Tag: Investment Management

February 20, 2018

Perspective

Tax Foundation – State Corporate Income Tax Rates for 2018 – Morgan Scarboro 2/7

Visual Capitalist – Mapping the World’s Wealthiest Cities – Jeff Desjardins 2/16

WSJ – Daily Shot: Credit Suisse – Timeline of Relative Market Capitalizations Since 1900 2/16

WSJ – Daily Shot: TRACE – NRA Contributions to select political candidates 2/15

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

University of Oxford – Stranded Property Assets in China’s Resource-based Cities: implications for financial stability? – Gerard Dericks, Robert Potts, & Ben Caldecott February 2018

The Atlantic – The Plot Against America – Franklin Foer – March 2018

  • In depth profile on Paul Manafort.

The Atlantic – How WeWork Has Perfectly Captured the Millennial Id – Laura Bliss – March 2018

  • “The company sells a somewhat uneasy combination of capitalist ambition and cooperative warmth.”

WSJ – Growth Is the Missing Ingredient for Kraft Heinz – Aaron Back 2/16

Markets / Economy

FT – Food industry giants struggle to keep up with changing tastes – Anna Nicolaou 2/16

  • “Sales woes at Kraft Heinz, Danone and others force groups to cut costs and eye deals.”

Real Estate

CoStar – Oaktree Becomes Latest Investment Manager to Launch Non-Traded REIT, Looking to Raise up to $2 Billion – Mark Heschmeyer 2/16

  • “Oaktree joins a growing list of major investment firms to expand into non-traded REIT fundraising. The Blackstone Group kicked off the trend in September 2016. So far, other big investors that have followed its lead into the non-traded REIT sector include Nuveen’s TH Real Estate, BGC Partners’ Cantor Fitzgerald, Starwood Capital Group, KKR & Co., and TPG Capital.”

WSJ – New York’s Commercial Property Slump Shows Signs of Slowing – Keiko Morris 2/11

Finance

Bloomberg – Hedge Fund Startups in Asia See Signs of Revival – Bei Hu and Klaus Wille 1/21

WSJ – The Rise of Private Assets Is Built on a Mountain of New Debt – Paul J. Davies 2/15

Cryptocurrency

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 2/15

Tech

FT – SpaceX joins race to make web truly worldwide – Richard Waters 2/15

  • “SpaceX will on Saturday officially enter the race to bring internet access to all parts of the earth’s surface with the planned launch of its first test satellites for a globe-encompassing communications network.”
  • “The latest trial from Elon Musk’s private space company is a world away from last week’s spectacular first launch of Falcon Heavy, the world’s biggest rocket. Undertaken with none of the Tesla chief executive’s usual showman flair — he has not even mentioned it on Twitter — it is an early technical trial for a communications service that could be years from completion.”
  • “If successful, however, SpaceX has said it plans to start launching its first commercial satellites next year, with a constellation of more than 11,000 circling the earth in low-earth orbit by the time the network is complete in 2024.”
  • “SpaceX’s application for approval to test a satellite internet service from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is one of 12 made to the US regulators, highlighting the extent of the potential competition.”
  • “SpaceX plans to connect its constellation of satellites to form a so-called mesh network, passing information among them and blanketing the earth.”

Health / Medicine

FT – Good bacteria can help brain function better – Clive Cookson 2/15

  • “Researchers are discovering remarkable new links between gut bacteria and the brain. Problems from poor sleep to memory loss could be helped by manipulating the microbiome, the trillions of bacteria living inside healthy human bodies, the American Association for the Advancement of Science heard on Thursday.”

 

February 16, 2018

新年快乐

Xīnnián kuàilè

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Do You Live Among Millionaires? – Eric Morath 2/9

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Five reasons why universal basic income is a bad idea – Ian Goldin 2/11

  • “As the scale of the potential job losses arising from the artificial intelligence and robotics revolution becomes clearer, a chorus of otherwise disconnected billionaires, trade unionists and others are calling for universal basic income. Recognizing the threat posed by these dislocations is welcome and timely, but seeking solace in UBI is a bad idea.”
  • “It is misleading to think of this as yet another industrial revolution and take comfort in the fact that all previous industrial revolutions have resulted in more and better-quality jobs. This time is different, both in the pace and the reach of change. The growth of new jobs is slower than the destruction of old jobs — and their quality in many cases is inferior, as full-time career employment gives way to gig work or contingency contracts.”
  • “The places most vulnerable are also geographically isolated from the dynamic cities experiencing record earnings growth and low unemployment. Moving to these cities is increasingly difficult, as soaring housing and commuting costs reduce employment mobility. The result is rising geographical concentration of poverty and inequality in places left behind by change. The political reverberations are already being felt. The legitimate concerns of vulnerable workers must be addressed. But UBI is a red herring for five reasons.”
  • Reasons 3 and 4:
  • “Third, UBI will undermine social cohesion. Individuals gain not only income, but meaning, status, skills, networks and friendships through work. Delinking income and work, while rewarding people for staying at home, is what lies behind social decay. Crime, drugs, broken families and other socially destructive outcomes are more likely in places with high unemployment, as is evident in the drug pandemic in the US.”
  • “Fourth, UBI undermines incentives to participate. Stronger safety nets are vital. No decent society should tolerate dire poverty or starvation. But for those who are able, help should be designed to get individuals and families to participate in society; to help people overcome unemployment and find work, retrain, move cities. Wherever possible, safety nets should be a lifeline towards meaningful work and participation in society, not a guarantee of a lifetime of dependence.”

FT – Where is the Tea Party when you need it? – Edward Luce 2/14

Project Syndicate – The Social Media Threat to Society and Security – George Soros 2/14

  • “It takes significant effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called the freedom of mind. And there is a real chance that, once lost, those who grow up in the digital age – in which the power to command and shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies – will have difficulty regaining it.”

Markets / Economy

FT – Why the 30-hour work week is almost here – Simon Kuper 2/14

  • “Qualified jobseekers are scarce. Finally, workers can make demands.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Mall Dividends Soar Above 15%, Tempting Big Investors – Esther Fung 2/13

  • “Some mall operators are paying high dividends to offset the lackluster outlook for the sector.”

Finance

WSJ – Harvard, Hawaii Gambled on Market Calm – Then Everything Changed – Gregory Zuckerman, Gunjan Banerji and Heather Gillers 2/14

  • “Harvard, Hawaii and others, pressed to improve returns, made risky bets that depended on low stock-market volatility.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: VIX index 2/14

  • “VIX has finally moved below 20 as the inflation/high-rates ‘bogeyman’ no longer looks as scary (for now).”

Insurance

FT – MetLife hires investigators in search for missing pensioners – Alistair Gray 2/14

  • “US insurer MetLife has hired investigators to track down thousands of pensioners as the company seeks to resolve a scandal over missing payouts that has wiped about $10bn off its market capitalization.”
  • “Executives on Wednesday said they were doing ‘everything humanly possible’ to locate almost 13,500 people — owed on average $20,000 each — after they acknowledged MetLife failed to make proper efforts find them over 25 years.”
  • “The failure arose because of practices dating back to the 1990s at MetLife’s pensions ‘risk transfer’ business, under which companies transfer their retirement liabilities to insurers.”
  • “MetLife sought to contact eligible pensioners only twice: when they turned 65, and again a few months after the age of 70. If these efforts were unsuccessful, the company presumed the individuals would never be found.”
  • “As a result, the insurer mistakenly released funds from reserves that support future annuity payouts.”

China

FT – Wanda’s hopes for global lifestyle empire fade as it beats retreat – Emily Feng 2/14

  • “Dalian Wanda, the company Mr. Wang (Wang Jianlin) founded and transformed from a small-town real estate company into the world’s largest owner of cinemas and one of China’s biggest private property developers, has been steadily offloading assets over the past nine months.”
  • “The latest divestment came on Wednesday, when Wanda announced it had agreed to sell its 17% stake in Spanish football club Atlético Madrid.”
  • “The group says it will ‘refocus’ on its core business, domestic commercial property, including a plan to build or license 1,000 malls in China.” 
  • “This is a reversal for a group that invested roughly $22bn in offshore trophy assets over the past five years, according to data from Dealogic, as part of a push to bring a western lifestyle to an ever more wealthy Chinese middle class.” 
  • “In June 2017, the China Banking Regulatory Commission asked banks to examine loans to four companies known for offshore trophy investments, including Wanda, as Beijing pushed back on investments it deemed frivolous, excessive and out of line with the government’s development goals.”
  • “Wanda has pivoted sharply since the June crackdown. The group has sold about $10.8bn of assets in the past nine months, according to data from Dealogic and an FT review of recent transactions.”
  • “Debt pressures on Wanda are prompting the group to review its foreign investments, as Beijing’s capital controls restrict groups’ abilities to service their overseas liabilities.”
  • “Wanda says it is in talks with the country’s foreign exchange regulator, which had approved offshore remittances to service its loans but suspended clearance after Beijing launched its probe into the companies’ liabilities.”
  • “’The company’s financial resources — including cash proceeds from sales and cash balance — should be able to fulfil its onshore obligations. But the key now is how they can remit any onshore cash to offshore,’ says Dennis Lee, an associate director at rating agency S&P Global.”
  • “Mr. Lee adds that the group’s need for offshore cash is prompting Wanda to consider its options, including the sale of overseas properties.”
  • “The group also needs to maintain the confidence of investors. Total liabilities for Wanda were $11.7bn at the end of 2016, according to the group.”
  • “The strategy may be less glamorous, but Wanda’s year-end numbers suggest that its asset-light strategy is paying off. Even as overall revenues for its main property subsidiary plummeted by more than a fifth to $17.8bn last year, its revenue from rental income grew by about a third to $4bn, according to its results in January.”
  • “Despite the recent divestments, the group still retains its biggest offshore assets and Mr. Wang remains extraordinarily rich — Hurun estimates the wealth of Mr. Wang and his family at $23bn. Wanda is preparing for a Shanghai relisting of DWCP once its offshore debt is cleared, and that promises to be a major funding event.”

India

FT – Punjab National Bank discovers $1.8bn fraud in Mumbai branch – Simon Mundy 2/14

  • “Scam resulted in money being advanced to a handful of accounts overseas.”

February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markets / Economy

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

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

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

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

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

Real Estate

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

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

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

Finance

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

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

  • It’s good to be a banker again.

Cryptocurrency

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

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

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

Environment / Science

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

 

February 13, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markets / Economy

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

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

Real Estate

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

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

Finance

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

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

Cryptocurrency

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

China

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

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

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

India

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

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

Japan

WSJ – Daily Shot: Nikkei 225 2/9

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

February 12, 2018

Perspective

WSJ – Tech Wealth Turns Attention to Affordable Housing in Seattle – Nour Malas 2/7

WSJ – Why Even ‘Ordinary’ Homes Sell for $500,000 Over the List Price – Nancy Keates 2/8

  • “Nowhere is demand more pent up than in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the past four months, 39 homes in Silicon Valley have sold for $500,000 or more over the listing price, says Mark Wong, a real-estate broker with Alain Pinel Realtors, based in Saratoga, Calif..”
  • “That figure includes a ‘lovingly cared for and well maintained home’ (read: not updated). The 53-year-old, three-bedroom, one-story house on 0.197 acre in West San Jose got 15 offers and sold to an all-cash buyer for $2.5 million—$815,000 over asking. A three-bedroom, 2,040-square-foot house in the Glen Park neighborhood sold in October for $2.6 million—nearly $1 million over its listing price of $1.675 million.”
  • “Seattle is another hot spot. Over the past year, the city has seen the greatest increase in the country in the share of sales above the asking price, surging to 52% of home sales in 2017 from 20% of sales in 2012, according to Zillow.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – One Cause of Market Turbulence: Computer-Driven Index Funds – Landon Thomas Jr. 2/9

WSJ – BlackRock’s New Ambition Is a Sign of Froth – Aaron Back 2/8

  • “One can’t begrudge BlackRock for putting out its hand for a small slice of the money on offer. Even if the experiment somehow goes awry, it won’t make much of a dent in a company with $6.3 trillion of assets under management.”
  • “But the sheer imbalance between the supply of investable funds and suitable outlets for investment that gave rise to this move should ring some alarm bells for investors generally. At market tops when money is desperate to find a home, it often winds up in places it shouldn’t.”

WSJ – When Investing in Stock Makes You Feel Like Throwing Up and You Do It Anyway – Jason Zweig 2/9

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Businessweek – The Breakneck Rise of China’s Colossus of Electric-Car Batteries – Jie Ma, David Stringer, Yan Zhang, and Sohee Kim 1/31

Real Estate

WSJ – Gig Economy Grows Up as Lenders Allow Airbnb Income on Mortgage Applications – Laura Kusisto 2/8

  • “Homeowners soon will be able to count income they earn from Airbnb Inc. rentals on applications for refinance loans.”
  • “A new program—expected to be announced on Thursday by Airbnb, mortgage giant Fannie Mae and three big lenders—will allow anyone who has rented out property on Airbnb for a year or longer to count some or all of that money as income.”
  • “The mortgages will be backed by Fannie Mae, an acknowledgment that Americans today increasingly are earning money through the ‘gig economy,’ such as renting out rooms or ride-sharing.”
  • “Initially, three lenders, Quicken Loans, Citizens Bank and Better Mortgage, will participate in the program. Fannie will evaluate the initiative and could decide over time to back mortgages from any lender that chooses to count Airbnb income in a refinancing, as long as the short-term rentals aren’t against local laws.”
  • “Still, the move raises worries about encouraging homeowners to borrow more based on the unpredictable tourism industry.”
  • “Executives at the three lenders said one crucial difference between the housing bubble and today is technology, which makes it easy to keep track of how much income homeowners are earning from Airbnb.”

WSJ – eBay Finds Unlikely Fans in Luxury-Home Sellers – Leigh Kamping-Carder 2/8

Energy

WSJ – Venezuela’s Pain is OPEC’s Gain – Spencer Jakab 2/9

  • “The cut in oil production engineered by OPEC and Russia is now in its second year, defying skeptics and helping to boost crude prices. But the cartel’s compliance owes a big debt these days to a single member: Venezuela.”
  • “A founding member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Venezuela pumped only 1.64 million barrels a day last month, well below its 1.97 million barrel a day allocation, according to estimates by S&P Global Platts. That gap of 330,000 barrels a day is marginally more than the amount that the entire cartel is undershooting its 32.73 million barrel-a-day target.”
  • “Calling even the decline so far in Venezuela’s petroleum industry historic is almost an understatement. Just last year, output was down by almost 30%. In percentage terms, that is worse than in major producing countries that broke apart and saw their economies collapse, such as the former Soviet Union, and Iraq in 2003.”

Finance

FT – Investors resume their bets against market volatility – Robin Wigglesworth and Joe Rennison 2/8

Cryptocurrency

WSJ – Bitcoin’s Plunge Weighs on Coin Offerings – Paul Vigna 2/7

Construction

Economist – Wooden skyscrapers could be the future for cities – 2/1

  • Video

China

Bloomberg Businessweek – For China’s Wealthy, Singapore Is the New Hong Kong – Chanyaporn Chanjaroen, Keith Zhai, and Cathy Chan 2/6

  • “Hong Kong is starting to be eclipsed by Singapore as the favorite destination for the wealth of China’s rich.”
  • “At stake for banks in both cities is a huge pile of money. China’s high-net-worth individuals control an estimated $5.8 trillion—almost half of it already offshore, according to consulting firm Capgemini SE. For some, the city-state of Singapore is preferable because it’s at a safer distance from any potential scrutiny from authorities in Beijing, according to interviews with several wealth managers. Multiple private banking sources in Singapore, who would not comment on the record because of the sensitivity of the subject, report seeing increased flows at the expense of Hong Kong.”
  • “The rich may be feeling exposed by changing banking practices. Hong Kong has signed tax transparency agreements that for the first time last year required all banks to report their account holders’ information to Hong Kong tax officials, in preparation for giving that information to 75 jurisdictions, including mainland China. Singapore will have similar agreements with 61 jurisdictions. But they don’t include either Hong Kong or Beijing, meaning its accounts and account holders aren’t visible to the Chinese government.”
  • “Overall, Hong Kong remains the primary destination for China’s offshore money, according to a Capgemini survey, followed by Singapore and New York. Yet the number of Chinese high-net-worth individuals who view Hong Kong as their preferred overseas place of investment is down to 53%, from 71% two years ago, according to a survey in July by Bain & Co. More than 20% favor Singapore, up from 15% two years ago.”
  • “‘We see Singapore, not Hong Kong, as the bridgehead of China’s investment overseas,’ says Li Qinghao, co-founder of NewBanker Tech Consulting, which organized the Sentosa conference last year. About 78% of S$2.7 trillion ($1.9 trillion) in assets under management in Singapore comes from overseas sources.”

FT – Wealthy Chinese push racing pigeon prices skywards – Tom Hancock 2/8

  • “An elite group of Chinese pigeon fanciers have pushed the prices of racing birds to record highs, reflecting a mood of exuberance among China’s wealthy following a pick-up in economic growth and asset prices that has buoyed luxury spending.”
  • “Xing Wei, a property tycoon, paid €400,000 ($490,000) to purchase a Belgian pigeon called Nadine, in what is thought to be the largest deal on record. He followed that with a Rmb3m ($475,000) purchase of a champion bird called Extreme Speed Goddess at a Beijing auction in December.”
  • “Soaring pigeon prices are matched by bigger prizes for pigeon-racing competitions. China’s premier 500km ‘Iron Eagle’ race series held by the Pioneer International club in Beijing boasts a prize pot of Rmb450m ($71.2m).” 
  • “Higher property and equities prices helped the wealth of China’s 2,000 richest people increase nearly 13% last year, according the country’s top rich list. The number of people known to possess assets above $300m grew faster last year than any other in the previous decade, said Rupert Hoogewerf, the compiler of the list.”
  • “After years of declines following the anti-corruption campaign launched by President Xi Jinping in 2012, sales of luxury goods in China grew 20% last year, according to business consultancy Bain. Art auction sales in Shanghai saw 42% growth last year, according to consultancy ArtTactic.”
  • “Pigeon industry insiders say just half a dozen enthusiasts are responsible for largest sales. ‘Five years ago Rmb300-Rmb400 ($47 – $63) was a very high price for a pigeon,’ said Zhang Wangbin, who runs a club in the central city of Wuhan whose auctions this winter saw several birds sell for 10 times that amount. ‘It’s the result of economic development,’ he added.”
  • “Pigeons are not the only animals to catch the eye of China’s business elite, with Japanese Koi carp prices also seeing a China effect. Kentaro Sakai, president of the Sakai Fish Farm, Japan’s biggest Koi breeder, said a single fish could sell for up to ¥42m ($380,000).”

India

Bloomberg Quint – SBI Posts Surprise Loss A Provisions Surge, Treasury Income Falls – Vishwanath Nair and Azman Usmani 2/9

  • “State Bank of India Ltd. reported a quarterly loss for the first time in at least 17 years as its treasury operations turned unprofitable and provisions for bad loans increased. The public lender reported a significant divergence in bad loans from RBI’s assessment which weighed on the bottom line.”

Other Interesting Links

WSJ – Daily Shot: Number of Times a State has Hosted a Super Bowl 2/8

WSJ – CMO Today: Super Bowl Ratings Slump – Lara O’Reilly 2/6

February 9, 2018

Perspective

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

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

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

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

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

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

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

Markets / Economy

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

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

Real Estate

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

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

Health / Medicine

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

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

Canada

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

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

China

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

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

 

February 8, 2018

Perspective

FT – Super Bowl thriller watched by smallest audience since 2009 – Shannon Bond 2/5

  • “In spite of the upset which saw the Eagles beat the Patriots 41 to 33 in a hard-fought battle in Minneapolis that came down to the final seconds of play, the broadcast drew 7% fewer viewers to NBC with 103.4m watching, according to Nielsen.”
  • “When people who watched the game online were included, NBC counted a total audience of 106m and said it was the most-streamed Super Bowl ever. But this compares with the 111.3m people who tuned in to Fox’s broadcast last year.”
  • “While football remains the most popular programming on US television, the figures from Nielsen underscore the ratings decline that has been plaguing the National Football League for two seasons. Audiences for regular season games shrank 10% in 2017, an acceleration from 2016’s 8% decrease.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg View – Don’t Mistake the Stock Market for the Economy – Robert Burgess 2/6

FT – Bitcoin freeloads on institutions’ trust, warns BIS – Martin Arnold 2/6

  • “Cryptocurrency is ‘a Ponzi scheme and an environmental disaster’ says Agustin Carstens.”

FT – Poland’s death camp law is designed to falsify history – Jan Gross 2/6

  • “The rule barring debate of the country’s role in the Holocaust is a policy disaster.”

WSJ – Samsung Saga Shows Korea Reform Is Going Nowhere – Jacky Wong 2/5

  • “The release of the conglomerate’s de facto leader will do little to allay investors’ concerns about the country’s corporate governance standards.”
  • Mr. Lee (Lee Jae-yong) walked free on Monday after appealing the five-year prison term handed to him in August when he was convicted on bribery and embezzlement charges: He received a reduced and suspended sentence instead. The next stage could see the case go to South Korea’s Supreme Court.”

WSJ – The Stock Market Didn’t Get Tested – You Did – Jason Zweig 2/5

Markets / Economy

FT – China smartphone sales down for first time since 2009 – Louise Lucas, Edward White, Nic Fildes 2/6

  • “Sales of smartphones in China — the world’s biggest market, responsible for about one in every three shipments — fell last year for the first time since 2009, raising fresh concerns about the strength of the global handset market.”
  • “Data from IDC, the research company, showed that smartphone sales slumped 4.9% in 2017 from the previous year as the local market, a growth engine for the global mobile phone industry, contracted.”
  • “Analysts pointed to the fact that Chinese consumers were waiting longer to replace their smartphones than they have in the past, mirroring a similar trend in other markets including the UK.”
  • “IDC’s numbers come just days after data provider IHS Markit said global smartphone sales had dropped 4.5% in the last quarter of 2017, with only Xiaomi and Lenovo’s Motorola experiencing any growth in shipments.”
  • “Apple took the biggest hit in China last year according to IDC, with unit sales down 8.3% year on year, although the company continued to dominate the premium market for phones that cost more than $600.”
  • “In terms of overall value, the China mobile market grew 11% in 2017 — from $120bn in 2016 to $134bn.”

FT – M&A boom heightens fear of credit cycle nearing peak – Eric Platt 2/4

Finance

WSJ – How the Bull Market’s Greatest Trade Went Bust – Spencer Jakab 2/6

  • “Only very rarely has a trade gone from being so good to being so bad so quickly.”
  • “Among the most profitable trades during the bull market has been to short volatility, essentially betting the market would get calmer and stay calm. An exchange-traded instrument, the VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short-Term exchange-traded note, grew to $2 billion by harnessing futures on the Cboe Volatility Index.”
  • “The note, with the symbol XIV, had a 46% compound annual return from its inception in 2010 to two weeks ago. Late on Monday, though, the combined value of the note fell 95% to less than $15 million as trading was halted early Tuesday. Sponsor Credit Suisse says the last day of trading will be later this month.”
  • “The lesson in the trade’s collapse isn’t that volatility is a flawed asset class. Instead, it is one as old as markets—crowded, ‘can’t lose’ trades often end in stampedes.”

Cryptocurrency

Bloomberg Quint – Get Ready for Most Cryptocurrencies to Hit Zero, Goldman Says – Kana Nishizawa 2/7

  • “Are any of today’s cryptocurrencies going to be an Amazon or a Google, or will they end up like many of the now-defunct search engines? Just because we are in a speculative bubble does not mean current prices can’t increase for a handful of survivors…. At the same time, it probably does mean that most, if not all, will never see their recent peaks again.” – Steve Strongin, Goldman Sachs

NYT – Here Are the World’s Virtual Currency Billionaires (or at Least They Were) – Nathaniel Popper 2/7

China

Bloomberg – China’s Next Debt Bomb Is an Aging Population – Yinan Zhao and Jing Zhao 2/5

FT – China developers retreat from Hong Kong property market – Ben Bland 2/6

  • “Chinese property developers have retreated sharply from Hong Kong’s booming land market, becoming the latest industry to be dented by Beijing’s capital controls and intensified scrutiny of outbound transactions.”
  • “Chinese developers won 11% of bids by value in Hong Kong government land auctions since April, down from about 50% in the preceding two years, according to an analysis of official data by Standard & Poor’s, the debt rating agency.” 
  • “Esther Liu, an analyst at S&P, said the main reason for the pullback by Chinese developers was the clampdown on outbound investment by the Chinese government, which began in late-2016. Beijing has since intensified the crackdown as it seeks to stem capital outflows and discipline companies such as HNA that borrowed heavily to fund a flurry of overseas deals.”
  • “Ms. Liu said that Chinese developers were also deterred by the longer development cycle in Hong Kong, compared with mainland China.” 
  • “She said it typically took six to nine months in China for developers to progress from buying land to launching their first off-plan sales. In Hong Kong, by contrast, it can take several years to plan the development of the site and obtain the required permissions.”
  • “Despite the retreat of the mainland developers, analysts forecast that Hong Kong property prices will continue to rise.”

FT – Chinese tycoon sues local government for $640m – Tom Hancock and Xinning Liu 2/5

  • “One of China’s richest men has revealed an attempt to sue a municipal government for Rmb4bn ($640m) over a suspended project to build a new city, the biggest case of its kind brought by an entrepreneur against the state.”
  • “Yan Jiehe said the company he founded, China Pacific Construction Group, had not been paid for its work on Lanzhou New City, a settlement once billed as ‘Las Vegas in the Gobi’, where diggers flattened dozens of hills before officials suspended the project in 2013.”

WSJ – Chinese Police Add Facial-Recognition Glasses to Surveillance Arsenal – Josh Chin 2/7

India

Bloomberg Quint – Jio’s First Profit Is ‘Too Good to Believe’ for Bernstein – Bhuma Shrivastava and Saket Sundria 2/7