostly benefiting shareholders, risk leaving the government with trillion-dollar shortfalls for years to come — an expense that taxpayers would ultimately have to bear.”
  • “And since Treasury yields are the global lending benchmark, any upswing could also ripple through the real economy in the form of higher rates on everything from credit cards to mortgages. Since September, 10-year yields have climbed over a half-percentage point, hitting a high of 2.595% this month.”
  • “Of course, it’s important to understand that for most multinationals, offshore cash is really only ‘offshore’ for accounting purposes. Under the old tax system, earnings attributed to foreign subsidiaries, often based in jurisdictions with low taxes or lax regulations like Ireland or Luxembourg, could be repatriated and remain earmarked as ‘held overseas’ — so long as it was stashed in U.S. securities. Apple, for example, manages its hoard from Reno, Nevada, where its internal investment firm, Braeburn Capital, is located.”
  • “’The term overseas cash can be a bit of a misnomer, as it doesn’t have to be overseas and in fact a lot of it isn’t,’ said Michael Cahill, a strategist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. That should limit any appreciation in the dollar related to repatriation over the longer term.”
  • “Big multinationals have good reason to bide their time, according to Richard Lane, a senior analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. Because their debt investments are so extensive, companies could end up inflicting losses on themselves with any large-scale selling.”
  • “’I don’t think there will be a rush to the door by these companies to sell this debt and causing increasing yields and lower pricing,’ said Lane.”

WSJ – Apple Plans to Pay $38 Billion in Repatriation Taxes – Imani Moise 1/17

  • “It also said Wednesday it would spend more than $30 billion to create 20,000 jobs and open a new campus at a U.S. location to be announced later this year.”

Real Estate

WSJ – A Slowdown Is in Store for the Self-Storage Business – Peter Grant 1/16

  • “A flood of new supply is crimping growth in the self-storage sector.”

Finance

Bloomberg Gadfly – Discount Brokers Act Like Wall Street on Fee Conflicts – Nir Kalssar 1/16

  • “One sign of a frenzied stock market rally is a sharp outperformance of retail brokers.” – WSJ Daily Shot 1/18

Bloomberg – Venture Capital Investing Hits Highest Since Dot-Com Boom – Julie Verhage 1/8

Insurance

Economist – Natural disasters made 2017 a year of record insurance losses 1/11

  • “According to figures released on January 4th by Munich Re, a reinsurer, global, inflation-adjusted insured catastrophe losses reached an all-time high of $135bn in 2017. Total losses (including uninsured ones) reached $330bn, second only to losses of $354bn in 2011.”
  • “A large portion of the losses in 2011 was caused by one catastrophe: the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Losses in 2017 were largely traceable to extreme weather. Fully 97% were weather-related, well above the average since 1980 of 85%.”
  • “Last year’s disasters were particularly concentrated in North America (including the Caribbean), with 83% of global losses; half of those were in America alone, hitting that country’s insurers particularly hard. Fitch, a ratings agency, expects the ‘combined ratio’ for American property-and-casualty insurers to rise from 100.7% in 2016, meaning costs and claim payouts just exceeded premium revenue, to 104.4% in 2017. That implies a substantial underwriting loss for the industry. Even Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway looks poised for its first full-year underwriting loss in 15 years. It took a $3bn hit from the three hurricanes and an earthquake in Mexico.”
  • “For all the gloom, the 2017 losses were also proof of the resilience of the reinsurance industry. Insurers have long spread catastrophe risk by taking out reinsurance policies. This time, reinsurers had such ample capital buffers that they are expected to suffer only a small dent, of around 5-7% of capital.”

WSJ – Millions Bought Insurance to Cover Retirement Health Costs. Now They Face an Awful Choice – Leslie Scism 1/17

  • “Battered by losses, long-term-care insurers hit policyholders with steep rate increases that many never saw coming.”
  • “Only a dozen or so insurers still sell the coverage, down from more than 100. General Electric Co. said Tuesday it would take a pretax charge of $9.5 billion, mostly because of long-term-care policies sold in the 1980s and 1990s. Since 2007, other companies have taken $10.5 billion in pretax earnings charges to boost reserves for future claims, according to analysts at investment bank Evercore ISI.”
  • “When sales of long-term-care insurance were ramping up in the 1980s and 1990s, companies thought they had found the perfect product for middle-class families—and that’s how they pitched it.”
  • “The annual premium was designed to hold steady until a claim was filed and premiums then halted, though the rates weren’t guaranteed. Many policies paid out benefits for life.”
  • “Families flocked to what seemed like affordable peace of mind that would save them from draining their lifetime savings, leaning on children or enrolling in the federal-state Medicaid program for the poor.”
  • “Long-term care often costs more than $100,000 a year a person, financial advisers say. The nationwide total exceeds $200 billion, according to analysts at LTCG, a third-party administrator of long-term-care policies.”
  • “Almost every insurer in the business badly underestimated how many claims would be filed and how long people would draw payments before dying. People are living and keeping their policies much longer than expected.”
  • “After the financial crisis hit, nine years of ultralow interest rates also left insurers with far lower investment returns than they needed to pay those claims.”

Cryptocurrency

Economist – Bitcoin is no longer the only game in crypto-currency town 1/13

  • “A new crypto-currency is born almost daily, often through an ‘initial coin offering’ (ICO), a form of online crowdfunding. CoinMarketCap, a website, lists about 1,400 digital coins or tokens, including PutinCoin, Sexcoin and InsaneCoin (worth $7m). Most are no more than curiosities, but by January 10th, around 40 had a market capitalization of more than $1bn.”
  • “Might any of these one day replace bitcoin as crypto-land reserve currency, something insiders call theflippening‘? Given bitcoin’s governance problems (another ‘fork’, or split, may be in the offing) and limited capacity (a transaction now costs nearly $30, on average, in fees), this cannot be excluded. But the others have problems, too. Ethereum’s user fees have soared and the system has again hit technical snags. As for Ripple, some question the extent to which XRPs are actually used.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Ripple 1/17

WSJ – Daily Shot: Capital Economics – Transactions Per Second 1/17

Tech

Forbes – Which Online Platforms Do Americans Want Killed Off? – Niall McCarthy 1/10

China

Economist – How China won the battle of the yuan 1/11

Japan

Economist – A small Japanese city shrinks with dignity 1/11

  • Authorities in the Japanese city of Toyama are encouraging migration to its city center through incentives. The goal being to reduce the cost of maintaining lightly-used infrastructure as its population declines.
  • “About 30% of Toyama’s 418,000 residents are 65 or older, an even higher proportion than in Japan as a whole, where it is 27%. By 2025, the proportion in Toyama is projected to be 32%. In addition to greying, the population is also declining. The city had 421,000 people in 2005; by 2025, it will have 390,000.”
  • “As the population ages and shrinks, the services residents need have changed. The Kadokawa Centre, for example, is built on the site of a primary school that closed in 2004. But overhauling public services is costly, and the declining number of people of working age means there is ever less tax revenue to help pay for the shift. To remain solvent, the city has decided to shrink not just in population, but in size, concentrating residents and services in the center.”
  • “Most of Japan is in a similar quandary. About 400 schools shut every year; some are being converted into retirement homes. In 2016 there were 300,000 more deaths than births. If Japan continues on its present course, it will have shed nearly a third of its population (and four out of every ten workers) by … 2065.”

Economist – Why modern Japan’s founding moment still divides a nation – Banyan 1/11

  • “The Meiji restoration initiated not just modernization, but also militarism.”

South America

CNN Money – You can’t get $1 out of the bank in Venezuela. I tried. – Stefano Pozzebon 1/17

Reuters – Wave of looting shutters stores, spreads fear in Venezuela – Alexandra Ulmer and Anggy Polanco 1/17

January 16, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Why are so many Americans crowdfunding their healthcare? – Barney Jopson 1/10

FT – A power shift in the Middle East – Nick Butler 1/14

  • “The opening of the Zohr gasfield is a big opportunity for Egypt’s energy ambitions.”

NYT – Is the Answer to Phone Addiction a Worse Phone? – Nellie Bowles 1/12

The New Yorker – The Psychology of Inequality – Elizabeth Kolbert 1/15

  • “Researchers find that much of the damage done by being poor comes from feeling poor.”

Markets / Economy

FT – Bond markets: Is the bull run over? – Robin Wigglesworth 1/12

  • “This year will probably mark the first since the financial crisis where major central banks start shrinking their market footprint, reawakening concerns over the $50tn global bond market where governments, companies and banks raise vital funding.”
  • “The end of the bond bull market has been called before. Last year, many analysts predicted a gloomy outlook. Instead, global fixed income enjoyed its best year in a decade, returning 7.4% to investors in the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate bond index. Few believe bonds will replicate those gains in 2018. But many investors say it is far too early to read the market’s last rites, given some of the long-term global forces — such as the inflation-subduing forces of demographics and technology — that keep yields suppressed.”
  • “But investors now face a shift in central bank policy.”
  • “The Fed started cautiously shrinking its balance sheet last year. This month the ECB’s bond-buying fell by half to €30bn a month, and analysts expect the program to end this year. For the first time in a decade, central banks will probably be withdrawing money from markets by the end of 2018.”
  • “The primary cause for this week’s bond ructions — which saw the 10-year Treasury yield rise to a nine-month high of nearly 2.6% — was data that showed the BoJ’s purchases of long-dated bonds had slowed, with the sell-off then exacerbated by reports, later denied, that China was considering reducing its Treasury purchases.”
  • “While the Japanese central bank will still buy as many bonds as needed to keep the 10-year government yield pinned at zero, the deceleration was enough to cause the global debt market to shiver. ‘The market reaction shows just how sensitive it is to any whiff of the central banks being less aggressive,’ Mr Peters (Gregory Peters, a senior portfolio manager at PGIM Fixed Income) says.”
  • “At the same time, supply of freshly-issued government debt is expected to rise. In 2017, the central banks of the US, Europe, Japan and the UK bought about $170bn more government bonds than were issued, meaning the net supply actually contracted. But BNP Paribas estimates that markets will have to absorb $600bn of debt in 2018.”
  • “Another potential risk for investors is whether 2018 is the year when inflation finally emerges from its slumber.”
  • “Ageing demographics is pushing a global savings glut into safer fixed income and helping keep inflationary forces at bay, aided by technology that is proving to be a deflationary force across a range of global industries. Jim Reid, a Deutsche Bank strategist, says that bond market squalls might become more frequent as central banks tighten their monetary spigot, but argues that it would take accelerating inflation ‘to really turbo charge any bond sell-off’.”
  • “Derivatives contracts indicate that investors believe the 10-year Treasury yield will be below the 3% mark in two, five and even 10 years’ time. Equivalent German and Japanese bond futures show that investors think their benchmark bond yields will stay below 2% and 1% respectively over the same timeframes.”
  • “Highlighting the ravenous demand for safe fixed income returns, droves of buyers were attracted this week to the auctions of 10 and 30-year US government debt, helping quell the turbulence.”

Real Estate

AZ Republic – Home buyers with popular millennial names buying more Arizona homes, analysis says – Catherine Reagor 1/14

FT – Chill winds in Swedish housing market – Katie Martin 1/15

Finance

NYT – What’s $27 Billion to Wall Street? An Alarming Drop in Revenue – Emily Flitter and Kate Kelly 1/11

  • “For more than a decade, the world’s top investment banks practically minted money from the buying and selling of bonds, currencies and other complex securities. For many banks, the business became their lifeblood.”
  • “Now, a combination of tough regulations, new technologies, calm markets and changing customer behavior has left that type of trading a shadow of its former self — and much of Wall Street trying to redefine itself.”
  • “Five years ago, fixed-income trading — so called because its keystone product, bonds, typically provides a fixed payout — generated nearly $103 billion in income for the top 12 investment banks, according to Coalition, a London research firm.”
  • “By 2016, that had fallen to less than $76 billion — down $27 billion from the peak.”

FT – Bitcoin investors struggle to cash out new fortunes – Kate Beioley and James Pickford 1/12

  • “UK mortgage lenders refuse to accept deposits because of money laundering fears.”