Tag: Markets

August 17, 2017

Perspective

FT – Nothing like this has happened in 323 years – Martin Wolf 8/15

  • “Prior to January 2009, the Bank (of England) had never lowered its lending rate below 2%. But it was then lowered to 1.5%, on its way to 0.5% in March 2009 and 0.25% in August 2016. This ultra-easy policy was further buttressed by a huge expansion of the Bank’s balance sheet, which now contains £435bn in UK government ‘gilt-edged’ securities and £10bn in corporate bonds.”
  • “Throughout this prolonged recent period of ultra-easy monetary policy, the concern has never been one of runaway inflation, but rather of the opposite. This time really has been different. What does it mean for the future? Nobody knows.”

WSJ – Household Debt Hits Record as Auto Loans and Credit Cards Climb – Josh Zumbrun 8/15

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg Businessweek – The Peculiar Parable of the Lyft (parking) Lot – Joshua Brustein and Dorothy Gambrell 8/9

  • Free parking obscures the true costs of driving to work… charge for parking and smarter behaviors prevail…

Economist – The Philippine president’s zany ideas have not hurt the economy 8/16

  • “When it comes to jobs and investment, Rodrigo Duterte is more reformer than wrecker.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Consumers Keep Spending, but Not in Stores – Justin Lahart 8/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: SPDR S&P Retail ETF – S&P 500 Relative Performance 8/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: Coach Stock Performance 8/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: Dick’s Sporting Goods Stock Performance 8/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bed Bath & Beyond Stock Performance 8/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg REIT Regional Mall Index 8/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: SPDR Technology Select ETF – S&P 500 Relative Performance 8/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: Nasdaq 100 Equal Weight Cap-Weight Ratio 8/16

  • Thank goodness for the FAANG stocks

Energy

Bloomberg Businessweek – As Venezuela Spirals, U.S. Oil Confronts a $10 Billion Threat – Alex Nussbaum and Sheela Tobben 8/3

  • “While companies have been trimming Venezuelan imports for months, the nation is still a key supplier for some of America’s biggest refineries. Last month, the country accounted for a more than a quarter of capacity at Valero’s Port Arthur complex in Texas, according to U.S. Customs data compiled by Bloomberg. It was 43% at Chevron’s facility in Pascagoula…”
  • The conspiracy theorist in me wonders (although it is highly unlikely) if OPEC members are issuing shadow loans to the Maduro regime to keep this chaos going. The intent being to limit production efficiencies from Venezuela (the country with largest known oil reserves) – which of course, helps ease the production cut burdens on the more stable OPEC members and Russia.

Shipping

Bloomberg Quint – Global Shipping Industry Bounces Back From Its Lehman Moment – Kyunghee Park 8/15

  • “A massive consolidation is underway in the $500 billion global industry and the survivors now enjoy big economies of scale and increased demand, one year after excess capacity caused the sector’s worst-ever crisis — the bankruptcy of South Korea’s Hanjin Shipping Co.”
  • “The five biggest container lines control about 60% of the global market, according to data provider Alphaliner. Shipping rates are climbing, and an index tracking cargo rates on major routes from Asia is about 22% higher than it was a year earlier.”
  • “’Container shipping is now a game only for big boys with deep pockets,’ said Corrine Png, chief executive officer at Crucial Perspective, a Singapore-based transportation research firm. The rising market concentration will ‘give the liners greater pricing and bargaining power,’ she predicts.”
  • “Hanjin’s collapse, in August last year, upended the industry in much the same way that the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers roiled the financial sector during the 2008 crisis. One of the world’s largest shipping firms at the time, Hanjin faced a cash crunch as supply outstripped demand in the industry, weakening pricing power and profits for carriers.”
  • “’Since the demise of Hanjin Shipping, flight to quality has become more noticeable in the container shipping business,’ said Um Kyung-a, an analyst at Shinyoung Securities Co. in Seoul. ‘That’s why the market is becoming more and more dominated by top players with big ships and those that don’t have could become more and more obsolete.’”
  • “The growing use of mammoth ships is key to the turnaround. Companies who own them are able to deploy fewer vessels and move more cargo on a single journey to benefit from higher rates, said Um.”
  • “By her estimates, there are now about 58 of these huge carriers worldwide that can transport more than 18,000 containers, and the number is expected to double in two years. About half the new vessels will be added by the biggest firms.”
  • “The excess supply that derailed growth last year hasn’t completely disappeared as new entrants expand and as older vessels still remain. Capacity in the container shipping industry is expected to grow 3.4% this year and 3.6% in 2018, according to Crucial Perspective.”
  • “Still, recovery in demand seems to be on track. After posting losses in 2016, companies are seeing signs of business picking up.”
  • “Earlier this year, Maersk, South Korea’s Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and other shipping lines reached agreements with their customers to raise annual rates from May for cargo headed from Asia to U.S. stores like Wal-Mart and Target. Retailers in the U.S. usually increase inventory during the third quarter, ahead of the year-end holidays, and Lee said freight rates are expected to rise further as the peak season for the container shipping industry kicks off.”
  • “For retailers, ‘if container costs go higher, obviously it’s a headwind,’ said Brian Yarbrough, an analyst at Edward Jones. ‘Retailers have three choices: They can pass that through to the customer or find efficiencies to offset that within the organization, or they come out and say gross margins will be pressured due to higher freight costs.’
  • “BIG SHIPPING DEALS:”
    • “In 2015, Cosco Group and China Shipping Group announced a merger to create Asia’s biggest container line, Cosco Shipping Holdings Co.”
    • “In 2016, CMA CGM SA bought Singapore’s Neptune Orient Lines Ltd.; Maersk agreed to buy Hamburg Süd and Japan’s three shipping companies agreed to consolidate their container shipping businesses.”
    • “In 2017, Hapag-Lloyd AG completed its acquisition of United Arab Shipping Co. and Cosco Shipping offered to buy Orient Overseas International of Hong Kong.”

August 15, 2017

Perspective

Brilliant Maps – Would You Feel Comfortable If Your Child Was In A Relationship With X? 8/13

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – The Olympics: the Harshest Hangover in Sports – Jason Gay 8/14

  • “It’s barely a year later, and any lingering good feeling appears to have crumbled. Literally. A staggering new report from ESPN’s Wayne Drehs and Mariana Lajolo found the 2016 host country’s Olympic legacy racing toward ruin—vacant stadiums, decaying infrastructure and a sprawling athlete village that is effectively a ghost town. Plans to convert properties into schools and housing have been ditched. A solicitation to manage the country’s suburban Olympic Park drew zero bids. The Rio Olympic Committee is still $40 million in the hole.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Consumer Price Index – Used Cars and Trucks 8/14

  • “Deflation in used cars persists due to scores of vehicles coming off lease.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Consumer Price Index – New Vehicles 8/14

  • “A robust supply of used cars is putting pressure on new vehicle inflation, which has turned negative last month. In fact, new car prices are now declining at the fastest pace since the recession.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Consumer Price Index – Education 8/14

Finance

FT – Short sellers target high-flying US technology stocks – Robin Wigglesworth and Nicole Bullock 8/13

  • “Betting against the tech industry has mostly been painful this year. Despite the losses several big tech stocks suffered last week, S3 estimates that the ‘mark-to-market’ losses on the 10 biggest tech shorts now stand at $7.7bn this year. Tesla alone has inflicted a $4.5bn loss on bearish investors in 2017.”

Health / Medicine

FT – Drug industry faces ‘tidal wave’ of litigation over opioid crisis – David Crow 8/11

  • “US officials seek tobacco-style settlements to help deal with epidemic of addiction.”

Japan

NYT – Japan’s Economy Grows Again in Longest Streak in 11 Years – Jonathan Soble 8/13

  • “Japanese gross domestic product increased by 4 percent in annualized terms in the three months through June, the government’s Cabinet Office said in a preliminary estimate on Monday. The economy has now expanded for six consecutive quarters, the first time it has gone that long without a contraction since the 2005-6 period.”
  • “The pace of expansion also accelerated from the previous quarter, and was stronger than economists had expected. Analysts surveyed by Reuters had forecast a growth rate of 2.5%”
  • While the jolt came from home, “not all of the domestic growth came from private citizens and businesses. Mr. Abe announced a major government spending program a year ago, and the data suggest the money is beginning to find its way from account books to the real economy. Public investment grew at a 22% pace.”
  • Keep in mind Tokyo is making ready for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

August 8, 2017

Perspective

FT – US haul from credit crisis bank fines hit $150bn – Kara Scannell 8/6

  • “A single bank, Bank of America, has paid more than one-third of all recoveries to US authorities, according to an analysis by the Financial Times. Its $56bn in settlements with state and federal regulators and the DOJ cover its own mortgage sales and actions by two companies it acquired — subprime mortgage lender Countrywide and broker Merrill Lynch.”
  • “JPMorgan Chase, which acquired Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, has paid the second-largest amount, with $27bn in fines and relief.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – The Debt-Ceiling Crisis Is Real – Edward Kleinbard 8/7

FT Alphaville – Electric vehicle realities – Izabella Kaminska 8/3

  • “Electric vehicles (EVs) are all the rage. But they’re also fast becoming the sacred cows you can’t criticize for fear of being shredded by the EV, renewable, and tech lobbies.”
  • “Questioning the cost structures of the industry in general is not allowed in public forums. My colleague Jonathan Ford discovered this recently when he dared to question the economic realities underpinning the renewable sector.”
  • “Brian Piccioni and team at BCA Research offer a good starting point to our questions on Thursday, in a report entitled Electric Vehicles Part 1: Costs of Ownership.”
  • “The bad news for EV fans is their work determines that the cost of ownership of an EV still far exceeds that of an internal Combustion Engine Vehicle (ICEV), even after subsidies are accounted for.”
  • A couple of points.
    • Battery packs are expensive and more expensive than generally claimed.
    • Batteries degrade and the cost of replacing them are expensive (more so than the manufacturers let on).
    • Additionally, think of your experience with the value of your old cell phones or computers. While the hardware may still work, the value of your device tends to decline rapidly with an old battery.
  • Back to the subsidies.
  • “Nevertheless, most people are encouraged to buy EVs because of the fuel subsidies or free parking promises. Yet is difficult to assess how long EV subsidies will persist. Fundamentally, the economics dictate that they can only really be affordable to governments as long as the number of vehicles sold remains small. If EV sales accelerate swiftly, these subsidies would get very costly for government coffers very quickly — straining public finances if not creating massive implied contingent liabilities.”
  • “On that basis, when electric car subsidies start eating into the funding that’s available for other vital government services, public perceptions of EV efficiency will change markedly.”
  • All for EV adoption, just trying to be more aware of the factors in play.

Bloomberg Gadfly – OPEC’s Existential Sucker Punch – Julian Lee 7/30

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Prime-Age Labor Force Participation 8/7

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Civilian Labor Force Participation by Gender 8/7

Environment / Science

NYT – Let Forest Fires Burn? What the Black-Backed Woodpecker Knows – Justin Gillis 8/6

  • “Scientists say that returning forests to a more natural condition would require allowing 10 million or 15 million acres to burn every year, at least.”
  • “Today, closer to four million or five million acres burn every year.”

Agriculture 

WSJ – Daily Shot: CBOT Soft Red Winter Wheat 8/7

  • “The US wheat rally has been fully reversed on improved crop conditions.”

India

FintechFT – India’s fintech revolution – Don Weinland 8/7

Bloomberg Gadfly – Indian Banks’ Soaring Price-to-Truth Ratio – Andy Mukherjee 8/7

  • Several Indian banks have more non-performing loans in their books than they are letting on and are aware of. Worse, there a quite a few loans issued to companies (i.e. Videocon) with too few restrictions, who are then using the funds to pursue moonshot projects out of their core competencies.

Middle East

WSJ – Egypt’s Leader Makes a Risky Bet on the Healing Power of Economic Pain – Yaroslav Trofimov 8/6

  • “Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi is cutting food and fuel subsidies, a program long plagued by waste and corruption, in a high-stakes gamble to aid the stalled economy that none of his predecessors dared execute.”
  • “The economic shock therapy, coupled with a steep currency devaluation, has rocked the Arab world’s most populous country. Fuel prices went up 50% in June, cooking-gas prices have doubled and the annual inflation rate has surpassed 30%.”
  • “Every day, millions of Egyptians line up at government bakeries to buy five loaves of bread for less than two U.S. cents, a fraction of the wheat’s cost. The food subsidies extend to some 80% of Egypt’s families and were first instituted as part of rationing during World War II.”
  • “Farmers across Egypt nurture their crops with water pumps operating on diesel that, even after June’s 55% increase, still retails for 77 cents a gallon, less than a third of retail prices in the U.S.”
  • “The government’s goal is to end the subsidies in three to five years, according to Mr. Kabil, the trade and industry minister. ‘The right thing to do is to lift them totally,’ he said. ‘But you cannot do it today because you cannot correct 40 years of problems in one day.’”
  • The question is whether or not the people of Egypt will be able to make to that point without changing course?

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Caracas (Venezuela) Stock Exchange Market Index 8/4

  • If you live in Venezuela, there is nowhere else to preserve your money (outside of hard currencies – if you can get them).

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Market Bolivar (Venezuela) USD Exchange Rate 8/7

Other Links

NY Post – Hedge fund manager (Raymond Montoya) charged for scamming investors out of millions – John Aldan Byrne 8/5

August 1, 2017

Perspective

FT – Apple removes apps that bypass China’s censors – Hannah Kuchler and Max Seddon 7/30

  • “Apple has removed from its Chinese app store applications that enable users to bypass China’s ‘Great Firewall’, in a move that developers have condemned as ‘censorship’.”
  • “The Silicon Valley company has withdrawn virtual private network (VPN) apps from the store, as it pulls all software that do not comply with local law, even if the makers are based outside the country.”
  • “VPNs allow users to access content banned by Chinese censors to control access to information online. This has, in effect, created a ‘Chinese internet’, without many western social media or search engine sites.”

Project Syndicate – Venezuela’s Unprecedented Collapse – Ricardo Hausmann 7/31

  • “In a hastily organized plebiscite on July 16, held under the auspices of the opposition-controlled National Assembly to reject President Nicolás Maduro’s call for a National Constituent Assembly, more than 720,000 Venezuelans voted abroad. In the 2013 presidential election, only 62,311 did. Four days before the referendum, 2,117 aspirants took Chile’s medical licensing exam, of which almost 800 were Venezuelans. And on July 22, when the border with Colombia was reopened, 35,000 Venezuelans crossed the narrow bridge between the two countries to buy food and medicines.”
  • “Venezuelans clearly want out – and it’s not hard to see why.”
  • “But is this just another bad run-of-the-mill recession or something more serious?”
  • “The most frequently used indicator to compare recessions is GDP. According to the International Monetary Fund, Venezuela’s GDP in 2017 is 35% below 2013 levels, or 40% in per capita terms. That is a significantly sharper contraction than during the 1929-1933 Great Depression in the United States, when US GDP is estimated to have fallen 28%. It is slightly bigger than the decline in Russia (1990-1994), Cuba (1989-1993), and Albania (1989-1993), but smaller than that experienced by other former Soviet States at the time of transition, such as Georgia, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Ukraine, or war-torn countries such as Liberia (1993), Libya (2011), Rwanda (1994), Iran (1981), and, most recently, South Sudan.”
  • “Put another way, Venezuela’s economic catastrophe dwarfs any in the history of the US, Western Europe, or the rest of Latin America. And yet these numbers grossly understate the magnitude of the collapse…”
  • “Inevitably, living standards have collapsed as well. The minimum wage – which in Venezuela is also the income of the median worker, owing to the large share of minimum-wage earners – declined by 75% (in constant prices) from May 2012 to May 2017. Measured in dollars at the black-market exchange rate, it declined by 88%, from $295 per month to just $36.”
  • “Measured in the cheapest available calorie, the minimum wage declined from 52,854 calories per day to just 7,005 during the same period, a decline of 86.7% and insufficient to feed a family of five, assuming that all the income is spent to buy the cheapest calorie. With their minimum wage, Venezuelans could buy less than a fifth of the food that traditionally poorer Colombians could buy with theirs.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – Could Football Ever End? – Jason Gay 7/30

  • “A new concussion study provokes more existential worry in the NFL – and, reportedly, an early retirement.”

FT – With oil prices, half a step is not enough – Nick Butler 7/30

  • Saudi Arabia’s additional production curbs are a step in the right direction, but there are just too many other producers that they don’t control.

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Velocity of M2 Money Stock 7/31

Real Estate

WSJ – Supermarkets Face a Growing Problem: Too Much Space – Heather Haddon and Julie Jargon 7/31

  • “A massive build-out by retailers has left the country piled up with grocery shelves as consumers are shifting from big weekly shopping trips to more snacking and to-go meals. The mismatch has flattened retail sales and leaves the industry vulnerable to a wave of closures that some executives, bankers and industry experts think is coming soon.”
  • “Commercial square footage of retail food space per capita last year set a record, with 4.15 square feet of food retail per person, according to CoStar Group, a commercial real-estate firm, nearly 30 times the amount of space allocated to groceries at major chains in 1950.”
  • “To be sure, major grocery chains weren’t as numerous decades ago, with many Americans shopping for food at mom and pop stores.”
  • “But the growth in groceries have extended across many types of retailers in recent years. Part of the expansion comes from grocers, who accelerated their store openings as a way to drive sales growth after the 2008 recession. At the same time, club chains, dollar stores, pharmacies—and even gas stations—increased their fresh food offerings to drive traffic and boost profits.”
  • Additionally, this article doesn’t mention the increasing foot prints of these grocers. Many are resembling department stores, but with an emphasis on food.

Finance

WSJ – Private Equity Takes Fire  as Some Retailers Struggle – Lillian Rizzo 7/30

  • “A wave of retail bankruptcies washing through court has revived an old debate about the role of private-equity firms in accelerating the problems of companies in distress.”
  • “Payless ShoeSource Inc., Gymboree Corp., rue21 Inc. and True Religion Apparel Inc. were all acquired by private-equity firms during the past decade. Now, lawyers for creditors have questioned whether private-equity firms share blame for the retailers’ financial collapse, in some cases by loading debt on the companies.”
  • “In the case of Payless, investors Golden Gate Capital and Blum Capital, after a leveraged buyout in 2012, over the next two years paid themselves $350 million in dividends—in total putting more than $700 million in debt on the company. In 2016, Payless said in court papers, it had about $2.3 billion in global net sales, and nearly $840 million in debt.”
  • “Vendors and landlords alleged in court papers that the dividend payouts, along with other payments to the investors, left the retailer particularly vulnerable to collapse just as technology and shifting consumer behavior upended the retail industry.”
  • “In general, private-equity executives say they often help companies improve operations and grow and that, sometimes, economic forces are beyond what any company could weather.”
  • “Moreover, retail woes are much bigger than private equity and extend to many companies that aren’t owned by such investors. Some private-equity investments haven’t had the problems others are experiencing.”
  • “Bankruptcy cases are messy by nature, and creditors—typically facing losses—are often determined to minimize them. In Payless’s case, which moved closer to exiting bankruptcy protection this month, lenders owed a majority of its debts will take control of the company.”

China

Bloomberg – China Asks Waldorf Owners Anbang to Sell Assets Abroad, Sources Say 7/31

  • “Chinese authorities have asked Anbang Insurance Group Co., the insurer whose chairman was detained in June, to sell its overseas assets, according to people familiar with the matter.”
  • “The government has also asked Anbang to bring the proceeds back to China after disposing of holdings abroad, said the people, who asked not to be identified because details are private. It is not clear yet how Anbang will respond, the people said.”
  • “Anbang was among the most prominent of Chinese insurers that went on a buying binge across the globe, fueled by soaring sales of investment-type insurance policies, with its 2014 acquisition of New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel catapulting it into the public eye. Chairman Wu Xiaohui has been detained for questioning since mid-June, while the policies fueling its growth have been all but banned by regulators.”
  • “Anbang’s rise in recent years was fueled by sales of lucrative investment products that offered among the highest yields compared with peers. China’s insurance regulator this year started clamping down on what it termed ‘improper innovation’ and tightened rules on high-yield, short-term investment policies. Anbang and other aggressive insurers such as Foresea Life got caught up in the crackdown.”
  • “One Anbang product, called Anbang Longevity Sure Win No. 1, boosted the firm’s life insurance premiums almost 40-fold in 2014 by offering yields as high as 5.8%. That helped provide fuel for the firm’s more than $10 billion of overseas acquisitions since 2014 and equally ambitious investing in the domestic stock market.”

FT – One of China’s biggest P2P lenders quits ahead of clampdown – Louise Lucas and Sherry Fei Ju 7/30

  • “China’s pending regulatory crackdown on the $120bn peer-to-peer lending industry has claimed its first scalp before it has even begun, with one of the biggest players saying it will wind up its business in an industry full of bad loans and no profits.”
  • “Beijing this month said it would delay regulations that will bar online lenders from guaranteeing principal or interest on loans they facilitate, cap the size of loans at Rmb1m for individuals and Rmb5m for companies, and force lenders to use custodian banks — a requirement only a fraction of the industry has met so far.”
  • “Imposition of the new rules has been delayed from next month until June next year to give companies more time to comply.”
  • “But Hongling Capital has already thrown in the towel, with founder and chairman Zhou Shiping last week admitting that ‘P2P lending is not what we are good at, neither is it something we see potential in. This [P2P lending] business of ours would always be cleared out eventually — it’s only a matter of time.'”
  • “Hongling, which has Rmb17.6bn ($2.6bn) in loans, plans to wind down its eight-year online lending business by the end of 2020.”
  • “According to Online Lending House, a website that tracks the industry, the number of P2P lenders peaked at 2,600 in 2015, while 3,795 platforms have collapsed since 2011.”
  • “Outstanding loans from China P2P lending platforms totaled Rmb816.2bn ($121bn) at the end of December, double the figure of a year earlier, according to P2P consultant WDZJ.com.”

WSJ – Chinese Banks’ Dash for Capital Gets Under Way – Anjani Trivedi 7/31

  • “Investors have long questioned when China’s banking system, with its heaps of bad loans and hidden leverage, would resort to raising much-needed equity. From the look of it, the weakest lenders are starting to do so.”
  • The method, convertibles. To start, “Ping An Bank, a midsize lender notorious both for selling piles of high-yielding investment products and for sitting on masses of overdue loans, said last week that it plans to issue 26 billion yuan ($3.9 billion) of convertible bonds—uncommon in China—that can be switched into its Shenzhen-listed shares. While convertibles don’t count as equity straight away, they could help improve Ping An’s equity levels when they are turned into stock.”
  • Debt is the green

South America

FT – Venezuelans snub Maduro vote on day marred by violence – Gideon Long 7/31

  • In a word, impunity…
  • “Venezuelans on Sunday largely snubbed Nicolás Maduro’s election for a new all-powerful political assembly, in a vote marred by violence that killed at least 10 people and left seven police officers injured by a bomb attack.”
  • “Opposition leaders rejected the electoral commission’s turnout figure of 8.1m — 41.5% of the electoral register — saying only about 2m had actually voted. Analysts estimated the turnout at 3m-4m.”
  • “The president’s critics say the new assembly, which will be convened within 72 hours, will snuff out the last vestiges of democracy in Venezuela after nearly two decades of populist leftwing rule, turning the country into a new Cuba. It will have the power to dissolve the democratically elected Congress, where the president’s opponents have a majority, rewrite the constitution, scrap future elections and draft new laws.”
  • “In the run-up to the vote, all reliable polls had suggested that between two-thirds and three-quarters of Venezuelans opposed Mr. Maduro’s assembly. One poll said only about 12% of the electorate would vote for it.”
  • The country’s decent continues.

WSJ – Daily Shot: Venezuela Money Supply YoY Change 7/21

  • “Venezuela’s money printing has accelerated. The broad money supply has risen 400% over the past year.”

July 5, 2017

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Credit Suisse – USA Aggregate Net cash and Debt % of Sales 7/3

WSJ – Daily Shot: WEF – World’s most crowded cities 7/3

FT – SF Express uses first China drone license to deliver the goods – Yuan Yang 6/30

  • “SF Express has completed commercial drone deliveries after receiving China’s first drone airspace license, state media reported on Friday.”
  • “China’s logistics and technology companies have announced such delivery services before but little commercial use has followed. However, there are some signs that the SF Express launch was different.”
  • “The granting of the license indicates that national regulators are now more willing to open airspace to drone delivery companies, say analysts.”
  • “SF Express, one of China’s biggest logistics services, flew a fleet of drone models, some of which can carry up to 25kg and have a range of up to 100km, in the southern area of Ganzhou in Jiangxi province.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

INET – Jim Chanos: U.S. Economy is Worse Than You Think – Lynn Parramore 6/30

  • “Since the election of Donald Trump, the stock market has soared and many pundits have noted positive economic trends in the US. Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates, known for his financial prescience, is less sanguine.”

NYT – After Killing Currency, Modi Takes a Leap With India’s Biggest-Ever Tax Overhaul – Geeta Anand 6/30

Economist – How fracking leads to babies 7/2

  • “The typical family in America is changing. Couples are increasingly reluctant to seal their relationships with the stamp of marriage, or to tie the knot before having children. In 1960 fewer than a tenth of births were to unmarried women, whereas these days around two fifths of children are born out of wedlock. Economists wonder whether the changing economic fortunes of men might be driving these decisions, but struggle to disentangle the different factors at work. Recently, though, new evidence has emerged on the topic. Did, for example, the fracking boom affect family formation?”
  • “A new study by Melissa Kearney and Riley Wilson, two economists at the University of Maryland, looks at the impact of the recent fracking boom in America, which boosted job opportunities for less-educated men. The economists wanted to see how this affected birth rates, both in and outside of marriage. They compared marriage and birth rates in areas where fracking had boosted the local economy with those where it had not had any effect. The researchers found no effect on marriage rates, though fertility rates did rise. On average, they find that $1,000 of extra fracking production per person was associated with an extra six births per 1,000 women.” 
  • “The result confirms the hypothesis that better economic prospects lead to higher fertility. But it also sheds light on changing social mores in America: good times used to mean more wedding bells and babies, whereas now they just mean the latter. The policy prescriptions are not obvious. Whether or not people get married is their own business. But the finding does offer some comfort to those who worry that declining marriage rates are purely the product of worsening economic prospects for men. Clearly, some other factor is at play.”

NYT – Confidence Boomed After the Election. The Economy Hasn’t. – Neil Irwin 7/4

FT – China was the real victor of Asia’s financial crisis – James Kynge 7/2

Energy

WSJ – Behind Oil’s Ups and Downs, Little Has Changed – Nathaniel Taplin 7/4

  • “If oil heads higher, it will elicit a quick supply response – same on the downside. Nothing in the past six weeks has done much to change that equation.”

Finance

FT – SEC accuses British executive of bitcoin fraud – David Lynch 6/30

  • The fraudster: Renwick Haddow
  • The companies: Bitcoin Store and InCrowd Equity Inc.
  • Caveat emptor

Tech

WSJ – Daily Shot: Credit Suisse – Data Storage Costs 7/3

Health / Medicine

FT – Our digital addiction is making us miserable – Izabella Kaminska 7/4

Religion

NYT – Israel Faces Uproar Abroad as Netanyahu Yields to Ultra-Orthodox Jews – Isabel Kershner 7/3

  • “Jews around the world have been in an uproar in the week since Mr. Netanyahu yielded to pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners and suspended a plan to provide a better space for non-Orthodox men and women to worship together at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.”
  • “That new prayer space had long been a goal of the Reform and Conservative movements, popular in the West. And in another blow to those more liberal wings of Judaism, the government also approved a contentious bill enshrining the strictly Orthodox Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over conversions to Judaism in Israel.”
  • “Together, those moves have reawakened a decades-old dispute over who is a Jew. And they have prompted an emotional debate over the nature of the relationship between the world’s Jews and the Jewish homeland — at a time when a right-wing Israeli government, under increased international criticism, has relied on support among the generally more liberal Jewish diaspora in the West.”
  • “The furor over the Western Wall agreement boils down to a refusal by Israel’s Orthodox religious authorities to grant any recognition to Reform and Conservative Judaism. The main prayer space at the Western Wall, known in Hebrew as the Kotel, has separate men’s and women’s sections, in the Orthodox tradition, and is run like an Orthodox synagogue.”

China

FT – China bans homosexuality, luxurious lifestyles from online videos – Yuan Yang 7/1

  • “Sexual freedom, luxurious lifestyles and portrayals of Chinese imperialism are the latest targets of China’s crackdown on internet video content.”
  • “’Abnormal sexual lifestyles’, including homosexuality, are included among the 84 categories of topics that were banned from online video programs by Chinese censors last week. ‘Unhealthy’ views of the family, relationships, and money are also banned.”
  • “The detailed list is the first issued by government censors to cover the rapidly growing field of internet video, and comes after dozens of the country’s most popular entertainment channels were shut down in an online crackdown that started three weeks ago.”
  • “Beijing has heightened its scrutiny of online content in the run-up to the politically sensitive national congress of the Communist party later this year, analysts say.”
  • “Under the new guidelines, mocking revolutionary heroes is forbidden, as well as portraying ethnic discord or lack of national unity.” 
  • “In particular, programs should not portray ‘the use of military force to conquer others during China’s historic feudal period’.” 
  • “The clause is a veiled reference to Tibet and Xinjiang — two large border regions of China where separatist movements have emerged in opposition to the government’s policies against Buddhist and Muslim citizens.” 

WP – China vows to step up air and sea patrols after U.S. warship sails near disputed island – Simon Denyer and Thomas Gibbons-Neff 7/3

  • “China’s military vowed Monday to step up air and sea patrols after an American warship sailed near a disputed island in the South China Sea in what Beijing called a ‘serious political and military provocation.’”
  • “The past few days have seen a dramatic downturn in relations between the two sides, after the United States announced its intention to sell arms to Taiwan and sanction a Chinese bank doing business with North Korea.” 
  • “Then, on Sunday, the USS Stethem, an American guided-missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, a small isle in the Paracel Islands chain claimed and controlled by China, a U.S. defense official said.”
  • “The Stethem’s patrol marked the second such operation near Chinese-controlled islands in six weeks, after a few months’ hiatus in the wake of Trump’s inauguration.”
  • “China’s Defense Ministry said its armed forces had dispatched two frigates, a minesweeper and two fighter jets to warn the Stethem away.”
  • “The Paracels are among a group of islands and atolls in the South China Sea at the heart of ongoing tensions in Southeast Asia. China claims full sovereignty over the sea and has built fully functional military facilities complete with airfields and antiaircraft defenses on some islands.”
  • Expect the movie WarGames to start trending.

NYT – China’s Vision for a Straddling Bus Dissolves in Scandal and Arrests – Austin Ramzy and Carolyn Zhang 7/4

June 21, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

FT – China gains entry to MSCI’s $1.6tn emerging markets benchmark – Jennifer Hughes and Nicole Bullock 6/20

  • “Chinese stocks have gained direct entry to MSCI’s global benchmark equity index for the first time, marking a milestone in Beijing’s efforts to draw international funds into the world’s second-largest market.”
  • “The move means mainland stocks, known as A-shares, will next year be included in MSCI’s flagship emerging markets index, obliging the estimated $1.6tn of investment funds that track the index to buy mainland equities.”
  • “China’s domestic equity and bond markets are the second- and third-largest in the world, respectively, yet foreigners hold just roughly 2% of each. Three previous proposals by MSCI to include mainland stocks were rebuffed by the index provider’s stakeholders — mostly large asset managers.”

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Tax Foundation – Massachusetts’s Proposed Soda Tax 6/20

Economist – Finland tests an unconditional basic income 6/20

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – Electoral victory will make France’s president a potent force 6/17

  • “But he will still have to face down a challenge from the street.”

Medium – One does not simply become successful – Timi Lliev 6/4

  • Good post with links to some useful tools (mind mapping and vision boards)

WSJ – The Fed’s Poor Record on Soft Landings – Justin Lahart 6/19

  • “The only time the Fed really succeeded in executing a soft landing, according to most economists, was when it raised rates through 1994. In the mid-1960s and mid-1980s it had a couple of qualified successes. Its other tightening cycles over the past 60 years were followed by recessions, though in some cases a recession was necessary to wipe out inflation.”

Economist – The rebellion of Venezuela’s top prosecutor 6/20

  • “Ms. Ortega’s rebellion and Mr. Ramirez’s resignation are a sure sign that the regime has lost moral authority even among some of its most fervent supporters. As misery and anger grow, disenchantment within the regime will spread. Its power to coerce may then begin to weaken.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMO – Bloomberg Economic Surprise Index 6/20

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMO – S&P 500 Earnings & Dividend Growth v. Index Total Return 6/20

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg Intelligence – OPEC Nations Production Changes 6/20

Environment / Science

Honolulu Star-Advertiser – Astronomers find more Earth-like planets – Jim Borg 6/20

  • “At a news conference Monday at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., the Kepler space telescope team released a catalog of 219 new planet candidates, including 10 that are near-Earth size and orbiting in their star’s “Goldilocks zone” – neither too hot nor too cold – where liquid water could exist.”

Canada

Economist – The lessons from Canada’s attempts to curb its house-price boom 6/17

  • “In its twice-yearly health-check on the financial system, published this month, the Bank of Canada concluded that ‘extrapolative expectations’ are a feature of the market. In other words, people are buying because they hope, or fear, that prices will keep rising.”
  • “Common to all these cities are buyers from emerging markets, notably China, who have helped to drive a wedge between the price of homes and the local fundamentals of incomes and rental payments. They are willing to pay above the odds to secure a safe place for their savings. Though fairly small in number, their presence is enough to inflate bubbles.”
  • “Canada’s housing market thus opens a window on a tragic flaw in the global economy. In only a few decades China has mastered the manufacture of high-quality goods. But it takes far longer to be able to manufacture safe stores of value. Instead, their affluent citizens seek out rich-country assets, including houses. This fundamental mismatch limits the ability of policymakers to stop bubbles from inflating.”
  • Thing is, “the demand from emerging markets for safe assets will not soon diminish. Recent history shows that big run-ups in property prices often reverse suddenly. Better to batten down the hatches now in case the weather turns bad.”

China

FT – China property tax languishes as vested interests block reform – Gabriel Wildau 6/19

  • “As Chinese authorities struggle to contain runaway home prices, a long-awaited plan for a property tax has stalled, the latest sign of entrenched interests impeding efforts to transform the country’s growth model.” 
  • “The average price of a Shenzhen home last year was 41 times the average income, against 29 in London, 23 in Tokyo and 15 in New York, according to Macquarie Securities. Since late last year, 45 Chinese cities have introduced purchase limits and other measures in an attempt to cool rising property prices.”
  • “For years, economists have advocated for China to move away from administrative tools like purchase bans in favor of a property tax. Top Communist party leaders committed to imposing a property tax in a landmark blueprint for economic reform approved in November 2013.” 
  • “By imposing an annual levy on home ownership, a property tax would reduce the appeal of housing as a speculative investment. While the merits of property taxes in general are a matter of debate among economists, few doubt that is sorely needed in China, where 50m homes lie empty, according to the China Household Finance Survey conducted by researchers from Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu.”
  • “Yet market observers say there is little prospect of the government implementing a tax within the next few years — at the annual session of China’s rubber-stamp parliament in March it was announced that legislation for the levy was not on the agenda this year.” 
  • “’Among well-informed economists in the government, establishing a property tax has been consensus for a long, long time,’ says Gan Li, director of the CHFS and professor of economics at Texas A&M University. ‘The concern is politics. No one wants to be blamed for bursting the housing bubble.’” 
  • “China’s home ownership rate is 87%, according to the survey — creating a large and powerful constituency opposing a property tax. In the US, the rate is only 64%, according to census data.” 
  • “A survey by FT Confidential Research, an independent research service owned by the Financial Times, found that 28% of families in medium-sized and large cities own a home that is vacant. Chinese investors have long favored housing over the volatile stock market and low-yielding bond market, and capital controls limit households’ ability to buy foreign assets.”

Bloomberg – China’s Workers are Saying Goodbye to Double-Digit Pay Raises 6/19

Still good though…

South America

FT – OAS fails to pass resolution condemning Venezuela’s Maduro – Jude Webber 6/19

  • “Twenty countries of the Organization of American States backed a resolution condemning Mr Maduro’s unpopular plans to convene a constituent assembly to draw up a new constitution on July 30 – falling short of the two-thirds majority needed. A rival proposal, backed by Caribbean countries, also failed to pass after hours of talks and bickering over procedural matters at the body’s general assembly in the Caribbean resort of Cancún.”
  • “’The crisis is real,’ Honduras’ foreign minister María Dolores Agüero told the meeting. ‘It cannot be that under the doctrine of non-intervention the alternative is to do nothing.’”

June 6, 2017

Perspective

Economist – The super-rich are different: they pay less tax 6/1

Visual Capitalist – The Problem With Our Maps – Nick Routley 6/2

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Grantham says higher valuations will persist – Robin Wigglesworth 6/1

  • “The US stock market has entered an era of higher valuations and probably has further room to rise, according to Jeremy Grantham, the founder of asset manager GMO and a known bearish spotter of financial bubbles.”
  • “Mr. Grantham, a notoriously bearish ‘value investor’ who correctly called and dodged the Japanese, dotcom and housing bubbles, sees little to worry him in the US market today. Expressing a preference for emerging market equities to US stocks, GMO’s founder points to seemingly durable pillars of healthy corporate profits, low interest rates and any lack of euphoria.”
  • “’I’ve dedicated my life to financial bubbles, and I don’t think it is a bubble,’ he told the Financial Times. ‘This is the broadest market of all time . . . That is not the nature of a bubble.’”
  • “Moreover, the normally bearish investor — who has built much of his career on the observation that market levels ultimately tend to revert to their long-term average — has even reluctantly conceded that US share prices may have shifted durably to a higher level since the late 1990s.”
  • “He laid out the case for why ‘this time seems very, very different’ in his quarterly letter to investors, pointing out that despite some wild swings in recent decades — caused by the dotcom bubble and subsequent crash, and then the global financial crisis — US price-to-earnings have averaged over 23 times since 1997, compared with nearly 14 times in the preceding decades, when he started his career.”
  • “The central reasons are globalization increasing the earning power of US multinationals, the growing political influence of American corporations and more onerous regulations stifling the growth of disruptive upstarts, in turn leading to increasingly monopolistic US companies, and above all a secular and durable decline in interest rates.”
  • “Mr. Grantham admits his new tone gets ‘groans from fellow value investors’ where it has ‘rattled a lot of cages’, but argued that previously dependable rules have to be re-examined and some even cast aside, given that the ‘world has changed’.”
  • “’You now have to treat previously cast-iron rules with suspicion. They’re more like aluminum rules now.’’’

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns Real Estate Consulting – US Investor Purchase Percentage 6/1

WSJ – Riksbank Chief Wants Swedish Government to Cool Red-Hot Property Market – Nina Adam 6/1

  • “Sweden’s central bank governor Stefan Ingves said a red-hot housing market and record-high level of household debt will put the Scandinavian country’s economy in peril unless the government cools the property sector down.”
  • “Swedish property prices have soared in recent years, fueled by low borrowing costs and strong economic growth. The Riksbank estimates that house prices have doubled and apartment prices have tripled over the past 10 years. At the same time, household debts have risen to 180% of disposable incomes, which is a record high.”
  • “Goldman Sachs earlier this month attached about a 35% chance to a housing bust in Sweden over the next five to eight quarters.”
  • “The Bank for International Settlements and others have warned that a long period of very low global interest rates could lead to a fresh cycle of boom and bust in housing markets. While that seems like a distant prospect in many parts of the world, Sweden may be an early test of how much has changed since the last financial crisis.”

Finance

NYT – In Texas, Some Rare Good News About Cities With Pension Woes – Mary Williams Walsh 6/1

  • “Detroit. Stockton. Puerto Rico. The list of places bankrupted by ballooning pension obligations and other debts is growing. But now comes some good news about two cities, Dallas and Houston, that have pulled back from the brink.”
  • “Just six months ago, the mayor of Dallas, Michael S. Rawlings, was warning that his city might need to declare bankruptcy after a panic led stampeding retirees to pull half a billion dollars out of its pension fund for police officers and firefighters.”
  • “But instead of going to bankruptcy court, Mr. Rawlings went to Austin, the state capital, to lobby for state pension laws that would stop the bleeding. So did the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, who faced other pension problems and had persuaded the city’s labor groups to agree to concessions worth $1.3 billion over the next 30 years.”
  • “Each city had its own bill, because each had its own unique problems. But both bills involve measured reductions in pension accruals for workers and retirees — mainly in secondary benefit categories like inflation adjustments and lump-sum payouts. In exchange, the pension funds will receive more money from the cities to protect the core benefits.”
  • “As happy as the resolution may seem, the steps that Texas took are illegal in other places where public pensions are imperiling the finances of cities and states. Illinois, California, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Kansas are among the states where, by law, public pensions cannot be reduced — not even the pensions that current workers hope to earn in the future.”
  • “That doctrine, known as the California Rule, explains why California cities like Vallejo and Stockton reduced their payments to other creditors when they went into bankruptcy but did not touch their workers’ costly pension plans.”
  • “Both cities were spurred to act by the risk of credit downgrades and by a recent accounting change that calls for cities to calculate the number of years before their pension funds will run out of money — a once-unthinkable catastrophe that has come to pass in Prichard, Ala.; Central Falls, R.I.; and now Puerto Rico.”
  • “Those developments — and Detroit’s bankruptcy — have shown that Washington will not bail out government pension funds that go bust; officials had to patch together money from other sources, and even then, the retirees of Prichard, Central Falls and Detroit had their benefits cut. Cuts are expected soon in Puerto Rico, too.”

China

WSJ – Baidu’s Turn as a Bank Is Unwelcome – Jacky Wong 6/1

  • “Everything is a bank in China these days it seems—even its biggest internet search engine.”
  • “Eager to get a bigger slice of the pie, Baidu has been aggressively selling its own wealth management products. Assets in its financial services business had more than doubled to $3.7 billion by the end of March from three months previously, according to Fitch. It has also been offering microloans, many of them unsecured, to consumers who may be unable to borrow from banks.”
  • “Fitch, rightly, is worried that Baidu is running the same risk as China’s banks: its aggressive selling of investment products and microloans could come back to bite the company if there is a wave of defaults. Baidu has around $5 billion of net cash to cover any losses. But with its core search business stagnant, investors shouldn’t welcome Baidu taking on such new risks.”

FT – Billionaire Anbang boss Wu Xiaohui barred from leaving China – Henny Sender and Lucy Hornby 6/2

Puerto Rico

Bloomberg – Puerto Rico’s Exodus Is Speeding the Island’s Economic Collapse – Jonathan Levin and Rebecca Spalding 6/2

  • “The choice is heartbreaking: stay to help other families, or leave to help your own.” 
  • “That’s the calculation thousands in Puerto Rico are making. The bankruptcy of the U.S. commonwealth, the culmination of years of decline, has accelerated an exodus that’s adding to the island’s economic misery.”
  • “The population drop is astonishing. The island has lost 2% of its people in each of the past three years. A comparable departure from the 50 states would mean 18 million people moving out since 2013. About 400,000 fewer Puerto Ricans live on an island of 3.4 million today compared with a decade ago, when its economy began contracting.” 
  • “The departures have trapped Puerto Rico in a downward spiral. A grinding recession, with joblessness at 11.5%, and $74 billion mountain of debt that pushed the island to insolvency has made collecting taxes key to an economic rebound. At the same time, more Puerto Ricans from all walks of life are moving away to better their lives, meaning government revenue is dwindling.”
  • “Puerto Rico’s bond debt has grown 87% since 2006. A simple way for individual islanders to avoid having to pay it is to move to the mainland.”
  • “The government doesn’t seem to have come to grips with the outflow. Puerto Rico’s turnaround plan — a path to sustainability approved by a U.S. oversight board — assumes the population will shrink just 0.2% each year for the next decade. It uses that number as the basis for its projections of tax receipts and economic growth.”
  • Further, “the exodus isn’t confined to professionals. Among the throngs leaving are construction workers and taxi drivers. Research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that college graduates make up roughly the same proportion of emigres as they do in the island’s general population, suggesting that the departures have touched every corner of the commonwealth.”
  • “While migration is the main driver in population fluctuation, a declining fertility rate isn’t helping either. The natural population increase — excess births over deaths — fell to 3,000 last year from 20,000 a decade ago, as families facing poorer economic prospects and the threat of the Zika virus put off having kids. At the same time, younger generations of child-bearing age are more likely to take off for the mainland.”
  • Seems like the only way to stop this trend is to make Puerto Rico a full-fledged state. Question is whether or not all the vested parties are willing to go along with it.

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Brazil GDP 6/1