Tag: Italy

June 18, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg Businessweek – Could Ocean’s 8 Actually Work? – James Tarmy 6/5

  • “Why stealing giant diamonds is a terrible, no good, very bad idea.”

Bloomberg Businessweek – Tears ‘R’ Us: The World’s Biggest Toy Store Didn’t Have to Die – Susan Berfield, Eliza Ronalds-Hannon, Matthew Townsend, and Lauren Coleman-Lochner 6/6

FT – Trump is trading on the protectionist mood – Rana Foroohar 6/10

  • “When even centrists are circling the wagons, we know we have entered a different world.”

FT – Forecasters have an awful record in predicting energy markets – Nick Butler 6/14

  • “Wider uncertainty increases appeal of large, low-cost power projects.”

WSJ – The Stock-Market Price Can Be Wrong. Very Wrong. – Jason Zweig 6/15

  • “Researchers have caught investors in the act of wildly – and unnecessarily – overpaying for a stock.”

WSJ – Venezuela’s Long Road to Ruin – Mary Anastasia O’Grady 6/10

  • “Few countries have provided such a perfect example of socialist policies in practice.”

Markets / Economy

NYT – Power Companies’ Mistakes Can Cost Billions. Who Should Pay? – Ivan Penn 6/14

  • “Utilities say they must be shielded from liability or the electric grid will suffer. Critics say that puts the burden on ratepayers, not investors.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bianco Research – Value of US Real Estate relative to GDP 6/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – Burns Home Value Index 6/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – Burns Intrinsic Home Value Index 6/15

Energy

WSJ – Global Investment in Wind and Solar Energy Is Outshining Fossil Fuels – Russell Gold 6/11

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: MagnifyMoney – Auto Loan Rates vs. Fed Funds Rate 6/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: MagnifyMoney – Student Loan Rates vs. Fed Funds Rate 6/15

Fishing

NYT – In the Philippines, Dynamite Fishing Decimates Entire Ocean Food Chains – Aurora Almendral 6/15

Construction

NYT – Piece by Piece, a Factory-Made Answer for a Housing Squeeze – Conor Dougherty 6/7

  • “The global construction industry is a $10 trillion behemoth whose structures determine where people live, how they get to work and what cities look like. It is also one of the world’s least efficient businesses. The construction productivity rate — how much building workers do for each hour of labor they put in — has been flat since 1945, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. Over that period, sectors like agriculture, manufacturing and retail saw their productivity rates surge by as much as 1,500%. In other words, while the rest of the economy has been supercharged by machines, computers and robots, construction companies are about as efficient as they were in World War II.”

WSJ – Historic Rise in Lumber Costs Ripples Through Economy – Ryan Dezember 6/5

Education

WSJ – Judges Wouldn’t Consider Forgiving Crippling Student Loans – Until Now – Katy Stech Ferek 6/14

  • “For decades, college debt was immune from the bankruptcy process. Judges are actively seeking ways to help debtors.”

Africa

NYT – Corruption Gutted South Africa’s Tax Agency. Now the Nation Is Paying the Price. – Selam Gebrekidan and Norimitsu Onishi 6/10

Britain

FT – Average-sized English homes too pricey for average earners – Judith Evans 6/15

China

FT – Tycoon abducted by China works with authorities to sell assets – Don Weinland and Lucy Hornby 6/10

  • “Xiao Jianhua (Tomorrow Group company) said to be detained in Shanghai a year after being seized in Hong Kong.”

Nikkei Asian Review – How Beijing is winning control of the South China Sea – Simon Roughneen 6/13

  • “Erratic US policy and fraying alliances give China a free hand.”
  • “What China is winning is de facto control of nearly the entire South China Sea, including all activities and resources in it, despite the other surrounding Southeast Asian states’ respective legal rights and entitlements under international law.” – Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea
  • “At stake is the huge commercial and military leverage that comes with controlling one of the world’s most important shipping lanes, through which up to $5 trillion worth of trade passes each year.”

Europe

Bloomberg Businessweek – Italy’s Young Populists Are Coddling the Old – and Holding the Country Back – Peter Coy 6/6

  • “The country’s economic output is smaller now than it was in 2004, and employment policies are skewed to protecting jobs, not creating them. The number of Italians registered as living abroad rose 60% from 2006 to 2017, to almost 5 million. Among those who stay, it’s common for unemployed young people to live with their parents instead of starting their own families, which is one reason the country has one of the world’s lowest birthrates.”

South America

NYT – Workers Flee and Thieves Loot Venezuela’s Reeling Oil Giant – William Neuman and Clifford Krauss 6/14

Other Interesting Links

Tax Foundation – How High Are Beer Taxes in Your State? – Katherine Loughead 5/24

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May 22, 2018

Perspective

howmuch.net – Hourly Wage Required to Rent a Two-Bedroom Home in Every State – Raul 5/13

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Do Long-Term Investors Need Bonds? – Ben Carlson 5/20

Economist – America must use sanctions cautiously – Leaders 5/17

  • “The dollar gives the Treasury extraordinary power over global finance. It should not be used lightly.”

FT – Batteries are the next frontier of industrial competition – Nick Butler 5/20

  • “Why the race is on to host the factories that will serve the electric vehicle market.”

FT – Tech lessons from Amazon’s battle in Seattle – Gillian Tett 5/17

Markets / Economy

FT – Ant Financial valued at $150bn in offering – Henny Sender and Louise Lucas 5/20

  • “The enthusiasm for Ant Financial is partly a reflection of the scale of the company’s operations in China, as well as the need among investors to deploy huge funds being raised.”
  • “’If you are too conservative, you lose a lot of opportunities,’ said one mainland Chinese investor, who is also involved in the transaction. ‘In the last few years, we were not gung-ho enough and left too much money on the table’.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – Youth Unemployment Rate – European Countries 5/21

Real Estate

FT Alphaville – Retail is not dead – Jamie Powell 5/20

This is one of the few instances when I’ve posted the article in its entirety…

  • “Readers may have seen a few articles about the ‘DEATH OF RETAIL’ (add exclamation marks where appropriate) recently. To say it’s been a popular meme in US economic commentary would be, well, quite an understatement. Courtesy of CBInsights, here’s a timeline of retail bankruptcies up to March 2018:”
  • “Bogey men blamed for the decline range from Amazon to pesky private equity to, erm, tourists. To get a feel for the distressed nature of the sector, as of March 2018, retailers make up nearly 20% of the companies which Standard & Poor’s awards a they-may-not-make-it CCC credit rating. In short, defaults are still coming.”
  • “Yet is it all doom and gloom for bricks and mortar retail? Adam Ozimek, of Moody’s Analytics, begs to differ — laying out his case in a blogpost yesterday. Let’s take a look at his reasoning.”
  • “First Mr Ozimek points to retail payrolls running at a near historical high at 15.3m jobs, only 22,000 positions short of the peak reached in 2017:”
  • “The hiring boom is despite physical retail having a relatively smaller share of the economy from its peak in the credit-fueled boom years under Ronald Reagan:”
  • “So retail is a touch less influential in the US economy, but it still a key supplier of jobs. Looking at the first chart, however, the doubling of retail jobs in absolute terms isn’t quite as impressive when you consider retail employment also came close to peaking in 2000, and since then the US economy has nearly doubled according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve:”
  • “As physical retail’s share of the economy has fallen, there has been a bleeding of the value which used to be captured by the sector. However a lot of this shift can be explained by employment moving to e-commerce, according to Mr Ozimek:”
    • “Employment gains in e-commerce are visible in warehousing and nonstore retailers, the latter of which includes e-commerce sellers like Amazon. Over the last decade, nonstore retailers have added 157,000 jobs and warehousing has added almost 369,000, which combined more than offset the job losses of 392,000 in department stores.”
  • “So why are people so obsessed with the ‘Death of Retail’ meme?”
  • “Perhaps one reason is the vast retail space left behind in the recent consolidation in the sector. Cowan Research recently found the US has circa 49 square feet of retail space per capita, double the UK’s 22 square feet and almost four times Canada’s 13 square feet.”
  • “So in any retail contraction, the empty units left behind will be more noticeable to the naked eye than say in, Canada, thanks to the sheer amount of constructed retail space. This may give the impression of the death of retail, even if the facts don’t back it up.”
  • “Public struggles for big brand names like Sears and JC Penny, which last year closed 141 stores, may also help re-enforce the impression of decrepitude.”
  • “In fact, the former bastion of the mall, the department store, seems to be the only form of retail really struggling.”
  • “Last year research house IHL published a compelling report titled ‘Debunking the Retail Apocalypse‘ (get a copy for free here) in which they helpfully chartered store openings versus closures across different types of retailer:”
  • “We know this data is a little old, but department stores were the only group not to plan to open new stores in 2017, re-enforcing the idea that the collapse of famous brands, such as Radioshack, has driven the idea of bricks and mortar stores struggling.”
  • “Our readers may be asking – who is doing well in this environment to offset the struggles of Sears, Kmart and Radioshack?”
  • “The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly given trends in inequality, is any retailer shifting merchandise at bargain basement prices. Think Primark and Aldi in the UK, or aptly named Dollar General and Dollar Tree in the US. Here’s another neat chart from IWC showing store openings in 2017:”
  • “Not exactly a sign of a healthy US consumer, right? This trend is also repeated across restaurants, with the cheap, convenient and filling providers of processed goodness leading the way:”
  • “Regardless of the evident collapse in both diet and spending power, this data is not indicative of retail dying a death.”
  • “A month ago, we published a piece examining the pivot many online only retailers, such as Warby Parker, are making to bricks and mortars stores. The reason? Stores are a surprisingly cheap way of acquiring affluent customers and building brand familiarity, compared with internet advertising.”
  • “Given the data above perhaps the death of retail is more a misunderstanding of a sector adapting to demand not just from the internet, but also a lopsided societal structure. A country where affluent urbanites shop for luxury hand luggage in LCD lit stores, while the masses get by on Dunkin Donuts and Dollar General.”

Energy

Bloomberg Businessweek – Solar Beats Coal on U.S. Jobs – Brian Eckhouse 5/16

WSJ – Solar-Panel Makers Ramp Up U.S. Manufacturing Plans – Erin Ailworth 5/11

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – Clean Energy Initiatives by US State 5/21

Finance

FT – The great Maryland pension fees gap – Chris Flood 5/20

  • However, in this case, it appears the drag is coming from elsewhere in the portfolio.

WSJ – U.S. Government Bonds Pay More Than Debt From Other Developed Nations – Daniel Kruger 5/20

WSJ – Daily Shot: Italy – Germany 10yr Government Bond Spread 5/18

Insurance

Economist – The life-insurance industry is in need of new vigor 5/17

  • “As the rich world ages and retires, total life-insurance premiums are flat or falling…”

Australia

FT – Australia divided over ‘Brazilian-scale’ land clearance – Jamie Smyth 5/20

  • “Pristine eucalyptus forest near Great Barrier Reef becomes political battleground.”

Other Interesting Links

Cannabis Benchmarks – State Price Delta to US Spot Index 5/18

April 23, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

FT – Spanish now richer than Italians, IMF data show – Valentina Romei 4/19

  • “Spaniards have become richer than Italians — a heartening indication of Spain’s economic revival but a worrying sign for Italy, the eurozone’s third-largest economy, which is stuck in political gridlock.”
  • “Spain’s per capita gross domestic product exceeded that of Italy in 2017, according to IMF data published this week that compare countries on a so-called ‘purchasing power parity’ basis. The IMF also forecast that Spain would become 7% richer than Italy over the next five years. A decade ago Italy was 10% richer on the same basis.”
  • “By 2023 some former Soviet bloc countries, including Slovakia and the Czech Republic, are also expected to become richer than Italy on a per capita basis, the IMF forecasts show.”
  • “Italy’s stagnation is one of the main causes of the country’s increasingly bitter political divisions, with the electorate losing faith in the ability of its traditional parties to create jobs and restore growth. Anti-establishment and protest parties emerged as the big winners of Italy’s inconclusive general election last month, where voters deserted more moderate center-left and center-right forces.”
  • “Italy’s underperformance — and in particular any threat to its ability to service its debt, the largest in the eurozone after Greece’s relative to the size of the economy — is also seen as one of the biggest risks for the single-currency area.”
  • “The fact that Spain has overtaken Italy owes more to Italy’s problems than Spain’s economic progress, which has only recently gathered pace.”
  • “At the end of the 1990s, Italy — which now has almost 15m more people than Spain — had an economy twice as large as that of Spain. It is now only 50% larger and the difference is expected to shrink even further in the next five years.”
  • “Back in 1997, Italy was the 18th richest economy on a per capita basis among the countries for which the IMF has a complete data set. After 10 years, its ranking dropped 10 positions — and it has now slipped five more positions in the decade to 2017.”
  • “By 2023 Italy is expected to be only the 37th richest country on a per capita basis.”

Perspective

FT – Young buyers are being priced out of global city property – George Hammond 4/18

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg View – Mexico Didn’t Hit the Jackpot With Nafta – Justin Fox 4/18

FT – The quiet revolution: China’s millennial backlash – Yuan Yang 4/17

WSJ – Chines Banks Find Another Funding Wheeze – Andrew Peaple 4/20

  • “Pressure from regulators means it’s been getting harder for the country’s banks to get enough money.”

WP – Trump lied to me about his wealth to get onto the Forbes 400. Here are the tapes. – Jonathan Greenberg 4/20

WP – The staggering environmental footprint of all the food that we just throw in the trash – Chris Mooney 4/18

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Morgan Stanley Research – Country Inflation Targets and Actuals 4/20

WSJ – Daily Shot: @Not_Jim_Cramer – Major Central Bank Balance Sheets 4/20

WSJ – Daily Shot: IMF – Global Debt to GDP 4/20

Real Estate

John Burns RE Consulting – Challenges Mount for First-Time Buyers – Devyn Bachman 4/20

WSJ – Rising Sea Levels Reshape Miami’s Housing Market – Laura Kusisto and Arian Campo-Flores 4/20

Energy

FT – Major dilemma: oil companies hedge bets on low-carbon future – Andrew Ward and Leslie Hook 4/17

  • For the world to attain lower carbon dioxide emissions, the oil majors will need to be leaders in this initiative. They’ve taken on the charge to some degree committing larger sums to renewable energy sources; however, it’s hard when they’re so good at making money with carbon dioxide emitting sources.

Finance

FT – Sovereign wealth fund assets ‘could reach $15tn in two years’ – Chris Flood 4/20

  • “Assets managed by SWFs globally reached $7.45tn spread across 78 funds as at March 2018, an increase of $866bn, or 13%, over the past 12 months, according to data provider Preqin.”  
  • “A recovery in oil prices and strong gains for equity markets drove the increase in assets, which will come as welcome news to investment managers as SWFs are among their most prestigious clients. SWFs pulled about $85bn from asset managers over the 24 months ending on December 16 as low oil prices forced governments in the Middle East to raid these rainy-day funds to prop up public spending.”

Environment / Science

Visual Capitalist – Visualizing the Prolific Plastic Problem in Our Oceans – Nick Routley 4/21

China

FT – Tencent and JD.com lead $437m investment in LeEco unit – Emily Feng 4/18

India

Hindustan Times – Cash crunch at ATMs could be the after-effects of demonetization – Roshan Kishore 4/18

  • “Analysis suggests shortage of cash in ATMs could be a result of persistence of tightness in overall money supply after demonetization.”

NYT – India’s A.T.M.s Are Running Out of Cash. Again. – Hari Kumar and Vindu Goel 4/20

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.”

November 14, 2017

Perspective

NYT – China Spreads Propaganda to U.S. on Facebook, a Platform It Bans at Home – Paul Mozur 11/8

  • Another example of how easy it is to manipulate people. Seemingly the spread of the internet was meant to give people access to factual information to make better decisions and to be better informed. Rather it seems that while more information is available, the habit of selection bias has only amplified.

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Does the oil market expect a new Mideast war? – Nick Butler 11/12

  • “The oil price has risen by almost 20% over the last four weeks. Does anything in the market justify such an increase, or is the change driven simply by speculation about the dangers of a direct conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran?”
  • “The real explanation for the rise in prices clearly lies not in the physical balance of supply and demand but in speculation. Once again traders have been bidding up prices on the basis of fears about what could happen next.”
  • “An open conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran would expose numerous oil fields and installations on both sides of the Gulf to attack. The Straits of Hormuz are still a potential choke point for the global flow of oil. Some 17m barrels a day – almost a quarter of world traded oil – goes through the straits.”
  • “War would be an illogical step, but since when has logic been the ruling force in the Middle East? If the risk of conflict recedes so will the oil price – there is nothing in the fundamentals to justify a price much over $50 or $55 a barrel. But if open war between the two major Gulf powers did break out the price rise we have seen so far would look trivial.”

FT – The tax reform the US really needs – Rana Foroohar 11/12

  • “America’s taxation system is fundamentally unsuited to the digital economy.”

FT – Saudi Arabia confronts legacy of corruption – Ahmed Al Omran and Simeon Kerr 11/12

  • “When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke to his nation six months ago, he pledged to crack down on corruption. ‘I assure you that nobody who is involved in corruption will escape, regardless if he was minister or a prince or anyone,’ he said.”
  • “But few people could have expected the sudden storm this month when a new anti-graft committee ordered the arrest of more than 200 suspects, including princes, prominent businessmen and former senior officials, on allegations related to at least $100bn in corruption.”
  • “The arrest of so many big names has been hailed within the country as proof ‘no one is above the law’. But others have raised questions about the motivations behind a probe that also targeted a member of the royal family once seen as a contender for the throne.”
  • “Executives estimate that anywhere between 10% and 25% of the value of government contracts is routinely skimmed, with the proceeds used to fund lavish regal lifestyles, channel money to loyal tribes and grease the palms of favored functionaries. ‘This is how the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has balanced power historically,’ said one executive.”
  • “While fully eliminating corruption is unlikely, experts say limiting the presence of princes in government could help. King Salman has significantly decreased the number of family members in cabinet — today only the ministers of defense, the interior and the national guard are royals.”
  • “Some suggest that, even if corruption by the royals continues, the crackdown could still bring important dividends.”
  • “’Centralized corruption is better because you have one rent-seeker on top.’ said Steffen Hertog, an expert on Saudi political economy at the London School of Economics. ‘That actor has an interest in keeping the whole system efficient and stable, and keeping it from collapsing.’”

WSJ – SoftBank’s Uber Deal Shows Doubts About Ride-Hailing – Jacky Wong 11/13

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Quint – Bitcoin’s Roller-Coaster Ride Cuts $38 Billion Before Reversal – Justina Lee and Yuji Nakamura 11/13

  • “After plunging as much as 29% from a record high following the cancellation of a technology upgrade on Nov. 8, the largest cryptocurrency came roaring back in early trading Monday before fluctuating between gains and losses.”
  • “While multiple reasons are being cited for the price volatility, one of the more viable is that some investors are switching to alternative coins. Bitcoin cash, an offshoot of bitcoin that includes many of the technical upgrades being debated by developers, has more than doubled in the same period.”
  • “The resulting volatility has been extreme even by bitcoin’s wild standards and comes amid growing interest in cryptocurrencies among regulators, banks and fund managers. While skeptics have called its rapid advance a bubble, the asset has become too big for many on Wall Street to ignore. Even after shrinking as much as $38 billion since Nov. 8, bitcoin boasts a market value of about $110 billion.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Homeownership and Apartment Vacancy Rates by US Region 11/12

Finance

WSJ – ETF Heyday Is No Bonanza for Wall Street – Asjylyn Loder 11/6

Environment / Science

FT – China recovery pushes greenhouse emissions to global record – Tobias Buck and Lucy Hornby 11/13

  • “Stronger Chinese economic growth will push global greenhouse gas emissions to a record high in 2017 after remaining flat for three years, dashing tentative hopes of a turning point in the world’s efforts to curb climate change.”
  • “A new report by the Global Carbon Project, an international research consortium, predicts that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry will rise 2% this year. The report was released at the UN climate change meeting in Bonn on Monday.”
  • “The increase — which is largely caused by China and developing countries — suggests the world is straying further from the course set at the landmark UN conference in Paris two years ago.”
  • “This year’s rise is especially disappointing as it follows three years of almost no growth in emissions despite a world economy expanding at a steady clip. In 2016, emissions were flat even though the world economy grew 3.2%. One explanation for the uptick is that China’s economic slowdown in the middle part of this decade was more pronounced than official figures suggested.”
  • “The GPC report concludes: ‘The world has not reached peak emissions yet.’”
  • “It finds that carbon dioxide emissions decreased in 22 countries accounting for 20% of global emissions, but rose in 101 countries that together represent 50% of pollution. China is predicted to see a 3.5% jump in emissions in 2017. As the biggest producer of carbon dioxide in the world, China plays a crucial role in shifting the global trend.”

Europe

FT – Italian emigration continues despite strong economic recovery – Valentina Romei 11/12

  • “Italy’s economy is doing its best for years, but Italians are still pouring out of the country.
  • Gross domestic product is growing faster than at any point since 2010, employment is back to pre-crisis levels and the labor inactivity rate is close to an all-time low.”
  • “So why has the number of Italians living outside the country reached 5.4m — a figure that represents almost 10% of the population and which grew 3.5% last year?”
  • “The data highlight a story of a dysfunctional labor market, a society in which young, ambitious people often feel unfairly treated, and an economic recovery from which, in large part, they have yet to benefit.”
  • Overall, the official figures show that 1.5m people have moved abroad since the crisis broke in 2008.
  • “Nor is that the end of it. Foreigners are also leaving: 45,000 non-Italians left the country in 2015, more than three times as many as the figure for 2007.”
  • “The consequences of the phenomenon could be grave, despite Italy’s recent economic good news.”
  • “Since the country has long contended with low fertility rates, emigration is a particular threat to Italy’s workforce. Italy is second only to Japan in terms of the proportion of the population accounted for by people aged 65 and over, and in the 25 years to 2015 the working age population as a share of the total population dropped 5 percentage points.”
  • “In the past five years alone, the number of those aged between 18 and 44 contracted 6%, while the overall population rose 2%.”
  • “Both the Italian and the British data also show that young people account for the bulk of Italian emigration. The UK National Insurance statistics show that since 2002 more than 90% of Italians registering to work in Britain were under 44 years old. Some 77% were aged between 18 and 34 years old.”
  • Italian emigrants are also more highly educated than the overall Italian population and university trained people are leaving in increasing numbers. Graduates make up about 30% of emigrants from Italy, up from 12% in 2002, according to official statistics.”
  • “The causes of this brain drain are deep-set, writes Guido Tintori, Research Associate at Fieri — International and European Forum on Migration Research, in a forthcoming academic paper on the issue.”
  • “He argues that skilled young Italian graduates ‘not only are underemployed and underpaid, but constantly frustrated by a society and a labor market that hinge on relationships and seniority over competence’.”
  • “Furthermore, the economic recovery has yet to touch them. The proportion of young people who are unemployed in Italy is a daunting 35% and has barely changed over the past year.”
  • “The share of under-34s who are neither in employment nor in education is the highest in the EU and more than half of under-25s in employment are working under temporary contracts. Nearly one in four is working part time because of the unavailability of a full-time job — a higher proportion than in any other high-income economy.”

October 30, 2017

The tally is in – daily (or at least close to it).

Perspective

WEF – This chart might change how you think about migration – Frank Chaparro 8/29

How Much – How Trump Tax Rate Changes Affect You – Raul 10/22

Economist – Globalization has marginalized many regions in the rich world 10/27

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg Businessweek – Italians Have Perfected the Art of Waiting It Out – Vernon Silver 10/18

Bloomberg Businessweek – Amazon Is Getting a Good Deal in Ohio. Maybe Too Good – Mya Frazier 10/26

  • “Amazon’s nine-figure tax incentives in Ohio have strained local public services as the state’s employment growth continues to lag the national average.”

Bloomberg View – Morningstar’s Star System Was Always a Bright Shinny Object – Barry Ritholtz 10/26

  • “Retail and professional investor alike seem to ignore the fact that every single document ever generated by any investment-related firm has a warning on it to the effect that ‘Past performance is not an indicator of future returns.’ Every chart ever drawn, each investing idea back-tested and every single historical comparison is testament to how little mind humans pay to that disclaimer.”

Bloomberg View – Think the U.S. Has a Facebook Problem? Look to Asia – Editorial Board 10/22

  • “…its platform exacerbates the potential for violence and social breakdown.”

Economist – Globalization’s losers: The right way to help declining places – Leaders 10/21

  • “Mainstream parties must offer voters who feel left behind a better vision of the future, one that takes greater account of the geographical reality behind the politics of anger.”
  • “Economic theory suggests that regional inequalities should diminish as poorer (and cheaper) places attract investment and grow faster than richer ones. The 20th century bore that theory out: income gaps narrowed across American states and European regions. No longer. Affluent places are now pulling away from poorer ones. This geographical divergence has dramatic consequences. A child born in the bottom 20% in wealthy San Francisco has twice as much chance as a similar child in Detroit of ending up in the top 20% as an adult. Boys born in London’s Chelsea can expect to live nearly nine years longer than those born in Blackpool. Opportunities are limited for those stuck in the wrong place, and the wider economy suffers. If all its citizens had lived in places of high productivity over the past 50 years, America’s economy could have grown twice as fast as it did.”

Economist – Why Airbus’s tie-up with Bombardier is so damaging for Boeing 10/19

Economist – Firms that burn up $1bn a year are sexy but statistically doomed – Schumpeter 10/21

  • “Consider Tesla, a maker of electric cars. This year, so far, it has missed its production targets and lost $1.8bn of free cashflow (the money firms generate after capital investment has been subtracted). No matter. If its founder Elon Musk muses aloud about driverless cars and space travel, its shares rise like a rocket—by 66% since the start of January. Tesla is one of a tiny cohort of firms with a license to lose billions pursuing a dream. The odds of them achieving it are similar to those of aspiring pop stars and couture designers.”
  • Investing today for profits tomorrow is what capitalism is all about. Amazon lost $4bn in 2012-14 while building an empire that now makes money.”
  • Tell that to the mom and pop shops that are crowded out because they have to be profitable.
  • “Most billion-dollar losers today are energy firms temporarily in the doldrums as they adjust to a recent plunge in oil prices. Their losses are an accident.”
  • “But a few firms love life in the fast lane. Netflix, Uber and Tesla are tech companies that say their (largely unproven) business models will transform industries. Two others stand out for the sheer persistence of their losses. Chesapeake Energy, a fracking firm at the heart of America’s shale revolution, has lost at least $1bn of free cashflow a year for an incredible 14 years in a row. Nextera Energy, a utility that runs wind and solar plants, and which investors value highly, has managed 12 years on the trot.”
  • “Collectively these five firms have burned $100bn in the past decade, yet they boast a total market value of about $300bn… The experience of the five suggests that bending reality today has three elements: a vision, fast growth, and financing.
  • “…Sustaining a reality distortion field is possible, but the longer it goes on for, the harder it gets. More capital has to be raised and, in order to justify it, the bigger the firm’s projected ultimate size—its terminal value—has to be.”
  • “A few firms other than Amazon have defied the odds. Over the past 20 years Las Vegas Sands, a casino firm, Royal Caribbean, a cruise-line company, and Micron Technology, a chip-maker, each lost $1bn or more for two consecutive years and went on to prosper. But the chances of success are slim. Of the current members of the Russell 1000 index, since 1997 only 37 have lost $1bn or more for at least two years in a row. Of these, 21 still lose money.”
  • “To justify their valuations, the five firms examined by Schumpeter must grow their sales by an estimated 8-33% each year for a decade. Based on the record of all American companies since 1950, and the five firms’ present revenue levels, the probability of this happening ranges between 0.1% and 25%, using statistical tables from Credit Suisse, a bank.”

FT – The downside of the race to be Amazon’s second home – Richard Florida 10/23

  • For Amazon to really make an impact, forgo the offered public incentives, among other things.

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Businessweek – Under Trump, Made in America Is Losing Out to Russian Steel – Margaret Newkirk and Joe Deaux 10/25

  • “Foreign steel imports into the U.S. are up 24% in 2017. As the industry grows angry at Trump’s lack of trade action, Russia’s Evraz continues winning pipeline contracts.

WSJ – Daily Shot: Overstock.com 10/24

  • Overstock.com which has been languishing for some time now is on a tear since it announced an initial coin offering (ICO). I suspect that other companies that have been struggling for growth will follow.

WSJ – Daily Shot: Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena 10/25

  • “Shares of the bailed-out Italian bank Monte dei Paschi resumed trading on Wednesday and promptly declined 70% from the last closing price.”

Real Estate

WP – America’s affordable-housing stock dropped by 60 percent from 2010 to 2016 – Tracy Jan 10/23

  • “The number of apartments deemed affordable for very low-income families across the United States fell by more than 60% between 2010 and 2016, according to a new report by Freddie Mac.”
  • “The report by the government-backed mortgage financier is the first to compare rent increases in specific units over time. It examined loans that the corporation had financed twice between 2010 and 2016, allowing a comparison of the exact same rental units and how their affordability changed.”
  • “At first financing, 11% of nearly 100,000 rental units nationwide were deemed affordable for very low-income households. By the second financing, when the units were refinanced or sold, rents had increased so much that just 4% of the same units were categorized as affordable.”
  • “’We have a rapidly diminishing supply of affordable housing, with rent growth outstripping income growth in most major metro areas,’ said David Brickman, executive vice president and head of Freddie Mac Multifamily. ‘This doesn’t just reflect a change in the housing stock.’”
  • “Rather, he said, affordable housing without a government subsidy is becoming extinct. More renters flooded the market after people lost their homes in the housing crisis. The apartment vacancy rate was 8% in 2009, compared to 4% in 2017. That trend, coupled with a stagnant supply of apartments, resulted in increased rents.”
  • “The study defined ‘very low income’ as households making less than 50% of the area median income, and ‘affordable’ rent as costing less than 30% of household income.”
  • “Most new construction of multifamily housing generally serves high-income renters, according to Freddie Mac. The corporation — along with Fannie Mae, another government-sponsored enterprise with a similar mission — significantly reduced its role in financing multifamily housing after the Great Recession.”
  • “Together, they had financed about 70% of all original loans for multifamily properties in 2008 and 2009 as private capital pulled back, said Karan Kaul, a research associate at the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute. By the end of 2014, their market presence declined to 30%.”
  • “‘The affordability issues are becoming more severe at the lower end of the market,’ said Kaul, a former researcher at Freddie Mac. ‘Absent some kind of government intervention or subsidy, there is just not going to be any investments made at that lower end of the market.'”

Energy

FT –  US oil floated on cheap money – John Dizard 10/28

Construction

WSJ – Daily Shot: CME Lumber Futures 10/23

  • “Lumber futures are soaring in response to the NAFTA jitters. US home construction/renovation costs are sure to rise.”

Middle East

Economist – The boycott of Qatar is hurting its enforcers 10/19

  • “If Saudis and Emiratis will not trade with Doha, Iranians will.”

July 17, 2017

Perspective

Bloomberg – Italy’s Poor Almost Triple in a Decade Amid Economic Slumps – Lorenzo Totaro and Giovanni Salzano 7/13

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: CBOT Soft Read Winter Wheat Futures 7/13

  • Things aren’t as bad as they seemed to be…

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Real Housing Prices US v Canada 1975-2016 7/14

South America

FT – Venezuela’s crisis drains its foreign reserves – Gideon Long 7/14

  • “Venezuela’s foreign reserves have dropped below $10bn for the first time in 15 years as chronic mismanagement, corruption and subdued oil prices continue to batter what used to be the wealthiest country in South America.”
  • “The reserves stood at $9.983bn, according to figures published on Friday from the central bank, representing a 77% decrease since January 2009 when they hit a peak of $43bn.”
  • “…the fall in the reserves is likely to rekindle fears that Venezuela might default on its debt obligations this year. The state and its oil company PDVSA are due to make capital and interest repayments of $3.7bn in the fourth quarter.”
  • “Over the longer term, Venezuela also owes money to Russia, China, the Latin American development bank CAF and to companies that have taken it to court over broken promises and expropriation of assets.”
  • “Francisco Rodríguez, chief economist at Torino Capital in New York, says the Maduro government could raise about $14.5bn through a variety of other measures, however.” 
  • “It could recall loans made to small Caribbean and Central American nations during the Chávez years. Of these, its biggest debtor is Nicaragua, which owes about $2.9bn.”

July 11, 2017

Perspective

Fortune – This Is the Average Pay at Lyft, Uber, Airbnb and More – Erika Fry & Nicolas Rapp 6/27

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – How Fixing Italy’s Banks Is Helping Europe Heal – Paul Davies 7/10

NYT – How the Growth of E-Commerce Is Shifting Retail Jobs – Robert Gebeloff and Karl Russell 7/6

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Tesla Sales Fall to Zero in Hong Kong After Tax Break Is Slashed – Tim Higgins and Charles Rollet 7/9

  • “Tesla Inc.’s sales in Hong Kong came to a standstill after authorities slashed a tax break for electric vehicles on April 1, demonstrating how sensitive the company’s performance can be to government incentive programs.”
  • “Not a single newly purchased Tesla model was registered in Hong Kong in April, according to official data from the city’s Transportation Department analyzed by The Wall Street Journal.”
  • “In March, shortly after the tax change was announced and ahead of the April 1 deadline, 2,939 Tesla vehicles were registered there—almost twice as many as in the last six months of 2016.”
  • “As a result of the new policy, the cost of a basic Tesla Model S four-door car in Hong Kong​ has effectively risen to around $130,000 from less than $75,000.”
  • “Hong Kong’s decision is effective through March 2018, and the government has said it would review the policy before then.”

China

NYT – China’s Wanda Signals Retreat in Debt-Fueled Acquisition Binge – Sui-Lee Wee 7/10

  • “A year ago, the Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin declared the dominance of his vast entertainment empire, Dalian Wanda Group, boasting that his theme parks were a ‘pack of wolves’ that would defeat the lone ‘tiger’ of Disney’s Shanghai resort.”
  • “Now, Mr. Wang is retreating, in a sign that Wanda could be reaching the limits of its debt-fueled expansion.”
  • “Wanda said on Monday that it would sell the theme parks as part of a $9.3 billion deal that includes 76 hotels and a major chunk of 13 tourism projects. The cash from the deal, with the property developer Sunac China, would be used to pay down debt.”
  • “The deal announced on Monday would help Wanda pay off some of its debt.”
  • “Sunac would pay $4.4 billion for a 91% stake in each of the 13 tourism projects, all in China, and would take over the loans for the projects. Wanda also agreed to sell 76 hotels for $4.9 billion.”
  • “In the deal with Sunac, Wanda would continue to operate all of the projects under the company’s brand name, and it would own fewer underperforming hotels.”
  • About the assets…
  • “…Only four of the 13 theme parks being sold are up and running; most are in the planning stages. Wanda opened its first theme park, an indoor one, in the Chinese city of Wuhan. But it closed after 19 months for ‘upgrades and renovations,’ and it has yet to reopen.”
  • So why would Sunac buy underperforming hotels and theme parks – at a premium? You’ll note that Dalian’s hotel stock (Wanda Hotel) price was up 155% on the news…
  • “I don’t understand this move by Sunac. Where are they getting this endless flow of money?” – Deng Zhihao, a real estate economist with Fineland Assets Management Company based in Guangzhou, China.
  • “’Last year, they were the property developer that bought the most number of properties,’ he added. ‘And this year, they’ve spent a lot of money to save LeEco.’”
  • LeEco is an embattled company with a charismatic founder with grand ambitions but appears to be insolvent (which would result in a $2.2 billion loss to Sunac).

July 7, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

FT – Japan suffers record decline in population – Robin Harding 7/5

  • “Japan’s native population fell by a record amount in 2016, but a jump in the number of foreign residents limited the overall annual decline.”
  • “According to the Internal Affairs Ministry, the number of Japanese fell 308,084 to 125.6m, reflecting decades of low birth rates and population ageing.”
  • “That was offset by a 7% increase in the foreign resident population to 2.3m — a rise of 148,959 people — as increasing labor shortages led to inflows of students and guest workers.”
  • “The figures reflect a fundamental question for Japan in the years ahead: whether it will allow immigration to sustain its overall population or accept a decline to preserve ethnic homogeneity.”
  • “For the first time since the survey began in 1979, the number of annual births fell below 1m, with 981,202 babies born in 2016. Deaths reached a high of 1.3m.”
  • “According to projections from the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, the pace of decline will rise every year until 2045, by which time Japan will be losing about 900,000 residents a year — equivalent to a city the size of Austin, Texas.”
  • “Given many years of low birth rates, there is no quick way to reverse that decline, so the only alternative is immigration.”
  • “Japan’s population continued to shift towards big cities and Tokyo in particular. The population of the capital rose by 115,000 to 13.5m, an increase of 0.9%, while the surrounding prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa also gained residents.”
  • “But population decline accelerated in isolated rural areas, with Aomori, Akita and Kochi prefectures all losing more than 1% of their residents.”

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: BAML – S&P 500 Market Ownership – Vanguard 7/6

FT – US raises spectre of military action to deal with North Korea – Bryan Harris, Demetri Sevastopulo, and Katrina Manson 7/5

  • “Self-restraint, which is a choice, is all that separates armistice and war. As this alliance missile live-fire shows, we are able to change our choice when so ordered by our alliance national leaders.”

Bloomberg – A Quarter of Euro Area’s Unemployed Resides in Spain – Jana Randow 7/4

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – CEO-Worker Pay Ratio Generates Outrage-And Some Insight – Stephen Wilmot 7/6

FT – Lex in-depth: Together in electric dreams – Tom Braithwaite 7/6

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Haver Analytics & Renaissance Macro Research – American Auto Preference 7/6

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Statistics Canada – Real Estate Transaction Costs as Percentage of GDP 7/6

WSJ – Condo Supply Swells in Manhattan – Josh Barbanel 7/6

China

WSJ – Reality Bytes: A Highflying Tech Entrepreneur Crashes Back to Earth – Li Yuan 7/6

  • “Rather than being a shining star of visionary entrepreneurship, LeEco is turning into a cautionary tale of the hype surrounding China tech. The lesson for investors: When it comes to Chinese tech companies, the rules of economics still apply.”

Europe

WSJ – Italy Formally Takes Control of Monte dei Paschi – Deborah Ball 7/5

  • “The Italian government took control of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena on Tuesday, injecting €5.4 billion ($6.1 billion) into the troubled lender as part of a broad plan to bring one of Europe’s weakest banks back to health.”
  • “The state recapitalization is the centerpiece of a deep overhaul of Monte dei Paschi, Italy’s fourth-largest lender, that will also include the transfer of the bank’s €28.6 billion in bad loans to a special vehicle, a cap on remuneration of its top executives and deep cuts in personnel.”
  • “The bank, which is the world’s oldest, gave details of its plan Wednesday in a presentation to analysts, which include the closure of 600 branches and 5,500 job cuts, bringing its total job count to about 20,000 by 2021.”
  • “Under pressure from the European Central Bank, which is pushing European banks to address the problem of bad loans, Italian banks have stepped up efforts to sell and liquidate sour debt, with tens of billions of such loans earmarked for disposal.”
  • “Nonetheless, the Italian banking system is among the weakest in Europe, with about €200 billion in bad loans. The banks have suffered from a combination of poor management, low interest rates, poor profitability and economic growth that has been the weakest in the region for years.”
  • “Italy’s banking woes remain a serious impediment to a stronger recovery in the country, which isn’t enjoying the rebound other European countries have seen. Italy’s economy is expected to grow about 1% this year, slightly more than half the rate for the eurozone as a whole.”

June 28, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

FT – Xi Jinping’s war on financial crocodiles gathers pace – Minxin Pei 6/25

  • “In late April, President Xi Jinping convened a politburo meeting specifically focused on stability in the financial system. Foreshadowing the crackdown, he ordered that those ‘financial crocodiles’ that destabilize China’s financial system must be punished.”
  • “While Mr. Xi did not name those financial crocodiles, it is not hard to find Chinese tycoons fitting this description: those who have borrowed recklessly and bought expensive overseas assets with abandon. A crackdown on such behavior is not only long overdue, but also can serve multiple purposes. As the Chinese saying goes, you slaughter a chicken to warn the monkeys.”
  • “Making an example of China’s wealthiest tycoons can have an instant and powerful deterrent effect and rein in overly aggressive business practices endangering the stability in China’s overleveraged and under-regulated financial sector. But the political benefits of a clampdown on Chinese tycoons, so far overlooked by most observers, are likely to be even more significant.”
  • “A large number of these tycoons had made their immense fortune before Mr. Xi’s ascent to the top in late 2012. As good relations with government officials are critical to business success, it is reasonable to assume that many, if not most, Chinese tycoons have cultivated close personal ties with members of China’s ruling elite.”
  • “Carrying out such a purge is relatively easy. Since many Chinese tycoons depend on state-owned banks for funding, the simplest way of pushing them under is to order the banks to cut off credit. This could force overleveraged tycoons into a liquidity crisis and even bankruptcy. Even those with healthier balance sheets will not be safe. The Chinese authorities will have no difficulty finding them to be in breach of some rule or other, ensuring that a politically motivated purge can be passed off as tough regulatory enforcement action.”
  • “A broader campaign to subdue Chinese tycoons will also help eliminate a longer-term threat to the Chinese Communist party in general, and the authority of Mr. Xi in particular. Under his leadership the party has methodically neutralized threats to its rule — from rival factions, corrupt officials, the media and liberal activists. But one powerful group, business tycoons, has remained largely untouched — until now.”
  • “This crackdown will be discriminating. A large number of Chinese tycoons will be sitting ducks because of their enormous wealth and questionable political allegiances. Others will be left alone or forced to prove their loyalty. When it is over, we should expect a complete re-ordering of China’s economic oligarchy.”
  • “The move against Anbang, Dalian Wanda and others is only the opening shot in this campaign.

Perspective

WSJ – China’s All-Seeing Surveillance State Is Reading Its Citizens’ Faces – Josh Chin and Liza Lin 6/26

  • “Facial-recognition technology, once a specter of dystopian science fiction, is becoming a feature of daily life in China, where authorities are using it on streets, in subway stations, at airports and at border crossings in a vast experiment in social engineering. Their goal: to influence behavior and identify lawbreakers.”
  • “China is rushing to deploy new technologies to monitor its people in ways that would spook many in the U.S. and the West. Unfettered by privacy concerns or public debate, Beijing’s authoritarian leaders are installing iris scanners at security checkpoints in troubled regions and using sophisticated software to monitor ramblings on social media. By 2020, the government hopes to implement a national ‘social credit’ system that would assign every citizen a rating based how they behave at work, in public venues and in their financial dealings.
  • “A world where everyone can be tracked by their face wherever they go is still a long way off, and will require much better algorithms and cameras than currently exist, said Anil Jain, the head of Michigan State University’s Biometrics Research Group.”
  • “China is moving in that direction, abetted by a vast surveillance network. Industry researcher IHS Markit Ltd. estimates China has 176 million surveillance cameras in public and private hands, and it forecasts the nation will install about 450 million new ones by 2020. The U.S., by comparison, has about 50 million.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Data is Beautiful – World’s Highest Paid Athletes 6/27

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

The Registry – Is Macy’s Amazon’s Next Target – John McNellis 6/23

  • Don’t sell the cow for the magic beans just yet. McNellis is great at providing perspective.

WSJ – Ties Between Chinese Banks and Deal Makers Run Deep – Anjani Trivedi 6/26

Motherboard – Amazon Is Trying to Control the Underlying Infrastructure of Our Economy – Stacy Mitchell 6/25

FT – A family coup in Saudi Arabia – Nick Butler 6/25

FT – Why Italy’s 17bn bank rescue deal is making waves across Europe – FT Reporters 6/26

FT – Italian bailout: too small to fail – Lex 6/26

  • “Blame central bank printing presses, and a consequent hunt for yield, for mispriced risks. By using public funds, European regulators have done nothing to dispel the notion that the ultimate costs of financial stability will continue to be borne by taxpayers.”

Markets / Economy

FT – Advertising agencies squeezed by tech giants – David Bond 6/25

  • “The industry has benefited from the growth in online publicity but it is starting to feel the impact of disruption.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Commercial & Industrial Loan Growth 6/26

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US MZM Money Stock Growth 6/26

Real Estate

Bloomberg – Why Can’t They Build More Homes Where the Jobs Are? – Patrick Clark 6/23

  • “In a logical world, builders would rush to put up homes in the U.S. regions adding jobs at the fastest pace. In reality, it’s not so simple.” 
  • “San Francisco’s metropolitan area added 373,000 net new jobs in the last five years—but issued permits for only 58,000 units of new housing. The lack of new construction has exacerbated housing costs in the Bay Area, making the San Francisco metro among the cruelest markets in the U.S. Over the same period, Houston added 346,000 jobs and permitted 260,000 new dwellings, five times as many units per new job as San Francisco.”
  • “You can see the imbalance in this chart, based on one that Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, uses to explain the shortage of for-sale homes across the country. For each metro, it compares net new jobs created from 2012 to 2016 with the number of new housing units authorized over the same period. Historically, one new housing unit for every two jobs created is considered normal, Yun said.”
  • “Nationally, builders have added fewer new units in the 10 years ending in 2016 than in any 10-year period since 1990. Low vacancy rates have led to rising rents. House hunters are sweating it out in seller’s markets, in which homes go quickly—and often above the listing price.”
  • “There are two ways to ease the inventory crunch, Yun said in an interview: ‘Either the builders build homes, or real estate investors unload homes onto the market.’”
  • “Why aren’t builders swinging into action? One reason may be a mismatch between the places people want to live and the places where buildable land is available. Plus, builders have had a hard time filling open positions, which boosts labor costs and slows the pace of construction. Zoning rules often prevent greater population density, pushing builders to erect single-family homes on the peripheries of big cities, instead of apartment buildings closer to job centers.” 
  • “Regulatory costs play a role, too. On average, they account for 24% of the expense of building a new home, according to a 2016 study from the National Association of Home Builders. In San Diego, they drive 40% of the cost of a new home, according to a report by a local housing group.”

Bloomberg – These Are the U.S. Cities Where It Costs Too Much to Build – Patrick Clark 6/26

  • “The U.S. needs more new housing.”
  • “Existing homes are in short supply for both buyers and renters, from bustling coastal metropolises to smaller inland cities. Home seekers are bidding up prices and historically low ownership rates mean more people are renting, triggering fierce competition for leases. There are signs that rent growth is slowing—it’s just not slowing quickly enough.”  
  • “A new report published by the National Multifamily Housing Council and the National Apartment Association—two trade groups for landlords—seeks to quantify just how much rental housing is really needed in cities across the U.S.—as well as how difficult it is for real estate developers to actually deliver.”
  • “The first chart seeks to quantify the demand part of the equation. It looks across metropolitan areas, estimating future homeownership rates, household formation, demand for second homes, and attrition of older units—among other factors.”
  • Second chart…
  • “The bad news for cities on this chart is that rent is expensive all over. In seven out of 10 cities where it’s hardest to build, more than two-fifths of renters spend at least 35% of their income on rent. The worst on that count is Miami, where 54% of renter households spend more than one-third of their income to pay for housing.”

Energy

WSJ – Shale Produces Oil, Why Not Cash? – Spencer Jakab 6/26

FT – Oil exporters face fall in foreign exchange reserves – Steve Johnson 6/26

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Danske Bank – US Treasury SOMA redemption schedule 6/26

Environment / Science

NYT – Carbon in Atmosphere Is Rising, Even as Emissions Stabilize – Justin Gillis 6/26

China

FT – Anbang’s predicament amid bank-risk probe – Gabriel Wildau 6/25

  • “Last week China’s banking regulator ordered lenders to report their credit exposures to Anbang Insurance Group and three other private conglomerates that have been snaffling up overseas assets in recent years.”
  • “The move adds to the problems facing Anbang, which has become known for splashy purchases including New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel.”
  • “Anbang’s rise over the past three years has been spectacular. Premium revenue reached Rmb504bn ($74bn) last year from only Rmb26bn in 2013, driven by sales of universal life insurance, a savings product.”
  • “Anbang is big, and its business model creates risks. Combined assets from Anbang’s life, property and casualty, and health units rose from Rmb163bn to Rmb2.5tn over the same period, making it China’s second-largest privately owned insurer behind Ping An Insurance Group.” 
  • “The group’s business model creates a potential for a maturity mismatch. It sells investment products with maturities as short as two years, but ploughs much of the revenue into assets that could be difficult to sell on short notice. That could leave it struggling to raise cash if many investors ask for their money back at once.”
  • “Anbang’s various subsidiaries own Rmb1.06tn worth of shares in mainland-listed companies, according to Wind Information. Anbang has also completed foreign acquisitions worth more than $11bn since 2014, according to Dealogic.”
  • “Premium revenue at Anbang Life Insurance plunged to just Rmb1.5bn in April from a monthly average of Rmb27bn last year and Rmb82bn per month in January and February, according to CIRC data.”
  • “Sam Radwan, partner at Enhance, a consultancy that advises Chinese insurers, says that many companies that sell short-dated universal life policies use cash from new product sales to help them meet payouts on maturing ones. That way they do not have to sell longer-dated investments. But a halt to sales would threaten that practice if it continues.”
  • “Analysts say regulators may face pressure to allow Anbang to resume at least some new product sales or arrange other temporary funding support. That would give the company more time to raise cash by selling assets or raising new equity.”
  • “Anbang’s last big equity injection, worth $9bn, was in 2014. Since then, Anbang has relied on leverage to fuel its rapid asset growth.” 
  • “The leverage ratio at Anbang Life Insurance — total assets divided by shareholders’ equity — rose from 3:1 to 17:1 from 2013 to 2016, according to Financial Times calculations based on the company’s annual report. State-owned China Life Insurance, which follows a more conservative strategy, has a ratio of 9:1.” 
  • “Anbang Life’s solvency ratio — a metric used to measure an insurer’s ability to meet promised payouts — fell from 150% at the end of last year to 129% three months later. It is still well above the 100% ratio that signals potential inability to meet obligations.”

Europe

Reuters – Italy winds up Veneto banks at cost of up to 17 billion euros – Silvia Aloisi and Steven Scherer 6/26

  • “Italy began winding up two failed regional banks on Sunday in a deal that could cost the state up to 17 billion euros ($19 billion) and will leave the lenders’ good assets in the hands of the nation’s biggest retail bank, Intesa Sanpaolo.”
  • “The government will pay 5.2 billion euros to Intesa, and give it guarantees of up 12 billion euros, so that it will take over the remains of Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, which collapsed after years of mismanagement and poor lending.”
  • “Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan said the total funds ‘mobilized’ by the state would be for up to 17 billion euros – three times more than had initially been estimated to recapitalize the banks with public money.”
  • “The decree effectively means that the Veneto banks’ branches and employees will be part of Intesa Sanpaolo by Monday morning, a move designed to avoid a potential run on deposits that could have spread chaos across the whole banking industry.”
  • “Intesa Sanpaolo, Italy’s best-capitalized large bank, said last week it was open to purchasing the rump of the good assets for one euro on condition Italy’s government passed a decree agreeing to shoulder the cost of winding down the two banks.”
  • Well, good thing they waited. Now they were paid 5.2 billion for the good assets.

Other Links

FT – Sale prices for second-hand private jets fall 35% – Hugo Greenhalgh 6/24

  • “Rich find their planes are hard to sell because of glut created a decade ago.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Car Ownership Cost Comparison 6/26