Tag: Environment

August 8, 2017

Perspective

FT – US haul from credit crisis bank fines hit $150bn – Kara Scannell 8/6

  • “A single bank, Bank of America, has paid more than one-third of all recoveries to US authorities, according to an analysis by the Financial Times. Its $56bn in settlements with state and federal regulators and the DOJ cover its own mortgage sales and actions by two companies it acquired — subprime mortgage lender Countrywide and broker Merrill Lynch.”
  • “JPMorgan Chase, which acquired Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, has paid the second-largest amount, with $27bn in fines and relief.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – The Debt-Ceiling Crisis Is Real – Edward Kleinbard 8/7

FT Alphaville – Electric vehicle realities – Izabella Kaminska 8/3

  • “Electric vehicles (EVs) are all the rage. But they’re also fast becoming the sacred cows you can’t criticize for fear of being shredded by the EV, renewable, and tech lobbies.”
  • “Questioning the cost structures of the industry in general is not allowed in public forums. My colleague Jonathan Ford discovered this recently when he dared to question the economic realities underpinning the renewable sector.”
  • “Brian Piccioni and team at BCA Research offer a good starting point to our questions on Thursday, in a report entitled Electric Vehicles Part 1: Costs of Ownership.”
  • “The bad news for EV fans is their work determines that the cost of ownership of an EV still far exceeds that of an internal Combustion Engine Vehicle (ICEV), even after subsidies are accounted for.”
  • A couple of points.
    • Battery packs are expensive and more expensive than generally claimed.
    • Batteries degrade and the cost of replacing them are expensive (more so than the manufacturers let on).
    • Additionally, think of your experience with the value of your old cell phones or computers. While the hardware may still work, the value of your device tends to decline rapidly with an old battery.
  • Back to the subsidies.
  • “Nevertheless, most people are encouraged to buy EVs because of the fuel subsidies or free parking promises. Yet is difficult to assess how long EV subsidies will persist. Fundamentally, the economics dictate that they can only really be affordable to governments as long as the number of vehicles sold remains small. If EV sales accelerate swiftly, these subsidies would get very costly for government coffers very quickly — straining public finances if not creating massive implied contingent liabilities.”
  • “On that basis, when electric car subsidies start eating into the funding that’s available for other vital government services, public perceptions of EV efficiency will change markedly.”
  • All for EV adoption, just trying to be more aware of the factors in play.

Bloomberg Gadfly – OPEC’s Existential Sucker Punch – Julian Lee 7/30

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Prime-Age Labor Force Participation 8/7

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Civilian Labor Force Participation by Gender 8/7

Environment / Science

NYT – Let Forest Fires Burn? What the Black-Backed Woodpecker Knows – Justin Gillis 8/6

  • “Scientists say that returning forests to a more natural condition would require allowing 10 million or 15 million acres to burn every year, at least.”
  • “Today, closer to four million or five million acres burn every year.”

Agriculture 

WSJ – Daily Shot: CBOT Soft Red Winter Wheat 8/7

  • “The US wheat rally has been fully reversed on improved crop conditions.”

India

FintechFT – India’s fintech revolution – Don Weinland 8/7

Bloomberg Gadfly – Indian Banks’ Soaring Price-to-Truth Ratio – Andy Mukherjee 8/7

  • Several Indian banks have more non-performing loans in their books than they are letting on and are aware of. Worse, there a quite a few loans issued to companies (i.e. Videocon) with too few restrictions, who are then using the funds to pursue moonshot projects out of their core competencies.

Middle East

WSJ – Egypt’s Leader Makes a Risky Bet on the Healing Power of Economic Pain – Yaroslav Trofimov 8/6

  • “Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi is cutting food and fuel subsidies, a program long plagued by waste and corruption, in a high-stakes gamble to aid the stalled economy that none of his predecessors dared execute.”
  • “The economic shock therapy, coupled with a steep currency devaluation, has rocked the Arab world’s most populous country. Fuel prices went up 50% in June, cooking-gas prices have doubled and the annual inflation rate has surpassed 30%.”
  • “Every day, millions of Egyptians line up at government bakeries to buy five loaves of bread for less than two U.S. cents, a fraction of the wheat’s cost. The food subsidies extend to some 80% of Egypt’s families and were first instituted as part of rationing during World War II.”
  • “Farmers across Egypt nurture their crops with water pumps operating on diesel that, even after June’s 55% increase, still retails for 77 cents a gallon, less than a third of retail prices in the U.S.”
  • “The government’s goal is to end the subsidies in three to five years, according to Mr. Kabil, the trade and industry minister. ‘The right thing to do is to lift them totally,’ he said. ‘But you cannot do it today because you cannot correct 40 years of problems in one day.’”
  • The question is whether or not the people of Egypt will be able to make to that point without changing course?

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Caracas (Venezuela) Stock Exchange Market Index 8/4

  • If you live in Venezuela, there is nowhere else to preserve your money (outside of hard currencies – if you can get them).

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Market Bolivar (Venezuela) USD Exchange Rate 8/7

Other Links

NY Post – Hedge fund manager (Raymond Montoya) charged for scamming investors out of millions – John Aldan Byrne 8/5

August 3, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

WSJ – Indexers Push Back Against Wall Street – Ken Brown 8/1

  • “Give a small cheer to the index nerds at S&P. Their decision to ban companies that have different classes of stock is a rare instance of Wall Street protecting investors.”
  • “S&P said Monday that it would no longer consider companies with multiple share classes for its main U.S. stock indexes. The one that matters is the S&P 500, which is tracked by about $2.2 trillion worth of assets and which serves as a benchmark for more than $7.8 trillion of investments. The share structures S&P is targeting usually grant insiders control of the company by giving their shares far more votes than shares held by outside investors.”
  • “FTSE Russell, another big index provider, issued a proposal last month that requires a minimum amount of shares be in public hands, a step in the same direction as S&P.”
  • “The shift mainly targets Silicon Valley, where companies from Facebook to Google and, most recently, Snap , have sold shares while giving investors virtually no say in how the companies are run. Snap, now down more than 20% from its IPO price, was seen as the tipping point because it gave investors no say at all. Companies already in the index will be allowed to stay.”

Perspective

Knoema – World’s Most Visited Cities – 7/24

NYT – Debt-Ridden Chinese Giant Now a Shadow of Its Former Size – Keith Bradsher 8/1

  • Basically, at some point businesses and real estate development need to make money on their own accord… Ordinarily, lenders and investors don’t fund on the strategy of ‘if you build it, they will come.’

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Forbes – The Good Times For The Bulls May Be Coming To A Close, Here’s Why – Bert Dohmen 8/1

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Total Construction Spending YoY Change 8/2

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Total Nonresidential Construction Spending YoY Change 8/2

Real Estate

WSJ – Luxury Condos on ‘Billionaire’s Row’ Are Slow to Sell Out – Josh Barbanel 8/2

Finance

Economist – Bitcoin divides to rule – 8/2

  • “On August 1st, without much agonizing or awkward negotiation, a group of Bitcoin activists and entrepreneurs managed to create a second version of the crypto-currency. It immediately gained a following: in less than a day of existence, the value of a unit of ‘Bitcoin Cash’ jumped to over $600, and tokens worth more than $10bn were in circulation (although that is still much smaller than Bitcoin classic, which stood at about $2,700 and nearly $45bn).”
  • “This ‘fork’, as such events are called, came earlier than foreseen. But it is broadly how insiders had expected a two-year-old conflict over the future of Bitcoin to end. At the heart of this ‘civil war’ was the question of how to increase the capacity of the system, which can only handle up to seven transactions per second. The new version is able to process 56 per second, but otherwise works much like the original one.”
  • “This week’s fork has made bitcoin holders richer: they get an amount of the new version equal to their holdings of the old sort; and at least for now, both together are worth more than the old one alone. For this reason only, expect another split in November when an upgrade of the old Bitcoin system will kick in.”  

Environment / Science

NYT – Blistering Heat Wave Threatens Seattle, Where Only a Third Have Air-Conditioning – Maggie Astor 8/1

Health / Medicine

NYT – In Breakthrough, Scientists Edit a Dangerous Mutation From Genes in Human Embryos – Pam Belluck 8/2

South America

WSJ – Venezuelan Officials Tampered With Election, Voting-Software Firm Says – Kejal Vyas 8/2

  • “Based on the robustness of our system, we know, without any doubt, that the turnout of the recent election for a National constituent assembly was manipulated.” – Antonio Mugica, Smarmatic’s CEO

July 31, 2017

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg View – Sharif’s Ouster Is Bad News – Mihir Sharma 7/28

  • “Whatever one thinks of Pakistan’s former prime minister, the circumstances of his ouster are troubling.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Total US Mortgages Outstanding as % of GDP 7/28

WSJ – Daily Shot: Total US Nonrevolving Debt as % of GDP 7/28

Bloomberg – New U.S. Subprime Boom, Same Old Sins: Auto Defaults Are Soaring – Gabrielle Coppola 7/17

  • “Subprime auto financing has expanded quickly since 2009, and the strains are beginning to show in cases of fraud and rising delinquencies.”

Environment / Science

NYT – It’s Not Your Imagination Summers Are Getting Hotter. – Nadja Popovich and Adam Pearce 7/28

Middle East

WSJ – Daily Shot: Saudi Arabia Bank Lending Growth 7/28

July 27, 2017

Perspective

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

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

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • A family matter made public.

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

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

Real Estate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

Environment / Science

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

Health / Medicine

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

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

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

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

Britain

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

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

China

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

  • Arguably the second most powerful person in China.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South America

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

July 13, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

WSJ – China’s Bid to Curb Its Booming Housing Market Has Only Made It Hotter – Lingling Wei and Dominique Fong 7/12

  • “The more China tries to rein in its roaring housing market, the more obsessed people get about buying.”
  • “With each new policy intended to restrict home purchases, buyers are piling in. Stressed about the prospect of being left behind, many are borrowing heavily, believing prices will continue to rise despite the restrictions and will soar if the government has to lift restrictions to spur economic growth.”
  • “Another article of faith is that the Communist Party won’t allow housing prices to collapse. ‘The government will spare no effort to make sure there are no big swings in the property market,’ says Ni Pengfei, a housing expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank.”
  • “The desperate home buyers are exposing Beijing’s inability to control a housing market it has been relying on for economic growth. A decade ago, the real-estate sector, including construction and home furnishings, accounted for about 10% of China’s gross domestic product, according to Moody’s Investors Service . It now accounts for almost one-third, reflecting both a dearth of other investment options and the petering out of manufacturing growth.”
  • “At one time, low levels of household debt reassured government officials and economists that a property slump wouldn’t trigger a wider financial crisis. But the property-buying binge has changed that equation. Long-term household loans, mostly mortgages, now account for one-third of all new bank loans. Household debt stands at more than 42% of GDP, according to Moody’s. That ratio has grown 9 percentage points in three years and now surpasses levels in China’s emerging-market peers including Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and Russia. In the U.S., that ratio hit about 85% during the housing crisis.”
  • “Policy makers want to prevent the property bubble from getting worse, worried that any collapse could send defaults cascading through the banking system, infecting the overall economy perhaps for years to come. On the other hand, they are concerned that an investment slowdown could hamper growth. Economists already are warning that the recent property controls are starting to cause developers to scale back on new projects, potentially denting growth later this year.”
  • “Chinese government data show that prices across 70 Chinese cities were 9.7% higher in May than a year earlier, a larger year-over-year increase than the 9.3% last September, when the current round of housing controls were instituted.”
  • “At the end of last year, real estate accounted for 68.8% of China’s household assets, Moody’s says. In the U.S., it is less than 60%.”
  • “Mr. Ni, the housing expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, estimates that as much as 50% of China’s home sales today are for investment, a situation that worries the Communist Party leadership.”
  • “Nonetheless, the government has stopped short of imposing a property tax, which would discourage people from buying homes as an investment and leaving them empty by making it more expensive to own a home. Beijing has shown little political will to force a move that would raise costs for already stretched homeowners.”

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Data Is Beautiful – 5% of US physicians prescribe 60% of opioids 7/12

WSJ – Daily Shot: WEF – Time for trash to degrade in water 7/12

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Markets Are Right More Often Than You Think – Ben Carlson 7/12

  • “Investors are constantly questioning whether the market is wrong. It would be far more helpful if more investors also questioned whether they are wrong about the markets.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Startups Help Landlords Turn Apartments Into Hotel Rooms – Laura Kusisto 7/11

  • “A handful of startups are betting they can help apartment-building owners convert empty units into hotel rooms, a controversial practice that could help landlords generate more revenue.”
  • “The services are sprouting up just as the red-hot U.S. apartment market is beginning to cool.”
  • “In all, there are roughly 29 million apartment units in the U.S., according to the National Multifamily Housing Council. Nearly 800,000 new units have been built since the beginning of 2014, according to CoStar Group Inc.”
  • “But the vacancy rate for apartments in downtown markets rose to 8.1% in the first quarter from 6.8% a year ago, according to CoStar. Some 45% of buildings completed in the first quarter of 2016 were more than 10% vacant after a year, compared with 38% for those built in the first quarter of 2015, suggesting properties are taking longer to lease.”
  • “The startups, which are expected to typically operate eight to 16 months in a building, see potential in helping the developers of those buildings wring revenue out of units that aren’t yet leased.”
  • “These new services aim to get around an issue that Airbnb has been confronted with: Historically, landlords have been reluctant to allow tenants to rent out units because they didn’t receive any of the revenue. Most apartment leases forbid tenants from subletting units without permission.”
  • “Airbnb has been trying to recruit owners of big apartment buildings, which represent a crucial growth opportunity for the company because the sleek modern buildings with doormen, fitness centers and contemporary finishes are likely to appeal to business travelers.”

Environment / Science

NYT – An Iceberg the Size of Delaware Just Broke Off a Major Antarctic Ice Shelf – Jugal Patel and Justin Gillis 7/12

Health / Medicine

NYT – F.D.A Panel Recommends Approval for Gene-Altering Leukemia Treatment – Denise Grady 7/12

Europe

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s Investors Service – Real GDP (select European countries) 7/12

South America

NYT – Ex-President of Brazil Sentenced to Nearly 10 Years in Prison for Corruption – Ernesto Londono 7/12

  • And that just happened…
  • “The case against Mr. da Silva, who raised Brazil’s profile on the world stage as president from 2003 to 2010, stemmed from charges that he and his wife illegally received about $1.1 million in improvements and expenses for a beachfront apartment from a construction company.”
  • “Mr. da Silva can appeal the conviction, but the ruling could deliver a serious blow to his plans for a political comeback. He had been widely considered a leading contender in next year’s presidential election.”

June 30, 2017

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – Buttonwood: Fund managers rarely outperform the market for long 6/24

Markets / Economy

Economist –  Investors in aircraft should get set for turbulence 6/22

  • “Airliners could be the world’s next big asset bubble.”

WSJ – Central Banks Give Sleepy Markets a Wake-Up Call – Richard Barley 6/28

  • Essentially, tightening conditions are coming our way.

Environment / Science

NYT – As Climate Changes, Southern States Will Suffer More Than Others – Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich 6/29

  • “In a new study in the journal Science, researchers analyzed the economic harm that climate change could inflict on the United States in the coming century. They found that the impacts could prove highly unequal: states in the Northeast and West would fare relatively well, while parts of the Midwest and Southeast would be especially hard hit.”

China

WSJ – Daily Shot: Credit Suisse – Bank Lending to RE Developers (China) 6/29

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s & Danske Bank – Wealth Management Product Investment Exposure 6/29

FT – Hong Kong since the handover in charts – Ben Bland and Jane Pong 6/28

Middle East

Economist – A shake-up in Riyadh: The tasks facing the new Saudi crown prince 6/22

South America

WSJ – Chopper Flight Leaves Venezuelans Mystified – Anatoly Kurmanaev and Kejal Vyas 6/28

  • The helicopter attack on the capital seems a bit fishy (grenades were dropped – but none exploding, no one was injured from the shots, and there was no resistance for more than half an hour)… but nonetheless, President Maduro has used the attack as a reason to establish marshal law.

June 23, 2017

Perspective

WSJ – Wal-Mart to Vendors: Get Off Amazon’s Cloud – Jay Greene and Laura Stevens 6/21

  • “To do business with Wal-Mart, the retailer requires some tech providers to build the services on AWS cloud rivals.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Brookings – Midlife mortality from “deaths of despair” 6/22

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Inevitable Chinese slowdown ‘a myth’ – Steve Johnson 6/21

  • Essentially, there is precedence when looking at China’s Asian neighbors that would provide examples why the country has room to run. However, the credit boom of late is still a major concern.

FT – China has no choice but to walk financial tightrope – Diana Choyleva 6/21

  • “The warning signs of significant financial distress have grown in tandem with a surge in interbank borrowing and lending over the past couple of years. The strains have intensified since Beijing’s leaders made it clear in late 2016 that they were determined to rein in runaway debt and started nudging up money market rates as well as cracking down on nefarious shadow banking activities.”
  • “The risk of contagion is a key reason why China’s regulators are striving to rein in Wealth Management Products (WMPs), which totaled Rmb30tn at the end of April. The complex structure of WMPs typically yokes together any number of banks and NBFIs, which are now the largest borrowers on the interbank market.”
  • “Beijing is especially wary of banks allocating cash raised through WMPs to external asset managers. City commercial banks, which depend heavily on WMPs for funding, are particular enthusiasts of these ‘entrusted investments’, which totaled more than Rmb5tn at the end of 2016.”
  • “Regulators have taken aim at entrusted investments because they hide further layers of leverage and obscure the ultimate borrower. In recent weeks, the China Banking Regulatory Commission, under new chairman Guo Shuqing, has issued a flurry of directives to haul banks back into line. Banks have responded by pulling back their cash from the capital markets, increasing the very strains that the regulators want to avert.”
  • “A looming shake-out in the young, burgeoning interbank market for negotiable certificates of deposit (NCDs) could intensify a cash crunch. Regulators recently required banks to count NCDs as part of their lending and borrowing totals, dimming their attraction. More than 60% of outstanding NCDs will mature over the next four months, a big headache for those banks that rely on this source of funding.”
  • “Banks are not the only weak link. Insurance companies are net interbank lenders, but the breakneck expansion of some insurers is fanning concerns. China’s insurance regulator, worried about the risk of mismatched maturities, has clamped down on so-called universal life insurance policies, which are thinly disguised WMPs.”

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMI Research – U.S. Shale Output 6/22

WSJ – Daily Shot: GasBuddy – U.S. Average Retail Gas Price Chart 6/22

  • “It’s worth noting that despite these sharp declines in crude futures, US gasoline prices at the pump have barely budged.”

Environment / Science

NYT – 95-Degree Days: How Extreme Heat Could Spread Across the World – Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich 6/22

China

FT – Alibaba taps user data to drive growth spurt – Louise Lucas 6/21

  • Data, data, data. The more I know about your customers, the more you’re willing to pay me to broker transactions. And the more I know about you (consumer), the better able I am to match you (sell you) with products you’d want.

FT – Big China companies targeted over ‘systemic risk’ – Lucy Hornby, Yuan Yang, Gabriel Wildau 6/22

  • “This is a game changer for Chinese M&A and could pretty much stop all outbound deal making in its tracks.” – Keith Pogson, EY’s senior partner for financial services in Asia.