Tag: Russia

July 3, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Sustaining Wealth is Harder Than Getting Rich – Ben Carlson 7/1

FT – US and China must find ways to control their elites – Rana Foroohar 7/1

  • “Success rests on heading off popular unrest, rather than winning trade fights.”

Market Watch – Yes, corporations have brought home cash after the tax cut, but they haven’t put it to work – Rex Nutting 6/29

NYT – What’s the Yield Curve? ‘A Powerful Signal of Recessions’ Has Wall Street’s Attention – Matt Phillips 6/25

WSJ – Tariffs Aren’t China’s Strongest Weapon Against the U.S. – Nathaniel Taplin 7/2

  • “Mr. Trump’s trade agenda may have certain U.S. industries-like steel-flashing smiles. American companies operating in China, though, can expect to lost a few teeth.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg – Where Have America’s Truck Drivers Gone? – Virginia Postrel 6/24

  • “The U.S. trucking industry is short about 50,000 drivers, estimates Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations. The driver shortage ranked first among industry concerns in the American Transportation Research Institute’s annual survey, released last October.”
  • “The strong economy means more stuff to haul, even as increasing numbers of truckers retire. The average age of over-the-road truckers…is 49, compared with 42 for the U.S. workforce as a whole. Forecasts of massive job losses from autonomous trucks don’t help. Few people want to join a dying profession. With unemployment low, there are other options.”
  • “In response, pay is up. The median salary for drivers who haul a variety of goods nationally is about $53,000, according to an ATA survey published in March. That’s a $7,000 increase since the previous survey five years ago, or about $4,000 when corrected for inflation. For drivers who work for private fleets serving individual companies, such as PepsiCo Inc. or Walmart Inc., median pay is $86,000, up from $73,000.”
  • “But a shortfall remains. Recent regulatory changes exacerbate the problem. So does an increasing shortage of places to park.”

Tech

FT – China backs $15bn tech fund to compete with Japan’s SoftBank – Arash Massoudi and Don Weinland 7/1

  • “China Merchants Group has teamed up with a London-based firm to launch a new Rmb100bn ($15bn) technology investment fund with aim of becoming China’s answer to the near-$100bn Vision Fund created by Japan’s SoftBank.”
  • “The state-owned conglomerate, along with other unnamed Chinese groups, has pledged to invest up to Rmb40bn of the fund, in what would be a huge pool of capital primarily designed to target investments in Chinese technology companies.” 
  • “CMG is set to announce the plans with the UK’s Centricus, the investment firm that helped structure SoftBank’s record-setting technology fund, and SPF Group, a small Beijing-based fund manager that counts Joshua Fink, the son of BlackRock founder Larry Fink, as one of its partners.”

Health / Medicine

Bloomberg – Sky-High Deductibles Broke the U.S. Health Insurance System – John Tozzi and Zachary Tracer 6/26

  • “Employers are questioning a system they say costs patients too much.”

FT – US drug maker Pfizer lifts price of Viagra and 100 other products – David Crow 7/2

China

FT – China tightens party control of foreign university ventures – Emily Feng 7/1

  • “British academic ejected from board after writing essay critical of Communist party.”

Russia

FT – Older Russians fear pension reform will hit income – Kathrin Hille 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.”

April 4, 2018

Perspective

FT – Naspers trims Tencent stake with $10bn share sale – Joseph Cotterill and Louise Lucas 3/22

  • “Naspers, the South African media company that is one of the biggest shareholders in Tencent, said that it would sell down part of its stake in the Chinese technology giant for the first time in almost two decades.”
  • “In a statement on Thursday, Naspers said that it would sell stock worth more than $10bn, equivalent to 2% of the shares in Asia’s biggest company by market capitalization, to fund investments elsewhere.”
  • “The transaction would reduce Naspers’ stake in Tencent, the world’s biggest gaming company and the owner of China’s WeChat and QQ social networks, from 33% to 31%.”
  • “Naspers added that it did not plan to sell any more of its Tencent shares for at least the next three years.”
  • “But even Thursday’s limited sell down is a landmark for what has been one of the most successful venture capital investments in history, and comes as Hong Kong-listed Tencent shifts strategy after years of explosive growth.”
  • Naspers’ investment of $32m in Tencent in 2001, now worth $175bn, powered its rise from a publisher and pay-TV operator to Africa’s biggest company by market capitalization.”
  • Approximately a 65.91% compound growth rate over 17 years. How do you like them apples?

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Forbes – Canadian Real Estabe Bubble Blowing Up North – Bob Haber 4/2

  • “According to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, single detached homes in Vancouver (on a local currency basis) have risen from approximately $400K CAD to $1.75 million CAD since 2002. That’s a 337% increase in 15 years. With incredibly fast rising prices, a large portion of the population is engaged in real estate brokerage, real estate development, construction, renovations, and everything that goes along with that. The echoes of Phoenix, Las Vegas, and San Diego from 2006 cannot be ignored.”
  • “…Taxation and interest rates are going higher. Cap rates on rentals or commercial properties are shockingly low (think 1% to 3% in most circumstances). In fact, Canada’s price-to-rent ratios are now well above what they were in the U.S. during the 2006 housing debacle. According to the Bank of Canada, 47% of Canada’s mortgages will reset in the next 12 months. To put that in perspective, a five-year fixed mortgage rate in Canada averages approximately 5.14%. This is 11% higher versus the 4.64% that it averaged for most of the past 2 years.”

NYT – Teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky Walk Out: ‘It Really Is a Wildfire’ – Dana Goldstein 4/2

Markets / Economy

engadget – New York approves surcharge for Uber and Lyft rides in Manhattan – David Lumb 4/2

  • “As part of the budget that New York lawmakers passed last Friday, ride-hailing services and taxis face a new fee if they drive in Manhattan. These aren’t nickel-and-dime increases, either: Uber, Lyft and the like face a $2.75 charge for each ride, taxis get a $2.50 increase and group ride services like Via and uberPOOL will be charged $0.75 per customer. It’s meant to combat congestion and help fund subway repair and improvements, providing an expected $400 million per year going forward for the MTA.”
  • “Unsurprisingly, it’s already catching flak from customers and from taxi drivers, who have become far outnumbered by ride-sharing cars in the last several years. Of the 103,000 vehicles for hire in NYC, 65,000 are driven by Uber contractors alone, while taxis remain capped by law at 13,600, The New York Times reported. As a result, average traffic in Manhattan has slowed from 6.5 miles per hour to 4.7.”
  • “Other cities have enacted their own surcharges for ride-hailing services in recent years, but they are far lower than those New York just passed. Seattle instated a $0.24 charge for each trip in 2014, Portland, OR agreed to levy a $0.50 fee per customer in 2016, both of which funnel money collected toward regulating ride-sharing services. Chicago passed one in 2014 that will reach $0.65 this year and directs part of the funds raised toward public transit, much like New York’s will.”

FT – Walmart extends money transfer operation to 200 countries – Anna Nicolaou and Ben McLannahan 4/2

  • “Walmart is expanding its money transfer operation to 200 countries, the latest move in the retail giant’s slow but steady push into financial services.”
  • “Through the new scheme, people will be able to deliver money from Walmart’s nearly 5,000 US stores to locations abroad within 10 minutes, the company said.” 
  • “Arkansas-based Walmart first unveiled a money transfer service four years ago, allowing customers to send funds between its stores, and aiming to reach the “underbanked” — about 27% of Americans have limited access to traditional banking, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Walmart claims it has saved customers $700m in fees because it charges cheaper rates.” 
  • “The retailer has partnered with MoneyGram, one of the big wire transfer groups, to expand globally this month. The service will allow US residents to send money to countries such as Mexico, which received nearly $30bn in remittances last year, according to Mexico’s central bank.”
  • “Walmart’s push into money transfers comes a few months after it announced it was partnering with PayActiv and Even, two financial-technology firms, to offer its 1.4m US employees tools for money management and on-demand access to their earned wages.”
  • “The moves suggest the retailer may see itself as a partner of the big financial services companies rather than a direct rival going head to head with basic products such as checking accounts or credit cards.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Political Calculations – Why Bad News for Big Tech Is Bad for Stocks 3/29

WSJ – Daily Shot: SPDR Americas – Equity Geographical Flows 4/3

WSJ – Daily Shot: Deutsche Bank – Drawdown Durations 4/3

Real Estate

FT – Manhattan apartment sales plunge – Lindsay Fortado 4/2

  • “The number of co-op and condominium sales in Manhattan fell nearly 25% during the first quarter compared to the same period last year, according to new research by Miller Samuel real estate appraisers and Douglas Elliman real estate brokers.”
  • “It was the largest annual decline in sales in nine years, according to the report.”
  • “The average sale price across Manhattan fell by 8.1% from the year-earlier quarter, and the average price per square foot also recorded a sharp decline, falling by 18.5% to $1,697.”
  • “Luxury apartment sales, considered the most expensive 10% of all properties, were hit particularly hard, as were new developments.”
  • “The average sales price of a luxury apartment fell 15.1%, down from $9.36m in the first quarter of 2017 to $7.94m in the first quarter of this year, and the number of sales was down 24.1%. The number of newly built apartments that went into contract fell 54%.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Knight – Mortgage Equity 4/3

  • “Turning to consumer credit, how much borrowing capacity do households have against their homes? The answer is $5.4 trillion. $2.8 trillion of that capacity is with borrowers who have the highest credit scores.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Knight – Hurricane-related mortgage delinquencies in Florida and Puerto Rico 4/3

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Deutsche Bank – Countries with Negative-Yielding Bonds 4/3

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

Bloomberg – The Crypto Hedge-Fund Bubble Is Starting to Deflate – Olga Kharif 4/2

Tech

FT – Why south-east Asia’s politics are proving  problem for Facebook – John Reed and Hannah Kuchler 4/2

  • “One of the company’s fastest-growing markets is also one of its most complex where hate speech and political manipulation are making it hard to remain neutral.”

China

FT – China moves its factories back to the countryside – Emily Feng 4/2

  • “After decades of urbanization and rural neglect, China’s Communist party is seeking to revitalize the countryside, where wages and standards of living have stagnated compared with those of big cities.”

FT – Chinese developers seek piece of booming education market – Emily Feng 4/2

  • “When China’s premier Li Keqiang recently vowed progress on a property tax intended to rein in home prices, it signaled to the country’s real estate developers that more than a decade of double-digit growth would soon end.”
  • “Facing slowing growth in their core business, top developers are betting on the education market, building and operating international schools for tens of thousands of students.”
  • “The country’s three biggest property developers — Country Garden, Evergrande and Vanke — have seen sales slow in the first quarter of this year, according to an industry ranking compiled by research agency China Real Estate Information Corp. Meanwhile, home price growth has dipped following a clampdown on lending and property speculation.”
  • “That has already made a dent in developers’ financials. Dalian Wanda reported a revenue drop of almost 11% in 2017 while other residential developers are girding for longer-term impact. JPMorgan Chase has forecast as much as a 6% decline in mainland Chinese home sales this year.
  • “Now developers are ‘looking at other sectors in which to invest in order to get the returns that they need to continue growth’, says John Mortensen, regional director of real estate investment and management company JLL, which often works with universities.”
  • “Meanwhile, China’s education market is booming. The sector will grow from Rmb1.64tn ($261bn) in revenue in 2015 to Rmb2.9tn ($461bn) in 2020, according to Deloitte, with particularly high demand for English-language curriculums.”
  • “Amid fierce competition to get into good universities at home and overseas, proximity to a good school is often a key factor in determining Chinese property prices. A 2012 study of Shanghai housing found that prices were more than 40% higher in top-rated school districts.”
  • “That has prompted residential developers to build new complexes with schools within walking distance of apartments, hiring or building in-house education teams to recruit teachers and design bilingual curriculums.”
  • “Guangzhou-based Country Garden, China’s top residential developer by sales, is now also among the country’s biggest private education providers. Its education subsidiary, Bright Scholar, runs 52 bilingual international schools that each offer a full education from kindergarten to secondary school. Bright Scholar listed on the New York Stock Exchange last year, raising more than $150m.”
  • “Vanke Group, China’s second biggest residential developer by sales, set up its own education group in 2015 as part of a strategic shift aimed at offering a ‘full ecology’ to families.”
  • “Dalian Wanda is another property group with a growing interest in schools — its children’s education and entertainment group almost tripled its sales last year even as the group’s total revenues fell more than 10%.”

India

NYT – Jeweler to the Stars Flees as India Seethes Over Bank Fraud – Maria Abi-Habib 4/3

  • “About a week after Mr. Modi grinned for the cameras with the prime minister, a state-run Indian bank told regulators that it had found nearly $1.8 billion in fraudulent transactions linked to the jeweler’s account. Indian officials now accuse Mr. Modi, his family and business associates of assembling a global empire with nearly $3 billion in money obtained illegally, mostly from government-run banks. He denies wrongdoing.”
  • “For many Indians, the allegations against Mr. Modi further cement the notion that taxpayer-owned banks are footing the bill for the lavish lifestyles of a rising elite. That idea has particular resonance in a country where stark poverty — India is home to a third of the world’s poorest people — remains dire.”
  • “Just a decade ago, during the global financial crisis, Indian lenders were held up as a bastion of stability. Today, they are considered more vulnerable than those in other leading emerging markets, mostly because state-controlled lenders dominate the sector, according to the International Monetary Fund.”
  • “Of the $6.5 billion in fraudulent loans that have hit the industry over the past two years, the most egregious cases were at government-owned banks, according to figures released by Parliament. Executives at those lenders are more likely to be appointed for their political connections than for their talent, financial analysts say.”

Russia

FT – Russia plans ‘bad bank’ for $19bn in toxic assets – Max Seddon 4/2

  • “Russia’s central bank is to create a ‘bad bank’ to ringfence Rbs1.1tn ($19bn) in toxic assets from three nationalized top-10 lenders, vastly increasing the total bill for bailing them out.” 
  • “Vasily Pozdyshev, a deputy central bank governor, told Russian news agencies on Monday that the central bank would transfer assets from three collapsed banks into Trust, another failed lender.” 
  • “Taxpayers are footing the largest bank rescue bill in Russia’s history to fund the central bank’s takeover of three privately held banks last year to stave off a collapse in the sector.”
  • “The largest of them, Otkritie, was Russia’s biggest privately held bank by assets until it was nationalized in August. The central bank then nationalized B & N Bank, another top-10 lender, and Promsvyazbank to stop them from going under.” 
  • “Under Ms Nabiullina (Elvira Nabiullina, Russian central bank governor), the central bank is conducting an unprecedented clear-up of the sector under which it has wound down more than 300 banks since 2013. To rescue the three top-10 lenders, however, Ms Nabiullina had to create a separate bailout mechanism that allowed the central bank to take direct stakes in their capital.” 

FT – Russia’s $55bn pipeline gamble on China’s demand for gas – Henry Foy 4/2

  • “The pipeline is Russia’s most ambitious, costly and geopolitically critical energy project since the fall of the Soviet Union, and represents a $55bn bet on uncharted territory by the world’s biggest gas company.”
  • “Russia’s first eastern pipeline is the most striking physical manifestation of President Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic pivot towards China amid rapidly worsening relations with the west. It is the biggest and most critical element in a suite of energy deals, funding packages and asset sales that seek to warm a once frosty relationship.”
  • “For Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled gas export monopoly behind the pipeline, the mega-project is the largest and most expensive in its history. When the taps are switched on in December 2019, the world’s largest gas exporter will be connected for the first time with its largest energy importer.”

March 30, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Chinese tycoons have to play the connections game – Jamil Anderlini 3/28

  • “Making use of guanxi can be lucrative but is also fraught with danger.”

FT – Russia and the west’s moral bankruptcy – Edward Luce 3/28

  • “Vladimir Putin’s wealth extraction machine could not operate without our connivance.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg – Tesla Bonds Are in Free Fall – Molly Smith 3/28

  • “On Wednesday, Tesla’s notes plunged to a low of 86 cents on the dollar, the clearest sign yet creditors aren’t totally sure the company will be money good.”

FT – Record ‘megadeals’ push global takeovers beyond $1.2tn – Eric Platt, Javier Espinoza, and Don Weinland 3/28

WSJ – Daily Shot: BofAML – State and Local Government Pension Funding Status 3/29

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – Burns Home Value Index 3/29

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – US Housing Expansion Timelines 3/29

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: eia – US gross and net energy trade 3/29

Finance

FT – US subprime mortgage bonds back in fashion – Ben McLannahan and Joe Rennison 3/28

  • “Yield-hungry investors turn to assets blamed for financial crisis a decade ago.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: CBOE VIX Futures 3/28

Health / Medicine

WSJ – What, Cocktails Have Calories? New Rules Will Show How Many – Saabira Chaudhuri 3/23

China

FT – China accuses Anbang former chairman Wu Xiaohui of fraud – Gabriel Wildau and Yizhen Jia 3/28

  • “Chinese prosecutors have accused the former chairman of acquisitive conglomerate Anbang Insurance Group of fraud and embezzlement, offering the first detailed explanation of why authorities toppled the once high-flying tycoon.”
  • “Prosecutors on Wednesday accused Mr Wu of issuing false financial statements, marketing materials and regulatory filings to gain approval to sell such products. He also exceeded fundraising limits approved by the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, prosecutors alleged.” 
  • “A whiff of political prosecution remains because the basic business model of selling universal insurance to finance high-profile acquisitions was not limited to Anbang, although Mr Wu’s group was the most aggressive.” 
  • “Prosecutors alleged Mr Wu oversold Rmb724bn ($115bn) in insurance products, diverting Rmb65bn to another company he controlled, which he used for overseas investments, debt repayment and ‘lavish personal spending’. Mr Wu was also accused of concealing his control of Anbang through the other company.”
  • “They also accused Mr Wu of using proceeds from the sale of universal insurance to inject capital back into Anbang, a form of circular financing designed to boost the company’s reported capital ratio and create the impression of financial strength.”

NYT – Anbang Was Seized by China. Now, It Has a Deal for You. – Sui-Lee Wee and Zhang Tiantian 3/29

  • “Less than a month after it was seized by the Chinese government, Anbang Insurance Group, the giant conglomerate, is once again offering small investors ‘you snooze, you lose’ investment opportunities — your money back, guaranteed.”
  • “Sold like stocks or bonds in bank branches around China, the products carry names like Anbang Abundant Stability No. 10, suggesting the investments are conservative. They are anything but.”
  • “Still, Anbang and other companies keep selling them — and Chinese investors keep buying them. When China took over Anbang, it only underlined the widely held — and potentially dangerous — belief that the Chinese government will always be there to bail them out.”
  • “China has a problem with debt. Shadowy, underground lenders have flooded the country with a staggering $15 trillion in credit, which threatens to hobble its economy.”
  • “Beijing now appears to be taking a harder stance with the companies in need of a bail out. On Wednesday, Chinese authorities accused a founder of Anbang, who was the deal maker who bought the Waldorf Astoria, of bilking investors of more than $10 billion. In a country where courts tend to convict, the accusations raised the likelihood that the executive, Wu Xiaohui, could face life in prison.”
  • “The Chinese authorities have pressured big issuers to slow down. In November, they proposed tightening disclosure rules and stopping firms from guaranteeing payments to investors, among other steps.”
  • “Data suggest China is making some headway. The total outstanding balance of wealth management products issued by Chinese banks was about $4.7 trillion in 2017, up just 1.7% from a year before, according to China Wealth, a state-backed company that tracks China’s wealth management products. Two years ago, sales were growing at roughly 50%.”
  • “Zhu Ning, a Tsinghua University economist, said the only way the government can prevent investors from taking on more risk that they can handle is to allow for ‘some real failures’.”
  • “China has been reluctant to allow for failures. Fearing mass unrest, the ruling Communist Party has repeatedly instructed Chinese banks and local officials to cave in to angry investors, who have protested outside government offices after losing their investments.”
  • “The real test, according to Mr. Zhu, could come later this year, when wealth management products issued years earlier have to be paid back.”
  • “’Nonperforming loans are going to be so severe that some of the weaker banks will be forced to face their Judgment Day — whether they are going to be bailed out or whether they are going to die,’ he said.”

 

March 22, 2018

Perspective

NYT – The Population Slowdown in the Outer Suburbs of the East and Midwest – Robert Gebeloff 3/21

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Headline Risk – Ben Carlson 3/21

Bloomberg Gadfly – The Saudi Aramco IPO Math Problem: Cash > Barrels – Liam Denning 3/15

  • “Getting to a $2 trillion valuation requires some heroic assumptions.”

Bloomberg View – Before You #DeleteFacebook, Try Taking Control – Barry Ritholtz 3/21

  • “A precept from the 1970s, said originally about television (back when TV was free), is applicable to technology and media: If you are not paying for a product, then you are the product.”

FT – Hard-headed deterrence is the antidote to Putin’s poison – Philip Stephens 3/14

FT – The low-paid workers cleaning up the worst horrors of the internet – Gillian Tett 3/16

  • “A new film (The Cleaners) tracks outsourced workers in grim little cubicles watching the depravity that exists online.”

NYT – Trump Hacked the Media Right Before Our Eyes – Ross Douthat 3/21

  • “…the business model of our news channels both assumes and heightens polarization, and that it was ripe for exploitation by a demagogue who was also a celebrity.”

NYT – Fox News Analyst Quits, Calling Network a ‘Propaganda Machine’ – Michael M. Grynbaum 3/20

NYT – Toys ‘R’ Us Case Is Test of Private Equity in Age of Amazon – Michael Corkery 3/15

Pragmatic Capitalism – Why are Money Managers Paid so Much? – Cullen Roche 3/20

  • “Salesmanship. The answer is salesmanship. I’ve been in this business long enough to know that asset management is mostly about selling the hope of superior returns in exchange for the guarantee of high fees.  The problem for the average person is that they don’t actually know enough about the asset management business to quantify whether their investment manager is worth the fees they pay. And in fairness, a big part of that is due to the fact that you have to compare yourself to a counterfactual that doesn’t exist since paying 1.6% per year to invest in a crappy active mutual fund is probably a better result than sitting in cash all the time because you’re too scared to get fully invested. Investment managers, as expensive as they are, at least keep you in the game and you need to be in the game to score any goals.”

Rational Radical – Royal commission shatters housing bubble façade – Matt Ellis 3/21

  • Commentary on the Australian Housing market (read bubble)

The Verge – China will ban people with poor ‘social credit’ from planes and trains – Sean O’Kane 3/16

  • “Starting in May, Chinese citizens who rank low on the country’s burgeoning ‘social credit’ system will be in danger of being banned from buying plane or train tickets for up to a year, according to statements recently released by the country’s National Development and Reform Commission.”
  • “With the social credit system, the Chinese government rates citizens based on things like criminal behavior and financial misdeeds, but also on what they buy, say, and do. Those with low ‘scores’ have to deal with penalties and restrictions. China has been working towards rolling out a full version of the system by 2020, but some early versions of it are already in place.”
  • “The new travel restrictions are the latest addition to this growing patchwork of social engineering, which has already imposed punishments on more than seven million citizens. And there’s a broad range when it comes to who can be flagged. Citizens who have spread ‘false information about terrorism,’ caused ‘trouble’ on flights, used expired tickets, or were caught smoking on trains could all be banned, according to Reuters.”

Wolf Street – Then Why Is Anyone STILL on Facebook? – Wolf Richter 3/20

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Nomura – Valuations of FANG-type stocks 3/20

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bianco Research – Breaking Down US Household Retirement Assets 3/21

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Venezuelan Crude Oil Output 2/28

Finance

FT – John Paulson takes an axe to his struggling hedge fund – Robin Wigglesworth 3/16

  • “Struggling hedge fund magnate John Paulson has taken an axe to his once-imperious firm, with several top executives departing in a ‘rightsizing’ this week after a string of heavy losses.”
  • “Mr Paulson rose to fame after the crisis, when Paulson & Co made billions of dollars from predicting the US housing crisis and astute bets on complex credit derivatives. The hedge fund firm’s assets under management hit a peak of $38bn in 2011.”
  • “But since then Paulson & Co has suffered a string of losses across most of its hedge funds, with its flagship merger arbitrage fund — Mr Paulson’s specialty — losing 18.1% and 23% in 2016 and 2017, respectively, according to the performance update of a mirror fund offered by Schroders.”
  • “Paulson & Co’s assets have now shrunk to about $9bn, of which two-thirds is Mr Paulson’s own money, and this week the hedge fund manager let a string of employees go.”
  • “Since making one of the biggest financial hauls in the industry’s history — Mr Paulson personally made almost $4bn from the financial crisis — the firm has made a series of ill-fated investments, such as on healthcare stocks, banks and gold and by betting against German bonds.”
  • “The most high-profile recent mis-step was a big bet on drug maker Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Paulson & Co is the drug maker’s single biggest shareholder, but the stock has tumbled from a high of $262.50 in 2015 to just $16.80 this week — a loss of more than 93% over the period.”
  • “Paulson & Co’s biggest public holdings, according to regulatory filings, are pharma companies Mylan, Shire, Valeant and Allergan, as well as an exchange-traded fund that tracks the price of gold. The gold ETF has lost about 32% of its value since the hedge fund’s investment peaked at $4.6bn in 2011.”

Health / Medicine

WSJ – Daily Shot: AEI – Geographic Variation in the Cost of the Opioid Crisis – Alex Brill 3/20

Other Interesting Links

FT – Wine’s Wild West: a tasting tour of Arizona – Horatia Harrod 3/16

  • “In Scottsdale’s bars and out on the state’s grassy uplands, an industry wiped out by Prohibition is being revived.”

March 21, 2018

Perspective

AEIdeas – Creative Destruction, the Uber effect, and the slow death of the NYC taxi cartel – Mark J. Perry 3/17

WP – Toys R Us’s baby problem is everybody’s baby problem – Andrew Van Dam 3/15

  • “There are endless reasons a big-box toy store would collapse during a retail apocalypse — and Toys R Us acknowledged a number of them in its most recent annual filing: the teetering tower of debt incurred by its private-equity owners, competition from Amazon, Walmart and Target.”
  • “They even wrung their hands about app stores, labor costs and potential tariffs raising the costs of the imported goods they sell.”
  • “But one risk stood out. Toys R Us said there just weren’t enough babies…”
  • “It may not have been the biggest existential threat confronting Geoffrey the Giraffe (the store’s mascot), but it’s the one with the broadest implications outside of the worlds of toys and malls.”
  • “Measured as a share of overall population, U.S. births have fallen steadily since the Great Recession. They hit their lowest point on record in 2016 — the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has comparable data.”
  • “Even adjusted for the aging population and declining share of women of childbearing age, U.S. fertility rates are at all-time lows.”
  • “That’s problematic for Toys R Us, which also operates the Babies R Us stores. The company claims in its annual report that its income is linked to birthrates, and it appears to be right.”
  • “There are, to be sure, numerous other factors at play. The same economic forces that encourage people to have children may also encourage them to splurge on toys, for example.”
  • “But it’s nonetheless apparent that Toys R Us’s fortunes rise and fall with the population of its target market.”
  • “And that’s why the company’s demise should worry the rest of us. Toys R Us focuses on kids, so it’s feeling the crunch from declining birthrates long before the rest of the economy. But it’s just a matter of time before the trends that toppled the troubled toy maker put the squeeze on businesses that cater to consumers of all ages.”
  • “Eventually, unless the country does something significant to encourage larger families or immigration, that narrowing base of the population pyramid will crawl upward.”
  • “In the end, Toys R Us will just have been the first of many businesses of all descriptions facing the same hard demographic truth: Economic growth is extremely difficult without population growth.

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg – How Amazon’s Bottomless Appetite Became Corporate America’s Nightmare – Shira Ovide 3/14

Bloomberg Quint – The World Economy Risks Turning Too Hot to Handle as G-20 Meets – Enda Curran and Rich Miller 3/15

CNN Money – Amazon didn’t kill Toys ‘R’ Us. Here’s what did – Chris Isidore 3/15

Economist – Malaysia’s PM is about to steal an election – Leaders 3/10

  • Impunity…

FactsMaps – US News – U.S. Best States Overall Ranking – 2018

FT – Fresh blood: why everyone fell for Theranos – Andrew Hill 3/18

FT – Saudi Aramco: sand trap – Lex 3/12

  • “Justifying a $2tn valuation for the state oil company requires hard persuasion.”

Maps on the Web – Average ACT score by US State – Reddit 3/19

NYT – Big Sugar Versus Your Body – David Leonhardt 3/11

Markets / Economy

Economist – America’s companies have binged on debt; a reckoning looms 3/8

  • “The total debt of American non-financial corporations as a percentage of GDP has reached a record high of 73.3%”

WalletHub – Credit Card Debt Study: Trends & Insights – Alina Comoreanu 3/8

Real Estate

Business Insider – American homes are more affordable than they’ve been in 40 years – but that could change sooner than you think – Tanza Loudenback 3/19

  • “‘Thanks to low mortgage rates, buying a home is actually more affordable now than in the past 40 years,’ Alexandra Lee, a housing data analyst at Trulia, told Business Insider.”
  • “Mortgage interest rates hit 16.6% in 1981 in response to massive inflation in the US. In 2016, interest rates fell to about 3.5%, and they’re about 4.5% right now.”
  • “Trulia found that the typical household in 1980 could afford only about three-fourths of the median home price, compared with the median household in 2016, which could afford a home 1 1/2 times the median home price.”
  • “Twenty-two US metros crossed the threshold from unaffordable to affordable over the past four decades, according to the data. The markets that are too expensive for the average buyer now, including San Francisco, Seattle, and San Jose, California, were always too expensive.”
  • “Trulia ultimately found that Americans’ homebuying power has strengthened in the past 40 years.”
  • “Take Salt Lake City, for example. From 1990 to 2016, home prices increased 53%, but the affordability index jumped to 131 from 122. That is because interest rates dropped to 3.4% from 10% during that time. Homeownership in Salt Lake City became even more affordable over the 26-year period — and the case appears the same for many of the largest US metros.”
  • “Only the Denver, Miami, and Portland, Oregon, metro areas dropped in affordability during that time, Lee said.”
  • “By the end of 2017, a monthly mortgage payment on the median home in the US required just 15.7% of the typical household income, according to a report by Trulia’s parent company Zillow. Back in the late 1980s and 1990s, a mortgage payment took up 21% of the typical American’s income.”
  • Granted, coming up with a down payment on a house these days is no easy task.

Effect of interest rate rises are starting to bite.

CNBC – Mortgage refinances fall to decade low – Diana Olick 3/14

  • “Interest rates for home loans have risen each week this year, so each week homeowners have had less incentive refinance their mortgages.”
  • “Higher interest rates caused applications to refinance a home loan to fall 2% for the week and 18% from a year ago, when rates were lower. The refinance share of all mortgage applications fell to 40%, the lowest since 2008.”
  • “Housing is more expensive today than it has been in a decade, and a decade ago credit was a lot easier to get. The average monthly mortgage payment is now up nearly 13% from a year ago, according to Realtor.com — a combination of higher home prices and higher interest rates.”

Economist – Asian and European cities compete for the title of most expensive city – The Data Team 3/15

  • “Singapore remains the most expensive city in the world for the fifth year running, according to the latest findings of the Worldwide Cost of Living Survey from The Economist Intelligence Unit.”

FT – WeWork is ‘victim of own success’ as office rivals gather – Aime Williams 3/12

  • “A wave of lease purchases by flexible workspace providers is driving commercial demand in leading cities.”

Honolulu Star Advertiser – Mayor signs bill temporarily banning permits for new ‘monster houses’ – Gordon Y.K. Pang 3/13

  • “Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed into law today a bill imposing a moratorium of up to two years on building permits for ‘monster’ houses, giving the city Department of Planning and Permitting time to come up with permanent rules to deal with the growing phenomenon.”
  • “DPP will, for the most part, not approve building permit applications during the moratorium for houses that cover more than seven-tenths of a lot under Bill 110 (2017). For example, a 5,000-square-foot lot could not have a living space that’s 3,500 square feet or larger.”
  • Another instance of a market where housing prices have gone well beyond what local incomes can support. As a result, people come up with ‘work-arounds’ which tend to overburden the local infrastructure and upset neighborhoods, resulting in blunt regulatory reaction. Honolulu is not unique to this problem.

WSJ – The Next Housing Crisis: A Historic Shortage of New Homes – Laura Kusisto 3/18

  • “America is facing a new housing crisis. A decade after an epic construction binge, fewer homes are being built per household than at almost any time in U.S. history.
  • “Home construction per household a decade after the bust remains near the lowest level in 60 years of record-keeping, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.”
  • “What makes the slump puzzling is that by most other measures, the American economy is booming. Jobs are plentiful, wages are on the rise and the stock market is near record highs. Millennials, the largest generation since the baby boomers, are aging into home ownership.”
  • “A combination of tightened housing regulations, a lack of construction labor and a land shortage in highly prized areas is driving the crisis, according to industry experts.”
  • “Even during the deep recession of the mid-1970s and the downturn in the early 2000s, builders put up significantly more homes per U.S. household than they are constructing now, in the ninth year of an economic expansion. Only at the bottom of the 1981 and 1991 economic downturns were per-household construction levels near what they are now, according to Jordan Rappaport, an economist at the Kansas City Fed. He says the only period when the U.S. might have built fewer homes by population was during World War II.”
  • “The National Association of Home Builders estimates builders will start fewer than 900,000 new homes in 2018, less than the roughly 1.3 million homes needed to keep up with population growth. The overall inventory of new and existing homes for sale hit its lowest level on record in the fourth quarter of 2017, at 1.48 million, according to the National Association of Realtors.”
  • “That, in turn, is pushing up prices at what economists say is an unsustainable pace. The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index rose 6.3% in 2017. That was roughly twice the rate of income growth and three times the rate of inflation.”
  • “Builders cite numerous factors contributing to the construction slump. A decades long push for young people to go to college has driven down trade-school enrollment, depriving builders of skilled labor. Declining numbers of immigrant construction workers have sapped builders of unskilled labor.”
  • “The construction workforce in the U.S. declined to 10.5 million in 2016, from 10.6 million in 2010, when the real-estate market was near bottom, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by Issi Romem, an economist at BuildZoom, a startup that tracks construction data for building contractors.”
  • “Nationwide, membership in the National Association of Home Builders peaked at 240,000 in 2007, then dropped to 140,000 in 2012, where it has remained throughout the recovery.”
  • “Builders in far-flung exurbs are encountering stiffer resistance from young buyers even as prices ratchet higher for land closer to cities. Economists say that in many large metropolitan areas, suburbanization might simply have reached its limits, as potential buyers increasingly reject long commutes. During the 1950s, buying a home in a new suburb, where land was plentiful and cheap, often meant driving half an hour to a job in the city. Today, commutes from new developments can be several times that long.”
  • “’There’s a tremendous mismatch between the places where people want to live and the places where it’s easiest to build,’ says Edward Glaeser, a professor of economics at Harvard University who studies constraints on housing supply.”
  • “But building remains below historical averages, and economists say it is unlikely to return to those levels before the next recession.”
  • “’It’s hard for me to see on single-family how you can build your way out of this,’ Mr. Rappaport says. ‘Even with these heroic efforts’ to overcome barriers to building new housing, he says, there is little chance ‘that you’re going to get a new stream of single-family homes that can relieve demand.’”
  • “Coastal cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Boston have taken criticism for their restrictive building codes, which make it more difficult to create enough housing to keep up with population growth.”
  • “Even metropolitan areas with more permissive approaches to building are lagging behind their historical construction levels. Housing permits in Memphis, Tenn., were 44% below their historical average in 2017, according to the latest Census figures analyzed by real-estate data firm Trulia, while permits in the Minneapolis metropolitan area were 16% below average.”

Finance

FT – Private equity groups are calling the shots – Javier Espinoza 3/14

  • “In business, the mantra goes, the customer is always right and should get the best deal.”
  • “The opposite is happening in private equity where investors, including large pension funds, endowments, sovereign wealth funds and family money, face unfavorable fund terms and, in all likelihood, lower returns.”
  • “Private equity firms are clearly calling the shots and that is illustrated by the record amount of money they are turning away.”
  • “Huge institutional investors have so much money burning a hole in their pockets (Singapore’s GIC alone has $100bn of assets under management) they are under enormous pressure to find a home for this cash somewhere.”
  • “Hence their willingness to commit their cash to funds even if managers cut or reduce the so-called hurdle rate, which is the return that is guaranteed before a buyout group can claim a share of the profits. The industry standard is a preferred return of 8% on deals.”
  • “Advent International, the Boston and London-based group, raised eyebrows in 2016 when it announced it was closing a mega $13bn buyout fund without offering minimum returns to its investors. Last year, CVC, the former owner of F1, also said it was cutting its hurdle rate from 8% to 6%. The buyout firm also scrapped early-bird discounts given to new investors.”
  • “Rather than take their money and run from unfavorable terms, investors have doubled down on these private equity funds, which raised record amounts of cash in their fastest time ever. Advent had set out to raise $12bn and received more than $20bn of interest from investors. CVC raised €16bn but closed the door on billions more because demand was close to €30bn.”
  • “Rubbing salt into the wound of poorer terms, private equity managers are also warning them that returns should come down.”
  • “’The investors have accepted the idea of lower returns as OK,’ said the head of a private equity group. ‘It used to be that investors would earn 20% net internal rate of returns. Now they are happy with 14% or 15% net internal rate of returns.’”

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

Visual Capitalist – The Rising Problem of Crypto Theft, and How to Protect Yourself – Jeff Desjardins 3/20

Tech

WSJ – The Battery Boost We’ve Been Waiting for Is Only a Few Years Out – Christopher Mims 3/18

Health / Medicine

NYT – How to Stop Eating Sugar – David Leonhardt 3/18

China

Bloomberg – Xi Gives Stark Taiwan Warning in Hands-Off Message to Trump – Keith Zhai, Peter Martin and Dandan Li 3/20

NYT – Hard-Charging Chinese Energy Tycoon Falls From Xi Government’s Graces – Alexandra Stevenson 3/14

  • The tycoon: Ye Jianming. The company: CEFC China Energy.

India

Bloomberg Gadfly – Ambani’s Jio Triple Play Deserves to Upend This Cozy Club – Andy Mukherjee 3/20

Russia

NYT – Russian Election: Videos Show Possible Fraud – Camilla Schick 3/20

  • Did Putin really need the help?…

March 01, 2018

Perspective

NYT – By Day, a Sunny Smile for Disney Visitors. By Night, an Uneasy Sleep in a Car. – Jennifer Medina 2/27

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – How Putin meddles in Western democracies – Leaders 2/22

FT – A world of debt mortgages our economic future – Derek Scissors 2/22

  • “Irresponsible borrowing by the US, China and India imperils global growth.”

WSJ – The Wayfair Riddle – Elizabeth Winkler 2/26

  • “The furniture retailer’s business has serious flaws, but the stock keeps soaring.”

Energy

FT – Rising interest rates punish US power sector – Ed Crooks 2/22

  • “US utilities, sustained for years in a warm bath of favorable financial conditions, are facing a cold shower.”
  • “An expected rise in interest rates and the shake-up of the tax system passed into law at the end of last year are threatening to squeeze utilities’ finances. Already, the S&P 500 utility sector index has dropped 13% from its peak in November.”

FT – Fundamentals do not matter to new breed of oil speculator – Gregory Meyer 2/27

Finance

FT – Rising tide of debt to hit rich countries’ budgets, warns OECD – Kate Allen and Chris Giles 2/22

  • “Developed nations face a rising tide of government debt that poses ‘a significant challenge’ to budgets as interest rates increase around the world, the OECD has warned.”
  • “Low interest rates have helped sustain high levels of government debt and persistent budget deficits since the financial crisis, according to the OECD, but the ‘relatively favorable’ sovereign funding environment ‘may not be a permanent feature of financial markets’.”
  • “The warning on the longer-term consequences of high public borrowing marks a shift in stance by the OECD, which as recently as November was praising countries for easing fiscal policy to help global growth.”
  • “In an Economic Outlook, published at that time, the Paris-based organization said that ‘even a lasting increase in 10-year government bond yields of 1 percentage point . . . might worsen budget balances on average by only between 0.1% and 0.3% of GDP annually in the following three years’.”
  • “The total stock of OECD countries’ sovereign debt has increased from $25tn in 2008 to more than $45tn this year. Debt to GDP ratios across the OECD averaged 73% last year, and its members are set to borrow £10.5tn from the markets this year.”
  • “Because much of the debt raised in the aftermath of the financial crisis is set to mature in the coming years, developed nations will have to refinance 40% of their total debt stock in the next three years, the OECD said.”

Health / Medicine

Economist – How to stop lead poisoning – Leaders 2/22

Agriculture

WSJ – Daily Shot: To Stay on the Land, American Farmers Add Extra Jobs – Jacob Bunge and Jesse Newman 2/25

Sovereign Wealth Funds

FT – Norway oil fund posts $131bn return for 2017 – Richard Milne 2/27

  • “Norway’s $1.1tn oil fund returned 13.7% — or NKr1tn ($131bn) — beaten only by 2009 and 2013 in percentage terms.”
  • “Strong stock markets contributed to a 19.4% return for equities while property returned 7.5% and bonds 3.3%.”

China

Nikkei Asian Review – The hidden risks of China’s war on debt – Yusho Cho 2/28

India

FT – Huge fraud at Indian bank spurs privatization calls – Amy Kazmin 2/27

  • “In 1969, India’s then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, transformed the country’s banking landscape when she nationalized its 14 biggest commercial lenders, which together accounted for around 70% of the system’s deposits.”
  • “Nationalization was touted as way to protect depositors and force banks — which mainly catered to big industrial houses — to lend to a broader swath of the population, including farmers, traders and small businesses.” 
  • “State dominance over the banking system has not worked out so well for India. Politically driven lending decisions, difficulties agreeing realistic debt workouts when loans sour, as well as uninspired, even fearful bureaucratic management and outdated IT systems have left state lenders with a far higher bad debt burden than their private rivals, hindering India’s economic prospects.” 
  • “Now, the discovery of an alleged $1.8bn fraud at India’s second-largest state lender, Punjab National Bank, is prompting vigorous and concerted calls for New Delhi to admit the failure of Mrs. Gandhi’s bank nationalization — and reverse it.” 
  • “According to PNB, staff at one of its Mumbai branches issued fraudulent bank guarantees for luxury jeweler Nirav Modi, and his diamond-trader uncle Mehul Choksi, to take cash advances from the overseas branches of other Indian banks — all ostensibly guaranteed by PNB.”
  • “Antiquated software systems — guarantees were issued without requisite documents or collateral — meant PNB’s management had no idea of the obligations mounting in its name. Nor did the banks that received the guarantees, mostly other state lenders, suspect any impropriety.” 
  • “Analysts say the scam, which PNB says went on for several years without detection, highlights the rot in state banks and the need for radical change.” 
  • “At the heart of India’s banking crisis, however, is New Delhi’s political control over what should be run as commercial entities and the inherent conflict of interest in the state’s multiple roles as economic policymaker, the largest bank owner and the industry regulator.” 
  • “While New Delhi is now in the middle of a $32bn recapitalization scheme to shore up bank balance sheets after the last wave of bad debts, the PNB fraud has raised fears the government is simply throwing good money after bad.” 
  • “Privatization of some, or even most, of India’s state banks is not a simple or quick solution to the sector’s problems. Analysts say the legacy of five decades of state ownership — and its impact on personnel, incentives and decision-making — will take years to undo. But the PNB fraud has persuaded many Indians it is time to start.”

Japan

WSJ – Daily Shot: TD Securities – Japanese Investors Looking For Returns Abroad 2/27

Puerto Rico

WSJ – Daily Shot: CNN – ‘Exodus’ from Puerto Rico: A visual guide – John D. Sutter and Sergio Hernandez 2/21

South America

Bloomberg – Hungry Venezuelan Workers Are Collapsing. So Is the Oil Industry – Fabiola Zerpa 2/22

  • “Starving employees are growing too weak for heavy labor, hobbling the refineries that keep the economy running.”

October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween!

If you were only to read one thing…

FT – Billionaire boom is a sign that rates need to rise – Merryn Somerset Webb 10/27

  • “It has been a good week for billionaires. The UBS/PwC Billionaires Report 2017 claimed the combined wealth of the world’s 1,542 billionaires rose by almost a fifth last year to $6tn: more than double the UK’s gross domestic product.”
  • “It has not been a particularly good week for governments. They have to deal with the fallout from rising wealth inequality, and that fallout is getting increasingly nasty. This kind of report does not do much for central bankers, either: the rise of the billionaires is as much about financial globalization as it is easy money, but every time a report lands on their desks, central bankers must stop to think about the economic, social and political havoc their policies have caused over the past 10 years.”
  • “The desperate attempt to avoid deflation via quantitative easing and record-low interest rates has had horrible side effects, and this observation is hardly controversial. The rich have become much richer; corporate wealth has become more concentrated; soaring house prices have created intergenerational strife; low yields have made all but the super-rich paranoid that they will be entirely unable to finance their futures. Most markets have ended up overvalued (this will really matter one day), while pension fund deficits and a constant sense of crisis have discouraged capital investment — and have possibly held down wages in the UK.”
  • “Set a target, get a distortion. This is standard stuff. But the fact that extreme monetary policy has been going on for so long means that central bankers do not just have macro problems to feel bad about. They are also effectively responsible for the increasingly dodgy micro policies governments have felt forced to put in place in an attempt to alleviate the nasty side effects of very low interest rates, over which they have no control.”
  • “A bit of good news is that this monetary experimentation has been about inflation targeting (everyone, for no obvious reason, is after 2%). And if you set a target and pursue it at the cost of everything else you usually get to it. So inflation is back. In the US, where expectations of inflation are low, September numbers showed average hourly earnings jumping 2.9%, the biggest rise in a decade.”
  • “The Monetary Policy Committee could dig out a list of excuses not to raise rates despite the last GDP growth numbers being rather better than expected. Raising rates will do harm at some point (asset prices will fall and the indebted will suffer). But not reversing is beginning to look like it could do more harm. Unless, of course, you are a billionaire.”

Perspective

Axios – ‘Degree inflation’ may be pushing workers out of the middle class – Christopher Matthews 10/25

  • “A growing number of U.S. employers are requiring bachelor’s degrees for jobs that have long been performed by workers without them, contributing to a rise in income inequality, according to a report published today.”
  • “Why it matters: The report, by Harvard Business School, Accenture, and Grads of Life estimates that 6 million American jobs are at risk of ‘degree inflation,’ a result of employers increasingly using a bachelor’s degree ‘as a proxy for a candidate’s range and depth of skills.'”

  • “‘This phenomenon is a major driver of income inequality,’ Joe Fuller of Harvard Business School tells Axios. ‘We’re hollowing out middle-class jobs and driving everyone to the extremes of the income spectrum.'”
  • “The number of U.S. job openings has reached an all-time high, but more than 13 million Americans — the vast majority with less than a four-year college degree — are unemployed or working part-time when they want full-time positions.”
  • “The costs of the shift are ‘profound’ for the two-thirds of American adults who lack a college degree, Fuller says.”
    • “90% of companies use screening software to weed out applicants lacking the education requirement. That means, even with the right experience, an applicant won’t even be considered by a human.”
    • “‘This puts significant pressure for people with certain aspirations to get a degree even when it’s not directly relevant to their career.'”
    • “When the 6-year graduation rate for 4-year schools in America is just 59%, that means Americans lacking the aptitude to excel in college take on debt for degrees they’ll never receive.”
    • “Hispanics and African Americans are disproportionately hurt by the phenomenon, because they have lower college graduation rates than the population at large.”

Visual Capitalist – Commuters and Computers: Mapping U.S. Megaregions – Nick Routley 10/28

  • “We tend to think of cities as individual economic units, but as they expand outward and bleed together, defining them simply by official jurisdictions and borders becomes difficult. After all, many of the imaginary lines divvying up the country are remnants of decisions from centuries ago – and other county and state lines exist for more counterintuitive reasons such as gerrymandering.”
  • “By ignoring borders and looking purely at commuter data, geographer Garrett Nelson and urban analyst Alasdair Rae looked to map the relationship between population centers in their paper, An Economic Geography of the United States: From Commutes to Mega-regions.”

  • “The study used network partitioning software to link together 4 million commutes between census tracts. This gives us a very granular look at the ‘gravitational pull’ of America’s population centers, and helps us better understand the economic links that bind a region together.”
  • “By combining visual and mathematical approaches, and some creative place-naming, the researchers created a map that they hope reflects America’s true economic geography.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: State College Graduation Rates – Highest & Lowest 10/29

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

The Atlantic – Harvey Weinstein and the Economics of Consent – Brit Marling 10/23

  • “The blunt power of the gatekeeper is the ability to enforce not just artistic, but also financial, exile.”

Bloomberg View – When Wall Street Looks Pricey, the Rest of the U.S. Thrives – Conor Sen

  • “When stocks are expensive, those with capital are more inclined to expand a business or start a new one.”
  • We’ll see…

Bloomberg View – Faster Growth Begins With a Land Tax in U.S. Cities – Noah Smith 10/24

  • This would cause a major political fight. The odds are that a land value tax would initially be passed onto tenants, until of course there is enough push back.
  • Granted, this goes against the goal of having property in core markets with the ability to benefit from economic rents…

Business Insider – Jeff Flake isn’t brave, he’s helpless – and he doesn’t understand why – Josh Barro 10/24

FT – Investors pass the buck on governance – Rana Foroohar 10/29

  • “Proxy advisers incentivize the wrong company behavior by creating rigid checklists.”

NYT – A Long-Delayed Reckoning of the Cost of Silence on Abuse – Jim Rutenberg 10/22

NYT – Forget Washington. Facebook’s Problems Abroad Are Far More Disturbing. – Kevin Roose 10/29

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – US Single Family Home Sales 10/29

  • “Moody’s is projecting that many more homes will be sold next year as homeowners finally make their move.”

Others are not as optimistic.

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – US Existing Single Family Home Sales 10/29

FT  – Sand castles on Jersey Shore: property boom defies US flood risk – Gregory Meyer 10/29

  • “Sandy exposed the perils of shoreline living, as the climate warms and sea levels creep higher. In the US alone it left 162 dead, laid waste to 650,000 homes and cost $65bn — the second most expensive weather disaster in history.”
  • “On New Jersey’s fragile barrier islands, the response to Sandy has not been to withdraw inland but rather to build bigger. ‘They did not rebuild bungalows. They knocked those down and built McMansions,’ says Walter LaCicero, Lavallette’s mayor.”
  • That’s one way to do eminent domain.
  • “Improbably, the disaster created a once-in-a-lifetime buying opportunity. Older families unable to pay for repairs sold properties.”
  • “House prices in the worst-hit communities cratered after Sandy. In Lavallette, the median sale price of $532,500 in October 2012 had more than halved to $225,000 by February 2013, according to New Jersey Realtors. This past summer, median prices reached $660,000 and were higher by the beach.”
  • “The Federal Emergency Management Agency has paid out more than $25bn in New Jersey and New York alone, reimbursing towns for the cost of removing debris, repairing roads and bridges, and renting emergency equipment. Gaps in local tax revenue lost when assessed property values collapsed were filled with federal money. The agency granted $1.4bn to 179,000 people and households in the region to cover their costs of shelter and rebuilding.”
  • “Critics say federal policy rewards local officials for hazardous coastal development. ‘If someone told you you’re going to get a new beach every time the oceans washed yours away, you’re probably going to feel more secure allowing high-priced homes to be built there,’ says Rob Moore, senior policy analyst at the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council).”
  • “The aid has strings attached: all new and rebuilt houses must now rest on stilts at least one foot above the estimated crest of a once-in-a-100-year flood.”
  • “Relatively cheap schemes such as hazard zoning and land purchases have typically received about 5% of disaster relief funds, according to a report by the National Research Council, an expert body. Washington is also picking up a bigger tab from coastal disasters, covering 75% of the damages from Sandy compared with 6% for Hurricane Diane in 1955.”
  • “‘Developers, builders and state and local governments reap the rewards of coastal development but do not bear equivalent risk, because the federal government has borne an increasing share of the costs of coastal disasters,’ the council’s study said.”
  • “The prospect of higher and more frequent floods driven by climate change comes as the Trump administration unravels US commitments to rein in carbon emissions, including pulling out of the Paris agreement and abandoning an initiative to factor climate risks into infrastructure spending. As Irma bore down on Florida last month Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said the time to discuss the causes and effects of the storm was ‘not now’.”

WSJ – Stuck in Place, U.S. Homeowners Hunker Down as Housing Supply Stays Tight – Laura Kusisto and Christina Rexrode 10/29

FT – Boston prices its graduates out of starter homes – Hugo Cox 10/24

Energy

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

  • “The rise of these home batteries isn’t just a product of our collective obsession with new tech. Their adoption is being driven by a powerful need, says Ravi Manghani, of GTM Research: renewable energy.”

  • “Without batteries and other means of energy storage, the ability of utility companies to deliver power could eventually be threatened.”
  • “Solar power, especially, tends to generate electricity only at certain times—and it’s rarely in sync with a home’s needs. In some states, such as California and Arizona, there’s an overabundance of solar power in the middle of the day during cool times of the year, then a sudden crash in the evenings, when people get home and energy use spikes.”
  • “For utilities, it’s a headache. The price of electricity on interstate markets can go negative at certain times, forcing them to dump excess electricity or pay others to take it.”
  • “’This is not a long-term theoretical issue that might happen—this is now,’ says Marc Romito, director of customer technology at Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest electric utility.”

Finance

FT – Wall St banks ride boom in leveraged loans as volumes soar – Joe Rennison and Eric Platt 10/29

  • “Wall Street banks are having a strong year underwriting and selling riskier loans, with the volume so far this year already surpassing the whole of 2016.”
  • “The overall industry has underwritten leveraged loans worth $1.251tn, and earlier this month eclipsed its previous full-year record set in 2013, according to Dealogic. Volumes are up 38% from a year earlier and more than 60% of the deals have been companies refinancing existing loans.”
  • “The relative dearth of new loans, as opposed to refinancings, has also given borrowers the upper hand. As well as lower rates, borrowers are also able to cut the number of investor protections, called covenants, written into the loans.”
  • “’Net new supply is relatively low so demand is exceeding supply,’ said Christina Padgett, an analyst at Moody’s. ‘Investors are going to get squeezed on price and the issuers are going to take advantage so they have really flexible credit agreements.’”

FT – Why credit is the Hotel California of markets – Michael Mackenzie 10/24

  • “The endless debate over valuation metrics that have accompanied the storming bull run in stocks misses a much bigger point about investing in 2017. Thanks to the outsized role of central banks, it is the credit markets that run the show. If you want clues on when the bull run in equities is entering the red zone, keep your eyes on the corporate debt market.”
  • “Before central banks’ quantitative easing policies engineered the current cycle of financial suppression, credit markets had already established their bona fides as an early warning system for investors. When equities peaked in October 2007, the credit market had already begun turning lower.”
  • “A decade on, the risk premium, or additional yield, offered by corporate bonds over that of a US government bond is at its narrowest since 2007. That provides very little protection for buyers, with even a modest drop in bond prices erasing the meagre fixed income being paid by borrowers.”
  • The big lesson digested by investors since the financial crisis is that you need to own yield, and the money gushing into bond funds remains immense. About $241bn flowed into US high grade bond funds and exchange traded funds in the first nine months of the year, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimates. That’s a whopping 34% higher than 2012’s full-year record of $180bn, the bank says.”
  • “This high tide of money means companies can keep selling debt — running at a record $1.4tn pace this year in the US — at very low interest rates. The resulting higher leverage in the system helps explain why the equity market keeps updating the record books with alacrity.”
  • “’As long as people are tripping over themselves to buy bonds, it remains a very favorable environment for risk taking,’ says Jack Ablin, chief investor officer at BMO Wealth Management.”
  • “True, a number of strategists concede the current credit cycle is looking a little long in the tooth, but they also think the water can remain warm and soapy for a while yet.”
  • “The Federal Reserve may have begun trimming its balance sheet, but other central banks are still buying and the scale of their largesse keeps US credit spreads tight as international money hunts yield. Not until next March will collective bond buying from the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England peak at around $15.3tn, according to BofA.”
  • “But kick the tires of the credit machine a little harder and there are nascent signs of trouble.”
  • “The quality of covenants — designed to protect bondholders from a borrower defaulting — loiters in the gutter, reflecting a market awash with far too much money.”
  • “In another troubling sign, companies have raised just $215bn from the US high yield market in 2017, the second-slowest figure since 2011, as flows of money into the sector have been choppy this year. While this suggests that some money managers are doing their credit homework, the recent bankruptcy filing of Toys R Us sends a grim tiding about market complacency.”
  • “Bonds in the highly indebted retailer were trading near par and then plunged below 30 cents on the dollar.”
  • “So where does this leave investors? Sure the music is still playing and will probably do so for some time yet. But watch the yield curve. The Fed’s autopilot sequence of rate increases has sharply narrowed the difference between yields on short and long dated Treasuries. This reflects expectations that inflation will stay low — bad for debtors — as well as concern that the economy’s growth prospects are limited.”
  • “If there’s further curve flattening after a tax reform deal, that will send a gloomy signal about the economy, finally push credit spreads wider and should worry the most ardent of equity bulls.”
  • “As we know from 2008, there is no exit once the credit market turns. Credit is the Hotel California of markets — and equity investors usually discover they are trapped in the basement.”

China

FT – Inside China’s secret ‘magic weapon’ for worldwide influence – James Kynge, Lucy Hornby, and Jamil Anderlini 10/25

  • “Xi is quietly ramping up a Communist party department to expand Beijing’s soft power.”

India

FT – India agrees $32bn plan to recapitalize state banks – Simon Mundy 10/24

  • “India’s government has announced a $32bn recapitalization plan for the country’s ailing state-controlled banks in a bid to tackle a festering economic problem.”
  • “The finance ministry promised on Tuesday to take a ‘massive step . . . to support credit growth and job creation’ by shoring up bank balance sheets strained by soaring corporate defaults over the past three years.”
  • “The state banks have been faced with weak credit demand this year and have lost market share to private sector rivals.”
  • “Concerns about the condition of the state-owned banks, which account for more than two-thirds of sector assets, have been mounting along with estimates of their bad loans.”
  • “This is because of a spurt in loans to companies in sectors such as steel and infrastructure over much of the past decade, many of which subsequently turned sour. Gross non-performing loans at the state-controlled banks rose to 13.7% of their assets at the end of June, up from 5.4% in March 2015.”
  • “Beyond the recapitalization, the government promised to push the banks to step up their lending to small and medium-sized enterprises, including by partnering with financial technology companies.”
  • “This sector was badly hit by India’s demonetization last year, which triggered a shortage of bank notes that rocked companies long used to dealing entirely in cash.”

Japan

WSJ – Japan to Young Investors: Loosen Up – Suryatapa Bhattacharya 10/29

Puerto Rico

Rhodium Group – America’s Biggest Blackout – Trevor Houser and Peter Marsters 10/26

Russia

NYT – In Russia, a Bribery Case Lifts the Veil on Kremlin Intrigue – Andrew Kramer 10/21

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Latinobarometro – Does Your Government Favor the Elite 10/29

  • It would be hard to argue it doesn’t.

September 8, 2017

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: US Auto Fuel Efficiency 9/7

NYT – An Enormous, Urgent Task: Hauling Away Harvey’s Debris – John Schwartz and Alan Blinder 9/6

  • “Of all the challenges that southeast Texas faces after Hurricane Harvey, few will linger longer or more visibly than the millions of pounds of debris already crowding curbs and edging onto streets. The cleanup, needed from northeast Houston’s neighborhoods to the wealthy suburbs southwest of the city, will take months and cost billions of dollars.”
  • “At the same time, Houston officials are asking residents to separate their Harvey-related waste into five piles: appliances; electronics; construction and demolition debris; household hazardous waste; and vegetative debris. A look at these streets suggested that few people seemed to be heeding the city’s pleas.”
  • “Other cities have been through this battle with a storm’s leavings. After floodwaters inundated East Baton Rouge Parish, La., last year, crews collected about two million cubic yards of debris. Superstorm Sandy, in 2012, led to about six million cubic yards of debris in New York State — the equivalent of four Empire State Buildings, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Katrina left behind 38 million cubic yards. Getting the stuff gone is a long process. It was only last month that Baton Rouge finished the debris removal process it organized in the wake of last year’s flooding there.”
  • “In Houston, where city officials say that some eight million cubic yards of debris will need to be hauled away, collection is farther along in some neighborhoods than in others.”
  • “The job of deciding how to move these mountains has been left to county and local officials, who hire debris removal companies to help them dig out. FEMA will reimburse the local governments for 90% of the cost.”

Economist – How government policy exacerbates hurricanes like Harvey 9/2

  • “The bad news is that storms and floods still account for almost three-quarters of weather-related disasters, and they are becoming more common. According to the Munich Re, a reinsurer, their number around the world has increased from about 200 in 1980 to over 600 last year. Harvey was the third ‘500-year’ storm to strike Houston since 1979.”
  • In regard to encouraging less than desirable behavior, “the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has been forced to borrow because it fails to charge enough to cover its risk of losses. Underpricing encourages the building of new houses and discourages existing owners from renovating or moving out. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, houses that repeatedly flood account for 1% of NFIP’s properties but 25-30% of its claims.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – Lexington: Our columnist bids farewell 9/7

  • “After five years, which included reporting trips to 46 states, this Lexington offers some parting thoughts on American politics.”

Economist – How to provide a protein-rich diet to a growing population 8/31

  • “What goes onto people’s plates matters. So does what gets fed to animals.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Goldman Sachs – Ownership of US equity market since 1945 9/7

NYT – Milestone for BMI: More Than $1 Billion in Music Royalties – Ben Sisario 9/7

  • “The organization, whose hundreds of thousands of members include stars like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Sting, announced on Thursday that it had $1.13 billion in revenue and distributed $1.02 billion in royalties during its most recent fiscal year, which ended in June. BMI and other performing rights organizations, like its rival Ascap, collect money whenever songs are played on the radio, streamed online or piped into a restaurant.”

Real Estate

Bloomberg Quint – India Trumps Hong Kong as No. 1 for Home-Price Gains in Asia – Pooja Thakur 9/6

  • But when you look at the last 5 years…

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Global High-Yield (HY) Corporate Bond Issuance 9/7

Bloomberg – Bennett Goodman Builds $95 Billion Credit Machine – Nabila Ahmed, Sridhar Natarajan, and David Carey 9/5

China

WSJ – China’s Bad Banks Show It Still Has a Big Bad Loan Problem – Anjani Trivedi 9/7

  • “There are Chinese banks and then there are China’s bad banks. To understand just how worrying the country’s bad-loan problem has become, it’s worth taking a look at the latter.”
  • “China Cinda Asset Management , the second-largest of four asset managers set up in the 1990s to clean up China’s then already large pile of souring loans, is still at it two decades on, managing and restructuring distressed assets offloaded by banks. The company’s latest results offer a lens into the rapidly deteriorating asset quality in China, that’s at odds with the relatively rosy picture of China painted for investors by its near-7% growth and corporate profits that have surged to multiyear highs.”
  • “The current pace at which Cinda is acquiring distressed assets is far outpacing the rate at which it can dispose of these assets. That has pushed down the price at which it can sell bad-loan portfolios to close to 20 cents on the dollar from 30 cents this time last year. Its income from disposing bad assets dropped 64% on the year, with returns on restructured assets falling to 8.7%in the first half from 10.6% a year ago. Losses from impairments on its assets more than doubled in the first half, driven by a more-than 10-fold increase in provisions.”
  • “These trends suggest China’s bad-loan problem is rather more severe than investors would guess from looking at the big banks’ results: The likes of ICBC and Bank of China actually reported improving nonperforming loan ratios in the first half. One reason they were able to do so is that they have been offloading bad assets to the likes of Cinda, which picks up around 60% of its distressed assets from the big banks.”

Japan

Bloomberg – Japanese Companies Cut Bonuses, Pushing Overall Wages Lower – Yuko Takeo and Yoshiaki Nohara 9/5

Russia

FT – Russia seeks to close Ukraine’s window to the west – Jeffery Mankoff and Jonathan Hillman 9/6

  • “Last month, Russia completed a railway that bypasses Ukraine. The project was entrusted to a special military unit and completed a year ahead of schedule, underscoring its importance to the Kremlin. It is the latest of several Russian-led infrastructure projects that, coupled with the devastation wrought by the conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region, risk turning Ukraine, historically a bridge between east and west, into an island.”
  • “Isolation from emerging east-west connectivity could be one of the most enduring and most damaging consequences of the war for Ukraine, one that both Kiev and its western partners need to pay more attention to overcoming.”
  • “A UN assessment in November 2014 found that 53 bridges, 45 road sections, and 190 railway facilities had been damaged. Altogether, infrastructure losses were estimated at $440m, and while some repairs have been carried out, funding constraints and security challenges have limited reconstruction.”
  • “For both sides in the conflict, altering patterns of trade and transit is a means of shaping Ukraine’s political and economic destiny. While military forces have destroyed critical infrastructure such as bridges and railways, the governments in both Kiev and Moscow are building new connections that will re-orientate trade flows.”

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Brazilian CPI YoY Change 9/7

  • “Brazil’s CPI was lower than expected, which solidified the expectations for another rate cut.”

May 11, 2017

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg View – After Comey, Justice Must Be Served – Michael Bloomberg 5/10

  • “Congress needs to get serious about holding the president accountable.”

NYT – The Princeling in the West Wing – Jill Abramson 5/10

Economist – Schumpeter: Harvard Business School risks going from great to good – A confidential memorandum of warning to its senior faculty 5/4

Markets / Economy

Economist – The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data 5/6

Real Estate

WSJ – Labor Shortage Squeezes Builders – Peter Grant 5/6

  • “Construction labor costs are rising an average of 4% to 5% annually, outpacing inflation, according to Anirban Basu, chief economist of the Associated Builders and Contractors. ‘The situation is going to get worse,’ he said.”
  • “Overall, the association said the industry needs 500,000 more workers. The trade group estimates 600,000 additional workers would be needed for the $1 trillion in infrastructure building and improvement for which President Donald Trump has said he would seek funding.”

Health / Medicine

Economist – Fatal attraction: The link between pollution and heart disease 5/4

  • “An experiment suggests pollutants build up in arterial plaques.”

Britain

FT – Cash is king in homes market but leaves many unable to buy – Chris Giles 5/9

China

WSJ – Rich, Young Chinese Are Buying Overseas Properties on Their Smartphones – Dominique Fong 5/9

  • “Millennials acquire real estate in other countries as hedge against a weakening currency, homes for their own children when they study abroad.”

NYT – A Chinese Giant Is on a Global Buying Spree. Who’s Behind It? – David Barboza 5/9

  • “According to corporate filings, state-backed banks have given HNA a $60 billion line of credit, a level of lending usually reserved for state-owned enterprises charged with carrying out the government’s policies.”
  • Seriously? We’ll if you’re going to give me money to place, I’ll place it.
  • For reference, “when the company was founded in 1993, China had just begun experimenting with private ownership, opening new economic zones and allowing companies to sell shares to the public. The Hainan provincial government asked Mr. Chen, a former pilot with the People’s Liberation Army, to help develop a regional carrier, one that would be partly owned by the state and partly owned by private investors.”
  • It has since become a private company and part of the HNA Group.
  • “In 1993, the company had just $17 million in revenue. Today, it has about $90 billion in annual revenue, most coming from companies acquired outside China.”
  • “HNA, of late, has embraced the government’s push to ‘go global’ and invest overseas, focusing on shipping, hotels, logistics and retail, amassing a $145 billion portfolio. Over the past three years, it has spent more than $30 billion, according to Dealogic.”

Russia

Economist – A new kind of revolution: Russians rebel against plans to tear down their homes 5/4

  • Earlier this year Moscow city authorities unveiled plans to demolish as many as 8,000 buildings and move up to 1.6m residents from ageing low-rise apartment blocks known as khrushchevki. The ambitious urban makeover could touch some 25m square meters of housing, cost at least 3.5 trillion roubles ($61bn), and run for more than 20 years. The plan is the brainchild of Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, and comes with the blessing of President Vladimir Putin. For some residents, it means a chance to ditch dilapidated housing. Others fear being thrown out of their homes, and are furious at the prospect.”