Tag: California

Homeowners Staying Put and a Lack of Building Permits Have Created Supply Constrained Markets

WSJ – People Are Staying in Their Homes Longer – a Big Reason for Slower Sales – Laura Kusisto 11/3/19

U.S. homeowners are staying in their residences much longer than before, keeping a glut of housing inventory off the market, which helps explain why home sales have been sputtering.

Homeowners nationwide are remaining in their homes typically 13 years, five years longer than they did in 2010, according to a new analysis by real-estate brokerage Redfin. When owners don’t trade up to a larger home for a growing family or downsize when children leave, it plugs up the market for buyers coming behind them.

More homeowners staying put has helped cause housing inventory to dwindle to its lowest level in decades, which has also helped push up prices on homes for sale. Adjusted for population, the inventory of homes for sale is now near the lowest level in 37 years of record-keeping, according to housing-data firm CoreLogic Inc.

Fewer homes for sale is a big reason why even ultralow mortgage rates, record levels of home equity and a strong job market haven’t jump-started the sluggish housing market.

In the San Francisco metropolitan area, a typical homeowner stays 14 years, up from less than 10 years in 2010. Inventory in the same period has plunged more than 46%.

Meanwhile, the Seattle metro has seen a huge influx of new jobs, and housing supply hasn’t kept pace. Homeowners there are staying more than three years longer than they did in 2010. The inventory of homes for sale in Seattle has declined more than 50% over the last nine years, while home prices have risen more than 80%, according to Redfin.

But this isn’t just a problem in pricey coastal markets. Homeowners are staying longer in every one of the 55 metros that Redfin studied. Cities where it was once relatively easy to buy a home are seeing owners staying much longer, creating a serious inventory crunch.

Around Salt Lake City, owners now typically remain in their homes for more than 23 years, or nearly nine years longer than they did in 2010, according to Redfin. The shortage of homes has helped drive the median home price up nearly 75% in the same period to around $340,000.

Bloomberg – How California Became America’s Housing Market Nightmare – Noah Buhayar and Christopher Cannon 11/6/19

Some charts from the article that help paint the picture.

Bottom line, too little housing. You’ll note that HI is at the top of the list for housing prices and at or near what appears to be the bottom of the list of permits per capita.

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May 11, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

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

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

Markets / Economy

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

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

Real Estate

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

Finance

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

Environment / Science

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

Construction

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

Asia – excluding China and Japan

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

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

China

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

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

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

May 10, 2018

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Charlie Bilello – Global Population Growth and Growth Rate Projections 5/9

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Donald Trump declares trade war on China – Martin Wolf 5/8

  • “No sovereign power could accept the humiliating demands being made by the US.”

FT – How the Beijing elite sees the world – Martin Wolf 5/1

FT – Argentines shocked by IMF loan request – Benedict Mander and John Paul Rathbone 5/8

WSJ – Will Argentina’s Nightmare Spread? – Nathaniel Taplin 5/9

  • Strong dollar, surging oil prices, and US growth picking up steam – all bad for investors searching for yield in emerging markets.

Real Estate

Bloomberg Businessweek – Surprise, You Live in a Giant Airbnb – Olivia Zaleski 4/30

  • “Airbnb’s branded buildings promise management companies 5% to 15% of the profit hosts generate. At Domain, residents who rent through Airbnb would pay Niido 25% of their home-sharing income. In exchange, Diffenderfer says, residents will have access to the same hotel-style amenities visitors will receive.”

NYT – Developers Add a Missing Piece to Their Projects: Hotels – Joe Gose 5/8

WSJ – California Set to Require Solar on New Homes – Erin Ailworth 5/9

  • “California is poised to become the first U.S. state to require solar panels on nearly all new homes.”
  • “The California Energy Commission on Wednesday is expected to approve a requirement that residential buildings up to three stories high, including single-family homes and condos, be built with solar installations starting in 2020.”
  • “California is pursuing aggressive policies to reduce air pollution and combat climate change—including a mandate to slash greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030—that are helping drive renewable energy in the state.”
  • “Solar accounted for nearly 10% of California’s electricity generation in 2016, Energy Commission data shows.”
  • “Currently, about 20% of new single-family homes in the state are built with solar, said Bob Raymer, senior engineer with the California Building Industry Association, which represents thousands of home builders, contractors, architects and others. Making solar mandatory on homes is expected to add $8,000 to $10,000 to construction costs, he said.”
  • “While the building-industry organization would have preferred the Energy Commission hold off a few more years on mandating that homes be fitted with solar, it helped shape the rule to reduce compliance costs and increase flexibility, Mr. Raymer said. Builders would have the option to install solar in a communal area if it doesn’t make sense on individual rooftops. By installing batteries that help homeowners save energy for later use, builders can also gain some flexibility in meeting efficiency standards.” 
  • “California has more solar power installed than any other state, with roughly 21 gigawatts of generation capacity, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. That is far more than the second -largest solar-producing state, North Carolina, which has 4.3 gigawatts.”
  • “The commission expects the cost of adding solar, when combined with other revised efficiency standards, to add about $40 to an average monthly payment on a 30-year mortgage. However it estimates the investment would more than pay for itself, with consumers on average saving $80 a month on heating, cooling and lighting bills.”

Energy

WSJ – As Putin Starts Fourth Term, Higher Oil Prices Give Him a New Edge – Thomas Grove 5/7

December 14, 2017

Perspective

Visual Capitalist – Animation: Visualizing the ICO Explosion – Jeff Desjardins 12/12

WSJ – Thousands of Fake Comments on Net Neutrality: A WSJ Investigation – Paul Overberg and James V. Grimaldi 12/12

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – The twin trap for Tesla investors predicting the future – Vitality Katsenelson 12/12

  • “Fear of diluted stock remains, even if the electric carmaker becomes profitable.”

NYT – Quakes and Fires? It’s the Cost of Living That Californians Can’t Stomach – Conor Dougherty 12/12

The Real Deal – The Long View: HNA, Anbang and the myth of low leverage – Konrad Putzier 12/12

  • “New York’s real estate market now grappling with the Chinese debt binge.”

Markets / Economy

CNN – South Korea is going bitcoin crazy – Jake Kwon 12/12

  • “On any given day, South Korea accounts for as much as 20% of all bitcoin trades around the world.”

Real Estate

FT Due Diligence – M&A is the weapon of choice against Amazon for mall operators – 12/12

China

NYT – Artist Flees Beijing After Filming Devastation of Mass Evictions – Austin Ramzy 12/12

December 11, 2017

If you were only to read one thing…

A Wealth of Common Sense: How Does Something Like Bitcoin Happen? – Ben Carlson 12/7

  • The best synopsis of the cryptocurrency I’ve read to date.
  • A taste: “Anyone who tells you they know where this thing is heading, how to value it, where it ends, etc. is nuts. No one has a clue. This is everything you’ve ever read about the markets all wrapped into one — FOMO, supply & demand, human nature, behavioral biases, volatility, booms, busts, uncertainty about the future, etc.”

Perspective

WEF – California is the world’s sixth largest economy. Now is the perfect time for it to step up – Rodrigo Tavares 12/7

WP – Americans are drowning in debt. Here’s where they have it the worst. – Christopher Ingraham 12/8

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Be Inspired: The Power of Morning Routine – Jim Kwik 11/26 (YouTube Video)

Bloomberg – HNA Warning Signs Keep Sprouting Up Over Mounting Debt Costs – Judy Chen and Dong Lyu 12/6

Farnam Street – Maker vs. Manager: How Your Schedule Can Make or Break You – Shane Parrish 12/9

Fortune – Inside Elliott Management: How Paul Singer’s Hedge Fund Always Wins – Jen Wieczner 12/7

FT – Self-driving finance could turn into a runaway train – Gillian Tett 12/7

  • “…at a recent financial technology conference at Michigan Law School, regulators and academics estimated that computers are now generating around 50-70% of trading in equity markets, 60% of futures and more than 50% of treasuries. Increasingly, machine learning and artificial intelligence are being added to the mix, to analyze data, trade securities and offer investment advice.”
  • “What we are seeing, in other words, is the rise of self-driving investment vehicles, matching the auto world. But while the sight of driverless cars on the roads has sparked public debate and scrutiny, that has not occurred with self-driving finance.”

FT – $400m for a Leonardo da Vinci. Has the art world gone mad? – Jan Dalley 12/7

Investment News – Stripped of fat commissions, nontraded REIT sales tank – Bruce Kelly 12/7

  • “The Department of Labor’s fiduciary standard, and new securities industry account statement rules for greater clarity in the prices of products, have forced nontraded real estate investment trusts to slice their commissions. Since then, sales of the product have collapsed.”
  • “No fat commissions on REITs means poor sales by brokers.”
  • “REIT managers and broker-dealer executives are likely reluctant to make the connection, at least publicly. But there is no denying that brokers’ appetite for the product disappeared almost overnight once upfront commissions were cut from 7% on an A share to 3% for a T share.”
  • “When REIT sales were booming a few years ago, the product’s pitch was simple: real estate kicks off an income stream of 6% to 7% annually, real estate is an asset class that is not correlated to the stock market, and with interest rates at record lows, investors needed the yield.”
  • “Those conditions haven’t changed dramatically, but nontraded REIT sales have tanked regardless.”
  • InvestmentNewsreported last month that Robert A. Stanger & Co. expects nontraded REIT sales this year to reach just $4.4 billion, about $100 million less than last year and the lowest levels since 2002.”
  • “If the ‘income, diversify and interest rate’ pitch was accurate back in 2012 and 2013, when REIT sales were booming, why isn’t it working today? There is little change in the narrative.”
  • “Interest rates have risen only marginally, and with the stock market roaring, wouldn’t it make sense for a broker to peel off some clients’ gains and invest in commercial real estate, a hard asset not correlated to stocks?”
  • “With brokers no longer getting juicy commissions for REIT sales, they simply don’t appear interested in selling the product.”
  • “Most brokers who still sell nontraded REITs no longer earn the eye-popping 7% commission, the standard rate paid to brokers who sold the product back in 2013, when REIT sales hit their all-time high and brokers sold $19.6 billion of the product.”
  • “The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. recently put into place a new rule, known as 15-02, that makes pricing of illiquid securities like nontraded REITs more transparent to investors. In the past, client account statements showed illiquid securities like REITs at the value they were bought by the client and did not subtract commissions, which were high.”
  • “‘Now that REITs are getting priced on statements, with Finra 15-02, advisers are having to consider these positions from a total return standpoint, not just income,’ Mr. Rooney said. ‘They are re-evaluating the client’s perception of the product.'”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Treasury Securities Held by the Federal Reserve 12/8

  • “And so it begins… Quantitative tightening is finally here.”

Real Estate

Business Insider – Here’s where the future of retail is headed in 2018 – Stephanie Pandolph 12/5

  • Industry to top $5.5tn by 2020.

FT – Norway’s oil fund makes first Asian property investment – Richard Milne 12/7

  • “Sovereign wealth fun takes stake in 5 buildings in Tokyo and plans more deals.”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: WP – Bitcoin Rising 12/7

  • “Bitcoin blasts past $15k, $16k, $17k in less than 24 hours.”

WSJ – Bitcoin’s Wildest Rise Yet: 40% in 40 Hours – Paul Vigna and Steven Russolillo 12/7

  • “Bitcoin mania reached new highs Thursday as the price of the digital currency jumped about 40% in 40 hours, smashing through five separate $1,000-barriers and surging past $16,000.”

NYT – Bitcoin’s Price Has Soared. What Comes Next? – Nathaniel Popper 12/8

China

WSJ – Jailed for a Text: China’s Censors Are Spying on Mobile Chat Groups – Eva Dou 12/8

  • If only George Orwell could see the tools at Big Brother’s disposal now.

FT – International investors chase the red dragon – Chris Flood 12/9

July 27, 2017

Perspective

NYT – The Cost of a Hot Economy in California: A Severe Housing Crisis – Adam Nagourney and Conor Dougherty 7/17

  • “A full-fledged housing crisis has gripped California, marked by a severe lack of affordable homes and apartments for middle-class families. The median cost of a home here is now a staggering $500,000, twice the national cost. Homelessness is surging across the state.”
  • “The extreme rise in housing costs has emerged as a threat to the state’s future economy and its quality of life. It has pushed the debate over housing to the center of state and local politics, fueling a resurgent rent control movement and the growth of neighborhood ‘Yes in My Back Yard’ organizations, battling long-established neighborhood groups and local elected officials as they demand an end to strict zoning and planning regulations.”
  • “For California, this crisis is a price of this state’s economic boom. Tax revenue is up and unemployment is down. But the churning economy has run up against 30 years of resistance to the kind of development experts say is urgently needed. California has always been a desirable place to live and over the decades has gone through periodic spasms of high housing costs, but officials say the combination of a booming economy and the lack of construction of homes and apartments have combined to make this the worst housing crisis here in memory.”
  • “Housing prices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego have jumped as much as 75% over the past five years.”
  • Thus democratic State Senator Scott Wiener has sponsored “…one of 130 housing measures that have been introduced this year, would restrict one of the biggest development tools that communities wield: the ability to use zoning, environmental and procedural laws to thwart projects they deem out of character with their neighborhood.”
  • “’We’re at a breaking point in California,’ Mr. Wiener said. ‘The drought created opportunities to push forward water policy that would have been impossible before. Given the breadth and depth of the housing crisis in many parts of California, it creates opportunities in the Legislature that didn’t exist before.'”
  • “For the past several decades, California has had a process that sets a number of housing units, including low-income units, that each city should build over the next several years based on projected growth. Mr. Wiener’s bill targets cities that have lagged on building by allowing developers who propose projects in those places to bypass the various local design and environmental reviews that slow down construction because they can be appealed and litigated for years.”
  • “The bill applies only to projects that are already within a city’s plans: If the project were higher or denser than current zoning laws allow, it would still have to go through the City Council. But by taking much of the review power away from local governments, the bill aims to ramp up housing production by making it harder to kill, delay or shrink projects in places that have built the fewest.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – China’s credit squeeze sends warning on global growth – William Sterling (Trilogy Global Advisors) 7/18

  • “China has sent a deflationary chill through global markets this year by engineering a major slowdown in the growth of bank credit in the country.”
  • “In fact, we would argue that the unravelling of many of the so-called ‘Trump trades’ in global markets this year reflects the deflationary chill that China’s credit squeeze is creating, rather than simply registering skepticism about Trump administration policies.”
  • “Over the course of little more than a year, China went from exporting deflation to helping create the “global reflation” theme that was evident in global equity markets in the second half of 2016.”
  • “The most important global policymaker nobody has ever heard of is Guo Shuqing, the recently appointed chief of the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC).”
  • “With the implicit support of President Xi Jinping, Mr Guo has issued a flurry of new regulations aimed at tackling corruption and speculation, including a requirement that banks account for previously lightly regulated ‘wealth management products’ in line with capital adequacy regulations.”
  • “The result is that the credit impulse, best understood as ‘the rate of change of the rate of change’ of credit relative to GDP, has declined by a whopping 17.5% of GDP in the first quarter of 2017.” 
  • “In the meantime, expect weaker commodity prices and less upward pressure on US interest rates.”
  • “China’s impact on the world economy is significant. Over the past five years its nominal GDP has expanded by $3.7tn, an amount that exceeds the GDP of Germany. In contrast, the entire global economy has expanded its nominal GDP by only $2.2tn.”
  • “As well as accounting for nearly 170% of the growth in the world’s nominal GDP in this period, it seems that China may have made US corporate earnings great again. Per Commerce Department figures, rest-of-world profits for US corporations were up by 25% in the first quarter of 2017, while domestically generated profits were down slightly and well below their peak of 2014.”
  • “The key concern for global investors is that even though China’s credit policy may be almost as important to the global economy as shifts in Federal Reserve or European Central Bank monetary policy, China’s economic policymaking remains far less transparent than in many other key nations.”
  • “Monitoring China’s credit impulse, therefore, is perhaps the best means open to investors to ‘watch what they do, not what they say’.”

FT – Ignore the Cassandra chorus, rates won’t skyrocket – Scott Minerd (chief investment officer Guggenheim Partners) 7/17

  • “The simple truth is that, while rates may trend higher in the near term, the risk is that we have not reached the point where the macro economy can sustain persistently higher rates. If anything, political, military and market uncertainties would more likely lead to another sudden decline in rates rather than a massive spike upward.”
  • “Investors would be wise to ignore the growing chorus of Cassandra cries and look through the noise to the fundamentals. There are many things to be concerned about in the world but skyrocketing rates is not likely among them.”

A Teachable Moment – Numbers Can Lie – Tony Isola 7/20

  • “Narratives without statistics are blind, statistics without narrative are empty.” – Steven Pinker

NYT – Behind a Chinese Powerhouse (HNA) a Web of Family Financial Ties – David Barboza 7/18

NYT – Saudi King’s Son Plotted Effort to Oust His Rival – Ben Hubbard, Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt 7/18

  • A family matter made public.

Project Syndicate – Why Do Cities Become Unaffordable? – Robert Shiller 7/17

  • “The question, then, is why residents of some cities face extremely – even prohibitively – high prices.”
  • “In many cases, the answer appears to be related to barriers to housing construction. Using satellite data for major US cities, the economist Albert Saiz of MIT confirmed that tighter physical constraints – such as surrounding bodies of water or land gradients that make properties unsuitable for extensive building – tend to correlate with higher home prices.”
  • “But the barriers may also be political. A huge dose of moderate-income housing construction would have a major impact on affordability. But the existing owners of high-priced homes have little incentive to support such construction, which would diminish the value of their own investment. Indeed, their resistance may be as intractable as a lake’s edge. As a result, municipal governments may be unwilling to grant permits to expand supply.”
  • “Insufficient options for construction can be the driving force behind a rising price-to-income ratio, with home prices increasing over the long term even if the city has acquired no new industry, cachet, or talent. Once the city has run out of available building sites, its continued growth must be accommodated by the departure of lower-income people.”
  • “But this tendency can be mitigated, if civil society recognizes the importance of preserving lower-income housing. Many of the calls to resist further construction, residents must understand, are being made by special interests; indeed, they amount to a kind of rent seeking by homeowners seeking to boost their own homes’ resale value. In his recent book The New Urban Crisis, the University of Toronto’s Richard Florida decries this phenomenon, comparing opponents of housing construction to the early-nineteenth-century Luddites, who smashed the mechanical looms that were taking their weaving jobs.”
  • “In some cases, a city may be on its way to becoming a ‘great city,’ and market forces should be allowed to drive out lower-income people who can’t participate fully in this greatness to make way for those who can. But, more often, a city with a high housing-price-to-income ratio is less a ‘great city’ than a supply-constrained one lacking in empathy, humanitarian impulse, and, increasingly, diversity. And that creates fertile ground for dangerous animosities.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Foreign Buyers Pump Up U.S. Home Prices – Laura Kusisto 7/18

  • “Foreigners are buying U.S. homes at a record rate, helping push up prices in coveted coastal cities already squeezed by supply shortages.”
  • “In all, foreign buyers and recent immigrants purchased $153 billion of residential property in the U.S. in the year ended in March, nearly a 50% jump from a year earlier, according to a National Association of Realtors report released Tuesday.”
  • “That surpassed the previous record for foreign investment set in 2015, when foreigners purchased nearly $104 billion of U.S. residential property.”

WSJ – Property Developers Push for Open Drinking on City Streets – Esther Fung 7/18

FT – Retail woes lead to rising commercial mortgage delinquencies – Joe Rennison 7/17

  • “We see a lot of retail loans defaulting at maturity. Borrowers are just unable to re-finance their loans.” – Mary MacNeill, managing director – Fitch Ratings

FT – Will the death of US retail be the next big short? – Robin Wigglesworth 7/16

  • “Credit Suisse estimates that as many as 8,640 stores with 147m square feet of retailing space could close down just this year — surpassing the level of closures after the financial crisis and dotcom bust. The downturn is hitting the largely healthy US labor market — the retail industry has lost an average of 9,000 jobs a month this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared with average monthly job gains of 17,000 last year.”

FT – Blackstone warns of internet impact on US shopping malls – Robin Wigglesworth 7/16

  • “’The retail industry is clearly facing headwinds. And it’s the first time we’ve seen secular rather than cyclical headwinds,’ said Nadeem Meghji, head of North American real estate at Blackstone. ‘We’re now seeing pressures even on luxury retailers, which I didn’t expect to happen as fast as it has.’”
  • “The market for second-tier enclosed malls has virtually frozen given how concerned investors are, but Mr. Meghji estimated that in the past two years prices may have plunged as much as 40% on average for the 1,100 enclosed regional malls in the US. Even for the top 50, prices have probably declined by 20%, the Blackstone executive said.”
  • “The private equity firm’s $102bn real estate arm still owns some grocery shop-anchored malls in high-density population areas, but no longer has any exposure to the enclosed shopping mall sector.”

Energy

FT – California confronts solar power glut with novel marketplace – Gregory Meyer 7/17

  • “California is a leader in solar and wind power. The Golden State is well on its way to reaching a self-imposed goal of getting a third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, part of an aggressive agenda to cut greenhouse gas emissions.” 
  • “Yet this bold strategy is causing complications. At noon on clear spring days, too much solar power courses through the state’s electrical grid. Generators must pay customers to take excess supply — a condition called “negative prices” — or unplug their plants. Still, California consumers have some of the highest electricity rates in the country.” 
  • “Amounts of electricity generated by the sun and wind can vary in the space of hours, however, as clouds darken the skies or breezes die down. Every day, solar power fades towards dusk just as people come home and turn on lights, air conditioners and televisions.” 
  • “The imbalance market helps to iron out utilities’ power scramble as supply and demand shift during the day. It builds on longstanding markets for power delivered hours, days or months ahead by offering power delivered between five and 15 minutes in advance. When California suddenly finds itself with too much electricity, other states can now absorb it, and vice versa.”
  • “Participants say the imbalance market lowers overall costs for customers, makes grids more reliable and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by using clean energy that might otherwise be shut off. The ISO says the market has used 412,000 megawatt-hours of surplus California renewable energy since 2015, displacing 176,000 tons of carbon.” 

Environment / Science

WSJ – Daily Shot: statista – 20 Worst Cities Worldwide for Air Pollution 7/26

Health / Medicine

FT – ‘Urgent wake-up call’ for male health as sperm counts plummet – Clive Cookson 7/25

  • “The sperm count of men in the western world has fallen by more than half over a period of 40 years, according to an international study described by its authors as ‘an urgent wake-up call’ about declining male health.”
  • “’Decreasing sperm count has been of great concern since it was first reported 25 years ago,’ said senior author Shanna Swan of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York. ‘This definitive study shows . . . that the decline is strong and continuing.’”
  • “Professor Allan Pacey of Sheffield university, who has been skeptical about previous research showing declining sperm counts, said the latest research dealt with many of his criticisms. But he urged people to ‘treat this study with caution as the debate has not yet been resolved and there is clearly much work still to be done’.”
  • “Prof Pacey pointed out too that the reported decline from 99m to 47m sperm per milliliter still left the average count within what fertility clinics regard as the ‘normal’ range.”
  • “In northern Europe today more than 15% of young men had a sperm count low enough to impair their fertility, Prof (Richard) Sharpe (of Edinburgh University) added, and ‘this is likely to get worse rather than better’.”
  • “The combination of declining male sperm counts and a growing delay in couples trying for a baby — often until the woman is in her 30s and her own fertility is declining — created ‘a double whammy’ for natural conception in modern western societies, he said.”

Bloomberg – China’s Sperm Count Problem Has Created a Billion-Dollar Market 7/12

  • While the above article focused on samples from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, China too has its problems.

Britain

FT – UK plans to ban sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040 – Jim Pickard and Peter Campbell 7/26

  • “UK environment secretary Michael Gove has announced plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in Britain by 2040.”
  • “The announcement follows the lead set by France two weeks ago and will be set out in the UK government’s long-awaited ‘air quality plan’ on Wednesday.”
  • “Mr. Gove will say that all new cars will have to be fully electric within a quarter of a century. His promise to ban other engine types — including hybrids — shifts the government further from its existing position, which was an ‘ambition’ for all new cars to be zero-emissions by 2040.”
  • “The coalition government’s ‘carbon plan’ in 2011 also predicted that all new cars sold after 2040 would have to be emission free, to meet a target of having no petrol or diesel cars on the roads by 2050.”
  • “The announcement is a milestone in the shift towards electric cars, which currently account for less than 1% of UK sales.”

China

FT – Wang Qishan: China’s enforcer – Tom Mitchell, Gabriel Wildau, and Henny Sender 7/24

  • Arguably the second most powerful person in China.

WSJ – China’s Visible Hand Starts to Squeeze -Jacky Wong 7/18

  • “Macau looks likely to be another target of China’s efforts to contain leverage and capital outflows.”

FT – China’s railway diplomacy hits the buffers – James Kynge, Michael Peel and Ben Bland 7/17

  • “China’s ability to build high-speed railways more cheaply than its competitors gave the technology a central place in ‘One Belt, One Road’, Beijing’s ambitious scheme to win diplomatic allies and open markets across more than 65 countries between Asia and Europe by funding and building infrastructure.”
  • “But less than two years after these hopeful words were uttered, a Financial Times investigation has found that China’s high-speed rail ambitions are running off the tracks. Far from blazing a trail for One Belt, One Road, several of the projects have been abandoned or postponed. Such failed schemes, and some that are under way, have stoked suspicion, public animosity and mountains of debt in countries that Beijing had hoped to woo.”
  • “In terms of scale, the rail push ranks as one of the biggest infrastructure undertakings in history. The total estimated value of 18 Chinese overseas high-speed rail schemes — including one completed (the Ankara-Istanbul service), five under way and 12 more announced — amounts to $143bn, according to a study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank, and the Financial Times. To put this number in context, the US-led Marshall Plan, which helped revive Europe after the second world war, was completed with $13bn in American donations, a sum equivalent to $130bn today.”
  • “The size of China’s grand design has made its many shortcomings all the more eye-catching. The combined value of cancelled projects in Libya, Mexico, Myanmar, the US and Venezuela is $47.5bn, according to FT estimates.”
  • “This is almost double the $24.9bn total value of the five projects under way in Laos, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran, where two lines are under construction, according to CSIS estimates.”
  • “So why is it that so many rail projects backed by China’s unrivalled financing firepower, huge construction companies and advanced technology fall by the wayside? The answers reveal much about the limitations in Beijing’s global development vision.”
  • Mostly it’s “…the vastly divergent capacities to take on and absorb debt. China’s economic heft and authoritarian system allows companies that enjoy effective government guarantees to load up on loans and operate at a perennial loss. China Railway Corporation, the state-owned rail operator and investor in the country’s high-speed networks, has debts of Rmb3.8tn ($558bn), much more than the national debt of Greece. This is partly because much of the 22,000km of high-speed rail in China runs at a loss, officials say.”

FT – China’s Xi orders debt crackdown for state-owned groups – Tom Mitchell 7/15

  • “’Deleveraging at SOEs is of the utmost importance,’ the Chinese president said at this weekend’s National Financial Work Conference, which convenes only once every five years. He added that the country’s financial officials must also ‘get a grip’ on so-called ‘zombie’ enterprises kept alive by infusions of cheap credit.” 

FT – Chinese purchases of overseas ports top $20bn in past year – James Kynge 7/15

South America

FT – Venezuela’s economic and political crisis in charts – Lauren Leatherby 7/25