Tag: Europe

April 23, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

FT – Spanish now richer than Italians, IMF data show – Valentina Romei 4/19

  • “Spaniards have become richer than Italians — a heartening indication of Spain’s economic revival but a worrying sign for Italy, the eurozone’s third-largest economy, which is stuck in political gridlock.”
  • “Spain’s per capita gross domestic product exceeded that of Italy in 2017, according to IMF data published this week that compare countries on a so-called ‘purchasing power parity’ basis. The IMF also forecast that Spain would become 7% richer than Italy over the next five years. A decade ago Italy was 10% richer on the same basis.”
  • “By 2023 some former Soviet bloc countries, including Slovakia and the Czech Republic, are also expected to become richer than Italy on a per capita basis, the IMF forecasts show.”
  • “Italy’s stagnation is one of the main causes of the country’s increasingly bitter political divisions, with the electorate losing faith in the ability of its traditional parties to create jobs and restore growth. Anti-establishment and protest parties emerged as the big winners of Italy’s inconclusive general election last month, where voters deserted more moderate center-left and center-right forces.”
  • “Italy’s underperformance — and in particular any threat to its ability to service its debt, the largest in the eurozone after Greece’s relative to the size of the economy — is also seen as one of the biggest risks for the single-currency area.”
  • “The fact that Spain has overtaken Italy owes more to Italy’s problems than Spain’s economic progress, which has only recently gathered pace.”
  • “At the end of the 1990s, Italy — which now has almost 15m more people than Spain — had an economy twice as large as that of Spain. It is now only 50% larger and the difference is expected to shrink even further in the next five years.”
  • “Back in 1997, Italy was the 18th richest economy on a per capita basis among the countries for which the IMF has a complete data set. After 10 years, its ranking dropped 10 positions — and it has now slipped five more positions in the decade to 2017.”
  • “By 2023 Italy is expected to be only the 37th richest country on a per capita basis.”

Perspective

FT – Young buyers are being priced out of global city property – George Hammond 4/18

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg View – Mexico Didn’t Hit the Jackpot With Nafta – Justin Fox 4/18

FT – The quiet revolution: China’s millennial backlash – Yuan Yang 4/17

WSJ – Chines Banks Find Another Funding Wheeze – Andrew Peaple 4/20

  • “Pressure from regulators means it’s been getting harder for the country’s banks to get enough money.”

WP – Trump lied to me about his wealth to get onto the Forbes 400. Here are the tapes. – Jonathan Greenberg 4/20

WP – The staggering environmental footprint of all the food that we just throw in the trash – Chris Mooney 4/18

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Morgan Stanley Research – Country Inflation Targets and Actuals 4/20

WSJ – Daily Shot: @Not_Jim_Cramer – Major Central Bank Balance Sheets 4/20

WSJ – Daily Shot: IMF – Global Debt to GDP 4/20

Real Estate

John Burns RE Consulting – Challenges Mount for First-Time Buyers – Devyn Bachman 4/20

WSJ – Rising Sea Levels Reshape Miami’s Housing Market – Laura Kusisto and Arian Campo-Flores 4/20

Energy

FT – Major dilemma: oil companies hedge bets on low-carbon future – Andrew Ward and Leslie Hook 4/17

  • For the world to attain lower carbon dioxide emissions, the oil majors will need to be leaders in this initiative. They’ve taken on the charge to some degree committing larger sums to renewable energy sources; however, it’s hard when they’re so good at making money with carbon dioxide emitting sources.

Finance

FT – Sovereign wealth fund assets ‘could reach $15tn in two years’ – Chris Flood 4/20

  • “Assets managed by SWFs globally reached $7.45tn spread across 78 funds as at March 2018, an increase of $866bn, or 13%, over the past 12 months, according to data provider Preqin.”  
  • “A recovery in oil prices and strong gains for equity markets drove the increase in assets, which will come as welcome news to investment managers as SWFs are among their most prestigious clients. SWFs pulled about $85bn from asset managers over the 24 months ending on December 16 as low oil prices forced governments in the Middle East to raid these rainy-day funds to prop up public spending.”

Environment / Science

Visual Capitalist – Visualizing the Prolific Plastic Problem in Our Oceans – Nick Routley 4/21

China

FT – Tencent and JD.com lead $437m investment in LeEco unit – Emily Feng 4/18

India

Hindustan Times – Cash crunch at ATMs could be the after-effects of demonetization – Roshan Kishore 4/18

  • “Analysis suggests shortage of cash in ATMs could be a result of persistence of tightness in overall money supply after demonetization.”

NYT – India’s A.T.M.s Are Running Out of Cash. Again. – Hari Kumar and Vindu Goel 4/20

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March 20, 2018

Perspective

NYT – Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys – Emily Badger, Claire Cain Miller, Adam Pearce and Kevin Quealy 3/19

  • Check the link for some very insightful interactive graphics.
  • “Black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds, according to a sweeping new study that traced the lives of millions of children.”
  • “White boys who grow up rich are likely to remain that way. Black boys raised at the top, however, are more likely to become poor than to stay wealthy in their own adult households.”
  • “Most white boys raised in wealthy families will stay rich or upper middle class as adults, but black boys raised in similarly rich households will not.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Pew – How Millennials today compare with their grandparents 50 years ago – Richard Fry, Ruth Igielnik and Eileen Patten 3/16

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Accidental Career Guidance – Ben Carlson 3/18

Fortune – Mapping The Best (100) Companies 3/1

  • Interactive map

FT – Italian election results expose eurozone inadequacy – Martin Wolf 3/13

  • “Until prosperity is better distributed, Europe will remain vulnerable to upheaval.”

WSJ – A Decade After Bear’s Collapse, the Seeds of Instability Are Germinating Again – Greg Ip 3/14

  • “…Hyun Song Shin, research chief at the Bank for International Settlements, warned in a 2014 speech against the tendency to ‘focus on known past weaknesses rather than asking where the new dangers are.’ Banks may be stronger than a decade ago, but the financial system hasn’t returned to its pre-1980 repressed state.”
  • “Mr. Shin pointed out that bond markets are growing at the expense of banks in supplying credit, enabling business and government debt loads in many countries to surpass their pre-crisis peaks. Emerging markets have borrowed heavily in dollars, which leaves them vulnerable should the dollar’s value rise sharply. Before the crisis, 80% of investment-grade corporate debt world-wide yielded more than 4%; as of last October, less than 5% did, according to the International Monetary Fund.
  • “Total U.S. debt, at around 250% of GDP, still stands at crisis-era peaks while debt levels in China have caught up and passed the U.S., according to the BIS. U.S. companies’ debts had reached 34% of assets by the end of 2016, the highest at least since 2000. Debt-servicing burdens haven’t risen commensurately thanks to low inflation and low rates, but they have begun climbing. More than $1 trillion a year still flows into emerging markets each year, according to the Institute of International Finance.”
  • “This tells us little about when or where a crisis will happen or what may trigger it. Crises surprise because they usually start with an assumption so sensible that everyone acts on it, planting the seeds of its own undoing: in 1982 that countries like Mexico don’t default; in 1997 that Asia’s fixed exchange rates wouldn’t break; in 2007 that housing prices never declined nationwide; and in 2011 that euro members wouldn’t default. James Bianco, who runs his own financial research firm in Chicago, speculates that the equivalent today might be, ‘We will never see higher inflation or higher growth.’ If either in fact occurs, the low interest rates that have raised household stock and property wealth to an all-time high relative to disposable income won’t be sustainable.”
  • “Mr. Rogoff (Kenneth Rogoff, Harvard University economist) concurs: ‘It’s much harder to get a crisis when you can borrow for virtually nothing and keep rolling it over.’ A 1.5 to 2 percentage point increase in real interest rates, which he isn’t forecasting, would be small by historical standards but could potentially make the debts of Italy or Portugal unsustainable.”
  • “Central banks know this, of course, which is one reason they are wary of raising interest rates too quickly—while nervous that if they raise them too slowly, the problem will get worse.”

Markets / Economy

Fortune – These Are the Countries That Have Grown the Most in the Last Year – Nicolas Rapp and Anne Vandermey 2/23

Fortune – Here Are the 26 Big U.S. Companies With the Most Cash Stashed Overseas – Nicolas Rapp and Brian O’Keefe 2/22

Wolf Street – US Gross National Debt Spikes $1.2 Trillion in 6 Months, Hits $21 Trillion – Rolf Richter 3/16

Energy

FT – Saudi Arabia’s existential crisis returns as US shale booms anew – Anjli Raval 3/18

  • “Nearly 4m barrels a day of US crude is expected to hit export markets by the mid-2020s, up from just over 1m b/d in 2017, meaning it will ship similar levels to Iraq and Canada, according to consultancy Wood Mackenzie. The industry is debating whether the world will be able to absorb these volumes and how global crude flows will redirect.”
  • “China surpassed the UK and the Netherlands to become the second-largest destination for US crude oil exports in 2017, accounting for a fifth of the 527,000 b/d total year-over-year increase in foreign sales. Chinese refiners say the trend will continue as Beijing seeks to partially address US president Donald Trump’s complaints about the trade deficit between the two countries.”
  • “The International Energy Agency forecasts that the US will cover most of the world’s demand growth over the next three years. As US supply surges, the world’s need for Opec’s crude is forecast to fall below current production rates in 2019 and 2020.”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: US 3-Month LIBOR 3/18

  • “The US 3-month LIBOR reached 2.2% for the first time in nine years.”

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

ars Technica – Ether plunges after SEC says “dozens” of ICO investigations underway – Timothy B. Lee 3/18

  • “The price of ether, the cryptocurrency of the Ethereum network, has fallen below $500 for the first time this year. The decline comes days after a senior official from the Securities and Exchange Commission acknowledged that the agency had ‘dozens’ of open investigations into initial coin offerings. The price of ether has fallen 19 percent in the last 24 hours, from $580 to $470.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 3/18

Automotive

FT – Carmakers take electric fight to the factory floor – Patrick McGee 3/18

China

FT – Africa eats up lion’s share of Chinese lending – James Kynge 3/10

  • “Africa attracted more Chinese state lending for energy infrastructure than any other region last year, highlighting Beijing’s view of the continent’s growing economic and strategic importance.”
  • “A study by Boston University academics shows that nearly one-third, or $6.8bn, of the $25.6bn that China’s state-owned development banks lent last year to energy projects worldwide went to African countries. This was ahead of south Asia, with $5.84bn.”
  • “The loans bring total Chinese energy finance in Africa since 2000 to $34.8bn. While this is well behind the $69bn lent in Europe and Central Asia, the $62bn in Latin America and the $60bn in Asia over the same period, the 2017 data illustrate Africa’s growing importance.” 

New Zealand

FT – Fonterra’s second China foray comes under scrutiny – Jamie Smyth and Tom Hancock 3/7

  • “New Zealand dairy co-operative’s farmers seek answers after Beingmate tie-up sours.”

December 13, 2017

Perspective

Bloomberg Businessweek – The Bitcoin Whales: 1,000 People Who Own 40 Percent of the Market – Olga Kharif 12/8

  • “Among the coins people invest in, bitcoin has the least concentrated ownership, says Spencer Bogart, managing director and head of research at Blockchain Capital. The top 100 bitcoin addresses control 17.3% of all the issued currency, according to Alex Sunnarborg, co-founder of crypto hedge fund Tetras Capital. With ether, a rival to bitcoin, the top 100 addresses control 40% of the supply, and with coins such as Gnosis, Qtum, and Storj, top holders control more than 90%. Many large owners are part of the teams running these projects.”

WEF – This is every US state’s biggest trading partner – Andy Kiersz 11/16

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg Businessweek – What Happens When the Government Uses Facebook as a Weapon? – Lauren Etter 12/7

  • “Internet.org was just one part of a decade-long campaign of global expansion for Facebook. In countries such as the Philippines, the efforts have been so successful that the company is able to tout to its advertisers that its network is, for many people, the only version of the internet they know. Repressive governments originally treated Facebook, and all social media, with suspicion—they saw how it could serve as a locus for dissidents, as it had in the Arab Spring in 2011. But authoritarian regimes are now embracing social media, shaping the platforms into a tool to wage war against a wide range of opponents—opposition parties, human-rights activists, minority populations, journalists.”
  • Maria Ressa, co-founder of the country’s leading online news site “recalled that she started as a journalist in the Philippines in 1986, the year of the People Power Revolution, an uprising that ultimately led to the departure of Ferdinand Marcos and the move from authoritarian rule to democracy. Now she’s worried that the pendulum is swinging back and that Facebook is hastening the trend. ‘They haven’t done anything to deal with the fundamental problem, which is they’re allowing lies to be treated the same way as truth and spreading it,’ she says. ‘Either they’re negligent or they’re complicit in state-sponsored hate’.”

Bloomberg Businessweek – Millions Are Hounded for Debt They Don’t Owe. One Victim Fought Back, With a Vengeance – Zeke Faux 12/6

  • “The concept is centuries old: Inmates of a New York debtors’ prison joked about it as early as 1800, in a newspaper they published called Forlorn Hope. But systematic schemes to collect on fake debts started only about five years ago. It begins when someone scoops up troves of personal information that are available cheaply online—old loan applications, long-expired obligations, data from hacked accounts—and reformats it to look like a list of debts. Then they make deals with unscrupulous collectors who will demand repayment of the fictitious bills. Their targets are often poor and likely to already be getting confusing calls about other loans. The harassment usually doesn’t work, but some marks are convinced that because the collectors know so much, the debt must be real.”
  • Americans are currently late on more than $600 billion in bills, according to Federal Reserve research, and almost one person in 10 has a debt in collectors’ hands. The agencies recoup what they can and sell the rest down-market, so that iffier and iffier debt is bought by shadier and shadier individuals. Deception is common. Scammers often sell the same portfolios of debt, called ‘paper,’ to several collection agencies at once, so a legitimate IOU gains illegitimate clones. Some inflate balances, a practice known as ‘overbiffing.’ Others create ‘redo’ lists—people who’ve settled their debt, but will be harassed again anyway. These rosters are actually more valuable, because the targets have proved willing to part with money over the phone. And then there are those who invent debts out of whole cloth.”

The Guardian – Former Facebook executive: social media is ripping society apart – Julia Carrie Wong 12/11

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg – Prime-age male labor-force participation 12/11

Real Estate

FT – New Zealand looks to ban foreigners from buying houses – Jamie Smyth 12/9

FT – Unibail-Rodamco sees 100m annual synergies in $24.7bn Westfield takeover – Jamie Smyth 12/11

FT – Hong Kong investors go defensive in $3bn property auction – Henny Sender 12/11

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 12/11

  • “Bitcoin’s volatility is on the rise as the cryptocurrency hit new highs.”

Health / Medicine

NYT – A Nasty, Nafta-Related Surprise: Mexico’s Soaring Obesity – Andrew Jacobs and Matt Richtel 12/11

  • “Mexico began lifting tariffs and allowing more foreign investment in the 1980s, a transition to free trade given an exclamation point in 1994, when Mexico, the United States and Canada enacted the North American Free Trade Agreement. Opponents in Mexico warned that the country would lose its cultural and economic independence.”
  • “But few critics predicted it would transform the Mexican diet and food ecosystem to increasingly mirror those of the United States. In 1980, 7% of Mexicans were obese, a figure that tripled to 20.3% by 2016, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. Diabetes is now Mexico’s top killer, claiming 80,000 lives a year, the World Health Organization has reported.”

China

WSJ – China’s Clean Energy Future Has a $1.2 Trillion Problem – Nathaniel Taplin 12/11

  • “China’s enormous coal-power debt overhang limits its ability to shift rapidly to cleaner fuels.”

Europe

WEF – Which countries feel they’ve benefitted from the EU? – Niall McCarthy 11/6

Other Interesting Links

Bloomberg Businessweek – This Crowdfunding Site Runs on Hate – Adam Popescu 12/4

September 7, 2017

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: WEF – National per capita GDP without capital cities 9/5

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – Workers: Fear Not the Robot Apocalypse – Greg Ip 9/5

FT – Will stability become the new watchword for the oil market? – Anjli Raval 9/5

  • “The oil world is divided into two camps.”
  • “There are those who believe the crude price will eventually spike higher, repeating the boom-bust pattern that has defined the market for more than a century. Lined up against them are those betting prices will defy history, staying low and rangebound.”
  • “Complicating the debate is that it hinges on a US shale industry that is barely a decade old and accounts for little more than 5% of global supplies. Can it really eliminate the risk of a price spike by growing fast enough to meet forecasts for rising demand?”
  • “Of total global production at about 98m barrels a day, US crude output makes up 9.2m b/d with the country’s fast-growing shale segment comprising just 5.6m b/d, energy data show “
  • “The mismatch is why drastic cuts to investment in future production have forced global energy bodies and exporter countries, such as Opec’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia, to warn of a looming supply gap.”
  • “Historically about 15bn barrels of new supplies from conventional resources are approved for development each year, the International Energy Agency says. This fell to 8bn in 2015 and 5.5bn in 2016. Despite a rise to 8bn-9bn barrels this year, the IEA expects that global oil supply will still struggle to keep pace with demand after 2020.”
  • “Global oil consumption is expected to grow on average by 1.2m b/d each year to 2022. The IEA’s forecasts also account for unconventional supplies as well as declining output rates from existing fields.”
  • “Tim Gould, the IEA’s long-term supply analyst, accepts that US shale supply could increase ‘significantly’ from today’s levels. ‘But after that, large scale increases will be difficult to achieve. There is less of a chance that it can ramp up to fill any gap.'”
  • “Proponents of this view, including hedge fund manager Pierre Andurand, say oil will return to $100 a barrel.”
  • “But those confident the price will stay rangebound are not convinced. The fear — or hope — of an emerging supply gap is exaggerated, they say, and fails to acknowledge shale supply as a transformational force.”
  • “’The oil market is indeed the most competitive it has ever been,’ said Ed Morse at Citigroup, who argues that US shale has broken the historically oligopolistic market structure.”
  • “Rather than Opec’s production determining market balances, US shale is the new source of responsive supply. Mr. Morse argues the shale deniers are underestimating its prowess, from the geology to the technology allowing this oil to be unlocked.”
  • “’There is just an unwillingness to understand shale. It’s a world that many still find alien,’ said Mr. Morse, who believes $45-$65 oil is likely to persist for years.”
  • “Those pushing the lower-for-longer — and maybe forever — thesis also question the willingness of Opec producers and their allies to maintain supply curbs as production from the US to Canada’s oil sands and Brazil’s deepwater fields thrives.”
  • “Unquestionably, US shale’s resilience has enabled it to surpass even the most bullish expectations. But Bob McNally at consultancy Rapidan Group said the industry had yet to prove itself as a ‘swing producer’, able to put a floor as well as a ceiling on prices. Volatility, he said, is the only certainty.”
  • “Perpetual $50-$60 is as wrong now as endless $100 was four years ago.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: The 12 Most Expensive Rental Markets 9/5

Australia

Economist – How Australia broke the record for economic growth – E.A.D.W. 9/6

  • “The last time Australia suffered a recession the web browser had just been invented and Bryan Adams topped the charts. Figures released today will show that its economy has racked up the longest stretch of growth in modern history: 104 quarters. The Netherlands, the previous title-holder, dipped into recession—defined as two consecutive quarters of contraction—after 103. In these 26 years, Australia has navigated the Asian financial crisis, the collapse of the dotcom bubble and the Great Recession, largely without scars. Its once-in-a-generation mining boom ended in 2014. Yet it has managed to avoid a bust…”
  • “The luck seems set to continue. The central bank predicts that GDP growth will pick up to about 3% in the next couple of years. But families have reason to feel less optimistic. Unemployment rates have flat-lined above their equivalents in America, Britain and Japan. Underemployment (the number of people who would like more work) is close to record highs. Rising national income is not trickling down to workers: wage growth has fallen to about 1.9%, its slowest pace since the last recession. This is all the more uncomfortable because household debt has ballooned. Its ratio to GDP is close to 190%, one of the highest in the world. If the central bank raises interest rates, many families will have difficulties repaying their mortgages. For now, it is likely to do nothing—and the growth will go on.”

Europe

FT – Polish president warns ‘multi-speed’ EU will collapse – James Shotter and Jim Brunsden 9/5

  • “Andrzej Duda says bloc would lose attractiveness for countries deemed ‘second class.'”

South America

NYT – Brazilian Corruption Case Ensnares Ex-Presidents da Silva and Rousseff – Shasta Darlington and Ernesto Londono 9/5

  • “Brazil’s attorney general on Tuesday charged former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva; his successor, Dilma Rousseff; and several other senior figures of the Workers’ Party with running a ‘criminal organization’ that raked in hundreds of millions in bribes during the party’s nearly 14-year reign.”
  • “The attorney general, Rodrigo Janot, whose term ends this month, described the governments of Mr. da Silva and Ms. Rousseff as essentially fronts for a criminal enterprise through which senior politicians collected roughly $450 million from entities that included the state-run oil company Petrobras and the Brazilian National Development Bank. In addition to his conviction, Mr. da Silva has been charged in several other cases in which he stands accused of accepting bribes of relatively modest sums.”
  • “But the 230-page charge sheet released Tuesday puts him at the center of a huge conspiracy. Mr. Janot wrote that the allegations should not be seen as a sign that the judiciary was ‘criminalizing politics’ or routine ‘political negotiations,’ but rather as a record of a ruling elite that systematically used public money to ‘buy popular support.’”

August 28, 2017

Perspective

VC – The World’s 50 Most Valuable Sports Teams – Jeff Desjardins 8/24

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg View – Millennials Are Driving the Suburban Resurgence – Justin Fox, Conor Sen, Noah Smith 8/25

Real Estate

The Real Deal – Treasury Department finally adds teeth to LLC disclosure rule – E.B. Solomont 8/22

  • “The Treasury Department closed a gaping loophole in its effort to crack down on money laundering in real estate on Tuesday, extending its LLC disclosure rules to deals that involve wire transfers.”
  • “In a revised geographic targeting order (GTO), Treasury officials said wire transfers would now be subject to regulations that require title insurance companies to disclose the identity of buyers who purchase luxury real estate through LLCs.”
  • “The revised GTO — which covers deals in New York City, Florida, California, and Texas — was also extended to transactions in Honolulu, Hawaii.”
  • “On Tuesday, FinCEN also published an eight-page advisory for financial institutions, alerting them to money-laundering risks associated with real estate. ‘Many real estate transactions involve high-value assets, opaque entities, and processes that can limit transparency because of their complexity and diversity,’ said the advisory, which cited the 1MDB fund scandal, in which embezzled funds out of Malaysia paid for luxury real estate in Beverly Hills and New York, including the Park Lane Hotel.”
  • “’In addition, the real estate market can be an attractive vehicle for laundering illicit gains because of the manner in which it appreciates in value, ‘cleans’ large sums of money in a single transaction, and shields ill-gotten gains from market instability and exchange-rate fluctuations,’ the advisory said.”
  • “The Treasury Department initially launched the LLC disclosure rule in March 2016 in an attempt to crack down on the flow of illicit funds. Since then, FinCEN has renewed the regulation twice, most recently in February. Since July 2016, the rule has covered deals in all five boroughs of New York City; Miami, Broward and Palm Beach counties in Florida; Los Angeles; San Francisco; San Diego; and San Antonio, Texas.  The rule applies to cash deals above $3 million in Manhattan and $1.5 million in the other boroughs.”

China

Bloomberg Businessweek – China’s Grocery Trolls Make Giant Piggy Banks of Wal-Mart and Carrefour – Rachel Chang and Mengchen Lu

  • In late 2015 China updated its Food Safety Law. “The new version removed a clause in the previous law that said victims must prove personal injury or loss to be eligible for compensation. The change has spawned a cottage industry of professional complainers who’ve developed sophisticated operations to challenge food manufacturers and retailers for compensation.”
  • “A Beijing court said 80 percent of the food safety-related cases in 2015 were filed by individuals who specialize in finding flaws. ‘They are the No. 1 problem supermarkets in China are facing now,’ says Chu Dong, vice chairman of the China Chainstore & Franchise Association, an industry group. ‘They are harming not just the retail industry but placing a heavy burden on regulatory and judicial authorities in China and betraying the spirit of the law.’”
  • “Professional complainers are a mainstay on the mainland because the nation’s laws guarantee aggrieved buyers a unique degree of protection and compensation. A different statute granting compensation of three times the purchase price to those who buy counterfeit or damaged goods has given rise to professional ‘fraudbusters’ who scour store shelves on the lookout for fakes. Their ranks swelled tenfold after the more generous food safety law came into effect, says Shandong native Wang Hai, who prefers to be called a ‘food safety informer.’ Pending cases he’s filed include complaints about fake alcohol and beef from steroid-injected cattle smuggled from overseas.”
  • “On the plus side, these folks help police the system. The negative is that there is also a good deal of gaming the system.”
  • “Wal-Mart, one of the leading Western supermarket chains in China, received almost 4,000 food safety complaints last year, compared with about 700 the year before the revised law took effect, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the information hasn’t been disclosed publicly.”

Europe

NYT – Wine War in Southern France Has Streets Running Red – Liz Alderman 8/25

  • Wine makers in the Languedoc region in France are taking matters into their own hands to keep Spanish wines from undercutting their pricing and production.

August 25, 2017

Perspective

FT – The great Silicon Valley land grab – Richard Waters 8/23

KFF.org – Medicaid and the Opioid Epidemic – Katherine Young and Julia Zur 7/14

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

MarketWatch – Retailers aren’t hurting because people are buying ‘experiences’ instead of stuff – Rex Nutting 8/22

  • “The brick-and-mortar retail industry is in crisis. For many old-line retailers, sales and market share are plunging fast. The most obvious explanation for their distress is the rise of online shopping, but some analysts mistakenly point to another trend: ‘Shoppers are choosing experiences over stuff, and that’s bad news for retailers.’”
  • “Instead of purchasing a couch, we’re going to Paris! Or maybe buying avocado toast.”
  • “The reality is more mundane: We are spending a smaller portion of our budget at the mall, but the money we’re saving is mostly going for the most expensive health care in the universe.”
  • “If you’ve heard these stories about the shift away from material things and toward experiences, you might be shocked to learn that retail spending hit a record $1.4 trillion in the second quarter. Retail spending has increased in 30 of the past 33 quarters. We still love to buy stuff.”
  • “The problem for retailers is that prices are falling for many retail goods such as clothing, electronics, appliances, furniture, tools, luggage, toys and many other things. That is killing the bottom line for traditional retailers, who get less revenue per unit sale but still have to pay the fixed costs of rent and payroll.”
  • “For consumers, on the other hand, falling prices are a godsend, because we can buy even more stuff and still have some money left over to spend on other things.”
  • “It would be great if we really could afford to shift our spending from the boring things we need to the fun things we want, but in reality most of the money we are saving due to cheaper clothes and cheaper gasoline is going for goods and services that no one would call fun: hospital bills, financial services, rent, and prescription drugs.”
  • “Over the past 20 years, there has been a revolution in our spending patterns. Since 1997, Americans have shifted a significant portion of their spending from physical things like autos, clothing and petroleum to services like health care, rent and internet access.”
  • “At the margin, we are spending a little bit more on having fun than we did 20 years ago, but most of our money still goes for necessities, not experiences.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Global Economics Grow in Sync – Josh Zumbrun 8/23

  • “For the first time in a decade, the world’s major economies are growing in sync, a result of lingering low-interest-rate stimulus from central banks and the gradual fading of crises that over years ricocheted from the U.S. to Greece, Brazil and beyond.”
  • “All 45 countries tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are on track to grow this year, and 33 of them are poised to accelerate from a year ago, according to the OECD. It is the first time since 2007 that all are growing and the most countries in acceleration since 2010, when many nations enjoyed a fleeting snapback from the global financial crisis.”
  • “In the past 50 years, simultaneous growth among all the OECD-tracked countries has been rare. In addition to happening last decade, it has only happened in the late 1980s, and for a few years before the 1973 oil crisis.”

Finance

FT – What happened to the ‘too big to fail’ banks? – Patrick Jenkins and Ian Bott 8/23

China

FT – Back to the future for China tycoon sweepstakes – Gabriel Wildau 8/23

  • “To be a Chinese tycoon these days is to live with uncertainty: while some see their wealth and status rise meteorically, others fall out of favor with Beijing — with serious consequences for their wealth and freedom.”
  • “Led by chairman Hui Ka-yan, Shenzhen-based Evergrande has seen its share price almost quadruple this year. Shares in Sunac China, led by Sun Hongbin, have nearly tripled. The price rises have catapulted both up the ranks of China’s rich list.”
  • “By contrast, last year’s upwardly mobile tycoons, Wu Xiaohui of Anbang Insurance and Wang Jianlin of Dalian Wanda, who seemed to represent China’s future as a global investor as they snapped up foreign real estate and entertainment assets, are on the defensive.”
  • “’If you look at Sun Hongbin, he sells bonds offshore and brings the money onshore to build houses. It’s different from Wanda, which borrows from banks onshore to invest offshore. That’s much more sensitive,’ said Yang Guoying, researcher at China Financial Think Tank and a popular commentator on Weibo.”
  • “Offshore investors have a strong appetite for Evergrande’s high-yield debt, despite persistent warnings from analysts and short sellers that the group is highly leveraged. It is a high-risk bet that keeps paying off.”
  • “Evergrande’s net debt of $48bn at the end of last year was the highest among Chinese listed developers, according to data from Thomson Reuters.” 
  • “Tianjin-based Sunac ranked eighth with $8.8bn, and that was before its recent, largely debt-financed deal to buy 13 theme parks from Wanda for $6.5bn. Sunac has spent more than $17.5bn on acquisitions since the start of 2016, according to Dealogic.”
  • “’All these big private enterprises have something in common, which is that they’ve grown very big, very fast, and they’ve done it through debt sales and bank loans,’ said Ai Tangming, chief economics columnist for Sina Finance, a major domestic news website. ‘But Evergrande and Sunac have handled their government relations extremely well, and it’s paying off.’”

Europe

WSJ – Daily Shot: Euro Area GDP 8/24

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.”

July 7, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

FT – Japan suffers record decline in population – Robin Harding 7/5

  • “Japan’s native population fell by a record amount in 2016, but a jump in the number of foreign residents limited the overall annual decline.”
  • “According to the Internal Affairs Ministry, the number of Japanese fell 308,084 to 125.6m, reflecting decades of low birth rates and population ageing.”
  • “That was offset by a 7% increase in the foreign resident population to 2.3m — a rise of 148,959 people — as increasing labor shortages led to inflows of students and guest workers.”
  • “The figures reflect a fundamental question for Japan in the years ahead: whether it will allow immigration to sustain its overall population or accept a decline to preserve ethnic homogeneity.”
  • “For the first time since the survey began in 1979, the number of annual births fell below 1m, with 981,202 babies born in 2016. Deaths reached a high of 1.3m.”
  • “According to projections from the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, the pace of decline will rise every year until 2045, by which time Japan will be losing about 900,000 residents a year — equivalent to a city the size of Austin, Texas.”
  • “Given many years of low birth rates, there is no quick way to reverse that decline, so the only alternative is immigration.”
  • “Japan’s population continued to shift towards big cities and Tokyo in particular. The population of the capital rose by 115,000 to 13.5m, an increase of 0.9%, while the surrounding prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa also gained residents.”
  • “But population decline accelerated in isolated rural areas, with Aomori, Akita and Kochi prefectures all losing more than 1% of their residents.”

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: BAML – S&P 500 Market Ownership – Vanguard 7/6

FT – US raises spectre of military action to deal with North Korea – Bryan Harris, Demetri Sevastopulo, and Katrina Manson 7/5

  • “Self-restraint, which is a choice, is all that separates armistice and war. As this alliance missile live-fire shows, we are able to change our choice when so ordered by our alliance national leaders.”

Bloomberg – A Quarter of Euro Area’s Unemployed Resides in Spain – Jana Randow 7/4

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – CEO-Worker Pay Ratio Generates Outrage-And Some Insight – Stephen Wilmot 7/6

FT – Lex in-depth: Together in electric dreams – Tom Braithwaite 7/6

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Haver Analytics & Renaissance Macro Research – American Auto Preference 7/6

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Statistics Canada – Real Estate Transaction Costs as Percentage of GDP 7/6

WSJ – Condo Supply Swells in Manhattan – Josh Barbanel 7/6

China

WSJ – Reality Bytes: A Highflying Tech Entrepreneur Crashes Back to Earth – Li Yuan 7/6

  • “Rather than being a shining star of visionary entrepreneurship, LeEco is turning into a cautionary tale of the hype surrounding China tech. The lesson for investors: When it comes to Chinese tech companies, the rules of economics still apply.”

Europe

WSJ – Italy Formally Takes Control of Monte dei Paschi – Deborah Ball 7/5

  • “The Italian government took control of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena on Tuesday, injecting €5.4 billion ($6.1 billion) into the troubled lender as part of a broad plan to bring one of Europe’s weakest banks back to health.”
  • “The state recapitalization is the centerpiece of a deep overhaul of Monte dei Paschi, Italy’s fourth-largest lender, that will also include the transfer of the bank’s €28.6 billion in bad loans to a special vehicle, a cap on remuneration of its top executives and deep cuts in personnel.”
  • “The bank, which is the world’s oldest, gave details of its plan Wednesday in a presentation to analysts, which include the closure of 600 branches and 5,500 job cuts, bringing its total job count to about 20,000 by 2021.”
  • “Under pressure from the European Central Bank, which is pushing European banks to address the problem of bad loans, Italian banks have stepped up efforts to sell and liquidate sour debt, with tens of billions of such loans earmarked for disposal.”
  • “Nonetheless, the Italian banking system is among the weakest in Europe, with about €200 billion in bad loans. The banks have suffered from a combination of poor management, low interest rates, poor profitability and economic growth that has been the weakest in the region for years.”
  • “Italy’s banking woes remain a serious impediment to a stronger recovery in the country, which isn’t enjoying the rebound other European countries have seen. Italy’s economy is expected to grow about 1% this year, slightly more than half the rate for the eurozone as a whole.”