Tag: Venezuela

July 18, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

FT – Why millennials are driving cashless revolution in China – Yuan Yang 7/16

  • “The mobile payments revolution in China has happened with breathtaking speed and scale. In only five years it has transformed daily life in Chinese cities and also laid the foundations for the country’s mammoth financial tech industry, which last year generated revenues of Rmb654bn ($98bn), according to iResearch. Last year, the value of mobile payments in China overtook the worldwide totals of both Visa and Mastercard.”
  • “Almost half the world’s digital payments in 2017 were made in China, through apps such as Alipay (owned by Ant Financial, an affiliate of e-commerce juggernaut Alibaba) and WeChat (owned by Tencent), according to PwC research. Alipay and Tencent have now also outstripped PayPal, the US’s biggest online payments operator. They each handled more payments in one month this year than Paypal’s $451bn for the whole of 2017, according to market research firm Analysys.”
  • “This transformation has been spearheaded by millennials, who were the early adopters of mobile payments, but it has rapidly spread across generations…A survey by research company Ipsos, commissioned by Tencent, shows that the average person born in the 1990s now carries Rmb172 of cash ($26) compared with Rmb557 by those born in the 1960s.”
  • “China’s mobile payments revolution was partly spurred by the inconvenience felt by many of using traditional banks, from having to travel long distances for rural customers to having to queue in branches in the cities. But it was the unique formula offered by China’s tech giants that generated the explosion: by blending social, e-commerce and payment functions into single apps, customers could manage their finances at the same time as managing their social lives.”
  • “The revolution was enabled by the dominance of Tencent and Alibaba, along with the latter’s sister fintech company Ant Financial (recently valued at more than $150bn). Together they have created an interlocking network, or ‘ecosystem’, of services that complement each other and can be accessed via a few ‘killer apps’. These have become the natural playground of millennials. Imagine Facebook bolted on to email with a built-in payment platform for splitting bills among friends: that is Tencent’s WeChat. Or Amazon, with its own payment system that lets you send money to friends using only their phone number: that is Ant Financial’s Alipay. The network effect of such platforms is vast; if all your friends are using them, it is difficult to opt out.”
  • “’The way Beijing is developing, living without a smartphone will be difficult because of all the places that are starting not to take cash,’ says Chauncey Zhang, a 23-year-old tech company employee. In large cities some stores, markets and food stalls now only accept mobile payments.”
  • “Not only is a smartphone necessary for shopping, it has also become indispensable for hailing and paying for taxis. Beijingers joke that it is now more important to carry a phone charger than a physical wallet.”
  • “Familiarity with mobile payments has also made customers more comfortable with other new fintech innovations, in areas such as peer-to-peer lending, investing in money market funds, and consumer loans.”
  • “On the surface, China looks an unlikely place for this to happen. Saving, rather than borrowing, is what Chinese people typically do to afford big purchases. The country has one of the highest household savings rates in the world. When it comes to investment, property is viewed as the safest asset.”
  • “However, many citizens and small businesses are still under-served by traditional banks, and fintech companies have seen the opportunity for mobile platforms to leapfrog the old lenders.”
  • “Feidee, a company that makes personal financial management apps, says that 93% of its users are young customers born after the 1980s, and 42% of these were born after the 1990s.”
  • “China’s government has become worried by this surge in access to credit. Regulators as well as companies are now cracking down on opportunistic lending and high-interest rate loans. Policymakers are particularly concerned about young people falling prey to bad lenders, and last year launched a push to stop such companies advertising scams on university campuses dressed up as ‘entrepreneur loans’, ‘trainee loans’ and ‘jobseeker loans’.”
  • “Investment, too, has been normalized by being bundled up with Alipay and Tencent’s apps: in a couple of taps a user can deposit leftover money from their mobile wallet balance into a fixed-term investment. As a result, Ant Financial’s Yu’E Bao, meaning ‘leftover treasure’, became the world’s biggest money market fund just four years after launch.”
  • “The rapid uptake of fintech in China means customers, investors and entrepreneurs are asking whether the same tools can succeed abroad. ‘When I leave China, I feel I’ve gone back 10 years . . . Tencent, why don’t you launch [WeChat Pay] here?’ complained a young French man in a video that went viral in China.”
  • “Tencent and Ant Financial have expanded internationally by following the surge of Chinese tourists travelling abroad, and are considering how best to serve local customers. WeChat Pay is starting to expand partnerships with shopping malls in Paris and Japan’s Hokkaido. The company applied for a third-party payments license in Malaysia ‘but when we got it, we found basic infrastructure was lacking,’ says Mr Ma. It took Ant Financial and Tencent years to build the links with hundreds of Chinese banks that makes their services possible.”
  • “China’s revolution leaves one great question unresolved. How will data regulators across the globe respond to the rise of fintech companies that could, as they already do in China, track every commercial decision in a person’s life?”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg – Four Reasons Taxpayers Should Never Subsidize Stadiums – Barry Ritholtz 7/16

  • “Elected officials have been played by team owners and sports leagues.”

Bloomberg – Warnings of Market Complacency Are Growing Louder – Liz McCormick and Lu Wang 7/16

Economist – American democracy built-in bias towards rural Republicans – Leaders 7/12

Economist – Mini-grids may be the best way to illuminate the “bottom billion” – Leaders 7/12

NYT – I Was a White House Stenographer. Trump Wasn’t a Fan. – Beck Dorey-Stein 7/17

WSJ – How an Economic Boom Can Run Out the Clock – James Glynn 7/15

  • “Australia’s 27-year stretch of growth offers lessons for U.S. policy makers.”

WSJ – Why Tapping the U.S. Oil Reserve Is an Awful Idea – Spencer Jakab 7/16

  • “Using the reserve to curb summer pump prices at a time the economy is booming and midterm elections loom would be a strategic blunder, leaving the country exposed in the event of an actual oil shortage.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Whirlpool Wanted Washer Tariffs. It Wasn’t Ready for a Trade Showdown. – Andrew Tangel and Josh Zumbrun 7/16

  • “Put into practice, tariffs are a complex economic weapon that can ricochet through an economy in ways even proponents don’t expect. That’s what happened with washing machines, which were among the first consumer products targeted by the Trump administration.”
  • “In the months since washing machine tariffs took effect in February, LG and Samsung have pressed on with investments in the U.S., given that they now face the higher cost of shipping goods in from abroad. The overseas companies and Whirlpool have also increased hiring in the U.S. But appliance prices have risen for consumers, and there are signs of waning demand.”
  • “Last year, Whirlpool sought protection from South Korean competition under a provision known as the safeguard law, which required the company to establish it suffered serious injury from surging imports. The law, or section 201 of the 1974 trade act, was previously invoked in 2002 when then-President George W. Bush moved to protect steelmakers.”
  • “The resulting tariffs apply a 20% duty on the first 1.2 million washing machines brought into the country each year, and a 50% duty on quantities above that threshold. The barriers are expected to remain in place for at least three years.”
  • “The U.S. imported 4.2 million large residential washers in 2017, for a monthly average of 350,000, according to Christopher Rogers, an analyst at Panjiva, a firm that tracks global trade data. This year, imports have fallen to an average of 161,000 each month through April.”
  • “Washer and dryer prices climbed 20% in the three months through June, the steepest rise in at least 12 years, according to Labor Department estimates.”
  • “Washer shipments, a proxy for sales, to U.S. dealers dropped 18% in May compared with the previous year, the steepest monthly decline since March 2012, according to data compiled by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, a trade group. Analysts said shipments likely dropped because dealers had stocked up on washers before prices rose. LG blamed post-tariff price increases, too, a spokesman for the manufacturer said.”

WSJ – GE Still Wrestles With a Big Problem – Thomas Gryta 7/17

  • “Lending unit GE Capital nearly toppled whole company as the source of ‘nasty surprises’.”

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Princeton Energy Advisors – US Shale Oil Production 7/17

Finance

FT – PE firms raise money at fastest pace since 2006 – Javier Espinoza 7/16

  • “Private equity groups are raising money at the fastest rate in more than a decade. Buyout executives are rushing to tap investor demand just as fears grow of a market correction.”
  • “The average time PE funds, including those investing in infrastructure and real estate, are taking to raise money has fallen to 12 months — from almost two years in 2010 — the quickest pace since at least 2006, according to an analysis by Pitchbook, a data provider.”
  • “But the figures also show there are fewer funds raising cash from investors in the US — from 328 in 2014 to 271 last year and 111 by the end of June this year.”
  • “Last year was still marginally up from a decade ago, but large institutional investors have been concentrating their allocations to larger and more established managers, which is partly driving the decline in funds looking to raise money.”
  • “PE funds have been one of the winners of the era of low interest rates, as investors such as pension funds chase higher returns.”
  • “However, with the PE industry already having an estimated $3tn in cash to invest, there is concern that buyout funds may end up overpaying for assets and eroding the potential returns for their investors.”

Canada

Bloomberg – Vancouver’s One-Two Punch Is Expensive Homes and Low Wages – Natalie Obiko Pearson 7/13

  • “Want to pay San Francisco housing prices on a Columbus, Ohio income? Move to Vancouver.”

South America

Economist – Venezuelan cash is almost worthless, but also scarce 7/12

  • “The worthlessness of Venezuela’s currency is the result of inflation, 46,000% a year, which in turn is largely caused by the printing of money to finance the government’s deficit of 30% of GDP. But there is also a shortage of banknotes. In the looking-glass world of Venezuela’s economy, cash itself trades at a premium to its face value, making it slightly less worthless than bolívares in other forms.”

Economist – Daniel Ortega is causing a bloodbath in Nicaragua 7/12

Other Interesting Links

WSJ – Daily Shot: Cresset Wealth Advisors – Money and Baseball 7/17

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July 2, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg – Forget Banks and Worry About High Stock Prices – Nir Kaissar 6/29

  • “It’s time for investors to stop fighting the last war. The next downturn most likely won’t be triggered by another meltdown of the financial system.”
  • “Investors didn’t need the Fed to tell them that banks are in better shape than they were a decade ago. The signs are everywhere. Profits have fallen across the industry since the financial crisis, an  indication that banks are taking on less risk. Profit margins for the S&P 500 Financials Index averaged 9.3% from 2008 to 2017, down from an average of 13.8% from 2003 to 2007, the years leading up to the crisis. Return on equity is down to an average of 5.2% from 14.5% over the same periods.”
  • “The biggest of those risks is leverage — or piling on debt to boost profits — and banks have a lot less of it than they used to. The debt-to-equity ratio of the financials index has dropped to 159% as of the first quarter from 563% at the end of 2007. The debt-to-assets ratio has fallen to 19% from 43% over the same period.”
  • “But if the numbers don’t persuade investors that the next crisis won’t look like the last one, then maybe a look at previous bear markets would. In reverse chronological order: The bursting of the dot-com bubble was behind the downturn from 2000 to 2002. A mass panic or newly introduced computerized trading, depending on whom you ask, set off the 1987 crash. Stagflation brought down the market from 1980 to 1982. A global oil embargo hit stocks from 1973 to 1974. I could keep going, but you get the idea.”
  • “There is a common thread running through the scariest episodes: high stock prices. The average cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings, or CAPE, ratio for the S&P 500 has been 18 since 1928, according to numbers compiled by Yale professor Robert Shiller. The five worst bear markets during those nine decades, as measured by peak to trough declines, commenced in 1929, 1937, 1973, 2000 and 2007. The average CAPE ratio on the eve of those downturns was 29 and the median was 27.”
  • “The current CAPE ratio: 32. And it’s never just stocks. Other assets in the U.S. look frothy, too, such as private equity and real estate.”

Bloomberg – How to Avoid Going Broke After Making $650 Million – Barry Ritholtz 6/29

Economist – How oil transformed the Gulf – Special report 6/21

Economist – Why Gulf countries are feuding with Qatar – Special report 6/21

Economist – Saudi Arabia turns against political Islam – Special report 6/23

Pragmatic Capitalism – Let’s Talk About that “Rapidly” Falling Deficit – Cullen Roche 6/29

  • “Don’t be scared Larry (Kudlow), just tell it like it is – you guys are boosting spending, boosting the deficit and the USA can afford it!”

Real Estate

WEF: statista – The world’s most expensive prime property – Adam Jezard 4/12

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

Bloomberg – Bitcoin Bloodbath Nears Dot-Com Levels as Many Tokens Go to Zero – Adam Haigh and Eric Lam 6/28

howmuch.net – The ICO Explosion in the Past 5 Years – Raul 6/27

Environment / Science

Bloomberg – The Recycling Game Is Rigged Against You – Faye Flam 6/27

  • “Americans were not set up for success in recycling plastics. Even before China stopped accepting plastic refuse from abroad, 9% of potentially recyclable plastic in the U.S. ended up in landfills – or worse, in the oceans. Europe does a little better, with only 70% getting tossed.”
  • “Why such terrible rates? Partly because some changes that were supposed to make recycling simpler ended up making it almost impossible.”
  • “University of Georgia engineering professor Jenna Jambeck said that indeed, part of the reason China is now refusing to process American and European plastic is that so many people tossed waste into the wrong bin, resulting in a contaminated mix difficult or impossible to recycle.”
  • “In a paper published last week in Science Advances, she and her colleagues calculated that between now and 2030, 111 million metric tons of potentially recyclable plastic will be diverted from Chinese plants into landfills.”
  • “Plastic matters because it takes centuries to degrade, and there’s a lot of it. Jambeck has estimated that the world has produced more than 8 billion metric tons since the 1950s. To help grasp this quantity, paleontologist Jan Zalasiewicz has estimated that this is enough to wrap our entire planet in cling wrap. Others have calculated that it would make four mountains the size of Everest.”
  • “Given what scientists already know how to do, the future could bring a greener, more fool-proof system. Right now, she said, she and other scientists are starting to develop ways to recycle mixtures of plastics – a tough job because many plastics repel one another like oil and water. One of the reasons China imported recycling was that it was possible there to hire cheap labor to sort the different plastic types by hand.” 
  • “Curing the plastic problem is a lot like fighting cancer. Even if everyone stopped smoking, there would still be cancer. And even if we all figure out whether our municipalities accept yogurt containers, plastic waste will still pollute the environment. Compliance won’t be a cure until innovations from the lab set us up for success.”

WIRED – Data Shows Rising Seas Threaten Over 300,000 Homes – Oliver Milman 6/19

  • “Sea level rise driven by climate change is set to pose an existential crisis to many US coastal communities, with new research finding that as many as 311,000 homes face being flooded every two weeks within the next 30 years.”
  • “The UCS used federal data from a high sea level rise scenario projected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and combined it with property data from the online real estate company Zillow to quantify the level of risk across the lower 48 states.”
  • “Under this scenario, where planet-warming emissions are barely constrained and the seas rise by about 6.5 feet globally by the end of the century, 311,000 homes along the US coastline would face flooding on average 26 times a year within the next 30 years—a typical lifespan for a new mortgage.”
  • “The losses would multiply by the end of the century, with the research warning that as many as 2.4 million homes, worth around a trillion dollars, could be put at risk. Low-lying states would be particularly prone, with a million homes in Florida, 250,000 homes in New Jersey and 143,000 homes in New York at risk of chronic flooding by 2100.”
  • “The oceans are rising by about 3 mm a year due to the thermal expansion of seawater that’s warming because of the burning of fossil fuels by humans. The melting of massive glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica is also pushing up the seas—NASA announced last week that the amount of ice lost annually from Antartica has tripled since 2012 to an enormous 241 billion tons a year.”
  • “This slowly unfolding scenario is set to pose wrenching choices for many in the US. Previous research has suggested that about 13 million Americans may have to move due to sea level rise by the end of the century, with landlocked states such as Arizona and Wyoming set for a population surge.”

Agriculture

FT – US farmers plant more soya than corn for first time since 1983 – Gregory Meyer 6/29

  • “Farmers planted 89.6m acres with soya beans this spring, the government reported Friday, surpassing the 89.1m acres planted with corn. The only other year soya topped corn was in 1983, because of a one-off quirk of agricultural policy.”

Britain

NYT – In Britain, Austerity Is Changing Everything – Peter S. Goodman 5/28

  • “After eight years of budget cutting, Britain is looking less like the rest of Europe and more like the United States, with a shrinking welfare state and spreading poverty.”

Japan

FT – Japan’s elderly care bill soaks up worker pay rises – Robin Harding 5/27

  • “Monthly premiums for care insurance have doubled from ¥3,000 to almost ¥6,000 ($55) since the system began in 2000. Meanwhile, the average annual cost of employer-based health insurance is up from ¥386,038 in 2008 to ¥486,042 this year, equivalent to a two percentage point rise in income tax.”
  • “The rise in health and care costs helps to explain why moderate wage growth, after five years of economic stimulus under prime minister Shinzo Abe, is doing so little to boost consumption. It poses a conundrum for the Bank of Japan, which is relying on spending pressure to push inflation towards its 2% objective.”
  • “Japan’s future holds more of the same, especially after 2020, when the baby boom generation starts to reach the age of 75 and needs more care. Recent government figures suggest that by 2040 social insurance costs will rise another 2.5 percentage points to 24% of gross domestic product.”

South America

Axios – It’s nearly impossible to afford a cup of coffee in Venezuela – Stef W. Kight 6/28

  • “Less than two years ago, a cup of coffee cost 450 bolivars in Venezuela. Today, as the nation’s hyperinflation continues to skyrocket, a cafe con leche costs 1 million bolivars — or a mere 29 U.S. cents, according to Bloomberg.”

June 18, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg Businessweek – Could Ocean’s 8 Actually Work? – James Tarmy 6/5

  • “Why stealing giant diamonds is a terrible, no good, very bad idea.”

Bloomberg Businessweek – Tears ‘R’ Us: The World’s Biggest Toy Store Didn’t Have to Die – Susan Berfield, Eliza Ronalds-Hannon, Matthew Townsend, and Lauren Coleman-Lochner 6/6

FT – Trump is trading on the protectionist mood – Rana Foroohar 6/10

  • “When even centrists are circling the wagons, we know we have entered a different world.”

FT – Forecasters have an awful record in predicting energy markets – Nick Butler 6/14

  • “Wider uncertainty increases appeal of large, low-cost power projects.”

WSJ – The Stock-Market Price Can Be Wrong. Very Wrong. – Jason Zweig 6/15

  • “Researchers have caught investors in the act of wildly – and unnecessarily – overpaying for a stock.”

WSJ – Venezuela’s Long Road to Ruin – Mary Anastasia O’Grady 6/10

  • “Few countries have provided such a perfect example of socialist policies in practice.”

Markets / Economy

NYT – Power Companies’ Mistakes Can Cost Billions. Who Should Pay? – Ivan Penn 6/14

  • “Utilities say they must be shielded from liability or the electric grid will suffer. Critics say that puts the burden on ratepayers, not investors.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bianco Research – Value of US Real Estate relative to GDP 6/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – Burns Home Value Index 6/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE Consulting – Burns Intrinsic Home Value Index 6/15

Energy

WSJ – Global Investment in Wind and Solar Energy Is Outshining Fossil Fuels – Russell Gold 6/11

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: MagnifyMoney – Auto Loan Rates vs. Fed Funds Rate 6/15

WSJ – Daily Shot: MagnifyMoney – Student Loan Rates vs. Fed Funds Rate 6/15

Fishing

NYT – In the Philippines, Dynamite Fishing Decimates Entire Ocean Food Chains – Aurora Almendral 6/15

Construction

NYT – Piece by Piece, a Factory-Made Answer for a Housing Squeeze – Conor Dougherty 6/7

  • “The global construction industry is a $10 trillion behemoth whose structures determine where people live, how they get to work and what cities look like. It is also one of the world’s least efficient businesses. The construction productivity rate — how much building workers do for each hour of labor they put in — has been flat since 1945, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. Over that period, sectors like agriculture, manufacturing and retail saw their productivity rates surge by as much as 1,500%. In other words, while the rest of the economy has been supercharged by machines, computers and robots, construction companies are about as efficient as they were in World War II.”

WSJ – Historic Rise in Lumber Costs Ripples Through Economy – Ryan Dezember 6/5

Education

WSJ – Judges Wouldn’t Consider Forgiving Crippling Student Loans – Until Now – Katy Stech Ferek 6/14

  • “For decades, college debt was immune from the bankruptcy process. Judges are actively seeking ways to help debtors.”

Africa

NYT – Corruption Gutted South Africa’s Tax Agency. Now the Nation Is Paying the Price. – Selam Gebrekidan and Norimitsu Onishi 6/10

Britain

FT – Average-sized English homes too pricey for average earners – Judith Evans 6/15

China

FT – Tycoon abducted by China works with authorities to sell assets – Don Weinland and Lucy Hornby 6/10

  • “Xiao Jianhua (Tomorrow Group company) said to be detained in Shanghai a year after being seized in Hong Kong.”

Nikkei Asian Review – How Beijing is winning control of the South China Sea – Simon Roughneen 6/13

  • “Erratic US policy and fraying alliances give China a free hand.”
  • “What China is winning is de facto control of nearly the entire South China Sea, including all activities and resources in it, despite the other surrounding Southeast Asian states’ respective legal rights and entitlements under international law.” – Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea
  • “At stake is the huge commercial and military leverage that comes with controlling one of the world’s most important shipping lanes, through which up to $5 trillion worth of trade passes each year.”

Europe

Bloomberg Businessweek – Italy’s Young Populists Are Coddling the Old – and Holding the Country Back – Peter Coy 6/6

  • “The country’s economic output is smaller now than it was in 2004, and employment policies are skewed to protecting jobs, not creating them. The number of Italians registered as living abroad rose 60% from 2006 to 2017, to almost 5 million. Among those who stay, it’s common for unemployed young people to live with their parents instead of starting their own families, which is one reason the country has one of the world’s lowest birthrates.”

South America

NYT – Workers Flee and Thieves Loot Venezuela’s Reeling Oil Giant – William Neuman and Clifford Krauss 6/14

Other Interesting Links

Tax Foundation – How High Are Beer Taxes in Your State? – Katherine Loughead 5/24

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

May 24, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

FT – Era of ‘lower for longer’ oil prices is dead – Amrita Sen and Yasser Elguindi (Energy Aspects) 5/22

  • “When oil collapsed in 2014 under the weight of US shale production, it ushered in a new-found belief that prices would remain ‘lower for longer’.”
  • “The rampant new source of crude supplies was seen to be capable of meeting rising world demand almost single-handedly, obviating the need for extra Opec barrels ever again.”
  • “As such, the concept of a ‘shale price band’ emerged of roughly $40 to $55 per barrel, reflecting the range within which the majority of US shale producers could turn a profit without the risk of the industry growing so fast that it would again flood the market. And for the better part of three years, from 2015 to 2017, oil prices traded in this range.”
  • “But in 2018, this narrative has been slowly picked apart and is now in the process of disintegrating.”
  • “While there has been breathless attention paid to prompt Brent prices climbing to $80 a barrel for the first time since 2014, what has received less attention is that the entire Brent forward curve is now trading above $60, including contracts for delivery as far out as December 2024.”
  • “This development is an important psychological milestone for the oil market. The market is, in effect, saying that ‘lower for longer’ is dead.”
  • “The reality is that US shale has been unable to meet rising global oil demand, which has averaged 1.7m b/d per year since 2014 — double the level at the start of this decade — and inventories have drawn down as a consequence, eliminating the buffer that had been built up.”
  • “This inventory fall has been helped by strong demand growth and the Opec/non-Opec deal to curtail output since January 2017, which has since been superseded by rapid declines in Venezuelan and Angolan production and, more recently, non-Opec production outside of the US.”
  • “The inevitable supply deficit is very worrying, with very limited spare production capacity available globally.”
  • “Two main themes are now starting to impact investor thinking and drive the new-found interest in exposure to energy.”
  • “First, recent supply data are finally reflecting the ill effects from under-investment due to the collapse in capital expenditure since 2015. The data are now showing accelerating decline rates across important suppliers such as Brazil, Norway and Angola.”
  • “Second, the impressive strength in demand has been overshadowed in the past two years by the narrative dominated by electric cars.”
  • “But slowly this has given way to a recognition that while electric cars will undoubtedly alter the trajectory for global oil demand in the long term, this trend will not reach critical mass in the medium term (the next five years) to sufficiently make up for the expected fall in oil supplies due to the lack of investment.”
  • “So, even though expectations are for oil demand growth to slow from current levels, consumption will still be robust enough that — barring a major recession — the market will need new supplies to meet that growth.”
  • “The physical oil market is only going to face greater strain ahead of the marine fuel specification change in 2020, which is set to boost demand for products such as diesel and ultra-low sulphur fuel oil by 2m to 3m b/d.”
  • “As a result, we believe that oil prices may spike to above $100 per barrel, a price forecast we have held for the latter half of 2019 for three years now.”
  • “The shale price band has been decisively broken and 2018 will be a watershed year: the market will realize that US shale alone cannot meet the world’s incremental demand growth and future prices must rise to re-incentivize long-cycle investments (or curtail demand).”
  • “Nothing ever moves in a straight line, but the broader oil market is perhaps not prepared for what will happen to oil prices over the next couple of years.”

Perspective

Economist – Weather and violence displace millions inside borders every year – The Data Team 5/22

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Boston Globe – Gas and mortgages are getting expensive again. Welcome to a normal economy – Evan Horowitz 5/22

CNBC – Silicon Valley tech bubble is larger than it was in 2000, and the end is coming – Keith Wright 5/22

  • “The age of the unicorn likely peaked a few years ago. In 2014 there were 42 new unicorns in the United States; in 2015 there were 43. The unicorn market hasn’t reached that number again. In 2017, 33 new U.S. companies achieved unicorn status from a total of 53 globally. This year there have been 11 new unicorns, according to PitchBook data as of May 15, but these numbers tend to move around, and I believe the 279 unicorns recorded globally in late February by TechCrunch was the peak, where the start-up bubble was stretched to its limit.”
  • “A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concludes that, on average, unicorns are roughly 50% overvalued. The research, conducted by Will Gornall at the University of British Columbia and Ilya Strebulaev of Stanford, examined 135 unicorns. Of those 135, the researchers estimate that nearly half, or 65, should be more fairly valued at less than $1 billion.”
  • “Don’t let the few recent successes in the 2017 IPO market fool you. After two years of stagnation in terms of the number of IPOs being filed in the United States — 275 IPOs (2014), 170 IPOs (2015) and 105 IPOs (2016) — deal counts have dropped to their lowest figure since 2012.”
  • “Seventy-six percent of the companies that went public last year were unprofitable on a per-share basis in the year leading up to their initial offerings, according to data compiled by Jay Ritter, a professor at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business, and recently featured in The New York Times. This is the largest number since the peak of the dot-com boom in 2000, when 81% of newly public companies were unprofitable.”
  • “The current volatility and correction evolving in the private market will be amplified for companies that have yet to make money and are burning cash faster than they’re bringing it in. Growth at all costs will not weather an economic storm.”
  • “Since the Snap IPO in March 2017 at $17 a share, when its shares surged 44% during its first day of trading, they have now declined to $11. Dropbox also went public. It had a first-day pop of 36%; however, with only 200,000 paying customers compared to its 500 million users, I would be hesitant to rush in to buy, even as it comes off that year-to-date high considerably. Another highly valued start-up, Blue Apron, went public at $10 a share in June and is now trading at $3. Remember Fitbit was a $45 stock in 2015 — it’s currently trading at just over $5.”

Economist – Markets may be underpricing climate-related risk 5/23

FT – Tanking currencies are bad news all round – Jonathan Wheatley 5/22

  • “Currency wars give no edge to exporters but do cause economic harm.”

Fortune – Retail Reckoning: How Private Equity Is Boosting Some Brands and Crushing Others – Phil Wahba 4/24

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bianco Research – Google Search Trends – Consumer Spending 5/23

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bianco Research – Google Search Trends – Consumer Difficulties 5/23

Markets / Economy

CNBC – Inflation is coming to the US economy on an 18-wheel flatbed – Jeff Cox 5/22

  • “Multiple signs of inflation in freight-related industries are at or near historical highs, in what could be an early sign that price pressures are building and ready to reverberate around the economy.”
  • “Freight marketplace DAT keeps track of supply and demand in the freight industry through a bulletin board that matches companies with loads to be delivered to the vehicles that will take the goods to the marketplace. The measures are in the spot market, where vendors that don’t contract their deliveries find drivers for their products.”
  • “Recent readings show demand for vehicles skyrocketing, a sign that generally points to inflationary pressures building up in the supply chain.”
  • “Loads on the spot market in general are up 100% from the same period a year ago. Another measure, the flatbed load-to-truck comparison, which tracks the amount of vendors looking for flatbeds and is generally the highest of all truck types, is up 142%.”
  • “The numbers by themselves, though, don’t indicate that inflation is ready to strike soon. Indeed, the most recent readings, such as the consumer and producer price indexes, show inflation pressures rising though relatively benign.”
  • “But they do jibe with some other indicators showing inflation is rising beneath the surface.”

FT – US has more than 5,600 banks. Consolidation is coming – Ben McLannahan 5/22

  • “The US’s banks have largely sat out the mergers and acquisitions wave of recent years. While deal records have fallen in almost every other sector, big banks have done almost nothing, shrinking rather than expanding. And merger activity among small and mid-sized banks — some 5,607 of them, at last count — has been subdued.”
  • “But when Fifth Third Bancorp of Cincinnati revealed its $4.7bn swoop for Chicago’s MB Financial on Monday morning, shares in other Chicago-area banks began to move, too. Wintrust, a similar-sized bank based in Rosemont, Illinois, ended the day up almost 4%, while First Midwest of Itasca closed up 3%.”
  • “The implications were obvious: after years of thin activity in bank M&A, this deal could mark a turn.” 
  • “The conditions for dealmaking look better than at any time since the financial crisis. Higher interest rates and lower taxes have pumped up bank profits, giving management teams stronger platforms from which to contemplate doing something radical.”

WSJ – Rising Dollar Sparks Tumult in Emerging Markets – Ira Iosebashvili, Josh Zumbrun, and Julie Wernau 5/21

  • “U.S. currency’s rally puts spotlight on weaknesses in a broad range of emerging-market assets.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Who Needs a Down Payment? Trade In Your Old Home Instead – Laura Kusisto 5/22

  • “Opendoor offers to take the hassle out of selling an old home to buy a new one.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns RE – Home Builder Land Acquisitions 5/23

Energy

FT – The geopolitics of electric cars will be messy – Henry Sanderson 5/22

  • “Oil has had a leading role in geopolitics over the past 100 years, sucking western powers into an often disastrous dependence on the Middle East.”
  • “While black gold, as oil is sometimes known, is not always the overt cause of conflict, it is linked to between one quarter and a half of all interstate conflicts globally between 1973 and 2012, according to a 2013 study by Jeff Colgan of Brown University.”
  • “But it would be a mistake to assume that geopolitical tensions will miraculously ease in a future in which renewable energy sources dominate. Building wind turbines and creating lithium-ion batteries requires metals and raw materials from those countries which are blessed, or potentially cursed, with them.”
  • “And for some of these commodities, their high concentration in particular parts of the world sharpens the risks.”
  • “A clean energy economy will require a staggering volume of metals to be prized from the ground.”
  • “For example, Olivier Vidal of the University Grenoble Alpes estimates that to build the infrastructure for clean energy the amount of copper needed amounts to almost half the total mined since 1900.”
  • “There is also the real risk that the age of the electric car will generate corporate monopolies, echoing those of Standard Oil whose founder John D Rockefeller cornered the oil market more than a century ago as the combustion engine took off.”
  • “Glencore, the Switzerland-based and London-listed miner, is expanding its production of cobalt which is set to give it a 40% share of global supply by 2020.”
  • “The production of lithium, a key ingredient for batteries in electric cars as well as smartphones, is controlled by just five companies.”
  • “However, rather than tensions with the Middle East, the advent of the electric car will usher in greater friction with China. Beijing’s ambitions in clean energy are enormous.”
  • “As part of the ‘Made in China 2025’ plan to advance high-end manufacturing, the government wants to establish a grip on the production of electric cars and clean energy technology.”
  • “The rest of the year will provide further signs of the capital and scale that China is bringing to this competition.”
  • “No one is giving China a free run at the metals that have emerged as central to electric cars.”
  • “Trade tensions with US President Donald Trump are already brewing. This month his administration released a list of 35 minerals, including lithium and cobalt, that are ‘considered critical to the economic and national security of the United States.’”
  • “Chile, which has the world’s largest lithium reserves, is looking to build battery components, while South Africa, a producer of vanadium, wants to produce electrolytes for vanadium batteries, which are used to store energy for the electric grid.”
  • “Europe, too, is beginning to build its own giant battery factories to supply Germany’s car companies and the UK’s innovation agency has backed a study that uses satellites to look for lithium in Cornwall.”
  • “The geopolitics of the era of the electric car are in their infancy. While it is unlikely to lead to military conflict, the tensions, especially with China, over who will control the resources and technologies that will underpin electric cars will be heightened.”
  • “Over the long term, the winners are likely to be those countries and companies that can develop battery technology that relies on materials that are abundant rather than scarce. It might even help make the geopolitics a little less fraught.”

Finance

FT Alphaville – ‘Some of the worst covenants that we’ve ever seen’ – Alexandra Scaggs 5/21

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

WSJ – Buyer Beware: Hundreds of Bitcoin Wannabes Show Hallmarks of Fraud – Shane Shifflett and Coulter Jones 5/17

Environment / Science

Axios – Next climate challenge: A/C demand expected to triple – Ben Geman 5/15

Construction

WSJ – Daily Shot: CME Lumber (Jul) Futures 5/22

Asia – excluding China and Japan

FT – Malaysia says it has been ‘bailing out’ 1MDB – Alice Woodhouse and Harry Jacques 5/22

  • “Malaysia has paid almost RM7bn ($1.8bn) to service debt owed by 1MDB, the south-east Asian nation’s finance ministry said on Tuesday, as investigators ratcheted up their probe into the state investment fund from which $4.5bn is alleged to have gone missing.”
  • “Two weeks after voters ousted the government of Najib Razak, the finance ministry said it had been ‘bailing out’ the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund since April 2017, adding that another RM144m interest payment was due on May 30.”
  • “The revelation ‘confirms the public suspicion that 1MDB had essentially deceived Malaysians by claiming that [the payments] have been paid via a ‘successful rationalization exercise’,’ the ministry said in a statement. ‘All the while it has been the MoF [ministry of finance] who has bailed out 1MDB.'”
  • “Earlier on Tuesday, Malaysia’s new anti-corruption chief said he had been harassed and received a death threat after he pursued a 2015 investigation into 1MDB.”

India

FT – Oil price rise puts heat on Narendra Modi’s government – Amy Kazmin 5/22

  • “In 2016 — as global crude oil prices fell to about $40 per barrel — India, which imports nearly 80% of its petroleum, levied new excise duties on petrol and diesel to stabilize prices and prevent a surge in demand.” 
  • “Since then, New Delhi has come to depend heavily on those revenues to shore up its fragile public finances, especially as receipts from the goods and services tax introduced last year have failed to stabilize at expected levels.” 
  • “But after global crude oil prices hit a four-year high of more than $80 per barrel last week, India’s fuel pump prices — for decades subsidized by the government and held artificially low — have jumped to among the highest in south Asia.”
  • “Industry groups are pressing New Delhi to pare back excise duties on fuel, warning that the high prices will undermine an economy only now recovering from the successive disruption of a dramatic cash ban and the introduction of the goods and services tax.”
  • “But any meaningful rollback to ease pressure on consumers will raise doubts over the ability of Mr Modi’s administration to meet its target of cutting the fiscal deficit to just 3.3% of gross domestic product.”
  • “’India’s reliance on oil revenue has now surpassed the Malaysian government’s reliance on oil revenues — and Malaysia is an oil exporter,’ said Vikas Halan, senior vice-president at Moody’s Investors Service, the rating agency. ‘The government can always roll back excise duty — there is no one stopping them — but the issue is, how will they compensate for the loss of revenue?’”
  • “Last year, excise duties on petroleum products, which are about a quarter of the retail price of petrol and diesel, accounted for 17% of New Delhi’s total revenue collection. For every R1 that the government pares back these excise duties, it will lose an estimated $1.8bn in revenues, or about 0.1% of annual GDP.” 
  • “Adding to the overall pressure is the recent weakening of the Indian rupee, which has fallen 6% this year to a 16-month low of Rs68.1 per dollar. Further depreciation will mean even higher local fuel prices. Bond markets are also jittery, with yields rising.”

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Market Exchange Rate – USD / Venezuelan Bolivar 5/23

WSJ – After Venezuela Strongman’s Victory, Isolated Nation Faces Growing Chaos – Kejal Vyas, Ryan Dube, and Juan Forero 5/21

Other Interesting Links

CNBC – The richest person in every state, according to Forbes – Emmie Martin 5/22

May 17, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – How the west should judge a rising China – Martin Wolf 5/15

  • “Advanced countries are hobbled by their inability to manage their own affairs.”

Japan

FT – How Japan’s ageing population is shrinking GDP – Valentina Romei 5/16

  • “With a rapidly ageing population and a shrinking workforce, Japan is one of the world’s oldest societies. Now analysts fear that these demographics are hampering economic growth.” 
  • “Japan’s economy contracted by 0.2% in the first three months of this year over the previous quarter, ending eight consecutive quarters of growth, Japan’s longest period of uninterrupted growth since 1989. It is now the only major economy to start 2018 with a shrinking economy.” 
  • “With the second-weakest performance of major economies last year — Italy had the poorest — Japan is now set to be the slowest growing of the G7 economies this year.”
  • “Japan cannot keep up with the growth rates seen in other advanced economies because ‘Japan’s demographics weaken its GDP growth,’ said Rob Carnell, head of research and chief economist for Asia-Pacific at ING. ‘A rapidly ageing population and shrinking labor force are hampering growth,’ warned the IMF in its latest country’s report.” 
  • “In a separate document, the IMF calculated that ‘the impact of ageing could potentially drag down Japan’s average annual GDP growth by 1 percentage point over the next three decades’.”
  • “Since Japan’s population began its decline in 2010, the country’s population has shrunk by about 1.3m people.”
  • “By 2065, the UN expects Japan’s population to fall by an additional 28m people, corresponding to a 22% drop. Over the same period, the population in advanced economies is expected to rise by 3%.”
  • “Not only is Japan’s population shrinking, but it is also ageing rapidly.”
  • “A shrinking population means a smaller domestic market with fewer people buying goods and services.” 
  • “In 2016, there were about 2,300 fewer kindergartens than seven years earlier as the number of pupils dropped by 18%. Nearly 2,000 primary schools have been shut over the same period while the number of children of primary school age dropped by 8%.”
  • “Far fewer houses are being built as the population, and demand, falls.” 
  • “The shrinkage in Japan’s population means that even with flat productivity growth there would be ‘steady declines in GDP output from one year to another,’ said Mr Carnell. Assuming all other factors remained similar, an economy with an expanding population would see positive GDP growth. ‘A better way of looking at Japan would be as per capita GDP,’ added Mr Carnell.” 
  • “When looking at GDP growth rate per person of working age — which takes into account ageing trends as well as population shrinkage — Japan is in fact the second-best performing G7 country after Germany over the past 20 years.” 
  • “Unless demographic trends are corrected, this is unlikely to be the last time Japan will see negative GDP growth, analysts say. But, given its shrinking labor force, its economy is performing strongly, they add.”

South America

FT – Kellogg latest company to pull out of Venezuela – Gideon Long 5/15

May 16, 2018

Perspective

FT – Anbang: the downfall of China’s global dealmaker – Henny Sender and Don Weinland 5/13

  • “The Wu Xiaohui who appeared in a Shanghai court in late March on fraud and embezzlement charges was a far cry from the man who rapidly turned a modest provincial car insurance business into an investment conglomerate with Rmb2tn ($316bn) in assets.”
  • “Tie-less and wearing a rumpled suit, the founder of Anbang ‘expressed deep self-reflection, understanding of and regret for the crimes and expressed deep remorse’, according to a post on the court’s social media account. But to no avail. On Thursday, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison.”
  • “At the time of his detention in February, Anbang controlled 58 companies directly or indirectly. As well as New York hotels, its holdings included rescue financings of troubled European financial institutions, control of a South Korean insurer and substantial equity stakes in about 20 major listed companies in China.”
  • “The charges that Wu was convicted of relate to the way the finances of the group were managed, including the shifting of billions of dollars of funds between different entities that he allegedly oversaw. His sister, who was officially head of Anbang Hong Kong, has also been detained.”
  • “Prosecutors accused Wu of using ‘false material’ in 2011 to get regulatory approval to sell insurance products. They also said that he had oversold Rmb724bn of insurance products and had diverted Rmb65bn to another company he controlled, which he had partly used for ‘lavish personal spending’.”
  • “In addition, Wu was accused of using the proceeds from insurance sales to inject capital back into Anbang in order to give the impression that the company was more financially stable than it was.”
  • “Analysts say Anbang was bound to attract the attention of Chinese regulators because of the nature of its business model. The group relied on issuing wealth management products for its funding. These risky investments were sold to ordinary people seeking higher returns than they could get from bank deposits. Given the nature of the investors, the Chinese authorities worried that any failure to pay out on the products could lead to social friction.”
  • “At the same time, the group took huge risks on how it invested the funds. Two months before Wu was detained, the company had 19% of its long-term investments in stocks, presenting a high level of risk should the market be hit by a downturn. Most insurance companies in China have less than 5% of their assets invested in the stock market. Another 19% was invested in redeemable short-term loans provided through trusts, an opaque area of shadow banking in China in which risk is almost impossible to assess with available public information.”

Maps on the Web – World’s Largest Metropolitan Populations Mapped onto the U.S. 5/10

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – The challenges of a disembodied economy – Martin Wolf 11/28/17

  • “Policymakers must reckon with a world in which companies invest in intangible assets.”

FT – How to make sense of the volatile natural gas market – Nick Butler 5/13

  • “Rising prices in Asia seem to suggest we are at the start of a new super cycle.”

Pragmatic Capitalism – Putting the Rise in Yields in Perspective – Cullen Roche 5/15

Project Syndicate – Managing the Risks of a Rising Dollar – Mohamed A. El-Erian 5/14

  • “Some may view the US dollar’s appreciation as consistent with a long-term rebalancing of the global economy. But, as Argentina’s recent request for IMF financing starkly demonstrates, a sharp and sudden dollar appreciation risks unbalancing things elsewhere.”

WSJ – Here Comes the Sports Gambling Apocalypse – Jason Gay 5/14

  • “A Supreme Court ruling has the potential to radically change sports in America. But will it?”

Energy

FT – Collapsing Venezuela oil exports seen to be pushing prices higher – Anjli Raval, Jonathan Wheatley, David Sheppard, John-Paul Rathbone, and Gideon Long 5/14

WSJ – Daily Shot: Morgan Stanley Research – Gasoline Expenditures by Income Quintile 5/15

Environment / Science

WSJ – Recycling, Once Embraced by Businesses and Environmentalists, Now Under Siege – BoB Tita 5/13

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: USD / ARS (Argentine Peso) 5/14

WSJ – Daily Shot: Black Market Exchange Rate for USD / Venezuelan Bolivares 5/15

May 15, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – Faced with a housing crisis, California could further restrict supply 5/10

  • “Rent control sounds appealing but is counter-productive.”

Economist – The meaning of the Vision Fund – Leaders 5/12

  • “Succeed or fail, Masayoshi Son is changing the world of technology investing.”
  • “The fund is the result of a peculiar alliance forged in 2016 between Mr Son and Muhammad bin Salman. Saudi Arabia’s thrusting crown prince handed Mr Son $45bn as part of his attempt to diversify the kingdom’s economy. That great dollop of capital attracted more investors—from Abu Dhabi, Apple and others. Add in SoftBank’s own $28bn of equity, and Mr Son has a war chest of $100bn. That far exceeds the $64bn that all venture capital (VC) funds raised globally in 2016; it is four times the size of the biggest private-equity fund ever raised.”
  • “The fund has already spent $30bn, nearly as much as the $33bn raised by the entire American VC industry in 2017. And because about half of its capital is in the form of debt, it is under pressure to make interest payments. This combination of gargantuanism, grandiosity and guaranteed payouts may end up in financial disaster. Indeed, the Vision Fund could mark the giddy top of the tech boom.”

Economist – Will Argentina’s woes spread? – Leaders 5/12

  • “Argentina has much in common with yesterday’s emerging markets, but little in common with today’s.”

FT – Apple sows seeds of next market swing – Rana Foroohar 5/13

  • “Rapid growth in debt levels is historically the best predictor of a crisis. And this year the corporate bond market has been on a tear, with companies issuing a record $1.7tn last year, and over half a trillion already this year. Even mediocre companies have benefited from easy money. But as the rate environment changes, perhaps more quickly than is imagined, many could be vulnerable.” 

WSJ – In a Dollarized World, a Rising Dollar Spells Pain – Greg Ip 5/9

  • “Even as U.S. economic influence shrinks, the dollar’s clout in global trade and borrowing is growing, magnifying impact of its rise in value.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg – U.S. Tariffs Lead to Record Increase in Washing Machine Prices – Alexandre Tanzi 5/10

Bloomberg Businessweek – No, the U.S Economy Isn’t Overheating – Peter Coy 5/11

  • “Some indicators are flashing red, but there’s still a little slack in the system.”

WSJ – Company Costs Are Rising, but Getting Shoppers to Pay More Is Hard – Eric Morath, Heather Haddon, and Jacob Bunge 5/9

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg – Relative Hard Currency Reserves 5/14

Real Estate

WSJ – WeWork, the Workspace Giant, Wants to Be Its Own Landlord, Using Other Investors’ Money – Eliot Brown 5/13

  • “WeWork’s new investment fund aims to buy buildings where the company would become a tenant, raising conflict-of-interest questions.”

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: AAA Daily National Average Gasoline Prices 5/13

Finance

FT – Landmark bond sales hit by emerging markets downturn – Kate Allen 5/14

  • “Investors who bought some of the riskiest emerging market sovereign bond sales in the past year have been left nursing paper losses as a strengthening dollar has rattled sentiment for emerging markets.”
  • “JPMorgan’s emerging markets bond index has lost 5.1% since the start of this year.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – BOJ Assets YoY Change 5/13

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

howmuch.net – The Biggest Cryptocurrency Hacks and Scams – Raul 5/9

Agriculture

Bloomberg Businessweek – These Shipping Containers Have Farms Inside – Adam Popescu 5/9

Construction

WSJ – Daily Shot: CME Lumber (JuL) 5/11

  • “Lumber futures blasted past $600 per 1,000 board feet (mbf).”

Education

NYT – Education Department Unwinds Unit Investigating Fraud at For-Profits – Danielle Ivory, Erica L. Green, and Steve Eder 5/13

South America

Economist – How chavismo makes the taps run dry in Venezuela 5/10

  • “Plentiful rains plus Bolivarian socialism equals water shortages.”

WSJ – Venezuela’s Oil Meltdown Is Getting Worse – Spencer Jakab 5/13

  • “A rush of creditors trying to seize assets has disrupted Venezuela’s oil exports at a time when they already are plunging.”

Other Interesting Links

Cannabis Benchmarks – Weekly Report 5-11-18

May 14, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

FT – China buys up flying schools as pilot demand rises – Jamie Smyth and Ben Bland 5/10

  • “Chinese airlines are buying foreign flying schools and poaching pilots, amplifying a talent shortage that has affected airlines in other regions.”
  • “’The growth in Chinese aviation is unprecedented in our lifetimes and probably in history,’ said Paul Jebely, a Hong-Kong-based lawyer specializing in aviation. ‘There have been more aircraft ordered than there are pilots to fly them’.”
  • “The squeeze on flying talent has triggered flight cancellations, dented profits and threatened the industry’s ambitious growth targets around the world.”
  • “China is on course to overtake the US as the world’s largest air travel market by 2022, according to the International Air Transport Association.”
  • “US aircraft maker Boeing predicts China will need 110,000 new pilots in the years through to 2035, and its airlines are expected to purchase 7,000 commercial aircraft over the next two decades.”
  • “China’s aviation market grew by 13% last year, with 549m passengers taking to the skies, double the number who flew in 2010. Growth is being driven by the rising middle class, an expansion of routes by Chinese airlines and the easing of visa restrictions by foreign governments keen to attract Chinese tourists.”
  • “The number of pilots and co-pilots working in China almost doubled between 2011 and 2017. Over recent months China’s main airlines — China Eastern, Air China, China Southern and Hainan Airlines — have stepped up recruitment and are expanding their offshore training.”
  • “The starting salary offered to foreign pilots in China has jumped over the past 10 years from $10,000 per month to $26,000 per month, tax free, and was still rising, he said.”
  • “’Some Chinese airlines are offering tax-free salary packages, which can be up to twice what western airlines offer,’ said Murray Butt, president of the Australian and International Pilots Association.”
  • “India’s surging air travel — where passenger numbers have been growing by an average of about 16% a year since the beginning of the millennium — adds more pressure to the global pilot shortage.”
  • “Having seen rapid growth in passenger numbers over the past few years, Indian airlines have been recruiting from the military, from abroad and from their competitors by offering increasingly lucrative contracts. They have also made it more difficult for pilots to leave, forcing commanding officers to give a year’s notice if they wish to leave.”
  • “Chinese airlines pay the tuition of cadet pilots and are intensifying efforts to develop more local talent. But there are only 22 pilot schools in China and restrictions on the use of domestic airspace mean they are increasingly looking overseas to partner with foreign flights schools.”
  • “Almost half of China’s 5,053 trainee pilots last year were trained abroad, creating a flourishing business for flight schools and their owners in the US, Canada and Australia.”

Perspective

WP – For six decades, ‘the man with the golden arm’ donated blood – and saved 2.4 million babies – Amy Wang 5/12

  • A great example of human kindness/exceptionalism.

Visual Capitalist – The United States of Beer – Nick Routley 5/12

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Memo from Amazon: tell a good story – John Gapper 5/8

  • “Jeff Bezos and Winston Churchill both appreciated the value of skillful narrative.”

WSJ – Mercedes Wants to Borrow Money From You. Should You Bite? – Jason Zweig 5/11

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Record Buybacks Help Steady Wobbly Market – Ben Eisen and Akane Otani 5/10

Real Estate

CoStar – Already Down, Chinese Investment in U.S. Real Estate Evaporates in First Quarter – Mark Heschmeyer 5/10

WSJ – Daily Shot: PlanMaestro – Age of Housing Stock by US Zip Code 5/11

Entertainment

WSJ – Why Box Office Flops Really, Really Hurt – Justin Lahart 5/11

  • “It isn’t rare for a handful of big movies to do much better than anything else during the same year, but over the past few years the differences have become more acute. One way to see this is by applying a standard measure of inequality—the Gini coefficient—to the box office. A Gini of zero would mean all the movies did equally well and a Gini of one would mean one movie made all the money.”
  • “Based on the domestic receipts of the top 100 grossing movies, the box office Gini for last year’s releases was 0.49, versus 0.46 for 2016. Over the previous 10 years, the Gini averaged 0.4 so there has been a big change in an already skewed field. For comparison’s sake, the Gini coefficient for after-tax household income is 0.39 in the U.S. versus 0.46 in Mexico, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.”

Environment / Science

FT – Apple looks to ‘green’ metal for use in iPhone and MacBook – Neil Hume and Henry Sanderson 5/10

  • “Apple has joined forces with two of the world’s biggest aluminum producers to develop a ‘carbon-free’ metal it plans to use in its iPhone and laptop computers.”
  • “The consumer electronics group is backing a joint venture between Rio Tinto and Alcoa that is seeking to commercialize a new technology to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from aluminum smelting.”

Health / Medicine

Gallup – Uninsured Rate Rises in 17 States in 2017 – Dan Witters 5/9

  • “The uninsured rate rose by statistically significant margins in 17 states in 2017, the first time since the full implementation of the major mechanisms of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014 that any state had a rate increase. Also, for the first time since 2013, no states had a lower uninsured rate than the previous year.”

South America

Reuters – Conoco authorized to seize $636 million in Venezuela PDVSA assets – Mike Willemse, Brian Ellsworth, Alexandra Ulmer, and Tom Brown 5/12

May 11, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg – Middle-Class Doldrums Don’t Add Up to a Crisis – Noah Smith 5/9

  • “The U.S. economy is back to normal again. Unemployment is low. Business investment is up. Wages are slowly rising. The traumatic memories of the Great Recession and the global financial crisis are finally beginning to fade.”
  • “The absence of pressing crises means that it’s a good time to step back and take stock of deeper issues in the U.S. economic system. For several years, there has been a rising outcry over inequality… Adjusted for inflation, wages for production and nonsupervisory workers fell from their peak until the early 1990s, and haven’t yet climbed back to their former heights:”
  • “But the story isn’t quite true. The average American has, in fact, seen modest gains since the early 1970s; the falling wages of production workers don’t tell the whole story.”
  • “What explains the difference between wages and income? Two things. First, wages aren’t the only way Americans make money in the market. Income from assets, like retirement accounts and pensions, is increasingly important, as are nonwage compensation like employer contributions to retirement accounts. Second, the income numbers include government transfers, which have shifted more and more income from rich Americans to those who earn less in the market. These factors are all bigger than in the 1970s:”
  • “Increased redistribution has been helping the poor as well as the middle class. Recent calculations by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities show that child poverty in the U.S. has fallen to record lows once government assistance is taken into account.”
  • “Meanwhile, gains in income haven’t come from increased toil. Despite women’s increased labor force participation, working-age Americans in 2014 tended to labor little more than their predecessors in the late 1970s:”
  • “In fact, the working hours data makes the 2000s and 2010s look less awful in comparison to the ’80s and ’90s. Gains in those earlier decades came partly from women entering the workforce en masse. But those gains were preserved in recent decades despite Americans working fewer hours on average.”
  • “It was during the early 1970s that total factor productivity growth began to slow down. It accelerated again in the 1990s and early 2000s, only to fall back to a crawl about the middle of that decade.”
  • “It’s therefore possible to interpret the slower growth of Americans’ incomes as the result of slowing productivity. Inequality has certainly contributed as well, but increasing government transfers have helped cancel out some of that. But with slowing productivity growth, there’s simply less to redistribute than if productivity had maintained the torrid pace of the early and mid-20th century.”
  • “Capitalism may not be in crisis, but it’s troubling that a few super-rich individuals have managed to amass vast fortunes even as productivity has stagnated. That is a phenomenon whose cause must be carefully investigated. For the typical American, gains in living standards have continued at a slow, steady pace. Increasing that pace should be a top priority.”

FT – Investors should be cautious of simplistic indices – Kate Allen 5/9

  • “Poland’s upgrade to developed status shines a light on [an] outdated approach to classification.”

Markets / Economy

FT – Daimler leads new investors in SoftBank’s $100bn Vision Fund – Arash Massoudi, Leo Lewis, and Patrick McGee 5/10

  • “Germany’s Daimler and Japan’s three largest banks are set to become investors in SoftBank’s Vision Fund as the Masayoshi Son-led company looks to complete fundraising for its $100bn technology investment fund, according to people briefed on the matter.”
  • “The Mercedes-Benz maker along with MUFG, Mizuho and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp will be among the final investors in the fund, which is the largest ever created in private equity or venture capital, these people said.”
  • “They added that other new investors will include Larry Ellison, the billionaire US co-founder of software group Oracle who is investing personally, and the sovereign wealth fund of Bahrain.”
  • “Daimler and the Japanese banks are set to be among the smaller ones in the fund, alongside earlier participants such as Apple, Qualcomm, Foxconn and Sharp. About $88bn of the fund comes from SoftBank, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.”
  • “Individuals close to the three Japanese banks said their decision to invest had a twin motivation: the quest for returns in Japan’s ultra low-interest environment and the desire to further strengthen their relationships with what is by far Japan’s most active corporate name.”
  • “All the new investors will be participating under the terms of the fund’s unusual structure, which sees them receive 62% in preferred units paying out an annual coupon of 7% over the fund’s 12-year life cycle, and the rest with equity.”
  • “SoftBank itself is the only investor that has full equity exposure, giving it the most upside to the fund’s investments in addition to the management and performance fees.”
  • “SoftBank outlined on Wednesday in a presentation that it had spent $29.7bn of the Vision Fund since inception. It has placed bets on more than 30 companies including ride-hailing group Uber, shared-office provider WeWork and chipmaker Nvidia.”

Real Estate

Bisnow – California Super-Commuters Are Transforming Sleepy Suburbs Into Busy Metros – Julie Littman and Joseph Pimentel 5/9

WSJ – California Takes Big Step to Require Solar on New Homes – Erin Ailworth 5/9

Energy

FT – US oil producers battle to meet Iran shortfall – Ed Crooks 5/9

  • “Pipeline constraints mean shale cannot come to rescue as sanctions push up prices.”
  • “Inadequate transport capacity in the region is reflected in the soaring discount for oil in Midland, west Texas, compared with US benchmark crude. That discount hit $13 a barrel this week, meaning that while the easier-to-trade West Texas Intermediate was selling for about $70 a barrel, oil in Midland was just $57 a barrel.”

WSJ – Venezuela’s Brewing Oil Shock May Be Bigger Than Iran’s – Spencer Jakab 5/10

  • “The oil headlines this week have all been about Iran, but the slowly unfolding disaster in Venezuela may be even more significant.”
  • “Venezuela faces two risks that, if both come to pass, could cut its oil output by more than the biggest estimates of what could happen to Iran if sanctions were reimposed. The risks stem from Venezuela’s dependence on importing lighter varieties of crude to mix with the heavy oil it produces, and its need for products imported from the U.S. to enable its thick oil to be transported.”
  • “The first situation is playing out in the Dutch-administered islands of Curaçao and Bonaire, where Venezuela’s state oil company owns refining and storage facilities. U.S. producer ConocoPhillips is attempting to take physical control of those facilities after winning an arbitration award against Venezuela for seizing its assets in 2007. Venezuela appears to be telling its suppliers not to ship oil to these facilities for fear ConocoPhillips will seize that too, potentially shutting down refining.”
  • “The second situation would play out if the U.S. halts exports to Venezuela of a product called diluent, which allows the thick oil to be transported. Such a move would imperil half or more of the country’s remaining production. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has already called the presidential election a sham.”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: DISH Network Bond Price 5/19

Environment / Science

Economist – Climate change will affect developing countries more than rich ones – The Data Team 5/9

Construction

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – PPI Concrete Products 5/10

Asia – excluding China and Japan

Economist – Malaysia’s chance to clean up – Leaders 5/10

  • “Elections in Malaysia are normally predictable. In fact, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and various allies had won all of them since 1955, until this week. Over the years UMNO has resorted to every conceivable trick to remain in power: stirring communal tensions among Malaysia’s ethnic groups, locking up critics, rigging the electoral system in its favor, bribing voters with populist handouts and threatening chaos if it lost. In the run-up to the election on May 9th it did all of that. It was testimony to the awfulness of the government of Najib Razak that the opposition was even in contention. And it is testimony to the good sense of Malaysian voters that the opposition won, convincingly, paving the way for Malaysia’s first ever change of government.”
  • “For a country where politics has always been run along communal lines, the shocking upset holds out the prospect of a more meritocratic form of government. For the region, where rulers with authoritarian instincts have been steadily curbing political freedoms, it is a heartening victory for democracy. And for Mr Najib, who was accused by America’s Department of Justice of personally pocketing $681m looted from a Malaysian government agency, it is a welcome comeuppance.”
  • “Sceptics note that it is led by Mahathir Mohamad, a former five-term UMNO prime minister who pioneered many of the underhand tactics to which Mr Najib resorted in his failed bid to remain in power. Dr Mahathir was also a champion of Malaysia’s odious system of racial preferences, which he expanded to keep Malay voters loyal to UMNO.”
  • “Perhaps the new government will succumb to infighting and fail to get much done. But its very existence is a potent reminder to Malaysians and their neighbors that governments can and should, from time to time, change peacefully. With luck, Cambodians, Singaporeans, Thais and Vietnamese, among others, will begin to wonder if something similar might one day happen to them.”

China

FT – China credit spreads near 2-year highs on default worries – Gabriel Wildau 5/9

“China credit spreads hit their widest level in nearly two years this week following new regulations that undermined long-held assumptions about implicit guarantees on debt linked to local governments.”

FT – Hong Kong’s tycoons: handing over power in troubled times – Ben Bland 5/9