Tag: Saudi Arabia

November 29, 2017

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

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

Economist – A more perfect union – Leaders 11/23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markets / Economy

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

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

Tech

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

Middle East

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

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

 

November 28, 2017

Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

  • “Just 36% got it right.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markets / Economy

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

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

Real Estate

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

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

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

Finance

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

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

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

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

Africa

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

China

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

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

Japan

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

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

Middle East

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

Other Interesting Links

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

November 27, 2017

Perspective

NYT – The Typical American Lives Only 18 Miles From Mom – Quoctrung Bui and Claire Cain Miller 12/23/15

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring, at Last – Thomas Friedman 11/23

NYT – Where Brexit Hurts: The Nurses and Doctors Leaving London – Katrin Bennhold 11/21

Vanity Fair – The End of the Social Era Can’t Come Soon Enough – Nick Bilton 11/23

Real Estate

Investment News – Nontraded REITs to post worst sales since 2002 – Bruce Kelly 11/21

  • “Sales of nontraded real estate investment trusts are headed for their worst year since 2002, with the industry on track to raise just $4.4 billion in equity in 2017, about $100,000 less than a year earlier, according to data from Robert A. Stanger & Co.”
  • “Making matters worse for the industry is that one newcomer to selling nontraded REITs, The Blackstone Group, has the highest sales for the year to date through September. Blackstone had almost $1.4 billion in sales with its new REIT, the Blackstone Real Estate Income Trust, over the first nine months of the year, according to Stanger.”
  • “That means traditional nontraded REIT managers – including Griffin Capital Co., Carter/Validus Advisors, Cole Capital and others – will likely raise about $3 billion this year, about one third less than the 2016 total. And independent broker-dealers are struggling without the lucrative commissions formerly generated by product sales.”
  • “In 2002, $3.8 billion worth of nontraded REITs were sold. Nontraded REIT sales were $11.5 billion in 2007, according to Stanger, just as the real estate crash was beginning. Sales of nontraded REITs hit their peak in 2013, when independent broker-dealers sold $19.6 billion of the products.”
  • In addition to an accounting scandal at industry behemoth, American Realty Capital (ARC), new securities rules have hurt sales.
  • “New securities industry rules and regulations, including the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, have hurt sales of high commission products like nontraded REITs. The fiduciary rule has flattened the levels of commissions that brokers charge clients for products such as mutual funds.”
  • “The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority also recently put into place a new rule, known as 15-02, that makes pricing of illiquid securities like nontraded REITs more transparent to investors. In the past, client account statements showed illiquid securities like REITs at the value they were bought by the client and did not subtract commissions, which were high.”
  • “With the DOL fiduciary rule flattening commissions, many REIT managers began selling T shares, which cut the upfront load by more than half. After initially paying a 3% commission, the broker is then paid up to 7% over several years. An annual commission of 80 basis points is paid from the return generated by the REIT manager.”

Finance

Investment News – Nontraded BDC (Business Development Companies) sales in worst year since 2010 – Bruce Kelly 11/22

  • “The illiquid product’s three-year decline is partially due to new regulations and poor performance.”

WSJ – A Decade After the Crisis, King Dollar Is the World’s Tyrant – Jon Sindreu and Mike Bird 11/26

  • “Many economists have long predicted an end to the dollar reign that was established after World War II, especially after President Richard Nixon unpegged the greenback from gold in 1971. The creation of the euro in 1999 and the breakneck growth of the Chinese economy led many analysts to say the dollar would need to share the limelight.”
  • “But the euro became politically unpopular during the European debt crisis, and Chinese capital controls to peg the yuan are anathema to global investors. Meanwhile, the share of official reserves held in dollars recently stopped its multiyear decline, and in the second quarter of 2017, foreign-country dollar-denominated debt rose to an all-time high of $8.6 trillion, according to the BIS.
  • “’The dollar’s downward trend of the last 40 years is over,’ said Paresh Upadhyaya, fund manager at Amundi Pioneer, Europe’s largest asset manager.”
  • “A one-currency dominance challenges economic models that see global financial markets as a flat surface where, on average, investors shouldn’t be better or worse off depending on which currency they trade.”
  • “Reality tends to show something else.”

Fortune – Nearly 4 Million Bitcoins Lost Forever, New Study Says – Jeff John Roberts and Nicolas Rapp 11/25

NYT – Warning Signs About Another Giant Bitcoin Exchange – Nathaniel Popper 11/21

Shipping

Visual Capitalist: MarineTraffic – Visualizing Every Ship at Sea in Real-Time – Jeff Desjardins 11/23

Britain

FT – The UK’s hidden one-child-per-family university policy – Martin Lewis 11/23

  • “Supporting two children studying at university could cost much more than you think.”

China

The Guardian – Chinese bike share graveyard a monument to industry’s ‘arrogance’ – Benjamin Haas 11/24

South America

FT – Surge in cargo theft hits the bottom line in Rio de Janeiro – Andres Schipani and Joe Leahy 11/21

  • “The thefts — which occur on average more than once an hour and are often staged by scores of criminals carrying assault rifles — have reportedly forced the national postal service to stop street deliveries in some neighborhoods of Rio, while supermarkets have raised their prices by up to 20 per cent to pay for the losses.”
  • “Recession-induced budget crises across governments in Latin America’s largest economy have led to the spike in crime, analysts say. One state — Espírito Santo — recorded 128 murders during eight days of uncontrolled street crime in February when police went on strike after budget cuts.”
  • “Cargo theft in Rio de Janeiro, whose greater metropolitan area has a population of 12m people, has increased sharply from 5,890 incidents in 2014 at the start of the economic downturn to a record 9,862 last year, says the local industry association Firjan. The state is on track to top a similar number this year, with food, beverages, electronic appliances and cigarettes among the preferred targets.”
  • According to a 2017 report by the Inter-American Development Bank, crime and the efforts to combat it cost Brazil some $120bn a year, three times the toll on Mexico, which is ravaged by drug-cartel violence.
  • Is this what happens when a society becomes too unequal? Politicians play their hand at their ability to regulate with intent to collect personal payoffs – graft becomes endemic – the people go on a corruption hunt – political infrastructure suffers – basic services decline – theft and looting become common place. I would imagine that the walls around the wealthy compounds are getting higher with more armed guards.

November 14, 2017

Perspective

NYT – China Spreads Propaganda to U.S. on Facebook, a Platform It Bans at Home – Paul Mozur 11/8

  • Another example of how easy it is to manipulate people. Seemingly the spread of the internet was meant to give people access to factual information to make better decisions and to be better informed. Rather it seems that while more information is available, the habit of selection bias has only amplified.

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Does the oil market expect a new Mideast war? – Nick Butler 11/12

  • “The oil price has risen by almost 20% over the last four weeks. Does anything in the market justify such an increase, or is the change driven simply by speculation about the dangers of a direct conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran?”
  • “The real explanation for the rise in prices clearly lies not in the physical balance of supply and demand but in speculation. Once again traders have been bidding up prices on the basis of fears about what could happen next.”
  • “An open conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran would expose numerous oil fields and installations on both sides of the Gulf to attack. The Straits of Hormuz are still a potential choke point for the global flow of oil. Some 17m barrels a day – almost a quarter of world traded oil – goes through the straits.”
  • “War would be an illogical step, but since when has logic been the ruling force in the Middle East? If the risk of conflict recedes so will the oil price – there is nothing in the fundamentals to justify a price much over $50 or $55 a barrel. But if open war between the two major Gulf powers did break out the price rise we have seen so far would look trivial.”

FT – The tax reform the US really needs – Rana Foroohar 11/12

  • “America’s taxation system is fundamentally unsuited to the digital economy.”

FT – Saudi Arabia confronts legacy of corruption – Ahmed Al Omran and Simeon Kerr 11/12

  • “When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke to his nation six months ago, he pledged to crack down on corruption. ‘I assure you that nobody who is involved in corruption will escape, regardless if he was minister or a prince or anyone,’ he said.”
  • “But few people could have expected the sudden storm this month when a new anti-graft committee ordered the arrest of more than 200 suspects, including princes, prominent businessmen and former senior officials, on allegations related to at least $100bn in corruption.”
  • “The arrest of so many big names has been hailed within the country as proof ‘no one is above the law’. But others have raised questions about the motivations behind a probe that also targeted a member of the royal family once seen as a contender for the throne.”
  • “Executives estimate that anywhere between 10% and 25% of the value of government contracts is routinely skimmed, with the proceeds used to fund lavish regal lifestyles, channel money to loyal tribes and grease the palms of favored functionaries. ‘This is how the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has balanced power historically,’ said one executive.”
  • “While fully eliminating corruption is unlikely, experts say limiting the presence of princes in government could help. King Salman has significantly decreased the number of family members in cabinet — today only the ministers of defense, the interior and the national guard are royals.”
  • “Some suggest that, even if corruption by the royals continues, the crackdown could still bring important dividends.”
  • “’Centralized corruption is better because you have one rent-seeker on top.’ said Steffen Hertog, an expert on Saudi political economy at the London School of Economics. ‘That actor has an interest in keeping the whole system efficient and stable, and keeping it from collapsing.’”

WSJ – SoftBank’s Uber Deal Shows Doubts About Ride-Hailing – Jacky Wong 11/13

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Quint – Bitcoin’s Roller-Coaster Ride Cuts $38 Billion Before Reversal – Justina Lee and Yuji Nakamura 11/13

  • “After plunging as much as 29% from a record high following the cancellation of a technology upgrade on Nov. 8, the largest cryptocurrency came roaring back in early trading Monday before fluctuating between gains and losses.”
  • “While multiple reasons are being cited for the price volatility, one of the more viable is that some investors are switching to alternative coins. Bitcoin cash, an offshoot of bitcoin that includes many of the technical upgrades being debated by developers, has more than doubled in the same period.”
  • “The resulting volatility has been extreme even by bitcoin’s wild standards and comes amid growing interest in cryptocurrencies among regulators, banks and fund managers. While skeptics have called its rapid advance a bubble, the asset has become too big for many on Wall Street to ignore. Even after shrinking as much as $38 billion since Nov. 8, bitcoin boasts a market value of about $110 billion.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Homeownership and Apartment Vacancy Rates by US Region 11/12

Finance

WSJ – ETF Heyday Is No Bonanza for Wall Street – Asjylyn Loder 11/6

Environment / Science

FT – China recovery pushes greenhouse emissions to global record – Tobias Buck and Lucy Hornby 11/13

  • “Stronger Chinese economic growth will push global greenhouse gas emissions to a record high in 2017 after remaining flat for three years, dashing tentative hopes of a turning point in the world’s efforts to curb climate change.”
  • “A new report by the Global Carbon Project, an international research consortium, predicts that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry will rise 2% this year. The report was released at the UN climate change meeting in Bonn on Monday.”
  • “The increase — which is largely caused by China and developing countries — suggests the world is straying further from the course set at the landmark UN conference in Paris two years ago.”
  • “This year’s rise is especially disappointing as it follows three years of almost no growth in emissions despite a world economy expanding at a steady clip. In 2016, emissions were flat even though the world economy grew 3.2%. One explanation for the uptick is that China’s economic slowdown in the middle part of this decade was more pronounced than official figures suggested.”
  • “The GPC report concludes: ‘The world has not reached peak emissions yet.’”
  • “It finds that carbon dioxide emissions decreased in 22 countries accounting for 20% of global emissions, but rose in 101 countries that together represent 50% of pollution. China is predicted to see a 3.5% jump in emissions in 2017. As the biggest producer of carbon dioxide in the world, China plays a crucial role in shifting the global trend.”

Europe

FT – Italian emigration continues despite strong economic recovery – Valentina Romei 11/12

  • “Italy’s economy is doing its best for years, but Italians are still pouring out of the country.
  • Gross domestic product is growing faster than at any point since 2010, employment is back to pre-crisis levels and the labor inactivity rate is close to an all-time low.”
  • “So why has the number of Italians living outside the country reached 5.4m — a figure that represents almost 10% of the population and which grew 3.5% last year?”
  • “The data highlight a story of a dysfunctional labor market, a society in which young, ambitious people often feel unfairly treated, and an economic recovery from which, in large part, they have yet to benefit.”
  • Overall, the official figures show that 1.5m people have moved abroad since the crisis broke in 2008.
  • “Nor is that the end of it. Foreigners are also leaving: 45,000 non-Italians left the country in 2015, more than three times as many as the figure for 2007.”
  • “The consequences of the phenomenon could be grave, despite Italy’s recent economic good news.”
  • “Since the country has long contended with low fertility rates, emigration is a particular threat to Italy’s workforce. Italy is second only to Japan in terms of the proportion of the population accounted for by people aged 65 and over, and in the 25 years to 2015 the working age population as a share of the total population dropped 5 percentage points.”
  • “In the past five years alone, the number of those aged between 18 and 44 contracted 6%, while the overall population rose 2%.”
  • “Both the Italian and the British data also show that young people account for the bulk of Italian emigration. The UK National Insurance statistics show that since 2002 more than 90% of Italians registering to work in Britain were under 44 years old. Some 77% were aged between 18 and 34 years old.”
  • Italian emigrants are also more highly educated than the overall Italian population and university trained people are leaving in increasing numbers. Graduates make up about 30% of emigrants from Italy, up from 12% in 2002, according to official statistics.”
  • “The causes of this brain drain are deep-set, writes Guido Tintori, Research Associate at Fieri — International and European Forum on Migration Research, in a forthcoming academic paper on the issue.”
  • “He argues that skilled young Italian graduates ‘not only are underemployed and underpaid, but constantly frustrated by a society and a labor market that hinge on relationships and seniority over competence’.”
  • “Furthermore, the economic recovery has yet to touch them. The proportion of young people who are unemployed in Italy is a daunting 35% and has barely changed over the past year.”
  • “The share of under-34s who are neither in employment nor in education is the highest in the EU and more than half of under-25s in employment are working under temporary contracts. Nearly one in four is working part time because of the unavailability of a full-time job — a higher proportion than in any other high-income economy.”

November 13, 2017

Perspective

FT – How Germany got its gold back – Claire Jones 11/10

  • “It was kept abroad to escape the Soviet Union. But then Germany decided to bring it home.”

NYT – After Weinstein: A List of Men Accused of Sexual Misconduct and the Fallout for Each – Sarah Almukhtar, Larry Buchanan, and Michael Gold 11/12

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Little room for error as investors chase leveraged loan boom – Ben McLannahan 11/9

  • “Riskier ‘covenant-lite’ loans now account for about 70% of new leveraged loans, up from 30% before the Lehman Brothers crisis. Protections that were standard back then have now vanished altogether.”
  • “’As long as investors keep buying these loans, there’s nothing really to put the brakes on,’ says Derek Gluckman, a vice-president at Moody’s. ‘Things just keep getting worse.’”
  • “’Loan terms never got this bad in ‘07,’ says Mr. Cohen (founder and CEO of Covenant Review). ‘The contracts … are the worst they’ve ever been. Period, full stop.’”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – A Starbucks Coffee Costs What? – Chelsey Dulaney and Ira Iosebashvili 11/9

  • You’ve heard of the Big Mac Index, this is the Starbucks proxy.

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – Financial Stress Index 11/10

FT – Catastrophes wipe $35bn from insurers’ profits – Oliver Ralph and Alistair Gray 11/12

  • “A string of natural disasters from Hurricane Harvey in the US to earthquakes in Mexico have left the insurance industry facing one of its most expensive years on record.”
  • “The catastrophes have wiped more than $35bn from insurers’ profits, according to a Financial Times analysis of third-quarter results that have laid bare the scale of the damage. Berkshire Hathaway, run by billionaire Warren Buffett, and AIG were among the hardest hit in the US, while in Europe Swiss Re and Munich Re face large claims. Lloyd’s, the London-based insurance market, expects to pay out a total of $4.5bn.” 
  • “Insurers say the final cost is likely to be larger and push up premiums. Commercial insurance and reinsurance have suffered from years of falling rates, as excess capacity and a lack of big claims combined to drive prices down.”
  • “’The losses have been extensive across reinsurance, commercial insurance and personal lines,’ said Kurt Karl, chief economist at Swiss Re. ‘There were $20bn of natural catastrophe losses across the industry in the first half. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, combined with the earthquakes in Mexico, will create about $95bn of insured losses.’”
  • “Added together, the industry is facing more than $110bn of insured losses from natural catastrophes. Only 2005 — when Hurricane Katrina hit the US — and 2011 — when there were earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand — were more costly.”
  • “The $35bn figure, taken from company reports, does not include losses from unlisted companies, or from insurance-linked securities in which investors’ capital is used to directly back insurance risk.” 

Tech

Statista – Attack of the Clones – Felix Richter 11/9

Environment / Science

WP – The Earth’s ozone hole is shrinking and is the smallest it has been since 1988 – Marwa Eltagouri 11/3

  • “This year, the ozone hole is the smallest it has been since 1985. NASA and NOAA scientists have been studying the ozone layer and monitoring its hole over Antarctica for years. This year, the ozone hole is the smallest it has been since 1985.”
  • “Here’s a rare piece of good news about the environment: The giant hole in the Earth’s protective ozone layer is shrinking and has shriveled to its smallest peak since 1988, NASA scientists said.”
  • “The largest the hole became this year was about 7.6 million square miles wide, about two and a half times the size of the United States, in September. But it was still 1.3 million square miles smaller than last year, scientists said, and has shrunk more since September.”
  • “Warmer-than-usual weather conditions in the stratosphere are to thank for the shrinkage since 2016, as the warmer air helped fend off chemicals like chlorine and bromine that eat away at the ozone layer, scientists said. But the hole’s overall reduction can be traced to global efforts since the mid-1980s to ban the emission of ozone-depleting chemicals.”
  • “The ozone hole was largest in 2000, when it was 11.5 million square miles wide, according to NASA.”

Health / Medicine

WP – Aaron Hernandez suffered from most severe CTE ever found in a person his age – Adam Kilgore 11/9

India

FT – Smog-cloaked Delhi looks with envy at Beijing’s cleaner air – Kiran Stacey, Emily Feng, and Archie Zhang 11/10

  • “As Indian politicians squabble over who is to blame for the thick smog that has descended over the north of the country this week, citizens have been looking enviously over the border at China, where particulate levels have been falling for years.”
  • “Many in India believe Beijing has been better able to combat its air pollution problem because it does not get bogged down in political infighting. They blame India’s problems on the country’s raucous but inefficient democracy.”
  • This week, pollution in Delhi literally went off the charts, hitting the top reading of 999 on the US embassy’s air quality index. Anything over a reading of 100 is considered unhealthy.” 
  • By Wednesday afternoon, Delhi saw airborne levels of tiny damaging particles known as PM2.5 hit 833 parts per million, while in Beijing the level was 76. Anything over 50 is considered unhealthy, and anything over 300 hazardous.
  • “The difference between the two cities reflects a broader divergence over recent years, during which Delhi has taken over from Beijing as the world’s most polluted megacity.” 
  • “’Indian politicians have this very weird idea that we will do something about pollution when we are developed, but we won’t develop unless they invest in public health,’ says TK Joshi, director of the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health in Delhi.”
  • “He adds: ‘Beijing has tackled this problem much better, but then it is much easier to control things in an authoritarian regime than in a democracy, especially one like India, where 50% of the people are so badly educated about the problem.’”

Middle East

WSJ – Saudi Crackdown Targets Up to $800 Billion in Assets – Margherita Stancati and Summer Said 11/7

  • “The Saudi government is aiming to confiscate cash and other assets worth as much as $800 billion in its broadening crackdown on alleged corruption among the kingdom’s elite, according to people familiar with the matter.”
  • “The country’s central bank, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, said late Tuesday that it has frozen the bank accounts of ‘persons of interest’ and said the move is ‘in response to the Attorney General’s request pending the legal cases against them.’”
  • “Much of that money is abroad, which will complicate efforts to reclaim it, people familiar with the matter said. But even a portion of that amount could help Saudi Arabia’s finances. A prolonged period of low oil prices forced the government to borrow money on the international bond market and to draw extensively from the country’s foreign reserves, which dropped from $730 billion at their peak in 2014 to $487.6 billion in August, the latest available government data.”

FT – Greed and intrigue grip Saudi Arabia – Simeon Kerr 11/10

November 7, 2017

If you were only to read one thing…

Vice – Motherboard: One Bitcoin Transaction Now Uses as Much Energy as Your House in a Week – Christopher Malmo 11/1

  • “Bitcoin’s incredible price run to break over $7,000 this year has sent its overall electricity consumption soaring, as people worldwide bring more energy-hungry computers online to mine the digital currency.”
  • “An index from cryptocurrency analyst Alex de Vries, aka Digiconomist, estimates that with prices the way they are now, it would be profitable for Bitcoin miners to burn through over 24 terawatt-hours of electricity annually as they compete to solve increasingly difficult cryptographic puzzles to ‘mine’ more Bitcoins. That’s about as much as Nigeria, a country of 186 million people, uses in a year.”
  • “This averages out to a shocking 215 kilowatt-hours (KWh) of juice used by miners for each Bitcoin transaction (there are currently about 300,000 transactions per day). Since the average American household consumes 901 KWh per month, each Bitcoin transfer represents enough energy to run a comfortable house, and everything in it, for nearly a week. On a larger scale, De Vries’ index shows that bitcoin miners worldwide could be using enough electricity to at any given time to power about 2.26 million American homes.”
  • “It’s worth asking ourselves hard questions about Bitcoin’s environmental footprint.”
  • “Since 2015, Bitcoin’s electricity consumption has been very high compared to conventional digital payment methods. This is because the dollar price of Bitcoin is directly proportional to the amount of electricity that can profitably be used to mine it. As the price rises, miners add more computing power to chase new Bitcoins and transaction fees.”
  • “…at a minimum, worldwide Bitcoin mining could power the daily needs of 821,940 average American homes.”
  • “Put another way, global Bitcoin mining represents a minimum of 77KWh of energy consumed per Bitcoin transaction.”
  • “Digiconomist’s less optimistic estimate for per-transaction energy costs now sits at around 215 KWh of electricity. That’s more than enough to fill two Tesla batteries, run an efficient fridge/freezer for a full year, or boil 1872 litres of water in a kettle.”
  • “…it’s quite clear that even at the minimum level of 77 KWh per transaction, we have a problem. At 215 KWh, we have an even bigger problem.”
  • “That problem is carbon emissions. De Vries has come up with some estimates by diving into data made available on a coal-powered Bitcoin mine in Mongolia. He concluded that this single mine is responsible for 8,000 to 13,000 kg CO2 emissions per Bitcoin it mines, and 24,000 – 40,000 kg of CO2 per hour.”
  • “As Twitter user Matthias Bartosik noted in some similar estimates, the average European car emits 0.1181 kg of CO2 per kilometer driven. So for every hour the Mongolian Bitcoin mine operates, it’s responsible for (at least) the CO2 equivalent of over 203,000 car kilometers travelled.”
  • “As goes the Bitcoin price, so goes its electricity consumption, and therefore its overall carbon emissions. I asked de Vries whether it was possible for Bitcoin to scale its way out of this problem.”
  • ‘Blockchain is inefficient tech by design, as we create trust by building a system based on distrust. If you only trust yourself and a set of rules (the software), then you have to validate everything that happens against these rules yourself. That is the life of a blockchain node,’ he said via direct message.”
  • “This gets to the heart of Bitcoin’s core innovation, and also its core compromise. In order to achieve a functional, trustworthy decentralized payment system, Bitcoin imposes some very costly inefficiencies on participants, for example voracious electricity consumption and low transaction capacity. Proposed improvements, like SegWit2x, do promise to increase the number of transactions Bitcoin can handle by at least double, and decrease network congestion. But since Bitcoin is thousands of times less efficient per transaction than a credit card network, it will need to get thousands of times better.”
  • “In the context of climate change, raging wildfires, and record-breaking hurricanes, it’s worth asking ourselves hard questions about Bitcoin’s environmental footprint, and what we want to use it for. Do most transactions actually need to bypass trusted third parties like banks and credit card companies, which can operate much more efficiently than Bitcoin’s decentralized network? Imperfect as these financial institutions are, for most of us, the answer is very likely no.”

Perspective

Visual Capitalist – Visualizing Household Income Distribution in the U.S. by State – Jeff Desjardins 11/6

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Why we need to regulate the tech platforms – Rana Foroohar 11/5

  • “Companies should be made to open up the black box of their algorithms.”

Markets / Economy

NYT – A Bull Market Should Make Investors Happy. This One Isn’t. – Landon Thomas Jr. 11/5

  • “Rarely has a bull market been so unloved. Since March 2009, the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index has nearly quadrupled in value. This year, not only is the index up 15 percent, but it also seems to have stopped going down at all: October was the 12th straight month that the S.&P. has logged a positive return, the first time that has happened since 1935.”
  • “Yet in most conversations about the ever-rising stock market, brokers and investment advisers say, are dominated by the question of when it will all come to an end.”
  • “These days, each successive stock market record seems to spur more hand-wringing than cheerleading. There is anxiety about overhyped shares, about the possibility of central banks withdrawing their support for global economies, even about markets simply being worryingly quiescent, as evidenced by the historically low readings of the volatility index known as the VIX.”
  • “In fact, many analysts say that this so-called wall of worry is a positive sign. Investors may be piling into stocks and bonds, the thinking goes, but they are doing it with a measure of hesitation, which prevents some of the excesses that preceded previous market corrections.”

Environment / Science

FT – HSBC promises $100bn to fight climate change – Andrew Ward 11/5

  • “Bank to support projects aimed at reducing carbon emissions.”

China

WSJ – Downgrades Shadow Moody’s S&P’s Push Into China – Shen Hong, Manju Dalal, and Gunjan Banerji 11/6

  • “As ratings firms plot entry into long-coveted market, questions remain as to China’s openness to international raters.”

Middle East

NYT – Saudi Crown Prince’s Mass Purge Upends a Longstanding System – David D. Kirkpatrick 11/5

  • “A midnight blitz of arrests ordered by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia over the weekend has ensnared dozens of its most influential figures, including 11 of his royal cousins, in what by Sunday appeared to be the most sweeping transformation in the kingdom’s governance for more than eight decades.”
  • “The arrests, ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman without formal charges or any legal process, were presented as a crackdown on corruption. They caught both the kingdom’s richest investor, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and the most potent remaining rival to the crown prince’s power: Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, a favored son of the late King Abdullah.”
  • “All members of the royal family were barred from leaving the country, American officials tracking the developments said on Sunday.”
  • “With the new detentions, Crown Prince Mohammed, King Salman’s favored son and key adviser, now appears to have established control over all three Saudi security services — the military, internal security services and national guard.”
  • “’It is the coup de grâce of the old system,’ said Chas W. Freeman, a former United States ambassador. ‘Gone. All power has now been concentrated in the hands of Mohammed bin Salman.’”
  • “Crown Prince Mohammed’s haste, however, may now come at a price, because the lack of transparency or due process surrounding the anticorruption crackdown is sure to unnerve the same private investors he hopes to attract — including through a planned stock offering of the huge state oil company, Aramco.”
  • “Saudi Arabian businessmen and royals anxious about the crown prince’s plans were quietly moving assets out of the country even before the arrests.”
  • “The Saudi Arabian news media, however, celebrated the arrests as a long-awaited cleanup, appealing to populist resentment of self-enrichment enjoyed by the sprawling royal family and its closest allies.”
  • “Almost everyone in the capital, Riyadh, and other big cities like Jidda has heard stories about princes absconding with vast sums that had been allocated for a public project.”
  • “The arrests are ‘a frontal assault on some members of the royal family and the impunity with which they have operated in the past,’ said Bernard Haykel, a professor at Princeton University who studies Saudi Arabia.”
  • “’It was something that had to be done,’ he said, even though the absence of a judicial process ‘sends a chill down the spine of foreign investors.’”

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Venezuela 10yr Government Bond Yield 11/3

  • Markets reacting to news that Venezuela wants to restructure its debt (finally…)

WSJ – Daily Shot: Venezuela 5yr Sovereign CDS Spread (bps) 11/3

WSJ – Daily Shot: Venezuela Econ – Black Market Exchange Rate – Bolivar to USD 11/6

November 6, 2017

If you were only to read one thing…

FT – Venezuela debt restructuring could unleash crisis – John Paul Rathbone 11/3

  • “President Nicolás Maduro’s decision to restructure Venezuela’s $89bn of debt is likely to unleash a debt crisis of a size not suffered in Latin America since Argentina’s massive 2001 default, and a bond restructuring that lawyers say would be the world’s most complex yet.”
  • “In a televised address on Thursday, Mr Maduro said state oil company PDVSA would make one more $1.1bn debt payment on a bond due in 2017 and then restructure its remaining obligations with banks and investors.”
  • “Economists have long-predicted Venezuela would eventually make such a move as funds drained from the socialist government’s vaults to pay bondholders, forcing an 80% cutback in imports over the past five years. Indeed, Venezuelan bonds already trade at default prices, and foreign reserves of $10bn are near 20-year lows.”
  • “Yet despite a recession worse than the Great Depression, hyperinflation and falling oil production, debt restructuring was a move Mr Maduro long-rejected. In large part, that was because it could lead to default, and creditors would then seize Venezuelan oil shipments and foreign assets, including PDVSA’S US refinery, Citgo. “
  • “As a result, the $7bn that Venezuela might save in 2018 from not servicing its debts would be offset by lost oil exports, and there would be no net gain.”
  • “That calculus still holds. Indeed, a desire to remain on good terms with creditors may explain Mr Maduro’s apparently nonsensical decision to restructure debts after making a particularly large bond payment this week — more than $1bn that instead could be used to import desperately-needed medicine and food. (A more cynical rumor is that the money went to government insiders who own the paid 2017 bond.)”
  • “Venezuelan imports are forecast to be just $13bn this year. Against that, the country has $63bn of traded debt, owes another $5bn to international lenders such as InterAmerican Development Bank, $17bn to China and another $3bn to Russia.
  • One reason why Mr Maduro may feel he can get away with it is that he feels empowered politically at home.”
  • “Although Mr Maduro may feel in control domestically, abroad is another matter. Any debt restructuring is complicated by US sanctions imposed in August, which block US-regulated institutions and investors from buying new Venezuelan bonds, as would be issued in a typical debt restructuring.”
  • “Adding to the difficulties, vice-president Tareck El-Aissami, who will lead the process, has been sanctioned by the US for alleged drug-trafficking and money laundering.”
  • “Furthermore, even if Venezuela seeks to get around the US sanctions by issuing restructured bonds in other currencies, authority for that would come from the Constituent Assembly — which Canada, the EU, the US, and 11 of Latin America’s biggest countries, including Brazil and Mexico, do not recognize.”
  • “Renowned economists such as Ricardo Hausmann have long said Venezuela should restructure its debt, as they consider paying bondholders while Venezuelans go hungry to be immoral. But they recommend it as part of a broader economic restructuring backed by the International Monetary Fund.”
  • “Indeed, the IMF has already crunched the numbers on the amount of help — upwards of $30bn annually — that could accompany such an approach. But international institutions will not extend such help to a government that has become a by-word in corruption and economic mismanagement — and is now near-bankrupt despite the world’s largest energy reserves.”
  • “Government insiders stole $300bn of the $1tn windfall that Venezuela received during the oil price boom of the 2000s, according to disaffected former ministers. Meanwhile, a socialist government that claims to help the poor presides over a country where 82% of households live in poverty — twice as high as when it came to power in 1999.”

Perspective

Business Insider – Tens of millions of Americans are being left out of the economic recovery – and it’s easier than ever to see who they are – Pedro Nicolaci da Costa 10/18

  • A new online interactive tool helps Americans visualize just how economically divided the nation has become — and it’s not a pretty picture.”
  • “The country’s deep income and wealth inequalities, which match levels not seen since before the Great Depression, have been widely reported.”
  • “But the Distressed Communities Index, published by a Washington-based nonprofit called Economic Innovation Group (EIG), adds some startling new detail and localized specificity to the widening and persistent gap between the country’s rich and poor, the worst of any ‘advanced’ economy.”
  • “The US economy has, on paper, been recovering from the Great Recession since the summer of 2009. Recently, growth has hovered around 2% a year, and the unemployment rate has fallen to just 4.4%.”
  • “Still, many have yet to feel the gains of this rebound, which is among the longest in modern history but also the weakest.”
  • “‘It is fair to wonder whether a recovery that excludes tens of millions of Americans and thousands of communities deserves to be called a recovery at all,’ EIG says in its Distressed Communities Index report.”
  • “Here are some depressing findings from the EIG report, which finds that more than 52 million Americans are living in distressed ZIP codes:”
    • “Job growth in distressed ZIP codes was negative on average from 2011 to 2015, trailing the average prosperous ZIP code by more than 30 percentage points.”
    • “Distressed ZIP codes were the only group in which the number of both jobs and business establishments declined during the national recovery.”
    • “Most distressed ZIP codes contain fewer jobs and places of business today than they did in 2000.”
    • “Distressed ZIP codes contain 35% of the country’s ‘brownfield’ sites marked by ‘the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.'”
    • “58% of adults in distressed ZIP codes have no education beyond high school.”

  • “Meanwhile, on the right side of the tracks:”
    • “88% of prosperous ZIP codes experienced job growth from 2011 to 2015, and 85% saw rising numbers of business establishments.”
    • “Prosperous ZIP codes have dominated the recovery, generating 52% of the country’s new jobs and 57% of its net new business establishments from 2011 to 2015.”
    • “Adults with any level of postsecondary education are more likely to live in a prosperous ZIP code than any other type of community.”
    • “45% of those with advanced degrees live in prosperous ZIP codes, more than in the bottom three quintiles of ZIP codes combined.”
  • “For the poorest Americans, ‘stagnation and decline were the rule, not the exception.'”

NYT – Six Charts That Help Explain the Republican Tax Plan – Alicia Parlapiano 11/2

Pew – More Americans are turning to multiple social media sites for news – Elizabeth Grieco 11/2

  • This is crazy.

WSJ – America’s Most Popular Type of Beer Is in Free Fall – Jennifer Maloney 11/1

  • “The big three U.S. light-lager brands—Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite—are all losing volume as consumers shift to craft and Mexican import beers as well as to wine and spirits.”
  • “Retail store sales of Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite are down 5.7%, 3.6% and 1.6%, respectively, this year through Oct. 21, according to Nielsen data compiled by Beer Marketer’s Insights. From 2010 through 2016, overall volumes in the light-lager category fell 14% to 65 million barrels.”
  • “The silver lining, at least for Molson Coors, is that both Miller Lite and Coors Light are gaining share on market leader Bud Light.”
  • “Meanwhile, Denver-based Molson Coors has a team looking at the potential impact legalized cannabis could have on its beer sales, as well as possible opportunities for investment, Mr. Hunter (Mark Hunter, CEO of Molson Coors) said. Constellation Brands said earlier this week that it is taking a 9.9% stake in Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth Corp. and plans to develop nonalcoholic, marijuana-infused beverages.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: J.D. Power – American Awareness of the Equifax Data Breach 11/3

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – The challenge of Xi Jinping’s Leninist autocracy – Martin Wolf 10/31

  • “Democracies have to recognize their failures to counter a China that sees itself as an ideological rival.”

FT – A way to poke Facebook off its uncontested perch – Tim Harford 11/2

  • “The new tech titans need serious competition. For a social network, serious competition needs new rules to enable it.”

NYT – What Donald Trump Thinks It Takes to Be a Man – Jill Filipovic 11/2

South China Morning Post – The bubble economy is set to burst, and US elections may well be the trigger – Andy Xie 10/8

WSJ – Who Will Rein In Facebook? Challengers Are Lining Up – Christopher Mims 10/29

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 11/2

Real Estate

FT – Li Ka-shing to sell stake in HK skyscraper for record $5.2bn – Don Weinland 11/2

  • While I already covered this from a Jacky Wong article in the WSJ, here are some more details.
  • Li Ka-shing’s CK Asset stands to make a gain of HK$14.5bn ($1.88bn)  on the sale of The Center, according to a stock exchange filing.”
  • And this was only on a portion of the building…
  • CK Asset owns 48 floors of office space in the 73-story building, as well as shopping space, car parks, basements and the entrance hall. The sale of those properties equates to HK$33,000 ($4,269) per square foot.”
  • For the buyer, CHMT Peaceful Development Asia Property Limited (majority controlled by China Energy Reserve & Chemicals Group), “the investment yield on the building was about 2.5%, according to Mr Cheng” (Raymond Cheng, an analyst at CIMB Securities).

China

FT – Beijing moves to tighten oversight of Chinese companies investing offshore – Gabriel Wildau 11/2

  • “China’s state planning agency issued draft guidelines on outbound investment on Friday that require companies to seek approval for some foreign deals even if they are conducted through an offshore entity, an effort to assert greater control over even some foreign activities that don’t involve cross-border fund flows.”
  • “In an explanatory notice accompanying the new rules issued for public comment, the National Development and Reform Commission said that ‘some foreign investment activities have drifted outside the boundaries of current supervision, and definite hidden risks exist.’”
  • “Deals that don’t involve investment by mainland Chinese entities or cross-border fund movements are generally not subject to regulation by Chinese authorities. But the latest rules from NDRC require that a Chinese parent company get the agency’s approval for deals worth more than $300m in ‘sensitive’ sectors, even if the deal is conducted purely through offshore subsidiaries.”

Japan

WSJ – Daily Shot: Japan Household Confidence 11/2

WSJ – Daily Shot: Nikkei-225 Stock Average 11/2

Middle East

FT – Saudi Arabia arrests princes, ministers and tycoons in purge – Ahmed Al Omran and Simeon Kerr 11/4

  • “Global investor (and one of the world’s richest people) Prince Alwaleed among those detained as Prince Mohammed consolidates power.”
  • The official aim is to weed out corruption.