Tag: Demographics

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

November 20, 2017

Perspective

VC – Walmart Nation: Mapping the Largest Employers in the U.S. – Jeff Desjardins 11/17

NYT – A Great Migration From Puerto Rico Is Set to Transform Orlando – Lizette Alvarez 11/17

  • “More than 168,000 people have flown or sailed out of Puerto Rico to Florida since the hurricane, landing at airports in Orlando, Miami and Tampa, and the port in Fort Lauderdale. Nearly half are arriving in Orlando, where they are tapping their networks of family and friends. An additional 100,000 are booked on flights to Orlando through Dec. 31, county officials said. Large numbers are also settling in the Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach areas.”
  • “With so many arriving so abruptly, the migration is expected to transform Orlando, a city that has already become a stronghold of Puerto Ricans, many of them fleeing the island’s economic crisis in recent years. The Puerto Rican population of Florida has exploded from 479,000 in 2000 to well over one million today, according to the Pew Research Center, with the better part settling in Orlando.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – Global Demographic Shifts 11/17

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Teachable Moment – If You Are Reading This, You Already Won the Genetic Lottery – Anthony Isola 11/16

A Teachable Moment – 6 Ways to Foil a Financial Predator – Dina Isola 11/17

CNBC – Homeownership doesn’t build wealth, study finds – Diana Olick 11/16

  • Essentially, depends where you live and how disciplined you are with your savings. Further, if you live in a part of the world where home price appreciation has lagged, there is value in having flexibility to move to parts of the country where it hasn’t (which of course further builds on that trend).

FT – Donald Trump’s silence over Roy Moore speaks volumes – Edward Luce 11/16

  • “…Then there is the evangelical vote. Mr Trump appears single-handedly to have changed their moral position. In 2011, 70% of white evangelicals said bad private behavior should disqualify an individual from public office, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. That had dropped to just 28% last year. It is perhaps the most astonishing sea change among any group of voters in recent years. It is also a good example of ‘negative partisanship’ — no matter how bad your candidate might be, he or she could not possibly be worse than the other party’s.”

FT – Prepare to bet against bitcoin as it becomes civilized – Gillian Tett 11/16

  • “If the cryptocurrency ceases to be a ringfenced product, the normal rules of investing will apply.”

NYT – Middle-Class Families Confront Soaring Health Insurance Costs – Robert Pear 11/16

WSJ – Upbeat Moody’s Misses the Mark on India – Anjani Trivedi 11/17

  • “Ratings company’s upgrade is its first in more than a decade, but still looks premature.”

Finance

FT – Investors sue Monte dei Paschi over cancelled bonds – Rachel Sanderson, Robert Smith, and Thomas Hale 11/16

China

Bloomberg – China’s Outbound Investment Plunges as Irrational Deals Curbed – Jeff Kearns and Jessica Sui 11/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: China 5yr AAA Average Corporate Bond Yield 11/16

FT – China tightens rules on asset management to rein in risky lending – Tom Mitchell 11/17

  • “China’s central bank outlined sweeping new regulations aimed at curbing financial risk in the asset management industry on Friday, in the latest signal of its determination to rein in the country’s runaway shadow banking sector.”
  • “The new rules, affecting $15tn of asset-management products, are aimed at unifying regulatory practices across the financial industry and will come into force in June. They will prohibit asset managers from promising investors a guaranteed rate of return, while also requiring them to set aside 10% of the management fees they collect for provisioning purposes.”
  • “Fears about the potential impact of regulatory tightening have contributed to a recent spike in Chinese sovereign bond yields, with the China 10-years rising through 4% this week for the first time since 2014.”
  • “On Thursday the PBoC injected almost $50bn into the financial system to calm investor fears, its largest intervention in almost a year. But Friday’s regulations indicated that Mr Xi’s administration will not back away from the more stringent approach it has adopted towards risk management.”
  • “In a party congress speech last month that marked the beginning of his second five-year term in office, Mr Xi indicated that his administration was prepared to accept lower rates of economic growth in order to defuse financial risks.”
  • “In August the International Monetary Fund warned that non-financial sector debt was poised to exceed 290% of GDP by 2022, compared with 235% at the end of last year.”

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Venezuelan Household Purchasing Power 11/17

FT – Exodus the only answer for thousands of Venezuelans – Gideon Long and John Paul Rathbone 11/17

October 13 – October 19, 2017

The corporate drug industry has had many friends in Washington D.C. until now… Amazon is taking over the package room of your apartment building. China’s property boom unlikely to end anytime soon.

Headlines

Economist – The Philippine army recaptures a city seized by Muslim insurgents 10/17. After 5 months, the Philippine forces of President Rodrigo Duterte took back the city of Marawi on the island of Mindanao.

FT – Wanda golf courses closed in China austerity push 10/15. The two courses are in the $3bn Changbaishan resort in Fusong. The why – because new courses were banned in 2004; however, many developers were able to work their way around the rules…until now.

NYT – Kobe Steel Problems May Be More Widespread, Raising Fears on High-Speed Rail 10/12. So about that falsified data…we…didn’t…quite…tell…you…about…all…of…it…sorry.

WSJ – Nordstrom Family Suspends Effort to Take Retailer Private 10/16. That’s how strong the narrative is right now against the retail industry, even the Nordstrom family is having difficulty finding investors to fund the debt of the acquisition (despite the world being awash in cash and the tight spreads on high yield products).

WSJ – Hedge Fund Maverick Capital Debuts 0% Performance Fees 10/19. After losing 10% in 2016 and being down 2% so far this year (mind you that the market is up over the same time period), Maverick is offering some investors a 0% performance fee and 1% management fee on new money for its “recovery shares”.

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Teachable Moment – Generation Kill – Anthony Isola 10/16

  • “Young people are killing their chances of building wealth.”

A Wealth of Common Sense – How to Invest At All-Time Highs – Ben Carlson 10/18

  • “The S&P 500 Index has recorded more than 150 new all-time highs since eclipsing its previous peak in late March of 2013. In 2017 alone, there have been 30 new record highs through the end of last week. To put this into perspective, there were only 13 new highs for the entire decade of the 2000s.”

BuzzFeed – Watching Harvey Weinstein Fall, Trump’s Accusers Feel Frustrated – Kendall Taggart & Jessica Garrison 10/14

Economist – Crafty app developers are ripping off big-name brands 10/12

  • Be careful which apps you load onto your phones.

FT – Under Xi Jinping, China is turning back to dictatorship – Jamil Anderlini 10/10

  • “The rejection of ‘western’ political systems has been made easier recently by what the Chinese see as the ludicrous buffoonery of Donald Trump and, to a lesser extent, the self-inflicted damage of Brexit and EU infighting.”
  • “As a top foreign policy adviser recently told one of my colleagues: ‘Trump never talks about democracy or American leadership or liberty — we should not be so stupid to worship things that in the western world are now in doubt.’”
  • Be cautious in your use of ‘private’ messaging services such as WeChat. Big brother is watching.

FT – Hollywood’s masculinity problem – the full picture – Kate Muir 10/12

FT – The implications of shelving the Aramco IPO – Nick Butler 10/14

FT – The disruptive power of renewables – Nick Butler 10/15

NYT – Stranded by Maria, Puerto Ricans Get Creative to Survive – Caitlin Dickerson 10/16

NYT – Inside a Secretive Group Where Women Are Branded – Barry Meier 10/17

  • Another example of the power of peer pressure and social learning.

Project Syndicate – The Psychology of Superstar Sex Predators – Raj Persaud & Peter Bruggen 10/19

The Guardian – Meet the new class traitors who are coming out as rich – Alissa Quart 10/16

The New Yorker – Carl Ichan’s Failed Raid on Washington – Patrick Radden Keefe 8/28

Perspective

How Much – The Largest Industry In Each State by GDP – Raul 10/9

WEF – Tech Insider: World Forecasted Population Growth – Gerald Chirinda 10/11

How Much – Can you Retire on $1 Million? Here is How Long You Can Survive in Every State… – Raul 10/12

Top 5 Friendly States for Retirement

  1. Mississippi  – $1 million lasts 25 yrs 6 months
  2. Arkansas – $1 million lasts 25 yrs
  3. Tennessee – $1 million lasts 24 yrs 5 months
  4. Kansas – $1million lasts 24 yrs 5 months
  5. Oklahoma – $1million lasts 24 yrs 4 months

Top 5 least Friendly States for Retirement

  1. Hawaii – $1 million lasts 13 yrs 1 months
  2. District of Columbia – $1 million lasts 14 yrs 2 months
  3. California – $ 1million lasts 15 yrs
  4. Oregon – $1 million lasts 16 yrs 7 months
  5. New York – $1 million lasts 16 yrs 7 months

VC – The Global Leaders in R&D Spending, by Country and Company – Jeff Desjardins 10/13

Pew – Share of counties where whites are a minority has doubled since 1980 – Drew Desilver 7/1/15

How Much – Best US Cities for Families to Save Money – Raul 10/16

The Best Places for Families to Save Money

  1. Spokane, WA; +$83,400
  2. Henderson, NV; +$59,100
  3. North Las Vegas, NV; +$56,600
  4. Las Vegas, NV; +$55,900
  5. Reno, NV; +$48,800

The Worst Places for Families to Save Money

  1. San Francisco, CA; -$62,300
  2. New York, NY; -$54,100
  3. Boston, MA; -$34,000
  4. Washington DC; -$22,200
  5. Philadelphia, PA; -$9,100

VC – How Many Hours Americans Need to Work to Pay Their Mortgage – Jeff Desjardins 10/17

The Republic – Phoenix is getting hotter – and so is the danger – Brandon Loomis 10/18

Pew – Amid decline in international adoptions to U.S., boys outnumber girls for the first time – Abby Budiman and Mark Hugo Lopez 10/17

Bloomberg – Smartphones Are Killing Americans, But Nobody’s Counting – Kyle Stock, Lance Lambert, and David Ingold 10/17

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Businessweek- Dollar General Hits a Gold Mine in Rural America 10/11

Bloomberg – The Glut of Private Jets Means ‘Insane’ Bargains for Buyers 10/8

Bloomberg – One of the Biggest ICOs Yet Crashes Before It Even Launched 10/19

WSJ – This Market’s Running on Hope, Not Profits 10/12

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 10/17

Bloomberg – JPMorgan, Citigroup Expect More Credit-Card Users to Default – Hugh Son, Dakin Campbell and Jennifer Surane 10/12

Real Estate

Bloomberg Businessweek – Distressed Investors Are Already Buying Houston Homes for 40 Cents on the Dollar 10/12

WSJ – Global Investors Pour Billions Into Hudson Yards in Major Bull Market Bet 10/17

WSJ – How Some Malls Manage to Stay Alive Years After Losing Their Mojo 10/17

WSJ – In London, Some Home Buyers Can Only Stay a Few Years 10/19

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – US Housing Supply Overview 10/17

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Multifamily Housing Units Under Construction 10/19

Finance

Economist – Buttonwood: The finance industry ten years after the crisis 10/14

WSJ – Daily Shot: Commonwealth of Puerto Rico GO Bond 10/15

  • “Puerto Rico’s general obligations (GO) debt keeps tumbling. The 8%-coupon bond ‘maturing’ in 2035 is trading at 33 cents on the dollar.”

WSJ – As Edward Jones Tops $1 Trillion in Assets, It Seeks Street Cred – Lisa Beilfuss 10/16

WSJ – Daily Shot: Corporate High-Yield Bond Spreads 10/18

Environment / Science

Economist – Offshore wind farms will change life in the sea 10/12

Bloomberg – There’s a Climate Bomb Under Your Feet 10/6

NYT – LIGO Detects Fierce Collision of Neutron Stars for the First Time – Dennis Overbye 10/16

Project Syndicate – Hurricanes’ Unnatural Toll 10/13

WSJ – Your Next Home Could Run on Batteries 10/15

Economist – Why the North American west is on fire 10/13

  • “The west of the United States has endured some 50,000 wildfires this year, and over 8.5m acres (3.4m hectares) have burned. Northern California has suffered in particular recently as flames have swept through parts of the landscape, killing at least 23 people and devastating wineries. In Canada, as of August 30th (the latest available figure), 7.4m acres had burned.”
  • “Ernesto Alvarado of the University of Washington, who specializes in large fires, says that historically portions of the forests of America’s north-west would burn every five to 20 years. In many areas, however, these fires have been suppressed for over a century by the needs of loggers and residents. Over time, undergrowth, saplings and dead trees accumulate, creating conditions in which a fire can spread very rapidly. Furthermore, a recent reduction in logging has led to an even closer packing together of trees. ‘To maintain good forest health in many of these forests, you need fire,’ says Dr. Alvarado. While some burns are prescribed, they are a fraction of what is required. In Washington, for instance, between 2001 and 2014 the Forest Service burned just 2% of the state’s 9.3m acres of forest.”
  • “In terms of scale, 2017 is not actually an outlier. In the past decade, wildfires have burned an average of 6.6m acres each year in the United States and 6.2m acres in Canada. The particular problem this year is the dispersed nature of the blazes.”
  • “The current state of the north-western forests, combined with the effects of climate change, increase the likelihood that wildfires will be worse in future… Little can be done to reduce the danger without a dramatic increase in prescribed burns, and these are unlikely as people continue to move into forested areas. One further consequence: the smoke and ash that drift across densely inhabited areas affect human health, too. A study by the universities of Harvard and Columbia of slash-and-burn fires in Indonesia in 2015 blamed the fires for 100,000 additional deaths and 500,000 injuries in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire: this year’s haze presages years of potentially more ferocious burns.”

Asia – excluding China and Japan

NYT – U.S. Stood By as Indonesia Killed a Half-Million People, Papers Show 10/18

WSJ Video – Inside the Philippines’ Bloody War Against Islamist Militants 10/18

Canada

WSJ – Canada Imposes Tougher Mortgage Rules Effective 2018 – Paul Vieira and Vipal Monga 10/17

  • “Canada’s banking watchdog unveiled tougher mortgage-financing rules that take effect on Jan. 1 that real estate watchers and economists say could dramatically slow house buying and borrowing.”
  • “The most notable measure is a provision that would require all prospective buyers—even those with a down payment of over 20%—to undergo a so-called stress test before a bank can issue a loan. Previously, only buyers with a down payment of less than 20% had to undergo a stress test. Under the stress test, prospective buyers would have to qualify for a mortgage at a rate at whichever is greater: either 2 percentage points above the negotiated rate, or the Bank of Canada’s five-year benchmark rate. The central bank’s five-year rate stands at 4.89%. The regulator originally proposed the test just cover two percentages point above the negotiated mortgage.”
  • “Robert McLister, founder of the Canadian mortgage-rate comparison site RateSpy.com, said the new rules target the fastest-growing part of the mortgage market—uninsured mortgages—and could affect one out of every six prospective home buyers. In Canada, mortgage insurance is mandatory unless the buyer has a down payment of 20% and over.”
  • “’This is easily the most groundshaking mortgage rule of all time, and that’s not an understatement,’ Mr. McLister said in an interview.”
  • “Economists said the tougher mortgage regulations will further hit a softening housing market. Recent data from the Canadian Real Estate Association indicated unadjusted sales in September were 11% below year-ago levels, and price growth has slowed considerably, especially in the Toronto market after the introduction of a foreign-buyer’s tax in southern Ontario.”
  • “TD Bank’s economics team said it anticipates the measures will depress housing demand by 5% to 10% once fully implemented.”

China

FT – China’s $150bn debt-for-equity swap shows signs of fizzling 10/18

WEF – Deloitte: China will grow old before it gets rich – Alex Gray 10/6

WSJ – China’s Greatest Challenge – Anjani Trivedi 10/16

  • Debt…

  • NBFI = Nonbank Financial Institutions

FT – China residential property sales see first fall in 21/2 years – Hudson Lockett 10/18

  • Okay, but look at the volatility. Geez.

Japan

WSJ – Corporate Scandals Say More About Japan Than the Nikkei 10/12

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s Investor Service – Decline of Japan’s Working Age Population 10/18

Middle East

Reuters – Saudi needs Aramco billions as recession slows austerity drive 10/19

FT – Qatar’s wealth fund brings $20bn home to ease impact of embargo – Andrew England and Simeon Kerr 10/18

  • “Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund has brought more than $20bn back onshore to cushion the impact of a regional embargo imposed on the Gulf state.”
  • “Ali Shareef al-Emadi, Qatar’s finance minister, told the Financial Times that Qatar Investment Authority deposits were being used to create a ‘buffer’ and provide liquidity in the banking system after the gas-rich state suffered capital outflows of more than $30bn.”
  • “That followed the decision by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to cut diplomatic and transport links with the nation in June. The move has triggered the Gulf’s worst crisis in years.”
  • “Moody’s, the rating agency, said last month that Qatar had injected $38.5bn into its economy since the crisis erupted.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMI Research  – Saudi Arabia GDP Change Year-over-Year 10/17

South America

FT – IMF crunches the numbers for possible Venezuela rescue 10/15

Featured

WP – The drug industry’s triumph over the DEA – Scott Higham and Lenny Bernstein 10/15

  • Let it be noted the power of this reporting resulted in Rep. Tom Marino withdrawing from consideration to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy and it appears that the public is more aware of this problem…
  • “In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets.”
  • “By then, the opioid war had claimed 200,000 lives, more than three times the number of U.S. military deaths in the Vietnam War. Overdose deaths continue to rise. There is no end in sight.”
  • “A handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills, according to an investigation by The Washington Post and ’60 Minutes.’ The DEA had opposed the effort for years.”
  • “The law was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market. The industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns.”
  • “The chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA was Rep. Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican who is now President Trump’s nominee to become the nation’s next drug czar. Marino spent years trying to move the law through Congress. It passed after Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) negotiated a final version with the DEA.”
  • “For years, some drug distributors were fined for repeatedly ignoring warnings from the DEA to shut down suspicious sales of hundreds of millions of pills, while they racked up billions of dollars in sales.”
  • “The new law makes it virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the companies, according to internal agency and Justice Department documents and an independent assessment by the DEA’s chief administrative law judge in a soon-to-be-published law review article. That powerful tool had allowed the agency to immediately prevent drugs from reaching the street.”
  • “Political action committees representing the industry contributed at least $1.5 million to the 23 lawmakers who sponsored or co-sponsored four versions of the bill, including nearly $100,000 to Marino and $177,000 to Hatch. Overall, the drug industry spent $106 million lobbying Congress on the bill and other legislation between 2014 and 2016, according to lobbying reports.”

WSJ – Amazon and Big Apartment Landlords Strike Deals on Package Delivery – Laura Kusisto 10/17

  • “Amazon.com Inc. is taking over the package rooms of some of the country’s largest apartment landlords, in a move that could help consolidate its control over how goods make it from the warehouse floor to the front door.”
  • “Amazon has signed contracts with apartment owners and managers representing more than 850,000 units across the U.S. to begin installing Amazon locker systems in their buildings, according to the landlords. Amazon has commitments to install the lockers in thousands of properties, many before the peak holiday shopping season, according to a person familiar with the matter.”
  • “Several of the nation’s largest operators, AvalonBay Communities Inc., Equity Residential , Greystar and Bozzuto Group, have signed up, company executives said.
  • For several years, landlords have struggled with how to manage the mountains of packages they receive each day. Staff at larger buildings end up devoting several hours a day sorting mail, while boxes are piled in every spare cranny. Most say it is the single largest problem they face.”
  • “The locker program, dubbed Hub by Amazon, will accept packages from all carriers and not just for purchases made on Amazon. They will be open only to residents, not the wider community. Residents will receive a notification when they have a package and a code allowing them to open one of the slots.”
  • “Apartment owners pay about $10,000 to $20,000 to purchase the lockers initially and don’t pay a monthly fee. Most landlords said they don’t plan to charge residents initially but to offer it as an amenity. They could also make back some of that cost in savings on staff labor.”
  • “Karen Hollinger, vice president of corporate initiatives at AvalonBay, which has an ownership interest in about 80,000 apartments, said the average apartment community in the company’s portfolio receives some 1,000 packages a month, up from 650 a year ago. She said AvalonBay has seen a 20% to 30% annual increase in the volume of packages it receives for the past four years.”
  • “Amazon has been searching for ways to make deliveries cheaper. It has recruited a fleet of citizen drivers via its Flex program, which allows people to drop off packages from their cars. It has developed its own air and cargo networks, too.”
  • “The most expensive leg of any delivery is known as the last mile: getting a package to the doorstep. Amazon already has added lockers throughout the U.S., including an announcement that it is rolling them out at its newly acquired Whole Foods stores.”

FT – Chinese property boom props up Xi’s hopes for the economy – Tom Hancock & Gabriel Wildau 10/18

  • “As China’s Communist party elite gather in Beijing this week to select its top leaders, President Xi Jinping has benefited from the strong recent performance of the economy, which is poised for its first year-on-year acceleration in growth since 2010. On Thursday China reported that gross domestic product grew 6.8% in the third quarter, ahead of Beijing’s full-year target.”
  • “That rebound owes much to the confidence of homebuyers. Housing prices and construction starts rebounded from a slump in 2014-15, boosting overall business investment and driving demand for output from China’s huge manufacturing sector.”
  • “The property sector has been given a helping hand. Urged on by Beijing, 38% of all bank loans issued in the 12 months to August were home mortgages, according to official data, and local governments purchased 18% of all residential floor space sold last year as part of a drive to provide affordable housing, according to estimates by E-House China Research Institute.”
  • “The result has been another heady boom in construction. Rome was not built in a day, but based on residential floor area completed last year, China built the equivalent of a new Rome about every six weeks.”
  • “With the surge in housing investment has come a round of questions about a potential bubble in the market and the implications for the long-term health of China’s economy.”
  • “Some economists and investors warn that short-term growth from the latest housing boom has come at a cost: inflating a property bubble whose eventual bursting will inflict great pain. A senior Chinese legislator recently warned in unusually blunt terms that the economy has been ‘kidnapped’ by property.” 
  • “But others insist that fears of a bubble are overstated. On this view, economic fundamentals justify substantial investment in housing, especially in inland cities where development still lags far behind wealthy coastal areas. These more sanguine observers also note that outrageous price levels for Chinese apartments are mainly restricted to the megacities like Beijing and Shanghai.” 
  • “The stakes in this debate are high. Chinese residential property is arguably the world’s most important asset market. The sector drives global commodity prices, making the difference between growth and stagnation for resource exporters like Australia and Brazil.” 
  • “’It’s never wrong to express worry over China’s housing market,’ says Larry Hu, China economist for Macquarie Securities in Hong Kong. ‘But it’s interesting to consider why the housing sector has become the Bermuda Triangle for economic forecasters. So many smart people have made wrong predictions about it.’”
  • “The leading claim of the housing bears is that after a 15-year construction boom, China has built most of the housing it needs to meet fundamental demand. On this view, investors speculating on price gains, not families seeking shelter, now drive the market.”
  • “’People buy property not because they like the property, but because the price is rising,’ says Ning Zhu, professor at the Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance and author of China’s Guaranteed Bubble. ‘It’s this panic that if they don’t buy now they will never be able to afford it.’” 
  • “Central to this narrative is the notion of ‘ghost cities’ — huge blocks of empty apartments where expected demand never materialized.” 
  • “In Mr. Xi’s speech at the opening of the congress on Wednesday, he repeated his mantra that ‘houses are for living in, not for speculation’.”
  • “Yet even in major cities, evidence suggests that there are a substantial number of empty flats held for investment purposes. A survey by FT Confidential Research, an independent research service owned by the Financial Times, found that 32% of families own at least one home that is vacant.” 
  • “An estimated 50m homes, or 22% of the total urban housing stock, were vacant in 2013, according to the most recent data from the China Household Finance Survey led by Li Gan, economics professor at Texas A&M University.” 
  • “Further underpinning the bearish outlook is the belief that fundamental demand for new housing is drying up.” 
  • “The extraordinary transformation of China’s economy over the past 40 years was driven by the migration of farmers into cities. That urbanization process is now slowing, however, as relatively few young people remain in rural China.” 
  • “The number of migrant workers living outside their home province rose by 12m in the five years through to June this year, compared with an increase of 26m in the five years ending June 2012, according to official data.” 
  • Says Mr. Xie (Andy Xie, an independent economist and former Morgan Stanley chief Asia-Pacific economist): ‘If you go into villages, there are no young and middle-aged people any more. Where is this next wave of urbanization supposed to come from?’”
  • “To longtime observers of China’s economy, the current hand-wringing over the property market feels familiar.”
  • “After two years of falling prices and sluggish sales, analysts were warning in early 2016 that some smaller cities had enough unsold inventory to last for years.” 
  • “Yet by August this year, inventories in the 80 cities tracked by E-House China Research Institute stood at their lowest level in almost five years.” 
  • “Perceptions of unreasonably high housing prices appear to be disproportionately influenced by trends in first-tier cities — Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. All three rank among the world’s most expensive in terms of price-to-income ratio.” 
  • “Of the 70 cities in the official price survey, however, 12 have seen outright price falls in the three years through to August this year. In a further 29 cities, prices rose by less than 10% in the same period. Meanwhile, median per capital disposable income has grown 28% in roughly the same period.”
  • “Despite major concerns about Chinese corporate debt, household borrowing remains low by international standards at 37% of GDP, compared with 79% in the US and 59% in the euro area, according to the Bank for International Settlements. And Chinese homebuyers use less debt and more equity than counterparts in the US. The average down payment on Chinese home mortgages extended in 2016 was 40%.” 
  • Despite their differences, both sides in the debate mostly agree that an outright crash of the housing market is unlikely. Chinese savers have few options for investing their money. The stock market is volatile, returns on bank deposits are meagre and foreign exchange controls largely prevent households from buying foreign assets. Housing is the least bad option for many investors.” 
  • The combination of capital controls with years of monetary stimulus virtually ensures that ‘trapped cash’ will slosh through different asset classes, creating bubble-like conditions that the government either encourages or struggles to contain.” 
  • “Still, given the pain that would result from an abrupt policy shift, analysts widely expect that Beijing will continue the current approach, tightening controls when the market gets too hot, while priming it with cash when it slows too sharply.” 
  • “’The government is really losing its credibility,’ says Mr. Ning. ‘At this point everyone realizes they don’t really intend to crack down on the housing market.’

October 11, 2017

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Spanish Empire at its Peak 10/10

  • “Since Monday was Columbus day, here is the size of the Spanish Empire at its peak (in 1790).”

WSJ – America’s Retailers Have a New Target Customer: The 26-Year-Old Millennial – Ellen Byron 10/9

VC – How Americans Differ by Age – Jeff Desjardins 10/10

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Teachable Moment – How To Make $5,300 In Commissions on a $43,000 Retirement Account – Anthony Isola 10/9

  • If you are a teacher or have family or friends that are teachers, you should read this. Make sure you’re or they’re not getting fleeced.

NYT – The N.F.L Draft: A Study in Cockeyed Overconfidence – David Leonhardt 4/25/05

  • A worthwhile look at the research that Richard Thaler and Cade Massey did regarding overconfidence.

The Irrelevant Investor – The Price of Progress – Michael Batnick 10/10

  • “The economic machine that we’ve built in the United States has done extraordinary things and I can’t wait to see what we come up with in the future. But what do we do when progress leaves so many behind?”

Markets / Economy

NYT – China Hastens the World Toward an Electric-Car Future – Keith Bradsher 10/9

Economist – American entrepreneurs have not lost their mojo 10/10

  • “Business formation is down, but fast-growing startups are in high gear.”

Energy

FT – Saudi Arabia curbs oil exports to combat glut – Anjli Raval 10/9

  • “Saudi Arabia is allocating fewer barrels of crude for export next month and at a level below current demand, emphasizing the effort by global producers to reduce surplus inventories.”
  • “In a rare statement, the Ministry of Energy on Monday said contracted demand for Saudi crude for November was 7.7m barrels a day, but the kingdom has assigned just 7.2m b/d for export.”
  • “The disclosure of Saudi Arabia’s monthly allocations emphasizes a new focus on foreign sales, alongside production, that Riyadh deems vital to the effort by global producers to reduce surplus inventories.”
  • “’It is very interesting they are now trying to communicate to the market about exports,’ said Olivier Jakob at consultancy Petromatrix. ‘They have gone the extra step of putting out numbers on this, which is the first I’ve ever seen.’”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Hedge Fund Research – Hedge Fund Fees 10/10

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 10/9

  • Bitcoin is rallying again.

WSJ – Daily Shot: Investing.com – Bitcoin Cash 10/10

  • “On the other hand, Bitcoin’s less fortunate twin called Bitcoin Cash has collapsed.”

India

FT – Modi’s pursuit of black money proves drag on India’s economy – Amy Kazmin 10/9

  • “For many Indians the powerful appeal of Narendra Modi, the prime minister, stemmed from his vows to tackle two issues of fierce public concern: the sluggish economy and entrenched corruption.”
  • “But India’s economy has faltered, with growth falling steadily since early 2016 to a three-year low of 5.7% in the second quarter of this year.”
  • “Now, some economists are suggesting Mr Modi’s two big goals are at odds, and that New Delhi’s zealous anti-corruption drive — which reached its apogee with a draconian cash ban — is sapping India’s economic momentum.”
  • “Though disruptive, demonetization failed to purge black money from the economy, because nearly 99 per cent of the cancelled bank notes were deposited or exchanged, rather than being furtively destroyed as forecast.”
  • “Now New Delhi is toughening its stance, with tax officials probing 1.8m individuals or businesses whose cash deposits after demonetization were out of sync with their past tax returns.”
  • “While the quest to unearth Indians’ illicit wealth remains politically popular, economists say it has come at a cost, souring business and consumer sentiment. It is considered one reason why private investment — which has driven past Indian booms — remains stubbornly flat.” 
  • “‘If you’ve got income tax authorities charged up and told to after black money, who is going to invest in a big way?’ said one economist who asked not to be identified given the issue’s sensitivity.”
  • “’The Chinese call this ‘the original sin’ problem,’ he added. ‘Every company has something buried in the past — a sin it has committed. If the government really wants to go after people, it can always find something.’”
  • “Demonetization severely disrupted the property market, previously a favorite parking place for black money and a big growth engine. Real estate prices and sales plunged and, though sales are picking up, there is a huge overhang of unsold inventory.”

Japan

NYT – Kobe Steel’s Falsified Data Is Another Blow to Japan’s Reputation – Jonathan Soble 10/10

  • “For decades, Japanese manufacturers of cars, aircraft and bullet trains have relied on Kobe Steel to provide raw materials for their products, making the steel maker a crucial, if largely invisible, pillar of the economy.”
  • “Now, Kobe Steel has acknowledged falsifying data about the quality of aluminum and copper it sold, setting off a scandal that is reverberating through Japan and beyond, and casting a new shadow over the country’s reputation for precision manufacturing, a mainstay of its economy.”
  • “Companies ranging from the automakers Toyota Motor and Honda Motor to aircraft companies like Boeing and Mitsubishi Heavy Industry said they were investigating the use of rolled aluminum and other materials from Kobe in their products. They also said they were trying to determine if substandard materials had been used in their products and, if so, whether they presented safety hazards.”
  • “Kobe Steel said on Sunday that employees at four of its factories had altered inspection certificates on aluminum and copper products from September 2016 to August this year. The changes, it said, made it look as if the products met manufacturing specifications required by customers — including for vital qualities like tensile strength — when they did not.”
  • “Kobe Steel added that it was examining other possible episodes of data falsification going back 10 years. It did not provide details about the size of the discrepancies it had discovered, making it difficult to immediately determine if they posed a safety threat.”
  • “Kobe Steel’s problem points to ‘a common organization issue,’ said Shin Ushijima, a lawyer who serves as president of the Japan Corporate Governance Network. He drew parallels between Kobe Steel and Takata and Mitsubishi, as well as with financial-reporting improprieties at Toshiba, which admitted to overstating profit in 2015.”
  • “’Boards aren’t doing their jobs,’ he said. ‘This isn’t an issue that can be solved by the president resigning. There needs to be wholesale change.’”
  • “He continued, ‘The Kobe Steel case is a test of whether we’ve learned anything from Toshiba and these other issues.’”

Mexico

FT – Mexicans hope earthquake will shake up corrupt system – Jude Webber 10/9

  • “There are disasters waiting to happen, says Eduardo Reinoso, a civil engineer who has studied compliance with building codes introduced after 1985. He blames not only corruption and incompetence but also a culture of impunity that has encouraged people to build or modify their homes without planning permission because of a belief they can get away with it.”
  • “As Gabriel Guerra, a former diplomat and government official, put it: ‘Our collective negligence and corruption is coming back to bite us where it hurts.’”

July 3, 2017

Have a great Independence Day!

Perspective

WP – The U.S. fertility rate just hit a historic low. Why some demographers are freaking out – Ariana Eunjung Cha 6/30

  • “According to provisional 2016 population data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, the number of births fell 1% from a year earlier, bringing the general fertility rate to 62.0 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. The trend is being driven by a decline in birthrates for teens and 20-somethings. The birthrate for women in their 30s and 40s increased — but not enough to make up for the lower numbers in their younger peers.”
  • “A country’s birthrate is among the most important measures of demographic health. The number needs to be within a certain range, called the “replacement level,” to keep a population stable so that it neither grows nor shrinks. If too low, there’s a danger that we wouldn’t be able to replace the aging workforce and have enough tax revenue to keep the economy stable.”
  • The article attributes the trend to characteristics of the millennial generation; however, I would place more of the cause at the rising cost of housing, rising cost of primary education & extracurriculars, lingering student debt, and the replacement of stable work with ‘gigs’. It’s hard to want to procreate when you don’t feel stable or supported.

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – Once a Model City, Hong Kong Is in Trouble – Keith Bradsher 6/29

Energy

FT – Canada oil output threatens to derail Opec plan – Gregory Meyer 6/29

  • “As Opec glares at the surge in US shale production that is threatening to derail its attempt to balance the oil market, it may also want to cast an eye north.”
  • “Canada, home of the world’s third-largest oil reserves, might have seen producers slash capital spending during the three-year-old oil decline, but earlier investments in the country are set to keep pushing output higher for at least the next 18 months.”
  • “A forecast released this month by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers sees the country’s output increasing by 270,000 barrels a day in 2017 and another 320,000 b/d next year.”
  • “That combined two-year Canadian increase is equal to almost a third of Opec’s production cuts that it made with allies like Russia at the beginning of this year in an effort to raise prices.”
  • “Much of that Canadian oil is already pouring into storage tanks in the US, rattling traders who last week pushed prices to a half-year low.”

FT – US oil rig count drops for first time since January – Gregory Meyer 6/30

  • “The number of rigs drilling for oil in the US has clocked its first weekly decline since January… The tally had risen for 23 consecutive weeks beforehand.”

Agriculture 

Bloomberg – Spring Wheat Surges the Most Since 2010 – Megan Durisin Jen Skerritt and Brian K Sullivan 6/29

  • “Prices for spring wheat, the high-protein variety favored for bagels and pizza crusts, are starting to defy gravity.”
  • “Futures soared as much as 8.5% on Thursday, the most intraday since 2010, after Canada cut its planting outlook and drought conditions expand in U.S. growing states. Prices are up 31% in June, beating the gains for 80 other commodities tracked by Bloomberg.”
  • “The northern U.S. has been plagued by dryness this year, and conditions for the domestic spring-wheat crop are their worst for this time since 1988. Now, traders are eyeing a smaller crop in Canada, too. The country’s government on Thursday cut its outlook for the total wheat acreage more than analysts expected and said canola plantings will top the grain for the first time ever.”

China

Reuters – Macau casinos post 11th month of gains on VIP resurgence – Farah Master 7/1

  • “Revenues in the world’s biggest casino hub of Macau jumped nearly 30% in June, posting an 11-month winning streak, as demand from high-roller VIPs accelerated despite a corruption crackdown.”

FT – Xi warns Hong Kong not to threaten ‘red line’ of Chinese rule – Ben Bland and Jamil Anderlini 7/1

  • “Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned Hong Kongers not to cross the ‘red line’ of China’s sovereignty and called for a renewed campaign of “patriotic education” for young people in a hardline speech that comes amid growing opposition to Beijing’s rule and its creeping interventions in the semi-autonomous territory.”
  • “’Any attempt to endanger national sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government . . . or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line, and is absolutely impermissible,’ he said on Saturday.”

June 8, 2017

Perspective

Pew Research Center – The rise of multiracial and multiethnic babies in the U.S. – Gretchen Livingston 6/6

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Greatest Hits From Michael Mauboussin & Meir Statman 6/6

  • Mauboussin: “Perhaps the single greatest error in the investment business is a failure to distinguish between the knowledge of a company’s fundamentals and the expectations implied by the market price.”
  • Statman: “Risk is not measured by standard deviation but rather by the probability of not getting to your goal.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Millions of Young People Shut Out of the Housing Market – Laura Kusisto 6/7

  • “Roughly three million potential first-time home buyers have been shut out of the market over the last decade, according to a new study, suggesting the market’s recovery of the past few years could have been stronger.”
  • “Tight lending standards and acute shortages of affordable housing in many markets have reduced the pool of potential buyers, particularly among young people, reducing a key component of housing demand.”
  • “In all, the number of first-time U.S. home buyers averaged 1.5 million a year over the last decade, compared with the historical average of 1.8 million, according to a new study to be released Thursday by Genworth Mortgage Insurance that examines mortgage data from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration, Veterans Affairs and other sources. The study looked at data going back to 1994 and defined first-time buyers as anyone who hasn’t owned a home in the last three years.”
  • “Lackluster demand for homeownership among younger people has been one of the main factors holding back the housing recovery. Many young people have been delaying buying homes due to tight credit, student loans and rising rents that have made it difficult to save for down payments.”
  • “’What’s been missing is confidence,’ said Sam Khater, deputy chief economist at CoreLogic Inc.”
  • “But that is starting to change. So far this year, first-time buyers represented about 38% of the market, greater than the historical average of 35%, according to Genworth. Some two million first-timers purchased homes last year, or 37% of the market.”
  • “’We’ve had a very strong surge in first-time home buyers,’ said Tian Liu, chief economist at Genworth.”
  • “Credit also appears to be loosening. According to Genworth, about 78% of first-time buyers are using low-down-payment loans, compared with the historical average of 73%.”
  • “Economists said a wave of first-time buyers is likely coming over the next decade, as a large cohort in their mid-20s begin to buy homes.”
  • “’As we’re seeing millennials age into homeownership, there’s a huge tailwind coming,’ said Nela Richardson, chief economist at Redfin.”

Energy

WSJ – An Energy Shock from the High Seas – Spencer Jakab 6/6

  • “Circle January 2020 on your calendar for what could be a major disruption to the energy market and a jolt to the global economy.”
  • “The origin of the problem isn’t some oil cartel’s machinations, a looming war or even a technological shift—it is a bureaucratic body that few people have heard of: the International Maritime Organization. Just 30 months from now the cargo vessels that are the lifeblood of global trade will be required to cut the sulfur content in their fuel from 3.5% to 0.5%.”
  • “Ships move more than 10 billion tons of cargo a year and do it far more efficiently than road or rail, but it comes at a high cost in terms of overall pollution because ships use fuel oil, which is just about the cheapest, dirtiest stuff to come out of refineries. About 9% of all sulfur dioxide emitted globally comes from ships, contributing to acid rain and many premature deaths annually. Even the new cap is 500 times the sulfur content of most road diesel.”
  • “While standards have changed for many fuels, the rapid nature of the switch means that, if shippers fully comply, there could be price spikes. Ships that currently use cheap high sulfur fuel oil will have to switch to some other source higher up in the product slate that comes out of refineries. Even with significant investment, refiners may not be ready and ships may have to burn more expensive marine diesel.”
  • “Is the threat real? While energy traders mainly focus on the next several months, derivative prices indicate it is. For example, crude futures expiring in July 2020 are just 1% more expensive than those expiring in July 2017. By contrast, Rotterdam high sulfur fuel oil is 16% cheaper and New York ultralow sulfur diesel is 10% more expensive.”

Finance

FT – Global investors develop taste for US high-yield corporate bonds – Eric Platt 6/6

China

FT – China’s next ‘city from scratch’ called into question – Jamil Anderlini 6/6

  • “When the Chinese government announced its plan to create a new city from scratch in a rural northern backwater of the country on April 1, the effect was immediate.”
  • “Housing prices in the area tripled almost overnight as property speculators rushed to the area — about 100km south-west of Beijing — in the hopes of cashing in on the new project, described by state media as a ‘grand strategy crucial for a millennium to come’.”
  • “Share prices for listed companies with even tenuous connections to the ‘Xiongan New Area’ soared as analysts estimated that up to $580bn — roughly the annual gross domestic product of Argentina — would be spent in the next few years on building up the new city, which will eventually cover an area twice the size of Hong Kong and nearly three times the size of New York City. The government is aiming for a population of 2.5m people as soon as 2030.”
  • “The Xiongan plan draws on a blueprint that has been tried and tested in China before. As it was unveiled at the start of April, China’s state-controlled media hailed it as President Xi’s answer to the ‘special economic zones’ of Shenzhen and Pudong, both of which were launched under the auspices of China’s former paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping.”
  • “However, critics of Xiongan point out that for every Shenzhen and Pudong there are scores of half-empty or failed ‘special economic zones’ now dotted across China.”
  • “They argue that Xiongan shares none of the natural advantages of those earlier experimental cities, such as proximity to booming financial centers, world-class ports or enormous depots of international capital. They also worry about Beijing’s stated plan to exclude foreign investment, at least at the earliest stages, in favor of state investment and planning.”

February 3 – February 9, 2017

Chinese companies stashing cash ($110bn) in wealth management products. Italian banking sector depending on UniCredit?

Headlines

FT – Bank of Japan intervenes to buy 10-year JGBs 2/3. Well for now it appears that the Bank of Japan’s tolerance for the Japanese 10-year bond is about 0.11% – the point at which it just intervened in the market indicating it would buy an unlimited amount of bonds to keep them at that rate or less.

FT – Overseas Chinese acquisitions worth $75bn cancelled last year 2/5. “Chinese overseas deals worth almost $75bn were cancelled last year as a regulatory clampdown and restrictions on foreign exchange caused 30 acquisitions with European and US groups to fall through.”

WSJ – U.S. Firms Slash Interest Tab in $100 Billion Refinancing Blitz 2/8. Borrowers are using investor demand for yield to impose rate reductions on their debt.

NYT – A Crack in an Antarctic Ice Shelf Grew 17 Miles in the Last Two Months 2/7. A rift in the Larsen C ice shelf (one of the largest) that started in late 2014 is about 2 months away from pushing a very large glacier into the sea and leading to an eventual collapse of the Larsen C – which is not good.

Bloomberg – Supply Is the Technical Factor Behind Global Rally in Markets 2/8. “In short, a world with excess savings is still struggling to sate its appetite for investable assets in public markets, amid a net shortage of new stocks and corporate bonds.”

Special Reports / Opinion Pieces

Briefs

  • Stephen Foley and Hannah Kuchler of the Financial Times elaborated on institutional investor anger over Snap’s decision to offer voteless shares.
    • Snapchat (Snap) is a first in pursuing an IPO that will issue shares to the market with NO voting power. “The two founders, Evan Spiegel, chief executive, and Bobby Murphy, chief technology officer, will control the company and continue to do so even if they step down.”
    • “The prospectus says a founder’s voting power will only be diluted if he cuts his stake substantially or ‘nine months after his death.'”
    • “Other technology companies, including Google and Facebook, have concentrated control in the hands of their founders, creating different classes of stock. But none has gone public with a class that has no votes whatsoever.”
    • The pros – management can focus on long-term value. The cons – management is not accountable to its outside shareholders.
    • The downside to index funds – “many funds will be forced to own Snap when it is included in major stock market indices…”
    • The concern is the precedent this could set…
  • Anne Richards of the Financial Times discussed the challenges posed to markets by long-term demographic trends.
    • “The global economy has now passed an important tipping point. For the first time in recorded history, children under the age of five no longer outnumber those aged 65 and above. We have arrived at ‘peak child.'”
    • “The United Nations has estimated that the global population will continue to age and, by 2050, more than 15% of the global population will be aged over 65. Economists often point to the challenges that Japan faces as the population ages; by 2050, most of the G7 will have a similar demographic profile as Japan does today, as will China, Brazil and Russia.”
    • “In a world where immigration policy reform is increasingly dominating political agendas, policymakers should recognize that gross domestic product largely reflects a demographic profile where more workers enter the workforce, who (if everything goes to plan) will then produce, earn and consume more than the previous quarter.”
    • “Naturally, as the workforce shrinks due to aging, the reverse will be true. However, it does not necessarily mean than an economy is underperforming if the trend rate of growth is falling to reflect a smaller workforce.”
  • Peter Grant of The Wall Street Journal highlighted that several large investors have cut back on their property exposure due to the bull market losing steam.
    • Some prominent real-estate investors (i.e. Blackstone Group, Brookfield Asset Management, United Parcel Service Inc’s pension trust and Harvard Management Company) are reducing their holdings and getting more selective about new deals, in a sign that the eight-year bull market for U.S. commercial property is coming to a close.”
    • “Deal volume decreased by $58.3 billion, or 11% in 2016, the first annual decrease since 2009, according to data firm Real Capital Analytics.
    • “Caution among investors in the $11 trillion U.S. commercial property sector is being driven by lofty prices, the length of the market cycle so far and the recent rise in interest rates, which makes bonds look more attractive compared with commercial property. Also, developers are adding new supply of some property types at the fastest rate since the recovery began.”
    • “For example, more than 378,000 new apartments are expected to be completed across the country this year, almost 35% more than the 20-year average, according to real-estate tracker Axiometrics Inc.”
  • Lucy Hornby of the Financial Times covered the vow made by Beijing’s mayor to banish parts of the city to the provinces.
    • “Beijing’s new mayor has vowed to gut the city of all functions unrelated to its status as national capital, in an effort to push the growing population into the surrounding provinces.”
    • “Mr. Cai said he would reduce Beijing’s land zoned for construction and cap the city’s population at 23m.”
    • “Almost 22m people now live in Beijing or surrounding satellite cities, up from 4m in 1950 and 9m in 1980.”
  • Robin Wigglesworth of the Financial Times pointed US small-caps guru Henry Ellenbogen’s recent concerns over the post-election rally.
    • “US small stocks guru Henry Ellenbogen is concerned that the ferocious post-election equity rally could unravel unless the economy accelerates sharply to justify the frothy valuations, warning that most of the gains were powered by fickle inflows into exchange traded funds.”
    • “Over $20.6bn has gushed into US small-caps ETFs since early November, according to EPFR, while dedicated small-caps mutual funds have actually suffered some outflows, underscoring the role of passive investment vehicles in the move.”
    • “‘When you have those kind of flows into an illiquid asset class, you can really drive performance. Stuff that was outside the index has been roughly flat, while everything in the index has risen significantly,’ Mr. Ellenbogen said. ‘If there is a setback, the fund flows that drove small-caps higher will be just as aggressive on the way out.'”

Graphics

WSJ – Daily Shot: US Major Inflation Components 02/02

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WSJ – Daily Shot: US Cord Cutting 02/02

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WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Domestic Bank Demand for Commercial Real Estate Loans 02/06

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WSJ – Daily Shot: S&P Retail – S&P 500 Relative Performance 02/06

  • “US retail shares continue to underperform as investors question business models.”

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WSJ – Daily Shot: Domestic Water Use Per Capita by U.S. State 02/06

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WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Student Loan Balance 02/07

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WSJ – Daily Shot: Statista – Lawsuits filed against US Administrations in first 14 days 02/07

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WSJ – Daily Shot: Global Skyscraper Construction 02/07

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FT – China forex reserves dip under $3tn to touch 5-year low – Gabriel Wildau 2/7

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FT – Investors pile into risky bonds in bet on Trump economy – Eric Platt 2/8

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WSJ – Daily Shot: EIA – US Electricity Production 02/08

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WSJ – Daily Shot: US Market Volatility 02/08

  • “Volatility is dead. We’ve now hit 85 consecutive days without a 1% drop in the S&P 500. The last time this occurred was in 2006.”

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Bloomberg – The Race to the Speed of Light Is Accelerating – John Detrixhe 2/8

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WSJ – For Chinese Home Buyers, Seattle Is the New Vancouver – Laura Kusisto and Kim Mackrael 2/7

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WSJ – Daily Shot: Pew Research – US Religiosity Index 02/08

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Economist – Emerging markets’ Trump tantrum abates, except in Turkey 2/4

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Featured

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

Chinese companies park record $110bn in wealth products. Don Weinland. Financial Times. 6 Feb. 2017.

“Cash-rich Chinese corporations are running out of places to invest.”

“As economic growth cooled and investment opportunities ebbed in China last year, listed companies moved a record $110bn of idle cash into financial products, mainly at banks, according to data from Wind Financial Information.”

“The flood of company funds into wealth management products – up some 40% on the previous year – was a sign that many groups in the country shunned risky corporate expansion amid the economic slowdown, instead preferring short-duration investments.”

“About $64bn of the cash companies invested in wealth products had been raised from investors through initial public offerings and private placements…” Why raise cash if you’re not going to use it?

“Over the past four years, Chinese regulators have leaned on listed groups to pay out regular dividends in the hope of bringing mainland bourses more in line with international standards.”

“The wealth management investments show that many state-held groups still refuse to return cash to shareholders.”

“‘The state still has strong holdings in many of these companies, often more than 50%. So institutional investors cannot put pressure on companies to pay out dividends,’ said Wong Chi-man, executive director at China Galaxy International Securities.”

Okay, so if all of these companies (which are traditionally where idle capital is sent to generate economic returns) are preferring to sit on cash for a lack of investment opportunities within their own business, how are the wealth management products being sold going to generate returns – especially at scale?

Is Italy’s financial future resting on UniCredit? Rachel Sanderson, Martin Arnold and Jonathan Ford. Financial Times. 6 Feb. 2017.

“Jean-Pierre Mustier, chief executive of UniCredit, has criss-crossed the world in the past two months seeking to cajole investors into buying 13bn in new shares – a major test of confidence not just for Italy’s largest bank but also the country’s teetering banking sector.”

“As UniCredit launched its bumper rights issue on Monday – at a steep 38% discount to its theoretical ex-rights issue price – bankers in the underwriting consortium said they were confident that it would be successful. It needs to be… Besides worries about profitability and governance, investors fear the industry’s 360bn mountain of doubtful loans, of which 200bn are in default.”

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“The offering comes at a tumultuous moment. The implementation of a government decree – earmarking 20bn to rescue several midsized banks, including Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest lender – remains up in the air.”

“The broader issue is whether a successful fundraising by UniCredit will help draw a line under concerns about Italy’s largest bank by assets, and in turn Italy’s banking sector.”

“Italian banks have long been burdened by a large stock of non-performing loans, which they have valued at prices higher than investors are willing to pay.”

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“Gross non-performing exposures measured 356bn, or 17.7% of total loans, according to the latest financial stability report. That is three times the amount that is normal in most European economies. The stock of gross sofferenze – the worst kind of defaulted loan – remains at about 200bn; net of provisions that the banks themselves have taken these amount to 85bn.”

“Mr. Mustier, speaking to the Financial Times in December, suggested that the problem of its NPLs (Non-Performing Loans) is deeper than many appreciate.”

“He said the issue stems from Italy’s double-dip recession but also from Italian companies’ practice of funding themselves with ‘hot money.’ The companies had ‘the wrong kind of balance sheet,’ he said. ‘They had not enough capital and they were managing their liabilities by having short-term liabilities to cover long-term assets.'”

“It has taken Mr. Mustier, a Frenchman who lived in London for 20 years, to call out the deeper cultural problems facing Italy’s banking sector. The question is whether his remedy will last beyond this month’s share sale.”

Other Interesting Articles

Bloomberg Businessweek

The Economist

Economist – What are China’s 12345 hotlines? 2/7

Economist – Buttonwood: Bubbles are rarer than you think 2/8

Economist – Melania Trump’s “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to profit 2/9

FT – Snap: clickbait 2/2

FT – Shanghai shows changing face of FDI in China 2/3

FT – US protectionism and deglobalization spell inflation 2/5

FT – Foreign investors cut holdings of China bonds for first time since 2015 2/5

FT – IMF board split over bailout terms for Greece 2/6

FT – Facebook and Google team up to fight fake news in France 2/6

FT – Thinking the unthinkable on Germany going nuclear 2/6

FT – China credit flood set to persist despite PBoC rate rises 2/8

FT – Why is the eurozone back in crisis over Greece? 2/8

FT – South Korean court all but sinks Hanjin Shipping 2/9

FT – US inflation expectations slide 2/9

NYT – Steve Bannon Carries Battles to Another Influential Hub: The Vatican 2/7

WSJ – The Next American Farm Bust Is Upon Us 2/9

WSJ – Landlord Concessions Rising in Manhattan and Brooklyn 2/9