Tag: Saudi Arabia

October 11, 2017

Perspective

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

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

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

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

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markets / Economy

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

Finance

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

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 10/9

  • Bitcoin is rallying again.

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

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

India

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

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

Japan

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

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

Mexico

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

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

August 1, 2017

Perspective

FT – Apple removes apps that bypass China’s censors – Hannah Kuchler and Max Seddon 7/30

  • “Apple has removed from its Chinese app store applications that enable users to bypass China’s ‘Great Firewall’, in a move that developers have condemned as ‘censorship’.”
  • “The Silicon Valley company has withdrawn virtual private network (VPN) apps from the store, as it pulls all software that do not comply with local law, even if the makers are based outside the country.”
  • “VPNs allow users to access content banned by Chinese censors to control access to information online. This has, in effect, created a ‘Chinese internet’, without many western social media or search engine sites.”

Project Syndicate – Venezuela’s Unprecedented Collapse – Ricardo Hausmann 7/31

  • “In a hastily organized plebiscite on July 16, held under the auspices of the opposition-controlled National Assembly to reject President Nicolás Maduro’s call for a National Constituent Assembly, more than 720,000 Venezuelans voted abroad. In the 2013 presidential election, only 62,311 did. Four days before the referendum, 2,117 aspirants took Chile’s medical licensing exam, of which almost 800 were Venezuelans. And on July 22, when the border with Colombia was reopened, 35,000 Venezuelans crossed the narrow bridge between the two countries to buy food and medicines.”
  • “Venezuelans clearly want out – and it’s not hard to see why.”
  • “But is this just another bad run-of-the-mill recession or something more serious?”
  • “The most frequently used indicator to compare recessions is GDP. According to the International Monetary Fund, Venezuela’s GDP in 2017 is 35% below 2013 levels, or 40% in per capita terms. That is a significantly sharper contraction than during the 1929-1933 Great Depression in the United States, when US GDP is estimated to have fallen 28%. It is slightly bigger than the decline in Russia (1990-1994), Cuba (1989-1993), and Albania (1989-1993), but smaller than that experienced by other former Soviet States at the time of transition, such as Georgia, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Ukraine, or war-torn countries such as Liberia (1993), Libya (2011), Rwanda (1994), Iran (1981), and, most recently, South Sudan.”
  • “Put another way, Venezuela’s economic catastrophe dwarfs any in the history of the US, Western Europe, or the rest of Latin America. And yet these numbers grossly understate the magnitude of the collapse…”
  • “Inevitably, living standards have collapsed as well. The minimum wage – which in Venezuela is also the income of the median worker, owing to the large share of minimum-wage earners – declined by 75% (in constant prices) from May 2012 to May 2017. Measured in dollars at the black-market exchange rate, it declined by 88%, from $295 per month to just $36.”
  • “Measured in the cheapest available calorie, the minimum wage declined from 52,854 calories per day to just 7,005 during the same period, a decline of 86.7% and insufficient to feed a family of five, assuming that all the income is spent to buy the cheapest calorie. With their minimum wage, Venezuelans could buy less than a fifth of the food that traditionally poorer Colombians could buy with theirs.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – Could Football Ever End? – Jason Gay 7/30

  • “A new concussion study provokes more existential worry in the NFL – and, reportedly, an early retirement.”

FT – With oil prices, half a step is not enough – Nick Butler 7/30

  • Saudi Arabia’s additional production curbs are a step in the right direction, but there are just too many other producers that they don’t control.

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Velocity of M2 Money Stock 7/31

Real Estate

WSJ – Supermarkets Face a Growing Problem: Too Much Space – Heather Haddon and Julie Jargon 7/31

  • “A massive build-out by retailers has left the country piled up with grocery shelves as consumers are shifting from big weekly shopping trips to more snacking and to-go meals. The mismatch has flattened retail sales and leaves the industry vulnerable to a wave of closures that some executives, bankers and industry experts think is coming soon.”
  • “Commercial square footage of retail food space per capita last year set a record, with 4.15 square feet of food retail per person, according to CoStar Group, a commercial real-estate firm, nearly 30 times the amount of space allocated to groceries at major chains in 1950.”
  • “To be sure, major grocery chains weren’t as numerous decades ago, with many Americans shopping for food at mom and pop stores.”
  • “But the growth in groceries have extended across many types of retailers in recent years. Part of the expansion comes from grocers, who accelerated their store openings as a way to drive sales growth after the 2008 recession. At the same time, club chains, dollar stores, pharmacies—and even gas stations—increased their fresh food offerings to drive traffic and boost profits.”
  • Additionally, this article doesn’t mention the increasing foot prints of these grocers. Many are resembling department stores, but with an emphasis on food.

Finance

WSJ – Private Equity Takes Fire  as Some Retailers Struggle – Lillian Rizzo 7/30

  • “A wave of retail bankruptcies washing through court has revived an old debate about the role of private-equity firms in accelerating the problems of companies in distress.”
  • “Payless ShoeSource Inc., Gymboree Corp., rue21 Inc. and True Religion Apparel Inc. were all acquired by private-equity firms during the past decade. Now, lawyers for creditors have questioned whether private-equity firms share blame for the retailers’ financial collapse, in some cases by loading debt on the companies.”
  • “In the case of Payless, investors Golden Gate Capital and Blum Capital, after a leveraged buyout in 2012, over the next two years paid themselves $350 million in dividends—in total putting more than $700 million in debt on the company. In 2016, Payless said in court papers, it had about $2.3 billion in global net sales, and nearly $840 million in debt.”
  • “Vendors and landlords alleged in court papers that the dividend payouts, along with other payments to the investors, left the retailer particularly vulnerable to collapse just as technology and shifting consumer behavior upended the retail industry.”
  • “In general, private-equity executives say they often help companies improve operations and grow and that, sometimes, economic forces are beyond what any company could weather.”
  • “Moreover, retail woes are much bigger than private equity and extend to many companies that aren’t owned by such investors. Some private-equity investments haven’t had the problems others are experiencing.”
  • “Bankruptcy cases are messy by nature, and creditors—typically facing losses—are often determined to minimize them. In Payless’s case, which moved closer to exiting bankruptcy protection this month, lenders owed a majority of its debts will take control of the company.”

China

Bloomberg – China Asks Waldorf Owners Anbang to Sell Assets Abroad, Sources Say 7/31

  • “Chinese authorities have asked Anbang Insurance Group Co., the insurer whose chairman was detained in June, to sell its overseas assets, according to people familiar with the matter.”
  • “The government has also asked Anbang to bring the proceeds back to China after disposing of holdings abroad, said the people, who asked not to be identified because details are private. It is not clear yet how Anbang will respond, the people said.”
  • “Anbang was among the most prominent of Chinese insurers that went on a buying binge across the globe, fueled by soaring sales of investment-type insurance policies, with its 2014 acquisition of New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel catapulting it into the public eye. Chairman Wu Xiaohui has been detained for questioning since mid-June, while the policies fueling its growth have been all but banned by regulators.”
  • “Anbang’s rise in recent years was fueled by sales of lucrative investment products that offered among the highest yields compared with peers. China’s insurance regulator this year started clamping down on what it termed ‘improper innovation’ and tightened rules on high-yield, short-term investment policies. Anbang and other aggressive insurers such as Foresea Life got caught up in the crackdown.”
  • “One Anbang product, called Anbang Longevity Sure Win No. 1, boosted the firm’s life insurance premiums almost 40-fold in 2014 by offering yields as high as 5.8%. That helped provide fuel for the firm’s more than $10 billion of overseas acquisitions since 2014 and equally ambitious investing in the domestic stock market.”

FT – One of China’s biggest P2P lenders quits ahead of clampdown – Louise Lucas and Sherry Fei Ju 7/30

  • “China’s pending regulatory crackdown on the $120bn peer-to-peer lending industry has claimed its first scalp before it has even begun, with one of the biggest players saying it will wind up its business in an industry full of bad loans and no profits.”
  • “Beijing this month said it would delay regulations that will bar online lenders from guaranteeing principal or interest on loans they facilitate, cap the size of loans at Rmb1m for individuals and Rmb5m for companies, and force lenders to use custodian banks — a requirement only a fraction of the industry has met so far.”
  • “Imposition of the new rules has been delayed from next month until June next year to give companies more time to comply.”
  • “But Hongling Capital has already thrown in the towel, with founder and chairman Zhou Shiping last week admitting that ‘P2P lending is not what we are good at, neither is it something we see potential in. This [P2P lending] business of ours would always be cleared out eventually — it’s only a matter of time.'”
  • “Hongling, which has Rmb17.6bn ($2.6bn) in loans, plans to wind down its eight-year online lending business by the end of 2020.”
  • “According to Online Lending House, a website that tracks the industry, the number of P2P lenders peaked at 2,600 in 2015, while 3,795 platforms have collapsed since 2011.”
  • “Outstanding loans from China P2P lending platforms totaled Rmb816.2bn ($121bn) at the end of December, double the figure of a year earlier, according to P2P consultant WDZJ.com.”

WSJ – Chinese Banks’ Dash for Capital Gets Under Way – Anjani Trivedi 7/31

  • “Investors have long questioned when China’s banking system, with its heaps of bad loans and hidden leverage, would resort to raising much-needed equity. From the look of it, the weakest lenders are starting to do so.”
  • The method, convertibles. To start, “Ping An Bank, a midsize lender notorious both for selling piles of high-yielding investment products and for sitting on masses of overdue loans, said last week that it plans to issue 26 billion yuan ($3.9 billion) of convertible bonds—uncommon in China—that can be switched into its Shenzhen-listed shares. While convertibles don’t count as equity straight away, they could help improve Ping An’s equity levels when they are turned into stock.”
  • Debt is the green

South America

FT – Venezuelans snub Maduro vote on day marred by violence – Gideon Long 7/31

  • In a word, impunity…
  • “Venezuelans on Sunday largely snubbed Nicolás Maduro’s election for a new all-powerful political assembly, in a vote marred by violence that killed at least 10 people and left seven police officers injured by a bomb attack.”
  • “Opposition leaders rejected the electoral commission’s turnout figure of 8.1m — 41.5% of the electoral register — saying only about 2m had actually voted. Analysts estimated the turnout at 3m-4m.”
  • “The president’s critics say the new assembly, which will be convened within 72 hours, will snuff out the last vestiges of democracy in Venezuela after nearly two decades of populist leftwing rule, turning the country into a new Cuba. It will have the power to dissolve the democratically elected Congress, where the president’s opponents have a majority, rewrite the constitution, scrap future elections and draft new laws.”
  • “In the run-up to the vote, all reliable polls had suggested that between two-thirds and three-quarters of Venezuelans opposed Mr. Maduro’s assembly. One poll said only about 12% of the electorate would vote for it.”
  • The country’s decent continues.

WSJ – Daily Shot: Venezuela Money Supply YoY Change 7/21

  • “Venezuela’s money printing has accelerated. The broad money supply has risen 400% over the past year.”

July 31, 2017

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg View – Sharif’s Ouster Is Bad News – Mihir Sharma 7/28

  • “Whatever one thinks of Pakistan’s former prime minister, the circumstances of his ouster are troubling.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Total US Mortgages Outstanding as % of GDP 7/28

WSJ – Daily Shot: Total US Nonrevolving Debt as % of GDP 7/28

Bloomberg – New U.S. Subprime Boom, Same Old Sins: Auto Defaults Are Soaring – Gabrielle Coppola 7/17

  • “Subprime auto financing has expanded quickly since 2009, and the strains are beginning to show in cases of fraud and rising delinquencies.”

Environment / Science

NYT – It’s Not Your Imagination Summers Are Getting Hotter. – Nadja Popovich and Adam Pearce 7/28

Middle East

WSJ – Daily Shot: Saudi Arabia Bank Lending Growth 7/28

July 10, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

NYT – Rooftop Solar Dims Under Pressure From Utility Lobbyists – Hiroko Tabuchi 7/8

  • “Over the past six years, rooftop solar panel installations have seen explosive growth — as much as 900% by one estimate.”
  • “That growth has come to a shuddering stop this year, with a projected decline in new installations of 2%, according to projections from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.”
  • “A number of factors are driving the reversal, from saturation in markets like California to financial woes at several top solar panel makers.”
  • “But the decline has also coincided with a concerted and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities, which have been working in state capitals across the country to reverse incentives for homeowners to install solar panels.”
  • “Utilities argue that rules allowing private solar customers to sell excess power back to the grid at the retail price — a practice known as net metering — can be unfair to homeowners who do not want or cannot afford their own solar installations.”
  • “Their effort has met with considerable success, dimming the prospects for renewable energy across the United States.”
  • “Prodded in part by the utilities’ campaign, nearly every state in the country is engaged in a review of its solar energy policies. Since 2013, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, Maine and Indiana have decided to phase out net metering, crippling programs that spurred explosive growth in the rooftop solar market. (Nevada recently reversed its decision.)”
  • “Many more states are considering new or higher fees on solar customers.”
  • “’We believe it is important to balance the needs of all customers,’ Jeffrey Ostermayer of the Edison Electric Institute, the most prominent utility lobbying group, said in a statement.”
  • “The same group of investor-owned utilities is now poised to sway solar policy at the federal level. Brian McCormack, a former top executive at the Edison institute, is Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s chief of staff.”
  • “Four years ago, the Edison institute, an industry group made up of the country’s largest investor-owned electric companies, declared that the business of generating electricity was in danger of being sucked into what has since become known as a ‘utility death spiral.’”
  • “As more consumers switched to rooftop solar and bought less electricity from the grid, the trade group worried in a 2013 document, the costs of running conventional coal, oil, gas or nuclear power plants would be shared among an ever-smaller customer base. That could cause rates to spike, chasing even more customers away.”
  • “Since then, the utilities have targeted state solar power incentives, particularly net metering, which credits solar customers for the electricity they generate but do not use and send back to the grid. That offsets the cost of electricity they may still buy from their local utility during cloudy days and at night, reducing or even eliminating their electricity bills.”
  • “Utilities argue that net metering, in place in over 40 states, turns many homeowners into free riders on the grid, giving them an unfair advantage over customers who do not want or cannot afford solar panels. The utilities say that means fewer ratepayers cover the huge costs of traditional power generation.”
  • “Utilities found a receptive audience in many states.”
  • “Arizona legislators voted in December to move away from net metering, lowering the credit solar customers receive for the excess energy they generate and limiting how long customers keep their favorable rates.”
  • “In Florida last year, the utility industry contributed more than $21 million to an ultimately unsuccessful ballot initiative to ban third-party sales or leasing of rooftop solar panels. A leaked audio recording appeared to reveal that the utility campaign deliberately misled pro-solar voters into voting for an anti-solar policy, a tactic one consultant called ‘political jujitsu.’”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg View – Has Asia Learned From the 1997 Crisis? – Michael Schuman 6/15

Economist – 3D printers will change manufacturing 6/29

WSJ – So Long, Hamburger Helper: America’s Venerable Food Brands Are Struggling 7/6

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Gold Eagle – Most Googled Car/Truck by State 7/7

Bloomberg – These U.S. States Still Haven’t Fully Recovered From Recession – Steve Matthews and Catarina Saraiva 7/5

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: UK 5yr Government Bond Yield 7/6

  • The world is turning hawkish.

WSJ – Daily Shot: German 10yr Government Bond Yield 7/6

WSJ – Daily Shot: US 10yr Government Bond Yield 7/6

WSJ – Daily Shot: Canadian 5yr Government Bond Yield 7/6

WSJ – Daily Shot: Japan 10yr Government Bond Yield 7/6

Middle East

WSJ – Daily Shot: Saudi Arabia Bank Lending Growth 7/7

June 30, 2017

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – Buttonwood: Fund managers rarely outperform the market for long 6/24

Markets / Economy

Economist –  Investors in aircraft should get set for turbulence 6/22

  • “Airliners could be the world’s next big asset bubble.”

WSJ – Central Banks Give Sleepy Markets a Wake-Up Call – Richard Barley 6/28

  • Essentially, tightening conditions are coming our way.

Environment / Science

NYT – As Climate Changes, Southern States Will Suffer More Than Others – Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich 6/29

  • “In a new study in the journal Science, researchers analyzed the economic harm that climate change could inflict on the United States in the coming century. They found that the impacts could prove highly unequal: states in the Northeast and West would fare relatively well, while parts of the Midwest and Southeast would be especially hard hit.”

China

WSJ – Daily Shot: Credit Suisse – Bank Lending to RE Developers (China) 6/29

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s & Danske Bank – Wealth Management Product Investment Exposure 6/29

FT – Hong Kong since the handover in charts – Ben Bland and Jane Pong 6/28

Middle East

Economist – A shake-up in Riyadh: The tasks facing the new Saudi crown prince 6/22

South America

WSJ – Chopper Flight Leaves Venezuelans Mystified – Anatoly Kurmanaev and Kejal Vyas 6/28

  • The helicopter attack on the capital seems a bit fishy (grenades were dropped – but none exploding, no one was injured from the shots, and there was no resistance for more than half an hour)… but nonetheless, President Maduro has used the attack as a reason to establish marshal law.

June 28, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

FT – Xi Jinping’s war on financial crocodiles gathers pace – Minxin Pei 6/25

  • “In late April, President Xi Jinping convened a politburo meeting specifically focused on stability in the financial system. Foreshadowing the crackdown, he ordered that those ‘financial crocodiles’ that destabilize China’s financial system must be punished.”
  • “While Mr. Xi did not name those financial crocodiles, it is not hard to find Chinese tycoons fitting this description: those who have borrowed recklessly and bought expensive overseas assets with abandon. A crackdown on such behavior is not only long overdue, but also can serve multiple purposes. As the Chinese saying goes, you slaughter a chicken to warn the monkeys.”
  • “Making an example of China’s wealthiest tycoons can have an instant and powerful deterrent effect and rein in overly aggressive business practices endangering the stability in China’s overleveraged and under-regulated financial sector. But the political benefits of a clampdown on Chinese tycoons, so far overlooked by most observers, are likely to be even more significant.”
  • “A large number of these tycoons had made their immense fortune before Mr. Xi’s ascent to the top in late 2012. As good relations with government officials are critical to business success, it is reasonable to assume that many, if not most, Chinese tycoons have cultivated close personal ties with members of China’s ruling elite.”
  • “Carrying out such a purge is relatively easy. Since many Chinese tycoons depend on state-owned banks for funding, the simplest way of pushing them under is to order the banks to cut off credit. This could force overleveraged tycoons into a liquidity crisis and even bankruptcy. Even those with healthier balance sheets will not be safe. The Chinese authorities will have no difficulty finding them to be in breach of some rule or other, ensuring that a politically motivated purge can be passed off as tough regulatory enforcement action.”
  • “A broader campaign to subdue Chinese tycoons will also help eliminate a longer-term threat to the Chinese Communist party in general, and the authority of Mr. Xi in particular. Under his leadership the party has methodically neutralized threats to its rule — from rival factions, corrupt officials, the media and liberal activists. But one powerful group, business tycoons, has remained largely untouched — until now.”
  • “This crackdown will be discriminating. A large number of Chinese tycoons will be sitting ducks because of their enormous wealth and questionable political allegiances. Others will be left alone or forced to prove their loyalty. When it is over, we should expect a complete re-ordering of China’s economic oligarchy.”
  • “The move against Anbang, Dalian Wanda and others is only the opening shot in this campaign.

Perspective

WSJ – China’s All-Seeing Surveillance State Is Reading Its Citizens’ Faces – Josh Chin and Liza Lin 6/26

  • “Facial-recognition technology, once a specter of dystopian science fiction, is becoming a feature of daily life in China, where authorities are using it on streets, in subway stations, at airports and at border crossings in a vast experiment in social engineering. Their goal: to influence behavior and identify lawbreakers.”
  • “China is rushing to deploy new technologies to monitor its people in ways that would spook many in the U.S. and the West. Unfettered by privacy concerns or public debate, Beijing’s authoritarian leaders are installing iris scanners at security checkpoints in troubled regions and using sophisticated software to monitor ramblings on social media. By 2020, the government hopes to implement a national ‘social credit’ system that would assign every citizen a rating based how they behave at work, in public venues and in their financial dealings.
  • “A world where everyone can be tracked by their face wherever they go is still a long way off, and will require much better algorithms and cameras than currently exist, said Anil Jain, the head of Michigan State University’s Biometrics Research Group.”
  • “China is moving in that direction, abetted by a vast surveillance network. Industry researcher IHS Markit Ltd. estimates China has 176 million surveillance cameras in public and private hands, and it forecasts the nation will install about 450 million new ones by 2020. The U.S., by comparison, has about 50 million.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Data is Beautiful – World’s Highest Paid Athletes 6/27

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

The Registry – Is Macy’s Amazon’s Next Target – John McNellis 6/23

  • Don’t sell the cow for the magic beans just yet. McNellis is great at providing perspective.

WSJ – Ties Between Chinese Banks and Deal Makers Run Deep – Anjani Trivedi 6/26

Motherboard – Amazon Is Trying to Control the Underlying Infrastructure of Our Economy – Stacy Mitchell 6/25

FT – A family coup in Saudi Arabia – Nick Butler 6/25

FT – Why Italy’s 17bn bank rescue deal is making waves across Europe – FT Reporters 6/26

FT – Italian bailout: too small to fail – Lex 6/26

  • “Blame central bank printing presses, and a consequent hunt for yield, for mispriced risks. By using public funds, European regulators have done nothing to dispel the notion that the ultimate costs of financial stability will continue to be borne by taxpayers.”

Markets / Economy

FT – Advertising agencies squeezed by tech giants – David Bond 6/25

  • “The industry has benefited from the growth in online publicity but it is starting to feel the impact of disruption.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US Commercial & Industrial Loan Growth 6/26

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US MZM Money Stock Growth 6/26

Real Estate

Bloomberg – Why Can’t They Build More Homes Where the Jobs Are? – Patrick Clark 6/23

  • “In a logical world, builders would rush to put up homes in the U.S. regions adding jobs at the fastest pace. In reality, it’s not so simple.” 
  • “San Francisco’s metropolitan area added 373,000 net new jobs in the last five years—but issued permits for only 58,000 units of new housing. The lack of new construction has exacerbated housing costs in the Bay Area, making the San Francisco metro among the cruelest markets in the U.S. Over the same period, Houston added 346,000 jobs and permitted 260,000 new dwellings, five times as many units per new job as San Francisco.”
  • “You can see the imbalance in this chart, based on one that Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, uses to explain the shortage of for-sale homes across the country. For each metro, it compares net new jobs created from 2012 to 2016 with the number of new housing units authorized over the same period. Historically, one new housing unit for every two jobs created is considered normal, Yun said.”
  • “Nationally, builders have added fewer new units in the 10 years ending in 2016 than in any 10-year period since 1990. Low vacancy rates have led to rising rents. House hunters are sweating it out in seller’s markets, in which homes go quickly—and often above the listing price.”
  • “There are two ways to ease the inventory crunch, Yun said in an interview: ‘Either the builders build homes, or real estate investors unload homes onto the market.’”
  • “Why aren’t builders swinging into action? One reason may be a mismatch between the places people want to live and the places where buildable land is available. Plus, builders have had a hard time filling open positions, which boosts labor costs and slows the pace of construction. Zoning rules often prevent greater population density, pushing builders to erect single-family homes on the peripheries of big cities, instead of apartment buildings closer to job centers.” 
  • “Regulatory costs play a role, too. On average, they account for 24% of the expense of building a new home, according to a 2016 study from the National Association of Home Builders. In San Diego, they drive 40% of the cost of a new home, according to a report by a local housing group.”

Bloomberg – These Are the U.S. Cities Where It Costs Too Much to Build – Patrick Clark 6/26

  • “The U.S. needs more new housing.”
  • “Existing homes are in short supply for both buyers and renters, from bustling coastal metropolises to smaller inland cities. Home seekers are bidding up prices and historically low ownership rates mean more people are renting, triggering fierce competition for leases. There are signs that rent growth is slowing—it’s just not slowing quickly enough.”  
  • “A new report published by the National Multifamily Housing Council and the National Apartment Association—two trade groups for landlords—seeks to quantify just how much rental housing is really needed in cities across the U.S.—as well as how difficult it is for real estate developers to actually deliver.”
  • “The first chart seeks to quantify the demand part of the equation. It looks across metropolitan areas, estimating future homeownership rates, household formation, demand for second homes, and attrition of older units—among other factors.”
  • Second chart…
  • “The bad news for cities on this chart is that rent is expensive all over. In seven out of 10 cities where it’s hardest to build, more than two-fifths of renters spend at least 35% of their income on rent. The worst on that count is Miami, where 54% of renter households spend more than one-third of their income to pay for housing.”

Energy

WSJ – Shale Produces Oil, Why Not Cash? – Spencer Jakab 6/26

FT – Oil exporters face fall in foreign exchange reserves – Steve Johnson 6/26

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Danske Bank – US Treasury SOMA redemption schedule 6/26

Environment / Science

NYT – Carbon in Atmosphere Is Rising, Even as Emissions Stabilize – Justin Gillis 6/26

China

FT – Anbang’s predicament amid bank-risk probe – Gabriel Wildau 6/25

  • “Last week China’s banking regulator ordered lenders to report their credit exposures to Anbang Insurance Group and three other private conglomerates that have been snaffling up overseas assets in recent years.”
  • “The move adds to the problems facing Anbang, which has become known for splashy purchases including New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel.”
  • “Anbang’s rise over the past three years has been spectacular. Premium revenue reached Rmb504bn ($74bn) last year from only Rmb26bn in 2013, driven by sales of universal life insurance, a savings product.”
  • “Anbang is big, and its business model creates risks. Combined assets from Anbang’s life, property and casualty, and health units rose from Rmb163bn to Rmb2.5tn over the same period, making it China’s second-largest privately owned insurer behind Ping An Insurance Group.” 
  • “The group’s business model creates a potential for a maturity mismatch. It sells investment products with maturities as short as two years, but ploughs much of the revenue into assets that could be difficult to sell on short notice. That could leave it struggling to raise cash if many investors ask for their money back at once.”
  • “Anbang’s various subsidiaries own Rmb1.06tn worth of shares in mainland-listed companies, according to Wind Information. Anbang has also completed foreign acquisitions worth more than $11bn since 2014, according to Dealogic.”
  • “Premium revenue at Anbang Life Insurance plunged to just Rmb1.5bn in April from a monthly average of Rmb27bn last year and Rmb82bn per month in January and February, according to CIRC data.”
  • “Sam Radwan, partner at Enhance, a consultancy that advises Chinese insurers, says that many companies that sell short-dated universal life policies use cash from new product sales to help them meet payouts on maturing ones. That way they do not have to sell longer-dated investments. But a halt to sales would threaten that practice if it continues.”
  • “Analysts say regulators may face pressure to allow Anbang to resume at least some new product sales or arrange other temporary funding support. That would give the company more time to raise cash by selling assets or raising new equity.”
  • “Anbang’s last big equity injection, worth $9bn, was in 2014. Since then, Anbang has relied on leverage to fuel its rapid asset growth.” 
  • “The leverage ratio at Anbang Life Insurance — total assets divided by shareholders’ equity — rose from 3:1 to 17:1 from 2013 to 2016, according to Financial Times calculations based on the company’s annual report. State-owned China Life Insurance, which follows a more conservative strategy, has a ratio of 9:1.” 
  • “Anbang Life’s solvency ratio — a metric used to measure an insurer’s ability to meet promised payouts — fell from 150% at the end of last year to 129% three months later. It is still well above the 100% ratio that signals potential inability to meet obligations.”

Europe

Reuters – Italy winds up Veneto banks at cost of up to 17 billion euros – Silvia Aloisi and Steven Scherer 6/26

  • “Italy began winding up two failed regional banks on Sunday in a deal that could cost the state up to 17 billion euros ($19 billion) and will leave the lenders’ good assets in the hands of the nation’s biggest retail bank, Intesa Sanpaolo.”
  • “The government will pay 5.2 billion euros to Intesa, and give it guarantees of up 12 billion euros, so that it will take over the remains of Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, which collapsed after years of mismanagement and poor lending.”
  • “Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan said the total funds ‘mobilized’ by the state would be for up to 17 billion euros – three times more than had initially been estimated to recapitalize the banks with public money.”
  • “The decree effectively means that the Veneto banks’ branches and employees will be part of Intesa Sanpaolo by Monday morning, a move designed to avoid a potential run on deposits that could have spread chaos across the whole banking industry.”
  • “Intesa Sanpaolo, Italy’s best-capitalized large bank, said last week it was open to purchasing the rump of the good assets for one euro on condition Italy’s government passed a decree agreeing to shoulder the cost of winding down the two banks.”
  • Well, good thing they waited. Now they were paid 5.2 billion for the good assets.

Other Links

FT – Sale prices for second-hand private jets fall 35% – Hugo Greenhalgh 6/24

  • “Rich find their planes are hard to sell because of glut created a decade ago.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Car Ownership Cost Comparison 6/26

May 15, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

FT – Oil: the market finds that the Sheikh has no clothes – Nick Butler 5/7

  • The markets have “lost all confidence in the power of Saudi Arabia to set prices.”
  • Why?
  • “First, US production led by so called tight oil extracted from shale rocks has started to rise. Month by month, production increases and will continue to grow, not least from prolific and low-cost sources such as the Permian basin in Texas. Far from being closed down by the fall in prices over the last three years the US oil sector has demonstrated its resilience and its ability to cut costs.”
  • The majors have become more efficient as well.
  • “In contrast, the traditional oil producers have not been able to adjust. A study by the International Monetary Fund published a few weeks ago listed the oil price needed by a range of producers to balance their national budgets. Because of recent increases in production, Iran and Iraq have reduced their fiscal break-even point to just over $50 a barrel, but Libya requires a price of $71, and Saudi itself, despite record production, needs $83.”
  • Opec agreed to a cut in November and the group is meeting again this month to determine its next steps.
  • “But the prospect of a coordinated response has diminished as the weeks have passed. There is a big temptation for producers to cheat on any deal. Could the Saudis continue to fill the gap themselves by cutting more? In theory yes, but in practice the kingdom is also short of revenue and clearly unwilling to make the dramatic cut in output — by 1.5m barrels a day to 2m — that would really reset the market.”
  • “The realization that the market is beyond control in the accustomed way is now changing expectations across the industry. There is still more growth in supply than in demand. New projects are still coming onstream, and among the producers many — from Iran to Libya to Russia — have plans to raise production over the next two years.”
  • “The fact that the industry has learnt how to operate profitably at $50 suggests that the private sector will also continue to bring projects forward. Several of the major companies have announced planned increases in output in 2018 and 2019.”
  • “The private sector has passed through the pain barrier of adjustment. The oil-exporting countries have not. Matching lower revenues to the needs of growing populations who have become dependent on oil wealth will not be easy. It is hard to think of an oil-producing country that does not already have deep social and economic problems. Many are deeply in debt.”
  • “In Nigeria, Venezuela, Russia and even Saudi Arabia itself the latest fall, and the removal of the illusion that prices are about to rise again, could be dangerously disruptive. The effects will be felt well beyond the oil market.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

LinkedIn – The Big Picture – Ray Dalio 5/12

  • “Big picture, the near term looks good and the longer term looks scary. That is because:”
    1. “The economy is now at or near its best, and we see no major economic risks on the horizon for the next year or two,”
    2. “There are significant long-term problems (e.g., high debt and non-debt obligations, limited abilities by central banks to stimulate, etc.) that are likely to create a squeeze,”
    3. “Social and political conflicts are near their worst for the last number of decades, and”
    4. “Conflicts get worse when economies worsen.”

Bloomberg Gadfly – OPEC’s Staring Down a Double-Barrel Cut – Julian Lee 5/14

  • “OPEC is going to have to do much more than simply extend its current production deal when it meets next week if it’s serious about addressing surplus inventory. In fact, its own figures show it needs to double the cut it made in January. That means finding another 1.2 million barrels a day to take out of production.”

Markets / Economy

FT – The silent sell-off in US Treasuries – Robin Wigglesworth 5/11

  • “From a five-month low of 2.17% in April, the 10-year yield has now jumped to 2.4%.”

Energy

WSJ – China Trade Plan Is Big Deal for Natural Gas – Nathaniel Taplin 5/12

  • “China has terrible air pollution, burns too much coal and pays too much for natural gas. The U.S. has too much gas, trouble financing expensive export terminals, and a huge trade deficit with China. The solution should be obvious.”
  • “It looks like policy makers in both countries may be thinking along similar lines, according to a preliminary 10-point bilateral trade plan released by the Trump administration Thursday.”
  • Good for the U.S. and China, bad for existing high cost suppliers to China such as Australia and Russia.

FT – The importance of the Iranian election – Nick Butler 5/13

  • “Anyone hoping that the cycle of oil prices will soon turn, and that the market will tighten over the next two years, should be watching the Iranian election results very carefully.”

Asia – excluding China and Japan

NYT – Singapore, a Rising Home for Quiet Money, Comes Under Pressure – Neil Gouch 5/12

  • “Tight bank secrecy laws have helped draw $1.1 trillion in foreign funds to the city, according to an estimate from Boston Consulting Group, a consulting firm. Singapore is now growing faster than Switzerland and is set to become the largest cross-border financial center in the world by 2028, the firm forecasts.”

FT – Worst-hit oil exporters see recessions extend to fifth year – Steve Johnson 5/11

  • “Brunei and Equatorial Guinea have contracted every year since 2013.”