Tag: Millennials

June 21, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Too Big To Be Simple? – Ben Carlson 6/19

  • “…There is no such thing as too big to be simple.”
  • “Problems arise when ultra-wealthy people assume the normal rules don’t apply to them.”

A Wealth of Common Sense – Is The Handmaid’s Tale Fast Approaching – Ben Carlson 6/5

Economist – In praise of ranked-choice voting 6/14

  • “A simple reform might fix America’s dysfunctional politics.”

Economist – China has made progress in tackling financial risks – Leaders 6/16

FT – Beauty contest to host new Amazon base reveals ugly truths – Edward Luce 6/5

  • “Competition for ‘HQ2’ shows how hard it is to ensure city development benefits the poor.”

FT – How millennials became the world’s most powerful consumers – John Gapper 6/5

  • “They are the biggest global generation – and their choices are upending business from the US to China.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Food Companies Can’t Figure Out What Americans Want to Eat – Aaron Back 6/5

WSJ – The Other Yield Curve Investors Should Watch as Trouble Mounts – Richard Barley 6/19

Real Estate

Financial Advisor – Nuveen, Starwood, Griffin Follow Blackstone Into NAV REIT Market – Evan Simonoff 6/4

Energy

Economist – Global Coal Consumption 6/14

Health / Medicine

FT – Gaming disorder joins the WHO panoply of diseases – Anjana Ahuja 6/19

  • “Official recognition of social media addiction could well be next in line.”

Britain

FT – ‘Hellish’: UK motorists hit by biggest petrol price rise in 18 years – Camilla Hodgson 6/5

  • “Petrol prices jumped at the fastest pace in 18 years in May, with an average increase of 6p per liter from the previous month, according to roadside assistance and insurance company RAC.”
  • “Unleaded petrol rose from 123.43p to 129.41p ($6.46 per gallon) over the month, taking the cost of filling up a 55-litre (14.53 gallon) family car to £71.18 ($93.79), an increase of £3.29 in just one month, according to RAC Fuel Watch data.”
  • “Price rises were driven by a jump in oil prices combined with the weakening of the pound against the dollar, said RAC.”

China

FT – China’s debt collectors focus in on $200bn P2P debt pile – Don Weinland 6/4

  • “Debt collectors in China are harnessing new technologies such as artificial intelligence in a bid to collect on an estimated Rmb1.3tn ($200bn) debt bubble that has formed in the country’s peer-to-peer lending industry.”
  • “An estimated Rmb1.3tn in outstanding P2P debt as of May, according to online lending intelligence firm Wdzj.com, and a rising number of defaults have opened the door to a wave of start-ups using new technologies to try to recover tardy loans.”
  • “’People’s usage of P2P debt is very high but the government only monitors the banking system closely,’ said Cherry Sheng, chief executive of Shanghai-based debt collection group Ziyitong and a former manager at Citigroup and ANZ Bank. ‘This has become an opportunity for start-ups with advanced technology to move into this market.’”
  • “Ziyitong, which has sought to recover Rmb150bn since it was set up in 2016, recently launched an AI platform to help recover delinquent loans for some 600 debt collection agencies, and more than 200 lenders including Alibaba Group and Postal Savings Bank of China, Ms. Sheng said.”
  • The system scrapes the internet for information on borrowers and their friends, then contacts the borrower via phone using a dialogue robot. The conversations are recorded and analyzed by an algorithm that then determines the phrasing with the highest likelihood of pressuring the person to pay back the loan. The system also calls friends of the borrower and asks them to relay the urgency of making payments.”
  • “In May the AI system had a recovery rate of 41% for large clients on loans delinquent for up to one week, according to Ms. Sheng, compared with a rate of as low as 20% via traditional debt collection methods for similar loans. Ziyitong plans to expand the system to loans that have been unpaid for longer periods of time.”
  • “Yigou, another debt collection start-up, has launched a mobile phone application that allows collection agents to search thousands of individual debt records and choose cases, streamlining connections between lenders and collectors. The company can also provide geo-locational data on some borrowers to help the agents track them down.”

WSJ – China Tech Giants’ Costly Wars to Go Cashless – Stella Yifan Xie 6/14

Europe

WSJ – The Force Behind Europe’s Populist Tide: Frustrated Young Adults – Eric Sylvers 6/17

 

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June 20, 2018

Perspective

OECD – A Broken Social Elevator? How to Promote Social Mobility 6/15

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Foreign Affairs – Beijing’s Building Boom: How the West Surrendered Global Infrastructure Development to China – Bushra Bataineh, Michael Bennon, and Francis Fukuyama 5/21

FT – Facebook’s data sharing shows it is not a US champion – Rana Foroohar 6/6

  • “The social network gave China’s Huawei access to user information despite concerns.”

Pragmatic Capitalism – The Vollgeld Proposal is Bad. Very Bad. – Cullen Roche 6/6

  • A thoughtful point on the benefits of private banks vs. a nationalized banking system.

Wolf Street – Next Mortgage Default Tsunami Isn’t Going to Drown Big Banks but “Shadow Banks” – Wolf Richter 6/17

  • “This is the trend: Banks are pulling back from mortgage lending in a big way, likely cherry-picking their customers to curtail the risks amid inflated prices and irrational exuberance in an environment of rising mortgage rates; and non-bank lenders aggressively chase everyone else. And since these ‘shadow banks’ not regulated by bank regulators, they’re free to do as they please.”
  • “ATTOM obtained this data from publicly recorded mortgages and deeds of trust in more than 1,700 counties accounting for more than 87% of the US population.”
  • “It also pointed at the curious dynamics of co-buyers – defined as multiple, non-married buyers listed on the sales deed – in the most expensive markets. Nationwide in Q1, 17.4% of all single family homes were purchased by co-buyers, up from 16.3% a year ago, and up from 14.9% two years ago. But the national averages paper over the vast differences in individual markets.”

Markets / Economy

FT – How millennials’ taste for ‘authenticity’ is disrupting powerful food brands – Scheherazade Daneshkhu 6/18

  • “Business struggles to respond to young consumer demand for more natural products.”

FT – The millennial moment – in charts – Cale Tilford 6/5

WSJ – Daily Shot: BofAML – Updated Asset Price Bubble Chart 6/19

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Knight – Tappable Equity of US Mortgage Holders 6/19

Bloomberg Businessweek – Brexit Pain Hits London Housing – Jill Ward 6/18

Energy

FT – Oil producers face their ‘life or death’ question – David Sheppard and Anjli Raval 6/18

  • “Fear of an imminent peak in demand means companies are less likely to invest. So does that make shortages and a price rise inevitable?”
  • “In the second half of this decade total capital expenditure by the large oil and gas groups is projected to fall by almost 50% to $443.5bn from $875.1bn between 2010-15, according to Norwegian consultancy Rystad Energy. Although partly offset by a fall in oilfield development costs, the drop also coincides with the big groups ploughing more capital into shorter-term projects, which pay off quickly, as well as renewable energy. The moves come amid fears that electric vehicles pose a huge threat to oil’s dominance.”
  • “’It’s not wise to be cavalier about a lack of investment,’ says Stewart Glickman, an energy equity analyst at CFRA. ‘The drop over the past four years eventually will have an impact on crude prices.’”
  • “He adds that while investment in US shale has grown as companies look to short-cycle projects, bottlenecks and the declining quality of reserves mean it alone might not be able to fill the gap. ‘To blithely assume that because [the US shale industry] has been able to generate enough production so far that we’ll be able to continue doing so is a risky expectation,’ he says.”
  • “Estimates for when oil demand will peak vary wildly. Some experts say it could happen as soon as 2023, others put it off to 2070. That lack of consensus presents a danger, critics say, that the oil groups are being pushed — against their instincts — into shelving complex long-term investments just as demand for oil nears 100m barrels a day for the first time as emerging economies in Asia and Africa expand.”
  • “’There is so much uncertainty,’ says Andrew Gould, former chairman and chief executive of oilfield services company Schlumberger. ‘It’s increasingly difficult now to get boards to sign off on projects that have a 20-25 year life.’”

Shipping

WSJ – Business Is Booming at the Panama Canal – Costas Paris 6/17

  • “Widened waterway opened canal to bigger ships moving U.S. natural gas and petroleum, sending toll revenue soaring.”

China

FT – China eyes role as world’s power supplier – James Kynge and Lucy Hornby 6/6

  • “In Laos, in Brazil, in central Africa and most of all in China itself, ultra high-voltage (UHV) cable technology that allows power to be commercially transported over vast distances with lower costs and increased load is justifying the construction of massive power projects. It is dubbed the ‘intercontinental ballistic missile’ of the power industry by Liu Zhenya, its biggest backer and for a decade the president of State Grid, China’s powerful transmission utility.”
  • “UHV allowed China to binge on dam building in its mountainous hinterland, then transport the power thousands of kilometers to its wealthy, industrial east coast. But by enabling this, and other projects, UHV has left western China with such a glut of power that Mr Liu in 2016 proposed using the technology to export power as far away as Germany.”
  • “Now Mr Liu is promoting UHV internationally through his Global Energy Interconnection (GEI) initiative. Designated a ‘national strategy’ and championed by Xi Jinping, China’s president, the initiative feeds into one of China’s most ambitious international plans — to create the world’s first global electricity grid.”
  • “Advocates stress that this does not mean China would control the resulting grid but networks would be linked to allow better cross-regional allocation of power surpluses. It is no coincidence that this would resolve the problem of ‘trapped’ power resulting from some of China’s mega construction projects in countries like Laos that lack a big enough domestic market.”
  • “Chinese companies have announced investments of $102bn in building or acquiring power transmission infrastructure across 83 projects in Latin America, Africa, Europe and beyond over the past five years, according to RWR. Adding in loans from Chinese institutions for overseas power grid investments brings the total to $123bn.”
  • “Throw in all power-related Chinese deals overseas, including investments and loans to power plants as well as grids, and the number almost quadruples. Between 2013 and the end of February 2018, total overseas power transactions announced reached $452bn, up 92% from 2013 levels, according to RWR, which strips out of its calculations deals that are announced only to be subsequently cancelled.”
  • “Officials and power industry analysts in China insist that it would be too simple to assume that such investments are all slated to be rolled up into a single international grid to achieve the GEI goal, which Mr Liu recently described as similar to the internet: global but not controlled by a single country.”
  • “Although Chinese companies would not necessarily own or control the regional grids, their influence, via the assets they do control, would ultimately lead to regional interconnection.”
  • “The biggest boon for China’s global grid ambitions is UHV cable technology. While other companies such as Germany’s Siemens and the Swedish-Swiss conglomerate ABB also have the technology, Chinese companies have been the first to deploy it on a grand scale, developing global industry standards.”
  • “China has already demonstrated the technology’s performance at home. The 37,000km of UHV cable that is laid or under construction in China can carry a load of 150GW, equivalent to 2.5 times the maximum electricity load in the UK. And despite some pushback from the country’s entrenched power generators, Mr Liu claims that the cables are particularly applicable to renewable energy.”
  • “Steven Chu, a former US secretary of energy, has called China’s strides in UHV technology a ‘Sputnik moment’ for the US, alluding to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of the first earth-orbiting space satellite, which marked a technological leap ahead of the US.”
  • “’China has the best transmission lines in terms of the highest voltage and lowest loss,’ Mr Chu has said. ‘They can transmit electricity over 2,000km and lose only 7% of the energy. If we [the US] transmitted over 200km we would lose more than that.’”
  • “The technology promises to reshape the way in which the world consumes power, Mr Liu told his London audience. He used the hypothetical scenario of hydropower generated in the Democratic Republic of Congo for $0.03 per kWh being transmitted to Europe through Chinese UHV cables at a cost on delivery of just $0.07-0.08 per kWh. This compares with an average cost of €0.20 ($0.23) per kWh to households in the EU, according to Eurostat, the data agency.”

 

June 14, 2018

I’m back. Sorry for the leave of absence.

Perspective

Visual Capitalist: Mary Meeker 2018 Internet Trends Report – How American Household Finances are Changing – Jeff Desjardins 6/1

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Axios – Millennials are moving to the exurbs in droves – Steve LeVine 6/10

FT – China’s Achilles heel lies with property companies – Henny Sender 6/12

  • “Heavy issuance of dollar debt could be exposed if currency rises further.”

NYT – A Rescue Plan for a Jobs Crisis in the Heartland – Edward L. Glaeser, Lawrence H. Summers, and Ben Austin 5/24

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE – US Economic Recovery Projection 6/13

Real Estate

WSJ – Blackstone Triples REIT’s Fundraising Goal – Peter Grant 6/12

Energy

WSJ – The New Tech That Terrifies OPEC – Spencer Jakab 6/1

  • “U.S. shale oil drillers are boosting efficiency with giant pads and walking rigs, lowering prices to a point that could hurt exporters like Saudi Arabia.”

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bianco Research – Bitcoin Trading Activity by Currency 6/13

Tech

Bloomberg – Native Programmable Microcomputer Shipments – Barry Ritholtz 5/11

Entertainment

WSJ – Why Empty Seats at Taylor Swift’s Concerts Are Good for Business – Anne Steele 5/15

Environment / Science

how much.net – The Most Expensive Weather and Climate Disasters in the US – Raul 5/29

Automotive

WSJ – A Worrying Turn Ahead for Auto Loans – Aaron Back 5/29

  • “Auto loan delinquencies are too high considering the strong economy.”

March 20, 2018

Perspective

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

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

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

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

  • Interactive map

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

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

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

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

Markets / Economy

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

Finance

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

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

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

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

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

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 3/18

Automotive

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

China

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

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

New Zealand

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

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

March 2, 2018

Perspective

Economist – The hidden cost of congestion – Daily Chart 2/28

  • “In rich countries, city-dwellers lose nearly $1,000 a year while sitting in traffic.”

Tax Foundation – Sources of Personal Income 2015 Update – Erica York 2/27

Visual Capitalist – The World as 100 People over the last two centuries – Jeff Desjardins 2/28

WEF – These will be the world’s most populated countries by 2100 – Rob Smith 2/28

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – Black Americans are over-represented in media portrayals of poverty – C.K. 2/20

  • “The poverty rate amongst black Americans, at 22%, is higher than the American average of 13%. But black people make up only 9m of the 41m poor Americans.”

FT – Millennials poorer than previous generations, data show – Sarah O’Conner 2/23

  • “Stagnant wages and rising house prices hit disposable income levels.”

NYT – Is Bitcoin a Waste of Electricity, or Something Worse? – Binyamin Appelbaum 2/28

  • “Money is supposed to be a means of buying things. Now, the nation’s hottest investment is buying money. And the investment rush is raising questions about whether one reason for the slow pace of economic growth in recent years is that the nation is busy distracting itself. While Bitcoin mining may not be labor intensive, it diverts time, energy and capital from other, more productive activities that economists say could fuel faster growth.”
  • “By a wide range of measures, America has a productivity problem. The economy is growing slowly, and almost 20% of adults in their prime working years are neither working nor trying to find work. Americans who do have jobs are less likely to start their own companies. Even the most basic kind of production is in decline. Americans are having less sex and making fewer babies.”

Real Estate

PBN – Hawaii homebuyers top nation with highest mortgage debt-to-income ratio – Janis Magin 2/28

  • “Homebuyers in Honolulu have the highest mortgage debt-to-income ratio in the nation, while homebuyers on Maui have a ratio that’s third-highest in the U.S., topped only by San Jose in California’s Silicon Valley, according to a report by the personal finance company SmartAsset.”
  • “Homebuyers in the Honolulu metropolitan area have mortgages worth 3.959 times their annual income, on average, according to an analysis of data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” 
  • “The data showed that Honolulu homebuyers have an average income of $131,639 and that the average mortgage is for $521,201.”
  • “Maui homebuyers in the Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina metro area have an average income of $131,681, and the average mortgage there is $468,597, putting their mortgage-to-income ratio at 3.559.”
  • “By contrast, homebuyers in San Jose have an average income of $207,062 and an average mortgage of $740,693, giving them a ratio of 3.577.”
  • California had 17 of the top 25 cities with the largest mortgage-to-income ratios on the list, while Hawaii had two of the top three.
  • “Nationally, the average mortgage-to-income ratio was 2.119.”

WSJ – Retailers Post Strong Numbers – And Mall Shares Keep Falling – Esther Fung 2/27

  • “Prospect of higher interest rates a worry to shopping mall REIT investors.”
  • “While mall landlords generally have shown they are able to keep occupancy levels buoyant, there are growing concerns about pressure on rents and higher capital expenditures as they look to attract and retain tenants, many of which are shrinking their store footprints.”
  • “Recent comments by Starbucks Corp. Executive Chairman and founder Howard Schultz that he expects rents to fall also weighed on the retail property sector Tuesday.”
  • “’Over the last few weeks I have been in a number of U.S. cities and observed firsthand the abundance of empty storefronts across the country, in prime A1 locations,’ Mr. Schultz said in an email to Starbucks senior leadership team on Sunday.”
  • “’We are at a major inflection point as landlords across the country will be forced (sooner than later) to permanently lower rent rates to adjust to the ‘new norm’ as a result of the acute shift away from traditional brick-and-mortar retailing to e-commerce,’ he added.”

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: US Total Crude Oil Production 2/23

Finance

Bloomberg – Investing in Index Funds Is No Longer Passive – Dani Burger 2/27

  • “Passive has gotten so large that it’s killed everything in its path — including itself. Welcome to the ‘Passive Singularity‘.”
  • “There are now so many indexes that putting your money in an index-tracking fund is a move requiring an active decision, according to researchers at Sanford C Bernstein & Co. The industry’s growth has even forced active managers to focus on selecting indexes themselves — be that to invest in, or to benchmark against.”
  • “It’s the latest broadside from Bernstein’s team, which in 2016 labeled passive investing ‘worse than Marxism’. Investors so far aren’t paying heed: passive mutual funds and ETFs absorbed $692 billion last year, compared to $45 billion in outflows for active funds, according to data compiled Bloomberg Intelligence.”
  • “The Bernstein strategists base their conclusions around the millions of indexes in existence, which far surpass the number of single securities. Do a little math and the madness is clear: with 3,000 easily-investable stocks, the number of possible combinations to turn into an index is a Googol (that number, written out, would be 1 followed by 100 zeros.)”
  • “With nearly half of equity assets managed passively in the U.S., there’s no sign that investors will stop gravitating toward cheaper, index-tracking products. Bernstein’s new research wrestles with a world where passive is larger than ever, and active managers have to fight for the trust of their clients. The team concedes that ‘passive investing has been a great force for democratizing access to capital markets and reducing the costs to society of managing assets’.”
  • “But a massive bull market rally across equities and debt markets has left many investors blind to the risks, which smart asset allocation can help to mitigate, Bernstein said.”
  • “In January, investors added $25 billion to active ETFs and mutual funds while allocating $103 billion to passive vehicles, data from Bloomberg Intelligence show.”
  • “’By all means, investors should save money on implementation by using passive vehicles as part of their allocation,’ the strategists wrote. ‘But the myth of purely passive investment will be exposed by a low-return world.’”

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 2/28

  • “Bitcoin has been much less volatile in the past few days.”

Health / Medicine

Our World in Data – Causes of Death – Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser Feb. 2018

Construction

WSJ – With Lumber in Short Supply, Record Wood Costs Are Set to Juice Home Prices – Benjamin Parkin 3/1

  • “A lumber shortage has pushed prices to record highs as builders stock up for what is expected to be one of the busiest construction seasons in years.”
  • “Builders say the higher lumber costs are making homes more expensive. Lumber prices started rising last year after fires destroyed prime forests and a trade dispute between the U.S. and Canada restricted supplies. Now a shortage of railcars and trucks is forcing builders to pay even more.”

  • “Prices are rising as lumber yards try to stock up ahead of what looks likely to be a busy building season this spring. A strong economy and tight supply of houses are heating up the home-building market. The number of new units under construction in the U.S. rose almost 10% in January, the Commerce Department said, as strong demand kept builders working through the winter. Permits for new homes, a sign of anticipated construction, also rose.”
  • “Material prices now rival labor shortages as builders’ main concerns, a National Association of Home Builders survey showed in January. Prices for common building varieties like spruce and southern pine are at or near records, according to price-tracking publication Random Lengths. March-dated lumber futures at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange hit a record of $532.60 per 1,000 board feet last week after climbing more than 50% in 14 months.”
  • “That run-up began with a trade dispute between the U.S. and Canada, which provides about a third of U.S. timber, leaving many dealers hesitant to restock at elevated prices. The Trump administration eventually instituted tariffs of 20% or more on Canadian sawmills.”
  • “Problems mounted. The worst wildfires on record hit Canada’s Pacific coast. Hurricane Irma temporarily closed mills in the forests of Florida and Georgia. And then came a shortage of railcars and trucks to transport timber from forests in places like the Pacific Northwest. Rates for flatbed trucks rose 24% in January from a year earlier, according to DAT Solutions LLC.”

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 8, 2017

If you were only to read one thing…

What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer – Max Fisher and Josh Keller 11/7

  • “When the world looks at the United States, it sees a land of exceptions: a time-tested if noisy democracy, a crusader in foreign policy, an exporter of beloved music and film.”
  • “But there is one quirk that consistently puzzles America’s fans and critics alike. Why, they ask, does it experience so many mass shootings?”
  • “Perhaps, some speculate, it is because American society is unusually violent. Or its racial divisions have frayed the bonds of society. Or its citizens lack proper mental care under a health care system that draws frequent derision abroad.”
  • “These explanations share one thing in common: Though seemingly sensible, all have been debunked by research on shootings elsewhere in the world. Instead, an ever-growing body of research consistently reaches the same conclusion.”
  • “The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.”
  • “The United States also has some of the world’s weakest controls over who may buy a gun and what sorts of guns may be owned.”
  • “Switzerland has the second-highest gun ownership rate of any developed country, about half that of the United States. Its gun homicide rate in 2004 was 7.7 per million people — unusually high, in keeping with the relationship between gun ownership and murders, but still a fraction of the rate in the United States.”
  • “Swiss gun laws are more stringent, setting a higher bar for securing and keeping a license, for selling guns and for the types of guns that can be owned. Such laws reflect more than just tighter restrictions. They imply a different way of thinking about guns, as something that citizens must affirmatively earn the right to own.”
  • The United States is one of only three countries, along with Mexico and Guatemala, that begin with the opposite assumption: that people have an inherent right to own guns.”
  • “The main reason American regulation of gun ownership is so weak may be the fact that the trade-offs are simply given a different weight in the United States than they are anywhere else.”
  • “After Britain had a mass shooting in 1987, the country instituted strict gun control laws. So did Australia after a 1996 incident. But the United States has repeatedly faced the same calculus and determined that relatively unregulated gun ownership is worth the cost to society.”
  • “That choice, more than any statistic or regulation, is what most sets the United States apart.”
  • “’In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,’ Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. ‘Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.’”

Perspective

NYT – How Business Titans, Pop Stars and Royals Hide Their Wealth – Scott Shane, Spencer Woodman, and Michael Forsythe 11/7

Visual Capitalist – Animation: The Rapidly Aging Western World – Jeff Desjardins 11/7

WSJ – Coming Soon to Campus: The $100,000 Hotel Room – Laine Higgins 11/6

  • “Texas A&M is charging alums six figures for the right to book a hotel room next to the football stadium, as universities look for extra perks to market for wealthy donors.”
  • Why, because they can. LSU appears to have initiated this approach in 2011, but not for as much money nor for a set term. Rest assured, they quickly fixed that.

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – Why you should remember Mueller’s job description – Leaders 11/4

  • “Unlike the three separate congressional inquiries into Russian government meddling in last year’s election, Mr Mueller is authorized to prosecute anyone who committed a federal crime. The purpose of Mr Mueller’s investigation is not to take down Mr Trump. It is to make it harder for foreign governments to interfere in future elections.
  • “That is an aim all Americans should be able to unite behind. Instead, Mr Mueller’s probe has become the latest territory for an uncomprehending shouting match between partisans. The keyboard warriors at the Internet Research Agency in St Petersburg, Russia’s best-known troll farm, might like to imagine that this is all their doing. In reality, though, the Russian meddling in America which, in the judgment of the intelligence services, took place last year is now being followed by open season for Americans to turn on each other.”
  • “To gauge the degree of partisan intoxication, recall that, as recently as 2012, the Republican presidential candidate identified Russia as America’s number one foreign-policy threat. Mr Trump’s election has turned this on its head. Republicans are now half as likely to say that Russia poses a big threat to national security as Democrats are. Around 35% of Republicans express ‘confidence’ in Vladimir Putin. No, that is not a misprint. The power of partisan thinking has created a favorable audience for the idea of firing Mr Mueller.”

Economist – Should regulators block CVS from buying Aetna? – Leaders 11/4

  • “America has a competition problem. Market concentration has risen in more than three-quarters of industries since the late 1990s. Concentration has led to higher profits and higher returns for shareholders at the expense of consumers. Antitrust authorities have become more supine: between 1970 and 1999, regulators brought an average of 16 cases a year in order to prevent big firms from becoming even bigger; between 2000 and 2014, that number fell below three.”

Inc. – 20 Years Ago, Jeff Bezos Said This 1 Thing Separates People Who Achieve Lasting Success From Those Who Don’t – Jeff Haden 11/6

NYT – The ‘Click’ Moment: How the Weinstein Scandal Unleashed a Tsunami – Jessica Bennett 11/5

Project Syndicate – How Americans Became Vulnerable to Russian Disinformation – Kent Harrington 11/7

  • “Social media moguls’ disregard for facts may have facilitated Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. But Russia’s success in peddling bogus news via Twitter and Facebook exposed more fundamental problems: a poorly educated electorate and a news industry that has become concentrated in ever-fewer hands.”
  • “Last week, Congress unveiled legislation that would force Facebook, Google, and other social media giants to disclose who buys online advertising, thereby closing a loophole that Russia exploited during the election. But making amends through technical fixes and public promises to be better corporate citizens will solve only the most publicized problem.”
  • “The tougher challenge will be strengthening institutions that are vital to the functioning of democracy – specifically, civics education and local journalism. Until gains are made in these areas, the threat to America’s democratic process will grow, resurfacing every time the country votes.”
  • “Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intelligence operatives chose wisely in mounting their social media attack. Facebook hosts nearly 80% of all mobile social media traffic, while Google accounts for close to 90% of all online-search-related advertising. By inundating these two platforms with automated messages from tens of thousands of bogus user accounts, Russia was able to stoke discord along economic, racial, and political lines.”
  • “Moreover, they did it cheaply. According to one analysis, with only modest ad purchases on Facebook, Russian agents gained access to a goldmine of online advertising data – such as Facebook’s customer targeting software – which enabled the ‘sharing’ of Russia’s fake news hundreds of millions of times. At one point during this clandestine assault, an estimated 400,000 bots – software applications that run automated scripts – sent millions of fictitious political messages, which in turn generated some 20% of all Twitter traffic during the final month of the campaign.”
  • “It is bad enough that the technology world’s marquee names were not prepared to parry foreign meddling in America’s most important election. But the social media giants’ persistent denial of responsibility for the volume of distorted and false information delivered as news, even as Russia’s role has grown clearer, is more troubling.”
  • “Strip away the technobabble about better algorithms, more transparency, and commitment to truth, and Silicon Valley’s ‘fixes’ dodge a simple fact: its technologies are not designed to sort truth from falsehoods, check accuracy, or correct mistakes. Just the opposite: they are built to maximize clicks, shares, and ‘likes’.”
  • “Still, Russia’s success in targeting American voters with bogus news could not have succeeded were it not for the second problem: a poorly educated electorate susceptible to manipulation. The erosion of civics education in schools, the shuttering of local newspapers – and the consequent decline in the public’s understanding of issues and the political process – conspire to create fertile ground for the sowing of disinformation.”
  • “Consider the evidence: In 2005, an American Bar Association survey found that 50% of Americans could not correctly identify the country’s three branches of government. By the time the Annenberg Center for Public Policy asked the same question in 2015, the percentage of such respondents had grown to two thirds, and a staggering 32% could not name a single branch. This slippage is apparently age-dependent; a 2016 study of Americans with university degrees found that those over 65 years of age know far more about how their government works than those under 34.”
  • “High school or university courses by themselves will not keep gullible voters from falling for bogus news or inflammatory disinformation. But the viral spread of fake news stories initiated by Russian agents made one thing clear: an electorate lacking a basic civics education is more likely to fall for provocations designed to inflame partisan tensions.”

A Teachable Moment – TIAA, You’re No Vanguard – Anthony Isola 11/6

Real Estate

WSJ – Mall Landlord Taubman Sues Saks Fifth Avenue Over Puerto Rico Store – Esther Fung 11/3

  • It appears that Saks is dragging its feet in repairing its store in the Mall of San Juan. Taubman is using a condition of its lease to prod it along.

WSJ – Millennial Home Buyers Send a Chill Through Rental Markets – Peter Grant and Laura Kusisto 11/7

  • “Rising homeownership is adding to the jitters in the residential rental market, which has slumped recently after a long stretch near the top of the commercial real-estate industry.”
  • “For most of the current economic expansion, declining ownership rates have enabled landlords of apartments and single-family homes to raise rents far faster than the pace of inflation. Demand has been fueled by the millions of people who haven’t had the money, credit or desire to pursue the traditional American dream.”
  • “But amid a hot housing market, the homeownership rate is now rising, in part because millennials are reaching the age when they’re forming families and settling down.”
  • “The Census Bureau last week reported that ownership increased to 63.9% in the third quarter, the highest level since 2014. The rate was up from 63.7% in the second quarter and 63.5% a year earlier. It remains below the 69% clocked at the peak of the housing bubble a decade ago.”
  • “Still, the recent trend is causing analysts and investors to wonder whether the rental market’s good times are coming to an end.”
  • “One early warning sign came last week, when American Homes 4 Rent, which owns more than 50,000 single-family properties across 22 states, reported disappointing revenue growth for the third quarter. Analysts will be closely watching earnings from two other big companies with similar portfolios. Invitation Homes Inc. and Starwood Waypoint Homes , which agreed in August to merge, will both report results on Wednesday.”
  • “Many analysts predict that any pain that rising homeownership causes to the rental sector will be felt by these companies first, before renters of luxury apartments in big cities, for two reasons. First, house-for-rent companies tend to own properties in more affordable, nonurban markets. Second, people living in such homes have already opted for the single-family home lifestyle and so are more likely to become a homeowner.”
  • “Some multifamily investors aren’t too worried about rising homeownership, however, because new housing construction continues to lag behind the rate of household formation, even with the surge in rental housing development taken into account. Since 2010, household formation has outpaced construction by about 3.5 million units, according to CoStar Group Inc.”
  • “But Wall Street is closely watching demographic trends, particularly marriage rates among millennials—a life change often accompanied by a shift from renting to owning.”
  • “Millennials have been getting married later in life, often waiting until their late 20s, according to Mr. Chang (John Chang, head of research), of Marcus & Millichap. Their marriage rate over the next five years will likely play an important role in demand for apartments and houses.”
  • “We’re at the leading edge of transition.” – John Chang.

 

October 11, 2017

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Spanish Empire at its Peak 10/10

  • “Since Monday was Columbus day, here is the size of the Spanish Empire at its peak (in 1790).”

WSJ – America’s Retailers Have a New Target Customer: The 26-Year-Old Millennial – Ellen Byron 10/9

VC – How Americans Differ by Age – Jeff Desjardins 10/10

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Teachable Moment – How To Make $5,300 In Commissions on a $43,000 Retirement Account – Anthony Isola 10/9

  • If you are a teacher or have family or friends that are teachers, you should read this. Make sure you’re or they’re not getting fleeced.

NYT – The N.F.L Draft: A Study in Cockeyed Overconfidence – David Leonhardt 4/25/05

  • A worthwhile look at the research that Richard Thaler and Cade Massey did regarding overconfidence.

The Irrelevant Investor – The Price of Progress – Michael Batnick 10/10

  • “The economic machine that we’ve built in the United States has done extraordinary things and I can’t wait to see what we come up with in the future. But what do we do when progress leaves so many behind?”

Markets / Economy

NYT – China Hastens the World Toward an Electric-Car Future – Keith Bradsher 10/9

Economist – American entrepreneurs have not lost their mojo 10/10

  • “Business formation is down, but fast-growing startups are in high gear.”

Energy

FT – Saudi Arabia curbs oil exports to combat glut – Anjli Raval 10/9

  • “Saudi Arabia is allocating fewer barrels of crude for export next month and at a level below current demand, emphasizing the effort by global producers to reduce surplus inventories.”
  • “In a rare statement, the Ministry of Energy on Monday said contracted demand for Saudi crude for November was 7.7m barrels a day, but the kingdom has assigned just 7.2m b/d for export.”
  • “The disclosure of Saudi Arabia’s monthly allocations emphasizes a new focus on foreign sales, alongside production, that Riyadh deems vital to the effort by global producers to reduce surplus inventories.”
  • “’It is very interesting they are now trying to communicate to the market about exports,’ said Olivier Jakob at consultancy Petromatrix. ‘They have gone the extra step of putting out numbers on this, which is the first I’ve ever seen.’”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Hedge Fund Research – Hedge Fund Fees 10/10

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 10/9

  • Bitcoin is rallying again.

WSJ – Daily Shot: Investing.com – Bitcoin Cash 10/10

  • “On the other hand, Bitcoin’s less fortunate twin called Bitcoin Cash has collapsed.”

India

FT – Modi’s pursuit of black money proves drag on India’s economy – Amy Kazmin 10/9

  • “For many Indians the powerful appeal of Narendra Modi, the prime minister, stemmed from his vows to tackle two issues of fierce public concern: the sluggish economy and entrenched corruption.”
  • “But India’s economy has faltered, with growth falling steadily since early 2016 to a three-year low of 5.7% in the second quarter of this year.”
  • “Now, some economists are suggesting Mr Modi’s two big goals are at odds, and that New Delhi’s zealous anti-corruption drive — which reached its apogee with a draconian cash ban — is sapping India’s economic momentum.”
  • “Though disruptive, demonetization failed to purge black money from the economy, because nearly 99 per cent of the cancelled bank notes were deposited or exchanged, rather than being furtively destroyed as forecast.”
  • “Now New Delhi is toughening its stance, with tax officials probing 1.8m individuals or businesses whose cash deposits after demonetization were out of sync with their past tax returns.”
  • “While the quest to unearth Indians’ illicit wealth remains politically popular, economists say it has come at a cost, souring business and consumer sentiment. It is considered one reason why private investment — which has driven past Indian booms — remains stubbornly flat.” 
  • “‘If you’ve got income tax authorities charged up and told to after black money, who is going to invest in a big way?’ said one economist who asked not to be identified given the issue’s sensitivity.”
  • “’The Chinese call this ‘the original sin’ problem,’ he added. ‘Every company has something buried in the past — a sin it has committed. If the government really wants to go after people, it can always find something.’”
  • “Demonetization severely disrupted the property market, previously a favorite parking place for black money and a big growth engine. Real estate prices and sales plunged and, though sales are picking up, there is a huge overhang of unsold inventory.”

Japan

NYT – Kobe Steel’s Falsified Data Is Another Blow to Japan’s Reputation – Jonathan Soble 10/10

  • “For decades, Japanese manufacturers of cars, aircraft and bullet trains have relied on Kobe Steel to provide raw materials for their products, making the steel maker a crucial, if largely invisible, pillar of the economy.”
  • “Now, Kobe Steel has acknowledged falsifying data about the quality of aluminum and copper it sold, setting off a scandal that is reverberating through Japan and beyond, and casting a new shadow over the country’s reputation for precision manufacturing, a mainstay of its economy.”
  • “Companies ranging from the automakers Toyota Motor and Honda Motor to aircraft companies like Boeing and Mitsubishi Heavy Industry said they were investigating the use of rolled aluminum and other materials from Kobe in their products. They also said they were trying to determine if substandard materials had been used in their products and, if so, whether they presented safety hazards.”
  • “Kobe Steel said on Sunday that employees at four of its factories had altered inspection certificates on aluminum and copper products from September 2016 to August this year. The changes, it said, made it look as if the products met manufacturing specifications required by customers — including for vital qualities like tensile strength — when they did not.”
  • “Kobe Steel added that it was examining other possible episodes of data falsification going back 10 years. It did not provide details about the size of the discrepancies it had discovered, making it difficult to immediately determine if they posed a safety threat.”
  • “Kobe Steel’s problem points to ‘a common organization issue,’ said Shin Ushijima, a lawyer who serves as president of the Japan Corporate Governance Network. He drew parallels between Kobe Steel and Takata and Mitsubishi, as well as with financial-reporting improprieties at Toshiba, which admitted to overstating profit in 2015.”
  • “’Boards aren’t doing their jobs,’ he said. ‘This isn’t an issue that can be solved by the president resigning. There needs to be wholesale change.’”
  • “He continued, ‘The Kobe Steel case is a test of whether we’ve learned anything from Toshiba and these other issues.’”

Mexico

FT – Mexicans hope earthquake will shake up corrupt system – Jude Webber 10/9

  • “There are disasters waiting to happen, says Eduardo Reinoso, a civil engineer who has studied compliance with building codes introduced after 1985. He blames not only corruption and incompetence but also a culture of impunity that has encouraged people to build or modify their homes without planning permission because of a belief they can get away with it.”
  • “As Gabriel Guerra, a former diplomat and government official, put it: ‘Our collective negligence and corruption is coming back to bite us where it hurts.’”

August 31, 2017

Perspective

WP – A close-up view of the flooding in Houston – Denise Lu, Aaron Williams, Dan Keating, Jack Gillum and Laris Karklis 8/29

WSJ – Harvey’s Test: Businesses Struggle With Flawed Insurance as Floods Multiply 8/29

WSJ – Harvey Makes Landfall in Louisiana as Waters Keep Rising in Texas – Russell Gold, Dan Frosch, Ben Kesling, and Christopher Matthews 8/30

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Five charts show why millennials are worse off than their parents – Lauren Leatherby 8/29

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Tracy Alloway – Major Bubbles Since 1990 vs Bitcoin 8/30

Real Estate

Freddie Mac: What is Causing the Lean Inventory of Houses? – July 2017

  • “The price of land (acquisition and preparation for construction) has risen more rapidly than the price of the structures built on the land. This trend has driven up the share of land cost as a proportion of house price. Since the cost of land is largely a fixed cost in a building project, the increase in the cost of land tends to make entry-level housing less profitable and thus tilts development toward higher-end housing.”
  • “Over the last three decades, land-use regulations have become more burdensome in the U.S., making developable land costlier. As an example, in areas with strict land-use regulation, builders face long delays in obtaining permit approvals. In New Orleans, where regulation is relatively lenient, permit approval is received in 3.5 months on average. In Honolulu, where regulations are particularly strict, permit approval takes around 17 months on average. The 2016 White House Report on land use regulation argues that lengthy approval processes have reduced the ability to respond to growing housing demand in many markets.”

China

FT – Credit default swaps are storing up trouble for China – Joe Zhang 8/29

  • “The China Financing Guarantee Association, a quasi-governmental body that regulates the guarantee companies (in other words, the issuers of the swaps), says it has 194 member institutions, though their ranks have thinned in recent years. Many guarantee companies have simply not bothered to become members of this club.”
  • “In a parallel with the American obsession with home ownership that led to the formation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federal housing finance agencies, the Chinese government has in the past few decades done its best to promote small and medium-sized enterprises by providing them with credit guarantees. Tens of thousands of state-owned, private and hybrid guarantee companies have come into being.”
  • “And just like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, China’s guarantee companies are all thinly capitalized. This is due partly to the misconception that a third-party guarantee is sufficient for SMEs to tap commercial credit.”
  • “Mispricing in China’s CDS market is severe and chronic. The guarantee companies typically charge only 2-3% to the borrowers, but assume the full risk of their loan delinquency. When the economy was growing fast, from the 1980s through to the early 2010s, these guarantee fees seemed like manna from heaven — so much free money. But when the economy began to slow from 2012 onwards, default rates rose, and many guarantee companies disappeared.”
  • “Unlike CDS in the US, credit guarantees in China have the following deficiency: usually, they cannot be traded. Some observers argue this is probably an advantage for the industry because it forces deal originators to ‘eat what they cook’, minimizing irresponsibility and recklessness in their origination process.”
  • “It is estimated that the total size of China’s market for such instruments is more than $500bn, excluding the credit enhancement these guarantee companies provide to SMEs’ bond sales and asset-backed securities. But no one knows the size of the market for sure.”
  • “Why should this story be of interest to the Chinese public and, indeed, to outside observers? Because it is key to understanding the strange longevity of China’s credit bubble.”
  • “It is true that the country’s credit market is far too big, but against the doomsday scenarios some analysts have painted, it has refused to burst because of the many non-bank financial institutions that have served as plumbers for the banks.”
  • “China’s economic slowdown in the past five years has decimated its microcredit sector and, to a lesser extent, the trust companies. Their destruction has also helped shield the commercial banks.”

India

Bloomberg Quint – RBI Annual Report: 99% of Demonetized Currency Returned – Ira Dugal 8/30

  • “Indian citizens deposited almost all the currency that was scrapped during demonetization, shows data released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) as part of its annual report. The government’s abrupt decision to withdraw legal tender status for Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes, announced on November 8, 2016, was intended to extinguish so-called black money from the economy and curtail the problem of counterfeit notes. The fact that almost all the scrapped currency has been returned puts paid to both those arguments.”
  • “According to the report, specified bank notes (SBNs), or notes that were demonetized, worth Rs 15.28 lakh crore had been received as of June 30, 2017. When demonetization was announced, the currency in circulation stood at Rs 17.97 lakh crore. 86% of this, or Rs 15.45 lakh crore, was rendered invalid by demonetization.”

May 9, 2017

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Mauldin Economics – Angst in America, Part 7: The Angst of the Millennial Generation – John Mauldin 5/7

  • Are High Home Prices Turning American Millennials Into the New Serfs? – Marc Faber
    • “Like medieval serfs in pre-industrial Europe, America’s new generation, particularly in its alpha cities, seems increasingly destined to spend their lives paying off their overlords, and having little to show for it. No wonder that rather than strike out on their own, many millennials are simply failing to launch, with record numbers hunkering down in their parents’ homes. Since 2000, the numbers of people aged 18 to 34 living at home has shot up by over 5 million.”

Real Estate

Forbes – Brookfield’s Bruce Flatt: Billionaire Toll Collector Of The 21st Century – Antoine Gara 5/2

WSJ – Auto Dealers Decide Cars Are Taking Up Too Much Prime Space – Adrienne Roberts 4/29

  • “Large chains opt to move merchandise to less-valuable real estate.”

China

FT – Macau proposes new ATM curbs to tackle Chinese capital flight – Ben Bland 5/8

  • “Macau is tightening restrictions on the use of ATM cards by mainland Chinese customers as the casino enclave confronts fears that it is being used as a hub for capital flight and money laundering.”
  • “The government said that in the future, mainland users of UnionPay, China’s sole clearing house for bank card transactions, would have to insert their identity cards into ATMs and have their identity verified by facial recognition software to withdraw cash.”
  • “The move appears designed to target gamblers and middleman who have been flouting withdrawal limits by using multiple ATM cards registered to different customers.”
  • “Withdrawals by mainlanders in Macau are limited to Rmb10,000 ($1,450) a day and Rmb100,000 per year.”
  • “Vitaly Umansky, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Bernstein, the research house, said the new ATM measures would add to the headwinds facing junkets and some ‘premium mass’ gamblers.”
  • “He said that, after the recent rebound in fortunes, the ATM crackdown would make ‘investors again realize that Macau risks are largely tied to policy and the power of the government to limit growth has not been diminished.'”