Tag: Interest Rates

June 22, 2017

Perspective

Data Is Beautiful – Adult Obesity rates in the United States – zonination 6/20

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Project Syndicate – Brexit In Reverse? – George Soros 6/19

  • “Economic reality is beginning to catch up with the false hopes of many Britons. One year ago, when a slim majority voted for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, they believed the promises of the popular press, and of the politicians who backed the Leave campaign, that Brexit would not reduce their living standards. Indeed, in the year since, they have managed to maintain those standards by running up household debt.”

A Teachable Moment – How Can We Fix a Broken 403(b) System? – Anthony Isola 6/21

Markets / Economy

Reuters – For thousands of U.S. auto workers, downturn is already here – Nick Carey 6/21

Real Estate

WSJ – Avocado Toast Looks a Better Bet Than Australian Housing – Jacky Wong 6/20

  • “Chinese buyers have been gobbling up houses all over the world in recent years. There could be some nasty surprises when the buying stops.”
  • “There are already signs of imminent pain for the global property market, thanks to China’s efforts to stop money pouring out of the country. Inquiries from China for foreign real estate fell 31% in the first quarter from a year ago, according to Juwai.com, a portal that connects potential Chinese buyers to property listings overseas. For some of the most popular destinations, the drop was even bigger—42% for the U.S. and 39% for Australia.”
  • “The property market Down Under looks particularly vulnerable. China accounts for four in every five foreign buyers in Australia, with their interest a prime reason why home prices have surged to unaffordable levels: Prices in Sydney, for example, are up 72% since 2012.”
  • “Some are waking up to the potential trouble ahead, with Australia’s household debt now nearing 200% of disposable income. Moody’s downgraded 12 Australian banks and their affiliates Monday, citing rising risks associated with the housing market, following a similar move by Standard & Poor’s last month. The country’s four biggest banks alone have a $1.1 trillion exposure to Australian housing loans, making up 55% of their total portfolios, according to Morgan Stanley.”
  • “Worse still, nearly 40% of home loans now are interest-only, meaning borrowers don’t need to repay the principal for a certain period, usually five years. Such loans work fine when house prices keep rising. The worry now is that prices will start falling as Chinese buying interest wanes: Meanwhile, homeowners who have only had to pay interest on mortgages could see a rise in payments as the interest-only period on their loans expires.”

Energy

WSJ – Oil Returns to Bear Market – Stephanie Yang, Alison Sider, and Timothy Puko 6/20

  • “Prices are down 20.6% since Feb. 23, marking the sixth bear market for crude in four years and the first since August. Crude prices have lost 62% since settling at $115.06 a barrel three years ago. A bear market is typically defined as a decline of 20% or more from a recent peak, while a bull market is a gain of 20% or more from a recent trough.”

Finance

FT – Argentina’s 100-year bond cannot defy EM playbook forever – Jonathan Wheatley 6/20

  • “Really? A dollar-denominated bond that pays back 100 years from now, from a junk-rated country that has barely managed to stay solvent for more than half that time in its entire history as a creditor? While there is certainly an investment case for taking part, several analysts warn that this issue is a classic sign of a market getting ahead of itself.”
  • “The point, though, is not the 100 years. The complexities of bond math mean that, once maturities go beyond 30 years, the investment case barely changes. Barring default, with a yield of nearly 8%, the bond will repay investors in full in about 12 years, all else (such as inflation) being equal — and that’s leaving aside its resale value. Many investors will have much shorter horizons.”
  • “In a world starved of yield, the 7.91% on offer proved to be quite a pull and the bond attracted orders of $9.75bn for the $2.75bn issued. ‘People are looking out over the next 12 to 24 months and see a pretty positive outlook [for Argentina],’ says David Robbins, head of emerging markets at TCW in New York. ‘Duration in high yield is something they are more comfortable with.’ Argentina, he notes, is in effect selling equity in its economic recovery.”
  • “Sérgio Trigo Paz, head of emerging market fixed income portfolio management at BlackRock, says the rationale and the pricing are all good. But, he adds: ‘When you put it into perspective, it gives you a sense of déjà vu.’”
  • “He sees two scenarios. In one, the Fed is right about inflation and rates will continue to rise. This would turn the Argentine bond into ‘a bad experience’. In the other, markets are right, US inflation and payrolls will disappoint and we will be back in a low rate environment, which will be good for the bonds — until deflation rears its head again, hurting the Argentine economy and its ability to pay.”
  • “In the meantime, he says, there is a ‘Goldilocks’ middle ground in which investors can suck up an 8% coupon. Beyond that: ‘It doesn’t look good either way — which is why you get an inflection point.'”

Japan

FT – Toshiba picks government-backed group as chip unit buyer – Kana Inagaki and Leo Lewis 6/20

  • “After a chaotic months-long search for a buyer, Toshiba has picked a consortium led by a Japanese government-backed fund as the preferred bidder for its prized memory chip business.”
  • “The group — which includes the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan fund, private equity group Bain Capital and the Development Bank of Japan — competed against rival offers topping ¥2tn ($18bn) from US chipmaker Broadcom and Apple supplier Foxconn.”
  • “’Toshiba has determined that the consortium has presented the best proposal, not only in terms of valuation, but also in respect to certainty of closing, retention of employees, and maintenance of sensitive technology within Japan,’ the company said in a statement on Wednesday.”

South America

NYT – Venezuela Opens Inquiry Into a Critic: Its Attorney General – Nicholas Casey 6/20

  • Long a Chavista, attorney general Luisa Ortega is being investigated now that she has expressed concern at how far those in power are willing to go to quiet dissent.

June 13, 2017

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Bulls, Bears & Charlatans – Ben Carlson 6/11

  • “A market crash is always a possibility. But using scare tactics to get people out of the markets (or keep them in) isn’t helpful to anyone.”

NYT – Stop Pretending You’re Not Rich – Richard Reeves 6/10

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Change in U.S. Retail Jobs 6/12

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Canadian Real Estate Assoc. – Home resales above $1 million 6/12

WSJ – Does Anyone Remember How to Make a Subprime Mortgage? – Kirsten Grind 6/12

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Capital Economics – 10-Year Gov’t Bond Yields 6/12

  • “Take a look at this Capital Economics forecast for German government bond yields – a 1.75% increase in 2.5 years. Note that a 1% increase in the 10-year German yield will result in nearly a 10% mark-to-market loss. Time to short these bonds?”

 

May 1, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

NYT – China’s Appetite Pushes Fisheries to the Brink – Andrew Jacobs 4/30

  • “Overfishing is depleting oceans across the globe, with 90% of the world’s fisheries fully exploited or facing collapse, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. From Russian king crab fishermen in the west Bering Sea to Mexican ships that poach red snapper off the coast of Florida, unsustainable fishing practices threaten the well-being of millions of people in the developing world who depend on the sea for income and food, experts say.”
  • “But China, with its enormous population, growing wealth to buy seafood and the world’s largest fleet of deep-sea fishing vessels, is having an outsize impact on the globe’s oceans.”
  • “Having depleted the seas close to home, Chinese fishermen are sailing farther to exploit the waters of other countries, their journeys often subsidized by a government more concerned with domestic unemployment and food security than the health of the world’s oceans and the countries that depend on them.”
  • “Increasingly, China’s growing armada of distant-water fishing vessels is heading to the waters of West Africa, drawn by corruption and weak enforcement by local governments. West Africa, experts say, now provides the vast majority of the fish caught by China’s distant-water fleet. And by some estimates, as many as two-thirds of those boats engage in fishing that contravenes international or national laws.”
  • “China’s distant-water fishing fleet has grown to nearly 2,600 vessels (the United States has fewer than one-tenth as many), with 400 boats coming into service between 2014 and 2016 alone. Most of the Chinese ships are so large that they scoop up as many fish in one week as Senegalese boats catch in a year, costing West African economies $2 billion a year, according to a new study published by the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.”
  • “Many of the Chinese boat owners rely on government money to build vessels and fuel their journeys to Senegal, a monthlong trip from crowded ports in China. Over all, government subsidies to the fishing industry reached nearly $22 billion between 2011 and 2015, nearly triple the amount spent during the previous four years, according to Zhang Hongzhou, a research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.”
  • “That figure, he said, does not include the tens of millions in subsidies and tax breaks that coastal Chinese cities and provinces provide to support local fishing companies.”
  • “When it comes to global fishing operations, China is the indisputable king of the sea. It is the world’s biggest seafood exporter, and its population accounts for more than a third of all fish consumption worldwide, a figure growing by 6% a year.”
  • “The nation’s fishing industry employs more than 14 million people, up from five million in 1979, with 30 million others relying on fish for their livelihood.”
  • “But as they press toward other countries, Chinese fishermen have become entangled in a growing number of maritime disputes.”
  • “Indonesia has impounded scores of Chinese boats caught poaching in its waters, and in March last year, the Argentine authorities sank a Chinese vessel that tried to ram a coast guard boat. Violent clashes between Chinese fishermen and the South Korean authorities have left a half-dozen people dead.”
  • The good news is that “Beijing has become sensitive to accusations that its huge fishing fleet is helping push fish stocks to the brink of collapse.”
  • “The government says it is aggressively reducing fuel subsidies — by 2019 they will have been cut by 60%, according to a fishery officialand pending legislation would require all distant-water vessels manufactured in China to register with the government, enabling better monitoring.”
  • “’The era of fishing any way you want, wherever you want, has passed,’ Liu Xinzhong, deputy general director of the Bureau of Fisheries in Beijing, said. ‘We now need to fish by the rules.’”
  • “But criticism of China’s fishing practices, he added, is sometimes exaggerated, arguing that Chinese vessels traveling to Africa were simply responding to the demand for seafood from developed countries, which have been reducing their own fleets.”
  • “’People come to me and ask, ‘If China doesn’t fish, where would Americans get their fish to eat?’’ he said.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – Whatever You Do, Don’t Read This Column – Jason Zweig 4/28

  • “Investors have a hard time looking truth square in the face.”

NYT – Internment, America’s Great Mistake – George Takei 4/28

FT – London housing: too hot for young buyers – Nathan Brooker 4/26

  • “Some first-timers need to borrow 40 times their salary to buy in parts of the city.”
  • Clearly this isn’t an affliction unique to London.

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns Consulting – Home Building Material Cost Increases 4/28

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Household Growth 4/28

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Household Debt / GDP – Australia, Canada, & US 4/28

CoStar – Smaller Non-Traded REITs Scrambling to Catch Up with Institutional Players Shaking Up Sector – Mark Heschmeyer 4/27

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: eia – US Dry Shale Production 4/28

China

FT – China’s short-term money market rate hits 2-year high – Jennifer Hughes, Hudson Lockett, and James Kynge 4/28

  • “Since taking up his post in late February, Guo Shuqing, chair of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, has issued a stream of directives aimed at, among other issues, clamping down on shadow banking practices and raising lending standards in the interbank market.”
  • “Applying a squeeze on interbank market liquidity by guiding short-term rates higher has become the strategy of choice for Chinese monetary authorities trying to rein in the country’s credit bubble without causing it to burst.”
  • “One of the main targets of the squeeze is a huge proliferation of ‘wealth management products’ issued by banks but often kept off their balance sheets to elude capital regulations. These WMPs, the outstanding amount of which stands at Rmb29tn ($4.2tn) or equivalent to 40% of GDP, are regarded as culprits behind the swelling of China’s unregulated shadow finance market in recent years.”
  • “The danger for China, though, is that by squeezing liquidity to curb WMP issuance, Beijing is also jeopardizing a key funding source for some of the weakest institutions in the financial system, namely small and medium-sized banks. A scramble among such banks for liquidity has prompted a surge in issuance of bank certificates of deposit, increasingly at higher interest rates than such banks are receiving from their WMP investors.”

April 10, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

The US college debt bubble is becoming dangerous. Rana Foroohar. Financial Times. 9 Apr. 2017.

“Rapid run-ups in debt are the single biggest predictor of market trouble. So it is worth noting that over the past 10 years the amount of student loan debt in the US has grown by 170%, to a whopping $1.4tn — more than car loans, or credit card debt. Indeed, as an expert at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently pointed out to me, since 2008 we have basically swapped a housing debt bubble for a student loan bubble. No wonder NY Federal Reserve president Bill Dudley fretted last week that high levels of student debt and default are a ‘headwind to economic activity.'”

“In America, 44m people have student debt. Eight million of those borrowers are in default. That’s a default rate which is still higher than pre-crisis levels — unlike the default rate for mortgages, credit cards or even car loans.”

“Rising college education costs will not help shrink those numbers. While the headline consumer price index is 2.7%, between 2016 and 2017 published tuition and fee prices rose by 9% at four-year state institutions, and 13% at posher private colleges.”

“The average debt load individual graduates carry is up 70% over the past decade, to about $34,000.”

“Growing student debt has been linked to everything from decreased rates of first time home ownership, to higher rental prices, to lower purchases of white goods and all the things that people buy to fill homes. Indeed, given their debt loads, I wonder how much of the ‘rent not buy’ spending habits of Millennials are a matter of choice.”

“But there are even more worrisome links between high student debt loads and health issues like depression, and marital failures. The whole thing is compounded by the fact that a large chunk of those holding massive debt do not end up with degrees, having had to drop out from the stress of trying to study, work, and pay back massive loans at the same time. That means they will never even get the income boost that a college degree still provides — creating a snowball cycle of downward mobility in the country’s most vulnerable populations.”

“How did we get here?”

Essentially, “beleaguered governments are pushing more and more of the responsibility for the things that make a person middle class — education, healthcare and pension — on to individuals.”

“What are the fixes? For starters, we should look closely at the for-profit sector, where default rates are more than double those at average private colleges. These institutions receive federal subsidies but typically spend a minuscule part of their budgets on instruction; in the US, nearly 50% goes on marketing to new students. It looks all too much like an educational Ponzi scheme.”

“Transparency is also key — the student loan market as a whole is hopelessly opaque. In one recent US study, only a quarter of first year college students could predict their own debt load to within 10% of the correct amount.  Truth in lending documents would help, as would loan counselling paid for by colleges. Sadly, the agency that is leading the fight on both — the CFPB — is under attack from Trump himself.”

“But the administration will not be able to hide from the student debt bubble. In an eerie echo of the housing crisis, debt is already flowing out of the private sector, and into the public. Before 2007, most student loans were underwritten by banks or other private sector financial institutions. Today, 90% of new loans originate with the Department of Education. Socialization of risk continues to be the way America deals with its debt bubbles. “

“Would that we considered making college free, as Bernie Sanders suggested. Even Mr. Dudley called this ‘a reasonable conversation.’ That way we could socialize the benefits of education too.”

More perspective: NYT – Loans ‘Designed to Fail’: States Say Navient Preyed on Students – Stacy Cowley and Jessica Silver-Greenberg 4/9

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – The Gig Economy’s False Promise – The Editorial Board 4/10

  • “In reality, there is no utopia at companies like Uber, Lyft, Instacart and Handy, whose workers are often manipulated into working long hours for low wages while continually chasing the next ride or task. These companies have discovered they can harness advances in software and behavioral sciences to old-fashioned worker exploitation, according to a growing body of evidence, because employees lack the basic protections of American Law.”

WSJ – Should the Social Security Trust Fund Be Allowed to Invest in Stocks? – Alicia Munnell (Boston College) and Michael Tanner (Cato Institute) 4/9

  • In the argument for and against, “what the two sides generally do agree on is that the Social Security trust fund needs shoring up: According to a trustees’ report from last year, the fund is on track to run dry around the mid-2030s, at which point the program would be able to pay out only about 75% of promised benefits.”

Atlantic – What in the World Is Causing the Retail Meltdown of 2017? – Derek Thompson 4/10

  • “Finally, a brief prediction. One of the mistakes people make when thinking about the future is to think that they are watching the final act of the play. Mobile shopping might be the most transformative force in retail—today. But self-driving cars could change retail as much as smartphones.”
  • “Once autonomous vehicles are cheap, safe, and plentiful, retail and logistics companies could buy up millions, seeing that cars can be stores and streets are the ultimate real estate. In fact, self-driving cars could make shopping space nearly obsolete in some areas. CVS could have hundreds of self-driving minivans stocked with merchandise roving the suburbs all day and night, ready to be summoned to somebody’s home by smartphone. A new luxury-watch brand in 2025 might not spring for an Upper East Side storefront, but maybe its autonomous showroom vehicle could circle the neighborhood, waiting to be summoned to the doorstep of a tony apartment building. Autonomous retail will create new conveniences and traffic headaches, require new regulations, and inspire new business strategies that could take even more businesses out of commercial real estate. The future of retail could be even weirder yet.”

Markets / Economy

FT – Gundlach: appetite for reflation trade will wane further – Eric Platt 4/10

  • “Jeff Gundlach (chief executive of DoubleLine Capital – which manages $105bn on behalf of its clients), the influential bond investor, has warned that appetite for the so-called relation trade will evaporate further in coming months as expectations for an acceleration in US economic growth and inflation are tempered.”
  • Not all that surprising really, and if you’re in the market for a mortgage there should be some relief in pricing (there already has been so far this year).  Then the article goes on to say: “the yield on the 10-year Treasury bond will not be back up to 3% this year, a level he had previously said would spell the end of the bull market. DoubleLine’s founder told investors he believed it would head higher over a longer period and could reach 6% in four or five years.”
  • Come again… please elaborate. No really, the article doesn’t elaborate or link to any reports by Gundlach. Talk about burying the lead.
  • Consider the implications on home pricing if 10-year rates are at 6%. They’re currently at around 4.10% on a 30-year fixed, so about 260bp (basis points) or 2.6% points higher than 10-year rates which are around 2.4%. To translate, if you have a $400,000 mortgage (arbitrary number) you’d be looking at a monthly payment of $1,932.79 at today’s rate.  That same mortgage amount if 30-year fixed rate mortgages hold a similar spread when the 10-year treasury is at 6% would be $3,104.05. A 60.60% increase in the monthly mortgage amount or $14,055.12 additional after tax dollars each year. Or if you could only afford the $1,932.79 monthly payment, then you would only be able to take on a $249,067 mortgage. Presumably that would hurt your purchasing power.
  • Alternatively, consider commercial real estate. If the 10-year moved to 6% in four or five years, what should you be putting in your models for an exit cap rate? Currently the commercial property loans average about 150bp over the 10-year for the primary categories-office, retail, multifamily, and industrial-according to interest rate surveys from Trepp.  Hence, you can buy a going-in cap rate of 5% and have a little spread of 1.10% (110bp) over the cost of your debt.  Fortunately for the last 30 or so years you could model a lower exit cap rate – really accounting for a large part of many investors returns.  Consider if you had to add 350bp to your exit cap rate…
  • Again to translate. Today the idea of purchasing a property that generates $100,000 in triple net (NNN) income-net of all expenses, property taxes, etc.-at a 5% cap rate would imply that you’d be willing to pay $2,000,000 for the property. Okay. What happens if cap rates adjust to maintain a similar spread over the 10-year treasury if it moves to 6%?  Then for the same income you’d want a 8.6% cap or would be willing to pay $1,162,791.  A 41.86% drop in value.
  • Well, the counter argument would be that the economy would have to be cranking along pretty well for the 10-year Treasury rate to move to 6%.  Then some of the effects of the above would be neutralized by increasing incomes, increases in spending, and so on.  However, note that rent from tenants are contracted and increase in defined amounts – so in this case, they’d probably get the better of the landlords – unless there are generous percentage rent terms…
  • Don’t expect this to be a smooth transition, and real estate is not the only industry that relies on a lot of debt capital – think energy…

 

 

Bloomberg – There’s a Big Reason Volatility Might Be Coming Back – Alex Harris 4/8

WSJ – Nothing to Fear but the Lack of Fear in Markets – Steven Russolillo 4/9

Energy

FT – Energy shifts to a buyers’ market – Nick Butler 4/9

  • “Markets have a tendency to swing from side to side. There are times when suppliers can name their prices and times when the advantage is against them. We are the cusp of a major change after half a century of producer control. For the companies involved and their investors this is a hard moment. Some will see it as a cyclical move that will be reversed as demand increases. That is a very risky investment strategy. The better approach for both companies and investors is to assume that we are experiencing a structural shift and that to thrive those involved in the sector must adapt their business model and their investment strategy to a new reality.”

Australia

Rational Radical – Housing bubble is now official, commence arse-covering (panic)! – Matt Ellis 4/7

China

FT – China markets regulator: ‘iron cockerels’ to be dealt with harshly – Hudson Lockett and Jennifer Hughes 4/9

 

FT – HNA’s buying spree surpasses $40bn with CWT deal – Don Weinland, Arash Massoudi, and James Fontanella-Khan 4/9

  • “China’s HNA Group, the small domestic airline operator turned ultra-acquisitive conglomerate, has now struck more than $40bn of deals in little more than two years after announcing plans to buy Singapore logistics provider CWT.”
  • “However, the activity has confounded veteran bankers and China watchers alike, who have raised concerns over its rapid expansion and also questioned its sources of capital for the deals, many of which are done through affiliates. Moreover, the pace of HNA’s foreign dealmaking has quickened in spite of a Chinese clampdown on the flow of capital out of the country since November.”

March 10 – March 16, 2017

Toronto housing market – heads up, your peak has been called. Sometimes money just needs a home (in a foreign country).

First, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  

Headlines

FT – China tries to restrict access to foreign children’s books 3/10. Hearts and minds.

Bloomberg – Saudi Arabia Says It Has Reversed a Third of Its Production Cuts 3/14. The Kingdom is losing patience with the free loaders.

WSJ – Home Builder Confidence Jumps to Highest Since 2005 3/15. Just like that…

Special Reports / Opinion Pieces

Briefs

  • The team at the Economist put together an interesting article on whether Venezuela’s dictatorship will survive?
    • “Venezuelans are suffering privation previously unheard of in what was once South America’s richest country. According to a study by three universities, 82% of households now live in poverty. That compares with 48% in 1998, when Chavez came to power. The rise in poverty follows Venezuela’s biggest-ever oil windfall. Of the $1tn the regime received in oil revenue, perhaps a quarter was stolen by insiders, according to the International Crisis Group, a think-tank. Infant mortality is rising, and Venezuelans are needlessly dying because of the shortage of medicines. Those who can, leave; perhaps 2m Venezuelans now live abroad.”
    • “To remain in power, Mr. Maduro’s state-socialist regime is extinguishing democracy.”
    • “His new hardline vice-president, Tareck El Aissami, heads a ‘national anti-coup command.'”
  • Jeevan Vasagar and Gabriel Wildau of the Financial Times covered the hiccup (China capital controls) in the large real estate development project named Forest City at the edge of Malaysia next to Singapore.
    • Resulting from capital controls in China, Chinese property developer “Country Garden has closed its showrooms in mainland China for its flagship $100bn Forest City development” at the southern tip of Malaysia.
    • The project which is scheduled to have its first move-ins next year, is projected to take two decades to develop and will house 700,000 people. The hiccup is that mainland Chinese have accounted for 70% of the buyers to-date.
    • To give a sense of the marketing message, “above the main reception desk [in Shanghai], the project appealed directly to investors looking to move money abroad with the slogan, ‘Preferred selection for overseas asset allocation. Forest City, adjacent to Singapore.'”
    • Bottom line, “capital control measures appear to be having an impact. Outbound foreign direct investment from China tumbled by 36% in January, including an 84% decline in outbound real estate investment by companies.”
  • Alistair Gray and Robin Wigglesworth of the Financial Times highlighted the delicate path the Fed walks in regard to mortgage-backed bonds.
    • “Fed officials have put markets on notice that they are thinking about reducing the central bank’s $1.76tn portfolio of mortgage-backed securities, amassed through its crisis-fighting quantitative easing program, but have so far provided few details.”
    • “Fed policymakers are widely expected to raise interest rates by another quarter point, but investors and analysts are also anxiously awaiting any further clues on what the US central bank plans to do with its $4.5tn balance sheet.”
    • “The Fed unveiled its mortgage-backed assets scheme at the height of the crisis in November 2008 and began the purchases soon after. Its MBS holdings have since swelled to account for almost a fifth of the entire $8.9tn market. Every month the central bank still buys billions of dollars worth of MBS as it reinvests the proceeds of maturing securities.”
    • Michael Fratantoni, chief economist of the Mortgage Bankers Association expects “all things being equal, just the removal of the ongoing purchases would push up mortgage rates relative to Treasury yields by at least 10 basis points.”
    • It is to be seen how the Fed unwinds itself and how the markets react – get ready.
  • Sarah Mulholland of Bloomberg covered a recent interview with billionaire real estate investor Richard LeFrak and his position that NYC apartment rents need to drop as much as 15%.
    • “Apartment rents in cities such as New York and San Francisco will need to fall as much as 15% for a glut of high-end developments to be absorbed, according to billionaire real estate investor Richard LeFrak.”
    • “New York landlords are already feeling the pinch as renters take advantage of a flood of new buildings to negotiate concessions and price cuts. Rents fell last month for Manhattan apartments of all sizes, the first across-the-board decline in at least four years, as property owners compromised to keep units from going empty.”

Graphics

MarketWatch – The No. 1 stock of the bull market… and 39 others that soared 1,000% – Sue Chang 3/11

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bespoke Investment – S&P 500 Trading Days Since Last 1%+ Decline – 3/13

WSJ – Daily Shot: Natixis – China vs Europe Credit Expansion 2005 – 2016 – 3/13

NYT – The Fed’s Era of Easy Money Is Ending – Neil Irwin 3/13

WSJ – Asset Manager Deal Wave Has Just Begun – Aaron Back 3/14

WSJ – Daily Shot: The falling cost of US shale production 3/14

WSJ – Daily Shot: Pension Partners – Global Central Bank Policy Rates 3/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: National Association of Home Builders Optimism Index 3/15

Metrocosm – The Global Extremes of Population Density – Max Galka 7/22/15

  • “Only 5% of the world’s population lives in the entire blue region. For comparison, the same number of people live in the small red region.”

FT – Chinese private equity: look elsewhere – Lex 3/15

Featured

*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.

Toronto’s Housing Bubble Has 24 Months to Live: BMO. Daniel Tencer. Huffington Post Canada. 13 Mar. 2017.

“Desperate homebuyers, take a two-year breather. Housing speculators, take warning.”

“Toronto’s house-price juggernaut is two years away from the sort of peak it reached in 1989, when a housing bubble burst in the city, BMO Economics says.”

“‘At the rate we’re now going with 20% year-on-year price increases, assuming stable mortgage rates and continued income growth, we’ll be at 1989 valuation levels in about 24 months,’ senior economist Robert Kavcic wrote in a note last week.”

Presumably that would imply that Toronto will get there faster if mortgage rates rise and income growth slows/flatlines.

“Toronto’s average house price jumped 27.7% in February from a year earlier, to $859,186. Single-family homes soared to $1.57 million on average, a jump of nearly 30% in a year.”

“The 1989 housing market peak led to a seven-year period of house price declines in Toronto, with prices falling 39% from their 1989 peak by 1996.”

“The most common explanation given by real estate industry insiders for Toronto’s rising house prices is that there is a shortage of housing supply in the quickly-growing city. That’s the argument used by the Ontario Real Estate Association to call for looser density requirements and looser restrictions on urban sprawl.”

However, looser restrictions won’t relieve pressure in the short-term. At this point “house prices are being driven upwards not by a real shortage but by ‘powerful expectational dynamics’ – the belief that prices will continue rising, causing people to rush buying homes.”

Animal spirits…

Searching for sanctuary – Foreign buyers push up global house prices. Economist. 11 Mar. 2017.

One of the offshoots of globalization is that while capital flows generally where it will attain its best return, it also flows to where it feels safe.

“In some places, foreign investment has led to a construction boom. In Miami apartments are being built in numbers not seen since the financial crisis, financed in part by Venezuelan money. Australia lets foreigners invest only in new-build properties, and they do: 26,000 new flats are due on the market in Sydney and Melbourne over the next 18 months. In London 45,000 homes have been built since 2014 – the highest rate in ten years – but locals grumble many are pads for footloose foreigners.”

“In many of these countries affordability looks stretched. The Economist gauges house prices against two measures: rents and income. If, over the long run, prices rise faster than the revenue a property might generate or the household earnings that service a mortgage, they may be unsustainable. By these measures house prices in Australia, Canada and New Zealand look high. In America as a whole, housing is fairly valued, but in San Francisco and Seattle it is 20% overpriced.”

“Haven investors may disregard affordability measures. Property can either be a bolthole [place where you can escape to and hide] or earn an income; in many supply-constrained cities its value may rise rapidly; even if not, the risks may be lower than at home… A study in 2016 found that increased political risk in places such as Greece and Syria explained 8% of the variation in London’s house prices since 1998.”

“Policymakers may well scratch their heads [and they do]. It is difficult both to make housing more affordable for a country’s own citizens and to encourage foreigners to buy. Britain has in fact tried to curb foreign enthusiasm with higher taxes, and by publishing a registry of 100,000 British homes owned by foreign companies – a potential embarrassment for some.”

“But unintended consequences lurk. After a 15% levy on purchases from abroad was introduced in the Canadian city of Vancouver last August, the number of foreign buyers dropped by 80%. That helped dampen house-price inflation there but pushed up demand in nearby Victoria. It also deterred highly skilled immigrants. The levy will soon be amended to exclude foreigners on skilled-work visas.”

At times it can be hard to understand how property markets can continue to rise despite a seeming lack of buyers at price points necessary to bring new product to market. Bottom line, people have different motivations for the things they do and spend their money on (even if it means losing some of it).

Other Interesting Articles

Bloomberg Businessweek

The Economist

 

FT – Cheesegrater price expected to spur City of London property sales 3/12

FT – Investors switch tack on distressed Europe debt 3/13

FT – Clampdown puts brakes on Chinese house price boom 3/13

FT – China real estate investment grows at fastest pace in 2 years 3/13

Huff Post (Canada) – Realtor Promises ‘Goldmine’ In Listing Proving Toronto’s Gone Nuts 3/8

Investment News – Investors accuse Nicholas Schorsch of plundering RCAP for own gain 3/10

NYT – After $225 Billion in Deals Last Year, China Reins In Overseas Investment 3/12

NYT – Kushners, Trump In-Laws, Weigh $400 Million Deal With Chinese Firm 3/14

NYT – China Pushes Legal Overhaul That Would Bolster State Power 3/15

WSJ – Hoteliers Cast Airbnb as Fast-Growing Professional Rival 3/9

WSJ – Chinese Banks’ Latest Funding Trick Gets Scrutiny It Deserves 3/13

WSJ – A Split Decision for Neiman Marcus Debt Holders 3/14

WSJ – China’s Amazing Disappearing, Reappearing Infrastructure 3/14

WSJ – As Retailers Go Silent, Big Data Fills the Void 3/15

WSJ – Housing Market Madness: Denver is Now a Worse Deal Than San Francisco For Tech Workers 3/16

 

 

February 24 – March 2, 2017

The insurance industry in China has been good business – too good. What is the magic number for China’s foreign exchange reserves? What gives – why haven’t the share buybacks by US corporates juiced returns (passive investing)?

Headlines

FT – Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong charged with bribery 2/28. Lee Jae-young is actually looking at jail time.

FT – China capital crackdown threatens wave of overseas buyouts 2/27. Dalian Wanda’s $1bn acquisition of Dick Clark Productions is in question even though the argument can be made that it is strategic to its cinema business (AMC, Carmike Cinemas, Odeon & UCI theatres, Legendary Entertainment) and even though it is being made by one of China’s most connected and richest individuals.

WSJ – London’s ‘Cheesegrater’ Sold to Chinese Firm for $1.4 Billion 3/1. Hong Kong property tycoon Cheung Chung Kiu’s CC Land Holdings just stumped £1.15bn up for the Leadenhall Building in London – recently appraised at £915m at the end of September. Well, the office yields in London at around 4.6% are near double the 2.6% in Hong Kong and the yuan is up 12% on sterling since the Brexit vote.

Special Reports / Opinion Pieces

Briefs

  • Robin Harding and Elaine Moore of the Financial Times covered that the Bank of Japan has telegraphed to the world that it plans to keep buying bonds to keep yields at 0%.
    • “The Bank of Japan published detailed schedules of planned asset purchases for the first time on Tuesday as it seeks to prove its commitment to a zero per cent cap on 10-year government bond yields.”
    • “Japan’s central bank said it will buy a minimum of ¥1.375tn and a maximum of ¥2.175tn of government bonds during March, giving a series of dates and estimated sizes for its planned bond auctions at different maturities.”
    • “The BoJ gave a strong hint that its announcement is meant to signal a minimum plan for purchases, rather than a maximum, saying it ‘may increase the frequency as needed.'”
    • “Japan’s 10-year yield is currently trading at 0.04%, having reached 0.11% at one point earlier this month before the BoJ stepped in and offered to buy in unlimited quantity to prevent it from rising any higher.”
    • Bottom line, the BoJ is all-in on maintaining 0% yields and the market can be assured of that.

Graphics

WSJ – Daily Shot: US Total Oil Exports 2/23

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WSJ – Daily Shot: China – WMP Product Investment Categories 2/23

  • “…Pressure on corporate bonds poses risks to Wealth Management Products (WMPs). One could argue that these offerings are a form of Ponzi scheme because when investors redeem their holdings, managers rely on other money to come into the product. If more people redeem than invest, the managers will be forced to liquidate and it’s not clear there will be enough to repay the last guys out.”

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WSJ – Daily Shot: Chinese Bank WMP Deposit Percentage 2/23

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WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Home Price Index v Avg. Hourly Earnings 2/23

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Economist – Longevity in rich countries – The Data Team 2/23

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Visual Capitalist – Millionaire Migrants: Countries That Rich People Are Flocking To – Jeff Desjardins 2/24

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WSJ – Daily Shot: Snap Value Progression 3/1

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WSJ – Daily Shot: Maptitude – Largest coffee chains by US County 3/1

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Featured

*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.

China bans fourth richest man from insurance sector for 10 years. Gabriel Wildau. Financial Times. 24 Feb. 2017.

“China’s fourth richest man [Yao Zhenhua, chairman of Baoneng Group] has been banned from the country’s insurance industry for 10 years, in the most aggressive move yet by regulators to tame borrowing and hostile corporate takeovers by insurers.”

“Much of the funding for Baoneng’s…investments came from investments gathered by its life insurance unit, Foresea Life Insurance, which Mr Yao also chairs.”

“Foresea quickly scaled the premium rankings of China’s life insurance industry by selling so-called ‘universal insurance’ products, which are essentially wealth management vehicles with a small protection component.”

“Insurers are able to offer higher yields than those available on comparable vehicles from banks and other fund managers because they have the freedom to invest in a wider range of assets. Anbang Insurance Group has also relied on sales of universal insurance products to fund a high-profile global shopping spree.”

“But analysts have warned against the strategy. Such products essentially force insurers to seek out risky, high-yielding assets in order to meet future payouts. Analysts are also concerned by a liquidity risk when short-duration products are matched to long-term illiquid assets such as real estate or large equity stakes.”

“Rarely seen in public, Mr Yao was China’s fourth richest man in 2016 with a fortune of $17bn, up more than ninefold from a year earlier, according to the Hurun Report. Local media say he started as a vegetable seller before making his first fortune as a property developer in the freewheeling city of Shenzhen in the 1990s.”

Previously, the China Insurance Regulatory Commission chairman Xiang Junbo had “warned that insurers cannot be ‘ATM machines’ for corporate raiders.”

“Mr Xiang also promised on Wednesday to curb ‘aggressive’ pricing and ‘unreasonably’ high returns on some insurance products. He said insurers should not interfere with the management of listed companies. Instead, the industry should focus on its core function of providing risk protection.”

China curbs capital outflows to keep renminbi stable. James Kynge. Financial Times. 28 Feb. 2017.

“China successfully curbed the flow of money cascading out of the country in January following the imposition of administrative controls, raising the potential for Beijing to prevail in its efforts to keep the renminbi stable against the US dollar this year, analyst said.”

“In January, capital outflows fell to $30bn from $55bn in December, according to estimates by Goldman Sachs, an investment bank.”

“This represented a considerable reduction on the monthly average in a country that has experienced a leakage of $1.2tn between August 2015 and January this year, yielding a monthly average of $71bn.”

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“‘Given the still-large size of China’s reserves, this pace of outflows in unlikely to stop the central bank from pursuing its current exchange-rate policy, which can be sustained for another couple of years,’ said Long Chen, analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics, a research company.”

The reasons for the slow down are varied; however, where there is disagreement is on what would be considered a sufficient amount of foreign exchange reserves.

“China’s foreign exchange reserves fell $12bn in January to below the psychologically important $3tn level to $2.99tn, representing almost a $1tn reduction from its level of July 2014.”

“The issue of China’s reserves adequacy has arisen from applying the International Monetary Fund’s new reserve metric to the country.”

“Under this calculation, the proposed minimum reserves for China is $2.7tn…”

“But Brad Setser, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a New York-based think-tank, said that China had ample room to defend its currency.”

“‘The world would be in a better place if there was a broad recognition that China can burn through another $1tn in reserves and, with $2tn still in reserves, be above nearly all metrics of reserve adequacy,’ Mr. Setser wrote in a CFR blog.”

“Jeremy Stevens, Asia economist at Standard Bank, holds a similar view. ‘It seems fair to argue that in terms of foreign exchange reserves, somewhere between $1.56tn and $2.2tn would be adequate for China’s working capital,’ he said.”

It is to be seen what China itself considers the ‘right’ amount of reserves. Regardless, part of the capital curbs have been aimed at encouraging more discretion by Chinese investors and companies in their foreign acquisitions.

“Pan Gongsheng, head of SAFE [State Administration of Foreign Exchange], was quoted as telling a Chinese newspaper this month that some overseas acquisitions by Chinese companies had been carried out with a ‘strong element of blindness.'”

ft_china-direct-investment-flows_2-28-17

US share buybacks punch below their weight. Robin Wigglesworth. Financial Times. 1 Mar. 2017.

In questioning whether corporate share buybacks have been on the whole a net positive, there has been a host of views presented. The concerns being that buybacks are short-sighted, returning cash to shareholders rather than pursuing growth initiatives. The implication being that these companies don’t have sufficient growth opportunities. However, in some cases companies simply have too much cash and recognize that they would do their owners a disservice by holding on to all of it.

“But perhaps the most notable thing about the buyback spree – more than $2tn of shares have been purchased in the past five years – is how it has arguably provided only a modest boost to equity prices, at least compared to the scale of the purchases.”

“Indeed, the share price performance of the most generous and consistent buyback companies paint a surprisingly muddied picture.”

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“The S&P 500 Buybacks Index has rallied 96% over the past five years, outpacing the broader market’s 73% gain since. This is an outperformance of 2.8% annually. However, next to the sheer scale of the buybacks – the estimated $2tn spent is equal to a tenth of the S&P 500’s current value – it has underwhelmed.”

“Worse, the Nasdaq Buybacks index has even underperformed the broader Nasdaq Composite gauge over the past five years, with the former rising 86.3% and the latter by 90.3% – an annualized undershooting of 1.3%.”

“Goldman Sachs’s chief US equity strategist David Kostin has calculated that buybacks have been the single biggest source of demand for US stocks since the financial crisis, providing a vital pillar of demand at a time when domestic pension funds and foreign investors have largely been selling.”

“For example, last year overseas investors and US pension funds respectively offloaded $148bn and $127bn of American stocks. But US companies snapped up a record $644bn of their own shares, Goldman estimates.”

Further, “Goldman Sachs earlier this year [2017] lifted its forecast for S&P 500 share repurchases from an already lofty $780bn to $800bn.”

So why the muddied outcome… Charles Cara, head of quantitative strategy at Absolute Strategy Research has an “…intriguing reason for what he calls the ‘buyback anomaly’ of share repurchases not proving as big an uplift as the sheer volume would suggest: the rise of passive investing.”

“Passive investment vehicles do not react to share price moves. As equity prices move so do their index weights by an equal amount, provided that the share count remains constant. In other words, if Apple’s shares rise by $10, then an exchange-traded fund need do nothing, as its existing holdings of Apple stock obviously rises by the same amount.”

“Buybacks reduce the numbers of outstanding shares. If those shares rise as a result of the buyback, then an ETF or index-tracking fund – which do not sell to companies buying back their stocks – will find itself overweight compared to its benchmark, and will be forced to sell some of the shares and buy the rest of the stock market to rebalance.”

As Mr. Cara puts it, “buybacks are a prop to the whole stock market, but have a subdued impact on individual stocks because there is a countervailing force from passive investors.”

Other Interesting Articles

The Economist

 

FT – Chinese manufacturing jobs vanish as robots take over 2/23

FT – China seeks baby boom to counter sluggish birth rates 2/24

FT – Private equity losing out to cash-rich buyers on the big deals 2/26

FT – China economic strength allows shift from stimulus 3/1

FT – SF Express chief shakes up China’s rich list as shares soar 3/1

FT – The private equity party is overcrowded 3/1

Guardian – Scraping by on six figures? Tech workers feel poor in Silicon Valley’s wealth bubble 2/27

NewsMax – Yale’s Robert Shiller: Pull Back Now From Overpriced Bull Stock Market 2/24

NYT – Snapchat Founders’ Grip Tightened After a Spat With an Early Investor 2/23

NYT – What Booming Markets Are Telling Us About the Global Economy 3/1

WSJ – Why Chinese Men Are Dying 2/24

WSJ – How Dangerous Is a Stock Market of Mindless Robots? 2/24

WSJ – Trumpflation vs Negative Rates: The Battle Endures 2/28

WSJ – World’s Most Indebted Developer Keeps Piling It On 2/28

WSJ – The Urban Condo Boom Has Reached Its Final Frontier: Detroit 3/1

WSJ – How Chinese Companies Finance Their Ambitions Abroad 3/2

 

February 10 – February 16, 2017

Venezuela having difficulties meeting its oil delivery commitments. REITs backing away from apartments. Chinese companies lending to the tune of $2tn where bankers have pulled back.

Headlines

FT – Alphabet opts to spell out its stock options 2/9. Google recently let slip that it will be treating stock based pay as a cost in its financials (normally relegated to the GAAP footnotes).

FT – Oil and gas discoveries dry up to lowest total for 60 years 2/12. As oil and gas companies have been pulling back on exploration it’s no surprise that new discoveries are down; however, they are yielding more from existing fields.

Special Reports / Opinion Pieces

Briefs

  • Jon Sindreu of The Wall Street Journal illustrated foreigner’s recent dumping of US debt, putting up a test for rates.
    • “Foreign buyers, led by China, are taking a smaller slice of debt issued by the U.S. and other major economies, a change that may test the long-held belief that overseas money has kept interest rates low in the developed world.”
    • “Foreigners are steadily pulling back: As of November, for the first time since 2009, less than 30% of the $20 trillion market for U.S. government debt was held overseas, according to the latest official data, released in January, from the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve. In the U.K., it is now 27%, compared with a record of 36% in 2008. In Germany, it is 49%, down from a peak of 57% in 2014.”
    • wsj_government-debt-held-by-foreigners_2-9-17
    • “In the longer term, the decline in foreign buyers might not matter so much. For countries that print their own currency, bond yields – and thus the price of bonds – are strongly determined by where investors believe central banks will set interest rates in the future. In theory, at least, bonds whose prices are pushed up or down excessively by supply-and-demand forces will eventually correct to correspond to interest-rate expectations.”
    • “In Japan, the central bank now directly fixes 10-year borrowing costs for the government at 0%. There, foreigners own just 9.2% of the government debt market; yet bond yields have stayed at record lows for decades, despite a government debt load amounting to 229% of Japan’s economy that has elicited repeated warnings from ratings companies.”
  • Adding on to Sindreu’s article, Brian Chappatta of Bloomberg discussed how America’s biggest creditors dump treasuries in warning to Trump.
    • “From Tokyo to Beijing and London, the consensus is clear: few overseas investors want to step into the $13.9 trillion U.S. Treasury market right now. Whether it’s the prospect of bigger deficits and more inflation under President Donald Trump or higher interest rates from the Federal Reserve, the world’s safest debt market seems less of a sure thing – particularly after the upswing in yields since November. And then there is Trump’s penchant for saber rattling, which has made staying home that much easier.”
    • bloomberg_selling-of-us-treasuries_2-12-17
    • “Nobody is saying that foreigners will abandon Treasuries altogether. After all, they still hold $5.4 trillion, or roughly 43% of the U.S. government debt market. (Though that’s down from 56% in 2008.) A significant drawdown can harm major holders like Japan and China as much as it does the U.S.”
    • “In December, Japanese investors reduced their investments in U.S. debt by 2.39 trillion yen ($21.3 billion) after a smaller pullback in November. While only a fraction of Japan’s $1.1 trillion of holdings, they were the first back-to-back declines since the start of 2014. China, which owns just over $1 trillion of Treasuries, has been selling since May. Its holdings are at a seven-year low.”
    • Bottom line there is too much unpredictability for many foreign investors right now, despite there being clear advantages in the rate spread between foreign and domestic markets.
  • Anjli Raval of the Financial Times highlighted that recently Opec beat oil output cut expectations.
    • “Opec countries drastically curbed their output in the first month of their new production agreement, in the clearest sign to date that the world’s biggest oil producers are committed to living up to the November pact to cut global supplies.”
    • “The limits adopted by the oil cartel in January have been ‘one of the deepest in the history of Opec output cut initiatives’, the International Energy Agency said on Friday.”
    • “The IEA said Opec crude production fell by 1m b/d to 32.06m b/d in January, surpassing expectations at the start of the six-month supply agreement…”
    • The Opec target cut is 1.2m barrels per day.
    • “‘Opec and Saudi get plaudits for month one but there are still five months of the  deal to run,’ said Bill Farren-Price, head of Petroleum Policy Intelligence. ‘It’s unlikely cuts are going to get deeper from here.'”
    • “Opec’s cuts drove a big drop in world oil supplies of 1.5m barrels a day in January. If the cartel maintains its level of compliance, excess inventories should fall by about 600,000b/d during the first half of 2017.”
    • “Even though stockpiles are falling, higher prices have driven an increase in drilling in the US as well as Brazil and Canada, where the IEA expects ‘significant increases in production.’ Non-Opec production, led by US shale oil supply, is forecast to grow by 400,000b/d in 2017 from last year.”
  • Sarah Krouse of The Wall Street Journal covered the milestone that Vanguard just passed $4 trillion in assets under management.
    • “Indexing pioneer Vanguard Group has climbed to $4 Trillion ($4.048tn) in assets for the first time, accentuating a loss of faith among investors in traditional money managers who handpick stocks.”
    • “Of the $533 billion of net flows into all mutual funds and exchange-traded funds last year, 54%, or $289 billion, went to funds managed by Vanguard, according to research firm Morningstar Inc. The fund company’s own tally for the year was even higher, at $322.8 billion.”
    • Similarly, “BlackRock topped $5 trillion in assets late last year for the first time. It has a larger international business than Vanguard.”
    • “Rival firms who have long been synonymous with their star pickers of stocks and bonds have been hurt by years of subpar performance and relatively high fees. Investors pulled a net $340.1 billion from U.S.-based actively managed funds last year, according to Morningstar, while pouring a record $504.8 billion into U.S.-based passively managed funds.”
    • For reference, “Vanguard crossed the $3 trillion threshold in August 2014.”
  • The Data Team over at the Economist illustrated the migration and labor shortages in Asian countries.
    • “Although Asia is home to half the world’s population, it provides only 34% of the total number of emigrants and host a mere 17% of immigrants. Just one-third of Asians who move abroad remain on the continent, and of those, most stick to neighboring countries. This makes it hard to fill jobs in many countries where they are needed, despite a surplus of labor elsewhere.”
    • “The imbalance of workers will only grow more dire as populations get greyer. For now, China is still a net exporter of labor. But during the next 30 years its working-age population is set to shrink by 180m, and it will need 20m more domestic workers. Overall, East Asia would have to import 275m people between the ages of 15 and 64 by 2030 to keep the share of its population at working age steady. Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and especially Thailand need workers, while Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines have too many. South Asia, meanwhile, could afford to lose 134m  laborers – India alone could send more than 80m abroad – without worsening its dependency ratio. China’s projected shortfall in 2030 is equivalent to 24% of its current working-age population; in Bangladesh the likely surplus is 18%.”
    • economist_asian-migration-and-labor-shortages_2-10-17
  • Kiran Stacey of the Financial Times covered how the number of deaths by air pollution in India is set to surpass those in China.
    • “India is on the verge of overtaking China as the country with the most deaths caused by air pollution, the world’s biggest environmental killer, according to research published on Tuesday.”
    • “In 2015 both countries suffered about 1.1m premature deaths as a result of polluted air, with India just 18,000 behind China, the US-based research organization Health Effects Institute found, making air pollution the fifth-highest cause of death among all health risks.”
    • ft_indias-air-pollution-deaths-to-exceed-chinas_2-14-17
    • “Worldwide, air pollution caused 4.2m deaths in 2015, a 7.5% jump from a decade earlier. Toxic air now kills almost as many people as high cholesterol and even more than excessive sale or being overweight, according to the study.”
  • Laura Kusisto of The Wall Street Journal highlighted a current measure being put forth in Los Angeles that would seek to ban major real-estate developments – at least for a few years.
    • “The second-largest U.S. city is considering a measure that would effectively halt major real-estate projects, the most extreme example yet of a revolt against development breaking out across the country.”
    • “The moves threaten to further constrict a tight supply of housing. Housing starts dropped 2.6% in January, the Commerce Department said Thursday. The number of single-family and multifamily starts per 1,000 households last month was about 36% below the 50-year average, according to Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist at Trulia.”
    • “In Los Angeles, residents in early March are set to vote on a ballot initiative that, if passed, would suspend for two years any development that requires a modification to the city’s existing planning rules.”
    • “‘People feel the system is rigged,’ said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has poured some $3.7 million into promoting the measure. ‘It’s all about billionaires getting what they want.'”
    • If you’re wondering why the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is spending donation money on this initiative, it’s because “many of the patients served by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation are struggling with rising housing prices.”
    • “San Francisco in June passed a ballot initiative that puts a 25% on-site affordable-housing requirement on most new residential buildings…”
    • “In Oregon, the Portland City Council in December unanimously passed a similar ordinance requiring buildings with 20 units or more to set aside 20% of units for affordable housing…”
    • “Despite complaints in Los Angeles about a deluge of development, housing construction now is at only a fraction of the rate of the mid-20th century, before strict zoning rules were put in place. From 1950 through 1959, about 250,000 units of new housing were added in the city of Los Angeles, according to an analysis of the census data by advocacy group Abundant Housing LA. From 2010 to 2015, the figure was 25,000, though the city issued permits for about 50,000 units in roughly the same period.”
    • “In the middle of the last century, zoning regulations were such that there was enough capacity in the city to build housing for 10 million residents, according to David Waite, a local planning lawyer.”
    • “The adoption of ‘community plans’ in the 1970s and a ballot initiative in the mid-1980s knocked that down to 4.5 million people, meaning Los Angeles is now almost at full capacity.”
    • “The proposed rule up for vote in March, called the ‘Neighborhood Integrity Initiative’ and referred to as Measure S, would require the city to update all community plans.” Essentially, if passed, development would be put on hold while the neighborhood plans are updated with input from the community.

Graphics

Business Insider – Here’s how many people in every state don’t have health insurance – Bob Bryan 2/9

wsj_daily-shot_us-uninsured-by-state_2-9-17

Bloomberg – Demand for Treasuries Is Now a ‘Made in the U.S.A’ Phenomenon – Luke Kawa, Liz McCormick, and Tracy Alloway 2/7

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Economist – The world’s biggest gamblers – The Data Team 2/9

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NYT – Why Falling Home Prices Could Be a Good Thing – Conor Dougherty 2/10nyt_where-housing-costs-too-much_2-10-17

Bloomberg – China’s Zombie Province Shows Trouble With Its Bond Market – Bloomberg News 2/12

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Visual Capitalist – Visualizing the Tallest Building in Each State – Jeff Desjardins 2/13

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WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s Investors Service – Chinese Wealth Management Products – 2/13

  • “China’s WMPs (Wealth Management Products) continue to grow, with the asset-liability mismatch remaining elevated. Imagine a product that ‘guarantees’ a certain rate, gives you a 1-3 month liquidity, and invests in 5-year corporate bonds.”

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WSJ – Bond Buying Surges, Tightening U.S. Corporate Spreads – Chris Dieterich 2/13

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Business Insider – An ‘investment mania’ is propelling Canada’s home prices to their biggest gain since 2007 2/14
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FT – China Inc hits brakes on foreign property investment – Gabriel Wildau 2/16

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Featured

*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.

Venezuela falls behind on oil-for-loan deals with China, Russia. Marianna Parraga and Brian Ellsworth. Reuters. 10 Feb. 2017.

“Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA, has fallen months behind on shipments of crude and fuel under oil-for-loan deals with China and Russia, according to internal company documents reviewed by Reuters.”

“The delayed shipments to such crucial political allies and trading partners – which together have extended Venezuela at least $55 billion in credit (about $50bn from China and $5bn from Russia’s Rosneft)- provide new insight into PDVSA’s operational failures and their crippling impact on the country’s unraveling socialist economy.”

“Because oil accounts for almost all of Venezuela’s export revenue, PDVSA’s crisis extends to a citizenry suffering through triple-digit inflation and food shortages reminiscent of the waning days of the Soviet Union.”

“The total worth of the late cargoes to state-run Chinese and Russian firms is about $750 million, according to a Reuters analysis of the PDVSA documents.”


“At the end of January, PDVSA was late on nearly 10 million barrels of refined products that the company owes the firms – with shipments delayed by as much as 10 months, according to the documents. It also failed to make timely deliveries of another 3.2 million barrels of crude shipments to China’s state-run China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).”

“A total of 45 cargoes bound for Russian and Chinese companies are late for a variety of reasons, according to internal operational reports about shipments of crude and refined products.”

“The problems include operational mishaps, such as refining outages and delayed cleaning of tanker hulls, and financial disputes with service providers owed money by PDVSA.”

For example, “… a company official said PDVSA was unable to deliver a 1.8 million-barrel cargo of fuel oil to PetroChina because Bahamas terminal Borco, where PDVSA rents storage space, has intermittently prevented the firm from using the tanks since 2016 due to lack of payment.”

“Another 2 million-barrel cargo of fuel oil bound for China in November was postponed because of stained crude tankers, which cannot navigate international waters due to environmental regulations.”

Adding salt to the wound… “the fall in crude prices has made the oil-for-loan agreements more onerous. Because loan payments were negotiated when crude prices were higher, the agreements require PDVSA to ship more oil in order to continue servicing the debts at the same rate.”

Which all of course “saps its ability to ship to other customers – such as India, or customers in the United States – who would pay in cash, which PDVSA desperately needs.”

As an anonymous trader that regularly buys Venezuelan oil so aptly put it “at this point, everybody is trying to collect pending debts from PDVSA by receiving cargoes, but production is not enough.”

In Echo Of ’07, REITs Back Away From Multifamily. Andrew Barnes, Jake Mooney, and Zach Fox. S&P Global Market Intelligence. 7 Feb. 2017.

“Amid concerns of a peaking multifamily market, publicly traded U.S. real estate investment trusts in 2016 were net sellers of multifamily properties for the first time since 2009.”

“In total, REITs sold $13.0 billion more multifamily properties than they bought. In the past 10 years, the only previous time REITs off-loaded more multifamily assets than they bought by such a large amount was in 2007, when sales dwarfed purchases by $21.11 billion.”

“REITs’ caution around making new property investments follows a long and steady escalation in apartment values, which have more than doubled since 2010, according to a national index from Moody’s/Real Capital Analytics. In recent months, a flood of new construction has depressed rents in coastal markets. New York and San Francisco, both key markets for the largest multifamily REITs, Equity Residential and AvalonBay Communities Inc., saw rent growth flatline in 2016.

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“‘Multifamily has just been overbuilt throughout the United States,’ said Jay Rollins, co-founder and managing principal at JCR Capital Investment Corp., which invests in properties valued at $50 million or less. ‘Everywhere. And it will decline everywhere.'”

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Despite rising interest rates and expectations of further rises “…sales data does not show property prices declining in response. According to data firm Real Capital Analytics, cap rates dipped to 3.9% for mid- and high-rise apartments nationwide in 2016 third quarter. In San Francisco, the average cap rate stood at just 2.7%, barely above the 10-year Treasury rate, but with considerably more risk.”

“Broadly, observers say, property buyers seeking near-term yield are avoiding coastal cities, leaving them to long-term investors like sovereign wealth funds and high-net-worth individuals. But whereas REITs have cooled on acquisitions nationwide, some prominent private equity firms have still pursued deals in the middle of the country, where ‘the math can still work,'” according to Drew Babin, an analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.

“Most notably, Starwood Capital Group kicked off 2016 by buying 72 properties from Equity Residential for $5.37 billion, and said Jan. 19 that it will acquire Milestone Apartments Real Estate Investment Trust, a Canadian REIT that owns U.S. Sun Belt properties, for $2.85 billion.”

“Historically, apartments have been a relatively safe bet. Apartment buildings are one of the more stable real estate asset classes over time, Babin said – in part because they have the backstop of funding from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Even for top-of-the market buyers, patience can be valuable. Apartment prices rose 62% over the decade beginning in November 2006, despite two years of sharp price declines that began in 2008, according to the Moody’s/RCA index.”

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Chinese Companies Rush In With Nearly $2 Trillion Where Bankers Fear to Lend. Rachel Rosenthal and Anjie Zheng. The Wall Street Journal. 9 Feb. 2017.

“Chinese companies are increasingly stepping in as lenders, as banks reduce their funding to struggling industries and the country’s mammoth bond market comes under strain.”

“Company-to-company loans in China jumped by 20% last year to 13.2 trillion yuan ($1.92 trillion), according to research firm CEIC. That is roughly double the size of the loan book at Wells Fargo & Co., the U.S.’s biggest lender. This entrusted lending, so named because banks serve as middlemen, is now the fastest-growing major component of the country’s elaborate system of informal, or shadow, banking.”

“The most recent surge came during the selloff in China’s $9.3 trillion bond market late last year. Big, cash-rich companies – mostly state-owned enterprises and some private companies – stepped in: New entrusted loans rose to 405.7 billion yuan ($59.02 billion) in December, more than double the month prior, according to data tracker Wind Information, and the highest monthly issuance in two years.”

“Instead of investing in their core business, companies can earn interest rates of up to 20% making entrusted loans, often with only cursory checks on borrowers’ creditworthiness. Such lending often props up companies in sectors like mining and property where Beijing wants to reduce excess capacity. It also adds to China’s $18 trillion corporate debt pile, already equal to 168% of gross domestic product, according to the Bank for International Settlements.”

“Some entrusted loans are between a company and its own subsidiaries, similar to how many big companies globally loan cash to different parts of their business. Still, between 2007 and 2013 more than 60% of entrusted loans were channeled to companies in industries with overcapacity, according to a study by the U.S.-based National Bureau of Economic Research.”

“‘It’s not a sustainable business model’ for the lending companies, said  Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics. ‘Their main operations are only staying afloat by acting like a shadow bank.'”

“Company-to-company lending took off in China in the 1990s when, after a period of rapid growth, many state-owned firms started generating large amounts of cash. With no private shareholders pushing for dividend payouts, many put that cash to work by lending it out.”

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“But entrusted lending is unusual. Banks are involved, but only as a middleman: Direct company-to-company lending is still legally prohibited. Banks can charge fees of up to 5% of the loan, according to BMI Research, but leave credit checks to the lending company.”

“In some cases, lending companies aren’t pulling back even when loans sour.”  Why, because they’re usually to subsidiaries…

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