Tag: Real Estate

July 5, 2018

Hope that you all had a nice 4th of July.

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – At any given time in their lives, people have two dozen regular haunts 6/28

Economist – America Inc and the rage against Beijing – Schumpeter 6/28

FT – Lex in depth: Why WeWork does not deserve a $20bn price tag – Elaine Moore and Eric Platt 7/2

  • “WeWork’s steep valuation depends on a blinkered faith in its originality despite a crowded market of competitors. If the company’s equity value was based on the same multiple of sales as flexible workspace peer IWG (formerly Regus) it would be worth less than $3bn.”
  • “The company’s pitch is scale. WeWork envisions a world in which offices are so attractive that workers will choose to spend more time in them. Eventually, it pictures global cities of We-flats and We-offices, where members work out at We-gyms, learn at We-schools and network at We-events — all the while tracked by the We-operating system.”
  • “WeWork’s valuation comes courtesy of the deep pockets of Japan’s SoftBank and the Saudi-backed $100bn Vision Fund , which led a $3bn investment last year. That came with an additional $1.4bn raised for WeWork’s Asian subsidiaries. The fundraising round transformed WeWork into one of the world’s top 10 most valuable start-ups. Further financing from the Vision Fund, valuing WeWork at $35bn, has been mooted. This would exceed the value of SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space technology company.”
  • “In the meantime, WeWork needs financing. It is likely to require at least $2bn from investors in the next two years. To plug future outflows, it may seek far more. A successful initial public offering will require WeWork to convince investors that its value is based on more than giddy markets and a millennial-friendly aesthetic.”
  • “Unfortunately for WeWork, costs are growing just as steeply. Some look extravagant. Last year the group spent an additional $6.5m on events that included a weekend summer camp. The company justifies this as the price of growth.”
  • “However, WeWork’s valuation is based on its growth potential. Airbnb might therefore be a better comparison. It is valued at a higher $31bn. Yet even this is a more sober reflection of business than WeWork’s. The value is equal to 12 times trailing sales versus 20 for WeWork.”
  • “For now, WeWork is far from self-sustaining. The company lost nearly $1bn last year. Office occupancy at 82% is higher than IWG’s 75%. However, average membership fees are falling. There is little reason to think the decline will reverse while expansion is driven by Asia, where rates are lower.”
  • “Funding rounds were the only reason the company ended 2017 with cash of $2bn on the balance sheet. On FT estimates it is likely to need about $2bn more by the end of 2019.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Deutsche Bank – US-Europe monetary policy divergence 7/3

WSJ – Where is Joblessness the Lowest? Hint: Cities With College Students and Tourists – Sharon Nunn 6/28

Real Estate

Bloomberg Businessweek – Startups Front Cash to Homebuyers in Bidding Wars – Noah Buhayar and Patrick Clark 6/28

  • “FlyHomes’ ability to turn clients into cash buyers exploits a quirk in the capital markets that’s arisen since the housing meltdown: Consumers are being put through more rigorous standards when they apply for a mortgage. Meanwhile, it’s comparatively easy for companies—even those with new, barely tested ideas—to get buckets of money from banks, venture capitalists, and other institutional investors.”
  • “Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman says these new ventures are part of a shift in how homes will be bought and sold. ‘There is just money coming out of every possible part of the world, and it isn’t going toward the consumer,’ he says. ‘It’s going toward real estate businesses who charge the consumer for access to that money.’”

Bloomberg – U.S. Retail Vacancy Rate Jumps on Toys ‘R’ Us Store Closings – Jordan Yadoo 7/2

  • Considering the headwinds of retail over the last few years, I’d say things are doing not too shabby considering it took the closure of Toys ‘R’ Us to push the absorption rate negative (granted local situations vary).

Bloomberg – Manhattan Homebuyers Demand Bargains, Walk Away-Anything But Overpay – Oshrat Carmiel 7/2

Environment / Science

Bloomberg – Stemming the Tide of Plastic Pollution – The Editors 7/2

Asia – excluding China and Japan

FT – Samsung finds unlikely ally in stance on worker safety – Song Jung-a 7/2

  • “S Korea commerce ministry backs view that transparency may compromise tech secrets.”

FT – South Korea to cap working week at 52 hours – Song Jung-a 7/2

  • “Cut from 68-hour maximum aims to improve life balance for country of workaholics.”
  • “The country is home to the longest working hours and highest suicide rate in the developed world. South Koreans put in an average of 2,024 hours in 2017, the second-most after Mexico among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). But the long hours have not translated into better productivity, with the country’s per-hour productivity ranking near the bottom.”

WSJ – Go Home Already! South Korea Pulls the Plug on Overworked Desk Warriors – Timothy W. Martin and Yun-Hwan Chae 7/1

China

WSJ – Daily Shot: Shanghai Shenzhen CSI 300 Index 7/3

India

Bloomberg Businessweek – India’s Push to Fast-Track Bankruptcies – Iain Marlow 6/26

WSJ – Bankrupt Indian Companies Are Clogging the Economy-but Now the Clock Is Ticking – Corinne Abrams and Debiprasad Nayak 7/1

 

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June 27, 2018

Perspective

WSJ – Marriage Is Out of Fashion. So Why Is Tiffany Selling More Engagement Rings? – Suzanne Kapner 6/20

  • Please note that the Y-axis base is 45% (still meaningful).

Tax Foundation – To What Extent Does Your State Rely on Property Taxes? – Ben Strachman and Katherine Loughead 6/20

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – The Best Free Investing Tools on the Web – Ben Carlson 6/25

Bloomberg – U.S. Housing Will Get Even Less Affordable – A. Gary Shilling 6/26

  • “More investor-owned properties and rising construction costs are just two reasons homes are out of reach for many.”

Bloomberg – The ‘Deep Fake’ Threat – The Editors 6/13

  • “High-tech forged videos could wreak havoc on politics. Policy makers must be ready.”

FT – Issues beyond Opec will drive oil prices in coming years – Nick Butler 6/24

  • “US shale oil production is set to have a dramatic effect on the global market.”

WSJ – Has the Big Yuan Short Finally Arrived? – Nathaniel Taplin 6/26

  • “As long as Chinese investors can make money gambling on housing – and companies can make money building or selling them – weakness in the stock and bond markets may not be enough to trigger a full-scale stampede out of the yuan.”
  • “Panic or no panic, a weaker Chinese currency in the months ahead still seems likely.”

Real Estate

Bloomberg Businessweek – The Modular-Home Maker That Could Make Housing Cheaper – Dina Bass 6/21

  • “Katerra saves money by buying everything from wood to toilets in bulk and using software and sensors to closely track materials, factory output, and construction speed. Its architects use software to build a catalog of standard buildings, rather than starting from scratch on each project, and to ensure contractors aren’t making impulsive structural decisions. Each generation of buildings has become steadily more prefab, requiring less work on-site and speeding construction.”
  • “…but Katerra has a lot of serious worries. While there are only a few standard models of iMac or Xbox, apartments are beholden to 110,000 U.S. municipalities’ building codes, each with its own idiosyncrasies. Regional seismic and weather needs can vary widely. And Katerra’s aim to steadily cut labor costs, meaning jobs, won’t exactly endear it to the industry.”

WSJ – Luxury Real Estate Comes to Urban Chinatowns – Katy McLaughlin 5/31

  • “High-end developments are appearing, attracting new residents as well as concerns about the displacement of the existing working-class.”

Energy

Bloomberg – Oil-Sands Outage Upends Global Oil Market, Overshadowing OPEC – Robert Tuttle and Kevin Orland 6/25

  • “The shutdown of a key oil-sands facility in Canada is flipping the global oil market on its head and slamming shares of producers that depend on the plant.”
  • “Just as OPEC and allied producers agreed to pour more oil into global markets, a transformer blast first reported by Bloomberg News last week cut power to Alberta’s giant Syncrude plant, which turns heavy crude into synthetic light oil for U.S. markets.”
  • “As less oil flows from up north, traders are paying a record premium for crude at America’s biggest distribution hub in Cushing, Oklahoma. Globally, the gap between Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate is narrowing rapidly after widening for months. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. called the shutdown the most dramatic event in the oil market last week, as opposed to OPEC’s meeting in Vienna. Shares of Suncor Energy Inc., which controls the plant, plunged the most in more than two years.”
  • “The 350,000-barrel-a-day facility, one of the biggest of its kind in the world, is going to be out of commission until the end of July, the company said.”
  • “While Saudi Arabia’s push to make sure OPEC boosts supplies by close to 1 million barrels a day is strongly weighing down on Brent crude futures in London, the shortage in Canada is supporting U.S. prices. That’s helping narrow the gap between the two benchmarks, reversing months of widening when the focus was on record production from shale fields. It has global implications because the premium helps buyers around the world decide whether to ship crude from the U.S. or elsewhere.”

Tech

CNN – It’s true: Teens are ditching Facebook – Jordan Valinsky 5/31

  • “A new study has confirmed what we’ve long expected: Facebook is no longer the most popular social media site among teens ages 13 to 17.”
  • “The Pew Research Center revealed on Thursday that only 51% of US teens use Facebook. That’s a 20% drop since 2015, the last time the firm surveyed teens’ social media habits.”
  • “Now, YouTube is the most popular platform among teens — about 85% say they use it. Not surprisingly, teens are also active on Instagram (72%) and Snapchat (69%). Meanwhile, Twitter (TWTR) followed at 32%, and Tumblr’s popularity (14%) remained the same since the 2015 survey.”
  • “When it comes to the platform they access most frequently throughout the day, Snapchat is king.”
  • “Although the study was only conducted among nearly 750 teens in a one month period starting this spring, the new numbers might be worrying for Facebook. The company recently rebounded from its first-ever decline in users in the US and Canada. But overall, its global growth has slowed. The two countries account for 185 million daily users.”
  • “But Daniel Ives, chief strategy officer and head of technology research at GBH Insights, argues Facebook-owned Instagram-owned is more important to the parent company than Facebook itself when it comes to younger users.”
  • “‘Instagram has captured that demographic better than anyone could have expected,’ Ives said. The numbers highlight ‘why Instagram is one of the best tech acquisitions done in the past 15 years.'”

Entertainment

WSJ – Comedies’ Misfortunes Are No Laughing Matter for Hollywood – Ben Fritz 6/25

  • “Last year’s most successful adult comedy, Girls Trip, took in $117 million in the U.S. and Canada. The last time the year’s highest-grossing comedy grossed so little was 1995, when tickets cost 52% less on average.”
  • “It wasn’t an anomaly. The five most successful adult comedies grossed an average of $141 million in 2013, $109 million in 2015 and just $85 million last year.”
  • “So far in 2018, the biggest live-action comedy has been Game Night, which took in just $69 million. Melissa McCarthy’s Life of the Party, has grossed $52 million, her lowest-grossing comedy ever. Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty is finishing its box office run with $49 million, less than half of her debut hit Trainwreck. Action Point, from the producer and star of Jackass, has grossed just $5 million, compared with $117 million for Jackass 3-D in 2010.”
  • “Just five years ago, things were quite different. In 2013, Ms. McCarthy and Sandra Bullock’s The Heat and the raucous R-rated We’re the Millers each grossed more than $150 million domestically. Another movie with Ms. McCarthy, Identity Thief, was close behind with $135 million. Grown Ups 2, Anchorman 2, Bad Grandpa, This is the End and even the widely maligned Hangover Part III all exceeded $100 million in domestic ticket sales.”
  • “Now, the only major comedy hits are those made for children. Peter Rabbit, featuring computer-generated critters that outsmart real-life adults, grossed a healthy $115 million in February, and animated comedies like Despicable Me 3 and The Boss Baby were top grossers last year.”
  • The Incredibles 2, which mixes family-friendly action, comedy and drama, scored a massive $182.7 million in its opening weekend.”
  • “Though certain subgenres like romantic comedy have nearly disappeared, most studios aren’t yet abandoning adult comedy. They have, however, slashed spending on them so that they can potentially become profitable on lower grosses than were needed in the past. No comedy stars earn the $20 million per picture that Messrs. Carrey and Sandler and Ms. Roberts sometimes did in the past.”
  • Tag is a recent example of the new approach. Made for just $28 million, it features no major comedy stars and was sold primarily on its concept, a real-life story about grown friends in a decades long game of tag that was based on a Wall Street Journal article.”
  • “’There was a time when comedies were being made for $70 million. Then $45 million. Now the sweet spot is in the 20s,’ said Todd Garner, a producer of Tag who previously produced comedies starring Mr. Sandler.”

Environment / Science

Economist – Climate change is making the Arab world more miserable 5/31

  • “Apathy towards climate change is common across the Middle East and north Africa, even as the problems associated with it get worse. Longer droughts, hotter heatwaves and more frequent dust storms will occur from Rabat to Tehran, according to Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. Already-long dry seasons are growing longer and drier, withering crops. Heat spikes are a growing problem too, with countries regularly notching lethal summer temperatures. Stretch such trends out a few years and they seem frightening—a few decades and they seem apocalyptic.”
  • “The institute forecasts that summer temperatures in the Middle East and north Africa will rise over twice as fast as the global average. Extreme temperatures of 46°C (115°F) or more will be about five times more likely by 2050 than they were at the beginning of the century, when similar peaks were reached, on average, 16 days per year. By 2100 ‘wet-bulb temperatures’—a measure of humidity and heat—could rise so high in the Gulf as to make it all but uninhabitable, according to a study in Nature (though its most catastrophic predictions are based on the assumption that emissions are not abated). Last year Iran came close to breaking the highest reliably recorded temperature of 54°C (129°F), which Kuwait reached the year before.”
  • “Water presents another problem. The Middle East and north Africa have little of it to begin with, and rainfall is expected to decline because of climate change. In some areas, such as the Moroccan highlands, it could drop by up to 40%. (Climate change might bring extra rain to coastal countries, such as Yemen, but that will probably be offset by higher evaporation.) Farmers struggling to nourish thirsty crops are digging more wells, draining centuries-old aquifers. A study using NASA satellites found that the Tigris and Euphrates basins lost 144 cubic kilometers (about the volume of the Dead Sea) of fresh water from 2003 to 2010. Most of this reduction was caused by the pumping of groundwater to make up for reduced rainfall.”
  • “Climate change is making the region even more volatile politically. When eastern Syria was ravaged by drought from 2007 to 2010, 1.5m people fled to cities, where many struggled. In Iran, a cycle of extreme droughts since the 1990s caused thousands of frustrated farmers to abandon the countryside. Exactly how much these events fueled the war that broke out in Syria in 2011 and recent unrest in Iran is a topic of considerable debate. They have certainly added to the grievances that many in both countries feel.”
  • “The mere prospect of shortages can lead to conflicts, as states race to secure water supplies at the expense of downstream neighbors. When Ethiopia started building an enormous dam on the Nile, potentially limiting the flow, Egypt, which relies on the river for nearly all of its water, threatened war. Turkish and Iranian dams along the Tigris, Euphrates and other rivers have raised similar ire in Iraq, which is beset by droughts.”
  • “Politics often gets in the way of problem-solving. Countries are rarely able to agree on how to share rivers and aquifers. In Gaza, where the seepage of saltwater and sewage into an overused aquifer raises the risk of disease, a blockade by Israel and Egypt has made it harder to build and run desalination plants. In Lebanon there is little hope that the government, divided along sectarian lines, will do anything to forestall the decline in the water supply predicted by the environment ministry. Countries such as Iraq and Syria, where war has devastated infrastructure, will struggle to prepare for a hotter, drier future.”

FT – China’s carbon emissions set for fastest growth in 7 years – Lucy Hornby and Leslie Hook 5/29

  • “China’s carbon emissions are on track to rise at their fastest pace in more than seven years during 2018, casting further doubt on the ability of the Paris climate change agreement to curb dangerous greenhouse gas increases, according to a Greenpeace analysis based on Beijing’s own data.”
  • “The latest finding comes as climate researchers express concern over rising emissions in China, which accounts for more than a quarter of global carbon dioxide output.”
  • “Global emissions were flat from 2014-16 but began rising again in 2017 as the Chinese economy recovered and as emission grew in the EU and the rest of Asia. Scientists are concerned the trend in China will continue this year.”
  • “Although China has invested heavily in renewable energy such as wind and solar, a key reason for its emissions growth is rising demand for oil and gas due to increased car ownership and electricity demand.”

Agriculture

WSJ – Daily Shot: CBOT Corn (Dec) Futures 6/25

WSJ – Daily Shot: CBOT Soybean Futures (Nov) 6/25

Asia – excluding China and Japan

FT – 1MDB says audits labelled unreliable by KPMG – Stefania Palma, Edward White and Michael Peel 6/25

  • “KPMG has said its annual audits of 1Malaysia Development Berhad from 2010 to 2012 were unreliable after information was withheld by former 1MDB managers, the scandal-hit fund said.”
  • “’If the documents had been disclosed to the auditors, KPMG believed the information would have materially impacted the financial statements and the relevant audit reports,’ the fund said in a statement on Tuesday.”
  • “The wealth fund, which was established in 2009 under then-prime minister Najib Razak, is the focus of a global corruption investigation, with authorities alleging that $4.5bn has gone missing.”
  • “The allegedly omitted audit details came to light after the new government of Mahathir Mohamad — which won power in a stunning election victory in May — released an auditor-general’s report into 1MDB that had been classified under the previous administration.”
  • “KPMG was sacked as 1MDB auditor at the end of 2013 after raising concerns about more than $2.3bn said to have been held in the Cayman Islands on behalf of the fund, according to an auditor-general draft report seen by the Financial Times in 2015.”
  • “The accounting firm was unhappy because 1MDB would not share documents KPMG wanted to help it assess the fund’s financial activities linked to the Caribbean islands.”

Russia

Economist – Russia’s role in shooting down an airliner becomes official 5/30

  • “It was an important demand, if one with little hope of success. On May 29th the Netherlands’ foreign minister, Stef Blok, insisted at the UN Security Council in New York that Russia ‘accept its responsibility’ in the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. The airliner was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile over Ukraine in 2014, killing 196 Dutch nationals, 38 Australians and 64 others. Last week a UN-mandated Joint Investigation Team (JIT), led by Dutch prosecutors, announced it had determined that the missile belonged to a unit deployed to the area by the Russian Army’s 53rd anti-aircraft brigade, presumably to help Russian-backed secessionists fighting the Ukrainian army.”
  • “The Kremlin has always denied any involvement in the downing of MH17 or the war in Ukraine. (Asked about the JIT’s findings, Mr Putin responded, ‘Which plane are you talking about?’) Instead it has spread conflicting alternative theories blaming the Ukrainians, often backed up with demonstrably fake evidence. But the investigators’ dossier is voluminous. It includes photos and video taken by passers-by that track the convoy carrying the missile from its base near Kursk, in Russia, to the Ukraine border. The JIT also has the fuselage of what appears to be the missile itself, recovered near the crash site. The Netherlands and Australia now say they will hold Russia accountable for its role, and want negotiations on a settlement.”

June 22, 2018

Perspective

WSJ – Growth in Retiring Baby Boomers Strains U.S. Entitlement Programs – Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg 6/21

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – The world’s progress brings new challenges – Martin Wolf 5/29

  • “Preserving peaceful relations in an era of rapid shifts in relative power is tough.”

Project Syndicate – Are We in a Corporate Debt Bubble? – Susan Lund 6/19

WSJ – Japan’s Yen: A Currency for All Seasons? – Richard Barley 6/21

WSJ – Why Home Prices Have Nowhere to Go But Up – Justin Lahart 6/20

  • “Low supply is keeping sales down despite higher rates and builders are in no rush to boost production.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Behemoths Have Dominated the Market Before, but Tech Is Different – James Mackintosh 6/14

Real Estate

FT – Blackstone remains global king of property funds – Chris Flood 6/2

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Knight – US Foreclosure Starts 6/21

Finance

FT – The mystery trader who roiled Wall Street – Miles Johnson and Robert Smith 6/3

  • “Former Blackstone executive used complex credit derivatives to become a feared hedge fund manager but left behind a trail of recriminations.”

Education

NYT – The Numbers That Explain Why Teachers Are in Revolt – Robert Gebeloff 6/4

NYT – Top Colleges Are Cheaper Than You Think (Unless You’re Rich) – David Leonhardt 6/5

India

FT – Payments crunch pushes Indian power producers to brink of default – Simon Mundy and Kiran Stacey 6/20

  • “Possibility of writedowns hangs over banks still struggling from bad-loan crisis.”

June 18, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markets / Economy

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

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

Real Estate

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

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

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

Energy

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

Finance

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

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

Fishing

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

Construction

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

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

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

Education

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

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

Africa

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

Britain

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

China

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

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

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

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

Europe

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

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

South America

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

Other Interesting Links

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

May 29, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

WSJ – The Tragedy of Venezuela – Anatoly Kurmanaev 5/24

  • “Last weekend, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro dragged his Socialist government into a third decade in power by winning elections that were boycotted by the opposition, ignored by most of his countrymen and rejected by the international community. As sluggish voting drew to a close, a smiling and confident Mr. Maduro posted a video of himself waving not to throngs of adoring supporters but to a largely empty public square.”
  • By the end of 2018, it will have shrunk by an estimated 35% since 2013, the steepest contraction in the country’s 200-year history and the deepest recession anywhere in the world in decades. From 2014 to 2017, the poverty rate rose from 48% to 87%, according to a survey by the country’s top universities. Some nine out of 10 Venezuelans don’t earn enough to meet basic needs. Children die from malnutrition and medicine shortages. An estimated three million Venezuelans, 10% of the population, have left the country in the two decades of Socialist rule, almost half of them in the past two years, according to Tomás Páez, a researcher at the Central University of Venezuela.”
  • “If Mr. Maduro didn’t know when to stop the music, the idea for the endless party came from his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, who died just a month before I arrived in 2013. The strongman charmed his countrymen with a silver tongue, his love of dancing and singing and his disdain for the hated austerity packages imposed by previous Venezuelan presidents. As oil prices shot up in his last decade, Mr. Chavez not only failed to save any of the windfall but buried the country in debt.”
  • “Along the way, he imposed capital controls to try to stop money from fleeing the country. The arbitrary exchange rate system suffocated private enterprise and investment, but the poor got subsidized food and free housing. The middle class got up to $8,000 of almost-free credit card allowances a year for travel and shopping. And the rich and politically connected siphoned off up to $30 billion a year of heavily subsidized dollars through shell companies, according to the planning minister at the time.”
  • “The currency and price controls implemented by Mr. Chávez broke the basic link between supply and demand, creating surreal economic distortions. A business-class Air France return ticket from Caracas to my hometown in Siberia would cost me $400, yet a 15-year-old Suzuki jalopy with no air conditioning and 150,000 miles set me back $4,600.”
  • “Caracas in 2013 reminded me of a tropical version of the Soviet periphery. Basic goods like flour and aspirin had fixed prices and were so cheap that companies had no incentive to make them. When you did find them, it made sense to grab as much as you could carry. Who knew when you would find them again? Like Russia in the 1980s, people dealt with shortages by resorting to the black market, hoarding goods and trading perks of their jobs, like bureaucratic stamps of approval or access to car batteries, for other favors or products.”
  • “But Venezuela’s collapse has been far worse than the chaos that I experienced in the post-Soviet meltdown. As a young person, I was still able to get a good education in a public school with subsidized meals and decent free hospital treatment. By contrast, as the recession took hold in Venezuela, the so-called Socialist government made no attempt to shield health care and education, the two supposed pillars of its program. This wasn’t Socialism. It was kleptocracy—the rule of thieves.”
  • “In Venezuela, I saw children abandon schools that had stopped serving meals and teachers trade their lesson books for pickaxes to work in dangerous mines. I saw pictures of horse carcasses on the grounds of the top university’s veterinary school—killed and eaten because of the lack of food.”
  • “Hyperinflation, set to reach 14,000% this year, has transformed the most basic transactions into Kafkaesque trials. Cash is extremely scarce, card payment networks are overloaded, cell phone coverage is worse than in Syria, and online banking systems constantly crash because of underinvestment. Paying for a cup of coffee can take an hour.”
  • “The crisis has even made it harder for the ruling elite to enjoy its privileged status. Despite access to official dollars and the protection of security details, top apparatchiks now avoid the best restaurants, the plushest resorts and business-class lounges, where they fear encountering the hatred of their compatriots. Sanctions and fears of corruption probes have barred many of them from trips to the U.S. and much of Europe.”
  • “After 2016, I no longer had to travel to report on the toll of the economic crisis. It was visible all around me: in the sagging skin of neighbors, the dimming eyes of janitors and security guards, the children’s scuffles for mangos from a nearby tree. It is profoundly depressing to watch people you know grow thinner and more dejected day by day, year after year. When I look back at my five years in Venezuela, it’s not the time I spent covering riots, violent street protests or armed gangs that stirs the most feeling. It’s the slow decay of the people I encountered every day.”
  • “For most ordinary Venezuelans I know, Mr. Maduro’s foreordained victory last weekend snuffed out the last glimmer of hope that their lives can improve through democratic and peaceful means. What’s left is exile or further misery.”

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: CNN – Global School Shootings Since 2009 5/25

Slate – Eighties Babies Are Officially the Brokest Generation, Federal Reserve Study Concludes – Jordan Weissmann 5/23

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Teachable Moment – When Fees Go Up in Seconds, It’s Time to Go – Dina Isola 5/25

FT – New York property jitters herald declines elsewhere – Gillian Tett 5/24

  • “Clouds are hovering over New York’s housing market. A couple of years ago, property prices were spiraling ever higher — much like the new luxury skyscrapers now springing up in midtown Manhattan.”
  • “But estate agents say that sales volumes in the first quarter of 2018 were at their lowest level for six years. Meanwhile the median price per square foot was 18% lower than a year earlier, according to some reports.”
  • For those of you not living in Manhattan and that don’t own property there, you think, so what? The thing is … “last month the IMF published its first comprehensive analysis of global property and this suggests that real estate is becoming prone to synchronization too. Two decades ago, only 10% of property price movements could be blamed on global — not local — factors. Now it is 30%.”
  • “…What is striking is that this real estate synchronization is affecting urban centers in both emerging and advanced economies. Or as the report notes: ‘House prices in major cities outside the United States — Beijing, Dublin, Hong Kong SAR, London, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, Toronto and Vancouver — are positively associated with US house price dispersions’.”
  • “This might seem unsurprising. After all, the global elite hop across borders at dizzying speed. So does financial capital, and sentiment-shaping news. Meanwhile, the market capitalization of the real estate investment trust sector has tripled in the past 15 years, and large asset managers allocate on average of 11% of their portfolios to property.”
  • “This has made the housing market more ‘financialized’, since some investors are treating housing more like a tradeable asset, chasing yields around the world. No wonder that a decade of ultra-loose monetary policy in the west has lifted so many geographically dispersed real estate boats.”
  • “…the key point is this: if (or when) global financial conditions eventually become less benign, there will probably be downward movement in housing markets too, with some unexpected spillover effects.”
  • “Indeed, the most intriguing point in the IMF report is that ‘heightened synchronicity of house prices can signal a downside tail risk to real economic activity, especially when taking place in a buoyant credit environment’.”
  • “In plain English, this means that a correlated boom in global real estate markets can signal trouble ahead. We should keep a close eye on those estate agents’ reports in New York — as well as London or Hong Kong. The Big Apple’s jitters might yet be a canary in the coal-mine.”

FT View – A wise autocrat knows what he does not control 5/23

  • “Turkey’s president risks losing his fight with the financial markets.”

The Irrelevant Investor – Never Begin With the End in Mind – Michael Batnick 5/25

NYT – Elon Musk, the Donald of Silicon Valley – Bret Stephens 5/25

WSJ – Banks Won Big in Washington. What It Means for Investors – Jason Zweig 5/25

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: US Existing Homes Sales 5/24

WSJ – Daily Shot: NAR US Existing Homes Months Supply 5/25

WSJ – Daily Shot: Change in US Single-Family Homes Sales 5/25

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg – Zillow – Rise in Home Sales – Select markets 5/25

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: eia – US Average regular gasoline price 5/25

Shipping

FT – Maersk raises shipping rates as oil price spike bites – Joe Leahy and Richard Milne 5/24

  • “The world’s biggest container shipping group Maersk Line told customers it is raising prices in response to increased marine fuel costs, showing how the surge in oil prices to their highest levels in four years is rippling through the global supply chain.” 
  • “Bunker prices, as marine fuel is known, have risen more than 20% since the start of the year, and in Europe have hit $440 per metric ton, the highest since 2014. That has forced Maersk to introduce an ’emergency bunker surcharge’, the company told customers in a note.” 

Education

WSJ – Mike Meru Has $1 Million in Student Loans. How Did That Happen? – Josh Mitchell 5/25

  • “Due to escalating tuition and easy credit, the U.S. has 101 people who owe at least $1 million in federal student loans, according to the Education Department. Five years ago, 14 people owed that much.”
  • “More could join that group. While the typical student borrower owes $17,000, the number of those who owe at least $100,000 has risen to around 2.5 million, nearly 6% of the borrowing pool, Education Department data show.”
  • “For graduate-school students especially, there is little incentive for universities to help put the brakes on big borrowing. The government essentially allows grad students to borrow any amount to cover tuition and living costs, with few guardrails on how the final sum will be repaid.”
  • “More than a third of borrowers from one of the government’s main graduate school lending programs have enrolled in some form of federal loan-forgiveness plan.”
  • “Dental school is the costliest higher-education program in the U.S. Private nonprofit schools during the 2015-2016 school year charged an average of $71,820 a year, the Urban Institute found. The USC program now costs $91,000 a year, and $137,000 when living expenses are included.”
  • “Mr. Meru’s financial records—provided to The Wall Street Journal—show he borrowed $601,506 to attend USC—a debt swelled to more than $1 million by fees and interest.”

Asia – excluding China and Japan

FT – Malaysia police seized $28.6m cash in 1MDB probe raid – Ben Bland 5/25

  • “The cash confiscated last week from a luxury Kuala Lumpur apartment linked to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad investigation was worth RM114m ($28.6m), Malaysian police said on Friday.”
  • “The hoard, composed of Malaysian ringgit, US dollars and 24 other currencies, was seized alongside 284 luxury handbags and 37 other bags full of jewelry and watches from an empty apartment at the Pavilion Residences condominiums.”
  • We’re talking liquid-hard currency…
  • “Amar Singh, the head of the commercial crime unit, said it took police and 21 officers from Malaysia’s central bank three days to count the stash, which is now being held in the bank’s vaults.”

Japan

WSJ – In Booming Japan, the Phillips Curve Is Dead – Greg Ip 5/23

May 25, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – Turning GE’s Sacred Cows Into Hamburger – Spencer Jakab 5/23

Real Estate

WSJ – Why Home Sales Are Weak – Justin Lahart 5/23

  • “There were just 2.6 new homes sold annually for every thousand people aged 16 and over living in the U.S. last month. That compares with a peak rate of 6.1 in July 2005 and an average rate of 3.5 during the 1990s.”
  • “In the years immediately following the financial crisis, when household balance sheets were still in tatters, tepid new home sales came down to a lack of buying power. More recently, the problem has been supply—there are far fewer new homes on the market than there tended to be before the crisis.”
  • “Builders can’t easily step up construction. Labor availability has become a persistent concern. One reason that Toll Brothers shares fell sharply following its results Tuesday is that it said labor costs had eaten into margins. Raw materials are costlier too, with framing lumber fetching 39% more than a year ago, according to lumber industry newsletter Random Lengths. Last, but not least, 30-year mortgage rates just hit a seven-year high.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Average Sales Price for New Homes Sold in the US 5/24

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Percent of New Homes Sold in the US Between $300k-$399k 5/24

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Percent of New Homes Sold in the US $750k and Over 5/24

WSJ – Daily Shot: Goldman Sachs – Commercial RE Pricing to Rent Increases 5/24

Automotive

WSJ – Daily Shot: Calculated Risk – Light Vehicle Sales Percentage of Total 5/24

May 24, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

FT – Era of ‘lower for longer’ oil prices is dead – Amrita Sen and Yasser Elguindi (Energy Aspects) 5/22

  • “When oil collapsed in 2014 under the weight of US shale production, it ushered in a new-found belief that prices would remain ‘lower for longer’.”
  • “The rampant new source of crude supplies was seen to be capable of meeting rising world demand almost single-handedly, obviating the need for extra Opec barrels ever again.”
  • “As such, the concept of a ‘shale price band’ emerged of roughly $40 to $55 per barrel, reflecting the range within which the majority of US shale producers could turn a profit without the risk of the industry growing so fast that it would again flood the market. And for the better part of three years, from 2015 to 2017, oil prices traded in this range.”
  • “But in 2018, this narrative has been slowly picked apart and is now in the process of disintegrating.”
  • “While there has been breathless attention paid to prompt Brent prices climbing to $80 a barrel for the first time since 2014, what has received less attention is that the entire Brent forward curve is now trading above $60, including contracts for delivery as far out as December 2024.”
  • “This development is an important psychological milestone for the oil market. The market is, in effect, saying that ‘lower for longer’ is dead.”
  • “The reality is that US shale has been unable to meet rising global oil demand, which has averaged 1.7m b/d per year since 2014 — double the level at the start of this decade — and inventories have drawn down as a consequence, eliminating the buffer that had been built up.”
  • “This inventory fall has been helped by strong demand growth and the Opec/non-Opec deal to curtail output since January 2017, which has since been superseded by rapid declines in Venezuelan and Angolan production and, more recently, non-Opec production outside of the US.”
  • “The inevitable supply deficit is very worrying, with very limited spare production capacity available globally.”
  • “Two main themes are now starting to impact investor thinking and drive the new-found interest in exposure to energy.”
  • “First, recent supply data are finally reflecting the ill effects from under-investment due to the collapse in capital expenditure since 2015. The data are now showing accelerating decline rates across important suppliers such as Brazil, Norway and Angola.”
  • “Second, the impressive strength in demand has been overshadowed in the past two years by the narrative dominated by electric cars.”
  • “But slowly this has given way to a recognition that while electric cars will undoubtedly alter the trajectory for global oil demand in the long term, this trend will not reach critical mass in the medium term (the next five years) to sufficiently make up for the expected fall in oil supplies due to the lack of investment.”
  • “So, even though expectations are for oil demand growth to slow from current levels, consumption will still be robust enough that — barring a major recession — the market will need new supplies to meet that growth.”
  • “The physical oil market is only going to face greater strain ahead of the marine fuel specification change in 2020, which is set to boost demand for products such as diesel and ultra-low sulphur fuel oil by 2m to 3m b/d.”
  • “As a result, we believe that oil prices may spike to above $100 per barrel, a price forecast we have held for the latter half of 2019 for three years now.”
  • “The shale price band has been decisively broken and 2018 will be a watershed year: the market will realize that US shale alone cannot meet the world’s incremental demand growth and future prices must rise to re-incentivize long-cycle investments (or curtail demand).”
  • “Nothing ever moves in a straight line, but the broader oil market is perhaps not prepared for what will happen to oil prices over the next couple of years.”

Perspective

Economist – Weather and violence displace millions inside borders every year – The Data Team 5/22

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Boston Globe – Gas and mortgages are getting expensive again. Welcome to a normal economy – Evan Horowitz 5/22

CNBC – Silicon Valley tech bubble is larger than it was in 2000, and the end is coming – Keith Wright 5/22

  • “The age of the unicorn likely peaked a few years ago. In 2014 there were 42 new unicorns in the United States; in 2015 there were 43. The unicorn market hasn’t reached that number again. In 2017, 33 new U.S. companies achieved unicorn status from a total of 53 globally. This year there have been 11 new unicorns, according to PitchBook data as of May 15, but these numbers tend to move around, and I believe the 279 unicorns recorded globally in late February by TechCrunch was the peak, where the start-up bubble was stretched to its limit.”
  • “A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concludes that, on average, unicorns are roughly 50% overvalued. The research, conducted by Will Gornall at the University of British Columbia and Ilya Strebulaev of Stanford, examined 135 unicorns. Of those 135, the researchers estimate that nearly half, or 65, should be more fairly valued at less than $1 billion.”
  • “Don’t let the few recent successes in the 2017 IPO market fool you. After two years of stagnation in terms of the number of IPOs being filed in the United States — 275 IPOs (2014), 170 IPOs (2015) and 105 IPOs (2016) — deal counts have dropped to their lowest figure since 2012.”
  • “Seventy-six percent of the companies that went public last year were unprofitable on a per-share basis in the year leading up to their initial offerings, according to data compiled by Jay Ritter, a professor at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business, and recently featured in The New York Times. This is the largest number since the peak of the dot-com boom in 2000, when 81% of newly public companies were unprofitable.”
  • “The current volatility and correction evolving in the private market will be amplified for companies that have yet to make money and are burning cash faster than they’re bringing it in. Growth at all costs will not weather an economic storm.”
  • “Since the Snap IPO in March 2017 at $17 a share, when its shares surged 44% during its first day of trading, they have now declined to $11. Dropbox also went public. It had a first-day pop of 36%; however, with only 200,000 paying customers compared to its 500 million users, I would be hesitant to rush in to buy, even as it comes off that year-to-date high considerably. Another highly valued start-up, Blue Apron, went public at $10 a share in June and is now trading at $3. Remember Fitbit was a $45 stock in 2015 — it’s currently trading at just over $5.”

Economist – Markets may be underpricing climate-related risk 5/23

FT – Tanking currencies are bad news all round – Jonathan Wheatley 5/22

  • “Currency wars give no edge to exporters but do cause economic harm.”

Fortune – Retail Reckoning: How Private Equity Is Boosting Some Brands and Crushing Others – Phil Wahba 4/24

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bianco Research – Google Search Trends – Consumer Spending 5/23

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bianco Research – Google Search Trends – Consumer Difficulties 5/23

Markets / Economy

CNBC – Inflation is coming to the US economy on an 18-wheel flatbed – Jeff Cox 5/22

  • “Multiple signs of inflation in freight-related industries are at or near historical highs, in what could be an early sign that price pressures are building and ready to reverberate around the economy.”
  • “Freight marketplace DAT keeps track of supply and demand in the freight industry through a bulletin board that matches companies with loads to be delivered to the vehicles that will take the goods to the marketplace. The measures are in the spot market, where vendors that don’t contract their deliveries find drivers for their products.”
  • “Recent readings show demand for vehicles skyrocketing, a sign that generally points to inflationary pressures building up in the supply chain.”
  • “Loads on the spot market in general are up 100% from the same period a year ago. Another measure, the flatbed load-to-truck comparison, which tracks the amount of vendors looking for flatbeds and is generally the highest of all truck types, is up 142%.”
  • “The numbers by themselves, though, don’t indicate that inflation is ready to strike soon. Indeed, the most recent readings, such as the consumer and producer price indexes, show inflation pressures rising though relatively benign.”
  • “But they do jibe with some other indicators showing inflation is rising beneath the surface.”

FT – US has more than 5,600 banks. Consolidation is coming – Ben McLannahan 5/22

  • “The US’s banks have largely sat out the mergers and acquisitions wave of recent years. While deal records have fallen in almost every other sector, big banks have done almost nothing, shrinking rather than expanding. And merger activity among small and mid-sized banks — some 5,607 of them, at last count — has been subdued.”
  • “But when Fifth Third Bancorp of Cincinnati revealed its $4.7bn swoop for Chicago’s MB Financial on Monday morning, shares in other Chicago-area banks began to move, too. Wintrust, a similar-sized bank based in Rosemont, Illinois, ended the day up almost 4%, while First Midwest of Itasca closed up 3%.”
  • “The implications were obvious: after years of thin activity in bank M&A, this deal could mark a turn.” 
  • “The conditions for dealmaking look better than at any time since the financial crisis. Higher interest rates and lower taxes have pumped up bank profits, giving management teams stronger platforms from which to contemplate doing something radical.”

WSJ – Rising Dollar Sparks Tumult in Emerging Markets – Ira Iosebashvili, Josh Zumbrun, and Julie Wernau 5/21

  • “U.S. currency’s rally puts spotlight on weaknesses in a broad range of emerging-market assets.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Who Needs a Down Payment? Trade In Your Old Home Instead – Laura Kusisto 5/22

  • “Opendoor offers to take the hassle out of selling an old home to buy a new one.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE – Home Builder Land Acquisitions 5/23

Energy

FT – The geopolitics of electric cars will be messy – Henry Sanderson 5/22

  • “Oil has had a leading role in geopolitics over the past 100 years, sucking western powers into an often disastrous dependence on the Middle East.”
  • “While black gold, as oil is sometimes known, is not always the overt cause of conflict, it is linked to between one quarter and a half of all interstate conflicts globally between 1973 and 2012, according to a 2013 study by Jeff Colgan of Brown University.”
  • “But it would be a mistake to assume that geopolitical tensions will miraculously ease in a future in which renewable energy sources dominate. Building wind turbines and creating lithium-ion batteries requires metals and raw materials from those countries which are blessed, or potentially cursed, with them.”
  • “And for some of these commodities, their high concentration in particular parts of the world sharpens the risks.”
  • “A clean energy economy will require a staggering volume of metals to be prized from the ground.”
  • “For example, Olivier Vidal of the University Grenoble Alpes estimates that to build the infrastructure for clean energy the amount of copper needed amounts to almost half the total mined since 1900.”
  • “There is also the real risk that the age of the electric car will generate corporate monopolies, echoing those of Standard Oil whose founder John D Rockefeller cornered the oil market more than a century ago as the combustion engine took off.”
  • “Glencore, the Switzerland-based and London-listed miner, is expanding its production of cobalt which is set to give it a 40% share of global supply by 2020.”
  • “The production of lithium, a key ingredient for batteries in electric cars as well as smartphones, is controlled by just five companies.”
  • “However, rather than tensions with the Middle East, the advent of the electric car will usher in greater friction with China. Beijing’s ambitions in clean energy are enormous.”
  • “As part of the ‘Made in China 2025’ plan to advance high-end manufacturing, the government wants to establish a grip on the production of electric cars and clean energy technology.”
  • “The rest of the year will provide further signs of the capital and scale that China is bringing to this competition.”
  • “No one is giving China a free run at the metals that have emerged as central to electric cars.”
  • “Trade tensions with US President Donald Trump are already brewing. This month his administration released a list of 35 minerals, including lithium and cobalt, that are ‘considered critical to the economic and national security of the United States.’”
  • “Chile, which has the world’s largest lithium reserves, is looking to build battery components, while South Africa, a producer of vanadium, wants to produce electrolytes for vanadium batteries, which are used to store energy for the electric grid.”
  • “Europe, too, is beginning to build its own giant battery factories to supply Germany’s car companies and the UK’s innovation agency has backed a study that uses satellites to look for lithium in Cornwall.”
  • “The geopolitics of the era of the electric car are in their infancy. While it is unlikely to lead to military conflict, the tensions, especially with China, over who will control the resources and technologies that will underpin electric cars will be heightened.”
  • “Over the long term, the winners are likely to be those countries and companies that can develop battery technology that relies on materials that are abundant rather than scarce. It might even help make the geopolitics a little less fraught.”

Finance

FT Alphaville – ‘Some of the worst covenants that we’ve ever seen’ – Alexandra Scaggs 5/21

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

WSJ – Buyer Beware: Hundreds of Bitcoin Wannabes Show Hallmarks of Fraud – Shane Shifflett and Coulter Jones 5/17

Environment / Science

Axios – Next climate challenge: A/C demand expected to triple – Ben Geman 5/15

Construction

WSJ – Daily Shot: CME Lumber (Jul) Futures 5/22

Asia – excluding China and Japan

FT – Malaysia says it has been ‘bailing out’ 1MDB – Alice Woodhouse and Harry Jacques 5/22

  • “Malaysia has paid almost RM7bn ($1.8bn) to service debt owed by 1MDB, the south-east Asian nation’s finance ministry said on Tuesday, as investigators ratcheted up their probe into the state investment fund from which $4.5bn is alleged to have gone missing.”
  • “Two weeks after voters ousted the government of Najib Razak, the finance ministry said it had been ‘bailing out’ the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund since April 2017, adding that another RM144m interest payment was due on May 30.”
  • “The revelation ‘confirms the public suspicion that 1MDB had essentially deceived Malaysians by claiming that [the payments] have been paid via a ‘successful rationalization exercise’,’ the ministry said in a statement. ‘All the while it has been the MoF [ministry of finance] who has bailed out 1MDB.'”
  • “Earlier on Tuesday, Malaysia’s new anti-corruption chief said he had been harassed and received a death threat after he pursued a 2015 investigation into 1MDB.”

India

FT – Oil price rise puts heat on Narendra Modi’s government – Amy Kazmin 5/22

  • “In 2016 — as global crude oil prices fell to about $40 per barrel — India, which imports nearly 80% of its petroleum, levied new excise duties on petrol and diesel to stabilize prices and prevent a surge in demand.” 
  • “Since then, New Delhi has come to depend heavily on those revenues to shore up its fragile public finances, especially as receipts from the goods and services tax introduced last year have failed to stabilize at expected levels.” 
  • “But after global crude oil prices hit a four-year high of more than $80 per barrel last week, India’s fuel pump prices — for decades subsidized by the government and held artificially low — have jumped to among the highest in south Asia.”
  • “Industry groups are pressing New Delhi to pare back excise duties on fuel, warning that the high prices will undermine an economy only now recovering from the successive disruption of a dramatic cash ban and the introduction of the goods and services tax.”
  • “But any meaningful rollback to ease pressure on consumers will raise doubts over the ability of Mr Modi’s administration to meet its target of cutting the fiscal deficit to just 3.3% of gross domestic product.”
  • “’India’s reliance on oil revenue has now surpassed the Malaysian government’s reliance on oil revenues — and Malaysia is an oil exporter,’ said Vikas Halan, senior vice-president at Moody’s Investors Service, the rating agency. ‘The government can always roll back excise duty — there is no one stopping them — but the issue is, how will they compensate for the loss of revenue?’”
  • “Last year, excise duties on petroleum products, which are about a quarter of the retail price of petrol and diesel, accounted for 17% of New Delhi’s total revenue collection. For every R1 that the government pares back these excise duties, it will lose an estimated $1.8bn in revenues, or about 0.1% of annual GDP.” 
  • “Adding to the overall pressure is the recent weakening of the Indian rupee, which has fallen 6% this year to a 16-month low of Rs68.1 per dollar. Further depreciation will mean even higher local fuel prices. Bond markets are also jittery, with yields rising.”

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Market Exchange Rate – USD / Venezuelan Bolivar 5/23

WSJ – After Venezuela Strongman’s Victory, Isolated Nation Faces Growing Chaos – Kejal Vyas, Ryan Dube, and Juan Forero 5/21

Other Interesting Links

CNBC – The richest person in every state, according to Forbes – Emmie Martin 5/22

May 15, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – Faced with a housing crisis, California could further restrict supply 5/10

  • “Rent control sounds appealing but is counter-productive.”

Economist – The meaning of the Vision Fund – Leaders 5/12

  • “Succeed or fail, Masayoshi Son is changing the world of technology investing.”
  • “The fund is the result of a peculiar alliance forged in 2016 between Mr Son and Muhammad bin Salman. Saudi Arabia’s thrusting crown prince handed Mr Son $45bn as part of his attempt to diversify the kingdom’s economy. That great dollop of capital attracted more investors—from Abu Dhabi, Apple and others. Add in SoftBank’s own $28bn of equity, and Mr Son has a war chest of $100bn. That far exceeds the $64bn that all venture capital (VC) funds raised globally in 2016; it is four times the size of the biggest private-equity fund ever raised.”
  • “The fund has already spent $30bn, nearly as much as the $33bn raised by the entire American VC industry in 2017. And because about half of its capital is in the form of debt, it is under pressure to make interest payments. This combination of gargantuanism, grandiosity and guaranteed payouts may end up in financial disaster. Indeed, the Vision Fund could mark the giddy top of the tech boom.”

Economist – Will Argentina’s woes spread? – Leaders 5/12

  • “Argentina has much in common with yesterday’s emerging markets, but little in common with today’s.”

FT – Apple sows seeds of next market swing – Rana Foroohar 5/13

  • “Rapid growth in debt levels is historically the best predictor of a crisis. And this year the corporate bond market has been on a tear, with companies issuing a record $1.7tn last year, and over half a trillion already this year. Even mediocre companies have benefited from easy money. But as the rate environment changes, perhaps more quickly than is imagined, many could be vulnerable.” 

WSJ – In a Dollarized World, a Rising Dollar Spells Pain – Greg Ip 5/9

  • “Even as U.S. economic influence shrinks, the dollar’s clout in global trade and borrowing is growing, magnifying impact of its rise in value.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg – U.S. Tariffs Lead to Record Increase in Washing Machine Prices – Alexandre Tanzi 5/10

Bloomberg Businessweek – No, the U.S Economy Isn’t Overheating – Peter Coy 5/11

  • “Some indicators are flashing red, but there’s still a little slack in the system.”

WSJ – Company Costs Are Rising, but Getting Shoppers to Pay More Is Hard – Eric Morath, Heather Haddon, and Jacob Bunge 5/9

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg – Relative Hard Currency Reserves 5/14

Real Estate

WSJ – WeWork, the Workspace Giant, Wants to Be Its Own Landlord, Using Other Investors’ Money – Eliot Brown 5/13

  • “WeWork’s new investment fund aims to buy buildings where the company would become a tenant, raising conflict-of-interest questions.”

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: AAA Daily National Average Gasoline Prices 5/13

Finance

FT – Landmark bond sales hit by emerging markets downturn – Kate Allen 5/14

  • “Investors who bought some of the riskiest emerging market sovereign bond sales in the past year have been left nursing paper losses as a strengthening dollar has rattled sentiment for emerging markets.”
  • “JPMorgan’s emerging markets bond index has lost 5.1% since the start of this year.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – BOJ Assets YoY Change 5/13

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

howmuch.net – The Biggest Cryptocurrency Hacks and Scams – Raul 5/9

Agriculture

Bloomberg Businessweek – These Shipping Containers Have Farms Inside – Adam Popescu 5/9

Construction

WSJ – Daily Shot: CME Lumber (JuL) 5/11

  • “Lumber futures blasted past $600 per 1,000 board feet (mbf).”

Education

NYT – Education Department Unwinds Unit Investigating Fraud at For-Profits – Danielle Ivory, Erica L. Green, and Steve Eder 5/13

South America

Economist – How chavismo makes the taps run dry in Venezuela 5/10

  • “Plentiful rains plus Bolivarian socialism equals water shortages.”

WSJ – Venezuela’s Oil Meltdown Is Getting Worse – Spencer Jakab 5/13

  • “A rush of creditors trying to seize assets has disrupted Venezuela’s oil exports at a time when they already are plunging.”

Other Interesting Links

Cannabis Benchmarks – Weekly Report 5-11-18

May 14, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

FT – China buys up flying schools as pilot demand rises – Jamie Smyth and Ben Bland 5/10

  • “Chinese airlines are buying foreign flying schools and poaching pilots, amplifying a talent shortage that has affected airlines in other regions.”
  • “’The growth in Chinese aviation is unprecedented in our lifetimes and probably in history,’ said Paul Jebely, a Hong-Kong-based lawyer specializing in aviation. ‘There have been more aircraft ordered than there are pilots to fly them’.”
  • “The squeeze on flying talent has triggered flight cancellations, dented profits and threatened the industry’s ambitious growth targets around the world.”
  • “China is on course to overtake the US as the world’s largest air travel market by 2022, according to the International Air Transport Association.”
  • “US aircraft maker Boeing predicts China will need 110,000 new pilots in the years through to 2035, and its airlines are expected to purchase 7,000 commercial aircraft over the next two decades.”
  • “China’s aviation market grew by 13% last year, with 549m passengers taking to the skies, double the number who flew in 2010. Growth is being driven by the rising middle class, an expansion of routes by Chinese airlines and the easing of visa restrictions by foreign governments keen to attract Chinese tourists.”
  • “The number of pilots and co-pilots working in China almost doubled between 2011 and 2017. Over recent months China’s main airlines — China Eastern, Air China, China Southern and Hainan Airlines — have stepped up recruitment and are expanding their offshore training.”
  • “The starting salary offered to foreign pilots in China has jumped over the past 10 years from $10,000 per month to $26,000 per month, tax free, and was still rising, he said.”
  • “’Some Chinese airlines are offering tax-free salary packages, which can be up to twice what western airlines offer,’ said Murray Butt, president of the Australian and International Pilots Association.”
  • “India’s surging air travel — where passenger numbers have been growing by an average of about 16% a year since the beginning of the millennium — adds more pressure to the global pilot shortage.”
  • “Having seen rapid growth in passenger numbers over the past few years, Indian airlines have been recruiting from the military, from abroad and from their competitors by offering increasingly lucrative contracts. They have also made it more difficult for pilots to leave, forcing commanding officers to give a year’s notice if they wish to leave.”
  • “Chinese airlines pay the tuition of cadet pilots and are intensifying efforts to develop more local talent. But there are only 22 pilot schools in China and restrictions on the use of domestic airspace mean they are increasingly looking overseas to partner with foreign flights schools.”
  • “Almost half of China’s 5,053 trainee pilots last year were trained abroad, creating a flourishing business for flight schools and their owners in the US, Canada and Australia.”

Perspective

WP – For six decades, ‘the man with the golden arm’ donated blood – and saved 2.4 million babies – Amy Wang 5/12

  • A great example of human kindness/exceptionalism.

Visual Capitalist – The United States of Beer – Nick Routley 5/12

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Memo from Amazon: tell a good story – John Gapper 5/8

  • “Jeff Bezos and Winston Churchill both appreciated the value of skillful narrative.”

WSJ – Mercedes Wants to Borrow Money From You. Should You Bite? – Jason Zweig 5/11

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Record Buybacks Help Steady Wobbly Market – Ben Eisen and Akane Otani 5/10

Real Estate

CoStar – Already Down, Chinese Investment in U.S. Real Estate Evaporates in First Quarter – Mark Heschmeyer 5/10

WSJ – Daily Shot: PlanMaestro – Age of Housing Stock by US Zip Code 5/11

Entertainment

WSJ – Why Box Office Flops Really, Really Hurt – Justin Lahart 5/11

  • “It isn’t rare for a handful of big movies to do much better than anything else during the same year, but over the past few years the differences have become more acute. One way to see this is by applying a standard measure of inequality—the Gini coefficient—to the box office. A Gini of zero would mean all the movies did equally well and a Gini of one would mean one movie made all the money.”
  • “Based on the domestic receipts of the top 100 grossing movies, the box office Gini for last year’s releases was 0.49, versus 0.46 for 2016. Over the previous 10 years, the Gini averaged 0.4 so there has been a big change in an already skewed field. For comparison’s sake, the Gini coefficient for after-tax household income is 0.39 in the U.S. versus 0.46 in Mexico, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.”

Environment / Science

FT – Apple looks to ‘green’ metal for use in iPhone and MacBook – Neil Hume and Henry Sanderson 5/10

  • “Apple has joined forces with two of the world’s biggest aluminum producers to develop a ‘carbon-free’ metal it plans to use in its iPhone and laptop computers.”
  • “The consumer electronics group is backing a joint venture between Rio Tinto and Alcoa that is seeking to commercialize a new technology to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from aluminum smelting.”

Health / Medicine

Gallup – Uninsured Rate Rises in 17 States in 2017 – Dan Witters 5/9

  • “The uninsured rate rose by statistically significant margins in 17 states in 2017, the first time since the full implementation of the major mechanisms of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014 that any state had a rate increase. Also, for the first time since 2013, no states had a lower uninsured rate than the previous year.”

South America

Reuters – Conoco authorized to seize $636 million in Venezuela PDVSA assets – Mike Willemse, Brian Ellsworth, Alexandra Ulmer, and Tom Brown 5/12

May 10, 2018

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Charlie Bilello – Global Population Growth and Growth Rate Projections 5/9

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Donald Trump declares trade war on China – Martin Wolf 5/8

  • “No sovereign power could accept the humiliating demands being made by the US.”

FT – How the Beijing elite sees the world – Martin Wolf 5/1

FT – Argentines shocked by IMF loan request – Benedict Mander and John Paul Rathbone 5/8

WSJ – Will Argentina’s Nightmare Spread? – Nathaniel Taplin 5/9

  • Strong dollar, surging oil prices, and US growth picking up steam – all bad for investors searching for yield in emerging markets.

Real Estate

Bloomberg Businessweek – Surprise, You Live in a Giant Airbnb – Olivia Zaleski 4/30

  • “Airbnb’s branded buildings promise management companies 5% to 15% of the profit hosts generate. At Domain, residents who rent through Airbnb would pay Niido 25% of their home-sharing income. In exchange, Diffenderfer says, residents will have access to the same hotel-style amenities visitors will receive.”

NYT – Developers Add a Missing Piece to Their Projects: Hotels – Joe Gose 5/8

WSJ – California Set to Require Solar on New Homes – Erin Ailworth 5/9

  • “California is poised to become the first U.S. state to require solar panels on nearly all new homes.”
  • “The California Energy Commission on Wednesday is expected to approve a requirement that residential buildings up to three stories high, including single-family homes and condos, be built with solar installations starting in 2020.”
  • “California is pursuing aggressive policies to reduce air pollution and combat climate change—including a mandate to slash greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030—that are helping drive renewable energy in the state.”
  • “Solar accounted for nearly 10% of California’s electricity generation in 2016, Energy Commission data shows.”
  • “Currently, about 20% of new single-family homes in the state are built with solar, said Bob Raymer, senior engineer with the California Building Industry Association, which represents thousands of home builders, contractors, architects and others. Making solar mandatory on homes is expected to add $8,000 to $10,000 to construction costs, he said.”
  • “While the building-industry organization would have preferred the Energy Commission hold off a few more years on mandating that homes be fitted with solar, it helped shape the rule to reduce compliance costs and increase flexibility, Mr. Raymer said. Builders would have the option to install solar in a communal area if it doesn’t make sense on individual rooftops. By installing batteries that help homeowners save energy for later use, builders can also gain some flexibility in meeting efficiency standards.” 
  • “California has more solar power installed than any other state, with roughly 21 gigawatts of generation capacity, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. That is far more than the second -largest solar-producing state, North Carolina, which has 4.3 gigawatts.”
  • “The commission expects the cost of adding solar, when combined with other revised efficiency standards, to add about $40 to an average monthly payment on a 30-year mortgage. However it estimates the investment would more than pay for itself, with consumers on average saving $80 a month on heating, cooling and lighting bills.”

Energy

WSJ – As Putin Starts Fourth Term, Higher Oil Prices Give Him a New Edge – Thomas Grove 5/7