Tag: Social Media

June 27, 2018

Perspective

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

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

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

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real Estate

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

Tech

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

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

Entertainment

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

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

Environment / Science

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

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

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

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

Agriculture

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

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

Asia – excluding China and Japan

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

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

Russia

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

  • “It was an important demand, if one with little hope of success. On May 29th the Netherlands’ foreign minister, Stef Blok, insisted at the UN Security Council in New York that Russia ‘accept its responsibility’ in the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. The airliner was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile over Ukraine in 2014, killing 196 Dutch nationals, 38 Australians and 64 others. Last week a UN-mandated Joint Investigation Team (JIT), led by Dutch prosecutors, announced it had determined that the missile belonged to a unit deployed to the area by the Russian Army’s 53rd anti-aircraft brigade, presumably to help Russian-backed secessionists fighting the Ukrainian army.”
  • “The Kremlin has always denied any involvement in the downing of MH17 or the war in Ukraine. (Asked about the JIT’s findings, Mr Putin responded, ‘Which plane are you talking about?’) Instead it has spread conflicting alternative theories blaming the Ukrainians, often backed up with demonstrably fake evidence. But the investigators’ dossier is voluminous. It includes photos and video taken by passers-by that track the convoy carrying the missile from its base near Kursk, in Russia, to the Ukraine border. The JIT also has the fuselage of what appears to be the missile itself, recovered near the crash site. The Netherlands and Australia now say they will hold Russia accountable for its role, and want negotiations on a settlement.”
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February 16, 2018

新年快乐

Xīnnián kuàilè

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Do You Live Among Millionaires? – Eric Morath 2/9

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Five reasons why universal basic income is a bad idea – Ian Goldin 2/11

  • “As the scale of the potential job losses arising from the artificial intelligence and robotics revolution becomes clearer, a chorus of otherwise disconnected billionaires, trade unionists and others are calling for universal basic income. Recognizing the threat posed by these dislocations is welcome and timely, but seeking solace in UBI is a bad idea.”
  • “It is misleading to think of this as yet another industrial revolution and take comfort in the fact that all previous industrial revolutions have resulted in more and better-quality jobs. This time is different, both in the pace and the reach of change. The growth of new jobs is slower than the destruction of old jobs — and their quality in many cases is inferior, as full-time career employment gives way to gig work or contingency contracts.”
  • “The places most vulnerable are also geographically isolated from the dynamic cities experiencing record earnings growth and low unemployment. Moving to these cities is increasingly difficult, as soaring housing and commuting costs reduce employment mobility. The result is rising geographical concentration of poverty and inequality in places left behind by change. The political reverberations are already being felt. The legitimate concerns of vulnerable workers must be addressed. But UBI is a red herring for five reasons.”
  • Reasons 3 and 4:
  • “Third, UBI will undermine social cohesion. Individuals gain not only income, but meaning, status, skills, networks and friendships through work. Delinking income and work, while rewarding people for staying at home, is what lies behind social decay. Crime, drugs, broken families and other socially destructive outcomes are more likely in places with high unemployment, as is evident in the drug pandemic in the US.”
  • “Fourth, UBI undermines incentives to participate. Stronger safety nets are vital. No decent society should tolerate dire poverty or starvation. But for those who are able, help should be designed to get individuals and families to participate in society; to help people overcome unemployment and find work, retrain, move cities. Wherever possible, safety nets should be a lifeline towards meaningful work and participation in society, not a guarantee of a lifetime of dependence.”

FT – Where is the Tea Party when you need it? – Edward Luce 2/14

Project Syndicate – The Social Media Threat to Society and Security – George Soros 2/14

  • “It takes significant effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called the freedom of mind. And there is a real chance that, once lost, those who grow up in the digital age – in which the power to command and shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies – will have difficulty regaining it.”

Markets / Economy

FT – Why the 30-hour work week is almost here – Simon Kuper 2/14

  • “Qualified jobseekers are scarce. Finally, workers can make demands.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Mall Dividends Soar Above 15%, Tempting Big Investors – Esther Fung 2/13

  • “Some mall operators are paying high dividends to offset the lackluster outlook for the sector.”

Finance

WSJ – Harvard, Hawaii Gambled on Market Calm – Then Everything Changed – Gregory Zuckerman, Gunjan Banerji and Heather Gillers 2/14

  • “Harvard, Hawaii and others, pressed to improve returns, made risky bets that depended on low stock-market volatility.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: VIX index 2/14

  • “VIX has finally moved below 20 as the inflation/high-rates ‘bogeyman’ no longer looks as scary (for now).”

Insurance

FT – MetLife hires investigators in search for missing pensioners – Alistair Gray 2/14

  • “US insurer MetLife has hired investigators to track down thousands of pensioners as the company seeks to resolve a scandal over missing payouts that has wiped about $10bn off its market capitalization.”
  • “Executives on Wednesday said they were doing ‘everything humanly possible’ to locate almost 13,500 people — owed on average $20,000 each — after they acknowledged MetLife failed to make proper efforts find them over 25 years.”
  • “The failure arose because of practices dating back to the 1990s at MetLife’s pensions ‘risk transfer’ business, under which companies transfer their retirement liabilities to insurers.”
  • “MetLife sought to contact eligible pensioners only twice: when they turned 65, and again a few months after the age of 70. If these efforts were unsuccessful, the company presumed the individuals would never be found.”
  • “As a result, the insurer mistakenly released funds from reserves that support future annuity payouts.”

China

FT – Wanda’s hopes for global lifestyle empire fade as it beats retreat – Emily Feng 2/14

  • “Dalian Wanda, the company Mr. Wang (Wang Jianlin) founded and transformed from a small-town real estate company into the world’s largest owner of cinemas and one of China’s biggest private property developers, has been steadily offloading assets over the past nine months.”
  • “The latest divestment came on Wednesday, when Wanda announced it had agreed to sell its 17% stake in Spanish football club Atlético Madrid.”
  • “The group says it will ‘refocus’ on its core business, domestic commercial property, including a plan to build or license 1,000 malls in China.” 
  • “This is a reversal for a group that invested roughly $22bn in offshore trophy assets over the past five years, according to data from Dealogic, as part of a push to bring a western lifestyle to an ever more wealthy Chinese middle class.” 
  • “In June 2017, the China Banking Regulatory Commission asked banks to examine loans to four companies known for offshore trophy investments, including Wanda, as Beijing pushed back on investments it deemed frivolous, excessive and out of line with the government’s development goals.”
  • “Wanda has pivoted sharply since the June crackdown. The group has sold about $10.8bn of assets in the past nine months, according to data from Dealogic and an FT review of recent transactions.”
  • “Debt pressures on Wanda are prompting the group to review its foreign investments, as Beijing’s capital controls restrict groups’ abilities to service their overseas liabilities.”
  • “Wanda says it is in talks with the country’s foreign exchange regulator, which had approved offshore remittances to service its loans but suspended clearance after Beijing launched its probe into the companies’ liabilities.”
  • “’The company’s financial resources — including cash proceeds from sales and cash balance — should be able to fulfil its onshore obligations. But the key now is how they can remit any onshore cash to offshore,’ says Dennis Lee, an associate director at rating agency S&P Global.”
  • “Mr. Lee adds that the group’s need for offshore cash is prompting Wanda to consider its options, including the sale of overseas properties.”
  • “The group also needs to maintain the confidence of investors. Total liabilities for Wanda were $11.7bn at the end of 2016, according to the group.”
  • “The strategy may be less glamorous, but Wanda’s year-end numbers suggest that its asset-light strategy is paying off. Even as overall revenues for its main property subsidiary plummeted by more than a fifth to $17.8bn last year, its revenue from rental income grew by about a third to $4bn, according to its results in January.”
  • “Despite the recent divestments, the group still retains its biggest offshore assets and Mr. Wang remains extraordinarily rich — Hurun estimates the wealth of Mr. Wang and his family at $23bn. Wanda is preparing for a Shanghai relisting of DWCP once its offshore debt is cleared, and that promises to be a major funding event.”

India

FT – Punjab National Bank discovers $1.8bn fraud in Mumbai branch – Simon Mundy 2/14

  • “Scam resulted in money being advanced to a handful of accounts overseas.”

February 2, 2018

Perspective

statista – The U.S. Cities With The Most Homeless People – Niall McCarthy 1/26

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Short sellers eye better days after Steinhoff and Carillion wins – Miles Johnson and Robert Smith 1/31

  • “A rising tide, as the saying goes, lifts all boats. This effect, which has been played out across financial markets for several years, has inflicted pain and frustration on specialist short sellers of stocks and bonds who try and profit by betting against companies they believe harbor accounting irregularities.”
  • “But after years of frustration, some of the funds who have been doggedly shorting certain companies have been rewarded. Hedge funds that made bearish bets against the South African retailer Steinhoff International and the UK construction group Carillion saw these trades dramatically pay off as both companies collapsed under the weight of their debts.”
  • “’In the past few months there have been a number of accounting-related shorts, such as Steinhoff International and Carillion, that have been big money makers,’ says Alper Ince, an investor in hedge funds at Paamco. ‘I think there is an expectation among short sellers that we may see more of these after years of companies making big acquisitions and taking on more leverage’.”
  • “’There had been chatter about Steinhoff’s accounting for years, but being short investment grade companies has been an absolute death trade,’ says a London based credit trader. ‘It’s a bit like the old mantra ‘don’t fight the Fed’ — you can’t short investment grade bonds when you know the ECB is buying them on the other side’.”
  • “The ECB was one of the largest holders of Steinhoff’s outstanding €800m bond, owning around €100m of the debt before it sold its position entirely at a deep loss earlier this month.”

NYT – Worries Grow That the Price of Bitcoin Is Being Propped Up – Nathaniel Popper 1/31

  • “A growing number of virtual currency investors are worried that the prices of Bitcoin and other digital tokens have been artificially propped up by a widely used exchange called Bitfinex, which has a checkered history of hacks and opaque business practices.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: German 5yr Bond Yield 1/31

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: US Crude Oil Production 1/26

FT – Shale powers US oil output to heights of 1970 – Ed Crooks 1/31

Cryptocurrency

Bloomberg Quint – India to Curb Cryptocurrency Use While Embracing Blockchain – Anto Antony 2/1

  • “India’s government said it doesn’t consider cryptocurrencies as legal tender and will take all measures to eliminate payments using them.”

How much.net – Visualizing The Meteoric Rise of Cryptocurrency in the Past 5 Years – Raul 1/30

Reuters – South Korea says no plans to ban cryptocurrency exchanges, uncovers $600 million (in) illegal trades – Dahee Kim, Cynthia Kim 1/30

Social Media

NYT – Twitter Followers Vanish Amid Inquiries Into Fake Accounts – Nicholas Confessore, Gabriel Dance, and Rich Harris 1/31

China

FT – Distressed debt investors line up to offer HNA financing – Henny Sender and Don Weinland 1/31

  • “Chinese conglomerate seeks up to $2bn secured against Hong Kong land holdings.”

Other Interesting Links

NYT – San Francisco Will Clear Thousands of Marijuana Convictions – Timothy Williams and Thomas Fuller 1/31

  • “Thousands of people with misdemeanor convictions for marijuana possession dating back 40 years will have their criminal records cleared, the San Francisco district attorney’s office said Wednesday. San Diego is also forgiving old convictions.”

January 19, 2018

Perspective

Freedom House – Freedom in the World 2018 – Democracy in Crisis 1/17

WSJ – Daily Shot: Maps on the Web – Global Fertility Rates 1/17

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

The Atlantic – Raising a Social-Media Star – Taylor Lorenz 1/17

  • “The parents of teen internet celebrities get a crash course in a new kind of fame while trying to maintain boundaries for their newly rich and powerful children.”

Washington Monthly – How to Fix Facebook – Before It Fixes Us – Roger McNamee 1/7

  • “An early investor explains why the social media platform’s business model is such a threat – and what to do about it.”

WP – In Venezuela, money has stopped working – Francisco Toro 1/17

  • “Hyperinflation is disorienting. Five or six years ago, the 500 bolivars on the floor would’ve bought you a meal for two with wine at the best restaurant in Caracas. As late as early last year, they would’ve bought you at least a cup of coffee. At the end of 2016, they still bought you a cup of café con leche, at least. Today, they buy you essentially nothing … well, except for 132 gallons of the world’s most extravagantly subsidized gasoline.”
  • “Prices are now rising more than 80 percent per month, according to the opposition-led National Assembly’s Finance Committee. (The government itself stopped publishing official inflation data long ago.) At that rate, prices double every 34 days or so. Salaries lag far behind, leaving more and more of the country to face outright hunger. Thus, the looting.”
  • “Rule No. 1 of surviving hyperinflation is simple: Get rid of your money. Given the speed with which money is shedding its value, holding on to it means you’re losing out. The second you’re paid you run out as fast as you can to buy something – anything – while you can still afford it. It’s better to hold almost any asset than money, because assets hold their value and money doesn’t.”
  • “I think this is what’s so hard to wrap your mind around if you’ve never experienced hyperinflation. It sounds like it’s about prices rising fast, but it really isn’t. It’s about money breaking down. Under hyperinflation, money no longer works. It doesn’t store value. It just stops doing the basic things people expect money to do. It stops being something you want to have and turns into something you’ll do anything to avoid having: something so worthless you won’t even bend down and scoop it up off the floor while you’re looting.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg – Beware the $500 Billion Bond Exodus – Liz McCormick and Molly Smith 1/17

  • “For years, the likes of Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have stashed billions of dollars offshore to slash their U.S. tax bills. Now, the tax-code rewrite could throw that into reverse.”
  • “The implications for the financial markets are huge. The great on-shoring could prompt multinationals — which have parked much of their overseas profits in Treasuries and U.S. investment-grade corporate debt — to lighten up on bonds and use the money to goose their stock prices. Think buybacks and dividends.”
  • “It’s hard to say how much money the companies might repatriate, but the size of their overseas stash is staggering. An estimated $3.1 trillion of corporate cash is now held offshore. Led by the tech giants, a handful of the biggest companies sit on over a half-trillion dollars in U.S. securities. In other words, they dwarf most mutual funds and hedge funds.”
  • “The $14.5 trillion Treasury market, of course, can absorb the selling pressure of even the largest corporate holders. There’s little to suggest multinationals will immediately liquidate their investments. Many analysts say companies, rather than selling, could just let their holdings gradually mature.”
  • “Yet even at the margin, a drop-off in demand could add to the government’s burgeoning funding costs. Not only are interest rates on the rise, but the most sweeping tax cuts in a generation, which could end up mostly benefiting shareholders, risk leaving the government with trillion-dollar shortfalls for years to come — an expense that taxpayers would ultimately have to bear.”
  • “And since Treasury yields are the global lending benchmark, any upswing could also ripple through the real economy in the form of higher rates on everything from credit cards to mortgages. Since September, 10-year yields have climbed over a half-percentage point, hitting a high of 2.595% this month.”
  • “Of course, it’s important to understand that for most multinationals, offshore cash is really only ‘offshore’ for accounting purposes. Under the old tax system, earnings attributed to foreign subsidiaries, often based in jurisdictions with low taxes or lax regulations like Ireland or Luxembourg, could be repatriated and remain earmarked as ‘held overseas’ — so long as it was stashed in U.S. securities. Apple, for example, manages its hoard from Reno, Nevada, where its internal investment firm, Braeburn Capital, is located.”
  • “’The term overseas cash can be a bit of a misnomer, as it doesn’t have to be overseas and in fact a lot of it isn’t,’ said Michael Cahill, a strategist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. That should limit any appreciation in the dollar related to repatriation over the longer term.”
  • “Big multinationals have good reason to bide their time, according to Richard Lane, a senior analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. Because their debt investments are so extensive, companies could end up inflicting losses on themselves with any large-scale selling.”
  • “’I don’t think there will be a rush to the door by these companies to sell this debt and causing increasing yields and lower pricing,’ said Lane.”

WSJ – Apple Plans to Pay $38 Billion in Repatriation Taxes – Imani Moise 1/17

  • “It also said Wednesday it would spend more than $30 billion to create 20,000 jobs and open a new campus at a U.S. location to be announced later this year.”

Real Estate

WSJ – A Slowdown Is in Store for the Self-Storage Business – Peter Grant 1/16

  • “A flood of new supply is crimping growth in the self-storage sector.”

Finance

Bloomberg Gadfly – Discount Brokers Act Like Wall Street on Fee Conflicts – Nir Kalssar 1/16

  • “One sign of a frenzied stock market rally is a sharp outperformance of retail brokers.” – WSJ Daily Shot 1/18

Bloomberg – Venture Capital Investing Hits Highest Since Dot-Com Boom – Julie Verhage 1/8

Insurance

Economist – Natural disasters made 2017 a year of record insurance losses 1/11

  • “According to figures released on January 4th by Munich Re, a reinsurer, global, inflation-adjusted insured catastrophe losses reached an all-time high of $135bn in 2017. Total losses (including uninsured ones) reached $330bn, second only to losses of $354bn in 2011.”
  • “A large portion of the losses in 2011 was caused by one catastrophe: the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Losses in 2017 were largely traceable to extreme weather. Fully 97% were weather-related, well above the average since 1980 of 85%.”
  • “Last year’s disasters were particularly concentrated in North America (including the Caribbean), with 83% of global losses; half of those were in America alone, hitting that country’s insurers particularly hard. Fitch, a ratings agency, expects the ‘combined ratio’ for American property-and-casualty insurers to rise from 100.7% in 2016, meaning costs and claim payouts just exceeded premium revenue, to 104.4% in 2017. That implies a substantial underwriting loss for the industry. Even Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway looks poised for its first full-year underwriting loss in 15 years. It took a $3bn hit from the three hurricanes and an earthquake in Mexico.”
  • “For all the gloom, the 2017 losses were also proof of the resilience of the reinsurance industry. Insurers have long spread catastrophe risk by taking out reinsurance policies. This time, reinsurers had such ample capital buffers that they are expected to suffer only a small dent, of around 5-7% of capital.”

WSJ – Millions Bought Insurance to Cover Retirement Health Costs. Now They Face an Awful Choice – Leslie Scism 1/17

  • “Battered by losses, long-term-care insurers hit policyholders with steep rate increases that many never saw coming.”
  • “Only a dozen or so insurers still sell the coverage, down from more than 100. General Electric Co. said Tuesday it would take a pretax charge of $9.5 billion, mostly because of long-term-care policies sold in the 1980s and 1990s. Since 2007, other companies have taken $10.5 billion in pretax earnings charges to boost reserves for future claims, according to analysts at investment bank Evercore ISI.”
  • “When sales of long-term-care insurance were ramping up in the 1980s and 1990s, companies thought they had found the perfect product for middle-class families—and that’s how they pitched it.”
  • “The annual premium was designed to hold steady until a claim was filed and premiums then halted, though the rates weren’t guaranteed. Many policies paid out benefits for life.”
  • “Families flocked to what seemed like affordable peace of mind that would save them from draining their lifetime savings, leaning on children or enrolling in the federal-state Medicaid program for the poor.”
  • “Long-term care often costs more than $100,000 a year a person, financial advisers say. The nationwide total exceeds $200 billion, according to analysts at LTCG, a third-party administrator of long-term-care policies.”
  • “Almost every insurer in the business badly underestimated how many claims would be filed and how long people would draw payments before dying. People are living and keeping their policies much longer than expected.”
  • “After the financial crisis hit, nine years of ultralow interest rates also left insurers with far lower investment returns than they needed to pay those claims.”

Cryptocurrency

Economist – Bitcoin is no longer the only game in crypto-currency town 1/13

  • “A new crypto-currency is born almost daily, often through an ‘initial coin offering’ (ICO), a form of online crowdfunding. CoinMarketCap, a website, lists about 1,400 digital coins or tokens, including PutinCoin, Sexcoin and InsaneCoin (worth $7m). Most are no more than curiosities, but by January 10th, around 40 had a market capitalization of more than $1bn.”
  • “Might any of these one day replace bitcoin as crypto-land reserve currency, something insiders call theflippening‘? Given bitcoin’s governance problems (another ‘fork’, or split, may be in the offing) and limited capacity (a transaction now costs nearly $30, on average, in fees), this cannot be excluded. But the others have problems, too. Ethereum’s user fees have soared and the system has again hit technical snags. As for Ripple, some question the extent to which XRPs are actually used.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Ripple 1/17

WSJ – Daily Shot: Capital Economics – Transactions Per Second 1/17

Tech

Forbes – Which Online Platforms Do Americans Want Killed Off? – Niall McCarthy 1/10

China

Economist – How China won the battle of the yuan 1/11

Japan

Economist – A small Japanese city shrinks with dignity 1/11

  • Authorities in the Japanese city of Toyama are encouraging migration to its city center through incentives. The goal being to reduce the cost of maintaining lightly-used infrastructure as its population declines.
  • “About 30% of Toyama’s 418,000 residents are 65 or older, an even higher proportion than in Japan as a whole, where it is 27%. By 2025, the proportion in Toyama is projected to be 32%. In addition to greying, the population is also declining. The city had 421,000 people in 2005; by 2025, it will have 390,000.”
  • “As the population ages and shrinks, the services residents need have changed. The Kadokawa Centre, for example, is built on the site of a primary school that closed in 2004. But overhauling public services is costly, and the declining number of people of working age means there is ever less tax revenue to help pay for the shift. To remain solvent, the city has decided to shrink not just in population, but in size, concentrating residents and services in the center.”
  • “Most of Japan is in a similar quandary. About 400 schools shut every year; some are being converted into retirement homes. In 2016 there were 300,000 more deaths than births. If Japan continues on its present course, it will have shed nearly a third of its population (and four out of every ten workers) by … 2065.”

Economist – Why modern Japan’s founding moment still divides a nation – Banyan 1/11

  • “The Meiji restoration initiated not just modernization, but also militarism.”

South America

CNN Money – You can’t get $1 out of the bank in Venezuela. I tried. – Stefano Pozzebon 1/17

Reuters – Wave of looting shutters stores, spreads fear in Venezuela – Alexandra Ulmer and Anggy Polanco 1/17

January 16, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Why are so many Americans crowdfunding their healthcare? – Barney Jopson 1/10

FT – A power shift in the Middle East – Nick Butler 1/14

  • “The opening of the Zohr gasfield is a big opportunity for Egypt’s energy ambitions.”

NYT – Is the Answer to Phone Addiction a Worse Phone? – Nellie Bowles 1/12

The New Yorker – The Psychology of Inequality – Elizabeth Kolbert 1/15

  • “Researchers find that much of the damage done by being poor comes from feeling poor.”

Markets / Economy

FT – Bond markets: Is the bull run over? – Robin Wigglesworth 1/12

  • “This year will probably mark the first since the financial crisis where major central banks start shrinking their market footprint, reawakening concerns over the $50tn global bond market where governments, companies and banks raise vital funding.”
  • “The end of the bond bull market has been called before. Last year, many analysts predicted a gloomy outlook. Instead, global fixed income enjoyed its best year in a decade, returning 7.4% to investors in the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate bond index. Few believe bonds will replicate those gains in 2018. But many investors say it is far too early to read the market’s last rites, given some of the long-term global forces — such as the inflation-subduing forces of demographics and technology — that keep yields suppressed.”
  • “But investors now face a shift in central bank policy.”
  • “The Fed started cautiously shrinking its balance sheet last year. This month the ECB’s bond-buying fell by half to €30bn a month, and analysts expect the program to end this year. For the first time in a decade, central banks will probably be withdrawing money from markets by the end of 2018.”
  • “The primary cause for this week’s bond ructions — which saw the 10-year Treasury yield rise to a nine-month high of nearly 2.6% — was data that showed the BoJ’s purchases of long-dated bonds had slowed, with the sell-off then exacerbated by reports, later denied, that China was considering reducing its Treasury purchases.”
  • “While the Japanese central bank will still buy as many bonds as needed to keep the 10-year government yield pinned at zero, the deceleration was enough to cause the global debt market to shiver. ‘The market reaction shows just how sensitive it is to any whiff of the central banks being less aggressive,’ Mr Peters (Gregory Peters, a senior portfolio manager at PGIM Fixed Income) says.”
  • “At the same time, supply of freshly-issued government debt is expected to rise. In 2017, the central banks of the US, Europe, Japan and the UK bought about $170bn more government bonds than were issued, meaning the net supply actually contracted. But BNP Paribas estimates that markets will have to absorb $600bn of debt in 2018.”
  • “Another potential risk for investors is whether 2018 is the year when inflation finally emerges from its slumber.”
  • “Ageing demographics is pushing a global savings glut into safer fixed income and helping keep inflationary forces at bay, aided by technology that is proving to be a deflationary force across a range of global industries. Jim Reid, a Deutsche Bank strategist, says that bond market squalls might become more frequent as central banks tighten their monetary spigot, but argues that it would take accelerating inflation ‘to really turbo charge any bond sell-off’.”
  • “Derivatives contracts indicate that investors believe the 10-year Treasury yield will be below the 3% mark in two, five and even 10 years’ time. Equivalent German and Japanese bond futures show that investors think their benchmark bond yields will stay below 2% and 1% respectively over the same timeframes.”
  • “Highlighting the ravenous demand for safe fixed income returns, droves of buyers were attracted this week to the auctions of 10 and 30-year US government debt, helping quell the turbulence.”

Real Estate

AZ Republic – Home buyers with popular millennial names buying more Arizona homes, analysis says – Catherine Reagor 1/14

FT – Chill winds in Swedish housing market – Katie Martin 1/15

Finance

NYT – What’s $27 Billion to Wall Street? An Alarming Drop in Revenue – Emily Flitter and Kate Kelly 1/11

  • “For more than a decade, the world’s top investment banks practically minted money from the buying and selling of bonds, currencies and other complex securities. For many banks, the business became their lifeblood.”
  • “Now, a combination of tough regulations, new technologies, calm markets and changing customer behavior has left that type of trading a shadow of its former self — and much of Wall Street trying to redefine itself.”
  • “Five years ago, fixed-income trading — so called because its keystone product, bonds, typically provides a fixed payout — generated nearly $103 billion in income for the top 12 investment banks, according to Coalition, a London research firm.”
  • “By 2016, that had fallen to less than $76 billion — down $27 billion from the peak.”

FT – Bitcoin investors struggle to cash out new fortunes – Kate Beioley and James Pickford 1/12

  • “UK mortgage lenders refuse to accept deposits because of money laundering fears.”

 

December 13, 2017

Perspective

Bloomberg Businessweek – The Bitcoin Whales: 1,000 People Who Own 40 Percent of the Market – Olga Kharif 12/8

  • “Among the coins people invest in, bitcoin has the least concentrated ownership, says Spencer Bogart, managing director and head of research at Blockchain Capital. The top 100 bitcoin addresses control 17.3% of all the issued currency, according to Alex Sunnarborg, co-founder of crypto hedge fund Tetras Capital. With ether, a rival to bitcoin, the top 100 addresses control 40% of the supply, and with coins such as Gnosis, Qtum, and Storj, top holders control more than 90%. Many large owners are part of the teams running these projects.”

WEF – This is every US state’s biggest trading partner – Andy Kiersz 11/16

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg Businessweek – What Happens When the Government Uses Facebook as a Weapon? – Lauren Etter 12/7

  • “Internet.org was just one part of a decade-long campaign of global expansion for Facebook. In countries such as the Philippines, the efforts have been so successful that the company is able to tout to its advertisers that its network is, for many people, the only version of the internet they know. Repressive governments originally treated Facebook, and all social media, with suspicion—they saw how it could serve as a locus for dissidents, as it had in the Arab Spring in 2011. But authoritarian regimes are now embracing social media, shaping the platforms into a tool to wage war against a wide range of opponents—opposition parties, human-rights activists, minority populations, journalists.”
  • Maria Ressa, co-founder of the country’s leading online news site “recalled that she started as a journalist in the Philippines in 1986, the year of the People Power Revolution, an uprising that ultimately led to the departure of Ferdinand Marcos and the move from authoritarian rule to democracy. Now she’s worried that the pendulum is swinging back and that Facebook is hastening the trend. ‘They haven’t done anything to deal with the fundamental problem, which is they’re allowing lies to be treated the same way as truth and spreading it,’ she says. ‘Either they’re negligent or they’re complicit in state-sponsored hate’.”

Bloomberg Businessweek – Millions Are Hounded for Debt They Don’t Owe. One Victim Fought Back, With a Vengeance – Zeke Faux 12/6

  • “The concept is centuries old: Inmates of a New York debtors’ prison joked about it as early as 1800, in a newspaper they published called Forlorn Hope. But systematic schemes to collect on fake debts started only about five years ago. It begins when someone scoops up troves of personal information that are available cheaply online—old loan applications, long-expired obligations, data from hacked accounts—and reformats it to look like a list of debts. Then they make deals with unscrupulous collectors who will demand repayment of the fictitious bills. Their targets are often poor and likely to already be getting confusing calls about other loans. The harassment usually doesn’t work, but some marks are convinced that because the collectors know so much, the debt must be real.”
  • Americans are currently late on more than $600 billion in bills, according to Federal Reserve research, and almost one person in 10 has a debt in collectors’ hands. The agencies recoup what they can and sell the rest down-market, so that iffier and iffier debt is bought by shadier and shadier individuals. Deception is common. Scammers often sell the same portfolios of debt, called ‘paper,’ to several collection agencies at once, so a legitimate IOU gains illegitimate clones. Some inflate balances, a practice known as ‘overbiffing.’ Others create ‘redo’ lists—people who’ve settled their debt, but will be harassed again anyway. These rosters are actually more valuable, because the targets have proved willing to part with money over the phone. And then there are those who invent debts out of whole cloth.”

The Guardian – Former Facebook executive: social media is ripping society apart – Julia Carrie Wong 12/11

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg – Prime-age male labor-force participation 12/11

Real Estate

FT – New Zealand looks to ban foreigners from buying houses – Jamie Smyth 12/9

FT – Unibail-Rodamco sees 100m annual synergies in $24.7bn Westfield takeover – Jamie Smyth 12/11

FT – Hong Kong investors go defensive in $3bn property auction – Henny Sender 12/11

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 12/11

  • “Bitcoin’s volatility is on the rise as the cryptocurrency hit new highs.”

Health / Medicine

NYT – A Nasty, Nafta-Related Surprise: Mexico’s Soaring Obesity – Andrew Jacobs and Matt Richtel 12/11

  • “Mexico began lifting tariffs and allowing more foreign investment in the 1980s, a transition to free trade given an exclamation point in 1994, when Mexico, the United States and Canada enacted the North American Free Trade Agreement. Opponents in Mexico warned that the country would lose its cultural and economic independence.”
  • “But few critics predicted it would transform the Mexican diet and food ecosystem to increasingly mirror those of the United States. In 1980, 7% of Mexicans were obese, a figure that tripled to 20.3% by 2016, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. Diabetes is now Mexico’s top killer, claiming 80,000 lives a year, the World Health Organization has reported.”

China

WSJ – China’s Clean Energy Future Has a $1.2 Trillion Problem – Nathaniel Taplin 12/11

  • “China’s enormous coal-power debt overhang limits its ability to shift rapidly to cleaner fuels.”

Europe

WEF – Which countries feel they’ve benefitted from the EU? – Niall McCarthy 11/6

Other Interesting Links

Bloomberg Businessweek – This Crowdfunding Site Runs on Hate – Adam Popescu 12/4

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 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.