Tag: Markets

April 12, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

Bloomberg Gadfly – Mark Zuckerberg Refuses to Admit How Facebook Works – Shira Ovide  4/12

  • “The most troubling takeaway from two days of congressional hearings on Facebook Inc. was this: Mark Zuckerberg didn’t want to explain how the social network operates.” 
  • “Zuckerberg found it hard to plainly acknowledge that Facebook tracks users from device to device, collects information on websites people visit and apps they use, gathers information on people’s physical locations, collects phone call logs from Android smartphones and pulls in some online activity from people who don’t even have Facebook accounts.”
  • “Zuckerberg declined to acknowledge that Facebook’s ad system and products are informed by all of this information gathering on and off the social network. If Facebook were a true bargain with users — they get a useful, free service in exchange for seeing advertising based on their interests and activity — then Zuckerberg should be comfortable explaining how it all works.”
  • “Instead, given the option to articulate Facebook’s relationship with users (and non-users), he dodged. A lot.”
  • “He said he couldn’t answer queries from Senator Roy Blunt, who asked on Tuesday whether Facebook tracks users across their computing devices or tracks offline activity. The answer to both is yes. During the House committee hearing on Wednesday, Zuckerberg claimed not to know what ‘shadow profiles’ are, even though this term has been used for years to describe Facebook’s collection of data about people who don’t use its services by harvesting the inboxes and smartphone contacts of active Facebook users. (Zuckerberg reluctantly acknowledged that Facebook gathers information on people who aren’t signed up for Facebook for what he said were ‘security purposes.’)”
  • “Most people do not understand the scope of Facebook’s data collection. Lawmakers tried more than once to get Zuckerberg to say this, but he never did. Here’s a piece of evidence lawmakers could have showed the CEO: In a survey conducted recently by Digital Content Next, a trade group of news organizations that is frequently critical of Facebook, a majority of respondents said they didn’t expect the social network to track use of non-Facebook apps to target ads, collect their physical location when they’re not using Facebook or harvest information from non-Facebook websites that people visit. Spoiler alert: Facebook does all of those things.”  
  • “It’s not people’s fault if they don’t know how Facebook works. If Zuckerberg and Facebook were comfortable with the data-based bedrock of their business, he should be able and willing to explain all the ways Facebook collects data on everyone and how it uses it.”
  • “It felt as though the company made a calculated decision to deflect rather than talk openly about the scope of Facebook data collection and its data-based ad system. And to me, that was a sign that Facebook is embarrassed about what it does for a living.”

Continue reading “April 12, 2018”

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March 26, 2018

Markets / Economy

FT – IMF warns of mounting debt crisis risk in poor countries – Kate Allen 3/22

  • “The world’s poorest countries are increasing their borrowing at a worrying pace and face the mounting risk of debt crises, the IMF has warned.”
  • “Since 2013, the median ratio of public debt to gross domestic product in low-income countries has risen 13 percentage points to hit 47% in 2017, according to new research by the IMF.”
  • “The research found that 40% of low-income developing countries face ‘significant debt-related challenges’, up from 21% just five years ago.”
  • “Fiscal deficits rose between 2013 and 2017 in nearly three-quarters of the nations the IMF studied, and in nearly half of those cases the deficit increase came despite a decline in investment, an indication that the debt was not being put to productive use economically. “
  • “As a result it is becoming increasingly likely that more poor countries will face a debt crisis, the IMF staff paper said.” 

Real Estate

Bloomberg – The Manhattan Luxury-Home Market Is Screaming: I’m Overpriced! – Oshrat Carmiel 3/23

  • “Homes prices at $4 million or more that went into contract in the first 12 weeks of the year had their asking prices cut by an average of 10%, the most in data going back to 2012, according to Olshan Realty Inc.”

FT – China looks to Reits to ease housing woes – Gabriel Wildau and Yizhen Jia 3/22

  • “Xi’s drive to encourage building of residences for rent opens market worth a potential $2tn.”
  • “Since 2014, 30 quasi-REITs worth Rmb65bn have been issued on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges and through private placements, according to the China REITs Alliance, an industry group.” 
  • “But these products trade over the counter, so liquidity is poor. Most are also not accessible to retail investors. Some also differ from true REITs because their yields derive partly from capital appreciation, not only rental income.”
  • “The value of Chinese REITs could reach Rmb4 to Rmb12tn if their share of gross domestic product or of total real estate assets were comparable to the same ratios in the US, according to estimates last year by researchers at Peking university’s Guanghua School of Management.”
  • “But experts say a more active REITs market in China requires action from the tax bureau. The boom in Chinese housing and land prices over the past decade means that absent new policy, older property sold off to a REIT would be subject to large capital gains taxes.”
  • High property prices also mean that rental yields are low — often less than 3% for commercial real estate and under 1% for residential. Without tax benefits, dividend yields on REITs would be too low to attract investor interest.” 

Environment / Science

BBC News – Plastic patch in Pacific Ocean growing rapidly, study shows – Helen Briggs 3/22

  • “A collection of plastic afloat in the Pacific Ocean is growing rapidly, according to a new scientific estimate.”
  • “Predictions suggest a build-up of about 80,000 tons of plastic in the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ between California and Hawaii.”
  • “This figure is up to sixteen times higher than previously reported, say international researchers.”
  • “One trawl in the center of the patch had the highest concentration of plastic ever recorded.”

 

January 10, 2018

Perspective

Howmuch.net – Credit Scores & Household Incomes in America – Raul 1/8

Pew – Most dads say they spend too little time with their children; about a quarter live apart from them – Gretchen Livingston 1/8

WSJ – Daily Shot: Deutsche Bank – Road Quality by US State 2016 1/9

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Teachable Moment – Will Wealth Inequality Slay the Bull Market? – Anthony Isola 1/8

  • “Revolution is the ultimate Black Swan.”
  • “Thirty percent of U.S. households have zero or negative non-home wealth. One thing is certain; this is not the location of the ‘cash on the sidelines’.” 
  • “Unfortunately, wealth inequality is a feature, not a bug, of democracy and capitalism.”
  • “’According to research from the New York University economist Edward Wolff, the top 10 percent of American households now own 84% of all stocks. That’s up from 77% ownership in 2001′.”
  • “90% of America barely participated in the massive bull market the last several years.”
  • “’The majority of middle-class wealth is tied to homes, as more than 60% of investible assets are in a primary residence. Stock ownership makes up less than 10% of total assets for the middle class’.” 
  • But do you have the fortitude to suffer the draw-downs…
  • “The men who can manage men manage the men who can manage only things, and the men who can manage money manage all.” – Will and Ariel Durant

Bloomberg View – Stock Investors Will Benefit Most From Corporate Tax Overhaul – Ben Carlson 1/5

NYT – Amway Made China a Billion-Dollar Market. Now It Faces a Crackdown. – Ryan McMorrow and Steven Lee Myers 1/8

WSJ – China’s Strategy to Psych Out the West Is Paying Off – Andrew Browne 1/9

  • “The China scholar Perry Link once called the party ‘the anaconda in the chandelier’.”
  • “Just by hovering, it induces self-censorship and subtle behavioral changes.”
  • “‘Normally the great snake doesn’t move. It doesn’t have to,’ Mr. Perry wrote in a 2002 essay in the New York Review of Books.”
  • “‘Its constant silent message is ‘You yourself decide.””

Markets / Economy

WSJ – The Price Gap That’s Squeezing the Auto Market – Stephen Wilmot 1/8

WSJ – Daily Shot: US Consumer Credit Net Change 1/8

  • “Consumer credit balances saw the greatest monthly increase in 16 years.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Total US Consumer Credit Relative to Disposable Personal Income 1/8

WSJ – Daily Shot: Piper Jaffray – US Consumers living beyond their means 1/8

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Total Consumer Loans by Credit Unions 1/8

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Total US Student Loan Balance 1/8

WSJ – Daily Shot: US Financial Accounts Q3 2017 1/8

WSJ – Daily Shot: Piper Jaffray – Consumer Confidence & Savings Rate Gap 1/8

  • “There is a widening gap between consumer sentiment and the savings rate. In the past, this divergence was a precursor to the end of the economic cycle.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Market Ethos – US Output Gap 1/8

  • “The disappearance of the output gap also indicates that we are in the late stage of the cycle.”

Economist – Daily Chart: The fastest-growing and shrinking economies in 2018 1/5

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 1/8

  • “Bitcoin appears to be range-bound, unable to breach the $17k level again.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Investing.com – Ripple 1/8

  • “Ripple took a massive hit on Monday before recovering partially.”

Environment / Science

NYT – These Billion-Dollar Natural Disasters Set a U.S. Record in 2017 – Kendra Pierre-Louis 1/8

South America

FT – Smuggled cattle and petrol join exodus from Venezuela – Gideon Long 1/8

  • “Criminal gangs seize opportunity posed by hyperinflation and a plunging bolivar.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg – Venezuela 10yr USD Bond Price 1/8

January 5, 2018

Happy New Year!

I hope that you had a safe and enjoyable transition and I wish you a prosperous 2018.

While I wasn’t planning a post today, I don’t want to deluge you with too much content first thing Monday, so here is a mid-day post.

Cheers,

Duff

Perspective

NYT – Rise of Bitcoin Competitor Ripple Creates Wealth to Rival Zuckerberg – Nathaniel Popper 1/4

  • “The virtual currency boom has gotten so heated that it is throwing the list of the world’s richest people into disarray.”
  • “Consider what has happened to the founders of an upstart virtual currency known as Ripple, which has seen its value skyrocket in recent weeks.”
  • At one point on Thursday, Chris Larsen, a Ripple co-founder who is also the largest holder of Ripple tokens, was worth more than $59 billion, according to figures from Forbes. That would have briefly vaulted Mr. Larsen ahead of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg into fifth place on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people.”
  • “Other top Ripple holders would have also zoomed up that list as the value of their tokens soared more than 100% during the last week — and more than 30,000% in the last year. The boom has turned Ripple into the second largest virtual currency, within striking distance of the original behemoth, Bitcoin.”
  • “While most of these currencies were worth nearly nothing a year ago, many are now responsible for creating billionaires — albeit with rapidly fluctuating fortunes. If this is a tulip fever, the fever has spread to chrysanthemums and poppies.”
  • “Ripple, whose tokens are known as XRP, is far from the only virtual currency being fueled by the hysteria. In 2017, there were 29 tokens — including Einsteinium and Byteball — that rose more than Bitcoin’s remarkable 1,600% jump, according to OnChainFx, a data provider.”
  • “Nearly 40 virtual currencies are worth more than $1 billion — when all the outstanding tokens are counted at their current value — despite many of them not having been used in any sort of transaction other than speculative trading.”
  • For perspective, “… all the outstanding Ripple tokens were worth $140 billion on Thursday, while all Bitcoin were worth $250 billion.”
  • “Mr. Larsen was Ripple’s chief executive from 2012 until he stepped down last year to become the company’s executive chairman. During his tenure, Ripple focused on helping banks use its software to shift money between different foreign currencies, something that most banks currently do through a cumbersome process involving separate accounts in every country where they operate.”
  • “Ripple has said it has signed up more than 100 banks to use the company’s technology, including American Express and Banco Santander.”
  • “But banks do not need to use Ripple tokens for Ripple’s software to transfer dollars, euros and yen. That point appears to be lost on many small time investors who are buying Ripple tokens.”
  • “Most of the buying and selling of Ripple tokens is happening in South Korea, according to data providers that track virtual currency exchanges, where ordinary investors have thrown money at a wide array of virtual currencies.”
  • “…Even virtual currency analysts who believe in Ripple’s software have said there is a big difference between Ripple the company being successful, and Ripple the token gaining enough traction to justify current prices.”
  • “’An impossibly long list of things already needs to go right for XRP to become a reserve currency for banks,’ Ryan Selkis, a virtual currency analyst, wrote in a post on Thursday.”
  • “But, Mr. Selkis added, that doesn’t mean Ripple’s price won’t keep ascending. Why? ‘Because this is crypto, and everyone in the industry is now slinging crack crypto cocaine to retail addicts,’ he wrote.”

WSJ – The Cashless Society Has Arrived – Only It’s in China – Alyssa Abkowitz 1/4

  • “Though the U.S. saw $112 billion of mobile payments in 2016, by a Forrester Research estimate, such payments in China totaled $9 trillion, according to iResearch Consulting Group, a Chinese firm.”
  • “For Alibaba and Tencent, the payoff isn’t just the transaction fees they make from merchants, typically 0.6%. It’s also the consumer data collected, which can transform their apps into marketing platforms for an expanding array of services, from bike sharing to travel.”
  • “Conditions in China made it ripe for this innovation. Credit cards never caught on in a big way. Discretionary spending wasn’t an option for most people until recent years, and there has long been a cultural aversion to debt in China. On top of that, the government made it tough for Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc. to set up shop.”
  • “The rise of tech companies as financial powers has dealt a blow to traditional banks. China’s state-owned banks lost nearly $23 billion in fees in 2015 they might have collected from card fees, according to a November 2016 report from EY (formerly Ernst & Young) and Singapore’s DBS Bank. The report projected the annual fee loss could widen to $60 billion by 2020.”
  • “The larger problem for banks might be that Alibaba and Tencent often know more about their customers than they do. If a Beijing car dealer uses a bank debit card for a business trip to Shanghai, the bank knows what airline he or she flew, as well as the hotel and restaurants patronized. ‘But if the ‘customer interface’ is happening elsewhere, the bank has zero visibility over transactions,’ said James Lloyd, Asia-Pacific FinTech Leader at EY. ‘That’s not a good situation to find yourself in’.”
  • “Tencent and Alibaba say they have no plans to push their payment platforms to U.S. consumers. Many Americans don’t see the need for mobile payments, since their plastic cards and cash are welcomed and some merchants still accept checks.”
  • “’Any new way of paying has to prove itself to be incrementally better than any other options you have,’ said James Wester of research firm IDC Financial Insights. In the U.S., ‘plastic is convenient, widely accepted and understood by the customer’.”

Visual Capitalist – China’s Digital Wallets Offer a Glimpse at the Future of Payments – Nick Routley 12/30

NYT – Three Months After Maria, Roughly Half of Puerto Ricans Still Without Power – Frances Robles and Jess Bidgood 12/29

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – When Things Don’t Make Any Sense – Ben Carlson 1/4

  • Some perspective on the cryptocurrency boom.

FT – Fed risks massive hangover as it begins ‘great unwind’ – Michael Hassenstab (CIO – Templeton Global Macro) 12/27

  • “Only a strong economy can stop damage in Treasuries spreading to equities and credit.”

FT View – A healthy economy is a risk for stock markets 12/29

  • “If the big US tax cut that brought 2017 to a conclusion has its intended consequences, then capital expenditures will start to rise in the next year, as will wages. With consumer confidence high, that should lead to higher consumption. It would also lead to monetary policy at the tightest end of what currently seems probable. The European Central Bank and Bank of Japan would indeed desist from their asset purchases, the Federal Reserve would reduce its balance sheet, and liquidity would flow out of world markets. The Fed could be expected to raise rates four times.”
  • “This would be a consummation devoutly to be wished, vindicating both the belated fiscal stimulus that the US has just administered and the desperate muddle-through strategy that preceded it. But significantly higher rates and lower liquidity would be bad news for equity markets, which look historically expensive. High valuations can be justified while rates are historically low. Future earnings can be discounted at a low rate and the cash yields on stocks look attractive. But if all goes according to the US Republican party’s plan, interest rates will need to be significantly higher a year from now, and valuations will come under pressure.”
  • “The alternative scenario is that the tax cut achieves no meaningful stimulus, and is merely put towards higher corporate dividends and expensive mergers and acquisitions. The synchronized global economic recovery of the past year peters out, as other brief post-crisis recoveries have done. In this situation, the Fed tightens far less aggressively, other central banks blink and keep buying assets, and bond yields stay where they are, or even fall. On this gloomy prognosis, the legacy of the tax cut would be no more than greater inequality. But equity markets would enjoy much the same benign conditions they have had this year.”
  • “Amid Wall Street’s bullish prognoses for 2018, an inverse relationship is becoming clear. Those who are more optimistic for the economy tend to be more pessimistic about the prospects for risk assets. Some say they are so bullish they are bearish.”
  • “This is realistic. If monetary stimulus really does give way to a successful fiscal stimulus, investors should expect much higher volatility, and probably outright price falls, from equity markets.”

The Guardian – The sugar conspiracy – Ian Leslie 4/7/16

WSJ – China’s Bid to Dominate Oil Pricing Will Fail – Nathaniel Taplin 12/26

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Quint – World’s Wealthiest Gain $1 Trillion in ’17 on Market Exuberance – Tom Metcalf and Jack Witzig 12/28

FT – Uber’s rise triggers financial crisis at taxi lenders – Alistair Gray 12/30

  • “Credit unions at risk of failure as loan losses mount.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: UBS Estimates – US Retail Store Closures 2017 – 1/5

FT – Brookfield moves into private rented sector for fresh profit – Aime Williams 12/29

  • “Fund manager to keep 1m sq ft space in Canary Wharf Group towers.”
  • “Brian Kingston, chief executive of Brookfield Property Partners, said property prices in London had ‘always been high’, but were now ‘very high’.”
  • “’You would always have people starting out renting, but they would graduate to owning,’ said Mr Kingston. ‘But in New York and London, you could be a fairly well-compensated individual and you could still not afford to buy’.”

Tech

FT – Travis Kalanick to sell part of his Uber stake for first time – Tim Bradshaw 1/4

  • “Deal will earn ousted chief over $1bn in sale to SoftBank as part of their tender offer.”

Entertainment

FT – China’s Hollywood romance turns sour – Matthew Garrahan and Charles Clover 12/26

China

NYT – China’s New Lenders Collect Invasive Data and Offer Billions. Beijing Is Worried. – Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li 12/25

FT – China share pledges soar as founders seek new borrowing tools – Gabriel Wildau and Yizhen Jia 12/26

  • “Chinese stockholders are ramping up borrowing against shares, driving revenue for securities houses but creating risk of a chain reaction in the event of a sharp market downturn.”
  • “Shareholders in 317 Shanghai and Shenzhen-listed companies had pledged shares worth at least 40% of those companies by December 18, up from 224 companies on the same date a year earlier, according to Wind Info.”
  • “Share-pledging is especially common for small and mid-cap companies, where a single shareholder often owns a large stake. Controlling shareholders sometimes reinvest the proceeds into company projects or buy additional company shares on the secondary market to boost the share price.”
  • “In September China’s two main bourses published draft rules that would tighten regulation on share pledging. One provision caps the value of loans secured by shares at 60% of the market value of the pledged shares, ensuring a buffer that will protect the lender in case a share price falls.”
  • At least the mainland exchanges require that such pledges be disclosed, unlike the Hong Kong exchange, where other shareholders can be surprised.

Reuters – China’s lenders fret over debts lurking in shadow banking system – Engen Tham, Matthew Miller and David Lague 12/28

December 19, 2017

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Credit Suisse – US Household Net worth by quantile 12/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: Credit Suisse – US Household Ownership of Equities by quantile 12/15

Bloomberg – He Stole $100 Million From His Clients. Now He’s Living in Luxury on the Cote d’Azur – Liam Vaughan 12/17

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Seeing Both Sides – Ben Carlson 12/17

Economist – Why is America more tolerant of inequality than many rich countries? – C.K. 12/18

  • “Ignorance about the scale of the problem is part of the answer.”

Huffpost – Why millennials are facing the scariest financial future of any generation since the Great Depression – Michael Hobbes 12/14

  • A summary of the numbers provided by Erica Pandey of Axios on 12/17:
  • “300% more student debt than their parents, on average.”
  • “1/2 as likely to own a home as young people — ages 25–34 — were in 1975.”
  • “One in five of young adults live in poverty.”
  • “2.9% average annual returns on 401(k) plans, compared to 6.3% returns for baby boomers.”
  • “Many millennials will have to work until the age of 75, based on an analysis of federal data.”
  • “A typical 2009 college graduate could earn up to $58,600 less than a typical 2007 college graduate over a decade, based on current trends.”
  • “The American racial wealth gap is widening, with the median white household projected to have 86 times more wealth than the median black household by 2020.”

NYT – World’s Most Expensive Home? Another Bauble for a Saudi Prince – Nicholas Kulish and Michael Forsythe 12/16

NYT – What Is Bitcoin Really Worth? Don’t Even Ask. – Robert Shiller 12/15

Project Syndicate – Complacency Will Be Tested in 2018 – Stephen S. Roach 12/14

  • “Alas, there is an important twist today that wasn’t in play back then –central banks’ swollen balance sheets. From 2008 to 2017, the combined asset holdings of central banks in the major advanced economies (the United States, the eurozone, and Japan) expanded by $8.3 trillion, according to the Bank for International Settlements. With nominal GDP in these same economies increasing by just $2.1 trillion over the same period, the remaining $6.2 trillion of excess liquidity has distorted asset prices around the world.”
  • “Therein lies the crux of the problem. Real economies have been artificially propped up by these distorted asset prices, and glacial normalization will only prolong this dependency. Yet when central banks’ balance sheets finally start to shrink, asset-dependent economies will once again be in peril. And the risks are likely to be far more serious today than a decade ago, owing not only to the overhang of swollen central bank balance sheets, but also to the overvaluation of assets.”

The Reformed Broker – Sometimes it’s not complicated – Joshua M. Brown 12/15

Vanity Fair – Of the 1%, By the 1%, For the 1% – Joseph Stiglitz, May 2011

Markets / Economy

FT – Wildfires in California add to ‘horrific year’ of disaster losses – Alistair Gray and Oliver Ralph 12/17

  • “String of catastrophes expected to drive insurance prices higher.”

Real Estate

MarketWatch – We’re still building the wrong kind of homes for renters – Andrea Riquier 12/14

  • “11 million Americans spend more than 50% of their income on rent.”

NYT – The Next Crisis for Puerto Rico: A Crush of Foreclosures – Matthew Goldstein 12/16

  • “About one-third of the island’s 425,000 homeowners are behind on their mortgage payments to banks and Wall Street firms that previously bought up distressed mortgages. Tens of thousands have not made payments for months. Some 90,000 borrowers became delinquent as a consequence of Hurricane Maria, according to Black Knight Inc., a data firm formerly known as Black Knight Financial Services.”
  • “Puerto Rico’s 35% foreclosure and delinquency rate is more than double the 14.4% national rate during the depths of the housing implosion in January 2010. And there is no prospect of the problem’s solving itself or quickly.”
  • “At the moment, dealing with a mortgage lender about a missed payment may be a distant concern for many of the 3.4 million people in Puerto Rico. They are literally still picking up the pieces, struggling to live without electricity or trying to get insurance companies to pay claims to repair their homes. More than 100,000 people are believed to have left to go live with friends and family on the mainland.”
  • “Residents won a reprieve when the federal government imposed a temporary moratorium on foreclosures, which stops banks and investors that bought mortgages at cut-rate prices from evicting delinquent borrowers or starting new foreclosures. Many lenders also have agreed to waive missed payments during the moratorium.”
  • “But that moratorium is scheduled to expire in early 2018, and lawyers and housing counselors expect that to trigger a surge in foreclosures.”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Investing.com – Bitcoin 12/18

  • “The cryptocurrency is gunning for $20k as it hit another record high over the weekend.”

Health / Medicine

WP – ‘We feel like our system was hijacked’: DEA agents say a huge opioid case ended in a whimper – Lenny Bernstein and Scott Higham 12/17

South America

NYT – As Venezuela Collapses, Children Are Dying of Hunger – Meridith Kohut and Isayen Herrera 12/17

November 16, 2017

If you were only to read one thing…

FT – S&P says Venezuela is in default on sovereign debt – Edward White and Hudson Lockett 11/13

  • “Standard & Poor’s has declared that Venezuela is in default after it missed two interest payments and following a meeting in Caracas that left investors with little notion of how a default on its $60bn debt pile can be avoided.”
  • “S&P, which is the first rating agency to say the country is in default, said on Tuesday that Caracas had failed to make $200m in coupon payments for global bonds due in 2019 and 2024 within the 30-calendar-day grace period.”
  • “The agency said it had downgraded the issue ratings on those bonds to D from CC and cut the country’s long-term foreign currency sovereign credit rating to selective default, or SD, from CC.”
  • “’Our CreditWatch negative reflects our opinion that there is a one-in-two chance that Venezuela could default again within the next three months,’ said S&P.”

Perspective

Bloomberg – Trump Is Shattering His Own Tweet Records – Brandon Kochkodin 11/13

FT – India’s Ambanis top Asia family rich list – Kiran Stacey 11/14

WSJ – Daily Shot: Credit Suisse – Global Wealth Report 11-14

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg – Yale’s Swensen Sees Low Volatility as ‘Profoundly Troubling’ – Janet Lorin and Christine Harper 11/14

Bloomberg Businessweek – The Global Economy Looks Good for 2018 (Unless Somebody Does Something Dumb) – Peter Coy 11/2

Markets / Economy

WSJ – AB InBev Switches U.S. Boss as  It Struggles With Sales Slump – Jennifer Maloney 11/13

CNBC – Millennials lose taste for dining out, get blamed for puzzling restaurant trend – Patti Domm 11/14

WSJ – Small IPOs Are Dying. That’s Good – James Mackintosh 11/13

Real Estate

Investment News – Cole Capital, once part of a company coveted by Nicholas Schorsch, is being sold – Bruce Kelly 11/13

Energy

iea – World Energy Outlook 2017 – Global shifts in the energy system 11/14

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 11/13

  • “Bitcoin has bounced off the lows but remains volatile.”

Europe

FT – Sweden’s big banks call an end to decades-long housing boom – Martin Arnold and Richard Milne 11/13

  • “Sweden’s decades-long housing market boom is over, two of the country’s bank bosses admit, while trying to reassure investors that their institutions will not suffer a painful hangover of defaults even if the cheap mortgage-fueled party is finished.”
  • “Swedish house prices have been red hot, rising almost 6% a year on average since 2007, while a surge in household indebtedness from 1.2 to 1.6 times disposable income has attracted intense scrutiny from regulators.”
  • “Swedish house prices fell 1.5% in September, the first decline for several years, reflecting the impact of measures introduced by regulators to constrain riskier mortgage lending as well as a recent increase in the supply of new homes.”

Japan

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bank of Japan Balance Sheet as % of GDP 11/14

South America

FT – Russia agrees to restructure $3.2bn of Venezuelan debt held by Moscow – Henry Foy 11/15

WSJ – The Class of 1994, Venezuela’s Golden Generation, Is Fleeing the Country – Ryan Dube 11/14

  • More than “…two million…Venezuelans…have left the country since 1999, the year Mr. Chavez gained power, according to Tomas Paez, a Venezuelan immigration expert. That exodus is roughly twice the number who fled Cuba in the two decades after the revolution there, and is set to worsen.”

WSJ – Default in Venezuela: What’s Next – Julie Wernau 11/14

  • “Venezuela has been falling behind on debt payments in its prolonged economic crisis. Some payments have come late. Others haven’t arrived at all. The South American country has said it wants to restructure its remaining debt, which analysts put as high as $150 billion. But observers say Venezuela’s debt crisis could be one of the most complicated in history.”
  • “Cash-strapped Venezuela and its state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela SA, have been putting off making interest payments on their debt, taking advantage of 30-day grace periods to save money.”

FT – Venezuela: what happens now after official default – Robin Wigglesworth 11/14

  • “The most likely outcome, investors and analysts say, is a protracted period of financial limbo with a restructuring precluded by US sanctions and Venezuela facing a barrage of lawsuits that will tie it up for years to come.”

October 13 – October 19, 2017

The corporate drug industry has had many friends in Washington D.C. until now… Amazon is taking over the package room of your apartment building. China’s property boom unlikely to end anytime soon.

Headlines

Economist – The Philippine army recaptures a city seized by Muslim insurgents 10/17. After 5 months, the Philippine forces of President Rodrigo Duterte took back the city of Marawi on the island of Mindanao.

FT – Wanda golf courses closed in China austerity push 10/15. The two courses are in the $3bn Changbaishan resort in Fusong. The why – because new courses were banned in 2004; however, many developers were able to work their way around the rules…until now.

NYT – Kobe Steel Problems May Be More Widespread, Raising Fears on High-Speed Rail 10/12. So about that falsified data…we…didn’t…quite…tell…you…about…all…of…it…sorry.

WSJ – Nordstrom Family Suspends Effort to Take Retailer Private 10/16. That’s how strong the narrative is right now against the retail industry, even the Nordstrom family is having difficulty finding investors to fund the debt of the acquisition (despite the world being awash in cash and the tight spreads on high yield products).

WSJ – Hedge Fund Maverick Capital Debuts 0% Performance Fees 10/19. After losing 10% in 2016 and being down 2% so far this year (mind you that the market is up over the same time period), Maverick is offering some investors a 0% performance fee and 1% management fee on new money for its “recovery shares”.

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Teachable Moment – Generation Kill – Anthony Isola 10/16

  • “Young people are killing their chances of building wealth.”

A Wealth of Common Sense – How to Invest At All-Time Highs – Ben Carlson 10/18

  • “The S&P 500 Index has recorded more than 150 new all-time highs since eclipsing its previous peak in late March of 2013. In 2017 alone, there have been 30 new record highs through the end of last week. To put this into perspective, there were only 13 new highs for the entire decade of the 2000s.”

BuzzFeed – Watching Harvey Weinstein Fall, Trump’s Accusers Feel Frustrated – Kendall Taggart & Jessica Garrison 10/14

Economist – Crafty app developers are ripping off big-name brands 10/12

  • Be careful which apps you load onto your phones.

FT – Under Xi Jinping, China is turning back to dictatorship – Jamil Anderlini 10/10

  • “The rejection of ‘western’ political systems has been made easier recently by what the Chinese see as the ludicrous buffoonery of Donald Trump and, to a lesser extent, the self-inflicted damage of Brexit and EU infighting.”
  • “As a top foreign policy adviser recently told one of my colleagues: ‘Trump never talks about democracy or American leadership or liberty — we should not be so stupid to worship things that in the western world are now in doubt.’”
  • Be cautious in your use of ‘private’ messaging services such as WeChat. Big brother is watching.

FT – Hollywood’s masculinity problem – the full picture – Kate Muir 10/12

FT – The implications of shelving the Aramco IPO – Nick Butler 10/14

FT – The disruptive power of renewables – Nick Butler 10/15

NYT – Stranded by Maria, Puerto Ricans Get Creative to Survive – Caitlin Dickerson 10/16

NYT – Inside a Secretive Group Where Women Are Branded – Barry Meier 10/17

  • Another example of the power of peer pressure and social learning.

Project Syndicate – The Psychology of Superstar Sex Predators – Raj Persaud & Peter Bruggen 10/19

The Guardian – Meet the new class traitors who are coming out as rich – Alissa Quart 10/16

The New Yorker – Carl Ichan’s Failed Raid on Washington – Patrick Radden Keefe 8/28

Perspective

How Much – The Largest Industry In Each State by GDP – Raul 10/9

WEF – Tech Insider: World Forecasted Population Growth – Gerald Chirinda 10/11

How Much – Can you Retire on $1 Million? Here is How Long You Can Survive in Every State… – Raul 10/12

Top 5 Friendly States for Retirement

  1. Mississippi  – $1 million lasts 25 yrs 6 months
  2. Arkansas – $1 million lasts 25 yrs
  3. Tennessee – $1 million lasts 24 yrs 5 months
  4. Kansas – $1million lasts 24 yrs 5 months
  5. Oklahoma – $1million lasts 24 yrs 4 months

Top 5 least Friendly States for Retirement

  1. Hawaii – $1 million lasts 13 yrs 1 months
  2. District of Columbia – $1 million lasts 14 yrs 2 months
  3. California – $ 1million lasts 15 yrs
  4. Oregon – $1 million lasts 16 yrs 7 months
  5. New York – $1 million lasts 16 yrs 7 months

VC – The Global Leaders in R&D Spending, by Country and Company – Jeff Desjardins 10/13

Pew – Share of counties where whites are a minority has doubled since 1980 – Drew Desilver 7/1/15

How Much – Best US Cities for Families to Save Money – Raul 10/16

The Best Places for Families to Save Money

  1. Spokane, WA; +$83,400
  2. Henderson, NV; +$59,100
  3. North Las Vegas, NV; +$56,600
  4. Las Vegas, NV; +$55,900
  5. Reno, NV; +$48,800

The Worst Places for Families to Save Money

  1. San Francisco, CA; -$62,300
  2. New York, NY; -$54,100
  3. Boston, MA; -$34,000
  4. Washington DC; -$22,200
  5. Philadelphia, PA; -$9,100

VC – How Many Hours Americans Need to Work to Pay Their Mortgage – Jeff Desjardins 10/17

The Republic – Phoenix is getting hotter – and so is the danger – Brandon Loomis 10/18

Pew – Amid decline in international adoptions to U.S., boys outnumber girls for the first time – Abby Budiman and Mark Hugo Lopez 10/17

Bloomberg – Smartphones Are Killing Americans, But Nobody’s Counting – Kyle Stock, Lance Lambert, and David Ingold 10/17

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Businessweek- Dollar General Hits a Gold Mine in Rural America 10/11

Bloomberg – The Glut of Private Jets Means ‘Insane’ Bargains for Buyers 10/8

Bloomberg – One of the Biggest ICOs Yet Crashes Before It Even Launched 10/19

WSJ – This Market’s Running on Hope, Not Profits 10/12

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 10/17

Bloomberg – JPMorgan, Citigroup Expect More Credit-Card Users to Default – Hugh Son, Dakin Campbell and Jennifer Surane 10/12

Real Estate

Bloomberg Businessweek – Distressed Investors Are Already Buying Houston Homes for 40 Cents on the Dollar 10/12

WSJ – Global Investors Pour Billions Into Hudson Yards in Major Bull Market Bet 10/17

WSJ – How Some Malls Manage to Stay Alive Years After Losing Their Mojo 10/17

WSJ – In London, Some Home Buyers Can Only Stay a Few Years 10/19

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – US Housing Supply Overview 10/17

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Multifamily Housing Units Under Construction 10/19

Finance

Economist – Buttonwood: The finance industry ten years after the crisis 10/14

WSJ – Daily Shot: Commonwealth of Puerto Rico GO Bond 10/15

  • “Puerto Rico’s general obligations (GO) debt keeps tumbling. The 8%-coupon bond ‘maturing’ in 2035 is trading at 33 cents on the dollar.”

WSJ – As Edward Jones Tops $1 Trillion in Assets, It Seeks Street Cred – Lisa Beilfuss 10/16

WSJ – Daily Shot: Corporate High-Yield Bond Spreads 10/18

Environment / Science

Economist – Offshore wind farms will change life in the sea 10/12

Bloomberg – There’s a Climate Bomb Under Your Feet 10/6

NYT – LIGO Detects Fierce Collision of Neutron Stars for the First Time – Dennis Overbye 10/16

Project Syndicate – Hurricanes’ Unnatural Toll 10/13

WSJ – Your Next Home Could Run on Batteries 10/15

Economist – Why the North American west is on fire 10/13

  • “The west of the United States has endured some 50,000 wildfires this year, and over 8.5m acres (3.4m hectares) have burned. Northern California has suffered in particular recently as flames have swept through parts of the landscape, killing at least 23 people and devastating wineries. In Canada, as of August 30th (the latest available figure), 7.4m acres had burned.”
  • “Ernesto Alvarado of the University of Washington, who specializes in large fires, says that historically portions of the forests of America’s north-west would burn every five to 20 years. In many areas, however, these fires have been suppressed for over a century by the needs of loggers and residents. Over time, undergrowth, saplings and dead trees accumulate, creating conditions in which a fire can spread very rapidly. Furthermore, a recent reduction in logging has led to an even closer packing together of trees. ‘To maintain good forest health in many of these forests, you need fire,’ says Dr. Alvarado. While some burns are prescribed, they are a fraction of what is required. In Washington, for instance, between 2001 and 2014 the Forest Service burned just 2% of the state’s 9.3m acres of forest.”
  • “In terms of scale, 2017 is not actually an outlier. In the past decade, wildfires have burned an average of 6.6m acres each year in the United States and 6.2m acres in Canada. The particular problem this year is the dispersed nature of the blazes.”
  • “The current state of the north-western forests, combined with the effects of climate change, increase the likelihood that wildfires will be worse in future… Little can be done to reduce the danger without a dramatic increase in prescribed burns, and these are unlikely as people continue to move into forested areas. One further consequence: the smoke and ash that drift across densely inhabited areas affect human health, too. A study by the universities of Harvard and Columbia of slash-and-burn fires in Indonesia in 2015 blamed the fires for 100,000 additional deaths and 500,000 injuries in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire: this year’s haze presages years of potentially more ferocious burns.”

Asia – excluding China and Japan

NYT – U.S. Stood By as Indonesia Killed a Half-Million People, Papers Show 10/18

WSJ Video – Inside the Philippines’ Bloody War Against Islamist Militants 10/18

Canada

WSJ – Canada Imposes Tougher Mortgage Rules Effective 2018 – Paul Vieira and Vipal Monga 10/17

  • “Canada’s banking watchdog unveiled tougher mortgage-financing rules that take effect on Jan. 1 that real estate watchers and economists say could dramatically slow house buying and borrowing.”
  • “The most notable measure is a provision that would require all prospective buyers—even those with a down payment of over 20%—to undergo a so-called stress test before a bank can issue a loan. Previously, only buyers with a down payment of less than 20% had to undergo a stress test. Under the stress test, prospective buyers would have to qualify for a mortgage at a rate at whichever is greater: either 2 percentage points above the negotiated rate, or the Bank of Canada’s five-year benchmark rate. The central bank’s five-year rate stands at 4.89%. The regulator originally proposed the test just cover two percentages point above the negotiated mortgage.”
  • “Robert McLister, founder of the Canadian mortgage-rate comparison site RateSpy.com, said the new rules target the fastest-growing part of the mortgage market—uninsured mortgages—and could affect one out of every six prospective home buyers. In Canada, mortgage insurance is mandatory unless the buyer has a down payment of 20% and over.”
  • “’This is easily the most groundshaking mortgage rule of all time, and that’s not an understatement,’ Mr. McLister said in an interview.”
  • “Economists said the tougher mortgage regulations will further hit a softening housing market. Recent data from the Canadian Real Estate Association indicated unadjusted sales in September were 11% below year-ago levels, and price growth has slowed considerably, especially in the Toronto market after the introduction of a foreign-buyer’s tax in southern Ontario.”
  • “TD Bank’s economics team said it anticipates the measures will depress housing demand by 5% to 10% once fully implemented.”

China

FT – China’s $150bn debt-for-equity swap shows signs of fizzling 10/18

WEF – Deloitte: China will grow old before it gets rich – Alex Gray 10/6

WSJ – China’s Greatest Challenge – Anjani Trivedi 10/16

  • Debt…

  • NBFI = Nonbank Financial Institutions

FT – China residential property sales see first fall in 21/2 years – Hudson Lockett 10/18

  • Okay, but look at the volatility. Geez.

Japan

WSJ – Corporate Scandals Say More About Japan Than the Nikkei 10/12

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s Investor Service – Decline of Japan’s Working Age Population 10/18

Middle East

Reuters – Saudi needs Aramco billions as recession slows austerity drive 10/19

FT – Qatar’s wealth fund brings $20bn home to ease impact of embargo – Andrew England and Simeon Kerr 10/18

  • “Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund has brought more than $20bn back onshore to cushion the impact of a regional embargo imposed on the Gulf state.”
  • “Ali Shareef al-Emadi, Qatar’s finance minister, told the Financial Times that Qatar Investment Authority deposits were being used to create a ‘buffer’ and provide liquidity in the banking system after the gas-rich state suffered capital outflows of more than $30bn.”
  • “That followed the decision by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to cut diplomatic and transport links with the nation in June. The move has triggered the Gulf’s worst crisis in years.”
  • “Moody’s, the rating agency, said last month that Qatar had injected $38.5bn into its economy since the crisis erupted.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMI Research  – Saudi Arabia GDP Change Year-over-Year 10/17

South America

FT – IMF crunches the numbers for possible Venezuela rescue 10/15

Featured

WP – The drug industry’s triumph over the DEA – Scott Higham and Lenny Bernstein 10/15

  • Let it be noted the power of this reporting resulted in Rep. Tom Marino withdrawing from consideration to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy and it appears that the public is more aware of this problem…
  • “In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets.”
  • “By then, the opioid war had claimed 200,000 lives, more than three times the number of U.S. military deaths in the Vietnam War. Overdose deaths continue to rise. There is no end in sight.”
  • “A handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills, according to an investigation by The Washington Post and ’60 Minutes.’ The DEA had opposed the effort for years.”
  • “The law was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market. The industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns.”
  • “The chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA was Rep. Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican who is now President Trump’s nominee to become the nation’s next drug czar. Marino spent years trying to move the law through Congress. It passed after Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) negotiated a final version with the DEA.”
  • “For years, some drug distributors were fined for repeatedly ignoring warnings from the DEA to shut down suspicious sales of hundreds of millions of pills, while they racked up billions of dollars in sales.”
  • “The new law makes it virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the companies, according to internal agency and Justice Department documents and an independent assessment by the DEA’s chief administrative law judge in a soon-to-be-published law review article. That powerful tool had allowed the agency to immediately prevent drugs from reaching the street.”
  • “Political action committees representing the industry contributed at least $1.5 million to the 23 lawmakers who sponsored or co-sponsored four versions of the bill, including nearly $100,000 to Marino and $177,000 to Hatch. Overall, the drug industry spent $106 million lobbying Congress on the bill and other legislation between 2014 and 2016, according to lobbying reports.”

WSJ – Amazon and Big Apartment Landlords Strike Deals on Package Delivery – Laura Kusisto 10/17

  • “Amazon.com Inc. is taking over the package rooms of some of the country’s largest apartment landlords, in a move that could help consolidate its control over how goods make it from the warehouse floor to the front door.”
  • “Amazon has signed contracts with apartment owners and managers representing more than 850,000 units across the U.S. to begin installing Amazon locker systems in their buildings, according to the landlords. Amazon has commitments to install the lockers in thousands of properties, many before the peak holiday shopping season, according to a person familiar with the matter.”
  • “Several of the nation’s largest operators, AvalonBay Communities Inc., Equity Residential , Greystar and Bozzuto Group, have signed up, company executives said.
  • For several years, landlords have struggled with how to manage the mountains of packages they receive each day. Staff at larger buildings end up devoting several hours a day sorting mail, while boxes are piled in every spare cranny. Most say it is the single largest problem they face.”
  • “The locker program, dubbed Hub by Amazon, will accept packages from all carriers and not just for purchases made on Amazon. They will be open only to residents, not the wider community. Residents will receive a notification when they have a package and a code allowing them to open one of the slots.”
  • “Apartment owners pay about $10,000 to $20,000 to purchase the lockers initially and don’t pay a monthly fee. Most landlords said they don’t plan to charge residents initially but to offer it as an amenity. They could also make back some of that cost in savings on staff labor.”
  • “Karen Hollinger, vice president of corporate initiatives at AvalonBay, which has an ownership interest in about 80,000 apartments, said the average apartment community in the company’s portfolio receives some 1,000 packages a month, up from 650 a year ago. She said AvalonBay has seen a 20% to 30% annual increase in the volume of packages it receives for the past four years.”
  • “Amazon has been searching for ways to make deliveries cheaper. It has recruited a fleet of citizen drivers via its Flex program, which allows people to drop off packages from their cars. It has developed its own air and cargo networks, too.”
  • “The most expensive leg of any delivery is known as the last mile: getting a package to the doorstep. Amazon already has added lockers throughout the U.S., including an announcement that it is rolling them out at its newly acquired Whole Foods stores.”

FT – Chinese property boom props up Xi’s hopes for the economy – Tom Hancock & Gabriel Wildau 10/18

  • “As China’s Communist party elite gather in Beijing this week to select its top leaders, President Xi Jinping has benefited from the strong recent performance of the economy, which is poised for its first year-on-year acceleration in growth since 2010. On Thursday China reported that gross domestic product grew 6.8% in the third quarter, ahead of Beijing’s full-year target.”
  • “That rebound owes much to the confidence of homebuyers. Housing prices and construction starts rebounded from a slump in 2014-15, boosting overall business investment and driving demand for output from China’s huge manufacturing sector.”
  • “The property sector has been given a helping hand. Urged on by Beijing, 38% of all bank loans issued in the 12 months to August were home mortgages, according to official data, and local governments purchased 18% of all residential floor space sold last year as part of a drive to provide affordable housing, according to estimates by E-House China Research Institute.”
  • “The result has been another heady boom in construction. Rome was not built in a day, but based on residential floor area completed last year, China built the equivalent of a new Rome about every six weeks.”
  • “With the surge in housing investment has come a round of questions about a potential bubble in the market and the implications for the long-term health of China’s economy.”
  • “Some economists and investors warn that short-term growth from the latest housing boom has come at a cost: inflating a property bubble whose eventual bursting will inflict great pain. A senior Chinese legislator recently warned in unusually blunt terms that the economy has been ‘kidnapped’ by property.” 
  • “But others insist that fears of a bubble are overstated. On this view, economic fundamentals justify substantial investment in housing, especially in inland cities where development still lags far behind wealthy coastal areas. These more sanguine observers also note that outrageous price levels for Chinese apartments are mainly restricted to the megacities like Beijing and Shanghai.” 
  • “The stakes in this debate are high. Chinese residential property is arguably the world’s most important asset market. The sector drives global commodity prices, making the difference between growth and stagnation for resource exporters like Australia and Brazil.” 
  • “’It’s never wrong to express worry over China’s housing market,’ says Larry Hu, China economist for Macquarie Securities in Hong Kong. ‘But it’s interesting to consider why the housing sector has become the Bermuda Triangle for economic forecasters. So many smart people have made wrong predictions about it.’”
  • “The leading claim of the housing bears is that after a 15-year construction boom, China has built most of the housing it needs to meet fundamental demand. On this view, investors speculating on price gains, not families seeking shelter, now drive the market.”
  • “’People buy property not because they like the property, but because the price is rising,’ says Ning Zhu, professor at the Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance and author of China’s Guaranteed Bubble. ‘It’s this panic that if they don’t buy now they will never be able to afford it.’” 
  • “Central to this narrative is the notion of ‘ghost cities’ — huge blocks of empty apartments where expected demand never materialized.” 
  • “In Mr. Xi’s speech at the opening of the congress on Wednesday, he repeated his mantra that ‘houses are for living in, not for speculation’.”
  • “Yet even in major cities, evidence suggests that there are a substantial number of empty flats held for investment purposes. A survey by FT Confidential Research, an independent research service owned by the Financial Times, found that 32% of families own at least one home that is vacant.” 
  • “An estimated 50m homes, or 22% of the total urban housing stock, were vacant in 2013, according to the most recent data from the China Household Finance Survey led by Li Gan, economics professor at Texas A&M University.” 
  • “Further underpinning the bearish outlook is the belief that fundamental demand for new housing is drying up.” 
  • “The extraordinary transformation of China’s economy over the past 40 years was driven by the migration of farmers into cities. That urbanization process is now slowing, however, as relatively few young people remain in rural China.” 
  • “The number of migrant workers living outside their home province rose by 12m in the five years through to June this year, compared with an increase of 26m in the five years ending June 2012, according to official data.” 
  • Says Mr. Xie (Andy Xie, an independent economist and former Morgan Stanley chief Asia-Pacific economist): ‘If you go into villages, there are no young and middle-aged people any more. Where is this next wave of urbanization supposed to come from?’”
  • “To longtime observers of China’s economy, the current hand-wringing over the property market feels familiar.”
  • “After two years of falling prices and sluggish sales, analysts were warning in early 2016 that some smaller cities had enough unsold inventory to last for years.” 
  • “Yet by August this year, inventories in the 80 cities tracked by E-House China Research Institute stood at their lowest level in almost five years.” 
  • “Perceptions of unreasonably high housing prices appear to be disproportionately influenced by trends in first-tier cities — Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. All three rank among the world’s most expensive in terms of price-to-income ratio.” 
  • “Of the 70 cities in the official price survey, however, 12 have seen outright price falls in the three years through to August this year. In a further 29 cities, prices rose by less than 10% in the same period. Meanwhile, median per capital disposable income has grown 28% in roughly the same period.”
  • “Despite major concerns about Chinese corporate debt, household borrowing remains low by international standards at 37% of GDP, compared with 79% in the US and 59% in the euro area, according to the Bank for International Settlements. And Chinese homebuyers use less debt and more equity than counterparts in the US. The average down payment on Chinese home mortgages extended in 2016 was 40%.” 
  • Despite their differences, both sides in the debate mostly agree that an outright crash of the housing market is unlikely. Chinese savers have few options for investing their money. The stock market is volatile, returns on bank deposits are meagre and foreign exchange controls largely prevent households from buying foreign assets. Housing is the least bad option for many investors.” 
  • The combination of capital controls with years of monetary stimulus virtually ensures that ‘trapped cash’ will slosh through different asset classes, creating bubble-like conditions that the government either encourages or struggles to contain.” 
  • “Still, given the pain that would result from an abrupt policy shift, analysts widely expect that Beijing will continue the current approach, tightening controls when the market gets too hot, while priming it with cash when it slows too sharply.” 
  • “’The government is really losing its credibility,’ says Mr. Ning. ‘At this point everyone realizes they don’t really intend to crack down on the housing market.’

October 9, 2017

Perspective

NYT – Nothing Divides Voters Like Owning a Gun – Nate Cohn and Kevin Quealy 10/5

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – For Many on Puerto Rico, the Most Coveted Item is a Plane Ticket Out – Jack Healy and Luis Ferre-Sadurni 10/5

A Wealth of Common Sense – Good Advice vs. Effective Advice – Ben Carlson 10/5

WP – The troubling case of the young Japanese reporter who worked herself to death – Eli Rosenberg 10/5

WSJ – Income Investors: It’s OK to Be Sad, But Don’t Get Desperate – Jason Zweig 10/6

  • “Old bull markets don’t produce new ideas. They just produce new ways for investors to hurt themselves with old ideas.”
  • “With stocks at record highs and the income on bonds not far from record lows, circumstantial evidence suggests investors are getting restless — if not desperate.”
  • “Chasing ‘yield,’ or trying to get higher investment income, is one form of desperation. Last month, $1.6 billion in new money poured into exchange-traded funds holding high-yield corporate bonds, according to FactSet.”
  • “A recent survey of 750 individual investors by Natixis Global Asset Management found that they ‘need’ returns of 8.9%, after inflation, to reach their financial goals. In the same survey last year, investors said they needed a mere 8.5%. Since 1926, the return on U.S. stocks after inflation has averaged about 7% annually, according to Morningstar.”
  • “Such hankering for unrealistic returns can prompt investors to take imprudent risks. Just about any get-rich-quick story can look tempting.”
  • “This past week, an obscure Nasdaq-listed company called Bioptix, which had been licensing fertility hormones for cows, horses and pigs, announced that it was getting into the cryptocurrency business and changing its name to Riot Blockchain. The stock nearly doubled over its levels a week earlier.”
  • “This reminds market veterans of the dozens of companies that changed their names to include ‘Internet’ or ‘.com’ in 1998 and 1999. They outperformed comparable firms by an average of 53 percentage points in the five days surrounding the announcement of a name change, a study found in 2001.”
  • “Consider, too, Strategic Student & Senior Housing Trust, Inc., a firm in Ladera Ranch, Calif., looking to raise $1.1 billion to buy properties that serve college students and the elderly around the U.S.”
  • “Strategic’s prospectus for the offering, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Sept. 26, says the firm will seek to ‘provide regular cash distributions to our investors’ and to sell out, merge with another company or go public within three to five years.”
  • “In the meantime, public investors are being asked to pay up to $10.33 for shares that the company has been selling to a select group of private investors for $8.50. Commissions and fees can exceed 10%, depending on the class of shares.”
  • “Strategic, which commenced operations only on June 28, is a ‘blind pool,’ meaning that the firm hasn’t yet determined what it will invest the proceeds of the offering in. Investors thus can’t ascertain the quality of the assets their money will buy. Strategic’s prospectus also says: ‘There is currently no public market for our shares and there may never be one’.”
  • “At times like these, reaching for yield and taking bigger risks might pay off for a few speculators in the short run. Investors, however, should hoard their cash and remember that in the long run it doesn’t pay to chase returns greater than the markets can realistically provide.”

Bloomberg View – A Volatility Trap Is Inflating Market Bubbles – Alberto Gallo 10/5

FT – Puerto Rico’s recovery depends on debt forgiveness – Gillian Tett 10/5

  • “Either way, the saga should be a wake-up call to investors. Yes, hurricanes may be rare. But Puerto Rico is not the only arena in which asset managers have chased after high yields with scant regard for risk. Just look at emerging markets and the high yield corporate bond world. If the tragedy in Puerto Rico shakes investors out of their complacency, that would be a thoroughly good thing — and long overdue.”

Markets / Economy

Yahoo Finance – U.S. economy loses jobs in September for first time 2010 – Myles Udland 10/6

Bloomberg Businessweek – Warren Buffett and Truck Stops Are a Perfect Match – Tara Lachapelle 10/3

Energy

Bloomberg – Solar Grew Faster Than All Other Forms of Power for the First Time – Anna Hirtenstein 10/4

  • “Solar power grew faster than any other source of fuel for the first time in 2016, the International Energy Agency said in a report suggesting the technology will dominate renewables in the years ahead.”
  • “The institution established after the first major oil crisis in 1973 said 165 gigawatts of renewables were completed last year, which was two-thirds of the net expansion in electricity supply. Solar powered by photovoltaics, or PVs, grew by 50%, with almost half of new plants built in China.”
  • “The IEA expects about 1,000 gigawatts of renewables will be installed in the next five years, a milestone that coal only accomplished after 80 years. That quantity of electricity surpasses what’s consumed in China, India and Germany combined.”
  • “The surge of photovoltaics in China is largely due to government support for renewables, which are being demanded by a population concerned about air pollution and environmental degradation that has led to deadly smogs. The country is seeking to reduce its reliance on coal and has become the world’s largest market for renewables, particularly solar.”
  • “’The solar PV story is a Chinese story,’ said Paolo Frankl, head of the IEA’s renewable energy division. ‘China has been for a long time the leader in manufacturing. What’s new is the share in the market. This year, it was equivalent to the total installed capacity of PV in Germany.’”
  • “The U.S. and India are among other nations pushing renewables. They along with China are projected to make up two-thirds of the clean-energy expansion worldwide. Despite President Donald Trump’s vow to bolster coal’s position in the power market, the U.S. is expected to be the second-largest market for renewables.”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Evercore ISI – US Corporate Debt as Percentage of GDP 10/6

VC – The Trillion Dollar Club of Asset Managers – Jeff Desjardins 10/6

Health / Medicine

NYT – As Overdose Deaths Pile Up, a Medical Examiner Quits the Morgue – Katharine Q. Seeyle 10/7

Other Links

VC – U.S. Interstate Highways, as a Transit Map – Jeff Desjardins 10/6

October 5, 2017

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Financial News Doesn’t Rhyme But It Does Repeat Itself – Ben Carlson 10/3

  • “It’s important for investors to remember that investing based on the headlines is a bad idea. The fact that we have access to more information than ever these days is a great thing, assuming you have the correct filters in place. Most people don’t, so they become consumed by every little snippet or viral headline they glance at.”
  • “One of these days one of these warnings will seem prescient. More likely than not, the next person or firm to ‘call’ the next bubble or crash will be more lucky than good.”

Project Syndicate – Deja Voodoo – Joseph Stiglitz 10/4

FT – Uber: The uncomfortable view from the driving seat – Leslie Hook 10/4

  • “The ride-sharing group faces its biggest challenge: keeping its drivers, some of whom sleep in their cars to make ends meet.”

Markets / Economy

BlackRock – Economic Cycles in Context 10/4

Real Estate

WSJ – Retail Real Estate Holds Steady Despite Store Closures – Esther Fung 10/3

  • “Overall, the retail vacancy rate across different types of malls and retail centers stayed flat at 10% in the third quarter from the second quarter, with asking rents rising 0.4% to $20.74 a square foot from the previous quarter and up 1.8% year-over-year.”
  • “Lower construction activity helped to rein in supply and support occupancy levels. The volume of property completions, or properties that are developed and ready to be leased out, stood at 1.6 million square feet in the third quarter, which was the lowest level since 2014. The change in occupied retail space, or so-called net absorption, stood at 578,000 square feet, the lowest level since 2010.”
  • “While the retail industry is facing headwinds from e-commerce, an oversupply of stores and fast-changing consumer tastes, the restaurant sector as well as grocery stores and fitness centers are continuing to expand, helping to cushion the blow, landlords say.”
  • “In an August report, research and advisory firm IHL Group estimated there will be roughly 4,080 net store openings this year after taking into account 10,168 store closures. Apart from fast-food restaurants and beauty retailers, discount stores such as Dollar General and Dollar Tree are opening almost 2,000 new stores this year, the report added. Many of these dollar stores, however, will be in new build-to-suit locations rather than taking up existing retail space.”

Finance

Bloomberg – Trump Speaks and a $3.8 Trillion Market Hears an Existential Threat – Brian Chappatta 10/4

  • You can imagine that every holder and seller of municipal debt heard it when President Trump indicated that Puerto Rico’s $74 billion in debt would be wiped out.
  • The administration has since walked back from that ledge.

China

FT – Bond investors start to ask questions about Chinese takeovers – Robert Smith 10/3

  • “More than 18 months after ChemChina’s $44bn agreement to purchase Swiss agribusiness Syngenta capped a buying spree by Chinese companies across Europe, debt investors and rating agencies are starting to ask tough questions.”
  • “Their heightened scrutiny has left Syngenta’s investment grade rating in jeopardy, after Standard & Poor’s late on Monday put the company on review for a potential downgrade because of confusion over its support from the Chinese state.”
  • “The Swiss seeds company was last week forced to postpone a $7bn bond deal, intended to refinance bridge loans backing ChemChina’s takeover, as investors questioned its ability to settle class-action litigation in the US while maintaining an investment grade rating.”
  • Essentially, do they have State support or do they not? Who has priority to cash flows? And how much debt do they really have?
  • “Before ChemChina’s acquisition, Syngenta carried strong single-A credit ratings, but Standard & Poor’s now pegs the company at the lowest rung of investment grade.”
  • “Investors’ willingness to subject ChemChina’s financing to a more rigorous examination comes after China’s bank regulator earlier this year ordered domestic lenders to check the ‘systemic risk’ presented by ‘some large enterprises’ that have been acquiring companies overseas.”
  • “That has caused tension for bondholders in European companies owned by private Chinese groups such as HNA and Anbang.”
  • “’If you have implied support from the Chinese government, the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ are very important,’ Andrew Brady, an analyst at credit research firm CreditSights, says of state-owned ChemChina.”
  • “’In Syngenta’s case, we have to now assume it won’t come to protect an investment grade rating. And if support comes in the form of a loan, weak protections in the bond’s documentation mean that they could get layered with secured debt, meaning the exact mechanism of support could damage bondholders.’”
  • “As recently as August, S&P said in a report that ChemChina indicated that both it and China’s state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (Sasac) ‘remain committed’ to maintaining Syngenta’s investment grade rating ‘under all scenarios’.”
  • “Crucially, the rating agency said that Sasac would need to provide support to mitigate litigation liabilities with equity, to ensure there is ‘no additional debt imposed on Syngenta or ChemChina’.”
  • “A bond investor who looked at Syngenta’s proposed deal says that one of his biggest concerns was that it placed ‘absolutely no restrictions’ on the company’s ability to pay dividends to the heavily indebted ChemChina. S&P has projected that ChemChina will have a 10 to 13 times debt-to-ebitda ratio in 2017 and 2018.”
  • “’Let’s not kid ourselves, you wouldn’t freely put money into any other 13 times levered chemicals company,’ the investor says.”
  • “Lenders to European companies owned by large Chinese conglomerates have become increasingly focused on their ability to take cash out of the groups, with Swissport bondholders recently raising concerns after the airline services group started providing short-term loans to owner HNA.”
  • “A second bond investor says that he is increasingly wary of having exposure to European businesses owned by highly levered Chinese companies, describing them as ‘black boxes’.”
  • “’Nobody can be sure how much debt they have, or who really runs these businesses,’ he says.”

September 29, 2017

Perspective

NYT – Why Aren’t Paychecks Growing? A Burger-Joint Clause Offers a Clue – Rachel Abrams 9/27

  • “As economists try to understand why wages have stagnated across the country’s economy, they are examining the cheap labor part of the equation closely. A few have zeroed in on an obscure clause buried in many fast-food franchise agreements as a possible contributor to the problem.”
  • “Some of fast-food’s biggest names, including Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Pizza Hut and, until recently, McDonald’s, prohibited franchisees from hiring workers away from one another, preventing, for example, one Pizza Hut from hiring employees from another.”
  • “The restrictions do not appear in a contract that employees sign, or even see. They are typically included in a paragraph buried in lengthy contracts that owners of fast-food outlets sign with corporate headquarters.”
  • “Yet the provisions can keep employees tied to one spot, unable to switch jobs or negotiate higher pay. A lack of worker mobility has long been viewed as contributing to wage stagnation because switching jobs is one of the most reliable ways to get a raise.”
  • “Defenders of the practice argue that the restaurants spend time and money training workers and want to protect their investment. But two lawsuits, filed this year against McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr.’s parent company, CKE Restaurants Holdings, contend that such no-hire rules violate antitrust and labor laws.”
  • “The no-hire rules affect more than 70,000 restaurants — or more than a quarter of the fast-food outlets in the United States — according to Alan B. Krueger, an economist at Princeton University and a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration who examined agreements for 40 of the nation’s largest fast-food companies.”
  • “The provisions, he said, were ‘ubiquitous’ among the companies and appeared to exist mainly to limit both competition and turnover, which can keep labor costs low.”
  • “The restrictions are different from what are known as noncompete agreements — clauses in employee contracts that keep an employee from jumping to a rival. Such agreements are typically described as a means of preventing employees from bringing trade secrets to a competitor.”
  • “’I think it’s very hard to make the argument that noncompetitive agreements are necessary for low-educated, low-wage workers because they have trade secrets,’ Professor Krueger said. ‘This practice does have the potential to restrict competition and significantly influence pay.’”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Uber: the triumph of wallet over spirit – Robert Shrimsley 9/27

  • “I am quietly pleased London has taken a stand because, frankly, I wasn’t going to…”
  • “Free markets are a general good but they need someone looking beyond instant gratification to the wider consequences because the bottom line is consumers are like children. We need to be told that convenience is not the only issue. We need to be told to eat our greens.”

NYT – With Tax Cuts on the Table, Once-Mighty Deficit Hawks Hardly Chirp – Thomas Kaplan 9/28

Economist – How China is battling ever more intensely in world markets 9/23

Economist – How the use of antibiotics in poultry farming changed the way America eats 9/21

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Businessweek – Midsize U.S. Sedan Demand Stalls Out to Lowest on Record – Anne Riley Moffat 9/27

  • “Only about one in 10 new cars sold in the U.S. is a midsize sedan, a sharp decline for the best-selling vehicle segment in 20 of the last 27 years, according to data from car-shopping website Edmunds.”

Real Estate

Fortune – The U.S. Housing Market Is Getting Squeezed. See Where Prices Are Spiking the Highest – Nicolas Rapp and Brian O’Keefe 9/15

WSJ – Blame Canada? Toronto, Vancouver Top Housing  Bubble Risks – Brian Blackstone 9/28

  • “Blame Canada?”
  • “It isn’t just the tune made famous by the South Park movie. It may become a motto among economists if frothy housing values around the world turn into a destabilizing bubble.”
  • “UBS published its latest global real estate ‘bubble index’ on Thursday, listing the major cities most at risk of housing bubbles. Canada took two of the top four spots, with Toronto on top and Vancouver at number four, and Northern Europe’s Munich and Stockholm sandwiched between.”
  • “U.S. cities featured pretty highly, with San Francisco and Los Angeles in ‘overvalued,’ but not bubble territory. New York was deemed fairly valued, and Chicago was the only city in the 20 listed that was undervalued.”
  • “UBS lists Boston’s real-estate market as fair-valued. Its uses sub-indexes such as price-to-income and mortgage-to-gross domestic product ratios to construct an overall index. Index readings above 1.5 are in bubble territory and the overvaluation scale slides down from there.”
  • “UBS noted that Toronto and Vancouver weren’t ‘dragged down’ by the global financial crisis, as a weaker Canadian dollar cushioned the blow. ‘Overly loose monetary policy, for too long, in addition to buoyant foreign demand, unmoored their housing markets from economic fundamentals—and both markets are now in bubble risk territory.’”
  • “’A strengthening Canadian dollar and further interest rate hikes would end the party,’ the report added.”
  • “In the U.S., housing prices in cities are still below their 2008 peak in inflation-adjusted terms, UBS said, except for San Francisco which ‘shows signs of overvaluation but no bubble risk, given its strong economic fundamentals amid the astonishing boom of tech companies.’”
  • “Turning to Europe, UBS said that ‘improving economic sentiment, partly accompanied by robust income growth in the key cities, has conspired with excessively low borrowing rates to spur vigorous demand for urban housing.’”
  • “In the Asia-Pacific region, Tokyo shows ‘moderate signs of overheating’ since the Bank of Japan launched its quantitative easing program in 2013, while residential prices in Hong Kong reached all-time highs mid-year ‘thanks to insatiable investor demand and speculative price expectations.’”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Danske Bank – S&P 500 Volatility 9/28

  • “For the first time since 2005, there hasn’t been a 2% daily move in the S&P 500.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Reformed Broker – S&P 500 Maximum Drawdowns 9/28

China

Economist – China’s demographic divisions are getting deeper 9/21