Tag: HNA Group

April 19, 2018

Markets / Economy

FT – IMF sounds alarm on excessive global borrowing – Chris Giles 4/18

  • “The world’s $164tn debt pile is bigger than at the height of the financial crisis a decade ago, the IMF has warned, sounding the alarm on excessive global borrowing.”
  • “The fund said the private and public sectors urgently needed to cut debt levels to improve the resilience of the global economy and provide greater firefighting capability if things went wrong.”
  • “Worldwide borrowing is more than twice the size of the value of goods and services produced every year and at 225%t of global gross domestic product, is 12 percentage points higher than during the peak of the previous financial crisis in 2009.”
  • “Half of the $164tn was accounted for by three countries: the US, Japan and China. The latter’s borrowing surged from $1.7tn in 2001 to $25.5tn in 2016, accounting for three-quarters of the increase in private sector debt in the past decade.”
  • “With the global economy expanding strongly, it recommended that countries such as the US stop using lower taxes or higher public spending to stimulate growth and instead try to reduce the burden of public sector debts so that countries have more leeway to act in the next recession.”
  • “The outliers were Germany and the Netherlands, which the IMF said had ‘ample fiscal space’ to boost public investment in infrastructure and enhance the long-term resilience of their economies.”

Real Estate

WSJ – South Korean Investors Pile Into U.S. Commercial Property Debt – Esther Fung and Kwanwoo Jun 4/17

  • “In all, investors based in South Korea accounted for 21% of foreign investment in U.S. real-estate debt as of mid-April, the largest proportion among foreign investors, according to data firm Preqin. Canada and Australia are second and third place, at 12% and 11%, respectively. Global fundraising for U.S.-focused real-estate debt reached $17.8 billion in 2017, up from $10.8 billion in 2016, Preqin said.”

Bloomberg – The Retail Real Estate Glut Is Getting Worse – Noah Buhayar and Lauren Coleman-Lochner 4/17

  • “At last count, U.S. store closures announced this year reached a staggering 77 million square feet, according to data on national and regional chains compiled by CoStar Group Inc. That means retailers are well on their way to surpassing the record 105 million square feet announced for closure in all of 2017.”

Finance

FT – Eurozone investors race up chart of US debt owners – Kate Allen 4/17

  • “Eurozone investors have been the biggest overseas net buyers of US debt securities in the past half-decade, a trend that could reverse as the European Central Bank continues to tighten monetary policy, according to new research.”
  • “Euro area holdings of US corporate and Treasury bonds reached $2.75tn at the end of last year, the report by investment bank Jefferies shows, an 80% increase since the start of 2012.”
  • “By contrast the volume of US debt held by investors in Japan and China remained flat over the period, while investors in the UK increased their holdings by 40% to $700bn.”

Construction

WSJ – Daily Shot: CME Lumber (May) 4/17

China

WSJ – Daily Shot: China Required Deposit Reserve Ratio 4/17

  • Effective April 25, 2018. More liquidity into the system.

Other Interesting Links

WSJ – The Trophy Homes Linked to Chinese Conglomerate HNA Group – Katherine Clarke 4/18

  • “Chen Guoqing, the brother of HNA chairman Chen Feng, and a company Chen Guoqing heads called Pacific American Corp., have purchased more than 20 homes in New York and New Jersey over the past two decades through various limited-liability companies, the Journal’s review shows.”
  • “Those deals include four pricey residences at the megatower One57, the Billionaire’s Row megalith where owners include titans of industry such as Michael Dell and Bill Ackman. The units were purchased for a combined $151.34 million in 2014 and 2015, the records show.”
Advertisements

March 5, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

naked capitalism – MIT Study: Median Uber and Lyft Profits Less Than Half Minimum Wage; 30% of Drivers Lose Money – Yves Smith 3/2

  • “A team from Stanford, Stephen M. Zoepf, Stella Chen, Paa Adu and Gonzalo Pozo, under the auspices of MIT’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research obtained information from 1100 Uber and Lyft drivers using questionnaires and information about vehicle-specific operating costs, such as insurance, maintenance, repairs, fuel and depreciation.”
  • Their main finding:”
    • “Results show that per hour worked, median profit from driving is $3.37/hour before taxes, and 74% of drivers earn less than the minimum wage in their state. 30% of drivers are actually losing money once vehicle expenses are included. On a per-mile basis, median gross driver revenue is $0.59/mile but vehicle operating expenses reduce real driver profit to a median of $0.29/mile.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Businessweek – Harvard Blew $1 Billion in Bet on Tomatoes, Sugar, and Eucalyptus – Michael McDonald and Tatiana Freitas 3/1

NYT – China’s Biggest Deal Maker Spent Billions. Now the Bill Comes Due. – David Barboza and Alexandra Stevenson 3/2

WSJ – Boom in Share Buybacks Renews Question of Who Wins From Tax Cuts – Akane Otani, Richard Rubin, and Theo Francis 3/1

Environment / Science

NYT – Europe Was Colder Than the North Pole This Week. How Could That Be? – Kendra Pierre-Louis 3/1

China

FT – China’s super-rich lose political clout – Tom Mitchell 3/1

  • “Sharp drop in billionaires at parliamentary sessions as standing falls under Xi Jinping.”

Visual Capitalist – China’s Staggering Demand for Commodities – Jeff Desjardins 3/2

New Zealand

FT – ‘Billionaire bolt-holes’ under threat in New Zealand – Jamie Smyth 3/1

February 15, 2018

Perspective

WEF – Norway’s Central Bank has recommended oil and gas holdings are removed from its sovereign wealth fund – Thomas Colson 11/20/17

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg Businessweek – Ten Years After the Crisis, Banks Win Big in Trump’s Washington – Robert Schmidt and Jesse Hamilton 2/9

Economist – As California’s fires died down, fraudsters arrived 2/8

  • “David Passey, a spokesperson for FEMA, says that more than 200,000 applications for relief related to the hurricanes and northern California wildfires are suspected to be fraudulent.”

Economist – China is in a muddle over population policy 2/8

Economist – The merits of revisiting Michael Young – Bagehot 2/8

  • “A book published 60 years ago predicted most of the tensions tearing contemporary Britain apart.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg – Teslas Are Finally Replacing Porsches on the Autobahn – Elisabeth Behrmann 2/12

WSJ – Daily Shot: NY Fed – US Consumer Debt Balance 2/14

WSJ – Daily Shot: NY Fed – US Consumer Delinquent Debt Percentage 2/14

WSJ – Brace Yourself for Higher Cellphone Bills This Year – Drew FitzGerald 2/8

Real Estate

Economist – How a brothel owner created the world’s biggest industrial park 2/10

  • “Google, eBay, Tesla and dozens of other tech firms have bought nearly all of the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center’s vast tract of land.”

Energy

Bloomberg Gadfly – OPEC’s Oil Price Nightmare Is Coming True – Julian Lee 2/11

Tech

NYT – The Autonomous Selfie Drone Is Here. Is Society Ready for it? – Farhad Manjoo 2/13

  • “Autonomous drones have long been hyped, but until recently they’ve been little more than that. The technology in Skydio’s machine suggests a new turn. Drones that fly themselves — whether following people for outdoor self-photography, which is Skydio’s intended use, or for longer-range applications like delivery, monitoring and surveillance — are coming faster than you think.”

Environment / Science

Economist – Antidepressants are finding their way into fish brains 2/8

China

Bloomberg Businessweek – China Takes a Hard Look at Corporate Borrowers – Enda Curran 2/6

  • “China’s total debt equaled 162% of gross domestic product in 2008. By 2016 it had climbed to 259%, an increase of more than $22 trillion, in large part because of massive corporate borrowing. And even with the current push to deleverage, it could reach 327% by 2022, according to Bloomberg Economics.”

  • “China’s banking regulator last summer ordered lenders to examine their exposure to private conglomerates, which was a way to slow borrowing by corporations without raising benchmark interest rates. In China, the amount of lending, rather than official interest rates, is the best indicator of how tight or loose government monetary policy is. And the picture is pretty clear: Broad-based money supply growth slowed to 8.2% in December, the weakest since data became available in 1998. ‘They are tightening,’ says Chetan Ahya, chief Asia economist at Morgan Stanley. ‘China has always relied more on actually controlling the flow of credit through direct measures’.”

Bloomberg – China’s War on Risk Has Banks Fleeing Shadowy Wealth Products – Jun Luo 2/7

  • “Chinese regulators appear to be winning their war against risk in one of the more dangerous corners of the country’s shadow banking industry — the so-called wealth management products that banks buy from each other in a search for easy profits.”
  • “Interbank holdings of WMPs more than halved last year, to 3.25 trillion yuan ($514 billion) in December from 6.65 trillion yuan a year earlier, according to the annual report of China Central Depository & Clearing Co., an industry body. That suggests higher interest rates and increased scrutiny by regulators are deterring Chinese banks from their previous practice of using cheap interbank borrowing to invest in each others’ higher-yielding WMPs.”
  • “The interbank WMP market will continue to contract this year, as China keeps interest rates high as part of its campaign against financial-sector risk, according to analysts from Shenwan Hongyuan Group Co. and Macquarie Group Ltd. Higher rates make it less profitable to use interbank borrowings to invest in WMPs. And many were deterred after the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) ordered banks to ‘self-review’ their interbank and shadow banking exposures in April, widely seen as a move to rein in the lenders.”
  • “The CBRC and other regulators are working closely in an unprecedented campaign to curb the $16 trillion shadow banking industry, of which WMPs issued by banks are the largest component. Another risky area that is contracting rapidly is some $3.8 trillion of so-called trust products, which have been a popular way for debt-ridden property developers and local governments to raise funds. That market has been hit by delayed payments as wealthy Chinese savers turn sour on the products.”
  • “Despite the retreat in the interbank sector, the wider WMP market continued to grow last year, albeit at a slower pace, according to the industry body. Strong appetite among individual investors helped the outstanding balance of WMPs rise 1.7% to 29.5 trillion yuan in December from a year earlier. Still, the escalating clampdown on all types of asset management products slowed the growth rate markedly from an average compound rate of about 50% between 2013 and 2015.”

Economist – Creditors call time on China’s HNA 2/8

  • “Analysts had foreseen an unravelling for some time, before even the regulatory wrist-slapping. A Chinese business expert calls HNA’s empire-building ‘a classic case of overextending’. For five years it has only been able to service its debts by taking on new ones. Returns on its investments have not exceeded 2% in almost a decade, according to calculations by Bloomberg, a data provider. As a result, HNA’s ratio of debt to earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization is around a lofty ten, estimates Standard & Poor’s, a ratings agency. Bond investors have grown nervous, and the firm’s financing costs have soared.”

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Venezuela Official Exchange Rate VEF/USD 2/13

  • “Venezuela has devalued its official exchange rate to be closer to the levels seen in the black market. This chart shows how many (bags of) bolivares are needed to buy one dollar – the official rate.”

  • “This move eliminated a major source of corruption.”
    • “BMI Research: – The move to … devalue the … official exchange rate is a positive step, as it will help to correct some of the extreme distortions in the market for foreign exchange. The massive discrepancy between the official and black market exchange rates has been a major source of corruption and arbitrage over recent years. Those with access to the subsidized exchange rate typically re-sell dollars on the black market at a substantial profit, rather than using the currency to import goods that must be sold at artificially low prices due to the country’s system of price controls. The market has reacted positively to the news of the devalued exchange rate, with the black market value of the bolivar rising to VEF233,531.1/USD as of February 6, up from a low of VEF266,630.7/USD on January 28.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMI Research – Venezuela Black Market Exchange Rate VEF/USD 2/14

 

February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

The Atlantic – How Humans Sank New Orleans – Richard Campanella 2/6

Economist – The roots of hyperinflation – J.O’s 2/12

  • “Fifty-seven cases of runaway inflation have been documented. They have common patterns.”
  • “In a country where the annual inflation rate is in four figures, the previous month can seem like a golden age. Venezuela’s currency, the bolívar, has lost 99.9% of its value in a short time. It is hard to fathom how a government can get its economic policy so wrong when the effects of hyperinflation are so severe.”
  • “Hyperinflations do not last long. They end in one of two ways. With the first, the paper currency becomes so utterly worthless that it is supplanted by a hard currency. This is what happened in Zimbabwe at the end of 2008, when the American dollar took over, in effect. Prices will stabilize, but other problems emerge. The country loses control of its banking system and its industry may lose competitiveness. With the second, hyperinflation ends through a reform program. This typically involves a commitment to control the budget, a new issue of banknotes and a stabilization of the exchange rate—ideally all backed with confidence-inspiring foreign loans. Without such reform, Venezuela’s leaders, though scornful of America, may find that its people are forced eventually to adopt its dollar anyway.”

FT – HNA/HK property: throttling back – Lex 2/13

  • “On Tuesday it (HNA Group) sold two parcels of land near the old airport to Hong Kong developer Henderson Land for HK$15.8bn ($2bn). The pull back of a formerly acquisitive group is a warning sign for the territory’s property market.”
  • “True, Henderson is paying 11.2% more than the sum HNA paid for the plots less than a year and a half ago. Back then, a report by real estate services group JLL estimated that the initial price was 13% above the higher end of the market.”
  • Bottom line, the recent run up has been juiced by mainland developers and expect them to be pulling back.

FT – ‘Self-inspection’ campaign looms for China’s online lenders – Henny Sender 2/12

  • “Regulators tighten their grip on fears that borrowers are overstretched.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Businessweek – This Bond Market Could Get Uglier – Brian Chappatta, John Gittelsohn, and Liz McCormick 2/6

FT – US craft beer slowdown sends hops market from boom to bust – Emiko Terazono 2/12

  • “A sharp slowdown in US craft beer sales growth has sent the specialty hop market from boom to bust with its effects starting to be felt by growers beyond its shores.”
  • “Many of the hop varieties popular among craft beer makers have plunged from their peaks between 2015 and 2016. For example, Citra, known for its smooth floral and citrus aroma and flavor, has almost halved from $23 a pound, according to Lupulin Exchange, a US online hop exchange.”
  • “Another variety, Cascade, was trading at $6-$7 a pound in 2015-16, but is now on the market for $1.20, said Mr MacKinnon (Douglas MacKinnon, chief executive of trader 47hops).”
  • “The main issue has been the sudden slowing of growth in the craft beer market, which until a few years ago had been rising annually by double digits. However, market saturation, as well as competition from other alcoholic beverages, have affected growth, which peaked in 2014 at 18%, slowing to about 5% last year.”
  • “The oversupply situation has been made worse by the jump in hop production and acreage which almost doubled in the past five years. Brewers fearing a shortage rushed to sign three- to five-year contracts with farmers, who increased plantings on the back of those contracts and high prices.”
  • “The rising output amid falling demand has resulted in a hop glut, with inventories in pre-harvest September rising 15% to a record 98m pounds, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Of the total, growers and merchants held an all-time-high share of 65%.”
  • “But despite the supply overhang, hop farmers — who on the back of demand invested in expanding operations, need to repay bank loans — are still expected to plant about 1,500 new acres.”

Investment News – SEC offers advisers amnesty to move clients out of high-fee mutual fund share classes – Jeff Benjamin 2/12

  • “Enforcement division giving advisers until June 12 to declare intentions to self-report fiduciary violations and make financial restitution.”

Real Estate

Bloomberg – This Mall Is Only for the Rich, and It’s Doing Fine – Kim Bhasin 2/8

Visual Capitalist – UBS: Real Estate Bubbles: The 8 Global Cities at Risk – Jeff Desjardins 2/13

WSJ – Daily Shot: Lawler Economic & Housing Consulting – Home Builder Net Orders 2/12

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg – Broadcom Lines Up Biggest Debt Financing Ever for Qualcomm – Molly Smith and Jacqueline Poh 2/12

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – LIBOR and Bank Rate Spread 2/12

  • It’s good to be a banker again.

Cryptocurrency

BBC – Bitcoin energy use in Iceland set to overtake homes, says local firm – Chris Baraniuk 2/12

Bloomberg – Bitcoin Risks Crashing to $900 If Dot-Com Mania Is Any Guide – Eddie Van Der Walt 2/12

  • “Already slashed by more than half since hitting a record near $20,000 in December, the cryptocurrency could plunge a further 90% in an environment of unsustainably growing supply, according to Bloomberg Intelligence commodity strategist Mike McGlone.” 
  • While the creators of Bitcoin intended to limit supply to 21 million coins, forks mean that there are already more than 50 million outstanding coins based on the original blockchain. There’s also nothing preventing rivals from spawning an infinite amount of clones, he said. The number of tradable cryptocurrencies jumped 120% in the past year.”
  • “’Parabolically increasing supply is the primary limitation to cryptocurrency market-price appreciation,’ McGlone said. ‘There’s strong gravitational pull toward $900, the average price since inception and the start of 2017’.”

Environment / Science

NYT – Here Are the Places That Struggle to Meet the Rules on Safe Drinking Water – Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich 2/12

 

February 13, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg – A Driverless Future Threatens the Laws of Real Estate – Jack Sidders and Jess Shankleman 2/5

FT – Trump’s warnings about unfair trade with China ring true – Nick Butler 2/11

  • “There is no sign that Beijing accepts the responsibilities needed to build stronger links.”

FT – Tech companies are the new investment banks – Rana Foroohar 2/11

  • “Economist Zoltan Pozsar has forensically analyzed the $1tn in corporate offshore savings parked in liquid assets, a fortune that he likens to China’s foreign exchange reserves, not only because of its market-moving size, but the idea that both fortunes were created by a macroeconomic ‘crime’ — mercantilism in the case of China, and tax arbitrage for the corporate hoard.”
  • “The largest and most intellectual-property-rich 10 per cent of companies — Apple, Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, Alphabet — control 80 per cent of this hoard. Their earnings come mainly from IP that can be easily moved across borders. Their offshore savings went from around $100bn in 2008 to $700bn by 2016. And according to Mr Pozsar’s calculations, most of that money is held not in cash but in bonds. Indeed, half of it is in corporate bonds.”
  • “What does this mean? Many significant things. But let us start with the obvious, which is that bonds are not cash. If companies are to bring back those overseas earnings and invest them in growth-enhancing projects in the US, as Donald Trump keeps promising us they will, they would have to sell their bond stash.”
  • “This has serious implications for interest rates. Consider that the Federal Reserve is starting to deleverage its own balance sheet. Now, add in the corporate ‘echo-taper’, as the Credit Suisse report puts it, and you have got a heck of a lot of bonds on the market, which is bound to move the interest rate needle up, perhaps more quickly than is currently expected.”

NYT – America’s Real Digital Divide – Naomi Schaefer Riley 2/11

  • “In 2004, Dimitri Christakis of Seattle Children’s Hospital wrote in the medical journal Pediatrics that ‘early exposure to television was associated with subsequent attentional problems.’ Even when controlling for socioeconomic status, gestational age and other factors, he discovered that an increase of one standard deviation in the number of hours of television watched at age 1 ‘is associated with a 28% increase in the probability of having attentional problems at age 7’.”
  • “Every additional hour of TV increased a child’s odds of attention problems by about 10%. Kids who watched three hours a day were 30% more likely to have attention trouble than those who watched none. A 2010 article in Pediatrics confirmed that exposure to TV and video games was associated with greater attention problems in children.”
  • “Unfortunately, too often the message we send low-income and less-educated parents is that screen time is going to help their children.”
  • “Make no mistake: The real digital divide in this country is not between children who have access to the internet and those who don’t. It’s between children whose parents know that they have to restrict screen time and those whose parents have been sold a bill of goods by schools and politicians that more screens are a key to success. It’s time to let everyone in on the secret.”

Markets / Economy

FT – Bridgewater investment chief sees new era of volatility – Robin Wigglesworth 2/11

  • “Bob Prince, co-chief investment officer at Bridgewater, said last week’s market turbulence, which helped trigger record outflows from global stock funds, was set to continue.”
  • “‘There had been a lot of complacency built up in markets over a long time, so we don’t think this shakeout will be over in a matter of days,’ Mr Prince, who runs Bridgewater’s $160bn of investments alongside the fund’s founder Ray Dalio, said in an interview. ‘We’ll probably have a much bigger shakeout coming’.”
  • “Brian Levine, co-head of global equities trading at Goldman Sachs, on Friday sent out an email to the investment bank’s bigger clients that also warned that the market probably still has not hit its bottom.”
  • “’Historically shocks of this magnitude find their troughs in panicky selling,’ he said in the email, seen by the FT. ‘I’ve been amazed at how little ‘capitulation selling’ we’ve seen on the desk . . . The ‘buy on the dip’ mentality needs to be thoroughly punished before we find the bottom’.”
  • “The improving health of the global economy has sparked concerns that long-dormant inflationary pressures will finally emerge, forcing central banks to reduce bond-buying programs and raise interest rates more aggressively than expected.”
  • “While Mr Prince doubted inflation would become a real problem, he expected central banks to start draining the global economy of some of the trillions of dollars they have pumped into the financial system in recent years — further challenging the post-crisis bull market.”
  • “That meshes with the view of Mr Levine at Goldman Sachs, who said that ‘longer term, I do believe this is a genuine regime change, one where you sell-the-rallies rather than buy-the-dips’.”
  • “However, Mr Prince expects global growth will stay on track despite tighter monetary policy and more turbulent markets. ‘The real economy will outperform financial economy this year, the opposite of what we’ve seen in recent years,’ he said.”

Real Estate

Bloomberg – Blackstone Weighs Bidding for Assets It Sold to Anbang – Jun Luo, Dingmin Zhang, Cathy Chan, and Ben Scent – 2/12

  • “Blackstone Group LP, which scored big four years ago when a company it owned sold New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel for a record-setting price to a little-known Chinese insurer, may soon get a chance to own the iconic landmark again.”
  • “The U.S. private equity firm has held initial discussions about bidding for Anbang Insurance Group Co. assets in a sale overseen by the Chinese government, people with knowledge of the matter said. The assets include the Waldorf as well as Strategic Hotels & Resorts Inc., which Blackstone sold to Anbang in 2016, said the people.”
  • “Anbang is among a crop of Chinese serial acquirers that spent tens of billions of dollars snapping up trophy assets over the past few years, only to lurch into turmoil once their strategies backfired. Blackstone was one of the biggest beneficiaries of Anbang’s largesse, selling at least a combined $9.5 billion of assets to the insurer, data compiled by Bloomberg show.”

Finance

Bloomberg Businessweek – What Big Hedge Fund Fees Pay For – Neil Weinberg 2/9

  • “One corner of the investing world that’s been more resistant to these trends is ‘alternative’ investments, including private equity and hedge funds, which are sold to institutions and affluent individuals. The fees charged—traditionally 2% of assets plus 20% of any profits—can be hundreds of times higher than those of the lowest-cost mutual funds. The industry frames the fees as the price investors must pay to tap into top money managers.”
  • “A close look at where the money flows suggests a more complicated story. Alt funds regularly share major chunks of their fees with the bankers, brokers, and other salesmen who steer clients their way. The payments come in a number of forms and go by different names: placement fees, payment for shelf space, and retrocessions, among them.”
  • “Placement agents, who get paid by fund managers for lining up investors, have been such a big source of corruption that New York and Pennsylvania have banned their public pension funds from using them. The European Union in January banned many advisers from receiving inducements to sell investments to individuals.”
  • “’Contrary to what the clients generally believe, half the fees they’re paying are going not to investment geniuses but to marketing,’ says Edward Siedle, an attorney who represented a whistleblower in the JPMorgan settlement. ‘The marketing payments explain why hedge funds have persisted, despite ample evidence that they underperform.’ Hedge funds that invest in stocks returned 7.2% annually from 2009 to 2017, which was less than half the S&P 500’s return, according to data from Hedge Fund Research.”

Cryptocurrency

How Much.net – Cryptocurrency Transaction Speed per second – Raul 1/10

China

Bloomberg – Wall Street Bank That Fed on HNA’s Rise Now Get to Dismantle It – Ben Scent 2/11

  • “Wall Street bankers gorged on fees from HNA Group Co. as they helped the debt-laden Chinese conglomerate clinch $55 billion of acquisitions around the world. They’re set for another bonanza as the company offloads some of those same purchases to stave off a liquidity crisis.”
  • “HNA doled out as much as $200 million in advisory fees during a three-year investment spree, according to Freeman & Co. Now strapped for cash and facing pressure from creditors, the Chinese company is planning to sell about $16 billion of assets in the first half, people familiar with the matter said last month.”

FT – Xi takes aim at military in anti-graft drive – Charles Clover 2/11

India

Bloomberg Quint – $3.6 Billion in Hidden Bad Loans Spotlight India Bank Stress – Anto Antony 2/12

  • “India’s regulator unearthed about $3.6 billion of bad loans in the books of the country’s biggest bank, amplifying questions about distress in the financial sector given underreporting by some rivals as well.”
  • “State Bank of India on Friday said an audit by the central bank showed soured debt was about 232 billion rupees ($3.6 billion) higher than what the state-run lender reported for the end of March 2017.”
  • “State Bank of India’s admission is particularly striking because the lender is often seen as a proxy for the nation’s economy, where the ratio of bad loans has surged to be among the highest in the world.”

Japan

WSJ – Daily Shot: Nikkei 225 2/9

  • US markets were not the only ones with a sell off last week.

February 9, 2018

Perspective

Economist – When the prices are too damn high – Daily Chart 2/5

WSJ – Hard Lessons From the Federal Student-Loan Program’s Coming $36 Billion Shortfall – Josh Mitchell 2/4

  • “U.S. officials have long maintained the federal government would make a profit on its $1.4 trillion student loan portfolio or at least break even, but two recent reports suggest just the opposite will be the case. Government lending to college and graduate students could soon become an immense drain on federal coffers, worsening an already deteriorating U.S. budget picture.”
  • “The Education Department’s inspector general, an agency watchdog, in a report released last week said the profitability of the U.S. federal student-lending program is being squeezed because millions of Americans who borrowed heavily in recent years—including many graduate students—are flocking into a program to have substantial portions of their debts forgiven.”
  • “Students who borrowed in the fiscal year ended Sep. 30, 2015, and enrolled in such ‘income-driven repayment’ plans, for example, are expected to pay back $11.5 billion less than they took to pay tuition and other schooling costs.”
  • “The government still earns billions of dollars every year in interest on the loans it has made to 43 million American undergraduates, graduate students and parents of undergrads. But the losses from those not repaying are now projected to mount and could eat up all of the gains. It is hard to get precise estimates, but the Education Department’s annual financial report, released in November, offered a clue. A footnote in the report projected that money coming in for government student loan and guarantee programs will be $36 billion short of what’s needed to cover outstanding debt and accrued interest.”
  • “A year earlier, the department projected the shortfall at $8.4 billion, while in prior years it projected the program would generate billions of dollars in taxpayer surpluses. The latest report explained that one reason for the sharp switch was the rise of income-driven repayment plans. These plans set monthly payments as a share of a borrower’s income and then forgive any balance that remains after 10, 20 or 25 years, depending on the borrower’s work status and loan size.”
  • “While that $36 billion projection doesn’t quite compare to the $4 trillion federal budget, it’s still an immense sum. To put it in perspective, the government ultimately paid $33 billion in its response to the financial crisis through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, according to the Congressional Budget Office.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – The discreet terror of the American bourgeoisie – Edward Luce 2/7

  • “Elites thought they could have it both ways: capital gains and moral certainty.”

Mauldin Economics – Kill the Quants – John Mauldin 2/7: Once Again – “Kill the Quants (and the Levered ETFs and ETNs) Before They Kill Our Markets” – Douglas A. Kass 2/6

Project Syndicate – Justice Without Borders for Venezuela – Ricardo Hausmann 2/7

  • “According to estimates from MIT’s Billion Prices Project, month-on-month food inflation in Venezuela reached 117.6% in January, or the equivalent of 1,130,000% a year. At the same time, the exchange rate depreciated at an annual rate of more than 700,000%, while the real purchasing power of wages – which barely represented 1,400 calories a day in December – was decimated further. A survey published in early January estimated recent out-migration at four million people, nearly as many as from Syria.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg – World’s Largest ETF Hit by Biggest Four-Day Outflow on Record – Sid Verma and Dani Burger 2/7

  • “The global market maelstrom spurred money managers to yank a record $17.4 billion from the mighty SPDR S&P 500 ETF over the past four trading sessions. The $8 billion removed on Tuesday alone was the third-largest daily withdrawal in the post-crisis era.”

Real Estate

Bloomberg – HNA Group Puts $4 Billion of U.S. Properties on Market – Sarah Mulholland 2/8

  • “Among the properties on the block is 245 Park Ave., according to a marketing document seen by Bloomberg. HNA bought that skyscraper less than a year ago for $2.21 billion, one of the highest prices ever paid for a New York office building.”

Health / Medicine

NYT – In Sweeping War on Obesity, Chile Slays Tony the Tiger – Andrew Jacobs 2/7

  • “New regulations, which corporate interests delayed for almost a decade, require explicit labeling and limit the marketing of sugary foods to children.”

Canada

FT – Canada’s housing market flirts with disaster – Ben McLannahan 2/7

  • “Canada is in the grip of a housing crisis more severe, by some measures, than anywhere else in the world. Household debt now amounts to more than 100% of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the Basel-based Bank for International Settlements, one of the highest of any developed nation. House prices have raced ahead of wages for years, boosted by loose lending, low interest rates and lax controls on foreign money.”
  • “For now, the number of home loans in arrears across Canada is still very low, suggesting that people are finding ways to cope with ever-larger debts. But rising interest rates are beginning to bite, while a new stress test for mortgages issued by regulated banks has tightened the supply of credit. This week the Toronto Real Estate board said that sales in Canada’s biggest city dropped 22% in January, the weakest for that month since 2009.”
  • “Bullish observers say fears of a meltdown are overblown. Canada can sustain high house prices, they argue, because they reflect the country’s high levels of net migration, restrictive zoning laws and low unemployment.”
  • “Henry Lotin, a retired diplomat and principal at research group Integrative Trade and Economics, says the same forces that have pushed up prices in global hubs such as New York are now doing the same to the most attractive parts of Canada. ‘Torontonians should be thankful and we should manage it as best we can. We really have to be prepared that demand is going to exceed supply for the foreseeable future’.”
  • “Many also note that mortgage books at the big banks look rock-solid. Royal Bank of Canada, for example, which recently joined the club of the world’s most systemically important banks thanks to years of rapid asset growth, had a Canadian residential mortgage portfolio of an average C$231bn in the year to October. Defined as estimates of losses on impaired loans and losses incurred but not yet identified, provisions for credit losses were just C$33m — or one one-hundredth of 1%.”
  • “Others say pristine loan books are not a good indicator of the stress lurking in the system. For one thing, every homebuyer with a down payment of less than 20% of the purchase price (if less than C$1m) has to buy insurance against default. That has the effect of flattering the banks’ books but shifts the risk of default to insurers such as the state-backed Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.”
  • “CMHC was set up after the second world war to help returning veterans find housing. These days it insures about C$480bn of residential mortgages, or almost one-third of the outstanding stock in Canada, using an automated system to process about two-thirds of applications.”
  • “Meanwhile, the uninsured segment is growing. As the market has barreled upwards in recent years, borrowers have been able to convert insured mortgages into uninsured mortgages simply by buying a property, waiting for the price to rise, then refinancing.”
  • “Uninsured buyers made up about three-quarters of new loans at federally regulated banks in 2017, up from two-thirds in 2014, according to the Bank of Canada. In Vancouver, where the average sales price of condos hit a record of C$1.1m in January, more than double the level a decade earlier, about 90% of new mortgages are uninsured.”
  • “Laurentian Bank, Canada’s seventh-biggest by assets, said in December that it would have to buy back about C$300m of mortgages it had sold to third parties, having found that borrowers had ’embellished’ income and assets. Last month, the Montreal-based bank said the buyback obligations had increased to about C$400m, and it would have to raise more capital.”
  • “That kind of disclosure — in dribs and drabs, each more alarming than the last — has echoes of the beginning of the US mortgage crisis, when terms such as ‘liar loan’ began to enter the vernacular. ‘Trends are developing . . . that we took for granted were not an issue in Canada,’ says Gabriel Dechaine, an analyst at National Bank of Canada. ‘There are puffs of smoke, but I don’t want to yell fire in a crowded theater’.”
  • “More strains could emerge. With interest rates rising — three increases in the central bank’s policy rate since July has left it at 1.25% — many borrowers may be facing a struggle to refinance in a market where almost all mortgages are renewed every five years or less.”
  • “Anecdotal evidence suggests tougher rules on underwriting are also beginning to curb lending. On January 1 the federal banking regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, introduced a rule requiring all new mortgage applicants to show they could cope with interest rates substantially higher than their contracted rate. Previously, stress tests applied only to insured mortgages.”

China

Bloomberg – Frenzy of Fines for China’s Bank Is Only Just Getting Started – Jun Luo and Alfred Liu 2/5

  • “China’s banking regulator is increasingly showing its teeth, slapping a record amount of fines on financial institutions in the past several months for transgressions such as lax lending procedures and manipulating bad-loan data. Expect the unprecedented frenzy to continue.”
  • “The China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) announced 3,452 penalties and confiscations of funds involving 1,877 financial institutions and totaling 2.93 billion yuan ($465 million) in 2017, a 10-fold surge from the previous year, according to official data. Some 270 banking executives were punished, including being banned from the industry for life, according to a CBRC official speaking on CCTV.”
  • “The frenzy continues this year, with an average 16 fines imposed every day of January.”
  • “The biggest of 2018 so far was levied against Shanghai Pudong Development Bank Co., fined 462 million yuan for what the CBRC termed ‘a well-organized fraud.’ Last Friday, the CBRC fined Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. and 18 other banks’ branches in central China 52.5 million yuan for accepting low-quality gold as collateral for 19 billion yuan worth of loans, resulting in the banks being defrauded.”
  • “After his appointment last year as CBRC chairman, Guo Shuqing embarked on a campaign to root out malpractice in the $39 trillion banking industry, improve implementation of lending policies and curb cross-holdings of financial products.”

 

February 5, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg Gadfly – Still Clutching an Old iPhone? You’re Not Alone – Shira Ovide 1/4

Bloomberg_Smartphone sales growth_1-4-18

Bloomberg Businessweek – What If China Is Exempt From the Laws of Economics? – Michael Schuman 1/24

Bloomberg Businessweek – How Hedge Funds (Secretly) Get Their Way in Washington – Zachary Mider and Ben Elgin 1/25

FT – Forget bitcoin, give me old-fashioned gold as an inflation hedge – Merryn Somerset Webb 2/1

  • Ms. Webb offers an interesting perspective at why inflation may not be that far away. Why…because the primary source of deflation – China – appears to have changed tact.
  • “For years, party officials have been incentivized to force growth out of their regions, regardless of the effects on prices, global macroeconomics or, for that matter, pollution. But in the party conference in October, Xi Jinping shifted emphasis.”
  • “Instead of focusing on growth, China’s leader talked of ‘three tough battles’: against preventing major risks (mainly financial — the new target is to be ‘further deleveraging’); poverty (Xi fancies a ‘moderately prosperous society’ in all respects); and pollution (he wants to see the sky blue again).”
  • “The result has been pretty instant. Almost as the delegates headed home, say the analysts at Gavekal, prices of natural gas (a ‘clean fuel’) doubled; steel output stalled; and cement sector output actually fell even as demand for it and hence prices rose. China doesn’t seem to be adding new capacity to the global economy in the way that it was and that should mean it isn’t exporting deflation to the rest of the world any more either.”
  • “That is a dynamic that is arguably beginning to show up everywhere else. The slack is disappearing. There is no spare capacity left in Japan (or you would see new cuts to it). Industrial production in the US hit a record high in December, despite the US being too busy with buybacks and financial engineering over the past decade to build new capacity. Manufacturing output in the UK is at its highest in 10 years.”
  • “This could all lead us to several interesting conclusions. The first, highlighted by Gavekal, is that it is an explanation for the way stock markets in countries that have been hampered with too much productive space in the past are suddenly breaking out. See China, Japan and Korea — markets you might want to stick with for a bit.”
  • “The second is that, guess what, the boom in the US might not be entirely down to Donald Trump’s policies. The factories could be humming because global capacity constraints are being hit rather than because he’s the best economic manager ever. And the third is that the real inflation our great leaders (the central banks) think is impossible however much they might print, isn’t impossible at all.”

Markets / Economy

NYT – Cash-Strapped Chinese Giant Taps a New Money Source: Its Workers – Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li 2/1

  • “Just before payday, an email went out to employees from top executives: Give us your money, and we’ll make it worth your while.”
  • “It was one of many pitches by HNA Group, a Chinese conglomerate struggling under an estimated $90 billion in debt accumulated during a global shopping spree that included buying stakes in multinationals like Hilton Hotels and Deutsche Bank.”
  • “The company, in an email, advertised an ’employee treasure’ product with an 8.5% return if workers handed over $1,500. A similar one dangled 9%. A third mentioned a return as high as 40% if employees ponied up $15,000.”
  • “These pitches, more than a dozen of which were reviewed by The New York Times, were not part of an employee stock program. Instead, they appear to be high interest loans, with the company as borrower and its workers as lenders.”
  • “The conglomerate has seen its borrowing costs rise sharply on the global bond market in recent months, an indication that some investors are increasingly worried about the company’s ability to pay its debts. Seven public companies under the umbrella of HNA have suspended trading of their stock, suggesting that big announcements that could affect key businesses are in the works. The company is also starting to sell assets.”
  • “It is unclear how much money HNA has raised from employees. The company has long offered such investments to its employees as a way to incentivize them and to share in the company’s success, Thomas A. Clare, an attorney for HNA, said in an email.”
  • “Companies around the world allow employees to buy stock or provide other ways for workers to invest in the business. But the HNA pitches do not offer direct ownership stakes in the business.”
  • “The offers reviewed by The Times had similar hallmarks, namely high returns for funding certain operations.”
  • “Chinese companies have often turned to individual investors or their own workers to raise money. But such moves, according to some China finance experts, can signal problems.”
  • “’It’s a desperation measure when companies really have no other source of financing and they are stuck,’ said Anne Stevenson-Yang, co-founder of J Capital Research, a corporate research firm.”
  • “A small company in the southeastern Chinese city of Wenzhou called Wenzhou Liren Educational Group made national news in 2011 after it went bankrupt and was unable to pay nearly $790 million it borrowed from employees and local residents. In 2015, an online peer-to-peer platform called Great Group pressured employees to buy investments in order to raise funds when it found itself in a financial bind, the Chinese news media widely reported. The two companies did not respond to requests for comment.”
  • “As HNA has faced more questions about its operations by both the local and foreign media, the company has issued groupwide emails urging employees to not speak to reporters. In January, HNA’s human resources department told employees they would be required to take a test on how to deal with the news media, according to an internal document reviewed by The Times.”

Real Estate

Bloomberg – Rental Glut Makes NYC the Worst Performer for Equity Residential – Oshrat Carmiel 1/31

Energy

eia – U.S. monthly crude oil production exceeds 10 million barrels per day, highest since 1970 – Jack Perrin and Emily Geary 2/1

eia_US monthly crude oil production_2-1-18

eia_US monthly crude oil production by production method_2-1-18

eia_US monthly crude oil production by location_2-1-18

Reuters – Suncor to cut 400 jobs as it rolls out self-driving trucks – Julie Gordon 1/31

  • “Suncor Energy Inc said on Wednesday that it expected to cut some 400 heavy-equipment operator positions over the next six years as it rolls out a fleet of self-driving trucks at its Canadian oil sand mining operations.”

Finance

Bloomberg – Tesla Sells $546 Million of Bonds as Buyers Can’t Get Enough – Claire Boston 1/31

Cryptocurrency

WSJ – Daily Shot: Investing.com – Bitcoin 2/1

WSJ_Daily Shot_Investing.com - Bitcoin_2-1-18

WSJ – Bitcoin Is Falling Fast, Losing More Than Half Its Value in Six Weeks – Steven Russolillo and Kenan Machado 2/2

WSJ_Bitcoin sell-offs_2-1-18

Britain

FT – Chinese investments in UK fail to materialize – Andy Bounds and Tom Mitchell 2/1

  • “Even as Theresa May inks new deals in Beijing, English cities left waiting for cash.”

China

Bloomberg Businessweek – China Starts Experiment to Tame Its Wild Property Market – Emma Dong and Paul Panckhurst 1/24

Bloomberg_China housing price gains in comparison_1-24-18

WSJ – China’s Bad Banks Face a Case of Indigestion – Anjani Trivedi 2/2

India

Economist – Low-caste Indians are better off than ever-but that’s not saying much 1/25

Economist_Indian caste statistics_1-25-18

South America

FT – Bolivar rallies after Venezuela unifies exchange rates – Gideon Long 2/1

New Zealand

FT – British and US migrants flock to New Zealand – Jamie Smyth 2/1

  • “Immigration surges after Brexit vote and Trump election shocks.”

July 28, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

Daily Mail – Has this man found the secret of happiness? – Mo Gawdat 7/20

  • A very moving personal account of success, loss, and perspective.

Perspective

NYT – Behind an $18 Billion Donation to a New York Charity, a Shadowy Chinese Conglomerate – Michael Forsythe and Alexandra Stevenson 7/26

  • “At first glance, it appears to be one of the most generous donations in the history of philanthropic giving in America.”
  • “A Chinese man has transferred more than 29% of HNA Group of China — the equivalent of as much as $18 billion — to a New York-based private foundation. The donation puts him in the same league as donors like Bill Gates and Warren E. Buffett and almost matched the combined giving of all American corporations in 2016.”
  • “But it has not been disclosed how that man, Guan Jun, who is in his 30s, came to own such a large piece of one of China’s biggest conglomerates. His registered address in Beijing is a modest apartment at the end of a dingy hallway littered with discarded furniture and bags of trash.”
  • As an aside, the charity was only just set up in December of 2016. Basically, lots of open questions at this point.

FT – Can an electric shock help curb your spending? – Aime Williams 7/25

  • “Tech companies believe that knowledge is power, and the digital banks vying for the world’s savers are no exception. By offering colorful apps that promise users control over their finances, companies such as Atom, Monzo and Tandem think that giving people more information will help them make smarter decisions.”
  • “But a dark question stalks these ambitions: what if people have no self-control? What if, when told they spend a third of their monthly salary on takeaway coffee, they continue overspending? When it comes to money, sometimes people just don’t want to know.”
  • There are apps that subtly set aside money into your savings accounts when you don’t spend all of your earnings, but for some that is not enough.
  • Enter “Pavlok — its name inspired by Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov — is a bracelet that gives you a mild electric shock if you do something you don’t want to do. This method has no interest in your comfort and dignity, only in ‘allowing you to achieve 100 per cent of your goals 100 per cent of the time’ (in the words of its creator).”
  • “None of this is particularly sophisticated, of course. But perhaps it’s the logical conclusion of the never-ending clamor for our attention and cash. Maybe our willpower is weaker than before, just as our attention spans are shorter, and the Pavlok is both the result of a tech-powered information overload and an antidote to it.”
  • “There is only one more problem but Sethi (Maneesh Sethi, Pavlok’s inventor) seems to have considered it already. What if I just decide to take off the bracelet? ‘We’re developing a lock,’ he replies.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Oaktree – There They Go Again…Again – Howard Marks 7/26

  • Looking for a thorough explanation of the current investment environment right now and thoughtful opinion on the risks that lie within… look no further.

The Reformed Broker – Tennis with Howard Marks – Joshua Brown 7/27

  • An epilogue to the memo from Mr. Marks.

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: eia – Per capita residential electricity sales in U.S. 7/27

July 27, 2017

Perspective

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

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

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • A family matter made public.

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

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

Real Estate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

Environment / Science

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

Health / Medicine

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

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

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

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

Britain

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

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

China

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

  • Arguably the second most powerful person in China.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South America

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

May 11, 2017

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg View – After Comey, Justice Must Be Served – Michael Bloomberg 5/10

  • “Congress needs to get serious about holding the president accountable.”

NYT – The Princeling in the West Wing – Jill Abramson 5/10

Economist – Schumpeter: Harvard Business School risks going from great to good – A confidential memorandum of warning to its senior faculty 5/4

Markets / Economy

Economist – The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data 5/6

Real Estate

WSJ – Labor Shortage Squeezes Builders – Peter Grant 5/6

  • “Construction labor costs are rising an average of 4% to 5% annually, outpacing inflation, according to Anirban Basu, chief economist of the Associated Builders and Contractors. ‘The situation is going to get worse,’ he said.”
  • “Overall, the association said the industry needs 500,000 more workers. The trade group estimates 600,000 additional workers would be needed for the $1 trillion in infrastructure building and improvement for which President Donald Trump has said he would seek funding.”

Health / Medicine

Economist – Fatal attraction: The link between pollution and heart disease 5/4

  • “An experiment suggests pollutants build up in arterial plaques.”

Britain

FT – Cash is king in homes market but leaves many unable to buy – Chris Giles 5/9

China

WSJ – Rich, Young Chinese Are Buying Overseas Properties on Their Smartphones – Dominique Fong 5/9

  • “Millennials acquire real estate in other countries as hedge against a weakening currency, homes for their own children when they study abroad.”

NYT – A Chinese Giant Is on a Global Buying Spree. Who’s Behind It? – David Barboza 5/9

  • “According to corporate filings, state-backed banks have given HNA a $60 billion line of credit, a level of lending usually reserved for state-owned enterprises charged with carrying out the government’s policies.”
  • Seriously? We’ll if you’re going to give me money to place, I’ll place it.
  • For reference, “when the company was founded in 1993, China had just begun experimenting with private ownership, opening new economic zones and allowing companies to sell shares to the public. The Hainan provincial government asked Mr. Chen, a former pilot with the People’s Liberation Army, to help develop a regional carrier, one that would be partly owned by the state and partly owned by private investors.”
  • It has since become a private company and part of the HNA Group.
  • “In 1993, the company had just $17 million in revenue. Today, it has about $90 billion in annual revenue, most coming from companies acquired outside China.”
  • “HNA, of late, has embraced the government’s push to ‘go global’ and invest overseas, focusing on shipping, hotels, logistics and retail, amassing a $145 billion portfolio. Over the past three years, it has spent more than $30 billion, according to Dealogic.”

Russia

Economist – A new kind of revolution: Russians rebel against plans to tear down their homes 5/4

  • Earlier this year Moscow city authorities unveiled plans to demolish as many as 8,000 buildings and move up to 1.6m residents from ageing low-rise apartment blocks known as khrushchevki. The ambitious urban makeover could touch some 25m square meters of housing, cost at least 3.5 trillion roubles ($61bn), and run for more than 20 years. The plan is the brainchild of Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, and comes with the blessing of President Vladimir Putin. For some residents, it means a chance to ditch dilapidated housing. Others fear being thrown out of their homes, and are furious at the prospect.”