Tag: Retail

November 29, 2017

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Teachable Moment – Rage Against The Fee Machine – Anthony Isola 11/27

CNBC – Chance of US stock market correction now at 70 percent: Vanguard Group – Eric Rosenbaum 11/27

  • “Don’t panic, but there is now a 70% chance of a U.S. stock market correction, according to research conducted by fund giant Vanguard Group. There is always the risk of a correction in stocks, but the Vanguard research shows that the current probability is 30% higher than what has been typical over the past six decades.”
  • “‘It’s about having reasonable expectations,’ Davis (Joe Davis, Vanguard chief economist)  said of the research, which attempts to provide investors with a view of what can occur in the markets in the next five years. ‘Having a 10% negative return in the U.S. market in a calendar year [within a five-year forward period] has happened 40% of the time since 1960. That goes with the territory of being a stock investor.’ He added, ‘It’s unreasonable to expect rates of returns, which exceeded our own bullish forecast from 2010, to continue.'”
  • “In its annual economic and investing outlook published last week, Vanguard told investors to expect no better than 4% to 6% returns from stocks in the next five years, its least bullish outlook since the post-financial crisis recovery began.”
  • “For Vanguard the research is a chance to remind investors that overreaching is no better a solution for a lower-return environment than getting out of the market entirely. Davis worries some investors will hear ‘lower returns’ and view it as a catalyst to become more aggressive as a way to generate the returns they have been used to in recent years.”
  • “As long as an investor is in a financial situation in which they can cope with a single down year, ‘you need to stay invested, because of lower expected returns,’ Davis said. But he added, ‘Don’t become overly aggressive. The next five years will be challenging, and investors need to have their eyes wide open.'”

Economist – A more perfect union – Leaders 11/23

  • “Marriage is more rewarding – but also more upmarket. That is a problem.”

Economist – Teenagers are growing more anxious and depressed 11/23

  • “Could they hold the culprit in their hands?”

FT – Made in China – the world energy market of the future – Nick Butler 11/26

FT – Let the 5G battles begin – Rana Foroohar 11/26

FT – HNA planned 2012 bond deal shows tolerance for expensive debt – Robert Smith 11/26

FT – Venezuela stakes claim as Schrodinger’s cat of the debt world – Jonathan Wheatley 11/27

Pragmatic Capitalism – How to Manage an Asset Price Mania (Like Bitcoin) – Cullen Roche 11/27

  • “One of the main reasons why millions of people jump on investment manias and get crushed by them is because of a simple Fear Of Missing Out. Your co-worker made $10,000 investing in Fidget Spinners and now you feel like you weren’t enough of a dumbass with your dumbass money so you invest your dumbass money in something that is truly for dumbasses and you lose your (dumb) ass.”

The Registry – Murder on the Retail Express? – John McNellis 11/28

Markets / Economy

Fast Company – Cord-cutting is speeding up: Here’s how many people ditched cable TV this quarter 11/15

  • I’m sure this number would be higher if people had heard of YouTube TV…

Tech

Bloomberg Quint – SoftBank Is Said to Seek Uber Stock at $48 Billion Valuation – Eric Newcomer 11/28

Middle East

FT – Saudi crown prince pledges to rid world of Islamist terror – Simeon Kerr 11/26

  • “Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has pledged to rid the world of Islamist terrorism as he launched a military alliance that critics fear will deepen rifts between the kingdom and its arch-rival Iran.”
  • “Prince Mohammed has vowed to restore moderate Islam in the kingdom, where puritanical strains of the faith that encouraged violence have been promoted for decades. The launch of the alliance follows Friday’s jihadist attack on a mosque in Egypt that left more than 300 people dead. ‘The greatest danger of extremist terrorism is in distorting the reputation of our tolerant religion,’ the prince said.”

 

November 28, 2017

Perspective

FT – Tesla truck will need energy of 4,000 homes to recharge, research claims – Peter Campbell and Nathalie Thomas 11/27

  • “One of Europe’s leading energy consultancies has estimated that Tesla’s electric haulage truck will require the same energy as up to 4,000 homes to recharge, calculations that raise questions over the project’s viability.” 
  • “The US electric carmaker unveiled a battery-powered lorry earlier this month, promising haulage drivers they could add 400 miles of charge in as little as 30 minutes using a new ‘megacharger’ to be made by the company.”
  • “John Feddersen, chief executive of Aurora Energy Research, a consultancy set up in 2013 by a group of Oxford university professors, said the power required for the megacharger to fill a battery in that amount of time would be 1,600 kilowatts.”
  • “That is the equivalent of providing 3,000-4,000 ‘average’ houses, he told a London conference last week, ten times as powerful as Tesla’s current network of ‘superchargers’ for its electric cars.” 

Bloomberg Technology – Telsa’s Newest Promises Break the Laws of Batteries – Tom Randall and John Lippert 11/24

  • “Elon Musk touted ranges and charging times that don’t compute with the current physics and economics of batteries.”

NYT – If Americans Can Find North Korea on a Map, They’re More Likely to Prefer Diplomacy – Kevin Quealy 7/5

  • “Just 36% got it right.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – Initial Coin Offerings Horrify a Former S.E.C. Regulator – Nathaniel Popper 11/26

NYT – Myths of the 1 Percent: What Puts People at the Top – Jonathan Rothwell 11/17

  • “Dispelling misconceptions about what’s driving income inequality in the U.S.”

WSJ – Samsung’s Tumble Sounds a Warning for Tech Stocks – Jacky Wong 11/27

  • “The fall in Samsung shares Monday followed a mild analyst report – a sign of the market’s current high state of nervousness.”

Zero Hedge – Demographic Dysphoria: Swiss Village Offers Families Over $70,000 To Live There 11/25

Zero Hedge – There Is Just One Thing Preventing Elon Musk’s Vision From Coming True: The Laws of Physics 11/26

Markets / Economy

WSJ – The Economy Is Humming, but Businesses Aren’t Borrowing – Christina Rexrode 11/26

FT – In charts: how US retailers fared as Amazon powered ahead – John Authers and Lauren Leatherby 11/22

Real Estate

NYT – How Much Income Do You Need to Buy a Home? – Michael Kolomatsky 11/23

WSJ – Wealthy Asian Buyers Scoop Up Trophy Properties in London – Olga Cotaga 11/21

  • “Pressured by low yields and political issues at home, cash-rich private investors from China and Hong Kong are snapping up trophy buildings in the U.K. capital. Often prepared to spend whatever it takes, these wealthy investors are pricing institutional investors out of the market. And because they don’t need to borrow to buy, U.K. lenders are feeling the pinch.”
  • “Of the £12.2 billion ($16.1 billion) spent on central London offices in the first three quarters this year, almost half came from private Chinese and Hong Kong buyers, according to real-estate consultant Knight Frank. That is a big jump from last year, when the group accounted for just less than a quarter of overall spending, and from 2015, when the figure was 7%.”
  • “By borrowing money at home, Chinese and Hong Kong investors have also pushed down property lending in London. According to a report by De Montfort University, the volume of new loans in the U.K. has fallen 18% year-over-year in the first half of 2017 due to a ‘slowdown in purchasing activity of new properties requiring debt during 2017’.”
  • “U.K. institutional investors such as asset managers are also dialing back. In all, they have bought £880 million of central London real estate so far this year, out of a total £15.68 billion spent by all investors, according to www.propertydata.com. Two years ago, U.K. institutions bought £2.89 billion worth of property.”
  • “’London is a two-tier market right now—the Asian investors and everybody else,’ said Joe Valente, head of research and strategy of European real estate at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, adding that the firm is waiting for the prices to fall before entering the market again.”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Commercial and Industrial Loan Growth 11/27

Visual Capitalist – Visualizing the Journey to $10,000 Bitcoin – Jeff Desjardins 11/27

FT – ICO regulation inconsistent as cryptocurrency bubble fears grow – Caroline Binham 11/23

  • “US scrutiny of cryptocurrency offerings could mean criminal penalties are looming.”

Africa

WSJ – Mugabe’s Reign Ushered In Zimbabwe’s Economic Decline – Matina Stevis-Gridneff 11/22

China

FT – Alibaba’s finance arm bans high-interest consumer loans – Gabriel Wildau 11/23

WSJ – Beijing is Making Its Most Serious Effort Yet to Tackle Its Financial-System Issues – Anjani Trivedi 11/27

Japan

FT – Corporate Japan hit by severe labor shortages – Robin Harding 11/26

  • “Japanese companies are scouring the country for workers and offering more attractive permanent contracts as they struggle to overcome the worst labor shortages in 40 years.”
  • “Companies across a range of sectors — from construction to aged care — have warned in recent days that a lack of staff is starting to hit their business.”
  • “The hiring difficulties highlight Japan’s declining population and the strength of its economy after five years of economic stimulus under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.”
  • “’Delays to construction projects are becoming chronic,’ said Motohiro Nagashima, president of Toli Corporation, one of Japan’s biggest makers of floor coverings.”
  • “One way companies are tackling shortages is by offering more generous permanent contracts, which provide job security and pension benefits. That policy has broken a decades-long trend towards more part-time and contract work.”
  • “The way companies are responding — using every means other than wage increases — suggests that shortages will not yet turn into higher inflation.”
  • “Irregular work has risen relentlessly from about 19% of total employment when Japan’s bubble burst in 1990, to a peak of 37.9% in 2015.”
  • “But there are now signs of stabilization, with the percentage of irregular staff falling to 37.4% in the third quarter of this year.”

Middle East

FT – Saudi elite start handing over funds in corruption crackdown – Simeon Kerr 11/24

Other Interesting Links

WSJ – The Rise and Fall of a Law-School Empire Fueled by Federal Loans – Josh Mitchell 11/24

November 9, 2017

If you were only to read one thing…

Bloomberg – America’s ‘Retail Apocalypse’ Is Really Just Beginning – Matt Townsend, Jenny Surane, Emma Orr, and Christopher Cannon 11/8

  • “The so-called retail apocalypse has become so ingrained in the U.S. that it now has the distinction of its own Wikipedia entry.”
  • “The industry’s response to that kind of doomsday description has included blaming the media for hyping the troubles of a few well-known chains as proof of a systemic meltdown. There is some truth to that. In the U.S., retailers announced more than 3,000 store openings in the first three quarters of this year.”
  • “But chains also said 6,800 would close. And this comes when there’s sky-high consumer confidence, unemployment is historically low and the U.S. economy keeps growing. Those are normally all ingredients for a retail boom, yet more chains are filing for bankruptcy and rated distressed than during the financial crisis. That’s caused an increase in the number of delinquent loan payments by malls and shopping centers.”
  • “The reason isn’t as simple as Amazon.com Inc. taking market share or twenty-somethings spending more on experiences than things. The root cause is that many of these long-standing chains are overloaded with debt—often from leveraged buyouts led by private equity firms. There are billions in borrowings on the balance sheets of troubled retailers, and sustaining that load is only going to become harder—even for healthy chains.”
  • “The debt coming due, along with America’s over-stored suburbs and the continued gains of online shopping, has all the makings of a disaster. The spillover will likely flow far and wide across the U.S. economy. There will be displaced low-income workers, shrinking local tax bases and investor losses on stocks, bonds and real estate. If today is considered a retail apocalypse, then what’s coming next could truly be scary.”
  • “Until this year, struggling retailers have largely been able to avoid bankruptcy by refinancing to buy more time. But the market has shifted, with the negative view on retail pushing investors to reconsider lending to them. Toys “R” Us Inc. served as an early sign of what might lie ahead. It surprised investors in September by filing for bankruptcy—the third-largest retail bankruptcy in U.S. history—after struggling to refinance just $400 million of its $5 billion in debt. And its results were mostly stable, with profitability increasing amid a small drop in sales.”
  • “Making matters more difficult is the explosive amount of risky debt owed by retail coming due over the next five years.”
  • “Just $100 million of high-yield retail borrowings were set to mature this year, but that will increase to $1.9 billion in 2018, according to Fitch Ratings Inc. And from 2019 to 2025, it will balloon to an annual average of almost $5 billion. The amount of retail debt considered risky is also rising. Over the past year, high-yield bonds outstanding gained 20%, to $35 billion, and the industry’s leveraged loans are up 15%, to $152 billion, according to Bloomberg data.”
  • “Even worse, this will hit as a record $1 trillion in high-yield debt for all industries comes due over the next five years, according to Moody’s. The surge in demand for refinancing is also likely to come just as credit markets tighten and become much less accommodating to distressed borrowers.”
  • “Retailers have pushed off a reckoning because interest rates have been historically low from all the money the Federal Reserve has pumped into the economy since the financial crisis. That’s made investing in riskier debt—and the higher return it brings—more attractive. But with the Fed now raising rates, that demand will soften. That may leave many chains struggling to refinance, especially with the bearishness on retail only increasing.”
  • “One testament to that negativity on retail came earlier this year, when Nordstrom Inc.’s founding family tried to take the department-store chain private. They eventually gave up because lenders were asking for 13% interest, about twice the typical rate for retailers.”
  • “Store credit cards pose additional worries. Synchrony Financial, the largest private-label card issuer, has already had to increase reserves to help cover loan losses this year. And Citigroup Inc., the world’s largest card issuer, said collection rates on its retail portfolio are declining. One reason that’s been cited is that shoppers are more willing to stop paying back a card from a chain if the store they went to has closed.”
  • “The ripple effect could also be a direct hit to the industry that is the largest employer of Americans at the low end of the income scale. The most recent government statistics show that salespeople and cashiers in the industry total 8 million.”
  • “During the height of the financial crisis, store workers felt the brunt of the pain when 1.2 million jobs disappeared, or one in seven of all the positions lost from 2008 to 2009, according to the Department of Labor. Since the crisis, employment has been increasing, including in the retail industry, but that correlation ended as jobs at stores sank by 101,000 this year.”
  • “The drop coincides with a rapid acceleration in store closings as bankruptcies surge and many of the nation’s largest retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp., have decided that they have too much space. Even before the e-commerce boom, the U.S. was considered over-stored—the result of investors pouring money into commercial real estate decades earlier as the suburbs boomed. All those buildings needed to be filled with stores, and that demand got the attention of venture capital. The result was the birth of the big-box era of massive stores in nearly every category—from office suppliers like Staples Inc. to pet retailers such as PetSmart Inc. and Petco Animal Supplies, Inc.”
  • “Now that boom is finally going bust. Through the third quarter of this year, 6,752 locations were scheduled to shutter in the U.S., excluding grocery stores and restaurants, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. That’s more than double the 2016 total and is close to surpassing the all-time high of 6,900 in 2008, during the depths of the financial crisis. Apparel chains have by far taken the biggest hit, with 2,500 locations closing. Department stores were hammered, too, with Macy’s Inc., Sears Holdings Corp. and J.C. Penney Co. downsizing. In all, about 550 department stores closed, equating to 43 million square feet, or about half the total.”
  • “One response to the loss of store-based retail jobs is to note that the industry is adding positions at distribution centers to bolster its online operations. While that is true, many displaced retail workers don’t live near a shipping facility. The hiring also skews more toward men, as they make up two-thirds of the workforce, and retail store employees are 60% women.”
  • “The coming wave of risky retail debt maturities doesn’t take into account that companies currently considered stable by ratings agencies also have loads of borrowings. Just among the eight publicly-traded department stores, there is about $24 billion in debt, and only two of those—Sears Holdings Corp. and Bon-Ton Stores Inc.—are rated distressed by Moody’s.”
  • “’A pall has been cast on retail,’ said Charlie O’Shea, a retail analyst for Moody’s. ‘A day of reckoning is coming.’”

Perspective

FT – Forbes says Wilbur Ross lied about being a billionaire – Lindsay Fortado and Shawn Donnan 11/7

  • “Forbes business magazine has booted US secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross off its list of the richest people in America for the first time in 13 years, alleging he lied to them about his net worth by more than $2bn.”

FT – Electric cars’ green image blackens beneath the bonnet – Patrick McGee 11/7

  • “Nico Meilhan, a Paris-based car analyst and energy expert at Frost & Sullivan, says regulators should not encourage this race to sell electric vehicles with bigger batteries. ‘It’s a race, but it’s a very stupid race. It’s not towards a good solution,’ he says. ‘If you switch from oil to cobalt and lithium, you have not addressed any problem, you have just switched your problem.’”
  • “Instead, he says regulators should take weight into account by taxing heavier vehicles and creating incentives for smaller models in both electric and traditional vehicles.”
  • “Mr. Meilhan points out that petrol-engine cars weighing just 500kg — such as the French Ligier microcar or some popular ‘kei cars’ in Japan — emit less lifecycle emissions than a mid-sized electric vehicle even when driven in France, where carbon-free nuclear power generates three-quarters of electricity.”
  • “’If we really cared about CO2,’ he adds, ‘we’d reduce car size and weight.’”

WSJ – Jet-Set Debt Collectors Join a Lucrative Game: Hunting the Superrich – Margot Patrick 11/7

  • “Private investigators spend millions, scour globe, chasing an estimated $2 trillion in pending claims.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – Asian households binge on debt 11/2

  • “What should be good news for the global economy has its downsides.”

FT – The House of Trump and the House of Saud – Edward Luce 11/8

  • “The blossoming relationship with Riyadh symbolizes the decay of the US-led order.”

Markets / Economy

Business Insider – Someone deleted some code in a popular cryptocurrency wallet – and as much as $280 million in ether is locked up – Becky Peterson 11/7

  • “An estimated $280 million worth of the cryptocurrency ether is locked up because of one person’s mistake.”
  • “An unidentified user accidentally deleted the code library required to use recently created digital wallets within Parity, a popular digital-wallet provider, according to a security alert posted on the company’s blog on Tuesday.”
  • “The freeze affects all multi-signature wallets created on Parity after July 20.”
  • “Multi-sig wallets are especially popular among cryptocurrency startups and other groups because they require more than one person to agree before any currency gets moved around. It’s a safeguard against rogue employees who might want to run off with the money.”

WSJ – Clamor for Tech IPOs Reaches Fever Pitch in Asia – Saumya Vaishampayan and Steven Russolillo 11/8

  • “Nearly three quarters of the 66 tech floats in the first nine months of 2017 have been in Asia, and the companies have raised about 40% of the total $16.8 billion from the sector, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers.”
  • “Shares of newly public companies in Asia, on average, have risen by 141% from their IPO prices this year through the end of October, according to Dealogic. That compares with an average 25% gain for U.S. IPOs and a 13% increase for new issues in Europe.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Student Loan Balance 11/8

Real Estate

WSJ – Republican Tax Plan Would Slam California Housing Market – Laura Kusisto 11/8

  • “Limits on mortgage-interest deduction would affect many buyers in coastal regions around the U.S.”

WSJ – Co-Working Trend Eats Into Office Demand – Peter Grant 11/7

  • “The co-working trend, popularized by startup businesses like WeWork Cos., has been attractive to entrepreneurs and small companies looking for communal office space and short-term commitments.”
  • “But it could turn out badly for landlords, according to a new report from Green Street Advisors. The report predicts co-working will detract from cumulative office demand through 2030 by about 2% to 3% as the shared working space approach spreads from small businesses to large ones.”
  • “The report estimates there will be about 14,000 co-working locations world-wide by the end of this year, compared with 600 in 2010. WeWork alone has more than 20 locations in London and is now among New York’s largest office tenants, it says.”
  • “’The most ominous prospect for landlords is that [corporate] users could ‘outsource’ big chunks of their headquarters and regional offices to co-working operators,’ the report warns.”
  • “Consider the new business that WeWork launched earlier this year that creates tailored WeWork centers for big companies that employ hundreds or even thousands of workers. Named Onsite Solutions, it is marketing itself to employers that have flexible office space requirements or who want to circulate employees through hipper environments than their traditional workplaces.”
  • “Mr. Reagan (Jed Reagan, Green Street analyst) said such initiatives have the potential to hurt office landlords because co-working facilities typically require less space: about 75 square feet per worker compared with 175 square feet in traditional offices. Also, co-working leases for big tenants tend to be six months to five years, much shorter than the common lease term of five to 15 years, he said.”
  • “’That could undermine the stability and security of cash flow for landlords and could create more churn among tenants,’ Mr. Reagan said.”

India

FT – One year on, jury is still out on India’s ‘black money’ ban – Amy Kazmin 11/7

  • “Economy has slowed and cash in circulation is 90% of previous level, data show.”

South America

FT – Venezuela’s debt struggle poses more questions for investors – Robin Wigglesworth 11/7

  • “Analysts and investors say there are more questions than answers surrounding Venezuela’s plans to ‘refinance and restructure’ its financial liabilities.”
  • “Venezuela has about $63bn of foreign bonds outstanding, according to Torino Capital, while the central bank estimates the country’s overall foreign debts at about $90bn. The real number say most analysts is much higher.” 
  • “PDVSA, the state oil company, has sold $28.6bn of bonds and owes billions of dollars more in ‘promissory notes’. Venezuela owes another $4bn or so to creditors that have taken it to the World Bank’s ICSID court. Stuart Culverhouse, chief economist at Exotix, thinks total public sector external debts range between $100bn and $150bn.”
  • “Even this is uncertain. Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro has mentioned ‘refinancing’ and ‘restructuring’ the country’s external liabilities. But a refinancing usually implies something voluntary while a restructuring means forcibly ‘haircutting’ creditors. Crucially, US sanctions imposed this summer in practice means both options are off the table.” 
  • “That Mr. Maduro named vice-president Tareck El Aissami as the lead negotiator with bondholders complicates matters further. Mr. Aissami has himself been sanctioned by the US as an alleged narcotics trafficker, which means US investment groups — the biggest holders of Venezuelan debt — cannot enter talks with him.” 
  • “’The logistics seem almost impossible,’ notes Siobhan Morden, head of Latin American fixed income strategy at Nomura. ‘The cynical interpretation is that the impossible deadline for negotiations conveniently shifts the blame of default to bondholders for their unwillingness (inability) to negotiate.’”
  • “With a competent government and more orthodox economic policies, Venezuela could probably handle its debt burden. Although oil exports are declining, it still boasts the world’s largest proven reserves and prices are at their highest level for more than two years.”
  • “But chronic mismanagement by governments under Hugo Chávez and now Mr. Maduro and the oil slump has taken its toll. According to the IMF, the economy has shrunk by a third over the past five years.”
  • “The country’s options appear limited. Venezuela is overdue on the interest payments on bonds that mature in 2019, 2024, 2025 and 2026, demonstrating the ‘significant fiscal strain’ the country is facing, S&P notes. Foreign currency reserves are below $10bn — and much of this is in gold that will be hard to liquidate. China is wary of deepening its financial exposure to Venezuela while the country has already restructured some of its bilateral loans from Russia.”
  • “The price of Venezuela’s bond maturing in August next year has tumbled from 72 cents on the dollar to about 34 cents this week, as investors panicked after the restructuring announcement and bank traders pulled out of the market, causing prices to ‘gap’ lower.” 
  • “Russia could provide a loan secured by Venezuelan oil assets that the government could either use to pay creditors, or to buy back some of its bonds at their current big price discount.” 
  • “Venezuela could also seek to improve its fiscal space by separating PDVSA from the state, defaulting on the latter debts while staying current on the oil company’s bonds. That could in theory prevent creditors from interrupting PDVSA’s oil sales, while letting Venezuela’s sovereign creditors stew. Suing countries is much harder than companies with assets that can be seized.”
  • “Moreover, ringfencing PDVSA from the government will be tricky. Crystallex, a Canadian miner, is already suing Venezuela and arguing that PSDVA is the ‘alter ego’ of the state. If Crystallex wins, it opens the door for all creditors to try to seize Venezuelan and PDVSA assets interchangeably.” 
  • “The most likely outcome, investors and analysts say, is a protracted period of financial limbo, with a restructuring precluded by US sanctions and Venezuela facing a barrage of lawsuits that will tie it up for years to come.”

October 20 – October 26, 2017

Polluted waterways in India…

It’s a light posting – I’ve been out of pocket for the last several days. Regardless, I will catch up with the content from those days and mix it in with new content.

However, since I’ve had some mixed feed back, I would like to open it up in a poll. Do you prefer daily or weekly posts?

Headlines

FT – Pollution-related deaths exceed 9m per year 10/19. “…Equivalent to one in six of all deaths across the world.” Of which, 6.5m are from air pollution, 1.8m from water pollution, and 0.8m from pollution in the workplace.

FT – China lifts ban on Anbang sales of high-yield investment products 10/21. After being banned from selling new products in May, the insurance group (known for its purchase of the Waldorf Astoria in New York and a $6.5bn hotel portfolio from the Blackstone Group), has been enabled to get back to it.

NYT – Puerto Ricans Ask: When Will the Lights Come Back On? 10/19. “…80% of Puerto Rico still does not have electricity. Some residents have not had power for 45 days…”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Politico – The Boomtown (Cape Coral, FL) That Shouldn’t Exist – Michael Grunwald 10/20

Perspective

National Geographic – These Are the World’s Happiest Places – Dan Buettner 10/18

NYT – A Boom in Credit Cards: Great News for Banks, Less So Consumers 10/19

National Geographic – Where to Find The Good Life – Manuel Canales & Kennedy Elliott 10/18

Real Estate

13D Research – The destabilizing truth of the retail apocalypse: it’s more about inequality than e-commerce – 10/5

Asia – excluding China and Japan

NYT – Myanmar, Once a Hope for Democracy, Is Now a Study in How It Fails 10/19

Europe

FT – EU opens investigation into Chinese e-bike dumping – Michael Pooler 10/20

Featured

WSJ – The World’s Next Environmental Disaster – Krishna Pokharel and Preetika Rana 10/20

  • “The Yamuna River that flows through this ancient city has helped sustain some of India’s greatest empires. Hindu poets celebrated its life-giving properties. The Mughal dynasty built the Taj Mahal and other monuments along its banks.”
  • “Today, the Yamuna is a foul sludge for much of its 855-mile run. In Delhi, it is black and nearly motionless, covered in many areas with a foam of industrial chemicals, floating plastic and human waste.”
  • “Every 100 milliliters of the Yamuna in Delhi contains 22 million fecal coliform bacteria, up from 12,250 in 1988, scientists say. Anything over 500 is unsafe for bathing, India’s government says. The comparable standard in Vermont is 235.”
  • “Illnesses ranging from diarrhea to brain worms are reported along the river’s edges. By the time the Yamuna exits Delhi, it is so defiled that scientists have declared the next 300 miles ‘eutrophic,’ or incapable of sustaining animal life.”
  • “For years, global environmentalists have focused on China, whose rapid industrialization made it one of the world’s most polluted major nations. Now it’s India’s turn.”
  • “Unlike China, which has become wealthier and is starting to clean up, India is in the early stages of industrial growth. It is following the same road China took to get richer, meaning more factories and cars. Yet, it already has some of the world’s worst environmental problems.”
  • “A government report in 2015 found that 275 of 445 rivers in India are severely polluted, including the Ganges. An international nonprofit, WaterAid, says 70% of India’s surface water is contaminated. Diarrhea, often caused by drinking bad water, is the fourth-leading cause of death in India, ahead of any cancer, and kills far more people than in China, which has a larger population.”
  • “Greenpeace says that in 2015, the average Indian was subjected to more air pollution than the average Chinese for the first time, as China’s ‘systematic efforts’ to improve air have started working. A 2016 WHO report found that 10 out of the world’s 20 most polluted cities were in India, based on residents’ exposure to deadly small particulate matter.”
  • “One reason India is an environmental mess at such an early stage of its development is that it has failed to master the basic services of sewage and water treatment which some other developing nations addressed when incomes rose.”
  • “Of the over 16 billion gallons of sewage that India produces every day, 62% ends up on nearby water bodies untreated, according to the Central Pollution Control Board, a federal pollution monitor.”
  • “Many Indian cities that built wastewater treatment systems don’t fully use them because of electricity shortages or other problems. Several others haven’t built them at all.”

August 17, 2017

Perspective

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

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

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

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

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

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

Markets / Economy

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

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

WSJ – Daily Shot: Coach Stock Performance 8/15

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

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

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

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

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

  • Thank goodness for the FAANG stocks

Energy

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

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

Shipping

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

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

August 11, 2017

Perspective

FT – The long and winding road to economic recovery – Claire Manibog and Stephen Foley 8/9

Data Is Beautiful – City maps from Airbnb location ratings – txafer 8/9

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bason Asset Management – Shame, Status and The American Dream – James Osborne 7/24

  • Sometimes less is more.

Bloomberg View – Canada’s Housing Bubble Will Burst – Ben Carlson 6/21

  • “The U.S. housing market peaked in late 2006. Since then, based on this index, U.S. housing prices are still down almost 13% from their peak through the end of 2016. In that same time frame, Canadian housing prices are up 56%.”
  • “From the 2006 peak, it took until late 2012 for real estate in the U.S. to bottom. We’ve since witnessed a 19% recovery from what was a 27% decline nationwide, on average. While the U.S. real estate downturn lasted almost six years, Canada’s housing market experienced just a 7% drawdown that lasted less than a year. And house prices in Canada reclaimed those losses in about a year and a half. Canadian housing has also outpaced its neighbors to the south since the 2012 bottom in U.S. real estate, with a 30% gain in that time.”
  • “To recap: On a real basis, Canadian housing prices experienced a much smaller, shorter decrease in prices during the financial crisis and a much larger, longer increase in prices during the recovery. When you couple this unfathomable rise in housing prices with near-record high household debt-to-income ratios, the Canadian housing bubble starts to look scary should the tide turn.”

Business Insider – Maverick Capital, a $10.5 billion hedge fund, is struggling to make money – Rachael Levy 8/9

  • “The proliferation of capital focused on non-fundamental factors confuses short-term stock price responses, causing investors to question links between price and fundamentals. Flows into instruments that allocate capital through predetermined ratios without regard to current or future fundamentals distort prices in the short term, but such distortions create wonderful opportunities that fundamental investors should be able capitalize upon over a longer-term timeframe.” – Lee Ainslie, Maverick Capital

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Retailer Stock Market Valuations 8/10

WSJ – Daily Shot: Comex Copper Inventory (short ton) 8/9

  • “The COMEX copper inventories have risen significantly lately. It suggests that perhaps the copper market isn’t as tight as the recent rally may indicate.”

WSJ – Do Businesses Need Foreign Workers? Martha’s Vineyard Is Finding Out – Laura Meckler 8/10

  • “Jamaicans and other foreign workers have long powered the summer economy in the upscale tourist haven of Martha’s Vineyard, cleaning hotel rooms, waiting tables and mixing fudge. This year, many local businesses had to come up with a Plan B.”
  • “Facing a shortage of foreign laborers, local restaurants have reduced hours of operation and pared back menus. Managers are cleaning hotel rooms, laundry is piling up and at least one restaurant is using disposable cups to ease the dishwashers’ load.”
  • “The problem is a scarcity of the H-2B visas used to bring foreign seasonal workers to the U.S. It has affected many resorts and other businesses that depend on such workers, including Alaskan fisheries. Isolated locations such as Martha’s Vineyard—it has a tiny year-round population and is accessible only by ferry or plane—are especially vulnerable.”

WSJ – Dairies’ Fix for Souring Milk Sales: Genetics and Bananas – Mike Cherney and Heather Haddon 8/9

Britain

Economist – How to solve Britain’s housing crisis – 8/3

  • This prescription applies to many other places besides Britain.
  • “What makes Britain’s housing squeeze maddening is that, unlike many other problems, something can easily be done about it. Britain needs to get building. The consensus is that, to keep prices in check, it must put up 300,000 houses a year, double what it erected in 2015-16.”

China

FT – Chinese top official warns economy ‘kidnapped’ by property bubble – Gabriel Wildau 8/10

  • “A top Chinese lawmaker has warned that profiteering by real estate developers is sapping the lifeblood from China’s economy, as authorities make efforts to contain runaway property prices.”
  • “The real estate industry’s excessive prosperity has not only kidnapped local governments but also kidnapped financial institutions — restraining and even harming the development of the real economy, inflating asset bubbles and accumulating debt risk. The biggest problem currently facing the country is how to reduce reliance on real estate.” Yin Zhongqing, deputy director of the finance and economics committee of the National People’s Congress

FT – China targets mobile payments oligopoly with clearing mandate – Gabriel Wildau 8/9

  • Apple is not the only company that must yield to China.
  • “China’s central bank has ordered online payment groups to operate through a centralized clearing house, a move likely to undercut the dominance of Ant Financial and Tencent by forcing them to share valuable transaction data with competitors.”
  • “China is the world leader in mobile payments, with transaction volumes rising nearly fivefold last year to Rmb59tn ($8.8tn), according to iResearch. They are now widely used for everything from high-street shopping to peer-to-peer lending.” 
  • “In addition to generating fees directly, online and mobile payments are a source of valuable data that can be used for such purposes as targeted advertising and credit scoring.” 
  • “Now the People’s Bank of China is requiring all third-party payment companies to channel payments through a new clearing house by next June, according to a document sent to payment companies on August 4 and seen by the Financial Times.” 

FT – Chinese crackdown on dealmakers reflects Xi power play – Lucy Hornby 8/9

  • President Xi, the master of the long game.
  • “For China’s ruling Communist party, its foreign exchange reserves are a symbol of national strength and are a crucial buffer against economic shocks. So the alarming announcement that forex reserves had fallen below $3tn in January marked a shift in political fault lines that is only being felt this summer.”
  • “As more than $1tn left the country over the previous 18 months amid a flurry of large overseas acquisitions, a sense of crisis grew within the party.”
  • “Technocrats in Beijing had already prepared the ground to take action. In December, they had managed to link the phrase ‘national security’ to the concept of financial risk at the annual agenda-setting economic work conference. Backed with the reserves figures, they were poised to strike against what they saw as the leading culprit — the new generation of highly acquisitive private Chinese companies.”
  • “These tensions within the system have exploded into the open in the past two months with the humiliation of some of China’s best-known and most well-connected private companies, which in recent years have acquired high-profile foreign assets such as New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel and French leisure company Club Med.”
  • “In an abrupt turn, a group of businessmen once lauded as the international face of China are now derided in state media as the instruments of systemic financial risk. The private sector has been shaken by leaked documents, smears and the detention of China’s brashest businessman.”

NYT – A Missing Tycoon’s Links to China’s Troubled Dalian Wanda – Michael Forsythe 8/10

FT – Dalian Wanda reshuffles $1bn of assets – Emily Feng 8/10

Bloomberg – China Is Taking On the ‘Original Sin’ of Its Mountain of Debt – Emma O’Brien, Eric Lam, Adrian Leung, Jun Luo, Jing Zhao, Helen Sun, Xize Kang, and Vicky Wei 8/8

Economist – China tries to keep foreign rubbish out – 8/3

  • “China dominates international trade in many goods, but few more than waste for recycling. It sucked in more than half the world’s exports of scrap copper and waste paper in 2016, and half of its used plastic. All in all, China spent over $18bn on imports of rubbish last year. America, meanwhile, is an eager supplier. In 2016 nearly a quarter of America’s biggest exporters by volume were recyclers of paper, plastic or metal. Topping the list was America Chung Nam, a California-based supplier of waste paper which last year exported a whopping 333,900 containers, almost all of them to China.”
  • “This may soon change. On July 18th China told the World Trade Organization that by the end of the year, it will no longer accept imports of 24 categories of solid waste as part of a government campaign against yang laji or ‘foreign garbage’. The Ministry of Environmental Protection says restricting such imports will protect the environment and improve public health. But the proposed import ban will disrupt billions of dollars in trade. Recyclers worry that other categories of waste may soon receive the same treatment.”

July 11, 2017

Perspective

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

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

Markets / Economy

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

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

China

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

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