Tag: Environment

October 13, 2017

Perspective

NYT – Rohingya Recount Atrocities: ‘They Threw My Baby Into a Fire’ – Jeffrey Gettleman 10/11

  • Deeply disturbing.

WSJ – Daily Shot: OECD – Global Obesity Rates (2015) 10/12

FT – The 30-second ad has had its 15 minutes of fame – Shannon Bond 10/11

  • “The 30-second television ad has been dethroned. As US television networks face growing digital competition for marketing dollars and viewers’ attention, they are selling shorter ads. The result? Thirty-second spots, long the industry standard, now make up fewer than half of all US TV commercials.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – Say Goodbye to the China Bid – Aaron Back 10/12

  • “China’s seemingly insatiable demand for foreign assets has driven up prices for everything from U.S. Treasury bonds to global companies to luxury real estate. Now, a combination of market forces and capital controls are choking off the flow of Chinese cash. Asset markets around the world will have to adjust.”
  • “As Chinese exports boomed starting in the early 2000s and foreign investment flooded into the country, the central bank recycled these inflows into foreign government bonds, mostly Treasurys, to keep the yuan from rising. The buying persisted for over a decade, driving bond prices up and driving yields down globally.”
  • “The form of China’s foreign buying shifted in 2014, when the U.S. began exiting quantitative easing and China’s growth slowed. Ordinary Chinese feared that the yuan, which had steadily risen for years, would fall as growth slowed. Both individuals and companies rushed to get money out of China, snapping up trophy assets and luxury real estate around the world.”
  • “The China bid, or at least the expectation of one, sent prices of luxury properties soaring, fueled real estate bubbles from Vancouver to Sydney and pushed up prices of companies seen as desirable for Chinese buyers.”
  • “Alarmed by the outflow, Beijing began to tighten capital controls in 2015 and 2016, but the deal-making persisted until this year when the government cracked down on money transfers by individuals and discouraged companies from pursuing ‘irrational’ deals abroad. So far this year, outbound mergers and acquisitions by Chinese companies are down 27% from the same period a year earlier, according to Dealogic.”
  • “Now, pretty much the only thing the Chinese government encourages its companies to buy abroad are high-tech companies such as computer chip makers. But these strategic assets are precisely the kind that Western governments increasingly don’t want to fall into Chinese hands.”
  • “In real estate there is no way to say for sure how much Chinese buying drove up prices, but governments from Canada to Australia have moved to control foreign buying to rein in property bubbles.”
  • “Nor is China set to return as a big buyer of U.S. Treasurys. Indeed, if the Federal Reserve keeps tightening, China could be a seller of bonds as it fends off depreciation pressure on the yuan.”
  • “In the years ahead, financial markets around the world will have to live without the ever-present China bid. Whether China was a savvy investor or the dumb money, asset prices will likely be lower.”

WSJ – China’s Next Five Years – Squeezing the People to Feed the State – Nathaniel Taplin 10/11

  • “China achieved its economic miracle by unleashing the entrepreneurial private sector. With President Xi Jinping poised to further consolidate power at the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade leadership shuffle kicking off Oct. 18, the narrative of the next five years is becoming clear.”
  • “The state is pushing back.”
  • “The logic is straightforward. Nominally communist China relies on its vibrant private sector for growth, but state-owned companies are indispensable tools for political patronage, social control and economic policy. Any financial rot in the state sector could weigh on the economy and weaken the Communist Party’s grip.”
  • “With private business already commanding around 70% of the economy, Mr. Xi and his allies have decided to strengthen key state-controlled companies by boosting their market power and easing their debt burdens.”
  • “For investors, the implications are significant: higher global goods prices because state-owned companies are notoriously inefficient, and a smaller chance of the long-feared Chinese debt crisis. Corporate debt, which is largely in the state-owned sector, ticked down as a percentage of GDP in the second quarter, according to J.P. Morgan—the first decline since 2011. The trade-off is slower Chinese growth. Chinese banks, whose shares are currently on a tear, will need to keep subsidizing bloated state enterprises. And those enterprises’ need for a deep pool of capital inside China means a free-floating yuan will remain a distant dream.”
  • “For investors, the tilt back toward the state means that innovative privately owned tech and consumer companies may continue to outperform—but probably less so than in the past. Hulking state-owned titans, enjoying newly privileged market positions, may reward investors more reliably: The state-dominated Shanghai stock market has roundly outperformed the technology-and-consumer-focused Shenzhen market this year.”
  • “Deng Xiaoping, the grandfather of China’s economic reforms, famously said that it was acceptable to let ‘some people get rich first.’ The people are far richer than they were three decades ago. Now it’s the state’s turn once again.”

Forbes – How Blockchain Can Stamp Out China’s Fake Diplomas 10/8

NYT – We’re About to Fall Behind the Great Depression – David Leonhardt 10/12

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – U.S. States General Obligation Debt Ratings 10/12

Real Estate

FT – Airbnb teams up with developer to launch branded apartments – Leslie Hook 10/12

  • “Airbnb is stepping up its challenge to traditional hotel operators, launching branded, purpose-built apartments in Florida in a tie-up with a US real estate developer.”
  • “The partnership with Newgard Development Group marks the first time the San Francisco-based home-sharing group has worked with a property developer. It underscores how Airbnb is expanding beyond simply booking accommodation, its core service that has already hit hotel operators in cities across the world.”
  • “The 300-unit rental complex in Kissimmee, Florida, near Orlando, will be built and owned by Newgard but carry a new brand: ‘Niido powered by Airbnb’.”
  • “Harvey Hernandez, chief executive of Miami-based Newgard, said the company planned to build 2,000 Airbnb-branded units in the next two years. Tenants who rent the apartments can choose to sublet them through Airbnb for up to 180 days a year.”
  • “The Kissimmee apartment building, due to open early next year, includes features such as keyless doors and secure storage that will make it easier for long-term tenants to rent out their rooms when they are away. Through an app, tenant hosts can manage their Airbnb guests’ stay and even co-ordinate services such as changing bedsheets.”
  • “It will have human touches as well. A ‘master host’ will be on site, and all apartments will have a mandatory cleaning service, in the style of a serviced apartment.”
  • “’The demographic that we are targeting are travelling more than ever before,’ said Mr Hernandez. ‘So when that property is empty, they can be making money with it.’”
  • “Newgard, Airbnb and the tenant will all derive revenue from the short-term rentals, with Newgard taking 25% of the nightly room rate, Airbnb taking 3% (the same commission it charges hosts anywhere), and the tenant receiving the remainder.”
  • “Marriott operates serviced apartments whereby it does not own the property but the building carries its branding and Marriott provides hospitality services. Unlike Marriott, Airbnb will not operate the hospitality services and nor is it charging Newgard for the use of its brand.”

Bloomberg – Kushners’ Manhattan Tower on Track for Its Worst Year Since 2011 – Caleb Melby 10/12

Energy

FT – Why the US east coast imports oil despite shale boom – Gregory Meyer 10/11

  • “The US has been shipping its shale oil riches to different parts of the world, including Canada and India, inspiring White House officials to muse about American ‘energy dominance’. But one place that is buying very little of this crude is the officials’ backyard.”
  • “Last week as the US reported a record 2m barrels a day in crude oil exports, refineries located up the highway from Washington on the east coast imported about 900,000 b/d, mainly from Africa.”
  • “A big reason is the Jones Act, a 97-year-old US law that requires all ships starting and ending their voyages on US coasts to be American-flagged, built and crewed.”
  • “What animates critics in the oil market about the Jones Act is that it increases the cost of shipping crude from the Gulf coast to the east coast above the rate charged by foreign-flagged carriers. That helps incentivize exports from Texas oilfields and imports by refiners in the east. The reliance on shipping reflects the fact that no crude oil pipelines link the oilfields of the central US to the east coast.”
  • “’It’s basically a constraint on the efficient operation of the oil market,’ says Sandy Fielden, director of research for commodities and energy at Morningstar.”
  • “US lawmakers liberalized trade in crude oil in December 2015, allowing unfettered exports after years of tight restrictions for every destination but Canada. They let the Jones Act stand, though they gave some refiners temporary tax relief related to oil transport costs.”
  • “The effects are plain to see. In 2015, tankers laden with crude oil from the US gulf coast delivered an average of 50,000 b/d to ports on the US east coast, according to ClipperData, a vessel tracking service. The volumes nearly halved in 2016 and have halved again this year, the data show.”
  • “Ending the export ban has caused shipments to soar to countries previously blocked from buying US oil, including long hauls to Asia. Crude oil exports to countries other than Canada are averaging about 325,000 b/d this year, ClipperData’s records show, more than treble the levels of 2015.”
  • “Meanwhile, US east coast refineries near Philadelphia and New York have been importing nearly 1m b/d from countries such as Nigeria and Angola, about 50% higher than two years ago.”
  • “The increased imports to the east coast come despite falling rates to hire a Jones Act tanker as the industry struggles with a surplus of ships built before the export ban was lifted. The US fleet of Jones Act tankers and tugboat-barge units totals 94 vessels, according to Overseas Shipholding Group, one of the biggest operators in the sector.”
  • “Sam Norton, chief executive of OSG, estimates the cost of hiring one for crude service is about three to four times higher than using a foreign-flagged vessel. Some shipping consultants say it is even higher.”
  • “The Jones Act is unlikely to abolished, despite the longstanding efforts of politicians such as Senator John McCain of Arizona.”
  • “’Since people have been living with it for so long, it’s difficult to say what it would be like if they changed it or if it were repealed,’ says Mr Fielden of Morningstar.”

Environment / Science

NYT – 10 Hurricanes in 10 Weeks: With Ophelia, a 124-Year-Old Record is Matched – Maggie Astor 10/11

  • “With Tropical Storm Ophelia’s transition to Hurricane Ophelia on Wednesday, 2017 became the first year in more than a century — and only the fourth on record — in which 10 Atlantic storms in a row reached hurricane strength.”

China

FT – Wanda’s Wang Jianlin dethroned from top of China rich list – Tom Hancock 10/11

WSJ – Six Reasons Why China Matters – Justin Lahart 10/11

NYT – China to Debtors: Pay Up or Be Shamed – Keith Bradsher and Ailin Tang 10/11

  • “Troubled by huge debts run up by big state companies and politically connected local governments, China is taking steps instead to go after the little guys.”
  • “Chinese officials have ordered provincial governments to establish online platforms naming those who do not pay their obligations, official media reported this week. The lists should be maintained by local news organizations as well as courts and regulators, the report said, with an aim of exposing deadbeats and pressuring them to pay up.”
  • “The new effort is unlikely to affect big borrowers, like major state-owned companies and other big firms, whose debts are almost never called in. But it could intensify and centralize officials’ broader moves to assign ratings to individuals based on creditworthiness and other criteria; practices like credit scoring are only just now taking off in the country.”

Japan

WSJ – Daily Shot: BOJ asset purchases and pace of purchase 10/12

  • “The BoJ is quietly slowing its securities purchases (as part of ‘yield targeting’).”

September 27, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

Bloomberg Businessweek – Ronaldo Is Hawking One of the World’s Riskiest Derivatives – Donal Griffin 9/20

  • The product: Contracts For Difference (CFDs)
  • “CFDs, called ‘a volatile form of gambling’ by an Irish judge in 2014, make up one of the last bastions of opaque, lightly regulated financial speculation in Europe. The contracts, which allow investors to bet on the direction of stocks, bonds, currencies and commodities without buying the underlying assets, aren’t traded on public exchanges and are largely prohibited for retail customers in the U.S. They’ve surged in popularity across Europe since 2010, triggering concerns of regulators, who say customers don’t grasp the risks involved.”
  • “Regulators from the Central Bank of Ireland to Polish markets watchdog KNF are now circling the CFD industry, and several countries have imposed leverage caps, limits on client losses and marketing restrictions. Cyprus (where most of the operators are based) introduced rules last year requiring CFD firms to offer a default leverage amount of no more than 50 times and limit client losses. Still, investors can get more if they ask for it and pass a firm’s ‘appropriateness test,’ according to a statement from the regulator, known as CySEC, which declined to comment further.”
  • “CFD users in Spain lose money 82% of the time, according to a study by the regulator that found about 31,000 traders in the country lost 142 million euros ($170 million) over a 21-month period ended in September 2016, including transaction costs. Other regulators have reported a similar percentage of losing bets.”
  • “Javier Paz, an analyst with Aite Group LLC in Boston who tracks the industry, estimates that European traders have lost about $2.1 billion on the derivatives over the past 15 years.”
  • “‘This is like a casino, and it looks very dangerous,’ Patricia Suarez, president of the Association of Financial Users in Madrid, which campaigns against abusive banking products, said of CFD trading.”
  • “One reason for the losses, regulators say, is the borrowed funds that CFD firms offer investors to magnify their bets. The leverage allows customers to deposit a small percentage of the total value of their trades. The CFD firm funds the remainder of the bet at a specified rate of interest. Trading this way can result in inflated profits, but the client can lose more than his deposit if the market moves even slightly in the wrong direction.”

Perspective

Axios – The large parts of America left behind by today’s economy – Kim Hart 9/25

  • “U.S. geographical economic inequality is growing, meaning your economic opportunity is more tied to your location than ever before. A large portion of the country is being left behind by today’s economy, according to a county-by-county report released this morning by the Economic Innovation Group, a non-profit research and advocacy organization. This was a major election theme that helped thrust Donald Trump to the White House.”
  • Key findings:”
    • “New jobs are clustered in the economy’s best-off places, leaving one of every four new jobs for the bottom 60% of zip codes.”
    • “57% of the national rise in business establishments and 52% of employment growth from 2011-2015 were in prosperous areas.”
    • “Most of today’s distressed communities have seen zero net gains in employment and business establishment since 2000. In fact, more than half have seen net losses on both fronts.”
    • “Half of adults living in distressed zip codes are attempting to find gainful employment in the modern economy armed with only a high school education at best.”
    • “The healthier the economy, the healthier the person — people in distressed communities die five years earlier.”

FT – Millions mired in poverty as US upturn passes them by, study finds – Sam Fleming and Lauren Leatherby 9/25

  • “More than 50m Americans live in districts that are mired in a ‘deep ongoing recession’, with falling employment and a shrinking business base, according to a report that highlights the fractured nature of the US recovery.”
  • “According to research from the Economic Innovation Group think-tank, one in six Americans resides in a zip code it defines as a ‘distressed community’. These are areas with a falling number of businesses and in which the local population has low median income, poor labor force participation, high levels of poverty and low educational achievement.”

WSJ – Then and Now: The Big Shift at Work – Lauren Weber and Stephanie Stamm 9/2

  • “The biggest share of companies’ output still goes to workers, but that share is shrinking as companies spend less on both employee compensation and capital investment. Meanwhile, investors are getting three times the payout they did 30 years ago.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – Tyranny of the Minority – Michelle Goldberg 9/25

The Registry – Leaving Retail – John McNellis 9/26

Markets / Economy

RIAA – U.S. Sales Database: Recorded Music Revenues by Format 9/25

VC – Economic Might by U.S. Metro Area – Jeff Desjardins 9/26

Real Estate

WSJ – E-Commerce Mania Spreads To Warehouse Market – Esther Fung 9/26

  • “E-commerce is setting off a scramble for industrial real estate near urban centers, giving landlords of once-unglamorous properties a chance to push up rents to record levels.”
  • “A well-located last-mile facility ‘has the functional equivalent of a high-end retail store,’ said Hamid Moghadam, chairman and chief executive officer of industrial real-estate investment trust Prologis Inc. Such facilities are productive for the tenant and reduce transportation and labor costs.”
  • “When a company is shipping to individual customers rather than in bulk to stores, most of their costs are in transportation and labor, and reducing them is a priority, said Eric Frankel, an analyst at real-estate research firm Green Street Advisors. Warehouse rent, by contrast, represents just 5% or so of costs in a supply chain.”
  • “Modest levels of new warehouse supply are coming onto the market at a time when some e-commerce companies are expanding rapidly. Amazon is now the largest tenant of Prologis, Duke Realty Corp. , Jones Lang LaSalle Income Property Trust and DCT Industrial Trust by percentage of rental revenue at year-end 2016, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.”

Environment / Science

Bloomberg Businessweek – Climate Change Could Dampen Argentina’s Recovery – Jonathan Gilbert 9/19

Asia – excluding China and Japan

WSJ – Bali Volcano Eruption ‘Imminent,’ Nearly 50,000 Flee – Ben Otto 9/25

  • “The number of people fleeing a rumbling volcano no the Indonesian resort island of Bali rose to nearly 50,000, with the country’s disaster agency saying an eruption appears imminent after a half-century of calm.”

China

FT – WhatsApp messaging service hit by full blockage in China – Hannah Kuchler 9/25

  • “WhatsApp suffered a complete blockage in China this week, prompting suggestions the government was cracking down on the Facebook-owned messaging app ahead of the Communist party congress next month.”

Bloomberg Pursuits – The World’s Best Caviar Doesn’t Come From Russia Anymore – Kate Krader 9/18

September 15, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

FT – To coin a craze: Silicon Valley’s cryptocurrency boom – Richard Waters 9/13

  • “So-called initial coin offerings, or ICOs, like this have turned into the year’s most striking financial craze. More than $1.8bn has been raised by software developers from the sale of new currencies with names such as Tezzies, Atoms and Basic Attention Tokens.”
  • “In unofficial online markets where these and other digital tokens are traded, the mania has hit even more bizarre levels. The value of Ripple — at five years, a cryptocurrency veteran — soared this year on a wider boom that was led by bitcoin. Ripple’s notional value, including coins held by the company for later sale, jumped from $500m at the start of the year to more than $35bn, before falling back to $19bn.”
  • “The boom in cryptocurrency prices has been fed by uncontrolled speculation, leading regulators to act. In recent days, Chinese authorities have banned ICOs and are now reported to be on the brink of shutting down all cryptocurrency exchanges. The Financial Conduct Authority, the UK regulator, warned anyone thinking of buying coins in an ICO that they should only do so if they are prepared to lose everything. Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan, sent bitcoin prices down 10% on Tuesday when he called the currency a ‘fraud’ and threatened to sack anyone at his bank caught trading it.”
  • “But cryptocurrencies’ promoters argue that beyond the speculative mania, something profound is taking place. It has created a new way for start-ups developing platforms based on blockchain and other technologies to raise money, using online crowdfunding techniques.”
  • “Networks such as IPFS are based on a vision of decentralized online services where ordinary users interact directly with each other, rather than through internet companies that set themselves up as gatekeepers to the online world. According to the enthusiasts, many of the most popular internet applications could be remade in this way, leaving the control — and the profits — in the hands of the users.”
  • “But there is another view that draws on a different aspect of internet investment history. ‘There’s a tendency to turn the brain off and jump in. It’s like Pets.com [which shut down in 2000],’ says Mark Williams, a lecturer in financial risk management at Boston University. The speculation is being fed by a hype that is as insidious as the dotcom craze of the late 1990s, he says: ‘People are treating it like a lottery ticket.’”
  • “The value of the best-known digital currency, bitcoin, has risen eightfold in the past year. That has led to a hunt for the next untapped markets, lifting the notional value of all cryptocurrencies to more than $130bn. With nothing more needed to launch a coin sale than a ‘white paper’ — the document that coin promoters use to lay out their grand plans — and the promise of some computer code, the steady flow of ICOs in the past year has turned into a flood.”
  • “The boom, which began in early summer, is already exhibiting many of the characteristics of other speculative crazes. New coins have proliferated: more than 150 token sales have been conducted or announced this year. CoinMarketCap lists prices for about 1,100 coins, with more than 120 ICOs planned before the end of September.
  • “Celebrity endorsements have followed. Paris Hilton used Twitter to boost LydianCoin, a currency for a mooted advertising market that its backers hope will raise $100m. Boxer Floyd Mayweather got there before her, using the run-up to his late August bout with Conor McGregor to promote the prediction market Stox.com and content marketplace Hubii Network.”
  • “Underpinning new blockchain-based networks such as IPFS are protocols, or rules, embedded in software that govern how participants interact. At least in theory, many of the interactions that happen online, such as those on social networks, ecommerce sites and search engines, could take place between willing users on decentralized networks.”
  • “What supporters see as a profound financial innovation, however, others warn can be an easy route to creating funny money. When buyers have been so willing to purchase currencies issued on nothing more than the promise of a future market, it’s not surprising that so many are trying to mint new ones.”
  • “Selling coins has another advantage that the ICOs are less keen to highlight: it exploits a regulatory loophole. By selling a currency rather than shares they stay outside the scope of securities regulation, removing any constraints on how they market their offerings.”
  • “Regulators are working on closing this loophole. The US Securities and Exchange Commission said in July that it had determined that many coins were in fact a type of security, and would look at the underlying nature of each ICO to determine whether they should be regulated as securities.”
  • “For their creators, ICOs have another obvious attraction. They have made it possible to raise far larger amounts than start-ups can usually tap, at least as long as enough investors can be persuaded to suspend their disbelief.”
  • Caveat emptor.

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – China exploits the vulnerability of open democracy – Jamil Anderlini 9/13

  • “Soft targets like New Zealand are testing grounds for Chinese global espionage.”

WSJ – The Life of a Contractor Worker Is a Grind of Snubs, Anxiety and Stagnation – Lauren Weber 9/13

Bloomberg Businessweek – Kim’s Nukes Aren’t a Bargaining Chip. They’re an Insurance Policy – Michael Shuman 9/7

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – US State Pension Burdens 9-14

Environment / Science

NYT – Cassini’s Mission to Saturn in 100 Images – Jonathan Corum 9/14

WEF – Business Insider – This map reveals that temperatures have risen in nearly every US state over the last century – Leanna Garfield 9/13

Agriculture 

Bloomberg Businessweek – This High-Tech Vertical Farm Promises Whole Foods Quality at Walmart Prices – Selina Wang 9/6

August 30, 2017

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Houston is on some the nation’s least absorbent soil 8/29

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – Harvey, the Storm That Humans Helped Cause – David Leonhardt 8/29

FT – A happier Japan is a concern for investors – Leo Lewis 8/28

  • “A record 74% of Japanese are satisfied with their lives, and, for the first time in two decades, a majority are content with their income, says a Cabinet Office survey.”
  • “The trouble with all this reported satisfaction, from a market point of view, is that it has happened too early.”
  • “One of the biggest fears is that a too-easily-pleased Japan will lose its hunger for serious reform and salary increases after a couple of years of superficial tinkering. That would undermine many of the big thematic investment cases that have been in place since 2013 — corporate governance reform, womenomics, unwinding of cross-shareholdings and inducing Japanese households to take more investment risk.”
  • On top of that Japanese corporates are basking in the limelight again. “The danger is that, in the glow of public satisfaction they are tending back to the investor-repellent habit of hoarding cash away from the pockets of both their shareholders and employees.”

FT – China’s tech groups are building too much power – Henny Sender 8/28

  • “There is no Silicon Valley comparison to the dominance of Alibaba and Tencent.”

Markets / Economy

FT – US home ownership fall hits young and minorities hardest – Lauren Leatherby 8/28

Energy

WSJ – Harvey’s Lessons for America’s Stretched Energy Infrastructure – Spencer Jakab 8/28

  • “For more than 40 years, the U.S. has worried about the security of its oil supply. Hurricane Harvey is another reminder that the infrastructure that processes and delivers oil is in many ways more important.”
  • “The U.S. has 141 operable oil refineries today, which is 79 fewer than 30 years ago. Those refineries have nearly 30% more capacity and are used much more heavily, about 90% on average over the past 12 months. The heaviest concentration is along the Gulf Coast where the industry has deep roots and has been allowed to expand. Harvey has temporarily knocked out about 15% of U.S. refining capacity.”

Finance

FT – Wall St’s top bankers sell own groups’ shares as Trump rally reverses – Ben McLannahan 8/27

  • “Wall Street analysts have been urging investors all year to buy stocks in the big US banks. But Wall Street itself is not listening.” 
  • “Executives and board members at the top six US banks have been consistent sellers of their own banks’ shares this year, according to an Financial Times analysis of disclosures tracked by Bloomberg.” 
  • “Insiders at the big six banks by assets — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley — have in total sold a net 9.32m shares on the open market since the turn of the year. Even excluding Warren Buffett’s big dumping of shares in Wells in April, to avoid tripping over rules capping ownership by a non-bank, sales by insiders outnumber purchases by about 14 to one.” 
  • “That is an unusually long streak of net sales, across each of the big six. Last year, for example, insiders at JPMorgan, Citigroup and Bank of America bought more shares than they sold.”

Environment / Science

FT – Blue dogs of Mumbai expose poor pollution controls – Simon Mundy 8/28

  • “Roaming packs of stray dogs are an established part of the landscape of Taloja, an industrial district to the north-east of Mumbai. But when a group of them turned blue this month, environmental activists sounded the alarm at this vivid evidence of industrial failure to adhere to proper standards of pollution control.”
  • Photo from National Geographic
  • “Investigation of the phenomenon by Mumbai’s pollution control board (MPCB) led it to a more prosaic explanation: the dogs had wandered into the grounds of a factory run by Ducol Organics, a local paint and plastic producer.”
  • “The outcry over the colored dogs reflects rising concerns about pollution in India. A study in February by the US-based research group Health Effects Institute found that India was poised to overtake China as the country with the most deaths caused by air pollution.” 
  • “A study this year by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai estimated premature deaths due to air pollution in Mumbai rose 62% to 32,014 between 1995 and 2015, outstripping the 41% population increase in the same period.”
  • “In New Delhi — which according to some estimates has the worst air of any major city in the world — the estimated death toll rose 147%, to 48,651.”

Economist – Louisiana fights the sea, and loses 8/26

  • “Between 1932 and 2010 the state [Louisiana] lost more than 1,800 square miles (470,000 hectares) of land to the sea, representing about 80% of America’s coastal erosion over the period. Recent losses have been especially severe because of an increase in big storms raging in from the Gulf of Mexico—such as Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, which led to the inundation of New Orleans and 1,836 deaths. Between 2004 and 2008 alone, Louisiana shrank by more than 300 square miles.”
  • For reference to the Hawaii readers, Oahu is 597 square miles and Maui is 727 square miles.
  • “According to a new report by RAND Corporation, a think-tank, infrastructure in the state worth up to $136bn could be threatened by land loss and increased storm damage, a related threat.”
  • “Starved of silt, and with less new organic matter to counteract its settling, coastal Louisiana is sinking back into its former watery state. Meanwhile, because of melting polar ice caps and thermal expansion, the sea level is rising. In the past decade the observed relative sea-level rise in coastal Louisiana—a figure that combines the effects of rising seas and subsiding land—was over a centimeter a year, or around four times the global average. The delta’s system of land creation has thus been thrown into reverse. In 1930, despite much engineering of the Mississippi’s channel, Louisiana was expanding by almost a square mile a year. Since then, an area the size of Delaware has been lost to the Gulf.”
  • One of the principal causes is due to the levees established by the Army Corps of Engineers along the Mississippi river to protect the flood basins back in the day. Trade-offs…
  • “The damaging effect of the levees was predicted. Weighing the benefits of engineering the Mississippi in 1897, a former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, E.L. Corthell, noted the need to take into account ‘withholding by the levees…of the annual contributions of sedimentary matters” and, because of this, ‘subsidence of the Gulf delta lands below the level of the sea and their gradual abandonment.’ But while he warned that “the present generation should not be selfish,’ Mr Corthell assumed the economic benefits of protecting the flood zone would ‘be so remarkable that people of the whole United States can well afford, when the time comes, to build a protective levee against the Gulf waters.’”
  • “That illustrates two related weaknesses in much environmental policymaking: an assumption that future politicians will take a longer-term view than current ones, and an excessive willingness to discount the future costs of solving environmental problems caused today… In any event, it is doubtful such a scheme would be affordable or otherwise practical, considering the effects of rising sea levels and fiercer storms, both consequences of global warming…”

Britain

WSJ – Daily Shot: Datastream – UK Household Savings Ratio 8/29

  • “UK’s households are struggling. With real wage growth in negative territory, the household savings ratio is collapsing.”

China

WSJ – Evergrande’s Ever More Risky Bet on Chinese Housing – Jacky Wong 8/28

FT – China orders videotaping of retail investment sales – Tom Mitchell 8/29

  • “China’s banking regulator has issued new rules requiring financial institutions to make video and audio recordings of all investment product sales, saying they were needed to ‘further regulate market order and protect customer rights’.” 
  • “The recordings will also help state-owned banks and the government fend off compensation demands from retail customers when their investments turn sour.” 
  • “’If investors make irrational choices after sales staff have clearly explained the risks, then they will have to accept the consequences,’ said Zhao Xijun, a finance professor at Renmin University in Beijing. ‘In the event there is a dispute, the recordings can be used as evidence’.” 
  • “The new surveillance rules issued by the China Banking Regulatory Commission require financial institutions to preserve the recordings for six months after the relevant investment product has expired. Banks are also not allowed to market investments to customers who refuse to be recorded.” 
  • “The value of outstanding [Wealth Management Products] WMPs has soared from Rmb4.6tn ($690bn) at the end of 2011 to Rmb29tn last year, according to data from Wind Information. But year-on-year growth moderated in 2016 to 23%, compared to a 56% increase in the value of outstanding WMPs in 2015.” 
  • “Data for the value of WMP products sold this year are not yet available. In volume terms, Chinese financial institutions sold 43% more WMP contracts through August 25 compared to the same period a year earlier.” 

FT – Huarong chief warns of bubble in China’s distressed debt market – Don Weinland 8/28

  • “Bubbles in credit and real estate have led to a steady flow of bad debt in China for years. But now a bubble is forming in the market for the bad loans themselves, says the chairman of China’s largest state-controlled ‘bad bank’.”
  • “Banks in China are dealing with an onslaught of non-performing loans that have resulted from poor risk controls and years of loose monetary policy. Investors estimate that China’s stock of bad debt has risen to $3tn this year, in step with a decelerating economy. One prominent analyst said recently that the figure could be as high as $6.8tn.”
  • “As the pool of bad assets rises, so too has the number of Chinese investors willing to chase after bad debt portfolios.”
  • “But many of the newcomers had little experience investing in distressed debt and were pushing up prices for the assets at auctions, said Lai Xiaomin, chairman of China Huarong Asset Management, and a deputy to the 12th National People’s Congress.”
  • “Inexperienced investors presented the risk of creating new losses while also failing to resolve troubled loans, he said.”
  • “China has experienced steady deregulation in how distressed debt is bought and sold since the industry was launched 18 years ago.”
  • “Huarong, along with three other centrally controlled asset managers, was created by the ministry of finance in 1999 to absorb perilously high levels of bad debt from China’s largest commercial banks. At the time, the government directed banks to transfer $1.4tn to the four groups.”
  • “Since then, the asset managers have greatly expanded their businesses in China and globally, operating more like investment banks than bad debt investors. Huarong went public in Hong Kong in late 2015.”

India

Economist – Undue reverence for company founders harms Indian firms 8/26

August 24, 2017

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Mutual Funds Mark Down Uber Investments by Up to 15% – Rolfe Winkler and Greg Bensinger 8/22

  • “Vanguard Group, Principal and Hartford Funds all marked down their shares by 15% to $41.46 a share for the quarter ended June 30, according to the fund companies’ latest disclosure documents. T. Rowe Price Group Inc. cut the estimated price of its Uber shares by about 12% to $42.70 for the same period.”
  • “Uber’s shares don’t trade publicly, so the mutual-fund companies that hold them must estimate the shares’ worth each quarter. Seven mutual-fund companies had mostly maintained a $48.77 share price since the fourth quarter of 2015, when Uber first sold its shares to investors at that price.”
  • “Fidelity Investments held its estimate of $48.77 as of June 30. The one outlier is BlackRock Inc., which wrote up the shares slightly each of the past two quarters, settling at $53.88 as of June 30.”
  • “At least seven mutual-fund companies own shares in Uber, several of them first buying in during a 2014 funding around at $15.51 a share. The price has roughly tripled since then through a series of funding rounds, but Uber hasn’t raised new capital since last year at the $48.77 price.”

Finance

WSJ – Think Rates Are Going Up? Banks Don’t – Rachel Louise Ensign 8/22

  • “After years of waiting for interest rates to rise, some banks are lending as if that day will never come, loading up on a record amount of loans and securities that carry low rates for long periods.”
  • “The percentage of bank assets that won’t mature or change rates for more than five years reached a new high in the second quarter, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp data released Tuesday. That means banks are allowing more borrowers to lock in low rates for long periods, a potential risk should rates move sharply higher.”
  • “Across all banks, the percentage of total assets that are at a fixed rate for more than five years was 27.5% in the second quarter of 2017, its highest since the FDIC started tracking it in 1984. The metric reached 33.7% in the second quarter at banks with $1 billion to $10 billion in assets.”
  • “Commercial real-estate loans made up 31.5% of assets at those midsize and smaller banks in the quarter, up from 25.7% in the second quarter of 2012. The figure is far lower at bigger banks, at 6.4%, and has remained steady in recent years.”
  • “The growth rate for commercial real-estate loans, now around 9%, has helped banks compensate for a slowdown in general business lending, much of which is floating rate, meaning the interest rates on the loans rise and fall with market rates.”

Environment / Science

NYT – Alaska’s Permafrost is Thawing – Henry Fountain 8/23

  • “Once this ancient organic material thaws, microbes convert some of it to carbon dioxide and methane, which can flow into the atmosphere and cause even more warming. Scientists have estimated that the process of permafrost thawing could contribute as much as 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit to global warming over the next several centuries, independent of what society does to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels and other activities.”

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