Tag: Turkey

May 29, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

WSJ – The Tragedy of Venezuela – Anatoly Kurmanaev 5/24

  • “Last weekend, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro dragged his Socialist government into a third decade in power by winning elections that were boycotted by the opposition, ignored by most of his countrymen and rejected by the international community. As sluggish voting drew to a close, a smiling and confident Mr. Maduro posted a video of himself waving not to throngs of adoring supporters but to a largely empty public square.”
  • By the end of 2018, it will have shrunk by an estimated 35% since 2013, the steepest contraction in the country’s 200-year history and the deepest recession anywhere in the world in decades. From 2014 to 2017, the poverty rate rose from 48% to 87%, according to a survey by the country’s top universities. Some nine out of 10 Venezuelans don’t earn enough to meet basic needs. Children die from malnutrition and medicine shortages. An estimated three million Venezuelans, 10% of the population, have left the country in the two decades of Socialist rule, almost half of them in the past two years, according to Tomás Páez, a researcher at the Central University of Venezuela.”
  • “If Mr. Maduro didn’t know when to stop the music, the idea for the endless party came from his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, who died just a month before I arrived in 2013. The strongman charmed his countrymen with a silver tongue, his love of dancing and singing and his disdain for the hated austerity packages imposed by previous Venezuelan presidents. As oil prices shot up in his last decade, Mr. Chavez not only failed to save any of the windfall but buried the country in debt.”
  • “Along the way, he imposed capital controls to try to stop money from fleeing the country. The arbitrary exchange rate system suffocated private enterprise and investment, but the poor got subsidized food and free housing. The middle class got up to $8,000 of almost-free credit card allowances a year for travel and shopping. And the rich and politically connected siphoned off up to $30 billion a year of heavily subsidized dollars through shell companies, according to the planning minister at the time.”
  • “The currency and price controls implemented by Mr. Chávez broke the basic link between supply and demand, creating surreal economic distortions. A business-class Air France return ticket from Caracas to my hometown in Siberia would cost me $400, yet a 15-year-old Suzuki jalopy with no air conditioning and 150,000 miles set me back $4,600.”
  • “Caracas in 2013 reminded me of a tropical version of the Soviet periphery. Basic goods like flour and aspirin had fixed prices and were so cheap that companies had no incentive to make them. When you did find them, it made sense to grab as much as you could carry. Who knew when you would find them again? Like Russia in the 1980s, people dealt with shortages by resorting to the black market, hoarding goods and trading perks of their jobs, like bureaucratic stamps of approval or access to car batteries, for other favors or products.”
  • “But Venezuela’s collapse has been far worse than the chaos that I experienced in the post-Soviet meltdown. As a young person, I was still able to get a good education in a public school with subsidized meals and decent free hospital treatment. By contrast, as the recession took hold in Venezuela, the so-called Socialist government made no attempt to shield health care and education, the two supposed pillars of its program. This wasn’t Socialism. It was kleptocracy—the rule of thieves.”
  • “In Venezuela, I saw children abandon schools that had stopped serving meals and teachers trade their lesson books for pickaxes to work in dangerous mines. I saw pictures of horse carcasses on the grounds of the top university’s veterinary school—killed and eaten because of the lack of food.”
  • “Hyperinflation, set to reach 14,000% this year, has transformed the most basic transactions into Kafkaesque trials. Cash is extremely scarce, card payment networks are overloaded, cell phone coverage is worse than in Syria, and online banking systems constantly crash because of underinvestment. Paying for a cup of coffee can take an hour.”
  • “The crisis has even made it harder for the ruling elite to enjoy its privileged status. Despite access to official dollars and the protection of security details, top apparatchiks now avoid the best restaurants, the plushest resorts and business-class lounges, where they fear encountering the hatred of their compatriots. Sanctions and fears of corruption probes have barred many of them from trips to the U.S. and much of Europe.”
  • “After 2016, I no longer had to travel to report on the toll of the economic crisis. It was visible all around me: in the sagging skin of neighbors, the dimming eyes of janitors and security guards, the children’s scuffles for mangos from a nearby tree. It is profoundly depressing to watch people you know grow thinner and more dejected day by day, year after year. When I look back at my five years in Venezuela, it’s not the time I spent covering riots, violent street protests or armed gangs that stirs the most feeling. It’s the slow decay of the people I encountered every day.”
  • “For most ordinary Venezuelans I know, Mr. Maduro’s foreordained victory last weekend snuffed out the last glimmer of hope that their lives can improve through democratic and peaceful means. What’s left is exile or further misery.”

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: CNN – Global School Shootings Since 2009 5/25

Slate – Eighties Babies Are Officially the Brokest Generation, Federal Reserve Study Concludes – Jordan Weissmann 5/23

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Teachable Moment – When Fees Go Up in Seconds, It’s Time to Go – Dina Isola 5/25

FT – New York property jitters herald declines elsewhere – Gillian Tett 5/24

  • “Clouds are hovering over New York’s housing market. A couple of years ago, property prices were spiraling ever higher — much like the new luxury skyscrapers now springing up in midtown Manhattan.”
  • “But estate agents say that sales volumes in the first quarter of 2018 were at their lowest level for six years. Meanwhile the median price per square foot was 18% lower than a year earlier, according to some reports.”
  • For those of you not living in Manhattan and that don’t own property there, you think, so what? The thing is … “last month the IMF published its first comprehensive analysis of global property and this suggests that real estate is becoming prone to synchronization too. Two decades ago, only 10% of property price movements could be blamed on global — not local — factors. Now it is 30%.”
  • “…What is striking is that this real estate synchronization is affecting urban centers in both emerging and advanced economies. Or as the report notes: ‘House prices in major cities outside the United States — Beijing, Dublin, Hong Kong SAR, London, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, Toronto and Vancouver — are positively associated with US house price dispersions’.”
  • “This might seem unsurprising. After all, the global elite hop across borders at dizzying speed. So does financial capital, and sentiment-shaping news. Meanwhile, the market capitalization of the real estate investment trust sector has tripled in the past 15 years, and large asset managers allocate on average of 11% of their portfolios to property.”
  • “This has made the housing market more ‘financialized’, since some investors are treating housing more like a tradeable asset, chasing yields around the world. No wonder that a decade of ultra-loose monetary policy in the west has lifted so many geographically dispersed real estate boats.”
  • “…the key point is this: if (or when) global financial conditions eventually become less benign, there will probably be downward movement in housing markets too, with some unexpected spillover effects.”
  • “Indeed, the most intriguing point in the IMF report is that ‘heightened synchronicity of house prices can signal a downside tail risk to real economic activity, especially when taking place in a buoyant credit environment’.”
  • “In plain English, this means that a correlated boom in global real estate markets can signal trouble ahead. We should keep a close eye on those estate agents’ reports in New York — as well as London or Hong Kong. The Big Apple’s jitters might yet be a canary in the coal-mine.”

FT View – A wise autocrat knows what he does not control 5/23

  • “Turkey’s president risks losing his fight with the financial markets.”

The Irrelevant Investor – Never Begin With the End in Mind – Michael Batnick 5/25

NYT – Elon Musk, the Donald of Silicon Valley – Bret Stephens 5/25

WSJ – Banks Won Big in Washington. What It Means for Investors – Jason Zweig 5/25

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: US Existing Homes Sales 5/24

WSJ – Daily Shot: NAR US Existing Homes Months Supply 5/25

WSJ – Daily Shot: Change in US Single-Family Homes Sales 5/25

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg – Zillow – Rise in Home Sales – Select markets 5/25

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: eia – US Average regular gasoline price 5/25

Shipping

FT – Maersk raises shipping rates as oil price spike bites – Joe Leahy and Richard Milne 5/24

  • “The world’s biggest container shipping group Maersk Line told customers it is raising prices in response to increased marine fuel costs, showing how the surge in oil prices to their highest levels in four years is rippling through the global supply chain.” 
  • “Bunker prices, as marine fuel is known, have risen more than 20% since the start of the year, and in Europe have hit $440 per metric ton, the highest since 2014. That has forced Maersk to introduce an ’emergency bunker surcharge’, the company told customers in a note.” 

Education

WSJ – Mike Meru Has $1 Million in Student Loans. How Did That Happen? – Josh Mitchell 5/25

  • “Due to escalating tuition and easy credit, the U.S. has 101 people who owe at least $1 million in federal student loans, according to the Education Department. Five years ago, 14 people owed that much.”
  • “More could join that group. While the typical student borrower owes $17,000, the number of those who owe at least $100,000 has risen to around 2.5 million, nearly 6% of the borrowing pool, Education Department data show.”
  • “For graduate-school students especially, there is little incentive for universities to help put the brakes on big borrowing. The government essentially allows grad students to borrow any amount to cover tuition and living costs, with few guardrails on how the final sum will be repaid.”
  • “More than a third of borrowers from one of the government’s main graduate school lending programs have enrolled in some form of federal loan-forgiveness plan.”
  • “Dental school is the costliest higher-education program in the U.S. Private nonprofit schools during the 2015-2016 school year charged an average of $71,820 a year, the Urban Institute found. The USC program now costs $91,000 a year, and $137,000 when living expenses are included.”
  • “Mr. Meru’s financial records—provided to The Wall Street Journal—show he borrowed $601,506 to attend USC—a debt swelled to more than $1 million by fees and interest.”

Asia – excluding China and Japan

FT – Malaysia police seized $28.6m cash in 1MDB probe raid – Ben Bland 5/25

  • “The cash confiscated last week from a luxury Kuala Lumpur apartment linked to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad investigation was worth RM114m ($28.6m), Malaysian police said on Friday.”
  • “The hoard, composed of Malaysian ringgit, US dollars and 24 other currencies, was seized alongside 284 luxury handbags and 37 other bags full of jewelry and watches from an empty apartment at the Pavilion Residences condominiums.”
  • We’re talking liquid-hard currency…
  • “Amar Singh, the head of the commercial crime unit, said it took police and 21 officers from Malaysia’s central bank three days to count the stash, which is now being held in the bank’s vaults.”

Japan

WSJ – In Booming Japan, the Phillips Curve Is Dead – Greg Ip 5/23

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March 28, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg Gadfly – Users Built Facebook’s Empire, and They Can Crumble It – Nir Kaissar 3/26

FT – It is Venezuela’s crisis that is driving the oil price higher – Nick Butler 3/25

  • “While the Maduro-military alliance holds, output is likely to fall further.”

NYT – Live in a Drainpipe? Five Extreme Ideas to Solve Hong Kong’s Housing Crisis – Austin Ramzy 3/26

NYT – Repeal the Second Amendment – John Paul Stevens (retired associate justice of US Supreme Court) 3/27

NYT – New Leadership Has Not Changed Uber – Steven Hill 3/26

  • “The problem with Uber was never that the chief executive had created a thuggish ‘Game of Thrones’-type culture, as Susan Fowler, an engineer, described it in a blog post. The problem was, and still is, Uber’s business model: Its modus operandi is to subsidize fares and flood streets with its cars to achieve a transportation monopoly. In city after city, this has led to huge increases in traffic congestion, increased carbon emissions and the undermining of public transportation.”
  • Most customers who love Uber don’t realize that the company subsidizes the cost of many rides. This is likely a major factor in Uber’s annual losses surging from 2.8 billion in 2016 to $4.5 billion in 2017. This seemingly nonsensical approach is actually Uber’s effort to use its deep pockets to mount a predatory price war and shut out the competition. That competition is not only taxis and other ride-sharing companies, but public transportation.”
  • Ridership on public transportation is down in nearly every major American city, including New York City (which recorded its first ridership dip since 2009). This is hurting the revenue that public transportation needs to sustain itself. Uber passengers and public transportation users alike now find themselves stuck in heavy traffic for far longer because of what’s been called ‘Uber congestion.’ In Manhattan, there are five times as many ridesharing vehicles as yellow taxis, which has caused average speeds to decline by 15% compared with 2010, before Uber.
  • “Ride-sharing services could potentially add something positive to our transportation options, but only if they are regulated properly.”
  • “First, regulators should limit the number of ride-sharing cars. Traditional taxis already have a sensible limit to minimize congestion. A balance must be found between having enough taxi-type vehicles but not so many that the streets are choked with traffic. Fix NYC, a panel appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, has called for all Ubers, Lyfts and taxis to be outfitted with GPS technology to track congestion and to charge a fee on for-hire vehicles that could help reduce traffic and generate hundreds of millions of dollars for public transportation.”
  • “Second, Uber should be prohibited from subsidizing its fares. It should be required to charge at least the true cost of each ride. If Uber refuses, a ‘fairness fee’ should be added to each fare.”
  • “Third, ride-sharing companies and their vehicles should be required to follow the same laws as traditional taxis, especially in terms of background checks for drivers and insurance requirements.”
  • “Fourth, Uber should be required to share its data with regulators, including information about its drivers and their contact information, so that members of this ‘distributed work force’ can more easily contact one another and organize collectively if they choose.”
  • “Finally, regulations should ensure that Uber treats its drivers fairly. Mr. Khosrowshahi asserts that drivers’ wages are adequate, but according to one study, more than half of Uber drivers earn less than the minimum wage in their state, and some even lose money once the costs of driving are taken into account. That helps explain why, according to Uber’s own internal study, half of its drivers leave after a year.”

WSJ – Turkey Is the One to Watch for Emerging Markets Risk – Richard Barley 3/26

WSJ – How a Tiny Latvian Bank Became a Haven for the World’s Dirty Money – Drew Hinshaw, Patricia Kowsmann, and Ian Talley 3/26

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Libor’s Rise Accelerates, Squeezing Short-Term Borrowers – Ben Eisen and Chelsey Dulaney 3/27

  • “The three-month London interbank offered rate climbed to 2.29% in the U.S. on Monday, its highest since November 2008. Libor measures the cost for banks to lend to one another and is used to set interest rates on roughly $200 trillion in dollar-based financial contracts globally, from corporate loans to home mortgages.”
  • “Libor has been rising for the last 2½ years as the Federal Reserve lifts its key policy rate, but recently the pace has picked up. It has climbed nearly a full percentage point in the last six months—outpacing the Fed—and could rise further with the approaching end of the quarter, typically a time of elevated demand for short-term funds in the banking sector, analysts say.”
  • “Demand for dollars at the end of the first quarter could send Libor up an additional 0.2 percentage point in the coming days, market analysts say, as investors rebalance their portfolios and banks rein in their balance sheets. The end of March also marks the finish of Japan’s fiscal year, potentially compounding the moves as big investors bring money back to Japan.”
  • “Libor has already sprinted ahead of the rates indicated by central bank policies, an acceleration that has baffled economists and traders. That widening gap has alarmed those who watch it as a signal of stress in the financial system. Others have pinned it on a series of technical factors, such as rising short-term debt sales by the U.S. government and new corporate tax policies.”
  • “Other markets that can be tapped for dollars—including through the swaps market and liquidity lines maintained by global central banks—aren’t yet showing a big dollar squeeze.”

Real Estate

The Big Picture – WeWork: Manhattan’s 2nd-biggest Private Office Tenant – Barry Ritholtz 3/27

FT – House prices falling in two-fifths of London postcodes – James Pickford 3/26

  • “House prices are falling in two out of five London postcodes, according to research that underlines the growing divergence between prices in southern English cities and those elsewhere in the UK.”
  • “The average annual rate of price growth in the capital has slowed to 1%, down sharply from 4.3% a year ago, meaning it is at its lowest level since August 2011, according to research by Hometrack, a housing market analyst. This stands in contrast to UK-wide average house price growth of 5.2% in the year to February 2018, up from 4% a year ago.”
  • “Prices are under greatest pressure in central London, where owners of the most expensive types of property began cutting prices in 2015 responding to the impact of higher taxes. In the past year, however, the trend has deepened in areas beyond the prime zones of Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea. The boroughs that saw the greatest drop in value were the City of London, Camden, Southwark, Islington and Wandsworth, according to Hometrack’s research.”
  • “Hometrack is predicting that the number of areas of the capital experiencing falling house prices will multiply during this year as trapped sellers reduce their asking prices to drive through transactions. ‘The net result will be a negative rate of headline price growth for London by the middle of 2018,’ the research said.”
  • “Outside southern England, house prices are more likely to be rising, in some places at a substantial pace. Edinburgh, Liverpool, Leicester, Birmingham and Manchester are adding more than 7% a year to their average house price, Hometrack found, with Leeds, Nottingham and Sheffield pegging rises of 6% or more.”
  • “The laggards in the 20-city index were Aberdeen (down by 7.7%), Cambridge (down by 1.5%) and Oxford (up by just 0.5%).”

NYT – Grocery Wars Turn Small Chains Into Battlefield Casualties – Michael Corkery 3/26

WSJ – Homeowners Ditch Refinancings as Mortgage Rates Rise – Christina Rexrode 3/26

  • “Last year, 37% of mortgage-origination volume was because of refinancings, according to industry research group Inside Mortgage Finance. That is the smallest proportion since 1995, and the number of refinancings is widely expected to shrink again this year. In 2012, refinancings were 72% of originations.”
  • “While purchase activity has climbed steadily from a post-financial-crisis nadir in 2011, growth in 2017 wasn’t enough to offset a $366 billion decline in refinancing activity. The result: The overall mortgage market fell around 12%, to $1.8 trillion, according to Inside Mortgage Finance.”
  • “What’s more, there are fewer homeowners eligible to refinance because of rising rates. The number of borrowers who could benefit from a refinancing is down about 37% from the end of last year, estimates Black Knight Inc., a mortgage-data and technology firm. At 2.67 million potential borrowers, this group is at its smallest since 2008.”
  • “Home-purchase activity has so far been holding up. Sales of previously owned homes in February rose 1.1% from a year earlier, countering worries that a downturn the previous month signaled a peak for the market.”
  • “Still, rising interest rates, a shortage of housing inventory and higher home prices are all long-term threats to purchase activity.”
  • “For refinancings, rising rates are a more immediate worry. Freddie Mac said last week that the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 4.45%, up from 3.95% at the beginning of the year.”
  • “The Mortgage Bankers Association expects mortgage-purchase volume to grow about 5% in 2018 but refinancing volume to drop 27%. Refinance applications fell 5% in the week ended March 16 from the prior one, according to the group.”

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

Bloomberg – Fewer Americans Hold Cryptocurrencies Than You Probably Think – Olga Kharif 3/16

  • “More than 90% of American adults don’t own cryptocurrencies – and most have a lot of concerns about the coins, a new survey from Finder found.”

Fishing

Bloomberg – Maine’s Lobster Tide Might Be Ebbing – Justin Fox 3/23

  • “The numbers came in earlier this month on Maine’s 2017 lobster harvest. By historical standards, the 110.8 million-pound, $434 million haul was pretty spectacular. But it was a lot lower than 2016’s 132.5 million-pound, $540 million record, and it was another sign that the Great Lobster Boom that has surprised and delighted Maine’s lobster fishermen since the 1990s — and brought lobster rolls to diners from coast to coast — may be giving way to … something else.”
  • “The lobster boom does not seem to be the result of overfishing; Maine’s lobster fishermen figured out a set of rules decades ago that appear to allow them to manage the catch sustainably. There are just lots and lots more lobsters off the coast of Maine than there used to be. Why? In a column last spring, I listed four reasons that I’d heard during a trip to Maine:”
    • “Warmer temperatures in the Gulf of Maine.”
    • “A collapse in the population of cod, which eat young lobsters.”
    • “Reduced incidence of a lobster disease called gaffkemia.”
    • “Increased effort and efficiency on the part of lobstermen, who go farther offshore and can haul in more traps in a day than they used to.”
  • “Given how quickly the lobster harvests grew, though, especially from 2007 through 2012, it’s hard not to wonder whether they might not eventually collapse. They already have in several states farther down the Atlantic coast. Lobster landings were still on the rise as of 2016 (data aren’t available yet for 2017) in New Hampshire and Massachusetts but peaked in Rhode Island in 1999, Connecticut in 1998, New York in 1996 and New Jersey in 1990.”
  • “So that’s some evidence for the warming-ocean-temperatures theory of the lobster boom. This would imply that eventually even the oceans off Maine will get too warm, although it doesn’t give much of a hint as to when.”
  • Canada has been benefiting as well.

 

July 26, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

NYT – 110 N.F.L Brains 7/25

  • “Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist, has examined the brains of 202 deceased football players. A broad survey of her findings was published on Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association.”
  • “Of the 202 players, 111 of them played in the N.F.L. – and 110 of those were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., the degenerative disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head.”
  • “The brains here are from players who died as young as 23 and as old as 89. And they are from every position on the field – quarterbacks, running backs and linebackers, and even a place-kicker and a punter.”

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Forbes – Large Tech Firm Lobby Budgets 7/25

WSJ – U.S. Military’s Space in Trump Tower Costs $130,000 a month – Paul Sonne 7/19

  • It’s a 3,475 sq. ft. space, so $37.41 per sq. ft. per month. Mind you, “the most expensive Trump Tower listing recently was a 3,725 sq. ft., three-bedroom apartment on the 62nd floor. It was listed in the spring of 2016 for $50,000 a month unfurnished and $60,000 a month furnished, according to Streeteasy.com.”
  • Basically, Trump’s neighbor recognizes they have a captive audience.

FT – Google and Facebook lay foundations for modern-day company towns – George Hammond 7/19

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg – Fund Managers and Strategists Think the Bull Market Is Ending Next Year – Adam Haigh, Natasha Doff, Dani Burger and Julie Verhage 7/25

  • “We have had a liquidity-fueled bull market. If that is taken away, there is a pressure point.” – Remi Olu-Pitan, Schroder Investment Management Ltd.

WP – Disabled and disdained – Terrence McCoy 7/21

  • “In rural America, some towns are divided between those who work and those who don’t.”

FP – The argument to be a buyer of the Saudi Aramco IPO – John Dizard 7/21

  • “As one international oil analyst says, though: ‘The Permian is preventing high prices today, but ensuring high oil prices tomorrow. The low prices are holding back investment in most of the world, and that is storing up a significant problem in meeting demand in the future.'”
  • “That is the argument to be a buyer of the Saudi Aramco IPO.”
  • “There are two bets involved in the listing. Can Saudi Arabia contain the social and strategic pressures caused by cheap oil? And will the capital markets eventually stop subsidizing shale producers?”

WSJ – Investors, Stop Worrying About Why ‘Nobody’ Is Worrying – Jason Zweig 7/21

Markets / Economy

WSJ – In Reversal, Colleges Rein In Tuition – Josh Mitchell 7/23

  • “U.S. college tuition is growing at the slowest pace in decades, following a nearly 400% rise over the past three decades that fueled middle class anxieties and a surge in student debt.”
  • “Abundant supply is running up against demand constraints. The number of two-year and four-year colleges increased 33% between 1990 and 2012 to 4,726, Education Department data show. But college enrollment is down more than 4% from a peak in 2010, partly because a healthy job market means fewer people are going back to school to learn new skills.”
  • “Longer-running economic and demographic shifts also are at play. Lower birthrates and the aging of baby boomer children have reduced the pool of traditional college-age Americans. The number of new high-school graduates grew 18% between 2000 and 2010 but only 2% in the first seven years of this decade, Education Department data show.”
  • “Another factor: Congress last increased the maximum amount undergraduates could borrow from the government in 2008. Some economists have concluded schools raise prices along with increases in federal financial aid. A clampdown on aid, in turn, could limit the ability of schools to charge more.”
  • “But other factors could keep cost pressures rising. George Pernsteiner, head of State Higher Education Executive Officers, a trade group that tracks state funding for schools, notes that many states are on track to experience budget crunches as the population ages and health-care and public pension costs rise. That could squeeze public support for schools.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Americans Pour Record Sums Into Home Improvements – Laura Kusisto and Sarah Chaney 7/25

  • “A shortage of new single-family homes across the U.S. is pushing up prices and locking many buyers out of the market. The silver lining: a boom in renovations of existing homes.”
  • “Americans are expected to pour a record $316 billion into home remodeling this year, up from $296 billion a year earlier, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.”

FT – Funds hunt for cracks in most-prized US shopping malls – Miles Johnson 7/21

  • “A defining feature of the financial crisis was a group of hedge funds making vast sums by wagering against supposedly AAA-rated mortgage debt well before markets imploded in 2008.”
  • “Now some believe a similar story will play out for US shopping malls — that the most risky investments will end up being those that investors now believe to be the safest. Central to their premise is the idea that too much faith may be being placed in a classification system used for shopping malls that is little known outside of the real estate sector.”
  • “Malls are given ratings by a small group of property consultants generally ranging from A++ to C based on factors that include their sales per square foot and location. While there is no universally accepted system for ranking the malls, with each consultant having slightly different methodologies, banks and investors tend to rely on these ratings to make decisions over how secure each mall is as a creditor or investment.”
  • “The stock market has until recently appeared to believe that prime ‘A’ malls are largely insulated from the pain being felt across a US retail sector being shaken by e-commerce.”
  • “Yet there is growing evidence to suggest that these prime malls, which have been treated by investors and lenders alike as rock solid bets in the face of the internet headwinds, are not as protected as once thought.”
  • “The hedge funds wagering against the highest quality malls believe that the wider market will come to believe these A-quality malls are far more similar to lesser ranked ones. ‘This idea that there are these magic malls in America that are immune to secular change is a myth,’ the US-based hedge fund manager says.”
  • “Some argue that the market underappreciates that A class mall operators and B and C class mall operators all have very similar tenant bases, in spite of being in different locations.”

Energy

BloombergGadlfy – Venezuela’s Perfect Storm for Oil May Be About to Break – Liam Denning 7/21

  • “We may be about to see the first sovereign producer to unequivocally fail.”
  • “The oil producer in question is Venezuela, and that assessment comes courtesy of Helima Croft, who is global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets and formerly worked with both the Council on Foreign Relations and the CIA.”
  • “But things are building to a head, partly due to the relentless logic of the bond market and partly due to the more proprietary logic of U.S. foreign policy.”
  • “Venezuelan bonds, which haven’t looked rock-solid for a few years, crashed this week as embattled President Nicola Maduro renewed calls to rewrite the country’s constitution, which would effectively disenfranchise the millions of Venezuelans who oppose him and entrench his regime. The U.S. has warned it may impose much tougher sanctions if Maduro goes ahead with his plan.”
  • “Venezuela’s economy is in free-fall: By the end of this year, it will have shrunk by 32% compared to where it was at the end of 2013, according to International Monetary Fund forecasts. Also by the end of this year, the government is on the hook to pay back more than $5 billion in debt — including bonds owed by the state-owned oil champion, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., or PdVSA — plus billions more in interest. As of this week, Venezuela’s international reserves stood at less than $10 billion.”
  • “Meanwhile, mismanagement, a lack of investment and re-nationalization of foreign oil companies’ interests have caused Venezuela’s oil production to slump from around 3.3 million barrels a day a decade ago to about 2 million now. Even allowing for the fact that domestic consumption has dwindled along with GDP, Venezuela’s surplus of oil available for earning export dollars has shrunk considerably.”
  • “Compounding this is the fact that the country must devote a lot of its output to paying off loans from China and Russia, further reducing the actual amount it can use to generate cash. Francisco Monaldi, a fellow in Latin American energy policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, estimates that could be as little as 800,000 barrels a day.”
  • “For three years, oil watchers have been waiting for a chaotic wave of bankruptcies in places like Texas and North Dakota to jolt the market. They’ve been looking in the wrong place.”

FT – Coal has no future, says US railroad boss – Gregory Meyer 7/19

  • “One of the largest haulers of US coal says fossil fuels have no future, despite pledges to the contrary from President Donald Trump.”
  • “CSX, a freight railroad company with origins in the bituminous coal seams of Appalachia, will not buy a single new locomotive to pull coal trains, chief executive Hunter Harrison told analysts on Wednesday.”
  • “’Fossil fuels are dead,’ Mr Harrison said. ‘That’s a long-term view. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to be in two or three years. But it’s going away, in my view.’” 
  • “North American railroads have reshaped their asset holdings in acknowledgment that coal’s apex has passed.”
  • “Lance Fritz, chief executive of the Union Pacific railroad, said in a recent interview that Mr Trump’s move to scrap Clean Power Plan regulations was unlikely to grow its coal business. ‘It takes away a headwind,’ he said.”

Tech

NYT – Silicon Valley Giants Confront New Walls in China – Paul Mozur and Carolyn Zhang 7/22

  • “It’s basically like someone who has been training for Olympic taekwondo going up against a street fighter. The Olympic fighter is waiting for the whistle, and the street fighter already has him on the ground hitting him with elbows. There’s no rules.” – Andy Tian, co-founder of Asia Innovations Group and former general manager of Zynga China

FT – Uber, Amazon and Microsoft braced for accounting shake-up – Leslie Hook and Richard Waters 7/19

  • “Uber’s reported revenues are being cut in half and sales at Amazon and Microsoft could be higher than previously stated — all thanks to a forthcoming change to accounting rules.”
  • “An update to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) for US companies is turning out to have particularly large consequences in parts of the tech industry, which is having to overhaul the way it reports revenues and costs.”
  • “One of the more dramatic impacts will affect car-booking services such as Uber, a private company whose GAAP revenue drops by more than half when it adopts the new standard, which it plans to do this year.”
  • “Uber’s first-quarter revenue this year was $3.4bn under old GAAP accounting, but it says that under the new rules its revenue would have been just $1.5bn for the same period. Uber has already started sharing the lower figure with investors.”
  • “Under the old standard, car-booking services such as Uber and Lyft counted their commissions from regular rides, plus the entire fare of carpool rides, as revenue. Under the new standard, only the commissions from both regular and carpool rides will count as revenue.”
  • “The shift is due to changes to the ‘principal versus agent’ rules that determine when a company is acting as a principal and when it is acting as an agent. The car-booking services were previously considered the ‘principal’ for carpooled rides. As private companies, they must adopt the new standard by the beginning of 2019, although Uber has moved to do so much earlier.”
  • “The new standard, known as Revenue from Contracts with Customers, is designed to narrow the distance between US GAAP rules and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).”

Agriculture 

WSJ – Daily Shot: CBOT Soft Red Winter Wheat Futures 7/24

  • “The recent wheat rally has been almost entirely reversed.”

Asia – excluding China and Japan

FT – Jailed Duterte foe prepares for long haul – Michael Peel 7/20

  • “Philippine Senator Leila de Lima, 57, was arrested at her senate office in February on charges that she received payoffs from jailed drug lords. She has branded the allegations ‘simply surreal’ and said they were part of a ‘personal vendetta’ by a president who is ‘rather obsessed with me’.”
  • “Ms. de Lima has certainly earned implacable enmity from Mr. Duterte for her efforts to probe his bloody drugs wars first as a provincial mayor and now as president. She maintains her innocence but also accepts her stay in jail could be a long one. The same day she marks five months in detention next week, Mr. Duterte will give an annual state of the nation speech against a background of soaring approval ratings.”
  • “I think as long as Duterte is president (5 more years), I will be locked up in jail,” Ms. de Lima says. “I have no false hopes about achieving justice very soon.”

China

NYT – In China, Herd of ‘Gray Rhinos’ Threatens Economy – Keith Bradsher and Sui-Lee Wee 7/23

  • “Let the West worry about so-called black swans, rare and unexpected events that can upset financial markets. China is more concerned about ‘gray rhinos’ — large and visible problems in the economy that are ignored until they start moving fast.”
  • “The rhinos are a herd of Chinese tycoons who have used a combination of political connections and raw ambition to create sprawling global conglomerates. Companies like Anbang Insurance Group, Fosun International, HNA Group and Dalian Wanda Group have feasted on cheap debt provided by state banks, spending lavishly to build their empires.”
  • “Such players are now so big, so complex, so indebted and so enmeshed in the economy that the Chinese government is abruptly bringing them to heel. President Xi Jinping recently warned that financial stability is crucial to national security, while the official newspaper of the Communist Party pointed to the dangers of a ‘gray rhinoceros,’ without naming specific companies.”

FT – China’s LeEco appoints new chairman from Sunac – Emily Feng 7/21

  • Sunac continues to be busy. In addition to its property acquisitions from Dalian Wanda, Sunac’s chairman – Sun Hongbin, is adding a new chairmanship to his belt, that of the struggling Chinese tech company, LeEco.

WSJ – The Saga Isn’t Over for Dalian Wanda – Jacky Wong 7/20

NYT – At the Finish, Dalian Wanda of China Rewrites a Blockbuster Sale – Sui-Lee Wee and Zhang Tiantian 7/19

  • “Dalian Wanda Group, the Chinese conglomerate, tore up a $9.3 billion agreement to sell a portfolio of hotels and theme parks, unexpectedly reaching new deals on the properties that highlighted uncertainty over the financial health of the country’s biggest companies.”
  • “Wanda had reached an overall agreement with the property firm Sunac China Holdings last week, but Wanda announced at a signing ceremony on Wednesday that it was backtracking and would instead sell just the theme parks to Sunac. The hotels will instead be sold to R&F Properties, based in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.”
  • “The hasty reorganization of the deals has raised concern about the due diligence conducted by many of China’s first-generation dealmakers as they seek to become bigger players domestically and around the world.”
  • “The signing was dominated by the announcement that Sunac would pay $6.5 billion for a 91% stake in Wanda’s 13 theme parks across China, while R&F Properties would buy 77 hotels from Wanda for $3 billion. In a sign of the wildly fluctuating valuations of assets, however, Wanda had said last week that it was selling Sunac only 76 hotels, but that they were worth $5 billion.”

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Venezuelaecon.com – Venezuelan Bolivar Black Market Exchange Rate 7/25

Turkey

NYT – Turkey Sees Foes at Work in Gold Mines, Cafes and ‘Smurf Village’ – David Segal 7/22

  • “Since then (after the failed attempt to overthrow the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 15, 2016), more than 950 companies have been expropriated, all of them purportedly linked to Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric who Turkish leaders say masterminded the putsch.”
  • “About $11 billion worth of corporate assets — from small baklava chains to large publicly traded conglomerates — have been grabbed by the government, a systematic taking with few precedents in modern economic history. Several thousand dispossessed executives have fled overseas to cities as far-flung as Nashville and Helsinki. The less fortunate were imprisoned, part of a mass incarceration campaign that has included purged members of the military, judiciary, police and news media, adding 50,000 new inmates to the prisons.”

June 27, 2017

Perspective

Yahoo Finance – Business Insider: Here’s where Americans are moving to and from – Andy Kiersz 6/22

WSJ – For Consumers, Less Debt but Lots of Bills – Justin Lahart 6/23

  • “Americans’ finances are in the best shape they have been in years. As a group, U.S. households’ debt-to-income and debt-to-asset ratios in the first quarter fell to their lowest levels since the early 2000s. A prolonged period of low rates have made that debt easier to bear: The Federal Reserve this week reported that households’ overall debt-service ratio—the share of after-tax income going toward debt payments—are near historic lows.”
  • “But Americans face financial obligations beyond debt payments, such as rents and auto leases, and these are taking a bigger bite out of pay. Indeed, the Fed report shows the share of income going toward non-debt financial obligations is sitting near its highest level since the 1980s. It is a development that particularly for households at lower income levels may be crimping spending.”
  • “Commerce Department figures show the homeownership rate fell to its lowest levels in over a half-century in the years since the financial crisis, and it doesn’t look likely to recover anytime soon. That has tightened the supply of rental units, pushing rents up 18% over the past five years, according to the Labor Department, even as inflation away from housing has been nearly nonexistent.”
  • “So while many people who own their homes have benefited from rock-bottom mortgage rates, renters’ monthly nut has risen. Those renters tend to be poorer: The Fed’s most recent survey of consumer finances, conducted in 2013, showed the median annual income of families that rented was $27,800 versus $63,400 for families that owned.”
  • “Then there are the payments that aren’t included in the Fed’s data on financial obligations, but that consumers are nevertheless obliged to pay. Mobile phone and internet plans, for example, have moved to the essential spending bucket for most households, and they come with a monthly bill. The Labor Department estimates that spending on information and information processing services—a category that includes mobile telephone, landline telephone and internet services—now counts for 3.2% of the average consumer’s spending versus 2.3% in 2000.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: WHO – Global Smoking use under age of 15 6/23

WSJ – Daily Shot: Axios – Number of US Payphones 6/23

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Corporate governance minefield awaits China A-share buyers – James Kynge 6/22

  • “A corporate governance minefield awaits fund managers who will be obliged to pour billions of US dollars into Chinese equities after MSCI, the most influential indexer of emerging market equities, decided to include domestic Chinese A-shares in its main global indices.”
  • “Murky or undisclosed ownership structures, regular corruption scandals, exposure to unregulated shadow finance and a predominance of behind-the-scenes state influence over corporate decisions are just some of the governance challenges that global investors in the Chinese A-shares are set to encounter, analysts say.”
  • “A crucial feature of stock market governance is that investors exert influence over the board of directors, who in turn run the company to serve the interests of investors. But for state-owned companies in China, almost the opposite applies. Directors are appointed by the state to run the company for the benefit of state stakeholders who often shy away from engagement with portfolio investors.”
  • “Although the 222 A-shares slated for inclusion a year from now will represent only 0.73% of MSCI’s flagship emerging markets index, the cohort is far from insignificant. UBS, an investment bank, estimates that passive and active investors who track the index will be obliged to invest about $15bn in the Chinese shares.”
  • Caveat emptor.

13D Research – Has the meteoric rise of passive investing generated the “greatest bubble ever”? 6/16

  • “There is, really, no price discovery. And if there’s no price discovery, is there really a market?” – Steven Bregman, co-founder of Horizon Kinetics
  • “It seems algos are programmed with a bias to buy. Individual stocks have risen to ludicrous levels that leave rational humans scratching their heads. But since everything always goes up, and even small dips are big buying opportunities for these algos, machine learning teaches algos precisely that, and it becomes a self-propagating machine, until something trips a limit somewhere.” – Wolf Richter
  • “J.P. Morgan estimated this week that passive and quantitative investors now account for 60% of equity assets, which compares to less than 30% a decade ago. Moreover, they estimate that only 10% of trading volumes now originate from fundamental discretionary traders. This unprecedented rate of change no doubt opens the door to unaccountability, miscalculation and in turn, unforeseen consequence.”

The Atlantic – Power Causes Brain Damage – Jerry Useem July/August Issue

  • “How leaders lose mental capacities – most notably for reading other people – that were essential to their rise.”

Finance

WSJ – Stock Picking Is Dying Because There Are No More Stocks to Pick – Jason Zweig 6/23

China

FT – Alibaba taps user data to drive growth spurt – Louise Lucas 6/21

  • Data, data, data. The more I know about your customers, the more you’re willing to pay me to broker transactions. And the more I know about you (consumer), the better able I am to match you (sell you) with products you’d want.

FT – Big China companies targeted over ‘systemic risk’ – Lucy Hornby, Yuan Yang, Gabriel Wildau 6/22

  • “This is a game changer for Chinese M&A and could pretty much stop all outbound deal making in its tracks.” – Keith Pogson, EY’s senior partner for financial services in Asia.

FT – Beijing’s video-streaming ban lops $1bn off Sina Weibo market cap – Emily Feng 6/22

  • “Chinese regulators have ordered three major internet platforms to halt all video and audio streaming services, as the country ramps up its control over online content.”
  • “Microblogging site Sina Weibo was one of the three slapped with the streaming ban. Popular news portal site iFeng and video streaming platform ACFUN have also been ordered to stop streaming.”
  • “The three companies did not possess the necessary license to stream audio and visual content and were ‘not in line with national audiovisual regulations and propagating negative speech,’ according to an announcement posted on Thursday night on the website of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), China’s media oversight body.” 
  • “Users would now have to apply for a license to continue video or audio streaming, according to a statement issued by the company.”
  • “The abrupt halt on video and audio streaming comes as China steps up its policing of internet content, particularly content it deems salacious. Earlier this month, more than 60 social media accounts, some on Weibo and including many celebrity gossip channels, were shut down for disseminating ‘vulgar content’ and ‘negatively impacting society’.”
  • “Meanwhile, a new cyber security law that took effect in June now mandates that any data relating to national security must be held on Chinese servers and large data transfers abroad must first be reviewed.”

Europe

Wolf Street – Two Italian Zombie Banks Toppled Friday Night – Wolf Richter 6/23

  • “When banks fail and regulators decide to liquidate them, it happens on Friday evening so that there is a weekend to clean up the mess. And this is what happened in Italy – with two banks!”
  • “It’s over for the two banks that have been prominent zombies in the Italian banking crisis: Veneto Banca and Banca Popolare di Vicenza, in northeastern Italy.”
  • “The banks have combined assets of €60 billion, a good part of which are toxic and no one wanted to touch them. They already received a bailout but more would have been required, and given the uncertainty and the messiness of their books, nothing was forthcoming, and the ECB which regulates them lost its patience.”
  • “In a tersely worded statement, the ECB’s office of Banking Supervision ordered the banks to be wound up because they ‘were failing or likely to fail as the two banks repeatedly breached supervisory capital requirements.’”
  • “’Failing or likely to fail’ is the key phrase that banking supervisors use for banks that ‘should be put in resolution or wound up under normal insolvency proceedings,’ the statement said. This is the first Italian bank liquidation under Europe’s new Single Resolution Mechanism Regulation.”

Japan

FT – Toshiba to be demoted to second ranks of Tokyo Stock Exchange – Leo Lewis and Kana Inagaki 6/23

  • “Struggling conglomerate leaves Nikkei 225 for first time since index launched in 1950.”

Turkey

NYT – Turkey Drops Evolution From Curriculum, Angering Secularists – Patrick Kingsley 6/23

  • “Turkey has removed the concept of evolution from its high school curriculum, in what critics fear is the latest attempt by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to erode the country’s secular character.”
  • What does one do when there is an inconvenient truth… deny its existence and keep future generations in the dark.

April 14, 2017

Finance

FT – Rise of private debt creates fears of a bubble – Robin Wigglesworth 4/13

  • “Banks have in recent years been forced to retrench their operations, tamed by financial crisis losses, bridled by shareholders and tethered by more onerous regulation. Lending to smaller and mid-sized companies has been one of the biggest victims, as banks have focused on servicing their blue-chip clients. But a swelling array of investors have stepped into the resulting breach.”
  • “But some industry insiders are beginning to worry that private debt is getting frothy, as billions of dollars roll into a once-niche market.”
  • “Private debt is a large and diverse ecosystem, made up of asset managers, private equity firms, pension funds, insurers, ‘business development companies‘ and hedge funds. The assets under management of private debt fund managers tracked by Preqin have increased fourfold over the past decade to $595bn at the end of last year, after another 131 funds raised $93bn in 2016. At the current growth rate, the data provider reckons the industry could reach $2.5tn in another decade — rivalling the private equity world.”
  • “The investor enthusiasm is palpable. More than 90% of investors polled by Preqin said their private debt returns met or exceeded their expectations, and 62% plan to increase their allocation over the long run. That made it a more popular asset class than more traditional alternative allocation stalwarts like real estate, infrastructure, natural resources and private equity.”
  • “But returns have been souring lately. Preqin’s latest median net internal rate of return — a popular industry measure of performance — for direct lending funds set up in 2010-14 has gradually dipped from 10.6% for the 2010 vintage, to 7.6% for 2014 vintage funds. One analyst says that while a private debt fund might reasonably expect to collect an interest rate of 10-12% five years ago, a similar loan would only pay 5% to 6% today, as a result of all the money gushing in.”
  • “The industry itself is becoming a little warier. Almost half of fund managers polled by Preqin said valuations were a big problem, with 31% citing deal flow and 27% highlighting fee pressure. On the other hand, only 3% due diligence on their lending was a ‘key challenge.'”
  • “It is too early to call time on the private debt binge. The economy is ticking along nicely, quelling any corporate distress, and the amount of money chasing potential borrowers will paper over many cracks. But when the business cycle inevitably at some point rolls over, many investors will discover that the interest rates they are now charging are inadequate compensation for the risks.”
  • “This is a story as old as capitalism itself. A promising new market proves phenomenally profitable, attracting more players and eventually some tourists. Returns are eroded, standards fall and eventually it ends in tears. Private debt has a vibrant future, but there will be some bumps along the way.”

China

Economist – A new mood of optimism infects investors in China’s banks 4/12

WSJ – China’s Trillion-Dollar Yuan Defense Puts Growth at Risk – Lingling Wei 4/13

  • “The greatest risk in 2017, is that China is forced to choose in favor of financial-system stability at the expense of exchange-rate stability.” – Gene Frieda, global strategist at Pacific Investment Management Co.

Germany

Economist – East Germany’s population is shrinking 4/15

  • “Despite an influx of 1.2m refugees over the past two years, Germany’s population faces near-irreversible decline. According to predictions from the UN in 2015, two in five Germans will be over 60 by 2050 and Europe’s oldest country will have shrunk to 75m from 82m. Since the 1970s, more Germans have been dying than are born. Fewer births and longer lives are a problem for most rich countries. But the consequences are more acute for Germany, where birth rates are lower than in Britain and France.”

North Korea

Bloomberg – China Warns of War Risk as Trump Rattles Saber at North Korea 4/14

  • “China warned that a war on the Korean Peninsula would have devastating consequences as the U.S. threatened military retaliation against North Korea if it proceeds with a nuclear test this weekend.”

Turkey

February 10 – February 16, 2017

Venezuela having difficulties meeting its oil delivery commitments. REITs backing away from apartments. Chinese companies lending to the tune of $2tn where bankers have pulled back.

Headlines

FT – Alphabet opts to spell out its stock options 2/9. Google recently let slip that it will be treating stock based pay as a cost in its financials (normally relegated to the GAAP footnotes).

FT – Oil and gas discoveries dry up to lowest total for 60 years 2/12. As oil and gas companies have been pulling back on exploration it’s no surprise that new discoveries are down; however, they are yielding more from existing fields.

Special Reports / Opinion Pieces

Briefs

  • Jon Sindreu of The Wall Street Journal illustrated foreigner’s recent dumping of US debt, putting up a test for rates.
    • “Foreign buyers, led by China, are taking a smaller slice of debt issued by the U.S. and other major economies, a change that may test the long-held belief that overseas money has kept interest rates low in the developed world.”
    • “Foreigners are steadily pulling back: As of November, for the first time since 2009, less than 30% of the $20 trillion market for U.S. government debt was held overseas, according to the latest official data, released in January, from the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve. In the U.K., it is now 27%, compared with a record of 36% in 2008. In Germany, it is 49%, down from a peak of 57% in 2014.”
    • wsj_government-debt-held-by-foreigners_2-9-17
    • “In the longer term, the decline in foreign buyers might not matter so much. For countries that print their own currency, bond yields – and thus the price of bonds – are strongly determined by where investors believe central banks will set interest rates in the future. In theory, at least, bonds whose prices are pushed up or down excessively by supply-and-demand forces will eventually correct to correspond to interest-rate expectations.”
    • “In Japan, the central bank now directly fixes 10-year borrowing costs for the government at 0%. There, foreigners own just 9.2% of the government debt market; yet bond yields have stayed at record lows for decades, despite a government debt load amounting to 229% of Japan’s economy that has elicited repeated warnings from ratings companies.”
  • Adding on to Sindreu’s article, Brian Chappatta of Bloomberg discussed how America’s biggest creditors dump treasuries in warning to Trump.
    • “From Tokyo to Beijing and London, the consensus is clear: few overseas investors want to step into the $13.9 trillion U.S. Treasury market right now. Whether it’s the prospect of bigger deficits and more inflation under President Donald Trump or higher interest rates from the Federal Reserve, the world’s safest debt market seems less of a sure thing – particularly after the upswing in yields since November. And then there is Trump’s penchant for saber rattling, which has made staying home that much easier.”
    • bloomberg_selling-of-us-treasuries_2-12-17
    • “Nobody is saying that foreigners will abandon Treasuries altogether. After all, they still hold $5.4 trillion, or roughly 43% of the U.S. government debt market. (Though that’s down from 56% in 2008.) A significant drawdown can harm major holders like Japan and China as much as it does the U.S.”
    • “In December, Japanese investors reduced their investments in U.S. debt by 2.39 trillion yen ($21.3 billion) after a smaller pullback in November. While only a fraction of Japan’s $1.1 trillion of holdings, they were the first back-to-back declines since the start of 2014. China, which owns just over $1 trillion of Treasuries, has been selling since May. Its holdings are at a seven-year low.”
    • Bottom line there is too much unpredictability for many foreign investors right now, despite there being clear advantages in the rate spread between foreign and domestic markets.
  • Anjli Raval of the Financial Times highlighted that recently Opec beat oil output cut expectations.
    • “Opec countries drastically curbed their output in the first month of their new production agreement, in the clearest sign to date that the world’s biggest oil producers are committed to living up to the November pact to cut global supplies.”
    • “The limits adopted by the oil cartel in January have been ‘one of the deepest in the history of Opec output cut initiatives’, the International Energy Agency said on Friday.”
    • “The IEA said Opec crude production fell by 1m b/d to 32.06m b/d in January, surpassing expectations at the start of the six-month supply agreement…”
    • The Opec target cut is 1.2m barrels per day.
    • “‘Opec and Saudi get plaudits for month one but there are still five months of the  deal to run,’ said Bill Farren-Price, head of Petroleum Policy Intelligence. ‘It’s unlikely cuts are going to get deeper from here.'”
    • “Opec’s cuts drove a big drop in world oil supplies of 1.5m barrels a day in January. If the cartel maintains its level of compliance, excess inventories should fall by about 600,000b/d during the first half of 2017.”
    • “Even though stockpiles are falling, higher prices have driven an increase in drilling in the US as well as Brazil and Canada, where the IEA expects ‘significant increases in production.’ Non-Opec production, led by US shale oil supply, is forecast to grow by 400,000b/d in 2017 from last year.”
  • Sarah Krouse of The Wall Street Journal covered the milestone that Vanguard just passed $4 trillion in assets under management.
    • “Indexing pioneer Vanguard Group has climbed to $4 Trillion ($4.048tn) in assets for the first time, accentuating a loss of faith among investors in traditional money managers who handpick stocks.”
    • “Of the $533 billion of net flows into all mutual funds and exchange-traded funds last year, 54%, or $289 billion, went to funds managed by Vanguard, according to research firm Morningstar Inc. The fund company’s own tally for the year was even higher, at $322.8 billion.”
    • Similarly, “BlackRock topped $5 trillion in assets late last year for the first time. It has a larger international business than Vanguard.”
    • “Rival firms who have long been synonymous with their star pickers of stocks and bonds have been hurt by years of subpar performance and relatively high fees. Investors pulled a net $340.1 billion from U.S.-based actively managed funds last year, according to Morningstar, while pouring a record $504.8 billion into U.S.-based passively managed funds.”
    • For reference, “Vanguard crossed the $3 trillion threshold in August 2014.”
  • The Data Team over at the Economist illustrated the migration and labor shortages in Asian countries.
    • “Although Asia is home to half the world’s population, it provides only 34% of the total number of emigrants and host a mere 17% of immigrants. Just one-third of Asians who move abroad remain on the continent, and of those, most stick to neighboring countries. This makes it hard to fill jobs in many countries where they are needed, despite a surplus of labor elsewhere.”
    • “The imbalance of workers will only grow more dire as populations get greyer. For now, China is still a net exporter of labor. But during the next 30 years its working-age population is set to shrink by 180m, and it will need 20m more domestic workers. Overall, East Asia would have to import 275m people between the ages of 15 and 64 by 2030 to keep the share of its population at working age steady. Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and especially Thailand need workers, while Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines have too many. South Asia, meanwhile, could afford to lose 134m  laborers – India alone could send more than 80m abroad – without worsening its dependency ratio. China’s projected shortfall in 2030 is equivalent to 24% of its current working-age population; in Bangladesh the likely surplus is 18%.”
    • economist_asian-migration-and-labor-shortages_2-10-17
  • Kiran Stacey of the Financial Times covered how the number of deaths by air pollution in India is set to surpass those in China.
    • “India is on the verge of overtaking China as the country with the most deaths caused by air pollution, the world’s biggest environmental killer, according to research published on Tuesday.”
    • “In 2015 both countries suffered about 1.1m premature deaths as a result of polluted air, with India just 18,000 behind China, the US-based research organization Health Effects Institute found, making air pollution the fifth-highest cause of death among all health risks.”
    • ft_indias-air-pollution-deaths-to-exceed-chinas_2-14-17
    • “Worldwide, air pollution caused 4.2m deaths in 2015, a 7.5% jump from a decade earlier. Toxic air now kills almost as many people as high cholesterol and even more than excessive sale or being overweight, according to the study.”
  • Laura Kusisto of The Wall Street Journal highlighted a current measure being put forth in Los Angeles that would seek to ban major real-estate developments – at least for a few years.
    • “The second-largest U.S. city is considering a measure that would effectively halt major real-estate projects, the most extreme example yet of a revolt against development breaking out across the country.”
    • “The moves threaten to further constrict a tight supply of housing. Housing starts dropped 2.6% in January, the Commerce Department said Thursday. The number of single-family and multifamily starts per 1,000 households last month was about 36% below the 50-year average, according to Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist at Trulia.”
    • “In Los Angeles, residents in early March are set to vote on a ballot initiative that, if passed, would suspend for two years any development that requires a modification to the city’s existing planning rules.”
    • “‘People feel the system is rigged,’ said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has poured some $3.7 million into promoting the measure. ‘It’s all about billionaires getting what they want.'”
    • If you’re wondering why the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is spending donation money on this initiative, it’s because “many of the patients served by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation are struggling with rising housing prices.”
    • “San Francisco in June passed a ballot initiative that puts a 25% on-site affordable-housing requirement on most new residential buildings…”
    • “In Oregon, the Portland City Council in December unanimously passed a similar ordinance requiring buildings with 20 units or more to set aside 20% of units for affordable housing…”
    • “Despite complaints in Los Angeles about a deluge of development, housing construction now is at only a fraction of the rate of the mid-20th century, before strict zoning rules were put in place. From 1950 through 1959, about 250,000 units of new housing were added in the city of Los Angeles, according to an analysis of the census data by advocacy group Abundant Housing LA. From 2010 to 2015, the figure was 25,000, though the city issued permits for about 50,000 units in roughly the same period.”
    • “In the middle of the last century, zoning regulations were such that there was enough capacity in the city to build housing for 10 million residents, according to David Waite, a local planning lawyer.”
    • “The adoption of ‘community plans’ in the 1970s and a ballot initiative in the mid-1980s knocked that down to 4.5 million people, meaning Los Angeles is now almost at full capacity.”
    • “The proposed rule up for vote in March, called the ‘Neighborhood Integrity Initiative’ and referred to as Measure S, would require the city to update all community plans.” Essentially, if passed, development would be put on hold while the neighborhood plans are updated with input from the community.

Graphics

Business Insider – Here’s how many people in every state don’t have health insurance – Bob Bryan 2/9

wsj_daily-shot_us-uninsured-by-state_2-9-17

Bloomberg – Demand for Treasuries Is Now a ‘Made in the U.S.A’ Phenomenon – Luke Kawa, Liz McCormick, and Tracy Alloway 2/7

bloomberg_demand-for-us-treasuries_2-7-17

Economist – The world’s biggest gamblers – The Data Team 2/9

economist_worlds-largest-gamblers_2-9-17

NYT – Why Falling Home Prices Could Be a Good Thing – Conor Dougherty 2/10nyt_where-housing-costs-too-much_2-10-17

Bloomberg – China’s Zombie Province Shows Trouble With Its Bond Market – Bloomberg News 2/12

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Visual Capitalist – Visualizing the Tallest Building in Each State – Jeff Desjardins 2/13

vc_tallest-building-in-each-state_2-13-17

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s Investors Service – Chinese Wealth Management Products – 2/13

  • “China’s WMPs (Wealth Management Products) continue to grow, with the asset-liability mismatch remaining elevated. Imagine a product that ‘guarantees’ a certain rate, gives you a 1-3 month liquidity, and invests in 5-year corporate bonds.”

wsj_daily-shot_moodys-china-wmps_2-13-17

WSJ – Bond Buying Surges, Tightening U.S. Corporate Spreads – Chris Dieterich 2/13

wsj_us-corporates-to-treasuries-spread_2-13-17

Business Insider – An ‘investment mania’ is propelling Canada’s home prices to their biggest gain since 2007 2/14
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FT – China Inc hits brakes on foreign property investment – Gabriel Wildau 2/16

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Featured

*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.

Venezuela falls behind on oil-for-loan deals with China, Russia. Marianna Parraga and Brian Ellsworth. Reuters. 10 Feb. 2017.

“Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA, has fallen months behind on shipments of crude and fuel under oil-for-loan deals with China and Russia, according to internal company documents reviewed by Reuters.”

“The delayed shipments to such crucial political allies and trading partners – which together have extended Venezuela at least $55 billion in credit (about $50bn from China and $5bn from Russia’s Rosneft)- provide new insight into PDVSA’s operational failures and their crippling impact on the country’s unraveling socialist economy.”

“Because oil accounts for almost all of Venezuela’s export revenue, PDVSA’s crisis extends to a citizenry suffering through triple-digit inflation and food shortages reminiscent of the waning days of the Soviet Union.”

“The total worth of the late cargoes to state-run Chinese and Russian firms is about $750 million, according to a Reuters analysis of the PDVSA documents.”


“At the end of January, PDVSA was late on nearly 10 million barrels of refined products that the company owes the firms – with shipments delayed by as much as 10 months, according to the documents. It also failed to make timely deliveries of another 3.2 million barrels of crude shipments to China’s state-run China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).”

“A total of 45 cargoes bound for Russian and Chinese companies are late for a variety of reasons, according to internal operational reports about shipments of crude and refined products.”

“The problems include operational mishaps, such as refining outages and delayed cleaning of tanker hulls, and financial disputes with service providers owed money by PDVSA.”

For example, “… a company official said PDVSA was unable to deliver a 1.8 million-barrel cargo of fuel oil to PetroChina because Bahamas terminal Borco, where PDVSA rents storage space, has intermittently prevented the firm from using the tanks since 2016 due to lack of payment.”

“Another 2 million-barrel cargo of fuel oil bound for China in November was postponed because of stained crude tankers, which cannot navigate international waters due to environmental regulations.”

Adding salt to the wound… “the fall in crude prices has made the oil-for-loan agreements more onerous. Because loan payments were negotiated when crude prices were higher, the agreements require PDVSA to ship more oil in order to continue servicing the debts at the same rate.”

Which all of course “saps its ability to ship to other customers – such as India, or customers in the United States – who would pay in cash, which PDVSA desperately needs.”

As an anonymous trader that regularly buys Venezuelan oil so aptly put it “at this point, everybody is trying to collect pending debts from PDVSA by receiving cargoes, but production is not enough.”

In Echo Of ’07, REITs Back Away From Multifamily. Andrew Barnes, Jake Mooney, and Zach Fox. S&P Global Market Intelligence. 7 Feb. 2017.

“Amid concerns of a peaking multifamily market, publicly traded U.S. real estate investment trusts in 2016 were net sellers of multifamily properties for the first time since 2009.”

“In total, REITs sold $13.0 billion more multifamily properties than they bought. In the past 10 years, the only previous time REITs off-loaded more multifamily assets than they bought by such a large amount was in 2007, when sales dwarfed purchases by $21.11 billion.”

“REITs’ caution around making new property investments follows a long and steady escalation in apartment values, which have more than doubled since 2010, according to a national index from Moody’s/Real Capital Analytics. In recent months, a flood of new construction has depressed rents in coastal markets. New York and San Francisco, both key markets for the largest multifamily REITs, Equity Residential and AvalonBay Communities Inc., saw rent growth flatline in 2016.

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“‘Multifamily has just been overbuilt throughout the United States,’ said Jay Rollins, co-founder and managing principal at JCR Capital Investment Corp., which invests in properties valued at $50 million or less. ‘Everywhere. And it will decline everywhere.'”

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Despite rising interest rates and expectations of further rises “…sales data does not show property prices declining in response. According to data firm Real Capital Analytics, cap rates dipped to 3.9% for mid- and high-rise apartments nationwide in 2016 third quarter. In San Francisco, the average cap rate stood at just 2.7%, barely above the 10-year Treasury rate, but with considerably more risk.”

“Broadly, observers say, property buyers seeking near-term yield are avoiding coastal cities, leaving them to long-term investors like sovereign wealth funds and high-net-worth individuals. But whereas REITs have cooled on acquisitions nationwide, some prominent private equity firms have still pursued deals in the middle of the country, where ‘the math can still work,'” according to Drew Babin, an analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.

“Most notably, Starwood Capital Group kicked off 2016 by buying 72 properties from Equity Residential for $5.37 billion, and said Jan. 19 that it will acquire Milestone Apartments Real Estate Investment Trust, a Canadian REIT that owns U.S. Sun Belt properties, for $2.85 billion.”

“Historically, apartments have been a relatively safe bet. Apartment buildings are one of the more stable real estate asset classes over time, Babin said – in part because they have the backstop of funding from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Even for top-of-the market buyers, patience can be valuable. Apartment prices rose 62% over the decade beginning in November 2006, despite two years of sharp price declines that began in 2008, according to the Moody’s/RCA index.”

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Chinese Companies Rush In With Nearly $2 Trillion Where Bankers Fear to Lend. Rachel Rosenthal and Anjie Zheng. The Wall Street Journal. 9 Feb. 2017.

“Chinese companies are increasingly stepping in as lenders, as banks reduce their funding to struggling industries and the country’s mammoth bond market comes under strain.”

“Company-to-company loans in China jumped by 20% last year to 13.2 trillion yuan ($1.92 trillion), according to research firm CEIC. That is roughly double the size of the loan book at Wells Fargo & Co., the U.S.’s biggest lender. This entrusted lending, so named because banks serve as middlemen, is now the fastest-growing major component of the country’s elaborate system of informal, or shadow, banking.”

“The most recent surge came during the selloff in China’s $9.3 trillion bond market late last year. Big, cash-rich companies – mostly state-owned enterprises and some private companies – stepped in: New entrusted loans rose to 405.7 billion yuan ($59.02 billion) in December, more than double the month prior, according to data tracker Wind Information, and the highest monthly issuance in two years.”

“Instead of investing in their core business, companies can earn interest rates of up to 20% making entrusted loans, often with only cursory checks on borrowers’ creditworthiness. Such lending often props up companies in sectors like mining and property where Beijing wants to reduce excess capacity. It also adds to China’s $18 trillion corporate debt pile, already equal to 168% of gross domestic product, according to the Bank for International Settlements.”

“Some entrusted loans are between a company and its own subsidiaries, similar to how many big companies globally loan cash to different parts of their business. Still, between 2007 and 2013 more than 60% of entrusted loans were channeled to companies in industries with overcapacity, according to a study by the U.S.-based National Bureau of Economic Research.”

“‘It’s not a sustainable business model’ for the lending companies, said  Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics. ‘Their main operations are only staying afloat by acting like a shadow bank.'”

“Company-to-company lending took off in China in the 1990s when, after a period of rapid growth, many state-owned firms started generating large amounts of cash. With no private shareholders pushing for dividend payouts, many put that cash to work by lending it out.”

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“But entrusted lending is unusual. Banks are involved, but only as a middleman: Direct company-to-company lending is still legally prohibited. Banks can charge fees of up to 5% of the loan, according to BMI Research, but leave credit checks to the lending company.”

“In some cases, lending companies aren’t pulling back even when loans sour.”  Why, because they’re usually to subsidiaries…

Other Interesting Articles

Bloomberg Businessweek

The Economist

 

A Wealth of Common Sense – Where You Live & the 50/30/20 Rule 2/14

Bloomberg – Yellen Sets High Hurdle for Reducing Fed’s Massive Bond Holdings 2/14

Business Insider – Paul Singer’s Elliott: ‘There is a deep underlying complacency which we think permeates global financial markets’ 2/1

FT – Take a deep breath: we must all help clean up London’s toxic air 2/3

FT – The importance of bubbles that did not burst 2/10

FT – Major Chinese bitcoin exchanges halt withdrawals after crackdown 2/10

FT – China’s Wanda circles Postbank in search of European bank assets 2/13

FT – Swiss signals that cash may no longer be king 2/13

FT – US labels Venezuelan vice-president a drug kingpin 2/13

FT – Down on China? Not Morgan Stanley (Alphaville) 2/14

FT – China’s top football team vows to phase out foreign players 2/15

FT – China returns as net buyer of US Treasuries 2/15

FT – What Chinese monetary tightening? 2/15

Investment News – Changing direction, FS Investments launching a nontraded REIT 2/14

NYT – Japan Limited Immigration; Now It’s Short of Workers 2/10

NYT – Amazon’s Living Lab: Reimagining Retail on Seattle Streets 2/12

NYT – India’s Air Pollution Rivals China’s as World’s Deadliest 2/14

Reuters – U.S. investors brace for mounting political risks as they decode Trump 2/14

ValueWalk – BCG: Hedge Funds Face Potential Doomsday Scenario 2/10

WSJ – Race to Revamp Shopping Malls Takes a Nasty Turn 2/14

WSJ – Bonds Tied to Dying Malls Could Be the Next ‘Big Short’ 2/14

WSJ – Retail Zombies Haunt Industry 2/15

WSJ – A Harsh Reality Is Hitting the Housing Market 2/15

 

 

January 13 – January 19, 2017

China’s maritime footprint. Judicial independence in China – don’t count on it. Music streaming to the rescue. 

Headlines

NYT – Samsung Heir Faces Arrest on Charges of Bribing South Korea’s President 1/15. It appears that no one is ‘safe’ if the arguably the most powerful person in the country can be taken down – it’s like watching House of Cards.

NYT – Earth Sets a Temperature Record for the Third Straight Year 1/18“The heat extremes were especially pervasive in the Arctic, with temperatures in the fall running 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit above normal…”

FT – China’s 2016 capital outflows estimated at over $700bn 1/18. A recent report from Standard Chartered puts the 2016 total at $728bn, slightly less than the record $744bn in 2015.

Briefs

  • Sue-Lin Wong and Lusha Zhang of Reuters highlighted the continued flow of credit by Chinese banks and the concerning increase in debt levels.
    • “China’s banks extended a record 12.56 trillion yuan ($1.82 trillion) of loans in 2016 as the government encouraged more credit-fueled stimulus to meet its economic growth target, despite worries about the risks of an explosive jump in debt.”
    • “In December alone, Chinese banks extended 1.04 trillion yuan in net new yuan loans, far more than economists had expected, central bank data showed on Thursday.”
    • “Analysts polled by Reuters had expected new lending would fall to 700 billion yuan from November’s 794.6 billion yuan.”
    • “New bank loans last year surpassed the levels of China’s massive credit-led stimulus during the global financial crisis in 2009, according to Reuters calculations based on central bank data. The 2016 total was some 8% above the previous all-time high of 11.72 trillion yuan set just the year before.”
  • Dexter Roberts of Bloomberg Businessweek brought attention to the crisis facing China’s aging rural poor.
    • “Unlike people in much of the rest of the world, China’s citizens spend less on their health as they grow older, not more, says Albert Park, an economist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.”
    • Why, simply because they seek to avoid healthcare costs due to the cost relative to their incomes.“The average cost of a hospital visit is 50% of the annual income of a city dweller; for rural residents it’s 1.3 times annual income, according to Gerard La Forgia, the lead author of Healthy China: Deepening Health Reform in China, a joint report by the World Bank, the World Heath Organization, China’s finance ministry, and other government agencies.”
  • Onur Ant and Benjamin Harvey of Bloomberg Businessweek covered the purge that is paralyzing Turkey.
    • Following the failed coup in Turkey,“at least 100 media outlets have been closed and more than 36,000 suspected Gulenists detained.”
    • The markets are not amused.“The lira has tumbled more than 18% since the coup attempt, the largest depreciation among major currencies worldwide, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The Borsa Istanbul 100 index fell as much as 28% in dollar terms by early December.”
    • Further“on Dec. 12 the Turkish government released third-quarter numbers for gross domestic product, which contracted for the first time in seven years, by 1.8%.”
    • Bottom line, now is a terrible time to have any affiliation with Gulenists. If you do have any, be prepared to have assets seized.“If a seizure is endorsed by the courts, the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund, a government-backed fund that manages companies the government takes over, will prepare the underlying assets for sale. The fund estimates the collective value of all the companies seized to date at about $10 billion.”
    • As Sevket Pamuk, an economist at Bogazici University in Istanbul puts it“what I find most striking is how easily ownership rights are being ignored. Why would local businesses invest in such an environment?”
  • Art Patnaude of The Wall Street Journal illustrated the growing amounts of ‘dry powder’ being accumulated by real estate funds as for-sale supply has been limited.
    • “Investors are piling money into real-estate funds – but fund managers are finding it a challengeto spend it.”
    • “Global fund managers had a record $237 billion available to invest in commercial property at the end of last year, according to data firm Preqin, up from $229 billion at the end of 2015 and $136 billion at the end of 2012.”
    • “Global fund managers have raised $446 billion for commercial property in the last four years, on par with the total raised between 2015 and 2008 in the run-up to the global financial crisis, Preqin said.”
    • However, there simply has not been enough property to buy.  “One reason for the lack of property to buy: Landlords aren’t willing to sell. Their low debt levels and readily available bank financing have made it easy to hold on to properties longer in hopes of reaping bigger paydays later, analysts said.”
    • Another are the“potential returns down the road. Strong levels of demand now suggest that if they wait, the value of their property could rise even more.”
    • Further, don’t forget that if they do sell, then there are the taxes to pay and what to do with the proceeds?
  • Tom Hancock of the Financial Times highlighted a recent acknowledgement by a Chinese provincial governor that they had been falsifying fiscal data.
    • “The Chinese province of Liaoning fabricated fiscal data for four years, a senior official has admitted, the latest blow to the already shaky reputation of China’s economic statistics.”
    • “Fiscal revenues in the province were inflated by at least 20% from 2011 to 2014, said provincial governor Chen Qiufa, according to Communist party mouthpiece The People’s Daily.”
    • “Economists and investors have long expressed doubts about Chinese economic data, particularly gross domestic product figures.Compared with other countries, China’s inflation-adjusted GDP growth rates are remarkably stable from quarter to quarter.”
    • “Following Mr. Chen’s admission, respected Chinese financial publication Caijing said it had already exposed Liaoning’s fake data in a 2015 report… that report dated the falsification of the data back to 2009, earlier than the 2011 date given by Mr. Chen, who became provincial governor in 2015.”
  • Yuan Yang of the Financial Times covered that China’s housing boom appears to have ended now that prices have fallen in its top cities.
    • “House prices have fallen across most of China’s hottest property markets for the first time in almost two years, marking an end to the enormous growth that saw prices rise as much as 40% last year.”
    • “Prices of newly built residential properties dropped between 0.1 and 0.4% in December from the previous month in 12 out of 15 ‘hotspot’ cities, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday.”
    • “Although many analysts expect property prices to fall at most 5% year on year in the current downturn, local governments are ready to move to avoid sharper crashes.”

 Graphics

WSJ – Daily Shot: China’s credit-driven Growth Model 01/12

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WSJ – Forecasters See Upside Risks to Their Economic Outlooks at Highest in More Than Two Years – Josh Zumbrun 1/12

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WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED Retail Department Store Sales 01/15

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FT – The problem with US healthcare in one chart – Federica Cocco 1/16

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NYT – How 2016 Became Earth’s Hottest Year on Record – Jugal K. Patel 1/18

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WSJ – Daily Shot: US Cost of Living Changes by Category 01/17

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Featured

*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.

How China rules the waves. James Kynge, Chris Campbell, Amy Kazmin, and Farhan Bokhari. Financial Times. 12 Jan. 2017.

“Investments into a vast network of harbors across the globe have made Chinese port operators the world leaders. Its shipping companies carry more cargo than those of any other nation – five of the top 10 container ports in the world are in mainland China with another in Hong Kong. Its coastguard has the globe’s largest maritime law enforcement fleet, its navy is the world’s fastest growing among major powers and its fishing armada numbers some 200,000 seagoing vessels.”

“China understands maritime influence in the same way as Alfred Thayer Mahan, the 19th century American strategist. ‘Control of the sea,’ Mr. Mahan wrote, ‘by maritime commerce and naval supremacy, means predominant influence in the world; because, however, great the wealth of the land, nothing facilitates the necessary exchanges as does the sea.”

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“‘There is an inherent duality in the facilities that China is establishing in foreign ports, which are ostensibly commercial but quickly upgradeable to carry out essential military missions,’ says Abhijit Singh, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. ‘They are great for the soft projection of hard power.’

“Beijing’s shipping lines deliver more containers than those from any other country, according to data from Drewry, the shipping consultancy. The five big Chinese carriers together controlled 18% of all container shipping handed by the world’s top 20 companies in 2015, higher than the next country, Denmark, the home nation of Maersk Line, the world’s biggest container shipping group.”

“In terms of container ports, China already rules the waves. Nearly two-thirds of the world’s top 50 had some degree of Chinese investment by 2015, up from about one-fifth in 2010, according to FT research.”

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“And those ports handled 67% of global container volumes, up from 42% in 2010, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence, the maritime and trade data specialists.”

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“Rounding out a picture of China’s merchant fleet dominance is the country’s fishing fleet, which is by far the largest in the world, according to a recent paper by Michael McDevitt, a former rear admiral in the US navy and now a senior fellow a CNA Strategic Studies, a US think-tank.”

Bottom line, “analysts say that China’s naval strategy is aimed primarily at denying US aircraft carrier battle groups access to a string of archipelagos from Russia’s peninsula of Kamchatka to the Malay Peninsula in the South, a natural maritime barrier called the ‘first island chain’ within which China identifies its strategic sphere of influence.”

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China’s top judge denounces judicial independence. Lucy Hornby. Financial Times. 16 Jan. 2017.

“China’s top judge has fired a warning shot at judicial reformers by formally acknowledging that China’s court system is not independent of the Communist Party and rejecting attempts to make it so.”

“‘Bare your swords towards false western ideals like judicial independence,’ Mr Zhou told a gathering of higher court officials. Only two months before, he had said that party committees should not interfere in the judicial process.”

“‘This statement is the most enormous ideological setback for decades of halting, uneven progress toward the creation of a professional, impartial judiciary,’ said Jerome Cohen, an 86-year old American lawyer who has spent most of his career promoting legal exchanges between the US and China. ‘It has already provoked some of China’s most admirable legal scholars to speak out in defiance, and I fear not only for their academic careers but also for their personal safety.'”

“Mr. Zhou, once seen as a reformist, is one of the highest-ranking members of the Communist Youth League faction, which Mr. Xi moved to neutralize last summer ahead of a leadership reshuffle later this year.”

Further, “a crackdown on lawyers has intensified since 2015, ‘disappearing’ hundreds of lawyers. The most recent is Jiang Tianyong, a particularly active civil rights lawyer, who has been missing since November.”

How streaming saved the music industry. Anna Nicolaou. Financial Times. 16 Jan. 2017.

“Thanks to growth in Spotify and Apple Music, music streaming has passed the milestone of 100m paying subscribers worldwide, a feat few imagined possible a few years ago. The US music industry is on track to record a second consecutive year of growth – something that has not happened since 1999, the year Napster launched. Some analysts and executives are beginning to confidently predict a new golden age.”

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“It has been hard to imagine how the music industry could ever match its pre-Napster performance in the 1990s, when compact disc sales ruled. But now one monthly payment zaps 30m songs into your smartphone, tablet or desktop app, enabling artists like Drake to notch up streams by the billions. The Canadian rapper’s music was streamed more than 4.7bn times on Spotify alone last year. Every hour, his songs are streamed more than 500,000 times on the service.”

“Artists like Drake helped power Universal to profitability last year, earning the company $.1bn in streaming revenues in the first nine months – enough to offset the fall in sales of digital downloads and CDs.”

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“In a research note called Music in the Air, Goldman Sachs projected that streaming will help revenues double to $104bn by 2030.”

“Each year more people are buying access to digital music; Americans streamed 431bn songs on demand in 2016.”

Doesn’t mean there aren’t detractors – i.e. Taylor Swift – but the format continues to gain momentum.

As to control of this pipeline, “the music groups hold the leverage. The source of their power is…through ownership of the rights to… master recordings, Vivendi-owned Universal, Warner Music and Sony together control 80% of all recorded music, with Universal having a one-third share.”

Further, “streaming is a high-margin business. The labels no longer face the costs of hauling truckloads of CDs to Walmart. Instead of ownership, they are selling access to a digital music fortress.”

“This compares well with television studios, which have lost some grip over content as video streaming services like Netflix make shows and offer a limited selection of programs. Music fans, though, expect streaming services to offer more comprehensive digital back-catalogues, forcing them to cut deals with the labels. As one label executive puts it: ‘TV and film studios have to coexist with Netflix now. We haven’t made that mistake.'”
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However, the “one large thorn in the labels’ side is Google-owned YouTube, whose music draws more regular listeners than Spotify and Apple Music combined. Most music consumption on YouTube takes place on its free, ad-supported tier, a revenue stream vulnerable to the fortunes of the advertising market.”

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At this point “streaming is the industry’s latest white knight but after decades of grappling with pirates, new technologies and evaporating sales, music executives know there will be twists to come.”

Other Interesting Articles

Bloomberg Businessweek

The Economist

FT – How smartphones are transforming healthcare 1/12

FT – Over half of China’s white-collar workers go without year-end bonus 1/12

FT – Toyota marks break from past with fund for tech investments 1/15

FT – US companies rush to reprice debt as higher rates loom 1/15

FT – China’s energy strategy: power and independence 1/15

FT – Fingerprint theft points to digital danger 1/16

FT – Saudi Arabia energy minister downplays US shale threat 1/17

FT – Mall staple Claire’s pulls IPO 1/17

FT – Capital Group chief says post-Trump change in markets ‘is real’ 1/17

NYT – With the Rain Comes Hope That 6-Year California Drought Is Ending 1/13

WSJ – Pulling Retirement Cash, but Not by Choice 1/16

WSJ – Mall Owners Find Relief From Unlikely Source: Online Retailers 1/17

WSJ – Mortgage-Rate Rise Hits Coastal Property Markets Hardest 1/18

 

July 15 – July 21, 2016

Helicopter money coming to Japan? GMO on EU immigration and the Brexit. Hong Kong and China at a cross road.  ECB coming up against its quantitative easing boundaries.

Headlines

Briefs

    • China’s 2nd quarter gross domestic product came in at 6.7%, which is 10 basis points higher than forecast; however, the concern is where that growth has come from.
    • “Figures from the People’s Bank of China the same day showed that money supply growth was faster than expected, reaching levels last seen post 2008. New loans also rose by over $200bn, more than $50bn higher than economists’ estimates.”
    • Bottom line, “the reversion to state-led growth is unsustainable. Should China continue to shun reforms in favor of a quick fix, the short-term benefits of stabilized growth will be outweighed by the cost of persistent imbalances.”
    • The World Federation of Advertisers “estimates that between 10 and 30% of online advertising slots are never seen by consumers because of fraud, and forecasts that marketers could lose as much as $50bn a year by 2025 unless they take radical action. At that scale, the fraud would rank as one of the biggest sources of funds for criminal networks, even approaching the size of the market for some illegal drugs.”
    • “Global spending on online advertising has almost doubled in the past four years – reaching $159bn in 2015, according to research group eMarketer. This money underpins the internet economy and supports trillions of dollars of equity in media and technology.”
    • “Google, the biggest player in the online ad industry, generated revenues of $67bn from it last year.”
    • Bottom line, digital ad platforms and major buyers of online ads are emphatically building methods to track and prevent fraud and where they can and to the event that they can’t expect the federal government to step in.
  • Mark Heschmeyer of CoStar reported on Simon, WP Glimcher turning over the keys on two malls to their respective lenders.
    • Goes to show that just because a company is worth several billion dollars, doesn’t mean they pay back all their debts.
    • “While the overall retail property sector appears to be strengthening, a handful of loans for lower-quality shopping centers and malls financed at the height of the previous CRE cycle are coming due now and proving to be a thorn in the side of publicly traded REITs.”
    • “Simon Property Group and WP Glimcher both turned malls back over to the lenders this week, and Kimco Realty Corp. disclosed that it doesn’t expect one of its joint venture-owned malls will be able to refinance a loan set to come due this fall.”
    • “All three of the malls involved in the foreclosure actions were last financed in 2006 and securitized in mortgage backed bond conduits.”
    • As the saying goes, don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Special Reports

Graphics

FT – Do sovereign credit ratings still matter? 7/14

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FT_Declining government yields_7-14-16

FT – US oil rig count rises for third-straight week 7/15

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FT – Auto sales and the oil price: the Great Unwinding continues beyondbrics – Paul Hodges 7/18

FT_Energy consumption in the US_7-18-16

Temporary work – How the 2% lives: Temping is on the increase, affecting temps and staff workers alike

Economist_US temporary employment_7-16-16

FT – Independent Chinese PMI gauge suspended indefinitely – Hudson Lockett 7/20

FT_China Minxin PMI vs official_7-20-16

Featured

*Note: bold emphasis is mine, italic sections are from the articles.

Japan flirts with helicopter money. Gavyn Davies. Financial Times. 17 Jul. 2016.

“Whether or not they choose to admit it the Abe government is on the verge of becoming the first government of a major developed economy to monetize its government debt on a permanent basis since 1945.”

“There are many ways of defining helicopter money, but the essential feature is that it involves an increase in the budget deficit which is financed by a permanent increase in the central bank’s monetary base, not by the issuance of government debt.”

“This is different from quantitative easing, since QE involves the ‘temporary’ purchase of government debt, which is subsequently sold back into the market, at least in theory. And QE does not necessarily need to involve any increase in the budget deficit…”

While “the direct financing of a government deficit by the Bank of Japan is illegal, under Article 5 of the Public Finance Act.” It looks like the government is coming up with a work-a-round.

One method proposed is the issuance of perpetual bonds “…which basically involves the central bank printing money and giving it to the government to spend as it chooses. There would be no buyers of this debt in the open market, but it could presumably sit on the BoJ balance sheet forever at face value.”

Thing is, that “there is no doubt that the BoJ is now monetizing much of the increase in government debt needed to fund ¥10 trillion fiscal stimulus planned by the government. Since the market fully expects the BoJ’s debt purchases to be permanent, it is helicopter money by any other name.”

Why do this when the labor market is at close to full employment?  Basically the inflation expectations in Japan are REALLY low and the BoJ is seeking to reduce its vulnerability to “…any new deflationary shock, from China for example.”

The key point that helicopter money will confer is that debt sustainability (which is why the sales tax increases have been/are being implemented) is not the priority. Rather that Japan will live with whatever debt level it takes to achieve inflation.

“The key problem is that it might restore inflation far too well. It is very difficult to calibrate the amount of helicopter money that is needed to hit the inflation target.”

Expect the delicate dance to continue, which may fail to get Japan out of its deflationary rut.

Immigration and Brexit. Jeremy Grantham. GMO. Jul. 2016.

While this is piece is a commentary on immigration and the Brexit, I think it does a good job of presenting the scale of the immigration challenge that the EU is facing.  I will only highlight two specific items (the full commentary is a good read) for brevity.  1) Grantham’s stance on the markets “despite brutal and widespread asset overpricing, there are still no signs of an equity bubble about to break…” and 2) some of his thoughts on immigration to the EU.

“The truth about immigration to the EU, in my view, is bitter. As covered in earlier quarterlies, I believe Africa and parts of the Near East are beginning to fail as civilized states.”

“They are failing under the pressure of populations that have multiplied by 5 to 10 times since I was born; climate for growing food that is deteriorating at an accelerating rate; degraded soils; insufficient unpolluted water; bad governance; and lack of infrastructure. Country after country is tilting into rolling failure.”

“This is producing in these failing states increasing numbers of desperate people, mainly young men, willing to risk money and their lives to attempt an entry into the EU.”

“For the best example of the non-compute intractability of this problem, consider Nigeria. It had 21 million people when I was born and now has 187 million. In a recent poll, 40% of Nigerians (75 million) said they would like to emigrate, mostly to the UK (population of 64 million). Difficult. But the official UN estimate for Nigeria’s population in 2100 is over 800 million! (They still have a fertility rate of six children per woman). Without discussing the likelihood of ever reaching 800 million, I suspect you will understand the problem at hand. Impossible.”

“I wrote two years ago that this immigration pressure would stress Europe and that the first victim would be Western Europe’s liberal traditions. Well, this is happening in real time as they say, far faster than I expected. It will only get worse as hundreds of thousands of refugees becomes millions.”

Hong Kong: One country, two economies. Ben Bland. Financial Times. 19 Jul. 2016.

Integration of Hong Kong with the Chinese mainland continues to be a delicate issue that is being stressed by a slowdown in the Chinese economy.

As Lily Lo, an economist at DBS, a Singaporean bank, put it “Hong Kong is really dependent on China and external trade. The Chinese economy is slowing down and this is a structural slowdown so we don’t think there will be a V-shaped recovery any time soon. There’s no quick fix.”

Further, as China has opened its economy more and more, Hong Kong is no longer the only or primary route to do business with China.  “Its container port, which was the world’s busiest in the 2000s, has fallen to fifth place, overtaken by Shanghai, Shenzhen and Ningbo.”

“Mr. Tsang (John Tsang, the financial secretary of Hong Kong) and Li Ka-shing, the billionaire whose interests in Hong Kong stretch from ports to property and retail to telecoms, have both warned that the economic outlook is worse than that faced during the Sars epidemic in 2003, which killed 299 people and prompted the last sharp slowdown.”

“Chow Tai Fook, the biggest jeweler in the world by market capitalization, is seen as a bellwether for mainland demand for Hong Kong’s luxury goods. Its sales in Hong Kong and Macau fell on an annualized basis by 22% in the three months to the end of June.”

FT_Hong Kong retail sales_7-19-16 

“Yu Kam-hung, managing director of investment properties at CBRE, an estate agent, predicts that prices could fall up to 10% over the next year, and they are already 10 to 15% off their peak of 18 months ago.”

Then of course it doesn’t help that “there is a deep-seated animosity to (Chinese) mainlanders in Hong Kong. So why would they want to go somewhere they are not welcome when there are so many other choices.” – Shaun Rein, China Market Research in Shanghai

ECB faces QE dilemma after Brexit vote. Claire Jones and Elaine Moore. Financial Times. 20 Jul. 2016.

It wasn’t long after the Brexit referendum vote that government bond yields in the safest markets dropped even further (see graphic on Sovereign credit ratings above).  Problem is that the current structure in place within the European Central Bank (ECB) is reaching its limits.

Currently the ECB is buying €80bn a month in European member country debt to stimulate the overall European economy (aka Quantitative Easing or QE).

Well, “under current rules, the scale of purchases under QE match the size of a member state’s economy, meaning that Germany’s Bundesbank must buy around €10bn of government debt each month – more than any other central bank in the region.”

“But because of the recent bond market shifts, more than 50% of German bonds previously eligible for QE have now become too expensive for the Bundesbank to purchase, yielding less than the ECB’s self-imposed floor of minus 0.4%, according to data from Bank of America Merrill Lynch.”

FT_ECB looking for more bond options_7-20-16

So, now the ECB is essentially faced with three primary options (there are other options – see “Five ways to change the rules within the article).

  1. Scrap the minus 0.4% floor. The “economists at Goldman Sachs calculate (this) would buy the ECB the most time, enabling the Bundesbank to keep buying for up to another 18 months.”
    • “The option, however, would expose the eurozone’s central banks to heavy losses, which they have until now avoided because the minus 0.4% floor mirrors the ECB’s deposit rate charged on banks’ reserves.”
  1. “Scrap the rule that bond purchases match the size of a member states’ economy.”
    • “But such a shift would open the way to buying more bonds from the most indebted countries, and would so be the most controversial of the fixes. Nowhere would it attract more criticism in Germany, where the change would be viewed as a bailout by the back door for profligate member states.”
  1. End QE.

Don’t know if the EU or the world is ready for that.

Other Interesting Articles

Bloomberg Businessweek

The Economist

Bloomberg – Blackstone Said to Plan Invitation Homes IPO for First Half 2017 7/17

CoStar – Internet Commerce Drives Strongest Surge in Demand for US Industrial Space Since 2001 7/20

FT – The chronic spin that blights China’s economy 7/14

FT – New wealth management products power Anbang and rivals 7/17

FT – Major cities drive China property price gains 7/17

FT – Trump leads the west’s flight from dignity 7/17

FT – Apple Watch sales fall 55% as consumers mark time on category 7/21

InvestmentNews – REIT with a twist – and a high commission – is new darling of independent brokers-dealers 7/14

NYT – The Risk of Building on Real Estate Funds’ Profitable Past 7/15

NYT – Why Land and Homes Actually Tend to Be Disappointing Investments 7/15

NYT – Vast Purge in Turkey as Thousands Are Detained in Post-Coup Backlash 7/18

WSJ – Surprise: The Economy Is Looking Much Better 7/14

WSJ – China Economy Tilts Further in Wrong Direction 7/15

WSJ – Japan and Helicopter Money: Fan Blades Aren’t Turning Just Yet 7/17

WSJ – Big Chinese Developers Push Into Hong Kong Market 7/19