Tag: Interest Rates

April 9, 2018

Trying a new approach. Thoughts?

 

Trade War. Chinese Aviation. Japan Sex Industry. Facebook. Investment Management. Interest Rates. Solar Installations. US Treasuries. Shipping. Ireland. Britain. Former presidents Park and Lula.

Continue reading “April 9, 2018”

Advertisements

April 4, 2018

Perspective

FT – Naspers trims Tencent stake with $10bn share sale – Joseph Cotterill and Louise Lucas 3/22

  • “Naspers, the South African media company that is one of the biggest shareholders in Tencent, said that it would sell down part of its stake in the Chinese technology giant for the first time in almost two decades.”
  • “In a statement on Thursday, Naspers said that it would sell stock worth more than $10bn, equivalent to 2% of the shares in Asia’s biggest company by market capitalization, to fund investments elsewhere.”
  • “The transaction would reduce Naspers’ stake in Tencent, the world’s biggest gaming company and the owner of China’s WeChat and QQ social networks, from 33% to 31%.”
  • “Naspers added that it did not plan to sell any more of its Tencent shares for at least the next three years.”
  • “But even Thursday’s limited sell down is a landmark for what has been one of the most successful venture capital investments in history, and comes as Hong Kong-listed Tencent shifts strategy after years of explosive growth.”
  • Naspers’ investment of $32m in Tencent in 2001, now worth $175bn, powered its rise from a publisher and pay-TV operator to Africa’s biggest company by market capitalization.”
  • Approximately a 65.91% compound growth rate over 17 years. How do you like them apples?

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Forbes – Canadian Real Estabe Bubble Blowing Up North – Bob Haber 4/2

  • “According to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, single detached homes in Vancouver (on a local currency basis) have risen from approximately $400K CAD to $1.75 million CAD since 2002. That’s a 337% increase in 15 years. With incredibly fast rising prices, a large portion of the population is engaged in real estate brokerage, real estate development, construction, renovations, and everything that goes along with that. The echoes of Phoenix, Las Vegas, and San Diego from 2006 cannot be ignored.”
  • “…Taxation and interest rates are going higher. Cap rates on rentals or commercial properties are shockingly low (think 1% to 3% in most circumstances). In fact, Canada’s price-to-rent ratios are now well above what they were in the U.S. during the 2006 housing debacle. According to the Bank of Canada, 47% of Canada’s mortgages will reset in the next 12 months. To put that in perspective, a five-year fixed mortgage rate in Canada averages approximately 5.14%. This is 11% higher versus the 4.64% that it averaged for most of the past 2 years.”

NYT – Teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky Walk Out: ‘It Really Is a Wildfire’ – Dana Goldstein 4/2

Markets / Economy

engadget – New York approves surcharge for Uber and Lyft rides in Manhattan – David Lumb 4/2

  • “As part of the budget that New York lawmakers passed last Friday, ride-hailing services and taxis face a new fee if they drive in Manhattan. These aren’t nickel-and-dime increases, either: Uber, Lyft and the like face a $2.75 charge for each ride, taxis get a $2.50 increase and group ride services like Via and uberPOOL will be charged $0.75 per customer. It’s meant to combat congestion and help fund subway repair and improvements, providing an expected $400 million per year going forward for the MTA.”
  • “Unsurprisingly, it’s already catching flak from customers and from taxi drivers, who have become far outnumbered by ride-sharing cars in the last several years. Of the 103,000 vehicles for hire in NYC, 65,000 are driven by Uber contractors alone, while taxis remain capped by law at 13,600, The New York Times reported. As a result, average traffic in Manhattan has slowed from 6.5 miles per hour to 4.7.”
  • “Other cities have enacted their own surcharges for ride-hailing services in recent years, but they are far lower than those New York just passed. Seattle instated a $0.24 charge for each trip in 2014, Portland, OR agreed to levy a $0.50 fee per customer in 2016, both of which funnel money collected toward regulating ride-sharing services. Chicago passed one in 2014 that will reach $0.65 this year and directs part of the funds raised toward public transit, much like New York’s will.”

FT – Walmart extends money transfer operation to 200 countries – Anna Nicolaou and Ben McLannahan 4/2

  • “Walmart is expanding its money transfer operation to 200 countries, the latest move in the retail giant’s slow but steady push into financial services.”
  • “Through the new scheme, people will be able to deliver money from Walmart’s nearly 5,000 US stores to locations abroad within 10 minutes, the company said.” 
  • “Arkansas-based Walmart first unveiled a money transfer service four years ago, allowing customers to send funds between its stores, and aiming to reach the “underbanked” — about 27% of Americans have limited access to traditional banking, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Walmart claims it has saved customers $700m in fees because it charges cheaper rates.” 
  • “The retailer has partnered with MoneyGram, one of the big wire transfer groups, to expand globally this month. The service will allow US residents to send money to countries such as Mexico, which received nearly $30bn in remittances last year, according to Mexico’s central bank.”
  • “Walmart’s push into money transfers comes a few months after it announced it was partnering with PayActiv and Even, two financial-technology firms, to offer its 1.4m US employees tools for money management and on-demand access to their earned wages.”
  • “The moves suggest the retailer may see itself as a partner of the big financial services companies rather than a direct rival going head to head with basic products such as checking accounts or credit cards.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Political Calculations – Why Bad News for Big Tech Is Bad for Stocks 3/29

WSJ – Daily Shot: SPDR Americas – Equity Geographical Flows 4/3

WSJ – Daily Shot: Deutsche Bank – Drawdown Durations 4/3

Real Estate

FT – Manhattan apartment sales plunge – Lindsay Fortado 4/2

  • “The number of co-op and condominium sales in Manhattan fell nearly 25% during the first quarter compared to the same period last year, according to new research by Miller Samuel real estate appraisers and Douglas Elliman real estate brokers.”
  • “It was the largest annual decline in sales in nine years, according to the report.”
  • “The average sale price across Manhattan fell by 8.1% from the year-earlier quarter, and the average price per square foot also recorded a sharp decline, falling by 18.5% to $1,697.”
  • “Luxury apartment sales, considered the most expensive 10% of all properties, were hit particularly hard, as were new developments.”
  • “The average sales price of a luxury apartment fell 15.1%, down from $9.36m in the first quarter of 2017 to $7.94m in the first quarter of this year, and the number of sales was down 24.1%. The number of newly built apartments that went into contract fell 54%.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Knight – Mortgage Equity 4/3

  • “Turning to consumer credit, how much borrowing capacity do households have against their homes? The answer is $5.4 trillion. $2.8 trillion of that capacity is with borrowers who have the highest credit scores.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Knight – Hurricane-related mortgage delinquencies in Florida and Puerto Rico 4/3

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Deutsche Bank – Countries with Negative-Yielding Bonds 4/3

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

Bloomberg – The Crypto Hedge-Fund Bubble Is Starting to Deflate – Olga Kharif 4/2

Tech

FT – Why south-east Asia’s politics are proving  problem for Facebook – John Reed and Hannah Kuchler 4/2

  • “One of the company’s fastest-growing markets is also one of its most complex where hate speech and political manipulation are making it hard to remain neutral.”

China

FT – China moves its factories back to the countryside – Emily Feng 4/2

  • “After decades of urbanization and rural neglect, China’s Communist party is seeking to revitalize the countryside, where wages and standards of living have stagnated compared with those of big cities.”

FT – Chinese developers seek piece of booming education market – Emily Feng 4/2

  • “When China’s premier Li Keqiang recently vowed progress on a property tax intended to rein in home prices, it signaled to the country’s real estate developers that more than a decade of double-digit growth would soon end.”
  • “Facing slowing growth in their core business, top developers are betting on the education market, building and operating international schools for tens of thousands of students.”
  • “The country’s three biggest property developers — Country Garden, Evergrande and Vanke — have seen sales slow in the first quarter of this year, according to an industry ranking compiled by research agency China Real Estate Information Corp. Meanwhile, home price growth has dipped following a clampdown on lending and property speculation.”
  • “That has already made a dent in developers’ financials. Dalian Wanda reported a revenue drop of almost 11% in 2017 while other residential developers are girding for longer-term impact. JPMorgan Chase has forecast as much as a 6% decline in mainland Chinese home sales this year.
  • “Now developers are ‘looking at other sectors in which to invest in order to get the returns that they need to continue growth’, says John Mortensen, regional director of real estate investment and management company JLL, which often works with universities.”
  • “Meanwhile, China’s education market is booming. The sector will grow from Rmb1.64tn ($261bn) in revenue in 2015 to Rmb2.9tn ($461bn) in 2020, according to Deloitte, with particularly high demand for English-language curriculums.”
  • “Amid fierce competition to get into good universities at home and overseas, proximity to a good school is often a key factor in determining Chinese property prices. A 2012 study of Shanghai housing found that prices were more than 40% higher in top-rated school districts.”
  • “That has prompted residential developers to build new complexes with schools within walking distance of apartments, hiring or building in-house education teams to recruit teachers and design bilingual curriculums.”
  • “Guangzhou-based Country Garden, China’s top residential developer by sales, is now also among the country’s biggest private education providers. Its education subsidiary, Bright Scholar, runs 52 bilingual international schools that each offer a full education from kindergarten to secondary school. Bright Scholar listed on the New York Stock Exchange last year, raising more than $150m.”
  • “Vanke Group, China’s second biggest residential developer by sales, set up its own education group in 2015 as part of a strategic shift aimed at offering a ‘full ecology’ to families.”
  • “Dalian Wanda is another property group with a growing interest in schools — its children’s education and entertainment group almost tripled its sales last year even as the group’s total revenues fell more than 10%.”

India

NYT – Jeweler to the Stars Flees as India Seethes Over Bank Fraud – Maria Abi-Habib 4/3

  • “About a week after Mr. Modi grinned for the cameras with the prime minister, a state-run Indian bank told regulators that it had found nearly $1.8 billion in fraudulent transactions linked to the jeweler’s account. Indian officials now accuse Mr. Modi, his family and business associates of assembling a global empire with nearly $3 billion in money obtained illegally, mostly from government-run banks. He denies wrongdoing.”
  • “For many Indians, the allegations against Mr. Modi further cement the notion that taxpayer-owned banks are footing the bill for the lavish lifestyles of a rising elite. That idea has particular resonance in a country where stark poverty — India is home to a third of the world’s poorest people — remains dire.”
  • “Just a decade ago, during the global financial crisis, Indian lenders were held up as a bastion of stability. Today, they are considered more vulnerable than those in other leading emerging markets, mostly because state-controlled lenders dominate the sector, according to the International Monetary Fund.”
  • “Of the $6.5 billion in fraudulent loans that have hit the industry over the past two years, the most egregious cases were at government-owned banks, according to figures released by Parliament. Executives at those lenders are more likely to be appointed for their political connections than for their talent, financial analysts say.”

Russia

FT – Russia plans ‘bad bank’ for $19bn in toxic assets – Max Seddon 4/2

  • “Russia’s central bank is to create a ‘bad bank’ to ringfence Rbs1.1tn ($19bn) in toxic assets from three nationalized top-10 lenders, vastly increasing the total bill for bailing them out.” 
  • “Vasily Pozdyshev, a deputy central bank governor, told Russian news agencies on Monday that the central bank would transfer assets from three collapsed banks into Trust, another failed lender.” 
  • “Taxpayers are footing the largest bank rescue bill in Russia’s history to fund the central bank’s takeover of three privately held banks last year to stave off a collapse in the sector.”
  • “The largest of them, Otkritie, was Russia’s biggest privately held bank by assets until it was nationalized in August. The central bank then nationalized B & N Bank, another top-10 lender, and Promsvyazbank to stop them from going under.” 
  • “Under Ms Nabiullina (Elvira Nabiullina, Russian central bank governor), the central bank is conducting an unprecedented clear-up of the sector under which it has wound down more than 300 banks since 2013. To rescue the three top-10 lenders, however, Ms Nabiullina had to create a separate bailout mechanism that allowed the central bank to take direct stakes in their capital.” 

FT – Russia’s $55bn pipeline gamble on China’s demand for gas – Henry Foy 4/2

  • “The pipeline is Russia’s most ambitious, costly and geopolitically critical energy project since the fall of the Soviet Union, and represents a $55bn bet on uncharted territory by the world’s biggest gas company.”
  • “Russia’s first eastern pipeline is the most striking physical manifestation of President Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic pivot towards China amid rapidly worsening relations with the west. It is the biggest and most critical element in a suite of energy deals, funding packages and asset sales that seek to warm a once frosty relationship.”
  • “For Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled gas export monopoly behind the pipeline, the mega-project is the largest and most expensive in its history. When the taps are switched on in December 2019, the world’s largest gas exporter will be connected for the first time with its largest energy importer.”

April 3, 2018

Perspective

Visual Capitalist – Visualizing the Average Commute Time in U.S. States and Cities – Jeff Desjardins 4/1

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Columbus shows Trump how to thrive in the new world order – Rana Foroohar 4/1

  • “The city’s success shows why industrial policy, not tariffs, is the winning strategy.”

Project Syndicate – Will China Really Supplant US Economic Hegemony? – Kenneth Rogoff 4/2

Seeking Alpha – Tesla Model 3 Costs More To Charge Than A Gasoline Car – Anton Wahlman 4/1

WSJ – U.S. Fiscal Future Won’t Be Like Its Carefree Past – Greg Ip 3/28

Energy

FT – Wary shale investors warn against drilling at all costs – Ed Crooks 4/1

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Federal Reserve Total Assets (Balance Sheet) 4/2

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Commercial and Industrial Loans 4/2

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

WSJ – Daily Shot: Investing.com – Bitcoin v. Bitcoin Cash 4/2

Entertainment

WSJ – Dominant Box Office Run of ‘Black Panther’ Underscores a Growing Hollywood Problem – Ben Fritz 4/1

  • “This year’s box office so far has been a story of one completely dominant movie, ‘Black Panther,’ highlighting a potentially troubling trend for Hollywood in which ticket sales are increasingly concentrated among just a few ultra-successful pictures.”
  • “With $650.7 million and counting, ‘Black Panther’ is on track to become the third highest grossing movie ever in the U.S. and Canada. It accounted for 23% of all ticket sales in the first three months of the year, ending Saturday, according to comScore. That is the second-highest percentage ever behind only ‘Titanic,’ which took 25% in the winter of 1998.”
  • “’Black Panther’ is an extreme example of the trend that Hollywood has been struggling with for some years. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, the top 10 movies raked in between 32% and 35% of total box office, comScore said. Previously, that figure never exceeded 30%. So far this year, it is 58%.

Health / Medicine

Axios – Opioid prescription rates dropping across the country – Stef W. Kight and Lazaro Gamio 3/31

Canada

Bloomberg – Toronto’s Tale of Two Markets Is Hot Condos and Cold Houses – Natalie Wong 3/29

  • “After a decade as one of the world’s hottest housing markets, Toronto is moving in two directions. Transactions have certainly cooled since May as the government introduced new rules to tame runaway prices. But the impact has been largely on big, expensive detached homes, with sales plunging 41% in February from a year earlier, and prices dropping 12% since hitting a record last year. Condo prices, in contrast, soared about 20% since last February.”
  • “The deviation is largely as a result of mortgage regulations that went into effect on Jan. 1 as well as rising interest rates. The rule requires that even people with a 20% down payment, who don’t require mortgage insurance, prove they can make payments at least 2% points above the rates under which they go into contract.”
  • “That’s pushing buyers out of the detached segment and right into the condo market.”

China

FT – China’s P2P lenders brace for renewed regulatory crackdown – Emily Feng 4/1

  • “Thousands of online lenders could be facing extinction as China rolls out a new licensing framework, amid complaints about a lack of clarity on how the regime will work.”
  • “P2P platforms match borrowers with investors online. China’s P2P lending industry recorded transactions valued at $445bn in 2017, according to Online Lending Club, a data company.”
  • “Many P2P lenders, including one of the largest, Hongling Capital, were weeded out in crackdowns in 2016 and 2017 after agencies reporting to China’s central bank began closing fraudulent platforms and those selling high-interest loans.”
  • “Of more than 6,000 online lending platforms launched over the past several years, fewer than 2,000 were still in operation at the end of February, according to Online Lending House, a data provider — a sign of how regulation, competition and fraud have thinned the industry’s ranks.”
  • “As part of the regulatory overhaul, P2P lenders are barred from guaranteeing principal or interest on loans they facilitate; are limited to loans of no more than Rmb1m ($159,000) for individual borrowers and Rmb5m for companies; and must use custodian banks.”

FT – China revives long-stalled property tax to combat housing bubble – Gabriel Wildau and Yizhen Jia 3/31

  • “After years of delay and quiet opposition from vested interests, China will push ahead with a property tax that is viewed as crucial to taming the country’s housing bubble.”
  • “House prices in major Chinese cities are among the highest in the world in terms of price-income ratios, with speculative demand from Chinese investors — who see few other good places to park their savings — as a major driver. The result is an estimated 50m empty homes, according to a broad survey by researchers from Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu.”
  • “A landmark blueprint for economic reform that the Communist party leadership approved five years ago included a pledge to push ahead with a property tax. But a subsequent slowdown in the economy, including a housing-market downturn in 2014-15, prompted authorities to shelve those plans.” 
  • “Quiet opposition from wealthy urbanites, including government officials who own multiple homes, also hindered progress.” 
  • “’When will the tax actually come out is difficult to say, but at least the intention has strengthened,’ said Chen Shen, head of property research at China Securities in Shanghai. ‘Two years ago everyone was discussing whether it would ever happen, but now it’s very clear that it will’.” 

Japan

WSJ – Daily Shot: @NickTimiraos – Change in Home Prices – Japan & U.S. 4/2

Other Interesting Links

WSJ – Dockless Bike Share Floods into U.S. Cities, With Rides and Clutter – Eliot Brown 3/26

 

March 28, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg Gadfly – Users Built Facebook’s Empire, and They Can Crumble It – Nir Kaissar 3/26

FT – It is Venezuela’s crisis that is driving the oil price higher – Nick Butler 3/25

  • “While the Maduro-military alliance holds, output is likely to fall further.”

NYT – Live in a Drainpipe? Five Extreme Ideas to Solve Hong Kong’s Housing Crisis – Austin Ramzy 3/26

NYT – Repeal the Second Amendment – John Paul Stevens (retired associate justice of US Supreme Court) 3/27

NYT – New Leadership Has Not Changed Uber – Steven Hill 3/26

  • “The problem with Uber was never that the chief executive had created a thuggish ‘Game of Thrones’-type culture, as Susan Fowler, an engineer, described it in a blog post. The problem was, and still is, Uber’s business model: Its modus operandi is to subsidize fares and flood streets with its cars to achieve a transportation monopoly. In city after city, this has led to huge increases in traffic congestion, increased carbon emissions and the undermining of public transportation.”
  • Most customers who love Uber don’t realize that the company subsidizes the cost of many rides. This is likely a major factor in Uber’s annual losses surging from 2.8 billion in 2016 to $4.5 billion in 2017. This seemingly nonsensical approach is actually Uber’s effort to use its deep pockets to mount a predatory price war and shut out the competition. That competition is not only taxis and other ride-sharing companies, but public transportation.”
  • Ridership on public transportation is down in nearly every major American city, including New York City (which recorded its first ridership dip since 2009). This is hurting the revenue that public transportation needs to sustain itself. Uber passengers and public transportation users alike now find themselves stuck in heavy traffic for far longer because of what’s been called ‘Uber congestion.’ In Manhattan, there are five times as many ridesharing vehicles as yellow taxis, which has caused average speeds to decline by 15% compared with 2010, before Uber.
  • “Ride-sharing services could potentially add something positive to our transportation options, but only if they are regulated properly.”
  • “First, regulators should limit the number of ride-sharing cars. Traditional taxis already have a sensible limit to minimize congestion. A balance must be found between having enough taxi-type vehicles but not so many that the streets are choked with traffic. Fix NYC, a panel appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, has called for all Ubers, Lyfts and taxis to be outfitted with GPS technology to track congestion and to charge a fee on for-hire vehicles that could help reduce traffic and generate hundreds of millions of dollars for public transportation.”
  • “Second, Uber should be prohibited from subsidizing its fares. It should be required to charge at least the true cost of each ride. If Uber refuses, a ‘fairness fee’ should be added to each fare.”
  • “Third, ride-sharing companies and their vehicles should be required to follow the same laws as traditional taxis, especially in terms of background checks for drivers and insurance requirements.”
  • “Fourth, Uber should be required to share its data with regulators, including information about its drivers and their contact information, so that members of this ‘distributed work force’ can more easily contact one another and organize collectively if they choose.”
  • “Finally, regulations should ensure that Uber treats its drivers fairly. Mr. Khosrowshahi asserts that drivers’ wages are adequate, but according to one study, more than half of Uber drivers earn less than the minimum wage in their state, and some even lose money once the costs of driving are taken into account. That helps explain why, according to Uber’s own internal study, half of its drivers leave after a year.”

WSJ – Turkey Is the One to Watch for Emerging Markets Risk – Richard Barley 3/26

WSJ – How a Tiny Latvian Bank Became a Haven for the World’s Dirty Money – Drew Hinshaw, Patricia Kowsmann, and Ian Talley 3/26

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Libor’s Rise Accelerates, Squeezing Short-Term Borrowers – Ben Eisen and Chelsey Dulaney 3/27

  • “The three-month London interbank offered rate climbed to 2.29% in the U.S. on Monday, its highest since November 2008. Libor measures the cost for banks to lend to one another and is used to set interest rates on roughly $200 trillion in dollar-based financial contracts globally, from corporate loans to home mortgages.”
  • “Libor has been rising for the last 2½ years as the Federal Reserve lifts its key policy rate, but recently the pace has picked up. It has climbed nearly a full percentage point in the last six months—outpacing the Fed—and could rise further with the approaching end of the quarter, typically a time of elevated demand for short-term funds in the banking sector, analysts say.”
  • “Demand for dollars at the end of the first quarter could send Libor up an additional 0.2 percentage point in the coming days, market analysts say, as investors rebalance their portfolios and banks rein in their balance sheets. The end of March also marks the finish of Japan’s fiscal year, potentially compounding the moves as big investors bring money back to Japan.”
  • “Libor has already sprinted ahead of the rates indicated by central bank policies, an acceleration that has baffled economists and traders. That widening gap has alarmed those who watch it as a signal of stress in the financial system. Others have pinned it on a series of technical factors, such as rising short-term debt sales by the U.S. government and new corporate tax policies.”
  • “Other markets that can be tapped for dollars—including through the swaps market and liquidity lines maintained by global central banks—aren’t yet showing a big dollar squeeze.”

Real Estate

The Big Picture – WeWork: Manhattan’s 2nd-biggest Private Office Tenant – Barry Ritholtz 3/27

FT – House prices falling in two-fifths of London postcodes – James Pickford 3/26

  • “House prices are falling in two out of five London postcodes, according to research that underlines the growing divergence between prices in southern English cities and those elsewhere in the UK.”
  • “The average annual rate of price growth in the capital has slowed to 1%, down sharply from 4.3% a year ago, meaning it is at its lowest level since August 2011, according to research by Hometrack, a housing market analyst. This stands in contrast to UK-wide average house price growth of 5.2% in the year to February 2018, up from 4% a year ago.”
  • “Prices are under greatest pressure in central London, where owners of the most expensive types of property began cutting prices in 2015 responding to the impact of higher taxes. In the past year, however, the trend has deepened in areas beyond the prime zones of Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea. The boroughs that saw the greatest drop in value were the City of London, Camden, Southwark, Islington and Wandsworth, according to Hometrack’s research.”
  • “Hometrack is predicting that the number of areas of the capital experiencing falling house prices will multiply during this year as trapped sellers reduce their asking prices to drive through transactions. ‘The net result will be a negative rate of headline price growth for London by the middle of 2018,’ the research said.”
  • “Outside southern England, house prices are more likely to be rising, in some places at a substantial pace. Edinburgh, Liverpool, Leicester, Birmingham and Manchester are adding more than 7% a year to their average house price, Hometrack found, with Leeds, Nottingham and Sheffield pegging rises of 6% or more.”
  • “The laggards in the 20-city index were Aberdeen (down by 7.7%), Cambridge (down by 1.5%) and Oxford (up by just 0.5%).”

NYT – Grocery Wars Turn Small Chains Into Battlefield Casualties – Michael Corkery 3/26

WSJ – Homeowners Ditch Refinancings as Mortgage Rates Rise – Christina Rexrode 3/26

  • “Last year, 37% of mortgage-origination volume was because of refinancings, according to industry research group Inside Mortgage Finance. That is the smallest proportion since 1995, and the number of refinancings is widely expected to shrink again this year. In 2012, refinancings were 72% of originations.”
  • “While purchase activity has climbed steadily from a post-financial-crisis nadir in 2011, growth in 2017 wasn’t enough to offset a $366 billion decline in refinancing activity. The result: The overall mortgage market fell around 12%, to $1.8 trillion, according to Inside Mortgage Finance.”
  • “What’s more, there are fewer homeowners eligible to refinance because of rising rates. The number of borrowers who could benefit from a refinancing is down about 37% from the end of last year, estimates Black Knight Inc., a mortgage-data and technology firm. At 2.67 million potential borrowers, this group is at its smallest since 2008.”
  • “Home-purchase activity has so far been holding up. Sales of previously owned homes in February rose 1.1% from a year earlier, countering worries that a downturn the previous month signaled a peak for the market.”
  • “Still, rising interest rates, a shortage of housing inventory and higher home prices are all long-term threats to purchase activity.”
  • “For refinancings, rising rates are a more immediate worry. Freddie Mac said last week that the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 4.45%, up from 3.95% at the beginning of the year.”
  • “The Mortgage Bankers Association expects mortgage-purchase volume to grow about 5% in 2018 but refinancing volume to drop 27%. Refinance applications fell 5% in the week ended March 16 from the prior one, according to the group.”

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

Bloomberg – Fewer Americans Hold Cryptocurrencies Than You Probably Think – Olga Kharif 3/16

  • “More than 90% of American adults don’t own cryptocurrencies – and most have a lot of concerns about the coins, a new survey from Finder found.”

Fishing

Bloomberg – Maine’s Lobster Tide Might Be Ebbing – Justin Fox 3/23

  • “The numbers came in earlier this month on Maine’s 2017 lobster harvest. By historical standards, the 110.8 million-pound, $434 million haul was pretty spectacular. But it was a lot lower than 2016’s 132.5 million-pound, $540 million record, and it was another sign that the Great Lobster Boom that has surprised and delighted Maine’s lobster fishermen since the 1990s — and brought lobster rolls to diners from coast to coast — may be giving way to … something else.”
  • “The lobster boom does not seem to be the result of overfishing; Maine’s lobster fishermen figured out a set of rules decades ago that appear to allow them to manage the catch sustainably. There are just lots and lots more lobsters off the coast of Maine than there used to be. Why? In a column last spring, I listed four reasons that I’d heard during a trip to Maine:”
    • “Warmer temperatures in the Gulf of Maine.”
    • “A collapse in the population of cod, which eat young lobsters.”
    • “Reduced incidence of a lobster disease called gaffkemia.”
    • “Increased effort and efficiency on the part of lobstermen, who go farther offshore and can haul in more traps in a day than they used to.”
  • “Given how quickly the lobster harvests grew, though, especially from 2007 through 2012, it’s hard not to wonder whether they might not eventually collapse. They already have in several states farther down the Atlantic coast. Lobster landings were still on the rise as of 2016 (data aren’t available yet for 2017) in New Hampshire and Massachusetts but peaked in Rhode Island in 1999, Connecticut in 1998, New York in 1996 and New Jersey in 1990.”
  • “So that’s some evidence for the warming-ocean-temperatures theory of the lobster boom. This would imply that eventually even the oceans off Maine will get too warm, although it doesn’t give much of a hint as to when.”
  • Canada has been benefiting as well.

 

March 20, 2018

Perspective

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

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

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

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

  • Interactive map

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

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

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

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

Markets / Economy

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

Finance

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

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

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

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

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

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 3/18

Automotive

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

China

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

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

New Zealand

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

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

March 12, 2018

Perspective

statista – Proportion Of Female CEOs Is Hugely Overestimated – Niall McCarthy 3/7

Our World in Data – Fertility Rate – Max Roser 12/2/17

WSJ – Daily Shot: OECD – Time spent eating and drinking by Country 3/8

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – The Power of Narrative – Ben Carlson 3/8

Bloomberg Businessweek – Bitcoin Is Ridiculous. Blockchain Is Dangerous. – Paul Ford 3/9

Business Insider – Uber and Lyft drivers are selling candy and snacks in their cars – and it’s indicative of a dark truth – Aine Cain 3/9

Economist – Self-driving cars offer huge benefits-but have a dark side – Leaders 3/1

  • “Policymakers must apply the lessons of the horseless carriage to the driverless car.”

Pragmatic Capitalism – Why is the US Economy Becoming More Stable? – Cullen Roche 3/9

WSJ – Daily Shot: Trump Alienates Allies Needed for a Trade Fight With China – Greg Ip 3/7

Real Estate

WSJ – Mortgage Rates at a Four-Year High Threaten to Roil Housing – Christina Rexrode and Laura Kusisto 3/8

  • “U.S. mortgage rates have hit their highest level since 2014, a new challenge for a housing market that has been central to the economic recovery but remains vulnerable to even modest headwinds.”
  • “The rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.46%, the highest in more than four years and the ninth consecutive week of increases, according to data Thursday from mortgage-finance giant Freddie Mac . At the start of the year, the average rate was 3.95%.”
  • “If the trend persists, it could hamper a sector that represents about 15% of U.S. gross-domestic product. Rising mortgage rates already have crimped refinancing activity and pushed would-be home buyers who are on the margins out of the market as home prices also have risen.”
  • “While the rates remain low by historical standards, millennial buyers, who are often making their first home purchase, could suffer sticker shock. ‘They will be the preponderance of the market purchasing homes over the next 10 years,’ said Ed Robinson, head of the mortgage business at Fifth Third Bancorp. ‘And they’ve never seen 5%’.”
  • “Initially, the housing market often does well when mortgage rates rise. Potential buyers may hurry to complete purchases before rates rise further. Rising rates often signal underlying confidence in the broader economy, which could make some people more apt to buy.”
  • “Historically, there is little correlation between the level of the increases that recently have occurred with mortgage rates and declines in home prices.”
  • “’It takes a pretty big rise in mortgage rates to offset the strength in the economy that causes rates to rise,’ said David Berson, chief economist at Nationwide Insurance and a former chief economist at Fannie Mae.”
  • “Economists expect renters who want to become homeowners will still try to do so, although they may have to look for cheaper homes or make other spending changes. Economists believe mortgage rates would have to rise to roughly 6% before they start to significantly affect borrowers’ decisions about whether to buy a home or what they can afford.”
  • “However, in higher-cost markets, such as New York City and San Francisco, higher rates can have a bigger effect given that loan balances are larger. A 3.5% rate on a $500,000 loan would create a monthly payment of $2,245, according to LendingTree Inc., an online loan information site. At 4.5%, the monthly payment would be $2,533. (That excludes taxes and insurance.)”
  • “Rising rates tend to have a bigger impact on the market for refinancing existing mortgages. The Mortgage Bankers Association expects mortgage-purchase originations to increase about 7% this year. It forecasts the refinancing market, which is smaller, to plunge by nearly 28%, adding to a sharp drop in 2017.”

Finance

WSJ – Brokers to Investors: Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But Trash – Jason Zweig 3/9

  • “According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, free credit balances — one partial measure of uninvested cash in brokerage accounts — totaled $350.2 billion at the end of January.”
  • “Assuming the average yield of 0.12% that Crane Data estimates for brokerage sweep accounts, investors would earn an aggregate of only $420 million in income on that money over the next year.”
  • “If, instead, investors shopped around to improve their yield and earned an average of 1% on that cash, they would pocket $3.5 billion in income. Overall, then, the cost of that inertia is roughly $3.1 billion.”
  • “If you don’t shop around for better yields on your cash, you’re handing your broker another 1% a year.”

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 3/8

WSJ – Daily Shot: Ripple 3/8

Canada

Bloomberg – Toronto Home Builders Just Had Their Busiest February Since 1948 – Theophilos Argitis 3/8

Bloomberg – Loonie Slide Fails to Unsettle Forecasts for 2018 Outperformance – Anooja Debnath 3/8

WSJ – Daily Shot: Canada Housing Starts 3/8

  • “Canadian housing starts exceeded expectations and continue to trend higher.”

China

Bloomberg – China’s War on Pollution Will Change the World – Jeff Kearns, Hannah Dormido, and Alyssa McDonald 3/9

  • “China is cracking down on pollution like never before, with new green policies so hard-hitting and extensive they can be felt across the world, transforming everything from electric vehicle demand to commodities markets.”
  • “Four decades of breakneck economic growth turned China into the world’s biggest carbon emitter. But now the government is trying to change that without damaging the economy—and perhaps even use its green policies to become a leader in technological innovation.”
  • “China’s air pollution is so extreme that in 2015, independent research group Berkeley Earth estimated it contributed to 1.6 million deaths per year in the country.”
  • “The smog is heaviest in northern industrial provinces such as Shanxi, the dominant coal mining region, and steel-producing Hebei. Emissions there contribute to the planet’s largest mass of PM 2.5 air pollution—the particles which pose the greatest health risks because they can become lodged in the lungs. It can stretch from Mongolia to the Yellow Sea and often as far as South Korea.”
  • “The country had become the world’s No.1 carbon dioxide emitter as it rose to dominate global exports, a process which began several decades ago but got its biggest lift with World Trade Organization entry in 2001. Emissions have started to fall again.”
  • “The government’s war on air pollution fits neatly with another goal: domination of the global electric-vehicle industry. Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc. might be the best-known name, but China has been the global leader in EV sales since 2015, and is aiming for 7 million annual sales by 2025.”
  • “To get there, it’s subsidizing manufacturers and tightening regulation around traditional fossil-fuel powered cars.”
  • “Worldwide, solar panel prices are plunging—allowing a faster shift away from carbon—thanks to the sheer scale of China’s clean-energy investment. It’s spending more than twice as much as the U.S. Two-thirds of solar panels are produced in China, BNEF (Bloomberg New Energy Finance) estimates, and it’s home to global leaders, including JinkoSolar Holding Co. and Yingli Green Energy Holding Co.”
  • “But China isn’t stopping there. As well as wind and solar, it’s exploring frontier clean energy technologies like hydrogen as an alternative to coal.”
  • “The trend towards clean energy is poised to keep gathering steam worldwide. BNEF projects global investment in new power generation capacity will exceed $10 trillion between 2017 and 2040. Of this, about 72% is projected to go toward renewable energy, roughly evenly split between wind and solar.”
  • “Five years ago, Beijing’s ‘airpocalypse’ unleashed criticism of the government so searing that even Chinese state media joined in. Last year, the capital’s average daily concentration of PM2.5 particles was almost a third lower than in 2015, compared with declines of about a tenth for some other major cities.”
  • “The turnaround isn’t just limited to improving air quality. China has stopped accepting shiploads of other countries’ plastic and paper trash, a response to public concern over pollution and a decreased need for scrap materials.”

India

Bloomberg Quint – Bond Trading Tumbles in India as Banks Stare at $3 Billion Loss – Subhadip Sircar 3/9

  • “If the RBI’s (Reserve Bank of India) reluctance to play the role of savior is any indication, it looks unlikely that Indian bond traders will see their predicament end soon.”

March 01, 2018

Perspective

NYT – By Day, a Sunny Smile for Disney Visitors. By Night, an Uneasy Sleep in a Car. – Jennifer Medina 2/27

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – How Putin meddles in Western democracies – Leaders 2/22

FT – A world of debt mortgages our economic future – Derek Scissors 2/22

  • “Irresponsible borrowing by the US, China and India imperils global growth.”

WSJ – The Wayfair Riddle – Elizabeth Winkler 2/26

  • “The furniture retailer’s business has serious flaws, but the stock keeps soaring.”

Energy

FT – Rising interest rates punish US power sector – Ed Crooks 2/22

  • “US utilities, sustained for years in a warm bath of favorable financial conditions, are facing a cold shower.”
  • “An expected rise in interest rates and the shake-up of the tax system passed into law at the end of last year are threatening to squeeze utilities’ finances. Already, the S&P 500 utility sector index has dropped 13% from its peak in November.”

FT – Fundamentals do not matter to new breed of oil speculator – Gregory Meyer 2/27

Finance

FT – Rising tide of debt to hit rich countries’ budgets, warns OECD – Kate Allen and Chris Giles 2/22

  • “Developed nations face a rising tide of government debt that poses ‘a significant challenge’ to budgets as interest rates increase around the world, the OECD has warned.”
  • “Low interest rates have helped sustain high levels of government debt and persistent budget deficits since the financial crisis, according to the OECD, but the ‘relatively favorable’ sovereign funding environment ‘may not be a permanent feature of financial markets’.”
  • “The warning on the longer-term consequences of high public borrowing marks a shift in stance by the OECD, which as recently as November was praising countries for easing fiscal policy to help global growth.”
  • “In an Economic Outlook, published at that time, the Paris-based organization said that ‘even a lasting increase in 10-year government bond yields of 1 percentage point . . . might worsen budget balances on average by only between 0.1% and 0.3% of GDP annually in the following three years’.”
  • “The total stock of OECD countries’ sovereign debt has increased from $25tn in 2008 to more than $45tn this year. Debt to GDP ratios across the OECD averaged 73% last year, and its members are set to borrow £10.5tn from the markets this year.”
  • “Because much of the debt raised in the aftermath of the financial crisis is set to mature in the coming years, developed nations will have to refinance 40% of their total debt stock in the next three years, the OECD said.”

Health / Medicine

Economist – How to stop lead poisoning – Leaders 2/22

Agriculture

WSJ – Daily Shot: To Stay on the Land, American Farmers Add Extra Jobs – Jacob Bunge and Jesse Newman 2/25

Sovereign Wealth Funds

FT – Norway oil fund posts $131bn return for 2017 – Richard Milne 2/27

  • “Norway’s $1.1tn oil fund returned 13.7% — or NKr1tn ($131bn) — beaten only by 2009 and 2013 in percentage terms.”
  • “Strong stock markets contributed to a 19.4% return for equities while property returned 7.5% and bonds 3.3%.”

China

Nikkei Asian Review – The hidden risks of China’s war on debt – Yusho Cho 2/28

India

FT – Huge fraud at Indian bank spurs privatization calls – Amy Kazmin 2/27

  • “In 1969, India’s then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, transformed the country’s banking landscape when she nationalized its 14 biggest commercial lenders, which together accounted for around 70% of the system’s deposits.”
  • “Nationalization was touted as way to protect depositors and force banks — which mainly catered to big industrial houses — to lend to a broader swath of the population, including farmers, traders and small businesses.” 
  • “State dominance over the banking system has not worked out so well for India. Politically driven lending decisions, difficulties agreeing realistic debt workouts when loans sour, as well as uninspired, even fearful bureaucratic management and outdated IT systems have left state lenders with a far higher bad debt burden than their private rivals, hindering India’s economic prospects.” 
  • “Now, the discovery of an alleged $1.8bn fraud at India’s second-largest state lender, Punjab National Bank, is prompting vigorous and concerted calls for New Delhi to admit the failure of Mrs. Gandhi’s bank nationalization — and reverse it.” 
  • “According to PNB, staff at one of its Mumbai branches issued fraudulent bank guarantees for luxury jeweler Nirav Modi, and his diamond-trader uncle Mehul Choksi, to take cash advances from the overseas branches of other Indian banks — all ostensibly guaranteed by PNB.”
  • “Antiquated software systems — guarantees were issued without requisite documents or collateral — meant PNB’s management had no idea of the obligations mounting in its name. Nor did the banks that received the guarantees, mostly other state lenders, suspect any impropriety.” 
  • “Analysts say the scam, which PNB says went on for several years without detection, highlights the rot in state banks and the need for radical change.” 
  • “At the heart of India’s banking crisis, however, is New Delhi’s political control over what should be run as commercial entities and the inherent conflict of interest in the state’s multiple roles as economic policymaker, the largest bank owner and the industry regulator.” 
  • “While New Delhi is now in the middle of a $32bn recapitalization scheme to shore up bank balance sheets after the last wave of bad debts, the PNB fraud has raised fears the government is simply throwing good money after bad.” 
  • “Privatization of some, or even most, of India’s state banks is not a simple or quick solution to the sector’s problems. Analysts say the legacy of five decades of state ownership — and its impact on personnel, incentives and decision-making — will take years to undo. But the PNB fraud has persuaded many Indians it is time to start.”

Japan

WSJ – Daily Shot: TD Securities – Japanese Investors Looking For Returns Abroad 2/27

Puerto Rico

WSJ – Daily Shot: CNN – ‘Exodus’ from Puerto Rico: A visual guide – John D. Sutter and Sergio Hernandez 2/21

South America

Bloomberg – Hungry Venezuelan Workers Are Collapsing. So Is the Oil Industry – Fabiola Zerpa 2/22

  • “Starving employees are growing too weak for heavy labor, hobbling the refineries that keep the economy running.”

February 26, 2018

Perspective

Economist – Daily Chart: Are alpha males worse investors? 2/20

WSJ – Household Debt Sees Quiet Boom Across the Globe – Josh Zumbrun 2/18

WSJ – Daily Shot: United Nations – Global Population Trends 2/23

  • “The global population pyramid is expected to invert by 2100 as the population gets closer to peak levels.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Credit Suisse – Domestic Equity Flows 2/23

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US mortgage rates 2/23

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: U.S. 3-Month LIBOR Exchange Rate 2/20

WSJ – Daily Shot: U.S. Borrowing Costs Among Highest in Developed World – Richard Barley 2/21

Cryptocurrency

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 2/22

China

Economist – The rapid rise and fall of the Anbang empire 2/23

  • “China’s government takes control of its would-be financial colossus.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMI, Chinawealth – China Wealth Management Product Growth 2/22

WSJ – China’s Communist Party Proposal Sets Stage for Xi to Hold Onto Power – Chun Han Wong 2/25

  • “Proposal would eliminate the constitutional cap on presidential terms.” Currently set at two terms of five years each.

February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markets / Economy

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

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

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

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

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

Real Estate

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

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

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

Finance

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

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

  • It’s good to be a banker again.

Cryptocurrency

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

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

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

Environment / Science

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

 

February 6, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

Economist – Pyramid schemes cause huge social harm in China 2/3

  • “The authorities call them ‘business cults’. Tens of millions of people are ensnared in these pyramid schemes that use cult-like techniques to brainwash their targets and bilk them out of their money.”
  • “Many countries suffer from Ponzi schemes, which typically sell financial products offering extravagant rewards. They pay old investors out of new deposits, which means their liabilities exceed their assets; when recruitment falters, the schemes collapse. China is no exception. In 2016 it closed down Ezubao, a multi-billion-dollar scam that had drawn in more than 900,000 investors. By number of victims, it was the world’s largest such fraud.”
  • “Chinese pyramid schemes commonly practice ‘multi-level marketing’ (MLM), a system whereby a salesperson earns money not just by selling a company’s goods but also from commissions on sales made by others, whom the first salesperson has recruited. People often earn more by recruiting others than from their own sales. Since 1998 China has banned the use of such methods, although it does allow some, mostly foreign, MLM companies to do business in China as ‘direct sellers’. This involves recruiting people to sell products at work or at home.”
  • “The distinguishing feature of the Chinese scams is the way they combine pyramid-type operations with cult-like brainwashing.”
  • “Many perfectly legal companies try to boost morale by getting staff to sing company songs or organizing awaydays. China’s business cults, however, combine such techniques with violence.”
  • “Business cults seem to be growing. In the first nine months of 2017 the police brought cases against almost 6,000 of them, twice as many as in the whole of 2016 and three times the average annual number in 2005-15. This was just scratching the surface. In July 2017 the police arrested 230 leaders of Shan Xin Hui, a scheme that was launched in May 2016 and had an estimated 5m investors just 15 months later. In August 2017, after the government launched its campaign against ‘diehard scams’, police in the southern port of Beihai, Guangxi province, arrested 1,200 people for defrauding victims of 1.5bn yuan ($223m). One scheme in Guangxi, known as 1040 Project, was reckoned to have fleeced its targets of 600m yuan.”
  • “The scale of the scams worries the government. Their cultish features make it even more anxious. The Communist Party worries about any social organization that it does not control. Cults are especially worrisome because religious and quasi-religious activities give their followers a focus of loyalty that competes with the party.”
  • “The authorities will find it hard to curb the scams for three main reasons. First, in order to encourage cheap loans for industry, the central bank keeps interest rates low. For years they were negative, i.e, below inflation. That built up demand among China’s savers for better returns. With gross savings equal to just under half of GDP, it is not surprising that some of that pool of money should be attracted to schemes promising remarkable dividends.”
  • “Second, it is often hard for consumers to spot frauds. In 2005 China legalized direct selling, arguing that there was a distinction between that practice and the way that Ponzi schemes operate. But Qiao Xinsheng of Zhongnan University of Economics and Law argues that the difference is often ‘blurred’ in the eyes of the public. Scammers can easily pass them themselves off as legitimate. Dodgy companies exploit government propaganda in order to pretend they have official status. For example, they may claim to be ‘new era’ companies, borrowing a catchphrase of China’s president, Xi Jinping.”
  • “Third, argues Mr Li, business cults manipulate traditional attachments to kin. Companies in America often appeal to individual ambition, promising to show investors how to make money for themselves. Those in China offer to help the family, or a wider group. Shan Xin Hui literally means Kind Heart Exchange. It purported to be a charity, offering higher returns to poor investors than to rich ones. (In reality everyone got scammed.) Business cults rely on one family member to recruit another, and upon the obligation that relatives feel to trust each other. This helps explain why investors who have lost life savings continue to support the companies that defrauded them.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – Why sub-zero interest rates are neither unfair nor unnatural – Free exchange 2/3

NYT – Early Facebook and Google Employees Form Coalition to Fight What They Built – Nellie Bowles 2/4

NYT – Amazon Asked for Patience. Remarkably, Wall Street Complied. – Michael Corkery and Nick Wingfield 2/4

  • “In a business environment that demands, and rewards, quarterly profits and short-term strategic thinking, Amazon showed extraordinary resolve in focusing on long-term goals, somehow persuading investors to go along.”
  • “Over its first decade in existence, including long stretches where it consistently reported losses, Amazon enjoyed a luxury afforded few companies: leeway.”
  • “Amazon has reported an annual profit in only 13 of the 21 years that it has operated as a publicly traded company, according to FactSet, a financial data firm.”
  • “And its profit margins, already low by some measures, have fluctuated from year to year — hardly moving in the straight upward line that Wall Street usually likes to see.”
  • “Yet investors have rewarded Amazon for plowing its profits back into growing its businesses, whether in online retail, cloud computing or, most recently, in grocery stores, with the acquisition of Whole Foods Market.”

Vanity Fair – Twitter’s Dirty Secret – Nick Bilton 2/2

  • “Twitter knew about all its fake followers, and always has – eliminating just enough bots to make it seem like they care, but not enough that it would affect the perceived number of active users on the platform.”

WSJ – China Shows How It Will Fight a Trade War – Nathaniel Taplin 2/5

  • “U.S. agriculture will be in China’s crosshairs if a trade war erupts.”

Real Estate

The Real Deal – Everything must go: Chinese investors sell off their foreign RE holdings – Erin Hudson 2/3

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bankrate.com US 30-Yr Fixed Rate Mortgage Rate 2/2

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Home Equity Loans 2/5

  • “Home equity loan balances continue to slip as Americans remain uneasy tapping this form of credit.”

Finance

Reuters – JGBs pare losses as Bank of Japan offers “unlimited” buying to curb rising yields – Hideyuki Sano 2/1

WSJ – What Markets Are Really Telling Us About Higher Rates – Richard Barley 2/5

  • “Companies are paying slightly more to borrow, but higher risk-free yields haven’t fed through fully. This is significant.”
  • “…the ECB, is still at play. The ECB’s bond-buying actions have a twist: in the first four weeks of January, corporate purchases as a share of government purchases stood at 27%, versus 11.5% when the program was running full-tilt at €80 billion a month, according to Deutsche Bank . In other words, corporates are still getting decent support from ECB purchases.”
  • “One snag is that corporate-bond spreads are already so tight there is little room for error. In Europe, the investment-grade ICE BofAML corporate index yield premium over government bonds is just 0.74 percentage points, its lowest level since August 2007.”
  • “Investors should watch closely if spreads do widen significantly. It would mean either companies are making riskier, top-of-market types of bets or investors are getting concerned about growth and underlying cash flows. For now, the message from higher interest rates is, don’t sweat it.”

Cryptocurrency

FT – ‘Crypto crazy’ Japanese mystified by virtual heist – Leo Lewis and Robin Harding 2/2

  • “The $500m theft of XEM coins by an anonymous hacker is threatening the country’s faith in cryptocurrencies.”

FT – Bitcoin investors find tax demands are not virtual – Ben McLannahan and Vanessa Houlder 2/4

  • “Cryptocurrency traders in many jurisdictions may be liable for hefty capital gains tax bills.”

NYT – Making a Crypto Utopia in Puerto Rico – Nellie Bowles 2/2

Reuters – Bitcoin extends slide, falls below $7,000 – Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss 2/5

  • “Digital currency bitcoin BTC=BTSP fell more than 15% on Monday to a nearly three-month low amid a slew of concerns ranging from a global regulatory clampdown to a ban on using credit cards to buy bitcoin by British and U.S. banks.”
  • “On the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange, bitcoin fell as low as $6,853.53 in early afternoon trading in New York. That marked a fall of more than half from a peak of almost $20,000 hit in December.”
  • “Bitcoin has fallen in six of the last eight trading session.”
  • “The currency, which surged more than 1,300% last year, has lost about half its value so far in 2018, as more governments and banks signal their intention for a regulatory crackdown. Last week bitcoin suffered its worst weekly performance since 2013.”

Tech

NYT – Early Facebook and Google Employees Form Coalition to Fight What They Built – Nellie Bowles 2/4

Health / Medicine

Economist – A revolution in health care is coming – Leaders 2/1

Asia – excluding China and Japan

WSJ – Samsung Heir Lee Jae-yong Freed From Prison by Appeals Court – Eun-Young Jeong 2/5

China

The Sydney Morning Herald – China said to mull legal gambling on Hainan – Keith Zhai and Daniela Wei 2/4

India

Bloomberg Businessweek – India’s Phantom Flats Leave Homebuyers’ Dreams in Tatters – Pooja Thakur Mahrotri, Upmanyu Trivedi, and Dhwani Pandya 1/30

  • “Across the metropolitan area that surrounds New Delhi, a string of real-estate developers including Unitech, Jaypee Infratech Ltd. and Amrapali Group have been dragged to court by irate homeowners who shelled out payments for apartments that have yet to be completed. Many of these firms took money from a stream of buyers. As sales slumped and the once red-hot market cooled, their businesses unraveled — leaving them grappling with debt.”
  • “The fallouts from the shakeup in the $126 billion property market are reverberating across companies, markets and the broader economy. Unitech, once India’s largest developer, has plunged to a fraction of its previous valuation. Jaypee is in insolvency court. State-owned banks — the lifeblood of the economy — are grappling with a pile up of bad loans from the industry. Indian families, who have long poured their life savings into real estate, are now pulling back.”
  • “Indian real-estate businesses expanded as long as firm were able to draw new buyers for planned projects. But as the economy slowed and demand softened, many firms were left short of cash and struggling to manage their debt. The downturn only worsened last year after the government tightened regulations to protect homebuyers and separately introduced a new services tax across all industries. India’s residential sector appears to have shrunk to a fraction of its size in less than a decade, according to Shishir Baijal, managing director of Knight Frank India.”
  • “Prices dropped 3% on average across the top six cities, according to Knight Frank, with some declining as much as 15% after accounting for developer discounts. And in the capital region, last year’s prices were 9% below their 2015 peak. The outlook remains bleak.”
  • “The property developers are adding to a pile-up of bad loans in India’s banking sector, which is already struggling to manage a spike in stressed assets across several industries.”
  • “India’s government has stepped in to regulate the real-estate industry with new laws, including one that forces developers to use at least 70% of sale proceeds to complete residential projects, rather than funnel money to different jobs. Other measures prevent them from pre-selling apartments before all building approvals are obtained.”
  • “The pain hasn’t been restricted to the North. India’s financial capital, Mumbai, last year witnessed a decline in residential property prices for the first time in a decade. New residential launches across eight Indian cities dropped 41% last year and were down 78% from their peak in 2010, Knight Frank data show.”

South America

Bloomberg Businessweek – Venezuelan Pirates Rule the Most Lawless Market on Earth – Jonathan Franklin 1/30

Economist – China moves into Latin America – Bello 2/1

  • “The Asian giant is taking advantage of other powers’ lack of interest in the region.”