Tag: Environment

July 19, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

Bloomberg – Panic Roils China’s Peer-to-Peer Lenders – Jun Luo, Alfred Liu, and Crystal Tse 7/16

  • “China’s savers are rushing to pull money from peer-to-peer lending platforms, accelerating a contraction of the $195 billion industry and testing the government’s ability to maintain calm as it cracks down on risky shadow-banking activities.”
  • “In some cases, savers are turning up at the offices of P2P operators to demand repayment, spooked by reports of defaults, sudden closures and frozen funds. At least 57 platforms have failed in the past two weeks, adding to 80 cases in June, the biggest monthly tally in two years, according to Shanghai-based Yingcan Group. The researcher defines failed platforms as those that have halted operations, come under police investigation, missed investor payments, moved into other businesses, or had operators flee with client money.”
  • “’Investors have lost confidence in the smaller platforms, because they have no idea if those companies will survive,’ said Dexter Hsu, a Taipei-based analyst at Macquarie Capital. Only a handful of the 2,000 or so remaining firms are likely to endure, he said.”
  • “China’s P2P industry, the world’s largest, is one of the riskiest and least-regulated slices of the nation’s sprawling shadow-banking system. A government clampdown has weighed on P2P platforms for two years, but the pressure intensified in recent months after China’s credit markets tightened and the banking regulator issued an unusual warning to savers that they should be prepared to lose all their money in high-yield products.
  • “The shakeout has cast doubt on the listing plans of several P2P lenders and underscores the delicate balancing act faced by China’s government as it tries to reduce moral hazard in the financial system without triggering a crisis. While there’s little sign that the P2P turmoil has spread to systemically important wealth-management products issued by banks, much of China’s $10 trillion shadow-lending system faces the same headwinds of rising defaults, slowing economic growth and official calls to end to implicit guarantees on risky investments.”
  • “China’s P2P platforms have about 50 million registered users and 1.3 trillion yuan ($195 billion) of outstanding loans, most of which have short maturities. Normally, savers have to wait for loans facilitated by the platforms to mature before getting their money back. But some are now trying to exit early by selling their rights to others at a discount, or by going to the platform’s offices to demand repayment.”
  • “The turmoil is also hurting companies and individuals who have relied on P2P platforms for financing. They include cash-strapped small businesses seeking working capital, individuals without a credit history, and, more recently, leveraged stock market investors and home buyers in need of down-payments.”
  • “Some P2P platforms were also raising funds illegally for their own use, while others were running Ponzi schemes that collapsed when the flow of new money halted, regulators have said. That helps explain why authorities have so far been steadfast in cracking down.”
  • “Last month, China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission Chairman Guo Shuqing warned that any savings or investment product with promised returns of more than 8% is likely to be ‘very dangerous’ and that investors should be prepared to lose all their money if advertised returns exceed 10%. The average yield on P2P loans was 10.2% in the first half, official figures show. Reported default rates vary from zero on the best platforms to 35% on the worst, according to National Internet Finance Association of China.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Gold 7/17

 

WSJ – Daily Shot: Silver 7/17

WSJ – Daily Shot: NASDAQ Composite Index 7/17

 

Real Estate

Bloomberg Businessweek – Britain’s Online Shopping Boom Is a Bust for the High Street – Sam Chambers 7/10

  • “Online retailers typically benefit from lower overhead than their store-based counterparts, but in the U.K. that advantage is bigger than just about anywhere. The country has the developed world’s highest commercial property taxes, and in many areas those levies have jumped even as store sales decline, because land values have risen since the financial crisis. Last year, Tesco paid £700 million in property taxes, and J Sainsbury Plc, the No. 2 chain, paid £550 million. Amazon’s bill: £14 million.”

Economist – Big corporates’ quest to be hip is helping WeWork 7/12

  • “Research suggests that employees are happier in co-working environments like those run by WeWork. But the firm’s real genius is that it is also far cheaper for their employers. Property experts estimate that firms typically spend anywhere between $16,000 and $25,000 per employee on rent, security, technology and related office expenses. Mr Neumann insists they can get all of that from WeWork starting at $8,000 per worker. Efficient use of space is one reason. Ron Zappile of Colliers, a property-services firm, reckons that typical corporate offices use some 185 square feet (17 square meters) per employee. WeWork members get by on 50 square feet per head.”
  • “WeWork has more than 250,000 members from a range of industries (see chart) and expects to double revenues this year for the ninth straight year. Last year it made $886m in revenue, 93% of which came from memberships.”
  • But…”WeWork’s net losses also roughly doubled, however, from $430m in 2016 to $884m last year. As with many fast-moving startups, it explains its lack of profitability by pointing to big investments. It will open 15 new offices a month worldwide for the foreseeable future. Its bonds issued in April were rated as junk.”
  • “…the most important source of stability may well be a shift in its customers, from startups to big firms. A few years ago, WeWork’s business was comprised almost entirely of small fry. In the year to September the enterprise segment (firms with over 1,000 staff) grew by around 370%. As of June, big firms accounted for about a quarter of its membership and revenues. More than 1,000 companies now take anything from one to 12,000 desks. In June, Facebook asked WeWork for an entire building for several thousand workers.”
  • “The average enterprise lease is close to two years and many new ones are three to five years long. Whereas big firms, used to conventional office leases of 10-20 years, see WeWork’s contracts as flexible, the firm itself sees them as commitments that will help it weather a downturn.”

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

WSJ – Daily Shot: Barchart – Bitcoin 7/17

WSJ – Cryptocurrency Exchanges Are Getting Hacked Because It’s Easy – Steven Russolillo and Eun-Young Jeong 7/16

Tech

Bloomberg Businessweek – China’s Technology Sector Takes On Silicon Valley – Peter Elstrom, Yuan Gao, and Xiaoqing Pi 7/10

China

FT – China money market funds’ rush into bank credit worries investors – Don Weinland 7/16

  • “Investors have warned of growing systemic risks in China’s $1.09tn money market fund industry, as funds buy up bank credit despite a surge in bad debt this year.”
  • “Comparably high yields and low risk at Chinese money market funds in recent years have made the industry a favorite among retail investors in the country. Assets under management have grown from Rmb600bn at the end of 2012 to an estimated Rmb7.3tn ($1.09bn) in March, making it the second-largest market in the world after the US.”
  • “But in recent months China’s central bank has tightened monetary policy and access to credit, forcing down the funds’ once-attractive yields. At the biggest funds, average returns have dropped to an annualized to 3.7% from about 4.5% at the start of the year.”
  • “In response, funds have rushed into bank credit, such as negotiable certificates of deposit, as a means to boost returns and continue attracting retail investments.”
  • “Investors are now warning that the push into bank credit comes just as regulators are forcing banks to recognize vast amounts of bad debts that were once hidden off their balance sheets, leading to greatly increased risk for the investments. Falling credit ratings at banks could force money market funds to exit their investments, something that could lead to a shock through the massive fund industry.”
  • “Ant Financial’s Yu’e Bao, with about $200bn under management, is the world’s largest money market fund. Last month it reduced the amount of money investors could withdraw within one day to Rmb10,000 ($1,498) per investor from Rmb50,000. About Rmb200bn flowed out of the fund between April and June. The company declined to comment.”
  • “The risks at the funds are centered around their source of high-yielding investments: credit from hundreds of small banks with weakening balance sheets.”

FT – China closes a fifth of foreign university partnerships – Emily Feng 7/17

FT – Hong Kong tightens screws on pro-independence party – Ben Bland 7/17

  • “The Hong Kong government is considering banning a pro-independence political party on unprecedented ‘national security’ grounds, a move decried by activists as the latest violation of the city’s promised freedoms and rights.”

India

NYT – In India, Summer Heat May Soon Be Literally Unbearable – Somini Sengupta 7/17

Other Interesting Links

Maps on the Web: Reddit – White Americans by State 2017 7/4

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July 10, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg – Amazon as a Value Stock? Believe It – Matthew A. Winkler 7/9

FT – Japan is nervous about its energy security – Nick Butler 7/8

  • “The country’s new national plan puts nuclear power back in the picture.”

NYT – Inside China’s Dystopian Dreams: A.I., Shame and Lots of Cameras – Paul Mozur 7/8

  • Spooky. By the way, one of the data aggregator/policing systems is aptly named: Skynet.

WSJ – A Stock Market Crash With Chinese Characteristics – Nathaniel Taplin 7/9

Markets / Economy

FT – The retreat from easy money that markets cannot escape – Michael Mackenzie 7/4

Environment / Science

NYT – Record Heat in Southern California, and an Ominous Start to Wildfire Season – Tim Arango 7/7

  • “After a temperate early summer and a balmy Fourth of July, Southern California residents abruptly found themselves in a caldron of triple-digit temperatures and wildfires this weekend.”
  • “The temperature spike broke with historical weather patterns. While much of the Northern Hemisphere suffers through its hottest days in the summer months — June, July, August — Southern California’s hottest days are often in September or October.”
  • “Records were shattered in some places on Friday. The temperature at the University of California, Los Angeles, reached 111 on Friday, the hottest it has ever been there. Other record highs, according to the National Weather Service, were 114 at the Hollywood Burbank Airport, 117 at the Van Nuys Airport, 117 in Ramona and 114 in Santa Ana. In Riverside, a high temperature of 118 matched a record set in 1925.”

China

FT – China scales back property subsidies, adding to growth concerns – Gabriel Wildau and Yizhen Jia 7/8

  • “China is retreating from a policy that has channeled about $1tn in subsidies to homebuyers since 2016, a reversal that has sent tremors through the country’s residential property market amid broader concerns about a housing bubble.”
  • “Property investment and home sales have remained strong in recent months despite a broader growth slowdown, but analysts say the withdrawal of subsidies will damp property demand, leading to reduced construction activity.” 
  • “Premier Li Keqiang pioneered the slum redevelopment policy as top party official in north-east China’s Liaoning province in 2005. The policy, which was later rolled out nationwide, financed demolition and reconstruction of dilapidated residential neighborhoods.” 
  • “The program received a boost in 2014, when the People’s Bank of China created a new monetary policy instrument known as Pledged Supplementary Lending, which consisted of loans directly from the central bank to CDB earmarked for slum redevelopment.” 
  • “The turning point came in 2015. Amid a sharp downturn in the housing market that led to a glut of unsold housing, China’s cabinet allowed local governments to provide cash subsidies to residents of slum districts, rather than physical resettlement in newly built flats in the former slum.” 
  • “’Physical resettlement didn’t affect the supply-demand balance. It was self-regulating,’ said Zhao Quanhou, director of the financial research center at the Chinese Academy of Fiscal Sciences, a think-tank under China’s finance ministry.”
  • “’But monetary resettlement meant you were demolishing old buildings and not replacing them, so there was a net demand increase, and the market impact was large,’ he said.”
  • “’The policy was basically giving money directly from the central bank to CDB. It spurred a lot of real estate demand, and it also expanded the base money supply,’ said Xu Gao, chief economist at Everbright Securities. ‘Going forward it needs to be adjusted.’”

Turkey

FT – Erdogan fires thousands more state employees in Turkey – Ayla Jean Yackley 7/8

  • “Thousands of Turkish teachers, police officers and members of the armed forces have been fired one day before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to be sworn in for a second term after being re-elected with vastly enhanced powers last month.”
  • “Mr. Erdogan issued a decree dismissing the employees on Sunday. During his election campaign he promised to end a state of emergency imposed in the wake of an abortive military coup two years ago, under which 160,000 public servants have been dismissed and more than 50,000 people have been jailed.”
  • “The order, published in the Official Gazette on Sunday, fired 18,632 people — nearly half of them from the police force — for allegedly threatening national security. More than 6,000 military personnel and about 200 teachers were also named. Their passports have all been cancelled, the announcement said.”
  • “The decree also banned 12 civil-society groups, three newspapers and a television broadcaster.”

 

July 9, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg – The Billionaire Space Race Is Making Life Difficult for Airlines – Justin Bachman 6/27

  • “More launches mean more closed airspace, and more delays.”

FT – Dollar repatriation: stealth tapering – Lex 7/4

NYT – Americans Are Having Fewer Babies. They Told Us Why. – Claire Cain Miller 7/5

  • “Women have more options, for one. But a new poll also shows that financial insecurity is altering a generation’s choices.”

Real Estate

FT – Hong Kong’s Repulse Bay attracts China’s tech billionaires – Hugo Cox 7/5

  • “While The Peak may still be the area’s most prestigious location, Island South offers practical benefits.”
  • “China’s new oligarchs will pay handsomely for their seaside spots. Last year, local agents claimed a world record for the priciest home per square foot, when a four-bedroom beachside townhouse hit the market for USD$87.3m, or $21,200 per sq ft. This is about nine times the current average price for prime central London, according to estate agents Savills. Put another way, the same budget in London would buy six Grade II-listed Queen Anne terraced houses in Kensington, providing a total of 36 rooms.”

Environment / Science

WP – Red-hot planet: All-time heat records have been set all over the world during the past week – Jason Samenow 7/5

Asia – excluding China and Japan

FT – Malaysia suspends $22bn China-backed projects – Stefania Palma 7/4

Australia

Bloomberg – Australia Property Prices Fall for Ninth Month on Tighter Credit – Emily Cadman 7/1

Other Interesting Links

howmuch.net – The World’s Highest-Paid Athletes in Top Sports 2018 – Raul 6/28

statista – Roger Federer Is the King of Athlete Endorsements – Felix Richter 7/5

July 2, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg – Forget Banks and Worry About High Stock Prices – Nir Kaissar 6/29

  • “It’s time for investors to stop fighting the last war. The next downturn most likely won’t be triggered by another meltdown of the financial system.”
  • “Investors didn’t need the Fed to tell them that banks are in better shape than they were a decade ago. The signs are everywhere. Profits have fallen across the industry since the financial crisis, an  indication that banks are taking on less risk. Profit margins for the S&P 500 Financials Index averaged 9.3% from 2008 to 2017, down from an average of 13.8% from 2003 to 2007, the years leading up to the crisis. Return on equity is down to an average of 5.2% from 14.5% over the same periods.”
  • “The biggest of those risks is leverage — or piling on debt to boost profits — and banks have a lot less of it than they used to. The debt-to-equity ratio of the financials index has dropped to 159% as of the first quarter from 563% at the end of 2007. The debt-to-assets ratio has fallen to 19% from 43% over the same period.”
  • “But if the numbers don’t persuade investors that the next crisis won’t look like the last one, then maybe a look at previous bear markets would. In reverse chronological order: The bursting of the dot-com bubble was behind the downturn from 2000 to 2002. A mass panic or newly introduced computerized trading, depending on whom you ask, set off the 1987 crash. Stagflation brought down the market from 1980 to 1982. A global oil embargo hit stocks from 1973 to 1974. I could keep going, but you get the idea.”
  • “There is a common thread running through the scariest episodes: high stock prices. The average cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings, or CAPE, ratio for the S&P 500 has been 18 since 1928, according to numbers compiled by Yale professor Robert Shiller. The five worst bear markets during those nine decades, as measured by peak to trough declines, commenced in 1929, 1937, 1973, 2000 and 2007. The average CAPE ratio on the eve of those downturns was 29 and the median was 27.”
  • “The current CAPE ratio: 32. And it’s never just stocks. Other assets in the U.S. look frothy, too, such as private equity and real estate.”

Bloomberg – How to Avoid Going Broke After Making $650 Million – Barry Ritholtz 6/29

Economist – How oil transformed the Gulf – Special report 6/21

Economist – Why Gulf countries are feuding with Qatar – Special report 6/21

Economist – Saudi Arabia turns against political Islam – Special report 6/23

Pragmatic Capitalism – Let’s Talk About that “Rapidly” Falling Deficit – Cullen Roche 6/29

  • “Don’t be scared Larry (Kudlow), just tell it like it is – you guys are boosting spending, boosting the deficit and the USA can afford it!”

Real Estate

WEF: statista – The world’s most expensive prime property – Adam Jezard 4/12

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

Bloomberg – Bitcoin Bloodbath Nears Dot-Com Levels as Many Tokens Go to Zero – Adam Haigh and Eric Lam 6/28

howmuch.net – The ICO Explosion in the Past 5 Years – Raul 6/27

Environment / Science

Bloomberg – The Recycling Game Is Rigged Against You – Faye Flam 6/27

  • “Americans were not set up for success in recycling plastics. Even before China stopped accepting plastic refuse from abroad, 9% of potentially recyclable plastic in the U.S. ended up in landfills – or worse, in the oceans. Europe does a little better, with only 70% getting tossed.”
  • “Why such terrible rates? Partly because some changes that were supposed to make recycling simpler ended up making it almost impossible.”
  • “University of Georgia engineering professor Jenna Jambeck said that indeed, part of the reason China is now refusing to process American and European plastic is that so many people tossed waste into the wrong bin, resulting in a contaminated mix difficult or impossible to recycle.”
  • “In a paper published last week in Science Advances, she and her colleagues calculated that between now and 2030, 111 million metric tons of potentially recyclable plastic will be diverted from Chinese plants into landfills.”
  • “Plastic matters because it takes centuries to degrade, and there’s a lot of it. Jambeck has estimated that the world has produced more than 8 billion metric tons since the 1950s. To help grasp this quantity, paleontologist Jan Zalasiewicz has estimated that this is enough to wrap our entire planet in cling wrap. Others have calculated that it would make four mountains the size of Everest.”
  • “Given what scientists already know how to do, the future could bring a greener, more fool-proof system. Right now, she said, she and other scientists are starting to develop ways to recycle mixtures of plastics – a tough job because many plastics repel one another like oil and water. One of the reasons China imported recycling was that it was possible there to hire cheap labor to sort the different plastic types by hand.” 
  • “Curing the plastic problem is a lot like fighting cancer. Even if everyone stopped smoking, there would still be cancer. And even if we all figure out whether our municipalities accept yogurt containers, plastic waste will still pollute the environment. Compliance won’t be a cure until innovations from the lab set us up for success.”

WIRED – Data Shows Rising Seas Threaten Over 300,000 Homes – Oliver Milman 6/19

  • “Sea level rise driven by climate change is set to pose an existential crisis to many US coastal communities, with new research finding that as many as 311,000 homes face being flooded every two weeks within the next 30 years.”
  • “The UCS used federal data from a high sea level rise scenario projected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and combined it with property data from the online real estate company Zillow to quantify the level of risk across the lower 48 states.”
  • “Under this scenario, where planet-warming emissions are barely constrained and the seas rise by about 6.5 feet globally by the end of the century, 311,000 homes along the US coastline would face flooding on average 26 times a year within the next 30 years—a typical lifespan for a new mortgage.”
  • “The losses would multiply by the end of the century, with the research warning that as many as 2.4 million homes, worth around a trillion dollars, could be put at risk. Low-lying states would be particularly prone, with a million homes in Florida, 250,000 homes in New Jersey and 143,000 homes in New York at risk of chronic flooding by 2100.”
  • “The oceans are rising by about 3 mm a year due to the thermal expansion of seawater that’s warming because of the burning of fossil fuels by humans. The melting of massive glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica is also pushing up the seas—NASA announced last week that the amount of ice lost annually from Antartica has tripled since 2012 to an enormous 241 billion tons a year.”
  • “This slowly unfolding scenario is set to pose wrenching choices for many in the US. Previous research has suggested that about 13 million Americans may have to move due to sea level rise by the end of the century, with landlocked states such as Arizona and Wyoming set for a population surge.”

Agriculture

FT – US farmers plant more soya than corn for first time since 1983 – Gregory Meyer 6/29

  • “Farmers planted 89.6m acres with soya beans this spring, the government reported Friday, surpassing the 89.1m acres planted with corn. The only other year soya topped corn was in 1983, because of a one-off quirk of agricultural policy.”

Britain

NYT – In Britain, Austerity Is Changing Everything – Peter S. Goodman 5/28

  • “After eight years of budget cutting, Britain is looking less like the rest of Europe and more like the United States, with a shrinking welfare state and spreading poverty.”

Japan

FT – Japan’s elderly care bill soaks up worker pay rises – Robin Harding 5/27

  • “Monthly premiums for care insurance have doubled from ¥3,000 to almost ¥6,000 ($55) since the system began in 2000. Meanwhile, the average annual cost of employer-based health insurance is up from ¥386,038 in 2008 to ¥486,042 this year, equivalent to a two percentage point rise in income tax.”
  • “The rise in health and care costs helps to explain why moderate wage growth, after five years of economic stimulus under prime minister Shinzo Abe, is doing so little to boost consumption. It poses a conundrum for the Bank of Japan, which is relying on spending pressure to push inflation towards its 2% objective.”
  • “Japan’s future holds more of the same, especially after 2020, when the baby boom generation starts to reach the age of 75 and needs more care. Recent government figures suggest that by 2040 social insurance costs will rise another 2.5 percentage points to 24% of gross domestic product.”

South America

Axios – It’s nearly impossible to afford a cup of coffee in Venezuela – Stef W. Kight 6/28

  • “Less than two years ago, a cup of coffee cost 450 bolivars in Venezuela. Today, as the nation’s hyperinflation continues to skyrocket, a cafe con leche costs 1 million bolivars — or a mere 29 U.S. cents, according to Bloomberg.”

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 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

June 15, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – In investing, as in poker, following rules works best – Buttonwood 5/31

Markets / Economy

Economist – Central banks holdings of domestic government debt 5/31

WSJ – ECB to End Bond-Buying Program in December as Crisis-Era Policies Wind Down – Tom Fairless and Brian Blackstone 6/14

  • “The European Central Bank is closing a chapter on one controversial policy, government bond purchases, while extending the life of another: negative interest rates.”
  • “The central bank Thursday laid out plans to wind down its giant bond-buying program by the end of this year, but said it likely would wait ‘at least through the summer of 2019’ before raising its deposit rate, now at minus 0.4%.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Deutsche Bank – US Budget Deficit Funding and % Holdings 6/14

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg – World’s Most Expensive Housing Markets Relative to Salary 6/12

WSJ – Daily Shot: Mary Meeker Internet Trends 2018 – Airbnb vs Hotel ADR 5/31

Wolf Street – Toronoto’s House Price Bubble Not Fun Anymore – Wolf Richter 6/4

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: US Total Crude Oil Production 6/14

Finance

FT – US fundraising for ‘blank cheque’ buyout vehicles hits record – Nicole Bullock 6/13

  • “Funds have been raised at a record rate in the US this year for shell companies that offer a ‘blank cheque’ to sponsors to pursue takeovers, providing further evidence of the rehabilitation of a controversial tool that waned in the wake of the financial crisis.”
  • “The so-called special purpose acquisition companies, or spacs, have raised $4.5bn so far in 2018 — the largest amount for this type of fundraising in the period, according to Dealogic, which began recording the deals in 1995. That followed a brisk 2017, the second strongest year on record with nearly $10bn sold.”
  • “The funds are placed in an interest-bearing account until a target is identified — and spac investors can get their money back if they do not approve of the acquisition. They are basically a bet that the sponsors can find a good company at a reasonable price.”
  • “Spacs offer investors, often hedge funds, a cash proxy with the option of the acquisition. Sponsors get a 20% stake in the acquired company, if investors approve it, for a nominal amount of money.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: BlackRock – Four big trends to drive ETF growth 5/31

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bianco Research – Cryptocurrency Market Caps as of June 11, 2018 6/14

Environment / Science

FT – Nikkei Asian Review: Thailand falls behind in global battle with plastic waste – George Styllis 6/13

  • “’Beating plastic pollution’ was the theme of World Environment Day on June 5, but Thailand is falling behind Asian and European countries in the fight against plastic waste.”
  • “The issue has been brought into focus after a dead whale was found last month to have swallowed 80 plastic bags.”
  • “The whale, found in Songkhla province, served as a reminder of Thailand’s problem with plastic, and the abject failures of the government and retail industry to bring the nation’s environmental consciousness in line with the rest of the world’s.”
  • “Thailand is the world’s sixth biggest contributor to ocean waste, while China is the largest. Thailand generates 1.03m tons of plastic waste per year, with over 3% of that finding its way into the ocean, Tara Buakamsri, Thailand country director for Greenpeace, told the Nikkei Asian Review.”
  • “Of the country’s total waste, plastic accounts for 12% — higher than China’s at 11%. A survey by the government in 2017 found that, on average, Thais each use eight plastic bags per day, which equates to about 198bn per year.”

China

WSJ – Daily Shot: PIMCO – China’s Contribution to Global Credit Creation 6/12

WSJ – Daily Shot: Trading Economics – Hong Kong Home Ownership Rate 6/12

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 14, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

FT – China buys up flying schools as pilot demand rises – Jamie Smyth and Ben Bland 5/10

  • “Chinese airlines are buying foreign flying schools and poaching pilots, amplifying a talent shortage that has affected airlines in other regions.”
  • “’The growth in Chinese aviation is unprecedented in our lifetimes and probably in history,’ said Paul Jebely, a Hong-Kong-based lawyer specializing in aviation. ‘There have been more aircraft ordered than there are pilots to fly them’.”
  • “The squeeze on flying talent has triggered flight cancellations, dented profits and threatened the industry’s ambitious growth targets around the world.”
  • “China is on course to overtake the US as the world’s largest air travel market by 2022, according to the International Air Transport Association.”
  • “US aircraft maker Boeing predicts China will need 110,000 new pilots in the years through to 2035, and its airlines are expected to purchase 7,000 commercial aircraft over the next two decades.”
  • “China’s aviation market grew by 13% last year, with 549m passengers taking to the skies, double the number who flew in 2010. Growth is being driven by the rising middle class, an expansion of routes by Chinese airlines and the easing of visa restrictions by foreign governments keen to attract Chinese tourists.”
  • “The number of pilots and co-pilots working in China almost doubled between 2011 and 2017. Over recent months China’s main airlines — China Eastern, Air China, China Southern and Hainan Airlines — have stepped up recruitment and are expanding their offshore training.”
  • “The starting salary offered to foreign pilots in China has jumped over the past 10 years from $10,000 per month to $26,000 per month, tax free, and was still rising, he said.”
  • “’Some Chinese airlines are offering tax-free salary packages, which can be up to twice what western airlines offer,’ said Murray Butt, president of the Australian and International Pilots Association.”
  • “India’s surging air travel — where passenger numbers have been growing by an average of about 16% a year since the beginning of the millennium — adds more pressure to the global pilot shortage.”
  • “Having seen rapid growth in passenger numbers over the past few years, Indian airlines have been recruiting from the military, from abroad and from their competitors by offering increasingly lucrative contracts. They have also made it more difficult for pilots to leave, forcing commanding officers to give a year’s notice if they wish to leave.”
  • “Chinese airlines pay the tuition of cadet pilots and are intensifying efforts to develop more local talent. But there are only 22 pilot schools in China and restrictions on the use of domestic airspace mean they are increasingly looking overseas to partner with foreign flights schools.”
  • “Almost half of China’s 5,053 trainee pilots last year were trained abroad, creating a flourishing business for flight schools and their owners in the US, Canada and Australia.”

Perspective

WP – For six decades, ‘the man with the golden arm’ donated blood – and saved 2.4 million babies – Amy Wang 5/12

  • A great example of human kindness/exceptionalism.

Visual Capitalist – The United States of Beer – Nick Routley 5/12

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Memo from Amazon: tell a good story – John Gapper 5/8

  • “Jeff Bezos and Winston Churchill both appreciated the value of skillful narrative.”

WSJ – Mercedes Wants to Borrow Money From You. Should You Bite? – Jason Zweig 5/11

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Record Buybacks Help Steady Wobbly Market – Ben Eisen and Akane Otani 5/10

Real Estate

CoStar – Already Down, Chinese Investment in U.S. Real Estate Evaporates in First Quarter – Mark Heschmeyer 5/10

WSJ – Daily Shot: PlanMaestro – Age of Housing Stock by US Zip Code 5/11

Entertainment

WSJ – Why Box Office Flops Really, Really Hurt – Justin Lahart 5/11

  • “It isn’t rare for a handful of big movies to do much better than anything else during the same year, but over the past few years the differences have become more acute. One way to see this is by applying a standard measure of inequality—the Gini coefficient—to the box office. A Gini of zero would mean all the movies did equally well and a Gini of one would mean one movie made all the money.”
  • “Based on the domestic receipts of the top 100 grossing movies, the box office Gini for last year’s releases was 0.49, versus 0.46 for 2016. Over the previous 10 years, the Gini averaged 0.4 so there has been a big change in an already skewed field. For comparison’s sake, the Gini coefficient for after-tax household income is 0.39 in the U.S. versus 0.46 in Mexico, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.”

Environment / Science

FT – Apple looks to ‘green’ metal for use in iPhone and MacBook – Neil Hume and Henry Sanderson 5/10

  • “Apple has joined forces with two of the world’s biggest aluminum producers to develop a ‘carbon-free’ metal it plans to use in its iPhone and laptop computers.”
  • “The consumer electronics group is backing a joint venture between Rio Tinto and Alcoa that is seeking to commercialize a new technology to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from aluminum smelting.”

Health / Medicine

Gallup – Uninsured Rate Rises in 17 States in 2017 – Dan Witters 5/9

  • “The uninsured rate rose by statistically significant margins in 17 states in 2017, the first time since the full implementation of the major mechanisms of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014 that any state had a rate increase. Also, for the first time since 2013, no states had a lower uninsured rate than the previous year.”

South America

Reuters – Conoco authorized to seize $636 million in Venezuela PDVSA assets – Mike Willemse, Brian Ellsworth, Alexandra Ulmer, and Tom Brown 5/12