Tag: Uber

November 30, 2017

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMO Wealth Management – How I met your Mother 11/28

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Business Insider – It takes $1.7 million to get your kid into an elite college, according to rich people – Abby Jackson 11/28

  • Clearly this is not the only, or even necessarily the best way. But some people take it to this level.
  • “American families pay more to send their kids to college than anywhere else in the world. “
  • “But for wealthy families, the costs start long before that very first college-tuition payment, according to Town & Country.” 
  • “T&C published a list of expenses for getting a child from birth through college based on education costs. The story was a refresh of a 1973 article where the magazine conducted the same analysis and came to a figure of  $300,000.”
  • “The 2017 version tallied to an eye-popping $1.7 million per child. The analysis aimed to show how wealthy families approach the competition to get their kids into the Ivy League.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMO Wealth Management – US Cities Housing Price Change from Pre-Crisis Peak 11/29

Tech

FT – Uber accused of running secret competitive intelligence unit – Chloe Cornish and Leslie Hook 11/28

  • “Judge says ride-hailing group withheld evidence in Waymo trial.”

South America

FT – Venezuela accused of ‘systematic’ abuse of prisoners – Gideon Long 11/28

  • “Human Rights Watch says severity of crackdown under Maduro is unprecedented.”

November 29, 2017

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

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

Economist – A more perfect union – Leaders 11/23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markets / Economy

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

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

Tech

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

Middle East

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

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

 

November 14, 2017

Perspective

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

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

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markets / Economy

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

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

Real Estate

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

Finance

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

Environment / Science

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

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

Europe

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

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

October 12, 2017

Perspective

Business Insider – Trump’s net approval rating has dropped dramatically in every state – Allan Smith 10/10

Brookings – White, still: The American upper middle class – Richard Reeves and Nathan Joo 10/4

Economist – A new study details the wealth hidden in tax havens 10/7

  • “…A new study by Annette Alstadsaeter, Niels Johannesen and Gabriel Zucman, three economists, (using Bank for International Settlements data) concludes that tax havens hoard wealth equivalent to about 10% of global GDP. This average masks big variations. Russian assets worth 50% of GDP are held offshore; countries such as Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates climb into the 60-70% range. Britain and continental Europe come in at 15%, but Scandinavia at only a few per cent.”
  • “One conclusion is that high tax rates, like those in Denmark or Sweden, do not drive people offshore. Rather, higher offshore wealth is correlated with factors such as political and economic instability and an abundance of natural resources.”
  • “Accounting for offshore holdings suggests wealth inequality is even greater than was thought. In Britain, France, and Spain the top 0.01% of households stash 30-40% of their wealth in tax havens. In Russia, most of it goes there. In America, the share of wealth held by the richest 0.01% is as high today as in early 20th-century Europe. Including offshore data increases the wealth share of the super-rich.”
  • “Yet plenty of data are still missing. A few big centers, including Panama and Singapore, still do not disclose these statistics. The BIS data also cover only bank deposits, not the securities in which most offshore wealth is held. Researchers made estimates to plug the gap, but their figures are likely to be conservative.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – How Israel Caught Russian Hackers Scouring the World for U.S. Secrets – Nicole Perlroth and Scott Shane 10/10

Economist – The bull market in everything – Leaders 10/7

Economist – A deathly silence: After the massacre in Las Vegas, nothing is set to change – Leaders 10/5

Economist – Politicians choosing voters: The Supreme Court ponders whether gerrymandering has gone too far 10/7

Economist – Chiang Kai-shek’s former homes are open to tourists 10/5

Markets / Economy

Economist – From Uber to kinder 10/7

Economist – American public pensions suffer from a gaping hole 10/5

  • “Schools in Pennsylvania ought to be celebrating. The state gave them a $125m budget increase for 2017-18—enough for plenty of extra books and equipment. But John Callahan of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association says all the increase and more will be eaten up by pension costs, which will rise by $164m this year. The same happened in each of the previous five years; cumulatively the shortfall adds up to $586m. The pupil-teacher ratio is higher than in 2010. Nearly 85% of the state’s school boards said pensions were their biggest source of budget pressure.”
  • “A similar squeeze is happening all over America. Sarah Anzia, at the University of California, Berkeley, examined 219 cities between 2005 and 2014 and found that the mean increase in their real pension costs was 69%; higher pension costs in those cities were associated with falls in public-sector employment and capital spending.”
  • “The problem is likely to get worse. Moody’s, a rating agency, puts the total shortfall of American public-sector pension plans at around $4trn. That gap does not have to be closed at once, but it does mean that contributions by employers (and hence taxpayers) will increase even more than they already have (see chart).”
  • “Higher costs are the result of improved longevity, poor investment returns and inadequate past contributions.”
  • As to making plans…
  • “Experts can differ, it seems. But small changes in assumptions can make a huge difference to the amount employers need to contribute. According to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, cutting the return assumption by a quarter of a percentage point increases the required contribution rate (as a proportion of payroll) by two to three points.”
  • “In consequence, it is in no one’s interest to make more realistic assumptions about future returns. Workers (and their unions) fear it might generate calls for their benefits to be cut; states worry it would require them to raise taxes. Don Boyd, the director of fiscal studies at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, a think-tank, reckons that with a 5% assumed rate of return, states would have to stump up an extra $120bn a year just to tread water—i.e., to fund their pensions without making any progress on closing the deficit. So the game of ‘extend and pretend’ continues.”
  • “As years go by, voters and legislators across the country will have to make a trade-off. They can pay more taxes and cut services; or they can reduce the benefits they pay people who teach their children, police their streets and rescue them from fires. There will be no easy answers.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – Home Refinancing 10/11

Health / Medicine

FT – Global childhood obesity rises 10-fold in 40 years – Clive Cookson 10/10

  • “The number of obese children and teenagers across the world has increased 10-fold over the past four decades and is about to overtake the number who are underweight, according to the most extensive analysis of body weight ever undertaken.”
  • “The study, led by Imperial College London and the World Health Organization, used data on 31.5m children and adolescents worldwide to estimate trends in body mass index (BMI) from 1975 to 2016. The results are published in the Lancet.” 
  • “Over this period the number of obese girls, aged 5 to 19, rose from 5m to 50m, while the total for boys increased from 6m to 74m.”
  • “The world’s highest childhood obesity levels are in the Pacific islands of Polynesia and Micronesia. Nauru has the highest prevalence for girls and the Cook Islands for boys: both above 33%.”
  • “Among wealthy countries, the US has the highest obesity rates for girls and boys of about 20%. Levels in most of western Europe are in the 7% to 10% range.” 
  • “A further 213m children are overweight but not sufficiently so to meet the WHO’s obesity criteria, which vary by age. Forty years ago, 0.8% of the world’s children were obese; now the prevalence is close to 7%.” 
  • “The study also looked at adult obesity, which increased from 100m people in 1975 to 671m in 2016. A further 1.3bn adults were overweight (with a BMI above 25) but below the threshold for obesity (BMI above 30).” 
  • “But the authors are most concerned about the findings about childhood obesity, because of their implications for public health many decades into the future.”

Construction

WSJ – Daily Shot: NFIB Labor Quality 10/10

  • “Anecdotal evidence suggests that in some areas of the country, finding workers who can pass a drug test has been challenging.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – Builder Labor Shortages 10/11

  • “Skilled (and drug-free) worker shortages in construction are especially acute.”

  • This will only get tighter in the continental U.S. as natural disasters continue to rack up, resulting in acute demand for labor in the affected areas. Harvey, Irma, Maria, Nate, and now wildfires in Northern California. Of course, this will have effects on the neighboring regional labor pools.

Shipping

Economist – How protectionism sank America’s entire merchant fleet 10/5

  • “In April 1956 the world’s first container ship—the Ideal X—set sail from New Jersey. A year later in Seattle the world’s first commercially successful airliner, Boeing’s 707, made its maiden flight. Both developments slashed the cost of moving cargo and people. Boeing still makes half the world’s airliners. But America’s shipping fleet, 17% of the global total in 1960, accounts for just 0.4% today.”
  • “Blame a 1920 law known as the Jones Act, which decrees that trade between domestic ports be carried by American-flagged and -built ships, at least 75% owned and crewed by American citizens. After Hurricane Irma, a shortage of Jones-Act ships led President Donald Trump on September 28th to waive the rules for ten days to resupply Puerto Rico. This fueled calls to repeal the law completely.”
  • Like most forms of protectionism, the Jones Act hits consumers hard. A lack of foreign competition drives up the cost of coastal transport. Building a cargo ship in America can cost five times as much as in China or Korea, says Basil Karatzas, a shipping consultant. And the cost of operating an American-flagged and -crewed vessel is double that of foreign ones, reckons America’s Department of Transportation.”
  • “Inflated sea-freight rates push most cargo onto lorries, trains and aircraft, even though these are pricier and produce up to 145 times as many carbon emissions. So whereas 40% of Europe’s domestic freight goes by sea, just 2% does in America. Lacking overland routes, Alaska, Guam, Hawaii and Puerto Rico are hardest hit. Hawaiian cattle ranchers, for instance, regularly fly their animals to mainland America. A recent report by the Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico found that the Jones Act inflated transport costs for imports to twice the level of nearby islands.”
  • “Jones-Act shipowners retort that the rules are to help producers, not consumers. Rail firms lobbied for the 1920 law, out of fear that an excess of foreign ships from the first world war was flooding the market. National security was also cited. German submarine warfare, it was argued, showed the need for a merchant fleet built and crewed by Americans. But the law has virtually wiped out American shipping. Between 2000 and 2016 the fleet of private-sector Jones-Act ships fell from 193 to 91. Britain binned its Jones-Act equivalent in 1849. Its fleet today has over three times the tonnage of America’s. Marc Levinson, an economic historian (and former journalist at The Economist ) notes that the laws also made American container lines less able to compete on international routes. Drawn by profits at home they underinvested in their foreign operations, and fell behind their foreign rivals because they lacked the same scale.”
  • “Recognizing the harm to their domestic fleets, countries from Australia to China are loosening the rules protecting their fleets. Not America.”

Africa

Economist – The birthplaces of African leaders receive an awful lot of aid 10/7

  • “Scholars have long had a hunch that Chinese aid could be more easily manipulated than the Western sort, which often comes with strings attached. A Chinese white paper in 2014 stated that the government would not impose any ‘political conditions’ on countries asking for help. The commerce ministry, China’s lead aid agency, says most projects are initiated by recipient states. This approach makes aid more vulnerable to misuse by local leaders, say critics.”
  • “In a working paper, the pundits show that China’s official transfers to a leader’s birth region nearly triple after he or she assumes power. Even when using a stricter definition of aid provided by the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, an increase of 75% was found. They got similar results when looking at the birthplaces of presidential spouses. Crucially, they found no such effect with aid doled out by the World Bank, their benchmark for Western assistance. ‘We believe Chinese aid is special,’ says Andreas Fuchs, a co-author of the study.”
  • “China’s approach to aid has other side-effects. In a paper released earlier this year, Diego Hernandez, an economist, showed that China’s rise as a development financier has increased competition between donors. This, in turn, has strengthened recipients’ bargaining power, says Mr Hernandez. Traditional donors have responded by lowering conditionality, or the number of strings attached to aid. Using data from 1980 to 2013, he finds that African countries have received 15% fewer conditions from the World Bank for every 1% increase in Chinese aid.”

October 5, 2017

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Financial News Doesn’t Rhyme But It Does Repeat Itself – Ben Carlson 10/3

  • “It’s important for investors to remember that investing based on the headlines is a bad idea. The fact that we have access to more information than ever these days is a great thing, assuming you have the correct filters in place. Most people don’t, so they become consumed by every little snippet or viral headline they glance at.”
  • “One of these days one of these warnings will seem prescient. More likely than not, the next person or firm to ‘call’ the next bubble or crash will be more lucky than good.”

Project Syndicate – Deja Voodoo – Joseph Stiglitz 10/4

FT – Uber: The uncomfortable view from the driving seat – Leslie Hook 10/4

  • “The ride-sharing group faces its biggest challenge: keeping its drivers, some of whom sleep in their cars to make ends meet.”

Markets / Economy

BlackRock – Economic Cycles in Context 10/4

Real Estate

WSJ – Retail Real Estate Holds Steady Despite Store Closures – Esther Fung 10/3

  • “Overall, the retail vacancy rate across different types of malls and retail centers stayed flat at 10% in the third quarter from the second quarter, with asking rents rising 0.4% to $20.74 a square foot from the previous quarter and up 1.8% year-over-year.”
  • “Lower construction activity helped to rein in supply and support occupancy levels. The volume of property completions, or properties that are developed and ready to be leased out, stood at 1.6 million square feet in the third quarter, which was the lowest level since 2014. The change in occupied retail space, or so-called net absorption, stood at 578,000 square feet, the lowest level since 2010.”
  • “While the retail industry is facing headwinds from e-commerce, an oversupply of stores and fast-changing consumer tastes, the restaurant sector as well as grocery stores and fitness centers are continuing to expand, helping to cushion the blow, landlords say.”
  • “In an August report, research and advisory firm IHL Group estimated there will be roughly 4,080 net store openings this year after taking into account 10,168 store closures. Apart from fast-food restaurants and beauty retailers, discount stores such as Dollar General and Dollar Tree are opening almost 2,000 new stores this year, the report added. Many of these dollar stores, however, will be in new build-to-suit locations rather than taking up existing retail space.”

Finance

Bloomberg – Trump Speaks and a $3.8 Trillion Market Hears an Existential Threat – Brian Chappatta 10/4

  • You can imagine that every holder and seller of municipal debt heard it when President Trump indicated that Puerto Rico’s $74 billion in debt would be wiped out.
  • The administration has since walked back from that ledge.

China

FT – Bond investors start to ask questions about Chinese takeovers – Robert Smith 10/3

  • “More than 18 months after ChemChina’s $44bn agreement to purchase Swiss agribusiness Syngenta capped a buying spree by Chinese companies across Europe, debt investors and rating agencies are starting to ask tough questions.”
  • “Their heightened scrutiny has left Syngenta’s investment grade rating in jeopardy, after Standard & Poor’s late on Monday put the company on review for a potential downgrade because of confusion over its support from the Chinese state.”
  • “The Swiss seeds company was last week forced to postpone a $7bn bond deal, intended to refinance bridge loans backing ChemChina’s takeover, as investors questioned its ability to settle class-action litigation in the US while maintaining an investment grade rating.”
  • Essentially, do they have State support or do they not? Who has priority to cash flows? And how much debt do they really have?
  • “Before ChemChina’s acquisition, Syngenta carried strong single-A credit ratings, but Standard & Poor’s now pegs the company at the lowest rung of investment grade.”
  • “Investors’ willingness to subject ChemChina’s financing to a more rigorous examination comes after China’s bank regulator earlier this year ordered domestic lenders to check the ‘systemic risk’ presented by ‘some large enterprises’ that have been acquiring companies overseas.”
  • “That has caused tension for bondholders in European companies owned by private Chinese groups such as HNA and Anbang.”
  • “’If you have implied support from the Chinese government, the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ are very important,’ Andrew Brady, an analyst at credit research firm CreditSights, says of state-owned ChemChina.”
  • “’In Syngenta’s case, we have to now assume it won’t come to protect an investment grade rating. And if support comes in the form of a loan, weak protections in the bond’s documentation mean that they could get layered with secured debt, meaning the exact mechanism of support could damage bondholders.’”
  • “As recently as August, S&P said in a report that ChemChina indicated that both it and China’s state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (Sasac) ‘remain committed’ to maintaining Syngenta’s investment grade rating ‘under all scenarios’.”
  • “Crucially, the rating agency said that Sasac would need to provide support to mitigate litigation liabilities with equity, to ensure there is ‘no additional debt imposed on Syngenta or ChemChina’.”
  • “A bond investor who looked at Syngenta’s proposed deal says that one of his biggest concerns was that it placed ‘absolutely no restrictions’ on the company’s ability to pay dividends to the heavily indebted ChemChina. S&P has projected that ChemChina will have a 10 to 13 times debt-to-ebitda ratio in 2017 and 2018.”
  • “’Let’s not kid ourselves, you wouldn’t freely put money into any other 13 times levered chemicals company,’ the investor says.”
  • “Lenders to European companies owned by large Chinese conglomerates have become increasingly focused on their ability to take cash out of the groups, with Swissport bondholders recently raising concerns after the airline services group started providing short-term loans to owner HNA.”
  • “A second bond investor says that he is increasingly wary of having exposure to European businesses owned by highly levered Chinese companies, describing them as ‘black boxes’.”
  • “’Nobody can be sure how much debt they have, or who really runs these businesses,’ he says.”

September 29, 2017

Perspective

NYT – Why Aren’t Paychecks Growing? A Burger-Joint Clause Offers a Clue – Rachel Abrams 9/27

  • “As economists try to understand why wages have stagnated across the country’s economy, they are examining the cheap labor part of the equation closely. A few have zeroed in on an obscure clause buried in many fast-food franchise agreements as a possible contributor to the problem.”
  • “Some of fast-food’s biggest names, including Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Pizza Hut and, until recently, McDonald’s, prohibited franchisees from hiring workers away from one another, preventing, for example, one Pizza Hut from hiring employees from another.”
  • “The restrictions do not appear in a contract that employees sign, or even see. They are typically included in a paragraph buried in lengthy contracts that owners of fast-food outlets sign with corporate headquarters.”
  • “Yet the provisions can keep employees tied to one spot, unable to switch jobs or negotiate higher pay. A lack of worker mobility has long been viewed as contributing to wage stagnation because switching jobs is one of the most reliable ways to get a raise.”
  • “Defenders of the practice argue that the restaurants spend time and money training workers and want to protect their investment. But two lawsuits, filed this year against McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr.’s parent company, CKE Restaurants Holdings, contend that such no-hire rules violate antitrust and labor laws.”
  • “The no-hire rules affect more than 70,000 restaurants — or more than a quarter of the fast-food outlets in the United States — according to Alan B. Krueger, an economist at Princeton University and a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration who examined agreements for 40 of the nation’s largest fast-food companies.”
  • “The provisions, he said, were ‘ubiquitous’ among the companies and appeared to exist mainly to limit both competition and turnover, which can keep labor costs low.”
  • “The restrictions are different from what are known as noncompete agreements — clauses in employee contracts that keep an employee from jumping to a rival. Such agreements are typically described as a means of preventing employees from bringing trade secrets to a competitor.”
  • “’I think it’s very hard to make the argument that noncompetitive agreements are necessary for low-educated, low-wage workers because they have trade secrets,’ Professor Krueger said. ‘This practice does have the potential to restrict competition and significantly influence pay.’”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Uber: the triumph of wallet over spirit – Robert Shrimsley 9/27

  • “I am quietly pleased London has taken a stand because, frankly, I wasn’t going to…”
  • “Free markets are a general good but they need someone looking beyond instant gratification to the wider consequences because the bottom line is consumers are like children. We need to be told that convenience is not the only issue. We need to be told to eat our greens.”

NYT – With Tax Cuts on the Table, Once-Mighty Deficit Hawks Hardly Chirp – Thomas Kaplan 9/28

Economist – How China is battling ever more intensely in world markets 9/23

Economist – How the use of antibiotics in poultry farming changed the way America eats 9/21

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg Businessweek – Midsize U.S. Sedan Demand Stalls Out to Lowest on Record – Anne Riley Moffat 9/27

  • “Only about one in 10 new cars sold in the U.S. is a midsize sedan, a sharp decline for the best-selling vehicle segment in 20 of the last 27 years, according to data from car-shopping website Edmunds.”

Real Estate

Fortune – The U.S. Housing Market Is Getting Squeezed. See Where Prices Are Spiking the Highest – Nicolas Rapp and Brian O’Keefe 9/15

WSJ – Blame Canada? Toronto, Vancouver Top Housing  Bubble Risks – Brian Blackstone 9/28

  • “Blame Canada?”
  • “It isn’t just the tune made famous by the South Park movie. It may become a motto among economists if frothy housing values around the world turn into a destabilizing bubble.”
  • “UBS published its latest global real estate ‘bubble index’ on Thursday, listing the major cities most at risk of housing bubbles. Canada took two of the top four spots, with Toronto on top and Vancouver at number four, and Northern Europe’s Munich and Stockholm sandwiched between.”
  • “U.S. cities featured pretty highly, with San Francisco and Los Angeles in ‘overvalued,’ but not bubble territory. New York was deemed fairly valued, and Chicago was the only city in the 20 listed that was undervalued.”
  • “UBS lists Boston’s real-estate market as fair-valued. Its uses sub-indexes such as price-to-income and mortgage-to-gross domestic product ratios to construct an overall index. Index readings above 1.5 are in bubble territory and the overvaluation scale slides down from there.”
  • “UBS noted that Toronto and Vancouver weren’t ‘dragged down’ by the global financial crisis, as a weaker Canadian dollar cushioned the blow. ‘Overly loose monetary policy, for too long, in addition to buoyant foreign demand, unmoored their housing markets from economic fundamentals—and both markets are now in bubble risk territory.’”
  • “’A strengthening Canadian dollar and further interest rate hikes would end the party,’ the report added.”
  • “In the U.S., housing prices in cities are still below their 2008 peak in inflation-adjusted terms, UBS said, except for San Francisco which ‘shows signs of overvaluation but no bubble risk, given its strong economic fundamentals amid the astonishing boom of tech companies.’”
  • “Turning to Europe, UBS said that ‘improving economic sentiment, partly accompanied by robust income growth in the key cities, has conspired with excessively low borrowing rates to spur vigorous demand for urban housing.’”
  • “In the Asia-Pacific region, Tokyo shows ‘moderate signs of overheating’ since the Bank of Japan launched its quantitative easing program in 2013, while residential prices in Hong Kong reached all-time highs mid-year ‘thanks to insatiable investor demand and speculative price expectations.’”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: Danske Bank – S&P 500 Volatility 9/28

  • “For the first time since 2005, there hasn’t been a 2% daily move in the S&P 500.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Reformed Broker – S&P 500 Maximum Drawdowns 9/28

China

Economist – China’s demographic divisions are getting deeper 9/21

August 24, 2017

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Mutual Funds Mark Down Uber Investments by Up to 15% – Rolfe Winkler and Greg Bensinger 8/22

  • “Vanguard Group, Principal and Hartford Funds all marked down their shares by 15% to $41.46 a share for the quarter ended June 30, according to the fund companies’ latest disclosure documents. T. Rowe Price Group Inc. cut the estimated price of its Uber shares by about 12% to $42.70 for the same period.”
  • “Uber’s shares don’t trade publicly, so the mutual-fund companies that hold them must estimate the shares’ worth each quarter. Seven mutual-fund companies had mostly maintained a $48.77 share price since the fourth quarter of 2015, when Uber first sold its shares to investors at that price.”
  • “Fidelity Investments held its estimate of $48.77 as of June 30. The one outlier is BlackRock Inc., which wrote up the shares slightly each of the past two quarters, settling at $53.88 as of June 30.”
  • “At least seven mutual-fund companies own shares in Uber, several of them first buying in during a 2014 funding around at $15.51 a share. The price has roughly tripled since then through a series of funding rounds, but Uber hasn’t raised new capital since last year at the $48.77 price.”

Finance

WSJ – Think Rates Are Going Up? Banks Don’t – Rachel Louise Ensign 8/22

  • “After years of waiting for interest rates to rise, some banks are lending as if that day will never come, loading up on a record amount of loans and securities that carry low rates for long periods.”
  • “The percentage of bank assets that won’t mature or change rates for more than five years reached a new high in the second quarter, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp data released Tuesday. That means banks are allowing more borrowers to lock in low rates for long periods, a potential risk should rates move sharply higher.”
  • “Across all banks, the percentage of total assets that are at a fixed rate for more than five years was 27.5% in the second quarter of 2017, its highest since the FDIC started tracking it in 1984. The metric reached 33.7% in the second quarter at banks with $1 billion to $10 billion in assets.”
  • “Commercial real-estate loans made up 31.5% of assets at those midsize and smaller banks in the quarter, up from 25.7% in the second quarter of 2012. The figure is far lower at bigger banks, at 6.4%, and has remained steady in recent years.”
  • “The growth rate for commercial real-estate loans, now around 9%, has helped banks compensate for a slowdown in general business lending, much of which is floating rate, meaning the interest rates on the loans rise and fall with market rates.”

Environment / Science

NYT – Alaska’s Permafrost is Thawing – Henry Fountain 8/23

  • “Once this ancient organic material thaws, microbes convert some of it to carbon dioxide and methane, which can flow into the atmosphere and cause even more warming. Scientists have estimated that the process of permafrost thawing could contribute as much as 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit to global warming over the next several centuries, independent of what society does to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels and other activities.”