Tag: India

December 8, 2017

Perspective

Economist – America’s flat-Earth movement appears to be growing 11/28

  • “I am constantly forced to remind myself that while we may one day hope to conquer ignorance, there will never be a cure for stupid.”Barry Ritholtz

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – US States that challenged the Clean Power Plan 12/5

WSJ – Daily Shot: Natixis Investment Management – Global Portfolio Risks 12/7

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Lawsuit shows China losing patience with Venezuela – Jonathan Wheatley 12/6

  • “Subsidiary of state-owned Sinopec files case against PDVSA over unpaid debt.”

FT – US tax reform will benefit shareholders more than workers – Michael Moritz 12/5

  • “During the past year the nation’s 20 largest technology companies have gained $900bn in value in a favorable business climate. As a group, at the end of September, they had about $90bn more cash than they did one year earlier — the bulk being accumulated at Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Oracle, Qualcomm and Priceline. “
  • “But the increase in their cash balances tells less than half the story. There is nothing to suggest in the rest of the data that, if their taxes were cut, they would build more factories, hire more employees or buy more equipment. Quite the contrary.”
  • “Crunch through the data, available through sources such as Bloomberg, and you will gain some remarkable insights on the financials of the giants of the tech sector. Through the first nine months of 2017 these 20 companies paid just over $27bn in taxes. At the same time, they invested almost $55bn in what the accountants label ‘capital expenditures’ — buildings and equipment. But the real message lies elsewhere.”
  • “They generated so much cash that, over and above increasing the cash they held on their balance sheets, they distributed almost $39bn in dividends to shareholders and spent almost $52bn on stock buybacks. That is about $190bn of cash, dividends and stock buybacks compared to $55bn of investment in the sort of areas that might result in more jobs and increased productivity. Even Intel, which operates in the semiconductor industry — an activity which sucks up more cash than internet and software businesses — spent $7.1bn on dividends and stock buybacks during the first three quarters compared to $7.7bn on capital expenditures.”
  • “If someone makes the argument that the corporate tax cuts are likely to change the spending habits of start-ups or emerging companies, forget about it. Investors from around the world are standing in line waiting to invest in young companies, which have all the cash they need. In addition, since most of these companies are losing money, tax payments are irrelevant.”

WP – The world produces more than 3.5 million tons of waste a day – and that figure is growing – Kadir van Lohuizen 11/21

Markets / Economy

Real Estate

NAR – In Which States Do REALTORS Expect Highest Home Price Growth in the Next 12 Months? 12/5

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – Changes in US Property Values 2007 – 2016 12/7

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: US Crude Oil Production 12/6

WSJ – Wall Street Tells Frackers to Stop Counting Barrels, Start Making Profits – Bradley Olson and Lynn Cook 12/7

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 12/6

  • “The cryptocurrency blasted past, $12k, $13k, and $14k in 24 hours.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Meritocracy Capital – CAPME Chart 12/7

  • “Cyclically adjusted price to median earnings (CAPME) and the percentile rank.”

China

Economist – Chinese cities should stop expelling Chinese migrants – Leaders 11/30

India

Economist – India’s new bankruptcy code takes aim at delinquent tycoons 11/30

  • “Defaulters will no longer be able to cling on to ‘their’ companies.”

Middle East

Economist – How-and why-to end the war in Yemen – Leaders 11/30

  • “A pointless conflict has caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”

November 20, 2017

Perspective

VC – Walmart Nation: Mapping the Largest Employers in the U.S. – Jeff Desjardins 11/17

NYT – A Great Migration From Puerto Rico Is Set to Transform Orlando – Lizette Alvarez 11/17

  • “More than 168,000 people have flown or sailed out of Puerto Rico to Florida since the hurricane, landing at airports in Orlando, Miami and Tampa, and the port in Fort Lauderdale. Nearly half are arriving in Orlando, where they are tapping their networks of family and friends. An additional 100,000 are booked on flights to Orlando through Dec. 31, county officials said. Large numbers are also settling in the Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach areas.”
  • “With so many arriving so abruptly, the migration is expected to transform Orlando, a city that has already become a stronghold of Puerto Ricans, many of them fleeing the island’s economic crisis in recent years. The Puerto Rican population of Florida has exploded from 479,000 in 2000 to well over one million today, according to the Pew Research Center, with the better part settling in Orlando.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – Global Demographic Shifts 11/17

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Teachable Moment – If You Are Reading This, You Already Won the Genetic Lottery – Anthony Isola 11/16

A Teachable Moment – 6 Ways to Foil a Financial Predator – Dina Isola 11/17

CNBC – Homeownership doesn’t build wealth, study finds – Diana Olick 11/16

  • Essentially, depends where you live and how disciplined you are with your savings. Further, if you live in a part of the world where home price appreciation has lagged, there is value in having flexibility to move to parts of the country where it hasn’t (which of course further builds on that trend).

FT – Donald Trump’s silence over Roy Moore speaks volumes – Edward Luce 11/16

  • “…Then there is the evangelical vote. Mr Trump appears single-handedly to have changed their moral position. In 2011, 70% of white evangelicals said bad private behavior should disqualify an individual from public office, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. That had dropped to just 28% last year. It is perhaps the most astonishing sea change among any group of voters in recent years. It is also a good example of ‘negative partisanship’ — no matter how bad your candidate might be, he or she could not possibly be worse than the other party’s.”

FT – Prepare to bet against bitcoin as it becomes civilized – Gillian Tett 11/16

  • “If the cryptocurrency ceases to be a ringfenced product, the normal rules of investing will apply.”

NYT – Middle-Class Families Confront Soaring Health Insurance Costs – Robert Pear 11/16

WSJ – Upbeat Moody’s Misses the Mark on India – Anjani Trivedi 11/17

  • “Ratings company’s upgrade is its first in more than a decade, but still looks premature.”

Finance

FT – Investors sue Monte dei Paschi over cancelled bonds – Rachel Sanderson, Robert Smith, and Thomas Hale 11/16

China

Bloomberg – China’s Outbound Investment Plunges as Irrational Deals Curbed – Jeff Kearns and Jessica Sui 11/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: China 5yr AAA Average Corporate Bond Yield 11/16

FT – China tightens rules on asset management to rein in risky lending – Tom Mitchell 11/17

  • “China’s central bank outlined sweeping new regulations aimed at curbing financial risk in the asset management industry on Friday, in the latest signal of its determination to rein in the country’s runaway shadow banking sector.”
  • “The new rules, affecting $15tn of asset-management products, are aimed at unifying regulatory practices across the financial industry and will come into force in June. They will prohibit asset managers from promising investors a guaranteed rate of return, while also requiring them to set aside 10% of the management fees they collect for provisioning purposes.”
  • “Fears about the potential impact of regulatory tightening have contributed to a recent spike in Chinese sovereign bond yields, with the China 10-years rising through 4% this week for the first time since 2014.”
  • “On Thursday the PBoC injected almost $50bn into the financial system to calm investor fears, its largest intervention in almost a year. But Friday’s regulations indicated that Mr Xi’s administration will not back away from the more stringent approach it has adopted towards risk management.”
  • “In a party congress speech last month that marked the beginning of his second five-year term in office, Mr Xi indicated that his administration was prepared to accept lower rates of economic growth in order to defuse financial risks.”
  • “In August the International Monetary Fund warned that non-financial sector debt was poised to exceed 290% of GDP by 2022, compared with 235% at the end of last year.”

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Venezuelan Household Purchasing Power 11/17

FT – Exodus the only answer for thousands of Venezuelans – Gideon Long and John Paul Rathbone 11/17

November 17, 2017

Perspective

WSJ – Leonardo da Vinci Painting ‘Salvator Mundi’ Smashes Records With $450.3 Million Sale – Kelly Crow 11/16

  • “Leonardo da Vinci’s rediscovered portrait of Jesus Christ sold at auction for $450.3 million, making it the most expensive work of art ever sold.”
  • “The estimate for the work was around $100 million. But before Wednesday night’s sale in New York, dealers had wagered the image of an enigmatic Christ dressed in a blue robe and holding a crystal orb could sell for far more—given that da Vinci is a household name, fewer than 20 of his paintings survive and this is the last one deemed by him in private hands.”
  • “The price more than doubled the $179.4 million spent two years ago for Pablo Picasso’s 1955 ‘Women of Algiers (Version O),’ as well as an earlier record of $170.4 million for Amedeo Modigliani’s 1917-18 ‘Reclining Nude.’ In private sales, paintings by Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin have commanded as much as $250 million and $300 million, respectively.”
  • “Alex Rotter, chairman of Christie’s postwar and contemporary art department, fielded the winning telephone bid after a 19-minute bidding war with at least five rivals in which bids were initially lobbed in $10 million increments. Billionaire collectors in the saleroom watched with their cellphone cameras held aloft as though they were at a rock concert.”
  • “’I’ve been going to auctions for decades, and I’ve never heard that room let out a collective gasp like they did when it sold,’ said Joanne Heyler, founding director of the Broad, a Los Angeles museum. ‘It’s hard for me to even comprehend that level of bidding.’”
  • “’Salvator Mundi’ isn’t instantly recognizable, like da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ or ‘Mona Lisa.’ This painting was considered a plum for its rarity. Auction records show only a trio of da Vinci’s 2,500 drawings have ever even come up for sale—the highest fetched $11.4 million in 2001—and no authenticated paintings have entered the market in at least a century.”
  • “Da Vinci painted the portrait around 1500, and it bounced among European royals for hundreds of years before shoddy cleaning efforts and overpainting rendered it almost unrecognizable.”
  • “When it surfaced in 1958 at Sotheby’s, it sold as a ‘school of da Vinci’ work for only £45 (about $125 at the time). But in 2005 a group of Old Master dealers and a conservator took a closer look and campaigned for its reauthentication. Ultimately, they won validation from museums and da Vinci scholars.”
  • “’Salvator Mundi’ comes from the collection of Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian fertilizer billionaire.”

Bloomberg – Billionaires Stunned as Da Vinci’s Christ Sells for $450 Million – Katya Kazakina 11/16

  • More information on the seller. Rybolovlev purchased the painting for $127.5 million in 2013, part of his $2 billion art collection. Which he has been in the process of trimming.

WSJ – Daily Shot: RadioFreeEurope – Where Do IS Foreign Fighters Come From 11/16

Economist – The rich get richer, and millennials miss out 11/16

  • “Buoyant financial markets meant that global wealth rose by 6.4% in the 12 months to June, the fastest pace since 2012. And the ranks of the rich expanded again, with 2.3m new millionaires added to the total, according to the Credit Suisse Research Institute’s global wealth report.”
  • “The report underlines the sharp divide between the wealthy and the rest. If the world’s wealth were divided equally, each household would have $56,540. Instead, the top 1% own more than half of all global wealth. The median wealth per household is just $3,582; if you own more than that, you are in the richest 50% of the world’s population.”
  • “America continues to dominate the ranks of millionaires with 43% of the global total. Both Japan and Britain had fewer dollar millionaires than they did in June 2016, thanks to declines in the yen and sterling. Emerging economies have been catching up in the millionaire stakes; they now have 8.4% of the global total, up from 2.7% in 2000.”
  • “In the 12 months covered by the report, the biggest proportionate gains in wealth occurred in Poland, Israel and South Africa, thanks to a combination of stock market and currency gains. Egypt is by far the biggest loser, having lost almost half its wealth in dollar terms. Switzerland is still the country with the highest mean and median wealth per person.”
  • “There is a wide generational gap: millennials (those who reached adulthood in the current millennium) have a lot of catching up to do in the wealth stakes. Americans currently aged between 30 and 39 years of age are calculated to have amassed 46% less wealth on average in 2017 than the equivalent cohort had gathered in 2007.”
  • “Higher student debts and the difficulty of getting on the housing ladder have made it harder for millennials to build a nest-egg. That disparity might come back to bite the baby-boomer generation, who are fast moving into retirement. When baby-boomers want to cash in their assets, they may find millennials can’t afford to buy them at current prices.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Teachable Moment – Insanely Expensive Life Insurance – Anthony Isola 11/15

Civil Beat – Here’s What It Really Takes To Survive in Hawaii – Neal Milner 11/16

  • “Hate them if you must, but homelessness, vacation rentals and unlicensed care homes are natural responses to problems plaguing the islands.”

FT – The Zuckerberg delusion – Edward Luce 11/15

  • “Talking about values has the collateral benefit of avoiding talking about wealth.”

NYT – Deception and Ruses Fill the Toolkit of Investigators Used by Weinstein – Matthew Goldstein and William Rashbaum 11/15

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – Housing Market Valuations 11/16

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 11/15

  • And there it goes again.

Entertainment

WSJ – The Music Industry’s New Gatekeepers – Neil Shah 11/15

  • “Playlist professionals have replaced radio DJs as the new power brokers, as streaming services’ ready-made song lists become hitmakers.”

China

Reuters – Beijing hits brakes on subway boom over debt concerns – Brenda Goh 11/14

  • “China has been in the grips of a metro-building binge with more than 50 cities working on over 1 trillion yuan ($150.8 billion) worth of projects, after population restrictions were loosened last year to allow more cities to have metro systems.”
  • “Such infrastructure spending has helped to shore up economic growth but is now being scrutinized more closely after the government pledged to clamp down on financial risks.”
  • “China has hit the brakes on subway projects in at least three cities and Beijing is asking others to slow down their plans, local governments and media have reported, indicating concerns over high debt from city-level infrastructure spending.”

FT – China’s laid-off workers pose daunting welfare challenge – Emily Feng 11/15

  • “Early retirement for 1.8m in coal and steel sectors imposes heavy burden on state.”

India

Bloomberg – A Dud Diwali For Developers This Year – Purva Chitnis 11/16

  • “Developers hoping for a Diwali revival were left disappointed. Enquiries surged to their highest since demonetization during the festival season. Sales didn’t.”
  • “Fewer apartments were sold in the top eight cities in the quarter ended September, according to property research company PropEquity. Sales declined 13-60% in the three months, according to its data. Sales haven’t picked up since January even as initial cash crunch after the note ban began to ease. New launches that contribute the bulk of the demand plunged as well.”
  • “The housing market continues to hurt from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to outlaw old high-value bills and a new housing law. Demonetization had hit real estate the hardest as buyers had to pay up to 40% cash upfront – unaccounted. The Real Estate Regulation Act that followed protects customers against false promises and bars builders from shifting funds from one project to another (a good thing). A combination of the two triggered a cash crunch, bringing down demand and new launches.”

Japan

WSJ – Daily Shot: Topdown Charts – Japan Labor Force Participation 65yrs and older 11/16

November 13, 2017

Perspective

FT – How Germany got its gold back – Claire Jones 11/10

  • “It was kept abroad to escape the Soviet Union. But then Germany decided to bring it home.”

NYT – After Weinstein: A List of Men Accused of Sexual Misconduct and the Fallout for Each – Sarah Almukhtar, Larry Buchanan, and Michael Gold 11/12

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Little room for error as investors chase leveraged loan boom – Ben McLannahan 11/9

  • “Riskier ‘covenant-lite’ loans now account for about 70% of new leveraged loans, up from 30% before the Lehman Brothers crisis. Protections that were standard back then have now vanished altogether.”
  • “’As long as investors keep buying these loans, there’s nothing really to put the brakes on,’ says Derek Gluckman, a vice-president at Moody’s. ‘Things just keep getting worse.’”
  • “’Loan terms never got this bad in ‘07,’ says Mr. Cohen (founder and CEO of Covenant Review). ‘The contracts … are the worst they’ve ever been. Period, full stop.’”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – A Starbucks Coffee Costs What? – Chelsey Dulaney and Ira Iosebashvili 11/9

  • You’ve heard of the Big Mac Index, this is the Starbucks proxy.

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Financial Stress Index 11/10

FT – Catastrophes wipe $35bn from insurers’ profits – Oliver Ralph and Alistair Gray 11/12

  • “A string of natural disasters from Hurricane Harvey in the US to earthquakes in Mexico have left the insurance industry facing one of its most expensive years on record.”
  • “The catastrophes have wiped more than $35bn from insurers’ profits, according to a Financial Times analysis of third-quarter results that have laid bare the scale of the damage. Berkshire Hathaway, run by billionaire Warren Buffett, and AIG were among the hardest hit in the US, while in Europe Swiss Re and Munich Re face large claims. Lloyd’s, the London-based insurance market, expects to pay out a total of $4.5bn.” 
  • “Insurers say the final cost is likely to be larger and push up premiums. Commercial insurance and reinsurance have suffered from years of falling rates, as excess capacity and a lack of big claims combined to drive prices down.”
  • “’The losses have been extensive across reinsurance, commercial insurance and personal lines,’ said Kurt Karl, chief economist at Swiss Re. ‘There were $20bn of natural catastrophe losses across the industry in the first half. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, combined with the earthquakes in Mexico, will create about $95bn of insured losses.’”
  • “Added together, the industry is facing more than $110bn of insured losses from natural catastrophes. Only 2005 — when Hurricane Katrina hit the US — and 2011 — when there were earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand — were more costly.”
  • “The $35bn figure, taken from company reports, does not include losses from unlisted companies, or from insurance-linked securities in which investors’ capital is used to directly back insurance risk.” 

Tech

Statista – Attack of the Clones – Felix Richter 11/9

Environment / Science

WP – The Earth’s ozone hole is shrinking and is the smallest it has been since 1988 – Marwa Eltagouri 11/3

  • “This year, the ozone hole is the smallest it has been since 1985. NASA and NOAA scientists have been studying the ozone layer and monitoring its hole over Antarctica for years. This year, the ozone hole is the smallest it has been since 1985.”
  • “Here’s a rare piece of good news about the environment: The giant hole in the Earth’s protective ozone layer is shrinking and has shriveled to its smallest peak since 1988, NASA scientists said.”
  • “The largest the hole became this year was about 7.6 million square miles wide, about two and a half times the size of the United States, in September. But it was still 1.3 million square miles smaller than last year, scientists said, and has shrunk more since September.”
  • “Warmer-than-usual weather conditions in the stratosphere are to thank for the shrinkage since 2016, as the warmer air helped fend off chemicals like chlorine and bromine that eat away at the ozone layer, scientists said. But the hole’s overall reduction can be traced to global efforts since the mid-1980s to ban the emission of ozone-depleting chemicals.”
  • “The ozone hole was largest in 2000, when it was 11.5 million square miles wide, according to NASA.”

Health / Medicine

WP – Aaron Hernandez suffered from most severe CTE ever found in a person his age – Adam Kilgore 11/9

India

FT – Smog-cloaked Delhi looks with envy at Beijing’s cleaner air – Kiran Stacey, Emily Feng, and Archie Zhang 11/10

  • “As Indian politicians squabble over who is to blame for the thick smog that has descended over the north of the country this week, citizens have been looking enviously over the border at China, where particulate levels have been falling for years.”
  • “Many in India believe Beijing has been better able to combat its air pollution problem because it does not get bogged down in political infighting. They blame India’s problems on the country’s raucous but inefficient democracy.”
  • This week, pollution in Delhi literally went off the charts, hitting the top reading of 999 on the US embassy’s air quality index. Anything over a reading of 100 is considered unhealthy.” 
  • By Wednesday afternoon, Delhi saw airborne levels of tiny damaging particles known as PM2.5 hit 833 parts per million, while in Beijing the level was 76. Anything over 50 is considered unhealthy, and anything over 300 hazardous.
  • “The difference between the two cities reflects a broader divergence over recent years, during which Delhi has taken over from Beijing as the world’s most polluted megacity.” 
  • “’Indian politicians have this very weird idea that we will do something about pollution when we are developed, but we won’t develop unless they invest in public health,’ says TK Joshi, director of the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health in Delhi.”
  • “He adds: ‘Beijing has tackled this problem much better, but then it is much easier to control things in an authoritarian regime than in a democracy, especially one like India, where 50% of the people are so badly educated about the problem.’”

Middle East

WSJ – Saudi Crackdown Targets Up to $800 Billion in Assets – Margherita Stancati and Summer Said 11/7

  • “The Saudi government is aiming to confiscate cash and other assets worth as much as $800 billion in its broadening crackdown on alleged corruption among the kingdom’s elite, according to people familiar with the matter.”
  • “The country’s central bank, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, said late Tuesday that it has frozen the bank accounts of ‘persons of interest’ and said the move is ‘in response to the Attorney General’s request pending the legal cases against them.’”
  • “Much of that money is abroad, which will complicate efforts to reclaim it, people familiar with the matter said. But even a portion of that amount could help Saudi Arabia’s finances. A prolonged period of low oil prices forced the government to borrow money on the international bond market and to draw extensively from the country’s foreign reserves, which dropped from $730 billion at their peak in 2014 to $487.6 billion in August, the latest available government data.”

FT – Greed and intrigue grip Saudi Arabia – Simeon Kerr 11/10

November 9, 2017

If you were only to read one thing…

Bloomberg – America’s ‘Retail Apocalypse’ Is Really Just Beginning – Matt Townsend, Jenny Surane, Emma Orr, and Christopher Cannon 11/8

  • “The so-called retail apocalypse has become so ingrained in the U.S. that it now has the distinction of its own Wikipedia entry.”
  • “The industry’s response to that kind of doomsday description has included blaming the media for hyping the troubles of a few well-known chains as proof of a systemic meltdown. There is some truth to that. In the U.S., retailers announced more than 3,000 store openings in the first three quarters of this year.”
  • “But chains also said 6,800 would close. And this comes when there’s sky-high consumer confidence, unemployment is historically low and the U.S. economy keeps growing. Those are normally all ingredients for a retail boom, yet more chains are filing for bankruptcy and rated distressed than during the financial crisis. That’s caused an increase in the number of delinquent loan payments by malls and shopping centers.”
  • “The reason isn’t as simple as Amazon.com Inc. taking market share or twenty-somethings spending more on experiences than things. The root cause is that many of these long-standing chains are overloaded with debt—often from leveraged buyouts led by private equity firms. There are billions in borrowings on the balance sheets of troubled retailers, and sustaining that load is only going to become harder—even for healthy chains.”
  • “The debt coming due, along with America’s over-stored suburbs and the continued gains of online shopping, has all the makings of a disaster. The spillover will likely flow far and wide across the U.S. economy. There will be displaced low-income workers, shrinking local tax bases and investor losses on stocks, bonds and real estate. If today is considered a retail apocalypse, then what’s coming next could truly be scary.”
  • “Until this year, struggling retailers have largely been able to avoid bankruptcy by refinancing to buy more time. But the market has shifted, with the negative view on retail pushing investors to reconsider lending to them. Toys “R” Us Inc. served as an early sign of what might lie ahead. It surprised investors in September by filing for bankruptcy—the third-largest retail bankruptcy in U.S. history—after struggling to refinance just $400 million of its $5 billion in debt. And its results were mostly stable, with profitability increasing amid a small drop in sales.”
  • “Making matters more difficult is the explosive amount of risky debt owed by retail coming due over the next five years.”
  • “Just $100 million of high-yield retail borrowings were set to mature this year, but that will increase to $1.9 billion in 2018, according to Fitch Ratings Inc. And from 2019 to 2025, it will balloon to an annual average of almost $5 billion. The amount of retail debt considered risky is also rising. Over the past year, high-yield bonds outstanding gained 20%, to $35 billion, and the industry’s leveraged loans are up 15%, to $152 billion, according to Bloomberg data.”
  • “Even worse, this will hit as a record $1 trillion in high-yield debt for all industries comes due over the next five years, according to Moody’s. The surge in demand for refinancing is also likely to come just as credit markets tighten and become much less accommodating to distressed borrowers.”
  • “Retailers have pushed off a reckoning because interest rates have been historically low from all the money the Federal Reserve has pumped into the economy since the financial crisis. That’s made investing in riskier debt—and the higher return it brings—more attractive. But with the Fed now raising rates, that demand will soften. That may leave many chains struggling to refinance, especially with the bearishness on retail only increasing.”
  • “One testament to that negativity on retail came earlier this year, when Nordstrom Inc.’s founding family tried to take the department-store chain private. They eventually gave up because lenders were asking for 13% interest, about twice the typical rate for retailers.”
  • “Store credit cards pose additional worries. Synchrony Financial, the largest private-label card issuer, has already had to increase reserves to help cover loan losses this year. And Citigroup Inc., the world’s largest card issuer, said collection rates on its retail portfolio are declining. One reason that’s been cited is that shoppers are more willing to stop paying back a card from a chain if the store they went to has closed.”
  • “The ripple effect could also be a direct hit to the industry that is the largest employer of Americans at the low end of the income scale. The most recent government statistics show that salespeople and cashiers in the industry total 8 million.”
  • “During the height of the financial crisis, store workers felt the brunt of the pain when 1.2 million jobs disappeared, or one in seven of all the positions lost from 2008 to 2009, according to the Department of Labor. Since the crisis, employment has been increasing, including in the retail industry, but that correlation ended as jobs at stores sank by 101,000 this year.”
  • “The drop coincides with a rapid acceleration in store closings as bankruptcies surge and many of the nation’s largest retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp., have decided that they have too much space. Even before the e-commerce boom, the U.S. was considered over-stored—the result of investors pouring money into commercial real estate decades earlier as the suburbs boomed. All those buildings needed to be filled with stores, and that demand got the attention of venture capital. The result was the birth of the big-box era of massive stores in nearly every category—from office suppliers like Staples Inc. to pet retailers such as PetSmart Inc. and Petco Animal Supplies, Inc.”
  • “Now that boom is finally going bust. Through the third quarter of this year, 6,752 locations were scheduled to shutter in the U.S., excluding grocery stores and restaurants, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. That’s more than double the 2016 total and is close to surpassing the all-time high of 6,900 in 2008, during the depths of the financial crisis. Apparel chains have by far taken the biggest hit, with 2,500 locations closing. Department stores were hammered, too, with Macy’s Inc., Sears Holdings Corp. and J.C. Penney Co. downsizing. In all, about 550 department stores closed, equating to 43 million square feet, or about half the total.”
  • “One response to the loss of store-based retail jobs is to note that the industry is adding positions at distribution centers to bolster its online operations. While that is true, many displaced retail workers don’t live near a shipping facility. The hiring also skews more toward men, as they make up two-thirds of the workforce, and retail store employees are 60% women.”
  • “The coming wave of risky retail debt maturities doesn’t take into account that companies currently considered stable by ratings agencies also have loads of borrowings. Just among the eight publicly-traded department stores, there is about $24 billion in debt, and only two of those—Sears Holdings Corp. and Bon-Ton Stores Inc.—are rated distressed by Moody’s.”
  • “’A pall has been cast on retail,’ said Charlie O’Shea, a retail analyst for Moody’s. ‘A day of reckoning is coming.’”

Perspective

FT – Forbes says Wilbur Ross lied about being a billionaire – Lindsay Fortado and Shawn Donnan 11/7

  • “Forbes business magazine has booted US secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross off its list of the richest people in America for the first time in 13 years, alleging he lied to them about his net worth by more than $2bn.”

FT – Electric cars’ green image blackens beneath the bonnet – Patrick McGee 11/7

  • “Nico Meilhan, a Paris-based car analyst and energy expert at Frost & Sullivan, says regulators should not encourage this race to sell electric vehicles with bigger batteries. ‘It’s a race, but it’s a very stupid race. It’s not towards a good solution,’ he says. ‘If you switch from oil to cobalt and lithium, you have not addressed any problem, you have just switched your problem.’”
  • “Instead, he says regulators should take weight into account by taxing heavier vehicles and creating incentives for smaller models in both electric and traditional vehicles.”
  • “Mr. Meilhan points out that petrol-engine cars weighing just 500kg — such as the French Ligier microcar or some popular ‘kei cars’ in Japan — emit less lifecycle emissions than a mid-sized electric vehicle even when driven in France, where carbon-free nuclear power generates three-quarters of electricity.”
  • “’If we really cared about CO2,’ he adds, ‘we’d reduce car size and weight.’”

WSJ – Jet-Set Debt Collectors Join a Lucrative Game: Hunting the Superrich – Margot Patrick 11/7

  • “Private investigators spend millions, scour globe, chasing an estimated $2 trillion in pending claims.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – Asian households binge on debt 11/2

  • “What should be good news for the global economy has its downsides.”

FT – The House of Trump and the House of Saud – Edward Luce 11/8

  • “The blossoming relationship with Riyadh symbolizes the decay of the US-led order.”

Markets / Economy

Business Insider – Someone deleted some code in a popular cryptocurrency wallet – and as much as $280 million in ether is locked up – Becky Peterson 11/7

  • “An estimated $280 million worth of the cryptocurrency ether is locked up because of one person’s mistake.”
  • “An unidentified user accidentally deleted the code library required to use recently created digital wallets within Parity, a popular digital-wallet provider, according to a security alert posted on the company’s blog on Tuesday.”
  • “The freeze affects all multi-signature wallets created on Parity after July 20.”
  • “Multi-sig wallets are especially popular among cryptocurrency startups and other groups because they require more than one person to agree before any currency gets moved around. It’s a safeguard against rogue employees who might want to run off with the money.”

WSJ – Clamor for Tech IPOs Reaches Fever Pitch in Asia – Saumya Vaishampayan and Steven Russolillo 11/8

  • “Nearly three quarters of the 66 tech floats in the first nine months of 2017 have been in Asia, and the companies have raised about 40% of the total $16.8 billion from the sector, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers.”
  • “Shares of newly public companies in Asia, on average, have risen by 141% from their IPO prices this year through the end of October, according to Dealogic. That compares with an average 25% gain for U.S. IPOs and a 13% increase for new issues in Europe.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Student Loan Balance 11/8

Real Estate

WSJ – Republican Tax Plan Would Slam California Housing Market – Laura Kusisto 11/8

  • “Limits on mortgage-interest deduction would affect many buyers in coastal regions around the U.S.”

WSJ – Co-Working Trend Eats Into Office Demand – Peter Grant 11/7

  • “The co-working trend, popularized by startup businesses like WeWork Cos., has been attractive to entrepreneurs and small companies looking for communal office space and short-term commitments.”
  • “But it could turn out badly for landlords, according to a new report from Green Street Advisors. The report predicts co-working will detract from cumulative office demand through 2030 by about 2% to 3% as the shared working space approach spreads from small businesses to large ones.”
  • “The report estimates there will be about 14,000 co-working locations world-wide by the end of this year, compared with 600 in 2010. WeWork alone has more than 20 locations in London and is now among New York’s largest office tenants, it says.”
  • “’The most ominous prospect for landlords is that [corporate] users could ‘outsource’ big chunks of their headquarters and regional offices to co-working operators,’ the report warns.”
  • “Consider the new business that WeWork launched earlier this year that creates tailored WeWork centers for big companies that employ hundreds or even thousands of workers. Named Onsite Solutions, it is marketing itself to employers that have flexible office space requirements or who want to circulate employees through hipper environments than their traditional workplaces.”
  • “Mr. Reagan (Jed Reagan, Green Street analyst) said such initiatives have the potential to hurt office landlords because co-working facilities typically require less space: about 75 square feet per worker compared with 175 square feet in traditional offices. Also, co-working leases for big tenants tend to be six months to five years, much shorter than the common lease term of five to 15 years, he said.”
  • “’That could undermine the stability and security of cash flow for landlords and could create more churn among tenants,’ Mr. Reagan said.”

India

FT – One year on, jury is still out on India’s ‘black money’ ban – Amy Kazmin 11/7

  • “Economy has slowed and cash in circulation is 90% of previous level, data show.”

South America

FT – Venezuela’s debt struggle poses more questions for investors – Robin Wigglesworth 11/7

  • “Analysts and investors say there are more questions than answers surrounding Venezuela’s plans to ‘refinance and restructure’ its financial liabilities.”
  • “Venezuela has about $63bn of foreign bonds outstanding, according to Torino Capital, while the central bank estimates the country’s overall foreign debts at about $90bn. The real number say most analysts is much higher.” 
  • “PDVSA, the state oil company, has sold $28.6bn of bonds and owes billions of dollars more in ‘promissory notes’. Venezuela owes another $4bn or so to creditors that have taken it to the World Bank’s ICSID court. Stuart Culverhouse, chief economist at Exotix, thinks total public sector external debts range between $100bn and $150bn.”
  • “Even this is uncertain. Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro has mentioned ‘refinancing’ and ‘restructuring’ the country’s external liabilities. But a refinancing usually implies something voluntary while a restructuring means forcibly ‘haircutting’ creditors. Crucially, US sanctions imposed this summer in practice means both options are off the table.” 
  • “That Mr. Maduro named vice-president Tareck El Aissami as the lead negotiator with bondholders complicates matters further. Mr. Aissami has himself been sanctioned by the US as an alleged narcotics trafficker, which means US investment groups — the biggest holders of Venezuelan debt — cannot enter talks with him.” 
  • “’The logistics seem almost impossible,’ notes Siobhan Morden, head of Latin American fixed income strategy at Nomura. ‘The cynical interpretation is that the impossible deadline for negotiations conveniently shifts the blame of default to bondholders for their unwillingness (inability) to negotiate.’”
  • “With a competent government and more orthodox economic policies, Venezuela could probably handle its debt burden. Although oil exports are declining, it still boasts the world’s largest proven reserves and prices are at their highest level for more than two years.”
  • “But chronic mismanagement by governments under Hugo Chávez and now Mr. Maduro and the oil slump has taken its toll. According to the IMF, the economy has shrunk by a third over the past five years.”
  • “The country’s options appear limited. Venezuela is overdue on the interest payments on bonds that mature in 2019, 2024, 2025 and 2026, demonstrating the ‘significant fiscal strain’ the country is facing, S&P notes. Foreign currency reserves are below $10bn — and much of this is in gold that will be hard to liquidate. China is wary of deepening its financial exposure to Venezuela while the country has already restructured some of its bilateral loans from Russia.”
  • “The price of Venezuela’s bond maturing in August next year has tumbled from 72 cents on the dollar to about 34 cents this week, as investors panicked after the restructuring announcement and bank traders pulled out of the market, causing prices to ‘gap’ lower.” 
  • “Russia could provide a loan secured by Venezuelan oil assets that the government could either use to pay creditors, or to buy back some of its bonds at their current big price discount.” 
  • “Venezuela could also seek to improve its fiscal space by separating PDVSA from the state, defaulting on the latter debts while staying current on the oil company’s bonds. That could in theory prevent creditors from interrupting PDVSA’s oil sales, while letting Venezuela’s sovereign creditors stew. Suing countries is much harder than companies with assets that can be seized.”
  • “Moreover, ringfencing PDVSA from the government will be tricky. Crystallex, a Canadian miner, is already suing Venezuela and arguing that PSDVA is the ‘alter ego’ of the state. If Crystallex wins, it opens the door for all creditors to try to seize Venezuelan and PDVSA assets interchangeably.” 
  • “The most likely outcome, investors and analysts say, is a protracted period of financial limbo, with a restructuring precluded by US sanctions and Venezuela facing a barrage of lawsuits that will tie it up for years to come.”

November 2, 2017

If you were only to read one thing…

WSJ – Backlog in EB-5 Immigration Program Creates Cash Hoard for Property Developers – Peter Grant 10/24

  • “A backlog in the controversial EB-5 immigration program, which enables foreigners who invest in the U.S. to get green cards, is making billions of dollars of new money available for investments in real estate and other businesses.”
  • “The backlog is primarily in China, where the EB-5 program has become so popular that applicants can face delays of more than 10 years from the time they make their investment of at least $500,000 to the time they get their visa.”
  • “The U.S. government limits the number of EB-5 visas to 10,000 a year, and per-country cutoffs can get imposed on countries like China where the application rate is high.”
  • “This had created a problem for applicants: 10 years is such a long time that some U.S. developers want to repay the investors’ money before visas are issued. But doing do would disqualify the EB-5 application.”
  • “The solution—which was spelled out by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in a June policy memo—is a process known as redeployment. Essentially, the government said, EB-5 applications remain in good standing if the repaid money is reinvested in an active business and remains ‘at-risk’.”
  • More than $16.6 billion is expected to become available for redeployment between now and 2020, according to NES Financial, of San Jose, Calif., one of the leading providers of EB-5 servicing and administration.”
  • “Investment companies have begun to position themselves to take advantage of billions of dollars now available for reinvestment. For example, in July, a venture of Greystone & Co., NES and Capital United LLC created a way for EB-5 money to be redeployed into a fund of real-estate bridge loans originated by Greystone.”
  • “The EB-5 program was created in 1990 and has been popular among U.S. real-estate developers, who have flocked to it as a source of low-cost financing. The program requires investments of at least $500,000 to create at least 10 jobs, making it appealing to city and state economic development agencies as well.”
  • “Now the redeployment of funds has raised new concerns about the EB-5 program, which is facing reauthorization by Congress. For example, the June policy manual ‘appears to allow’ developers to invest redeployed funds in projects that don’t get as much vetting as the original EB-5 project, according to Gary Friedland, a scholar-in-residence at New York University who has written about the program.”
  • More than 4,400 petitions for EB-5 status were filed in the third quarter of fiscal year 2017, which ended in June, according to Invest In the USA, a trade association. The number of pending petitions was up 11% from the second quarter to over 24,600, the group said.”
  • “There is no job-creation requirement on the redeployed funds. But the necessary jobs have been created after the original EB-5 investments are made, Ms. Berman (Allison Berman, head of Greystone’s EB-5 business) pointed out. ‘Each investor already has created at least those 10 jobs,’ she said.”
  • “Ms. Berman says the fund targets a 4% return after fees. Redeployment is good for the U.S. economy because it is keeping the EB-5 money ‘in commerce for longer than initially anticipated.'”

Perspective

WSJ – Chinese Banks’ Capital Cushion Isn’t So Comfy – Anjani Trivedi 10/26

  • “Prudent as Chinese banks’ capital-raising binge may seem at first blush, investors should keep an eye on what’s driving their buffer-building.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – Expelling Immigrant Workers May Also Send Away the Work They Do – Eduardo Porter 10/24

  • “This is how the growers will respond to President Trump’s threatened crackdown on immigration: They will lobby, asking Congress to provide some legal option to hang on to their foreign work force. They will switch to crops like tree nuts, which are less labor-intensive to produce than perishable fruits and vegetables. They will look for technology to mechanize the harvest of strawberries and other crops. And they will rent land in Mexico.”
  • “There is one thing they won’t do. Even if the Trump administration were to deploy the 10,000 immigration agents it plans to hire across the nation’s fields to detain and deport farmhands working illegally, farmers are very unlikely to raise wages and improve working conditions to attract American workers instead.”
  • “’Foreign workers will always be harvesting our crops,’ Tom Nassif, who heads the Western Growers Association, told me. The only question for policymakers in Washington is whether ‘they want them to be harvesting in our economy or in another country.’ If they choose the latter, he warned, they might consider that each farmworker sustains two to three jobs outside the fields.”
  • “Most of what we know about the effect of immigration on American-born workers is based on studies of what happens when immigrants arrive. Almost 30 years ago, the economist David Card found that the Mariel boatlift of 1980, in which more than 100,000 Cubans fleeing the island landed in Florida, did little damage to either the employment or the wages of the Americans they competed with.”
  • “A flurry of research since then has tried to find fault with that counterintuitive conclusion. Yet despite the claims from the Trump administration that immigrants have decimated the working class, Mr. Card’s analysis has emerged pretty much unscathed: With few exceptions, economists agree that even less-educated natives suffer little when immigrants arrive.”
  • “What if the shock goes the other way, though? We know less about what happens when immigrant workers are kicked out. But a series of studies over the past year are also coming to something of a consensus: Expelling immigrants does not open opportunities for workers born in the United States, either. Rather, the shock leaves them worse off than when the immigrants were here.”

NYT – America Is Not a ‘Center-Right Nation’ – Eric Levitz 11/1

The Republic – Mafia in our midst: A mob soldier turned Phoenix businessman – Robert Anglen 10/31

  • A very thorough and salacious report on Phoenix businessman Frank Capri (formerly a mobster by the name of Frank Gioia Jr.).
  • “Frank Capri, who persuaded developers to give him millions to build Toby Keith restaurants, had a violent history…”

WSJ – The Morningstar Mirage – Kirsten Grind, Tom McGinty, and Sarah Krouse 10/25

WSJ – WeWork’s Lord & Taylor Deal: Savvy Move or Top of the Market? – Dan Gallagher and Justin Lahart 10/24

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 10/31

FT – Subsidies help China sell the most electric cars – Charles Clover 10/23

  • “Few countries have done more than China to push towards an electric future for the car industry. Beijing announced last month that it was looking at when to implement a ban on petrol and diesel cars, following announcements by France and Britain, which said they would ban traditional fuel vehicles by 2040, and Germany’s parliament, which has called for a ban by 2030.”
  • “Beijing also announced wide-ranging regulations forcing carmakers to start to meet steadily increasing production quotas for battery-powered cars, beginning in 2019.”
  • “Reactions to the announcement illustrate how China has managed to grow so quickly to become such a significant market for electric vehicles. China uniquely possesses the means to implement its will — it is the world’s largest car market, meaning it has unprecedented leverage over the global car industry, and also has a massive central planning mechanism.”
  • “Electric vehicles (EVs), both fully electric and hybrids, are part of a new industrial policy known as Made in China 2025, by which year Beijing wants to have national champions in 10 high-tech industries, including robotics, semiconductors and electric vehicles.”
  • “To achieve this, local and central governments have allotted subsidies that last year were worth up to Rmb100,000 ($15,000) per vehicle, according to Yale Zhang of Auto Foresight, a Shanghai consultancy specializing in the car industry.”
  • “Fitch, the rating agency, has found that average electric vehicle subsidies in China are the second most generous in the world after Norway.”
  • “China has also introduced a preferential vehicle licensing system in several cities. License plates are given out either by auction, lottery or after payment of a high fee in an effort to halt car congestion, but EV buyers get license plates free and without a wait in at least six Chinese cities. These centers account for 70% of domestic EV purchases, Fitch says.”
  • “China’s national grid is investing in EV charging stations. It expects to put Rmb25bn ($3.75bn) into charging stations by 2020; there are already 171,000 nationwide according to Xinhua, China’s official news service. This compares with 45,000 charging outlets and 16,000 electric stations in the US, according to official data.”
  • “In response to Beijing’s measures, the industry has boomed: sales of electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles were up 53% in 2016 to 507,000, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, which estimated that the number accounted for 45% of all such vehicles sold worldwide in that year.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Homebuilder Index Relative Performance to S&P 500 10/31

WSJ – Chinese Property Shopping Spree Fades as Beijing Hits the Brakes – Dominique Fong and Esther Fung 10/31

  • “Since late 2016, policy makers in Beijing have been tightening restrictions on overseas investments and scrutinizing some of the country’s most ambitious deal makers, voicing concerns that deals in certain sectors were disguises for capital flight into havens.”
  • “Outbound capital from China into foreign properties and development sites reached a record $36.8 billion in 2016, according to data firm Real Capital Analytics. Volume for the first three quarters of this year was $19.7 billion. In the U.S. real-estate market, capital from China slowed to $5.1 billion in the same nine-month period, down from a total of $14.8 billion in 2016, said Real Capital. These are deals that are $10 million and greater.”
  • “Real-estate companies based in Hong Kong also appear to be less affected by the capital controls. Companies based in Hong Kong this year bought two high-profile London buildings, nicknamed the ‘Cheesegrater’ and ‘Walkie Talkie’.”
  • “But increasingly, firms are toeing to the party line. ‘Investors with capital already outside of China will continue to show strong interests allocating capital to U.S. real estate…though those in this category, even ostensibly private companies, are progressively less free to ignore what goes on in China,’ said Andrew Levy, senior counsel at law firm DLA Piper.”

WSJ – Driverless Cars Could Slam Brakes on Self-Storage Sector – Peter Grant 10/24

  • “The approaching transportation revolution is going to have major repercussions in the commercial real-estate sector as driverless vehicles and ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft gain more widespread adoption.”
  • “The property type expected to be hurt the most: Self-storage. Because people will own fewer cars, they will have more storage spaces in their garages, so they won’t need to rent it.”
  • “That is one of the conclusions of a new report on the future of transportation and real estate by the Urban Land Institute and real-estate investment research firm Green Street Advisors. The report says ride-hailing services already are having a big effect on consumer behavior and predicts that ‘mass adoption’ of driverless vehicles will begin around 2030 and be completed about 15 years later.
  • “…transportation revolution could be a mixed bag for industrial space. Demand from e-commerce should explode, the report says, but driverless trucks will improve efficiency.”
  • “’Goods should spend less time sitting idly in warehouses, likely resulting in a drag on industrial real-estate demand,’ the report says.”
  • “The report points out that investors need to be savvy about the impact of transportation trends because valuing a property today depends heavily on the long-range future. Because issues that go beyond seven years ‘are usually ignored, mispricing can result,’ the report states.”
  • “The opportunity is significant for investors who can figure out these trends now. ‘But, uncertainty is huge, so humility is in order,’ the report states.”

WSJ – Big Law Firms Look to Shrink Their Office Space Use – Esther Fung 10/24

  • “Of the 14 million square feet of office space leased to law firms between the first quarter of 2016 and the second quarter of 2017, 40% was the result of a contraction by the tenant, according to a CBRE Group study of 26 markets.”
  • “On average, the law firms reduced their leased space by 27%.”
  • However, “top law firms that lease more than 50,000 square feet of office space are more likely the ones that are reducing their physical office space, rather than their smaller peers.”

WSJ – More People Think Renting Is a Better Deal Than Buying – Laura Kusisto 10/24

  • “A growing percentage of renters believe it is cheaper to rent than to buy a home, which helps explain why the homeownership rate remains persistently low nearly a decade after the housing crash.”
  • “In the Freddie Mac survey, the view that renting is more affordable increased significantly across all age groups. Some 76% of millennials said renting is an affordable option, up more than 10 percentage points from a year ago. Roughly 82% of baby boomers said they view renting as a more affordable option, up 11 percentage points from a year ago. And the share of Generation Xers who see renting as more affordable jumped to 75% from 56%.”
  • Never forget that these surveys or comparisons are a snap shot in time. At times renting is more affordable than buying (it should always be more affordable than buying); however, once you buy (of course coming up with the down payment is no easy accomplishment) you generally have fixed your cost of occupancy (increases in property taxes and maintenance costs will get you in either case). Further, the forced savings element of a mortgage is hands down one of the best ways to build wealth. I recognize that it helps to have a relatively stable life to do this. However, if you’re renting, that cost will NEVER go away, and don’t forget the power of compounding costs – which will eat your savings eventually once you’re no longer making money, or stop receiving raises.
  • Rent if you have to or while your life is in transition, but homeownership is the goal (unless, if governments make property taxes prohibitively expensive and/or push to a model where the state owns all housing).

WSJ – Commercial Property Transactions Dry Up as Sellers Hold Out for Better Prices – Esther Fung 10/24

  • “Big U.S. real-estate companies have been selling assets at a slower pace this year, as the gap widens between their views on what their properties are worth and buyers’ willingness to pay high prices.”
  • “After an eight-year bull run for commercial real estate, some investors have been anticipating a correction. But that hasn’t happened yet, and there is little consensus on how much longer the bull market has to run.”
  • “Buyers, facing tighter lending conditions and slower income growth, are expecting lower prices and bidding accordingly, but sellers, including publicly traded property owners, are holding out for better deals.”
  • “Listed real-estate investment trusts have sold $46.7 billion in assets as of Oct. 23 this year compared with $71 billion in assets sold in all of 2016, according to data from Real Capital Analytics. Acquisitions, on the other hand, have been at a roughly similar pace at around $44.6 billion as of Oct. 23 this year compared with $47.9 billion in 2016. There have been fewer major transactions especially in the office and retail real-estate sector.”
  • “Unlike previous cycles, property owners aren’t overly leveraged and are still able to access the debt markets rather than be compelled to sell at unattractive prices.”
  • “For REITs, there is the added burden of making sure any sales proceeds can be deployed for other uses quickly, given their inability to hoard cash. These landlords are hesitant to sell in part because of the lack of attractive assets to buy as well as a general reluctance to do share buybacks.”
  • It should be noted that one major buyer of assets from listed REITs has been having issues in its fund raising mechanisms. That is the public non-traded REIT.

Energy

FT – US oil producers: Shale safe – Lex 10/23

  • “From Silicon Valley to the shale patch, the fundamental laws of corporate finance have been suspended for years. Such a calculus only works, however, if investors are willing to shoulder heavy losses on uneconomic investment in the hopes that pricing power ultimately ensues. Reality may have begun to weigh upon US oil producers. A renewed focus on spending within cash flow is taking hold in 2017.”
  • “Shareholders have turned off the funding spigot, with US E&P companies raising only $6bn in equity this year compared with more than $30bn in the same period last year. The perverse practice of tying oil executive compensation to production growth, not profits or cash flow, has also finally received the attention it deserves.” 
  • “The acreage obsession in the energy industry was always predicated on the idea that somebody else’s company would succumb before one’s own. But last man standing no longer beats cash is king as a mantra.”

FT – US shale investors tire of ‘growth at any cost’ model – Ed Crooks 10/22

  • “In a recent presentation at the New York Stock Exchange, Doug Suttles, chief executive of Encana, spelt out the new reality for North American oil and gas producers. The industry had gone, he said, from ‘resource capture’ to ‘value maximization’.”
  • “This is a profound change. Since the shale oil revolution began in the late 2000s, management teams have mostly focused on growth at any cost, and investors have mostly been prepared to back them.”
  • “This year, however, investor sentiment has shifted. Shareholders are less dazzled by the excitement of the shale boom, and more interested in orthodox measures of success including returns on capital and cash generation.”
  • “The whole shale industry is being pushed in the same direction. If companies fail to improve shareholder return, says Stephen Trauber, global head of energy at Citi, ‘investors will start to question what management is doing’.”
  • “For the past eight years, the US exploration and production industry has outspent its cash flows in drilling costs, requiring a constant inflow of debt and equity financing to keep going. But the industry has given shareholders very little in return.”
  • “Given those numbers, it is unsurprising that investor interest appears to have waned. US exploration and production companies raised $34.3bn from share sales in 2016, making it a record year, but just $5.7bn in the first nine months of 2017, according to Dealogic.”
  • “The pressure from investors for more discipline — a word used 17 times by Encana in its presentation — already seems to be having an effect. The number of active rigs in the US drilling the horizontal wells used for shale oil production has been dropping since the beginning of August.”
  • “Jamaal Dardar, an analyst at Tudor Pickering Holt, says just six months ago he would have expected US oil and gas producers to go on outspending their cash flows into next year at least. He now expects that in 2018 the larger exploration and production companies will in aggregate earn positive free cash flow, after capital spending but before dividend payments.”
  • “’We all like growth, but it must be profitable growth,’ Mr Holt says. ‘They might be able to grow at 5 or 10% per year, but not at 20%.’”
  • “If companies bow to that pressure from investors, it could work out very neatly. Slower oil production growth in the US would help push crude prices higher, making it possible for the industry to deliver the returns that shareholders want.”
  • “But Citi’s Mr Trauber warns the history of the oil industry shows it rarely delivers such tidy outcomes.”
  • “’We have been here before,’ he says. ‘At times over the past 30 years, investors have demanded discipline from the industry. But then as soon as the oil price picks up again, they have forgotten all about it and the industry has rushed back to growth again.’”

Finance

WSJ – Wealthier Depositors Pressure Banks to Pay Up – Telis Demos and Christina Rexrode 10/24

  • “As the Fed has raised rates, banks have been reluctant to do the same on their deposits. But for wealth-management customers, that’s starting to change.”

FT – DRW leads high frequency trading charge into cryptocurrencies – Gregory Meyer and Joe Rennison 10/22

  • Having a hard time finding enough volatility to trade in the markets, some are now trading Bitcoin…

China

NYT – Xi Jinping Vows No Poverty in China by 2020. That Could Be Hard. – Javier C. Hernandez 10/31

  • For China’s – and the world’s – sake, I hope that they succeed.

NYT – China’s Entrepreneurs Squirm Under Xi Jinping’s Tightening Grip – Sui-Lee Wee 10/23

India

FT – Reality dawns on India’s solar ambitions – Kiran Stacey 10/31

  • “The country has one of the world’s biggest solar sectors, but now faces the risk of a bubble.”

NYT – The Uninhabitable Village – Geeta Anand and Vikram Singh 10/26

  • “Hotter temperatures are forcing families in southern India to decide: Try to survive here, or leave?”
  • A very unique way to report on a story. A video slide show with text.

Other Interesting Links

FT – Spot the difference: why lab-grown diamonds pose a threat to big miners – Henry Sanderson 10/30

October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween!

If you were only to read one thing…

FT – Billionaire boom is a sign that rates need to rise – Merryn Somerset Webb 10/27

  • “It has been a good week for billionaires. The UBS/PwC Billionaires Report 2017 claimed the combined wealth of the world’s 1,542 billionaires rose by almost a fifth last year to $6tn: more than double the UK’s gross domestic product.”
  • “It has not been a particularly good week for governments. They have to deal with the fallout from rising wealth inequality, and that fallout is getting increasingly nasty. This kind of report does not do much for central bankers, either: the rise of the billionaires is as much about financial globalization as it is easy money, but every time a report lands on their desks, central bankers must stop to think about the economic, social and political havoc their policies have caused over the past 10 years.”
  • “The desperate attempt to avoid deflation via quantitative easing and record-low interest rates has had horrible side effects, and this observation is hardly controversial. The rich have become much richer; corporate wealth has become more concentrated; soaring house prices have created intergenerational strife; low yields have made all but the super-rich paranoid that they will be entirely unable to finance their futures. Most markets have ended up overvalued (this will really matter one day), while pension fund deficits and a constant sense of crisis have discouraged capital investment — and have possibly held down wages in the UK.”
  • “Set a target, get a distortion. This is standard stuff. But the fact that extreme monetary policy has been going on for so long means that central bankers do not just have macro problems to feel bad about. They are also effectively responsible for the increasingly dodgy micro policies governments have felt forced to put in place in an attempt to alleviate the nasty side effects of very low interest rates, over which they have no control.”
  • “A bit of good news is that this monetary experimentation has been about inflation targeting (everyone, for no obvious reason, is after 2%). And if you set a target and pursue it at the cost of everything else you usually get to it. So inflation is back. In the US, where expectations of inflation are low, September numbers showed average hourly earnings jumping 2.9%, the biggest rise in a decade.”
  • “The Monetary Policy Committee could dig out a list of excuses not to raise rates despite the last GDP growth numbers being rather better than expected. Raising rates will do harm at some point (asset prices will fall and the indebted will suffer). But not reversing is beginning to look like it could do more harm. Unless, of course, you are a billionaire.”

Perspective

Axios – ‘Degree inflation’ may be pushing workers out of the middle class – Christopher Matthews 10/25

  • “A growing number of U.S. employers are requiring bachelor’s degrees for jobs that have long been performed by workers without them, contributing to a rise in income inequality, according to a report published today.”
  • “Why it matters: The report, by Harvard Business School, Accenture, and Grads of Life estimates that 6 million American jobs are at risk of ‘degree inflation,’ a result of employers increasingly using a bachelor’s degree ‘as a proxy for a candidate’s range and depth of skills.'”

  • “‘This phenomenon is a major driver of income inequality,’ Joe Fuller of Harvard Business School tells Axios. ‘We’re hollowing out middle-class jobs and driving everyone to the extremes of the income spectrum.'”
  • “The number of U.S. job openings has reached an all-time high, but more than 13 million Americans — the vast majority with less than a four-year college degree — are unemployed or working part-time when they want full-time positions.”
  • “The costs of the shift are ‘profound’ for the two-thirds of American adults who lack a college degree, Fuller says.”
    • “90% of companies use screening software to weed out applicants lacking the education requirement. That means, even with the right experience, an applicant won’t even be considered by a human.”
    • “‘This puts significant pressure for people with certain aspirations to get a degree even when it’s not directly relevant to their career.'”
    • “When the 6-year graduation rate for 4-year schools in America is just 59%, that means Americans lacking the aptitude to excel in college take on debt for degrees they’ll never receive.”
    • “Hispanics and African Americans are disproportionately hurt by the phenomenon, because they have lower college graduation rates than the population at large.”

Visual Capitalist – Commuters and Computers: Mapping U.S. Megaregions – Nick Routley 10/28

  • “We tend to think of cities as individual economic units, but as they expand outward and bleed together, defining them simply by official jurisdictions and borders becomes difficult. After all, many of the imaginary lines divvying up the country are remnants of decisions from centuries ago – and other county and state lines exist for more counterintuitive reasons such as gerrymandering.”
  • “By ignoring borders and looking purely at commuter data, geographer Garrett Nelson and urban analyst Alasdair Rae looked to map the relationship between population centers in their paper, An Economic Geography of the United States: From Commutes to Mega-regions.”

  • “The study used network partitioning software to link together 4 million commutes between census tracts. This gives us a very granular look at the ‘gravitational pull’ of America’s population centers, and helps us better understand the economic links that bind a region together.”
  • “By combining visual and mathematical approaches, and some creative place-naming, the researchers created a map that they hope reflects America’s true economic geography.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: State College Graduation Rates – Highest & Lowest 10/29

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

The Atlantic – Harvey Weinstein and the Economics of Consent – Brit Marling 10/23

  • “The blunt power of the gatekeeper is the ability to enforce not just artistic, but also financial, exile.”

Bloomberg View – When Wall Street Looks Pricey, the Rest of the U.S. Thrives – Conor Sen

  • “When stocks are expensive, those with capital are more inclined to expand a business or start a new one.”
  • We’ll see…

Bloomberg View – Faster Growth Begins With a Land Tax in U.S. Cities – Noah Smith 10/24

  • This would cause a major political fight. The odds are that a land value tax would initially be passed onto tenants, until of course there is enough push back.
  • Granted, this goes against the goal of having property in core markets with the ability to benefit from economic rents…

Business Insider – Jeff Flake isn’t brave, he’s helpless – and he doesn’t understand why – Josh Barro 10/24

FT – Investors pass the buck on governance – Rana Foroohar 10/29

  • “Proxy advisers incentivize the wrong company behavior by creating rigid checklists.”

NYT – A Long-Delayed Reckoning of the Cost of Silence on Abuse – Jim Rutenberg 10/22

NYT – Forget Washington. Facebook’s Problems Abroad Are Far More Disturbing. – Kevin Roose 10/29

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – US Single Family Home Sales 10/29

  • “Moody’s is projecting that many more homes will be sold next year as homeowners finally make their move.”

Others are not as optimistic.

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – US Existing Single Family Home Sales 10/29

FT  – Sand castles on Jersey Shore: property boom defies US flood risk – Gregory Meyer 10/29

  • “Sandy exposed the perils of shoreline living, as the climate warms and sea levels creep higher. In the US alone it left 162 dead, laid waste to 650,000 homes and cost $65bn — the second most expensive weather disaster in history.”
  • “On New Jersey’s fragile barrier islands, the response to Sandy has not been to withdraw inland but rather to build bigger. ‘They did not rebuild bungalows. They knocked those down and built McMansions,’ says Walter LaCicero, Lavallette’s mayor.”
  • That’s one way to do eminent domain.
  • “Improbably, the disaster created a once-in-a-lifetime buying opportunity. Older families unable to pay for repairs sold properties.”
  • “House prices in the worst-hit communities cratered after Sandy. In Lavallette, the median sale price of $532,500 in October 2012 had more than halved to $225,000 by February 2013, according to New Jersey Realtors. This past summer, median prices reached $660,000 and were higher by the beach.”
  • “The Federal Emergency Management Agency has paid out more than $25bn in New Jersey and New York alone, reimbursing towns for the cost of removing debris, repairing roads and bridges, and renting emergency equipment. Gaps in local tax revenue lost when assessed property values collapsed were filled with federal money. The agency granted $1.4bn to 179,000 people and households in the region to cover their costs of shelter and rebuilding.”
  • “Critics say federal policy rewards local officials for hazardous coastal development. ‘If someone told you you’re going to get a new beach every time the oceans washed yours away, you’re probably going to feel more secure allowing high-priced homes to be built there,’ says Rob Moore, senior policy analyst at the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council).”
  • “The aid has strings attached: all new and rebuilt houses must now rest on stilts at least one foot above the estimated crest of a once-in-a-100-year flood.”
  • “Relatively cheap schemes such as hazard zoning and land purchases have typically received about 5% of disaster relief funds, according to a report by the National Research Council, an expert body. Washington is also picking up a bigger tab from coastal disasters, covering 75% of the damages from Sandy compared with 6% for Hurricane Diane in 1955.”
  • “‘Developers, builders and state and local governments reap the rewards of coastal development but do not bear equivalent risk, because the federal government has borne an increasing share of the costs of coastal disasters,’ the council’s study said.”
  • “The prospect of higher and more frequent floods driven by climate change comes as the Trump administration unravels US commitments to rein in carbon emissions, including pulling out of the Paris agreement and abandoning an initiative to factor climate risks into infrastructure spending. As Irma bore down on Florida last month Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said the time to discuss the causes and effects of the storm was ‘not now’.”

WSJ – Stuck in Place, U.S. Homeowners Hunker Down as Housing Supply Stays Tight – Laura Kusisto and Christina Rexrode 10/29

FT – Boston prices its graduates out of starter homes – Hugo Cox 10/24

Energy

WSJ – Your Next Home Could Run on Batteries – Christopher Mims 10/15

  • “The rise of these home batteries isn’t just a product of our collective obsession with new tech. Their adoption is being driven by a powerful need, says Ravi Manghani, of GTM Research: renewable energy.”

  • “Without batteries and other means of energy storage, the ability of utility companies to deliver power could eventually be threatened.”
  • “Solar power, especially, tends to generate electricity only at certain times—and it’s rarely in sync with a home’s needs. In some states, such as California and Arizona, there’s an overabundance of solar power in the middle of the day during cool times of the year, then a sudden crash in the evenings, when people get home and energy use spikes.”
  • “For utilities, it’s a headache. The price of electricity on interstate markets can go negative at certain times, forcing them to dump excess electricity or pay others to take it.”
  • “’This is not a long-term theoretical issue that might happen—this is now,’ says Marc Romito, director of customer technology at Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest electric utility.”

Finance

FT – Wall St banks ride boom in leveraged loans as volumes soar – Joe Rennison and Eric Platt 10/29

  • “Wall Street banks are having a strong year underwriting and selling riskier loans, with the volume so far this year already surpassing the whole of 2016.”
  • “The overall industry has underwritten leveraged loans worth $1.251tn, and earlier this month eclipsed its previous full-year record set in 2013, according to Dealogic. Volumes are up 38% from a year earlier and more than 60% of the deals have been companies refinancing existing loans.”
  • “The relative dearth of new loans, as opposed to refinancings, has also given borrowers the upper hand. As well as lower rates, borrowers are also able to cut the number of investor protections, called covenants, written into the loans.”
  • “’Net new supply is relatively low so demand is exceeding supply,’ said Christina Padgett, an analyst at Moody’s. ‘Investors are going to get squeezed on price and the issuers are going to take advantage so they have really flexible credit agreements.’”

FT – Why credit is the Hotel California of markets – Michael Mackenzie 10/24

  • “The endless debate over valuation metrics that have accompanied the storming bull run in stocks misses a much bigger point about investing in 2017. Thanks to the outsized role of central banks, it is the credit markets that run the show. If you want clues on when the bull run in equities is entering the red zone, keep your eyes on the corporate debt market.”
  • “Before central banks’ quantitative easing policies engineered the current cycle of financial suppression, credit markets had already established their bona fides as an early warning system for investors. When equities peaked in October 2007, the credit market had already begun turning lower.”
  • “A decade on, the risk premium, or additional yield, offered by corporate bonds over that of a US government bond is at its narrowest since 2007. That provides very little protection for buyers, with even a modest drop in bond prices erasing the meagre fixed income being paid by borrowers.”
  • The big lesson digested by investors since the financial crisis is that you need to own yield, and the money gushing into bond funds remains immense. About $241bn flowed into US high grade bond funds and exchange traded funds in the first nine months of the year, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimates. That’s a whopping 34% higher than 2012’s full-year record of $180bn, the bank says.”
  • “This high tide of money means companies can keep selling debt — running at a record $1.4tn pace this year in the US — at very low interest rates. The resulting higher leverage in the system helps explain why the equity market keeps updating the record books with alacrity.”
  • “’As long as people are tripping over themselves to buy bonds, it remains a very favorable environment for risk taking,’ says Jack Ablin, chief investor officer at BMO Wealth Management.”
  • “True, a number of strategists concede the current credit cycle is looking a little long in the tooth, but they also think the water can remain warm and soapy for a while yet.”
  • “The Federal Reserve may have begun trimming its balance sheet, but other central banks are still buying and the scale of their largesse keeps US credit spreads tight as international money hunts yield. Not until next March will collective bond buying from the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England peak at around $15.3tn, according to BofA.”
  • “But kick the tires of the credit machine a little harder and there are nascent signs of trouble.”
  • “The quality of covenants — designed to protect bondholders from a borrower defaulting — loiters in the gutter, reflecting a market awash with far too much money.”
  • “In another troubling sign, companies have raised just $215bn from the US high yield market in 2017, the second-slowest figure since 2011, as flows of money into the sector have been choppy this year. While this suggests that some money managers are doing their credit homework, the recent bankruptcy filing of Toys R Us sends a grim tiding about market complacency.”
  • “Bonds in the highly indebted retailer were trading near par and then plunged below 30 cents on the dollar.”
  • “So where does this leave investors? Sure the music is still playing and will probably do so for some time yet. But watch the yield curve. The Fed’s autopilot sequence of rate increases has sharply narrowed the difference between yields on short and long dated Treasuries. This reflects expectations that inflation will stay low — bad for debtors — as well as concern that the economy’s growth prospects are limited.”
  • “If there’s further curve flattening after a tax reform deal, that will send a gloomy signal about the economy, finally push credit spreads wider and should worry the most ardent of equity bulls.”
  • “As we know from 2008, there is no exit once the credit market turns. Credit is the Hotel California of markets — and equity investors usually discover they are trapped in the basement.”

China

FT – Inside China’s secret ‘magic weapon’ for worldwide influence – James Kynge, Lucy Hornby, and Jamil Anderlini 10/25

  • “Xi is quietly ramping up a Communist party department to expand Beijing’s soft power.”

India

FT – India agrees $32bn plan to recapitalize state banks – Simon Mundy 10/24

  • “India’s government has announced a $32bn recapitalization plan for the country’s ailing state-controlled banks in a bid to tackle a festering economic problem.”
  • “The finance ministry promised on Tuesday to take a ‘massive step . . . to support credit growth and job creation’ by shoring up bank balance sheets strained by soaring corporate defaults over the past three years.”
  • “The state banks have been faced with weak credit demand this year and have lost market share to private sector rivals.”
  • “Concerns about the condition of the state-owned banks, which account for more than two-thirds of sector assets, have been mounting along with estimates of their bad loans.”
  • “This is because of a spurt in loans to companies in sectors such as steel and infrastructure over much of the past decade, many of which subsequently turned sour. Gross non-performing loans at the state-controlled banks rose to 13.7% of their assets at the end of June, up from 5.4% in March 2015.”
  • “Beyond the recapitalization, the government promised to push the banks to step up their lending to small and medium-sized enterprises, including by partnering with financial technology companies.”
  • “This sector was badly hit by India’s demonetization last year, which triggered a shortage of bank notes that rocked companies long used to dealing entirely in cash.”

Japan

WSJ – Japan to Young Investors: Loosen Up – Suryatapa Bhattacharya 10/29

Puerto Rico

Rhodium Group – America’s Biggest Blackout – Trevor Houser and Peter Marsters 10/26

Russia

NYT – In Russia, a Bribery Case Lifts the Veil on Kremlin Intrigue – Andrew Kramer 10/21

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Latinobarometro – Does Your Government Favor the Elite 10/29

  • It would be hard to argue it doesn’t.