Tag: Energy

July 20, 2018

To my dear readers,

This is going to be my last post for the foreseeable future. I have appreciated your readership and the occasional comment.

I will continue to read all of the various sources of content that have filled these posts and will continue to curate what I find to be the more meaningful articles and graphics. However, going forward I will not be posting/distributing so frequently. At this point I’m not certain of the appropriate frequency (being mindful of my time). Perhaps annually.

I hope you have enjoyed these 353 posts.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Duff Janus

 

If you were only to read one thing…

Krueger & Catalano – Confessions Of a Digital Dinosaur: Esports Is The Next Great Traditional Sport – Ryan Krueger

  • “An entire generation of young adults increasingly do not aspire to one day afford season tickets like some of their parents did. ‘If you’re in your mid-20’s and move into your new job in a new city, you arrive without the ability to pay for a ticket to go to a game anymore, no cable package to watch, and no subscription to the local newspaper to follow the team.’ This is not my opinion, I heard this from the owner of a professional sports team about his own son. All eyes are on cord-cutters while a generation of cord-never-had-em emerges.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – Daily Shot: Toronto Star – President Trump’s false statement count – Daniel Dale 7/14

Real Estate

WSJ – Land Goes from ‘Dirt Cheap’ to ‘Pay Dirt’ – Adam Bonislawski 7/19

  • “Land reclamation isn’t cheap but soil becomes significantly more valuable when it’s moved to create new land in Manhattan, Boston’s Back Bay and Monaco.”

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: US Total Crude Oil Production 7/19

WSJ – Export Boom May Give Houston New Status as Oil-Futures Hub – Stephanie Yang 7/17

Other Interesting Links

JPMorgan Asset Management – Guide to the Markets – 6/30

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June 29, 2018

Perspective

WSJ – Where Residents Pay Buckets of Money – for Water – Adam Bonislawski 6/27

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg – Give China a Taste of Its Own Bad Trade Medicine – Michael Schuman 6/27

Economist – Most stockmarket returns come from a tiny fraction of shares – Buttonwood 6/23

Economist – How to stop the decline of public transport in rich countries – Leaders 6/23

WSJ – Facebook Investors May Be Too Quick to Forgive – Dan Gallagher 6/28

  • “Social network’s stock price has risen sharply since Cambridge Analytica scandal even though more questions have surfaced.”

WSJ – The Good Times Are Over for China’s Property Stocks – Jacky Wong 6/28

  • “A weaker Chinese yuan and a funding squeeze are taking their toll on developers.”

Markets / Economy

FT – Global dealmaking reaches $2.5tn as US megadeals lift volumes – James Fontanella-Khan and Arash Massoudi 6/27

WSJ – Daily Shot: PitchBook – Startup nation: The most valuable VC-backed company in each US state – Dana Olsen 2/27

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Gross US Crude Oil Exports 6/27

WSJ – Daily Shot: Princeton Energy Advisors – Net Crude Oil Imports 6/28

China

Bloomberg – Xi Warns Mattis China Won’t Surrender ‘One Inch’ of Territory – Peter Martin 6/27

Economist – China has militarized the South China Sea and got away with it 6/21

Economist – China is trying to turn itself into a country of 19 super-regions 6/23

FT – China’s polluted skies – Steven Bernard and Lucy Hornby 6/28

Europe

Economist – Giddy property prices are a test for Swedish policymakers 6/21

 

June 27, 2018

Perspective

WSJ – Marriage Is Out of Fashion. So Why Is Tiffany Selling More Engagement Rings? – Suzanne Kapner 6/20

  • Please note that the Y-axis base is 45% (still meaningful).

Tax Foundation – To What Extent Does Your State Rely on Property Taxes? – Ben Strachman and Katherine Loughead 6/20

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – The Best Free Investing Tools on the Web – Ben Carlson 6/25

Bloomberg – U.S. Housing Will Get Even Less Affordable – A. Gary Shilling 6/26

  • “More investor-owned properties and rising construction costs are just two reasons homes are out of reach for many.”

Bloomberg – The ‘Deep Fake’ Threat – The Editors 6/13

  • “High-tech forged videos could wreak havoc on politics. Policy makers must be ready.”

FT – Issues beyond Opec will drive oil prices in coming years – Nick Butler 6/24

  • “US shale oil production is set to have a dramatic effect on the global market.”

WSJ – Has the Big Yuan Short Finally Arrived? – Nathaniel Taplin 6/26

  • “As long as Chinese investors can make money gambling on housing – and companies can make money building or selling them – weakness in the stock and bond markets may not be enough to trigger a full-scale stampede out of the yuan.”
  • “Panic or no panic, a weaker Chinese currency in the months ahead still seems likely.”

Real Estate

Bloomberg Businessweek – The Modular-Home Maker That Could Make Housing Cheaper – Dina Bass 6/21

  • “Katerra saves money by buying everything from wood to toilets in bulk and using software and sensors to closely track materials, factory output, and construction speed. Its architects use software to build a catalog of standard buildings, rather than starting from scratch on each project, and to ensure contractors aren’t making impulsive structural decisions. Each generation of buildings has become steadily more prefab, requiring less work on-site and speeding construction.”
  • “…but Katerra has a lot of serious worries. While there are only a few standard models of iMac or Xbox, apartments are beholden to 110,000 U.S. municipalities’ building codes, each with its own idiosyncrasies. Regional seismic and weather needs can vary widely. And Katerra’s aim to steadily cut labor costs, meaning jobs, won’t exactly endear it to the industry.”

WSJ – Luxury Real Estate Comes to Urban Chinatowns – Katy McLaughlin 5/31

  • “High-end developments are appearing, attracting new residents as well as concerns about the displacement of the existing working-class.”

Energy

Bloomberg – Oil-Sands Outage Upends Global Oil Market, Overshadowing OPEC – Robert Tuttle and Kevin Orland 6/25

  • “The shutdown of a key oil-sands facility in Canada is flipping the global oil market on its head and slamming shares of producers that depend on the plant.”
  • “Just as OPEC and allied producers agreed to pour more oil into global markets, a transformer blast first reported by Bloomberg News last week cut power to Alberta’s giant Syncrude plant, which turns heavy crude into synthetic light oil for U.S. markets.”
  • “As less oil flows from up north, traders are paying a record premium for crude at America’s biggest distribution hub in Cushing, Oklahoma. Globally, the gap between Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate is narrowing rapidly after widening for months. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. called the shutdown the most dramatic event in the oil market last week, as opposed to OPEC’s meeting in Vienna. Shares of Suncor Energy Inc., which controls the plant, plunged the most in more than two years.”
  • “The 350,000-barrel-a-day facility, one of the biggest of its kind in the world, is going to be out of commission until the end of July, the company said.”
  • “While Saudi Arabia’s push to make sure OPEC boosts supplies by close to 1 million barrels a day is strongly weighing down on Brent crude futures in London, the shortage in Canada is supporting U.S. prices. That’s helping narrow the gap between the two benchmarks, reversing months of widening when the focus was on record production from shale fields. It has global implications because the premium helps buyers around the world decide whether to ship crude from the U.S. or elsewhere.”

Tech

CNN – It’s true: Teens are ditching Facebook – Jordan Valinsky 5/31

  • “A new study has confirmed what we’ve long expected: Facebook is no longer the most popular social media site among teens ages 13 to 17.”
  • “The Pew Research Center revealed on Thursday that only 51% of US teens use Facebook. That’s a 20% drop since 2015, the last time the firm surveyed teens’ social media habits.”
  • “Now, YouTube is the most popular platform among teens — about 85% say they use it. Not surprisingly, teens are also active on Instagram (72%) and Snapchat (69%). Meanwhile, Twitter (TWTR) followed at 32%, and Tumblr’s popularity (14%) remained the same since the 2015 survey.”
  • “When it comes to the platform they access most frequently throughout the day, Snapchat is king.”
  • “Although the study was only conducted among nearly 750 teens in a one month period starting this spring, the new numbers might be worrying for Facebook. The company recently rebounded from its first-ever decline in users in the US and Canada. But overall, its global growth has slowed. The two countries account for 185 million daily users.”
  • “But Daniel Ives, chief strategy officer and head of technology research at GBH Insights, argues Facebook-owned Instagram-owned is more important to the parent company than Facebook itself when it comes to younger users.”
  • “‘Instagram has captured that demographic better than anyone could have expected,’ Ives said. The numbers highlight ‘why Instagram is one of the best tech acquisitions done in the past 15 years.'”

Entertainment

WSJ – Comedies’ Misfortunes Are No Laughing Matter for Hollywood – Ben Fritz 6/25

  • “Last year’s most successful adult comedy, Girls Trip, took in $117 million in the U.S. and Canada. The last time the year’s highest-grossing comedy grossed so little was 1995, when tickets cost 52% less on average.”
  • “It wasn’t an anomaly. The five most successful adult comedies grossed an average of $141 million in 2013, $109 million in 2015 and just $85 million last year.”
  • “So far in 2018, the biggest live-action comedy has been Game Night, which took in just $69 million. Melissa McCarthy’s Life of the Party, has grossed $52 million, her lowest-grossing comedy ever. Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty is finishing its box office run with $49 million, less than half of her debut hit Trainwreck. Action Point, from the producer and star of Jackass, has grossed just $5 million, compared with $117 million for Jackass 3-D in 2010.”
  • “Just five years ago, things were quite different. In 2013, Ms. McCarthy and Sandra Bullock’s The Heat and the raucous R-rated We’re the Millers each grossed more than $150 million domestically. Another movie with Ms. McCarthy, Identity Thief, was close behind with $135 million. Grown Ups 2, Anchorman 2, Bad Grandpa, This is the End and even the widely maligned Hangover Part III all exceeded $100 million in domestic ticket sales.”
  • “Now, the only major comedy hits are those made for children. Peter Rabbit, featuring computer-generated critters that outsmart real-life adults, grossed a healthy $115 million in February, and animated comedies like Despicable Me 3 and The Boss Baby were top grossers last year.”
  • The Incredibles 2, which mixes family-friendly action, comedy and drama, scored a massive $182.7 million in its opening weekend.”
  • “Though certain subgenres like romantic comedy have nearly disappeared, most studios aren’t yet abandoning adult comedy. They have, however, slashed spending on them so that they can potentially become profitable on lower grosses than were needed in the past. No comedy stars earn the $20 million per picture that Messrs. Carrey and Sandler and Ms. Roberts sometimes did in the past.”
  • Tag is a recent example of the new approach. Made for just $28 million, it features no major comedy stars and was sold primarily on its concept, a real-life story about grown friends in a decades long game of tag that was based on a Wall Street Journal article.”
  • “’There was a time when comedies were being made for $70 million. Then $45 million. Now the sweet spot is in the 20s,’ said Todd Garner, a producer of Tag who previously produced comedies starring Mr. Sandler.”

Environment / Science

Economist – Climate change is making the Arab world more miserable 5/31

  • “Apathy towards climate change is common across the Middle East and north Africa, even as the problems associated with it get worse. Longer droughts, hotter heatwaves and more frequent dust storms will occur from Rabat to Tehran, according to Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. Already-long dry seasons are growing longer and drier, withering crops. Heat spikes are a growing problem too, with countries regularly notching lethal summer temperatures. Stretch such trends out a few years and they seem frightening—a few decades and they seem apocalyptic.”
  • “The institute forecasts that summer temperatures in the Middle East and north Africa will rise over twice as fast as the global average. Extreme temperatures of 46°C (115°F) or more will be about five times more likely by 2050 than they were at the beginning of the century, when similar peaks were reached, on average, 16 days per year. By 2100 ‘wet-bulb temperatures’—a measure of humidity and heat—could rise so high in the Gulf as to make it all but uninhabitable, according to a study in Nature (though its most catastrophic predictions are based on the assumption that emissions are not abated). Last year Iran came close to breaking the highest reliably recorded temperature of 54°C (129°F), which Kuwait reached the year before.”
  • “Water presents another problem. The Middle East and north Africa have little of it to begin with, and rainfall is expected to decline because of climate change. In some areas, such as the Moroccan highlands, it could drop by up to 40%. (Climate change might bring extra rain to coastal countries, such as Yemen, but that will probably be offset by higher evaporation.) Farmers struggling to nourish thirsty crops are digging more wells, draining centuries-old aquifers. A study using NASA satellites found that the Tigris and Euphrates basins lost 144 cubic kilometers (about the volume of the Dead Sea) of fresh water from 2003 to 2010. Most of this reduction was caused by the pumping of groundwater to make up for reduced rainfall.”
  • “Climate change is making the region even more volatile politically. When eastern Syria was ravaged by drought from 2007 to 2010, 1.5m people fled to cities, where many struggled. In Iran, a cycle of extreme droughts since the 1990s caused thousands of frustrated farmers to abandon the countryside. Exactly how much these events fueled the war that broke out in Syria in 2011 and recent unrest in Iran is a topic of considerable debate. They have certainly added to the grievances that many in both countries feel.”
  • “The mere prospect of shortages can lead to conflicts, as states race to secure water supplies at the expense of downstream neighbors. When Ethiopia started building an enormous dam on the Nile, potentially limiting the flow, Egypt, which relies on the river for nearly all of its water, threatened war. Turkish and Iranian dams along the Tigris, Euphrates and other rivers have raised similar ire in Iraq, which is beset by droughts.”
  • “Politics often gets in the way of problem-solving. Countries are rarely able to agree on how to share rivers and aquifers. In Gaza, where the seepage of saltwater and sewage into an overused aquifer raises the risk of disease, a blockade by Israel and Egypt has made it harder to build and run desalination plants. In Lebanon there is little hope that the government, divided along sectarian lines, will do anything to forestall the decline in the water supply predicted by the environment ministry. Countries such as Iraq and Syria, where war has devastated infrastructure, will struggle to prepare for a hotter, drier future.”

FT – China’s carbon emissions set for fastest growth in 7 years – Lucy Hornby and Leslie Hook 5/29

  • “China’s carbon emissions are on track to rise at their fastest pace in more than seven years during 2018, casting further doubt on the ability of the Paris climate change agreement to curb dangerous greenhouse gas increases, according to a Greenpeace analysis based on Beijing’s own data.”
  • “The latest finding comes as climate researchers express concern over rising emissions in China, which accounts for more than a quarter of global carbon dioxide output.”
  • “Global emissions were flat from 2014-16 but began rising again in 2017 as the Chinese economy recovered and as emission grew in the EU and the rest of Asia. Scientists are concerned the trend in China will continue this year.”
  • “Although China has invested heavily in renewable energy such as wind and solar, a key reason for its emissions growth is rising demand for oil and gas due to increased car ownership and electricity demand.”

Agriculture

WSJ – Daily Shot: CBOT Corn (Dec) Futures 6/25

WSJ – Daily Shot: CBOT Soybean Futures (Nov) 6/25

Asia – excluding China and Japan

FT – 1MDB says audits labelled unreliable by KPMG – Stefania Palma, Edward White and Michael Peel 6/25

  • “KPMG has said its annual audits of 1Malaysia Development Berhad from 2010 to 2012 were unreliable after information was withheld by former 1MDB managers, the scandal-hit fund said.”
  • “’If the documents had been disclosed to the auditors, KPMG believed the information would have materially impacted the financial statements and the relevant audit reports,’ the fund said in a statement on Tuesday.”
  • “The wealth fund, which was established in 2009 under then-prime minister Najib Razak, is the focus of a global corruption investigation, with authorities alleging that $4.5bn has gone missing.”
  • “The allegedly omitted audit details came to light after the new government of Mahathir Mohamad — which won power in a stunning election victory in May — released an auditor-general’s report into 1MDB that had been classified under the previous administration.”
  • “KPMG was sacked as 1MDB auditor at the end of 2013 after raising concerns about more than $2.3bn said to have been held in the Cayman Islands on behalf of the fund, according to an auditor-general draft report seen by the Financial Times in 2015.”
  • “The accounting firm was unhappy because 1MDB would not share documents KPMG wanted to help it assess the fund’s financial activities linked to the Caribbean islands.”

Russia

Economist – Russia’s role in shooting down an airliner becomes official 5/30

  • “It was an important demand, if one with little hope of success. On May 29th the Netherlands’ foreign minister, Stef Blok, insisted at the UN Security Council in New York that Russia ‘accept its responsibility’ in the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. The airliner was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile over Ukraine in 2014, killing 196 Dutch nationals, 38 Australians and 64 others. Last week a UN-mandated Joint Investigation Team (JIT), led by Dutch prosecutors, announced it had determined that the missile belonged to a unit deployed to the area by the Russian Army’s 53rd anti-aircraft brigade, presumably to help Russian-backed secessionists fighting the Ukrainian army.”
  • “The Kremlin has always denied any involvement in the downing of MH17 or the war in Ukraine. (Asked about the JIT’s findings, Mr Putin responded, ‘Which plane are you talking about?’) Instead it has spread conflicting alternative theories blaming the Ukrainians, often backed up with demonstrably fake evidence. But the investigators’ dossier is voluminous. It includes photos and video taken by passers-by that track the convoy carrying the missile from its base near Kursk, in Russia, to the Ukraine border. The JIT also has the fuselage of what appears to be the missile itself, recovered near the crash site. The Netherlands and Australia now say they will hold Russia accountable for its role, and want negotiations on a settlement.”

June 20, 2018

Perspective

OECD – A Broken Social Elevator? How to Promote Social Mobility 6/15

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Foreign Affairs – Beijing’s Building Boom: How the West Surrendered Global Infrastructure Development to China – Bushra Bataineh, Michael Bennon, and Francis Fukuyama 5/21

FT – Facebook’s data sharing shows it is not a US champion – Rana Foroohar 6/6

  • “The social network gave China’s Huawei access to user information despite concerns.”

Pragmatic Capitalism – The Vollgeld Proposal is Bad. Very Bad. – Cullen Roche 6/6

  • A thoughtful point on the benefits of private banks vs. a nationalized banking system.

Wolf Street – Next Mortgage Default Tsunami Isn’t Going to Drown Big Banks but “Shadow Banks” – Wolf Richter 6/17

  • “This is the trend: Banks are pulling back from mortgage lending in a big way, likely cherry-picking their customers to curtail the risks amid inflated prices and irrational exuberance in an environment of rising mortgage rates; and non-bank lenders aggressively chase everyone else. And since these ‘shadow banks’ not regulated by bank regulators, they’re free to do as they please.”
  • “ATTOM obtained this data from publicly recorded mortgages and deeds of trust in more than 1,700 counties accounting for more than 87% of the US population.”
  • “It also pointed at the curious dynamics of co-buyers – defined as multiple, non-married buyers listed on the sales deed – in the most expensive markets. Nationwide in Q1, 17.4% of all single family homes were purchased by co-buyers, up from 16.3% a year ago, and up from 14.9% two years ago. But the national averages paper over the vast differences in individual markets.”

Markets / Economy

FT – How millennials’ taste for ‘authenticity’ is disrupting powerful food brands – Scheherazade Daneshkhu 6/18

  • “Business struggles to respond to young consumer demand for more natural products.”

FT – The millennial moment – in charts – Cale Tilford 6/5

WSJ – Daily Shot: BofAML – Updated Asset Price Bubble Chart 6/19

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Knight – Tappable Equity of US Mortgage Holders 6/19

Bloomberg Businessweek – Brexit Pain Hits London Housing – Jill Ward 6/18

Energy

FT – Oil producers face their ‘life or death’ question – David Sheppard and Anjli Raval 6/18

  • “Fear of an imminent peak in demand means companies are less likely to invest. So does that make shortages and a price rise inevitable?”
  • “In the second half of this decade total capital expenditure by the large oil and gas groups is projected to fall by almost 50% to $443.5bn from $875.1bn between 2010-15, according to Norwegian consultancy Rystad Energy. Although partly offset by a fall in oilfield development costs, the drop also coincides with the big groups ploughing more capital into shorter-term projects, which pay off quickly, as well as renewable energy. The moves come amid fears that electric vehicles pose a huge threat to oil’s dominance.”
  • “’It’s not wise to be cavalier about a lack of investment,’ says Stewart Glickman, an energy equity analyst at CFRA. ‘The drop over the past four years eventually will have an impact on crude prices.’”
  • “He adds that while investment in US shale has grown as companies look to short-cycle projects, bottlenecks and the declining quality of reserves mean it alone might not be able to fill the gap. ‘To blithely assume that because [the US shale industry] has been able to generate enough production so far that we’ll be able to continue doing so is a risky expectation,’ he says.”
  • “Estimates for when oil demand will peak vary wildly. Some experts say it could happen as soon as 2023, others put it off to 2070. That lack of consensus presents a danger, critics say, that the oil groups are being pushed — against their instincts — into shelving complex long-term investments just as demand for oil nears 100m barrels a day for the first time as emerging economies in Asia and Africa expand.”
  • “’There is so much uncertainty,’ says Andrew Gould, former chairman and chief executive of oilfield services company Schlumberger. ‘It’s increasingly difficult now to get boards to sign off on projects that have a 20-25 year life.’”

Shipping

WSJ – Business Is Booming at the Panama Canal – Costas Paris 6/17

  • “Widened waterway opened canal to bigger ships moving U.S. natural gas and petroleum, sending toll revenue soaring.”

China

FT – China eyes role as world’s power supplier – James Kynge and Lucy Hornby 6/6

  • “In Laos, in Brazil, in central Africa and most of all in China itself, ultra high-voltage (UHV) cable technology that allows power to be commercially transported over vast distances with lower costs and increased load is justifying the construction of massive power projects. It is dubbed the ‘intercontinental ballistic missile’ of the power industry by Liu Zhenya, its biggest backer and for a decade the president of State Grid, China’s powerful transmission utility.”
  • “UHV allowed China to binge on dam building in its mountainous hinterland, then transport the power thousands of kilometers to its wealthy, industrial east coast. But by enabling this, and other projects, UHV has left western China with such a glut of power that Mr Liu in 2016 proposed using the technology to export power as far away as Germany.”
  • “Now Mr Liu is promoting UHV internationally through his Global Energy Interconnection (GEI) initiative. Designated a ‘national strategy’ and championed by Xi Jinping, China’s president, the initiative feeds into one of China’s most ambitious international plans — to create the world’s first global electricity grid.”
  • “Advocates stress that this does not mean China would control the resulting grid but networks would be linked to allow better cross-regional allocation of power surpluses. It is no coincidence that this would resolve the problem of ‘trapped’ power resulting from some of China’s mega construction projects in countries like Laos that lack a big enough domestic market.”
  • “Chinese companies have announced investments of $102bn in building or acquiring power transmission infrastructure across 83 projects in Latin America, Africa, Europe and beyond over the past five years, according to RWR. Adding in loans from Chinese institutions for overseas power grid investments brings the total to $123bn.”
  • “Throw in all power-related Chinese deals overseas, including investments and loans to power plants as well as grids, and the number almost quadruples. Between 2013 and the end of February 2018, total overseas power transactions announced reached $452bn, up 92% from 2013 levels, according to RWR, which strips out of its calculations deals that are announced only to be subsequently cancelled.”
  • “Officials and power industry analysts in China insist that it would be too simple to assume that such investments are all slated to be rolled up into a single international grid to achieve the GEI goal, which Mr Liu recently described as similar to the internet: global but not controlled by a single country.”
  • “Although Chinese companies would not necessarily own or control the regional grids, their influence, via the assets they do control, would ultimately lead to regional interconnection.”
  • “The biggest boon for China’s global grid ambitions is UHV cable technology. While other companies such as Germany’s Siemens and the Swedish-Swiss conglomerate ABB also have the technology, Chinese companies have been the first to deploy it on a grand scale, developing global industry standards.”
  • “China has already demonstrated the technology’s performance at home. The 37,000km of UHV cable that is laid or under construction in China can carry a load of 150GW, equivalent to 2.5 times the maximum electricity load in the UK. And despite some pushback from the country’s entrenched power generators, Mr Liu claims that the cables are particularly applicable to renewable energy.”
  • “Steven Chu, a former US secretary of energy, has called China’s strides in UHV technology a ‘Sputnik moment’ for the US, alluding to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of the first earth-orbiting space satellite, which marked a technological leap ahead of the US.”
  • “’China has the best transmission lines in terms of the highest voltage and lowest loss,’ Mr Chu has said. ‘They can transmit electricity over 2,000km and lose only 7% of the energy. If we [the US] transmitted over 200km we would lose more than that.’”
  • “The technology promises to reshape the way in which the world consumes power, Mr Liu told his London audience. He used the hypothetical scenario of hydropower generated in the Democratic Republic of Congo for $0.03 per kWh being transmitted to Europe through Chinese UHV cables at a cost on delivery of just $0.07-0.08 per kWh. This compares with an average cost of €0.20 ($0.23) per kWh to households in the EU, according to Eurostat, the data agency.”

 

June 19, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Watch the Fed’s balance sheet, not interest rates – Gillian Tett 6/7

  • “The US central bank’s unwinding has contributed to turmoil in emerging markets.”

FT – China is winning the global tech race – Michael Moritz 6/17

FT – Donald Trump’s trade tirade shows his mastery of the message – Rana Foroohar 6/17

Polygon – What if Star Wars never happened? – Kevin Lincoln 6/7

  • “Imagining a world where George Lucas’ space fantasy didn’t revolutionize Hollywood.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: indeed – Older workers are the gig economy 6/18

Energy

FT Energy Source: BP – World Fuel Sources by proportionate share – Ed Crooks 6/17

LA Times – Shale country is out of workers. That means $140,000 for a truck driver and 100% pay hikes – David Wethe 6/8

Finance

WSJ – The Finance Industry’s Incredible Ability to Keep the Money Rolling In – Paul J. Davies 6/15

  • “Banks, brokers and money managers have kept their revenue steady for 130 years.”

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

FT – Who really owns bitcoin now? – Hannah Murphy 6/7

  • “Initially in the crypto space, you had people who really understood the technology. Then there was a typical bandwagon investor situation and you know how it ends — and it did.” – Campbell Harvey, finance professor at Duke University and an investment strategy adviser for Man Group.
  • “But how many have gained — and lost — from the bitcoin bubble? Exclusive data from blockchain research company Chainalysis seen by the FT provides some tantalizing answers.”
  • “The Chainalysis data quantifies this distinct shift in the make-up of bitcoin owners from longer-term investors — those who held the asset for more than a year — to short-term investors who have traded more recently, by analyzing how regularly coins have changed hands.”
  • “Last November — before December’s pricing peak — the amount of bitcoin held for investment was roughly three times that held by traders.”
  • “However, by April 2018, the data show the amount held by investors — about 6m bitcoin — was much closer to the amount held by short-term speculators, with 5.1m bitcoin.”
  • Indeed, Chainalysis estimates that longer-term holders sold at least $30bn worth of bitcoin to new speculators over the December to April period, with half of this movement taking place in December alone.
  • “’This was an exceptional transfer of wealth,’ says Philip Gradwell, Chainalysis’ chief economist, who dubs the past six months as bitcoin’s ‘liquidity event’.”
  • “Mr Gradwell argues that this sudden injection of liquidity — the amount of bitcoin available for trading rose by close to 60% over that period — has been a ‘fundamental driver’ behind the recent price decline. At the same time, bitcoin trading volumes have now fallen in tandem with the prices, from close to $4bn daily in December to $1bn today.”
  • “So will the price of bitcoin ever surpass December’s peak? Part of the answer lies in who holds bitcoin now that the hype has died down.”
  • “Born in 2009 in the wake of the financial crisis, bitcoin is rooted in a libertarian quest for a means of exchange that is unshackled from the central banking system. Proponents — among them, computer experts and political activists — heralded the arrival of an alternative monetary system that could replace fiat currency.”
  • “But despite the recent crypto boom, there are few signs that this is happening. According to research published this month by Morgan Stanley, only four of the top 500 US e-commerce merchants accepted cryptocurrencies in the first quarter of 2018, compared with three at the beginning of 2017.”
  • “Chainalysis notes that the ‘vast majority’ of transactions it analyzed showed bitcoin being received from exchanges and rarely sent to merchant services to pay for goods or services.”
  • “Only a finite number of coin — 21m — can be created. Of this, about 4m are yet to be mined. Just as physical coins can be lost down the back of a sofa, so can bitcoins if users lose or forget the passwords needed to access their online wallets. The Chainalysis data separates out coins it deems to be lost or unused for years — which total 3.7m bitcoin, worth about $28bn.”
  • “’Speculation remains the primary use case for these digital assets; merchant or institutional adoption does not appear to be a primary driver of price,’ says Preston Byrne, an English structured finance lawyer and cryptocurrency observer.”
  • “Given this breakdown in bitcoin owners, most market watchers do not rule out another rapid price run-up. However, they say this would likely be the random movement of pure speculation or market manipulation rather than anything else.”
  • “’It’s very important to stress, this is not in any sense a rational market,’ says David Gerard, the author of Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain.”
  • “’It’s very thinly traded, very badly structured . . . and it’s stupendously manipulated,’ he adds. ‘Anyone who goes in not realizing just how manipulated the crypto markets are will get skinned.’”
  • “The Chainalysis data also show that the bitcoin marketplace is skewed in terms of wealth distribution. A small cluster of investors — known colloquially as ‘whales’ — capture a hefty proportion of the market, which stands at odds with bitcoin’s mission to democratize finance. This brings its own risks.”
  • “Overall, some 1,600 bitcoin wallets — managed by both speculators and investors — contained at least 1,000 bitcoin each in April, according to Chainalysis, collectively holding nearly 5m bitcoin, or close to a third of the available total.”
  • “Of those, just under 100 wallets owned by longer-term investors contained between 10,000 and 100,000 bitcoin — so between $75m and $750m at today’s prices.”
  • “Nevertheless, some point out that the excitement and influx of fresh funds into the market has allowed its infrastructure to mature — albeit gradually — which could be a boon for those looking to trade bitcoin more safely in future.”
  • “Much of the future of bitcoin trading will depend on the approach that regulators take, experts say. There are stirrings across the world, though to date, little coherence. Asian financial centers such as Tokyo are now regulating crypto exchanges, while China has banned them outright. Meanwhile, the US Securities and Exchange Commission last month announced a criminal probe into potential bitcoin price manipulation.”
  • “Banks in particular have been reticent to engage with cryptocurrencies and the companies that handle them, partly due to the difficulty of conducting anti-money laundering checks on transactions.”
  • “’Bank compliance officers really, really hate cryptos . . . be prepared to demonstrate the provenance of every penny from every crypto,’ says Mr Gerard.”
  • “Any more widespread adoption of bitcoin would need regulators, central banks and tax regulators to allow the transfer of wealth movement from the current financial system into the new one, says Gavin Brown, senior lecturer in financial economics at Manchester Metropolitan University and director of cryptocurrency hedge fund Blockchain Capital.”

Environment / Science

Quartz – To hit climate goals, Bill Gates and his billionaire friends are betting on energy storage – Akshat Rathi 6/12

China

FT – Beijing leans on lenders to back debt-hit HNA’s bond sale – Lucy Hornby and Sherry Fei Ju 6/15

  • “Chinese banks have been urged by government officials to ‘support’ bonds issued by HNA as the troubled finance-to-aviation conglomerate tries to extricate itself from a massive debt burden racked up during an acquisition binge.”
  • “HNA plans to issue Rmb4bn ($620m) in domestic bonds, paying interest of 6.5-7.5%.”

Other Interesting Links

Bloomberg – It’s Billionaires at the Gate as Ultra-Rich Muscle In on Private Equity – Simone Foxman and Sonali Basak 6/11

WSJ – Daily Shot: Plastic Surgery Portal – Most Searched Plastic Surgery Procedures by State 6/18

May 24, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

FT – Era of ‘lower for longer’ oil prices is dead – Amrita Sen and Yasser Elguindi (Energy Aspects) 5/22

  • “When oil collapsed in 2014 under the weight of US shale production, it ushered in a new-found belief that prices would remain ‘lower for longer’.”
  • “The rampant new source of crude supplies was seen to be capable of meeting rising world demand almost single-handedly, obviating the need for extra Opec barrels ever again.”
  • “As such, the concept of a ‘shale price band’ emerged of roughly $40 to $55 per barrel, reflecting the range within which the majority of US shale producers could turn a profit without the risk of the industry growing so fast that it would again flood the market. And for the better part of three years, from 2015 to 2017, oil prices traded in this range.”
  • “But in 2018, this narrative has been slowly picked apart and is now in the process of disintegrating.”
  • “While there has been breathless attention paid to prompt Brent prices climbing to $80 a barrel for the first time since 2014, what has received less attention is that the entire Brent forward curve is now trading above $60, including contracts for delivery as far out as December 2024.”
  • “This development is an important psychological milestone for the oil market. The market is, in effect, saying that ‘lower for longer’ is dead.”
  • “The reality is that US shale has been unable to meet rising global oil demand, which has averaged 1.7m b/d per year since 2014 — double the level at the start of this decade — and inventories have drawn down as a consequence, eliminating the buffer that had been built up.”
  • “This inventory fall has been helped by strong demand growth and the Opec/non-Opec deal to curtail output since January 2017, which has since been superseded by rapid declines in Venezuelan and Angolan production and, more recently, non-Opec production outside of the US.”
  • “The inevitable supply deficit is very worrying, with very limited spare production capacity available globally.”
  • “Two main themes are now starting to impact investor thinking and drive the new-found interest in exposure to energy.”
  • “First, recent supply data are finally reflecting the ill effects from under-investment due to the collapse in capital expenditure since 2015. The data are now showing accelerating decline rates across important suppliers such as Brazil, Norway and Angola.”
  • “Second, the impressive strength in demand has been overshadowed in the past two years by the narrative dominated by electric cars.”
  • “But slowly this has given way to a recognition that while electric cars will undoubtedly alter the trajectory for global oil demand in the long term, this trend will not reach critical mass in the medium term (the next five years) to sufficiently make up for the expected fall in oil supplies due to the lack of investment.”
  • “So, even though expectations are for oil demand growth to slow from current levels, consumption will still be robust enough that — barring a major recession — the market will need new supplies to meet that growth.”
  • “The physical oil market is only going to face greater strain ahead of the marine fuel specification change in 2020, which is set to boost demand for products such as diesel and ultra-low sulphur fuel oil by 2m to 3m b/d.”
  • “As a result, we believe that oil prices may spike to above $100 per barrel, a price forecast we have held for the latter half of 2019 for three years now.”
  • “The shale price band has been decisively broken and 2018 will be a watershed year: the market will realize that US shale alone cannot meet the world’s incremental demand growth and future prices must rise to re-incentivize long-cycle investments (or curtail demand).”
  • “Nothing ever moves in a straight line, but the broader oil market is perhaps not prepared for what will happen to oil prices over the next couple of years.”

Perspective

Economist – Weather and violence displace millions inside borders every year – The Data Team 5/22

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Boston Globe – Gas and mortgages are getting expensive again. Welcome to a normal economy – Evan Horowitz 5/22

CNBC – Silicon Valley tech bubble is larger than it was in 2000, and the end is coming – Keith Wright 5/22

  • “The age of the unicorn likely peaked a few years ago. In 2014 there were 42 new unicorns in the United States; in 2015 there were 43. The unicorn market hasn’t reached that number again. In 2017, 33 new U.S. companies achieved unicorn status from a total of 53 globally. This year there have been 11 new unicorns, according to PitchBook data as of May 15, but these numbers tend to move around, and I believe the 279 unicorns recorded globally in late February by TechCrunch was the peak, where the start-up bubble was stretched to its limit.”
  • “A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concludes that, on average, unicorns are roughly 50% overvalued. The research, conducted by Will Gornall at the University of British Columbia and Ilya Strebulaev of Stanford, examined 135 unicorns. Of those 135, the researchers estimate that nearly half, or 65, should be more fairly valued at less than $1 billion.”
  • “Don’t let the few recent successes in the 2017 IPO market fool you. After two years of stagnation in terms of the number of IPOs being filed in the United States — 275 IPOs (2014), 170 IPOs (2015) and 105 IPOs (2016) — deal counts have dropped to their lowest figure since 2012.”
  • “Seventy-six percent of the companies that went public last year were unprofitable on a per-share basis in the year leading up to their initial offerings, according to data compiled by Jay Ritter, a professor at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business, and recently featured in The New York Times. This is the largest number since the peak of the dot-com boom in 2000, when 81% of newly public companies were unprofitable.”
  • “The current volatility and correction evolving in the private market will be amplified for companies that have yet to make money and are burning cash faster than they’re bringing it in. Growth at all costs will not weather an economic storm.”
  • “Since the Snap IPO in March 2017 at $17 a share, when its shares surged 44% during its first day of trading, they have now declined to $11. Dropbox also went public. It had a first-day pop of 36%; however, with only 200,000 paying customers compared to its 500 million users, I would be hesitant to rush in to buy, even as it comes off that year-to-date high considerably. Another highly valued start-up, Blue Apron, went public at $10 a share in June and is now trading at $3. Remember Fitbit was a $45 stock in 2015 — it’s currently trading at just over $5.”

Economist – Markets may be underpricing climate-related risk 5/23

FT – Tanking currencies are bad news all round – Jonathan Wheatley 5/22

  • “Currency wars give no edge to exporters but do cause economic harm.”

Fortune – Retail Reckoning: How Private Equity Is Boosting Some Brands and Crushing Others – Phil Wahba 4/24

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bianco Research – Google Search Trends – Consumer Spending 5/23

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bianco Research – Google Search Trends – Consumer Difficulties 5/23

Markets / Economy

CNBC – Inflation is coming to the US economy on an 18-wheel flatbed – Jeff Cox 5/22

  • “Multiple signs of inflation in freight-related industries are at or near historical highs, in what could be an early sign that price pressures are building and ready to reverberate around the economy.”
  • “Freight marketplace DAT keeps track of supply and demand in the freight industry through a bulletin board that matches companies with loads to be delivered to the vehicles that will take the goods to the marketplace. The measures are in the spot market, where vendors that don’t contract their deliveries find drivers for their products.”
  • “Recent readings show demand for vehicles skyrocketing, a sign that generally points to inflationary pressures building up in the supply chain.”
  • “Loads on the spot market in general are up 100% from the same period a year ago. Another measure, the flatbed load-to-truck comparison, which tracks the amount of vendors looking for flatbeds and is generally the highest of all truck types, is up 142%.”
  • “The numbers by themselves, though, don’t indicate that inflation is ready to strike soon. Indeed, the most recent readings, such as the consumer and producer price indexes, show inflation pressures rising though relatively benign.”
  • “But they do jibe with some other indicators showing inflation is rising beneath the surface.”

FT – US has more than 5,600 banks. Consolidation is coming – Ben McLannahan 5/22

  • “The US’s banks have largely sat out the mergers and acquisitions wave of recent years. While deal records have fallen in almost every other sector, big banks have done almost nothing, shrinking rather than expanding. And merger activity among small and mid-sized banks — some 5,607 of them, at last count — has been subdued.”
  • “But when Fifth Third Bancorp of Cincinnati revealed its $4.7bn swoop for Chicago’s MB Financial on Monday morning, shares in other Chicago-area banks began to move, too. Wintrust, a similar-sized bank based in Rosemont, Illinois, ended the day up almost 4%, while First Midwest of Itasca closed up 3%.”
  • “The implications were obvious: after years of thin activity in bank M&A, this deal could mark a turn.” 
  • “The conditions for dealmaking look better than at any time since the financial crisis. Higher interest rates and lower taxes have pumped up bank profits, giving management teams stronger platforms from which to contemplate doing something radical.”

WSJ – Rising Dollar Sparks Tumult in Emerging Markets – Ira Iosebashvili, Josh Zumbrun, and Julie Wernau 5/21

  • “U.S. currency’s rally puts spotlight on weaknesses in a broad range of emerging-market assets.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Who Needs a Down Payment? Trade In Your Old Home Instead – Laura Kusisto 5/22

  • “Opendoor offers to take the hassle out of selling an old home to buy a new one.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE – Home Builder Land Acquisitions 5/23

Energy

FT – The geopolitics of electric cars will be messy – Henry Sanderson 5/22

  • “Oil has had a leading role in geopolitics over the past 100 years, sucking western powers into an often disastrous dependence on the Middle East.”
  • “While black gold, as oil is sometimes known, is not always the overt cause of conflict, it is linked to between one quarter and a half of all interstate conflicts globally between 1973 and 2012, according to a 2013 study by Jeff Colgan of Brown University.”
  • “But it would be a mistake to assume that geopolitical tensions will miraculously ease in a future in which renewable energy sources dominate. Building wind turbines and creating lithium-ion batteries requires metals and raw materials from those countries which are blessed, or potentially cursed, with them.”
  • “And for some of these commodities, their high concentration in particular parts of the world sharpens the risks.”
  • “A clean energy economy will require a staggering volume of metals to be prized from the ground.”
  • “For example, Olivier Vidal of the University Grenoble Alpes estimates that to build the infrastructure for clean energy the amount of copper needed amounts to almost half the total mined since 1900.”
  • “There is also the real risk that the age of the electric car will generate corporate monopolies, echoing those of Standard Oil whose founder John D Rockefeller cornered the oil market more than a century ago as the combustion engine took off.”
  • “Glencore, the Switzerland-based and London-listed miner, is expanding its production of cobalt which is set to give it a 40% share of global supply by 2020.”
  • “The production of lithium, a key ingredient for batteries in electric cars as well as smartphones, is controlled by just five companies.”
  • “However, rather than tensions with the Middle East, the advent of the electric car will usher in greater friction with China. Beijing’s ambitions in clean energy are enormous.”
  • “As part of the ‘Made in China 2025’ plan to advance high-end manufacturing, the government wants to establish a grip on the production of electric cars and clean energy technology.”
  • “The rest of the year will provide further signs of the capital and scale that China is bringing to this competition.”
  • “No one is giving China a free run at the metals that have emerged as central to electric cars.”
  • “Trade tensions with US President Donald Trump are already brewing. This month his administration released a list of 35 minerals, including lithium and cobalt, that are ‘considered critical to the economic and national security of the United States.’”
  • “Chile, which has the world’s largest lithium reserves, is looking to build battery components, while South Africa, a producer of vanadium, wants to produce electrolytes for vanadium batteries, which are used to store energy for the electric grid.”
  • “Europe, too, is beginning to build its own giant battery factories to supply Germany’s car companies and the UK’s innovation agency has backed a study that uses satellites to look for lithium in Cornwall.”
  • “The geopolitics of the era of the electric car are in their infancy. While it is unlikely to lead to military conflict, the tensions, especially with China, over who will control the resources and technologies that will underpin electric cars will be heightened.”
  • “Over the long term, the winners are likely to be those countries and companies that can develop battery technology that relies on materials that are abundant rather than scarce. It might even help make the geopolitics a little less fraught.”

Finance

FT Alphaville – ‘Some of the worst covenants that we’ve ever seen’ – Alexandra Scaggs 5/21

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

WSJ – Buyer Beware: Hundreds of Bitcoin Wannabes Show Hallmarks of Fraud – Shane Shifflett and Coulter Jones 5/17

Environment / Science

Axios – Next climate challenge: A/C demand expected to triple – Ben Geman 5/15

Construction

WSJ – Daily Shot: CME Lumber (Jul) Futures 5/22

Asia – excluding China and Japan

FT – Malaysia says it has been ‘bailing out’ 1MDB – Alice Woodhouse and Harry Jacques 5/22

  • “Malaysia has paid almost RM7bn ($1.8bn) to service debt owed by 1MDB, the south-east Asian nation’s finance ministry said on Tuesday, as investigators ratcheted up their probe into the state investment fund from which $4.5bn is alleged to have gone missing.”
  • “Two weeks after voters ousted the government of Najib Razak, the finance ministry said it had been ‘bailing out’ the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund since April 2017, adding that another RM144m interest payment was due on May 30.”
  • “The revelation ‘confirms the public suspicion that 1MDB had essentially deceived Malaysians by claiming that [the payments] have been paid via a ‘successful rationalization exercise’,’ the ministry said in a statement. ‘All the while it has been the MoF [ministry of finance] who has bailed out 1MDB.'”
  • “Earlier on Tuesday, Malaysia’s new anti-corruption chief said he had been harassed and received a death threat after he pursued a 2015 investigation into 1MDB.”

India

FT – Oil price rise puts heat on Narendra Modi’s government – Amy Kazmin 5/22

  • “In 2016 — as global crude oil prices fell to about $40 per barrel — India, which imports nearly 80% of its petroleum, levied new excise duties on petrol and diesel to stabilize prices and prevent a surge in demand.” 
  • “Since then, New Delhi has come to depend heavily on those revenues to shore up its fragile public finances, especially as receipts from the goods and services tax introduced last year have failed to stabilize at expected levels.” 
  • “But after global crude oil prices hit a four-year high of more than $80 per barrel last week, India’s fuel pump prices — for decades subsidized by the government and held artificially low — have jumped to among the highest in south Asia.”
  • “Industry groups are pressing New Delhi to pare back excise duties on fuel, warning that the high prices will undermine an economy only now recovering from the successive disruption of a dramatic cash ban and the introduction of the goods and services tax.”
  • “But any meaningful rollback to ease pressure on consumers will raise doubts over the ability of Mr Modi’s administration to meet its target of cutting the fiscal deficit to just 3.3% of gross domestic product.”
  • “’India’s reliance on oil revenue has now surpassed the Malaysian government’s reliance on oil revenues — and Malaysia is an oil exporter,’ said Vikas Halan, senior vice-president at Moody’s Investors Service, the rating agency. ‘The government can always roll back excise duty — there is no one stopping them — but the issue is, how will they compensate for the loss of revenue?’”
  • “Last year, excise duties on petroleum products, which are about a quarter of the retail price of petrol and diesel, accounted for 17% of New Delhi’s total revenue collection. For every R1 that the government pares back these excise duties, it will lose an estimated $1.8bn in revenues, or about 0.1% of annual GDP.” 
  • “Adding to the overall pressure is the recent weakening of the Indian rupee, which has fallen 6% this year to a 16-month low of Rs68.1 per dollar. Further depreciation will mean even higher local fuel prices. Bond markets are also jittery, with yields rising.”

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Market Exchange Rate – USD / Venezuelan Bolivar 5/23

WSJ – After Venezuela Strongman’s Victory, Isolated Nation Faces Growing Chaos – Kejal Vyas, Ryan Dube, and Juan Forero 5/21

Other Interesting Links

CNBC – The richest person in every state, according to Forbes – Emmie Martin 5/22

May 22, 2018

Perspective

howmuch.net – Hourly Wage Required to Rent a Two-Bedroom Home in Every State – Raul 5/13

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Do Long-Term Investors Need Bonds? – Ben Carlson 5/20

Economist – America must use sanctions cautiously – Leaders 5/17

  • “The dollar gives the Treasury extraordinary power over global finance. It should not be used lightly.”

FT – Batteries are the next frontier of industrial competition – Nick Butler 5/20

  • “Why the race is on to host the factories that will serve the electric vehicle market.”

FT – Tech lessons from Amazon’s battle in Seattle – Gillian Tett 5/17

Markets / Economy

FT – Ant Financial valued at $150bn in offering – Henny Sender and Louise Lucas 5/20

  • “The enthusiasm for Ant Financial is partly a reflection of the scale of the company’s operations in China, as well as the need among investors to deploy huge funds being raised.”
  • “’If you are too conservative, you lose a lot of opportunities,’ said one mainland Chinese investor, who is also involved in the transaction. ‘In the last few years, we were not gung-ho enough and left too much money on the table’.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – Youth Unemployment Rate – European Countries 5/21

Real Estate

FT Alphaville – Retail is not dead – Jamie Powell 5/20

This is one of the few instances when I’ve posted the article in its entirety…

  • “Readers may have seen a few articles about the ‘DEATH OF RETAIL’ (add exclamation marks where appropriate) recently. To say it’s been a popular meme in US economic commentary would be, well, quite an understatement. Courtesy of CBInsights, here’s a timeline of retail bankruptcies up to March 2018:”
  • “Bogey men blamed for the decline range from Amazon to pesky private equity to, erm, tourists. To get a feel for the distressed nature of the sector, as of March 2018, retailers make up nearly 20% of the companies which Standard & Poor’s awards a they-may-not-make-it CCC credit rating. In short, defaults are still coming.”
  • “Yet is it all doom and gloom for bricks and mortar retail? Adam Ozimek, of Moody’s Analytics, begs to differ — laying out his case in a blogpost yesterday. Let’s take a look at his reasoning.”
  • “First Mr Ozimek points to retail payrolls running at a near historical high at 15.3m jobs, only 22,000 positions short of the peak reached in 2017:”
  • “The hiring boom is despite physical retail having a relatively smaller share of the economy from its peak in the credit-fueled boom years under Ronald Reagan:”
  • “So retail is a touch less influential in the US economy, but it still a key supplier of jobs. Looking at the first chart, however, the doubling of retail jobs in absolute terms isn’t quite as impressive when you consider retail employment also came close to peaking in 2000, and since then the US economy has nearly doubled according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve:”
  • “As physical retail’s share of the economy has fallen, there has been a bleeding of the value which used to be captured by the sector. However a lot of this shift can be explained by employment moving to e-commerce, according to Mr Ozimek:”
    • “Employment gains in e-commerce are visible in warehousing and nonstore retailers, the latter of which includes e-commerce sellers like Amazon. Over the last decade, nonstore retailers have added 157,000 jobs and warehousing has added almost 369,000, which combined more than offset the job losses of 392,000 in department stores.”
  • “So why are people so obsessed with the ‘Death of Retail’ meme?”
  • “Perhaps one reason is the vast retail space left behind in the recent consolidation in the sector. Cowan Research recently found the US has circa 49 square feet of retail space per capita, double the UK’s 22 square feet and almost four times Canada’s 13 square feet.”
  • “So in any retail contraction, the empty units left behind will be more noticeable to the naked eye than say in, Canada, thanks to the sheer amount of constructed retail space. This may give the impression of the death of retail, even if the facts don’t back it up.”
  • “Public struggles for big brand names like Sears and JC Penny, which last year closed 141 stores, may also help re-enforce the impression of decrepitude.”
  • “In fact, the former bastion of the mall, the department store, seems to be the only form of retail really struggling.”
  • “Last year research house IHL published a compelling report titled ‘Debunking the Retail Apocalypse‘ (get a copy for free here) in which they helpfully chartered store openings versus closures across different types of retailer:”
  • “We know this data is a little old, but department stores were the only group not to plan to open new stores in 2017, re-enforcing the idea that the collapse of famous brands, such as Radioshack, has driven the idea of bricks and mortar stores struggling.”
  • “Our readers may be asking – who is doing well in this environment to offset the struggles of Sears, Kmart and Radioshack?”
  • “The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly given trends in inequality, is any retailer shifting merchandise at bargain basement prices. Think Primark and Aldi in the UK, or aptly named Dollar General and Dollar Tree in the US. Here’s another neat chart from IWC showing store openings in 2017:”
  • “Not exactly a sign of a healthy US consumer, right? This trend is also repeated across restaurants, with the cheap, convenient and filling providers of processed goodness leading the way:”
  • “Regardless of the evident collapse in both diet and spending power, this data is not indicative of retail dying a death.”
  • “A month ago, we published a piece examining the pivot many online only retailers, such as Warby Parker, are making to bricks and mortars stores. The reason? Stores are a surprisingly cheap way of acquiring affluent customers and building brand familiarity, compared with internet advertising.”
  • “Given the data above perhaps the death of retail is more a misunderstanding of a sector adapting to demand not just from the internet, but also a lopsided societal structure. A country where affluent urbanites shop for luxury hand luggage in LCD lit stores, while the masses get by on Dunkin Donuts and Dollar General.”

Energy

Bloomberg Businessweek – Solar Beats Coal on U.S. Jobs – Brian Eckhouse 5/16

WSJ – Solar-Panel Makers Ramp Up U.S. Manufacturing Plans – Erin Ailworth 5/11

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – Clean Energy Initiatives by US State 5/21

Finance

FT – The great Maryland pension fees gap – Chris Flood 5/20

  • However, in this case, it appears the drag is coming from elsewhere in the portfolio.

WSJ – U.S. Government Bonds Pay More Than Debt From Other Developed Nations – Daniel Kruger 5/20

WSJ – Daily Shot: Italy – Germany 10yr Government Bond Spread 5/18

Insurance

Economist – The life-insurance industry is in need of new vigor 5/17

  • “As the rich world ages and retires, total life-insurance premiums are flat or falling…”

Australia

FT – Australia divided over ‘Brazilian-scale’ land clearance – Jamie Smyth 5/20

  • “Pristine eucalyptus forest near Great Barrier Reef becomes political battleground.”

Other Interesting Links

Cannabis Benchmarks – State Price Delta to US Spot Index 5/18

May 16, 2018

Perspective

FT – Anbang: the downfall of China’s global dealmaker – Henny Sender and Don Weinland 5/13

  • “The Wu Xiaohui who appeared in a Shanghai court in late March on fraud and embezzlement charges was a far cry from the man who rapidly turned a modest provincial car insurance business into an investment conglomerate with Rmb2tn ($316bn) in assets.”
  • “Tie-less and wearing a rumpled suit, the founder of Anbang ‘expressed deep self-reflection, understanding of and regret for the crimes and expressed deep remorse’, according to a post on the court’s social media account. But to no avail. On Thursday, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison.”
  • “At the time of his detention in February, Anbang controlled 58 companies directly or indirectly. As well as New York hotels, its holdings included rescue financings of troubled European financial institutions, control of a South Korean insurer and substantial equity stakes in about 20 major listed companies in China.”
  • “The charges that Wu was convicted of relate to the way the finances of the group were managed, including the shifting of billions of dollars of funds between different entities that he allegedly oversaw. His sister, who was officially head of Anbang Hong Kong, has also been detained.”
  • “Prosecutors accused Wu of using ‘false material’ in 2011 to get regulatory approval to sell insurance products. They also said that he had oversold Rmb724bn of insurance products and had diverted Rmb65bn to another company he controlled, which he had partly used for ‘lavish personal spending’.”
  • “In addition, Wu was accused of using the proceeds from insurance sales to inject capital back into Anbang in order to give the impression that the company was more financially stable than it was.”
  • “Analysts say Anbang was bound to attract the attention of Chinese regulators because of the nature of its business model. The group relied on issuing wealth management products for its funding. These risky investments were sold to ordinary people seeking higher returns than they could get from bank deposits. Given the nature of the investors, the Chinese authorities worried that any failure to pay out on the products could lead to social friction.”
  • “At the same time, the group took huge risks on how it invested the funds. Two months before Wu was detained, the company had 19% of its long-term investments in stocks, presenting a high level of risk should the market be hit by a downturn. Most insurance companies in China have less than 5% of their assets invested in the stock market. Another 19% was invested in redeemable short-term loans provided through trusts, an opaque area of shadow banking in China in which risk is almost impossible to assess with available public information.”

Maps on the Web – World’s Largest Metropolitan Populations Mapped onto the U.S. 5/10

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – The challenges of a disembodied economy – Martin Wolf 11/28/17

  • “Policymakers must reckon with a world in which companies invest in intangible assets.”

FT – How to make sense of the volatile natural gas market – Nick Butler 5/13

  • “Rising prices in Asia seem to suggest we are at the start of a new super cycle.”

Pragmatic Capitalism – Putting the Rise in Yields in Perspective – Cullen Roche 5/15

Project Syndicate – Managing the Risks of a Rising Dollar – Mohamed A. El-Erian 5/14

  • “Some may view the US dollar’s appreciation as consistent with a long-term rebalancing of the global economy. But, as Argentina’s recent request for IMF financing starkly demonstrates, a sharp and sudden dollar appreciation risks unbalancing things elsewhere.”

WSJ – Here Comes the Sports Gambling Apocalypse – Jason Gay 5/14

  • “A Supreme Court ruling has the potential to radically change sports in America. But will it?”

Energy

FT – Collapsing Venezuela oil exports seen to be pushing prices higher – Anjli Raval, Jonathan Wheatley, David Sheppard, John-Paul Rathbone, and Gideon Long 5/14

WSJ – Daily Shot: Morgan Stanley Research – Gasoline Expenditures by Income Quintile 5/15

Environment / Science

WSJ – Recycling, Once Embraced by Businesses and Environmentalists, Now Under Siege – BoB Tita 5/13

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: USD / ARS (Argentine Peso) 5/14

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Market Exchange Rate for USD / Venezuelan Bolivares 5/15

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

April 24, 2018

Perspective

Business Insider – The most disproportionately popular college major in every US state – Mark Abadi and Jenny Cheng 4/16

Tax Foundation – How High are Spirits Taxes in Your State – Morgan Scarboro 3/22

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Trading One Risk For Another – Ben Carlson 4/22

  • “In other words, investing is hard. If it was easy it would just be called earning money, not investing.
  • “You cannot eradicate risk in a portfolio. You can only choose when and how to accept risk in different variations. Doing so will always involve balance and trade-offs.”

FT – US companies count costs and benefits of Trump tax law – Rochelle Toplensky, Patrick Mathurin, and Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson 4/22

  • “A Financial Times analysis of how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has affected the accounts of the US’s 100 largest listed companies shows the truth of that sentiment, for Citigroup and most of its big business peers.” 
  • “In all, the FT analysis shows, 61 of the top 100 quoted companies have reported an initial net income tax expense, amounting to a combined $168bn. The remaining 39 have reported one-off net tax benefits worth a total of $150bn, meaning that the biggest overhaul of the tax code for a generation has cut $18bn from the current book value of its leading public companies.”
  • “The charges differ widely from company to company, depending on the tax provisions they had made before the reforms. The most significant adjustments reflect a revaluation of deferred tax balances under the new, lower headline rate. A company that had deferred taxes on past profits would record a gain because it will now pay the new lower rate; conversely, a group carrying forward previous losses to offset against future tax bills would book a hit to its value.” 
  • “The biggest one-off benefit of $28bn was to Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett’s holding company, which will pay the lower tax rate on decades of unrealized capital gains — if he ever sells his investments. While the accounting gains ‘did not come from anything we accomplished at Berkshire’, they were nonetheless real, Mr Buffett assured shareholders.” 

NYT – Public Servants Are Losing Their Foothold in the Middle Class – Patricia Cohen and Robert Gebeloff 4/22

Markets / Economy

Visual Capitalist – BoAML – Top Asset Class of 2018 So Far – Jeff Desjardins 4/23

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Home Equity Loans 4/23

WEF – Berlin has the world’s fastest rising city property prices – Rob Smith 4/16

Energy

eia – Technically Recoverable Shale Oil and Shale Gas Resources – June 2013

Forbes – Who Is Buying U.S. Liquefied Natural Gas? – Jude Clemente 4/17

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

WSJ – Daily Shot: Barchart – Bitcoin 4/23

  • “With last week’s breakout sustained, Bitcoin is approaching $9k (the blue line is the 200d moving average).”

Britain

Bloomberg – U.K. Consumers Stay Under Pressure Even as Pay Squeeze Nears End – David Goodman 4/17

Europe

NYT – Smothered by Smog, Polish Cities Rank Among Europe’s Dirtiest – Maciek Nabrdalik and Marc Santora 4/22

  • “Poland has some the most polluted air in all of the European Union, and 33 of its 50 dirtiest cities. Not even mountain retreats are immune.” 
  • “The problem is largely a result of the country’s love affair with coal… Some 19 million people rely on coal for heat in winter. In all of the European Union, 80% of private homes using coal are in Poland.” 
  • “Coal, commonly referred to as “black gold,” is seen as a patriotic alternative to Russian gas in this country, which broke away from Soviet control three decades ago and remains deeply suspicious of its neighbor to the east. Burning coal is part of daily life.” 
  • “Some 48,000 Poles are estimated to die annually from illnesses related to poor air quality. Greenpeace estimated that 62% of Poland’s kindergartens are in heavily polluted areas.” 

South America

Reuters – Under military rule, Venezuela oil workers quit in a stampede – Deisy Buitrago and Alexandra Ulmer 4/16

Other Interesting Links

Civil Beat – Hawaii Businesses Are Making Billions Off The Military – Nick Grube 4/23