Tag: Venezuela

June 22, 2017

Perspective

Data Is Beautiful – Adult Obesity rates in the United States – zonination 6/20

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Project Syndicate – Brexit In Reverse? – George Soros 6/19

  • “Economic reality is beginning to catch up with the false hopes of many Britons. One year ago, when a slim majority voted for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, they believed the promises of the popular press, and of the politicians who backed the Leave campaign, that Brexit would not reduce their living standards. Indeed, in the year since, they have managed to maintain those standards by running up household debt.”

A Teachable Moment – How Can We Fix a Broken 403(b) System? – Anthony Isola 6/21

Markets / Economy

Reuters – For thousands of U.S. auto workers, downturn is already here – Nick Carey 6/21

Real Estate

WSJ – Avocado Toast Looks a Better Bet Than Australian Housing – Jacky Wong 6/20

  • “Chinese buyers have been gobbling up houses all over the world in recent years. There could be some nasty surprises when the buying stops.”
  • “There are already signs of imminent pain for the global property market, thanks to China’s efforts to stop money pouring out of the country. Inquiries from China for foreign real estate fell 31% in the first quarter from a year ago, according to Juwai.com, a portal that connects potential Chinese buyers to property listings overseas. For some of the most popular destinations, the drop was even bigger—42% for the U.S. and 39% for Australia.”
  • “The property market Down Under looks particularly vulnerable. China accounts for four in every five foreign buyers in Australia, with their interest a prime reason why home prices have surged to unaffordable levels: Prices in Sydney, for example, are up 72% since 2012.”
  • “Some are waking up to the potential trouble ahead, with Australia’s household debt now nearing 200% of disposable income. Moody’s downgraded 12 Australian banks and their affiliates Monday, citing rising risks associated with the housing market, following a similar move by Standard & Poor’s last month. The country’s four biggest banks alone have a $1.1 trillion exposure to Australian housing loans, making up 55% of their total portfolios, according to Morgan Stanley.”
  • “Worse still, nearly 40% of home loans now are interest-only, meaning borrowers don’t need to repay the principal for a certain period, usually five years. Such loans work fine when house prices keep rising. The worry now is that prices will start falling as Chinese buying interest wanes: Meanwhile, homeowners who have only had to pay interest on mortgages could see a rise in payments as the interest-only period on their loans expires.”

Energy

WSJ – Oil Returns to Bear Market – Stephanie Yang, Alison Sider, and Timothy Puko 6/20

  • “Prices are down 20.6% since Feb. 23, marking the sixth bear market for crude in four years and the first since August. Crude prices have lost 62% since settling at $115.06 a barrel three years ago. A bear market is typically defined as a decline of 20% or more from a recent peak, while a bull market is a gain of 20% or more from a recent trough.”

Finance

FT – Argentina’s 100-year bond cannot defy EM playbook forever – Jonathan Wheatley 6/20

  • “Really? A dollar-denominated bond that pays back 100 years from now, from a junk-rated country that has barely managed to stay solvent for more than half that time in its entire history as a creditor? While there is certainly an investment case for taking part, several analysts warn that this issue is a classic sign of a market getting ahead of itself.”
  • “The point, though, is not the 100 years. The complexities of bond math mean that, once maturities go beyond 30 years, the investment case barely changes. Barring default, with a yield of nearly 8%, the bond will repay investors in full in about 12 years, all else (such as inflation) being equal — and that’s leaving aside its resale value. Many investors will have much shorter horizons.”
  • “In a world starved of yield, the 7.91% on offer proved to be quite a pull and the bond attracted orders of $9.75bn for the $2.75bn issued. ‘People are looking out over the next 12 to 24 months and see a pretty positive outlook [for Argentina],’ says David Robbins, head of emerging markets at TCW in New York. ‘Duration in high yield is something they are more comfortable with.’ Argentina, he notes, is in effect selling equity in its economic recovery.”
  • “Sérgio Trigo Paz, head of emerging market fixed income portfolio management at BlackRock, says the rationale and the pricing are all good. But, he adds: ‘When you put it into perspective, it gives you a sense of déjà vu.’”
  • “He sees two scenarios. In one, the Fed is right about inflation and rates will continue to rise. This would turn the Argentine bond into ‘a bad experience’. In the other, markets are right, US inflation and payrolls will disappoint and we will be back in a low rate environment, which will be good for the bonds — until deflation rears its head again, hurting the Argentine economy and its ability to pay.”
  • “In the meantime, he says, there is a ‘Goldilocks’ middle ground in which investors can suck up an 8% coupon. Beyond that: ‘It doesn’t look good either way — which is why you get an inflection point.'”

Japan

FT – Toshiba picks government-backed group as chip unit buyer – Kana Inagaki and Leo Lewis 6/20

  • “After a chaotic months-long search for a buyer, Toshiba has picked a consortium led by a Japanese government-backed fund as the preferred bidder for its prized memory chip business.”
  • “The group — which includes the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan fund, private equity group Bain Capital and the Development Bank of Japan — competed against rival offers topping ¥2tn ($18bn) from US chipmaker Broadcom and Apple supplier Foxconn.”
  • “’Toshiba has determined that the consortium has presented the best proposal, not only in terms of valuation, but also in respect to certainty of closing, retention of employees, and maintenance of sensitive technology within Japan,’ the company said in a statement on Wednesday.”

South America

NYT – Venezuela Opens Inquiry Into a Critic: Its Attorney General – Nicholas Casey 6/20

  • Long a Chavista, attorney general Luisa Ortega is being investigated now that she has expressed concern at how far those in power are willing to go to quiet dissent.

June 21, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

FT – China gains entry to MSCI’s $1.6tn emerging markets benchmark – Jennifer Hughes and Nicole Bullock 6/20

  • “Chinese stocks have gained direct entry to MSCI’s global benchmark equity index for the first time, marking a milestone in Beijing’s efforts to draw international funds into the world’s second-largest market.”
  • “The move means mainland stocks, known as A-shares, will next year be included in MSCI’s flagship emerging markets index, obliging the estimated $1.6tn of investment funds that track the index to buy mainland equities.”
  • “China’s domestic equity and bond markets are the second- and third-largest in the world, respectively, yet foreigners hold just roughly 2% of each. Three previous proposals by MSCI to include mainland stocks were rebuffed by the index provider’s stakeholders — mostly large asset managers.”

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Tax Foundation – Massachusetts’s Proposed Soda Tax 6/20

Economist – Finland tests an unconditional basic income 6/20

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – Electoral victory will make France’s president a potent force 6/17

  • “But he will still have to face down a challenge from the street.”

Medium – One does not simply become successful – Timi Lliev 6/4

  • Good post with links to some useful tools (mind mapping and vision boards)

WSJ – The Fed’s Poor Record on Soft Landings – Justin Lahart 6/19

  • “The only time the Fed really succeeded in executing a soft landing, according to most economists, was when it raised rates through 1994. In the mid-1960s and mid-1980s it had a couple of qualified successes. Its other tightening cycles over the past 60 years were followed by recessions, though in some cases a recession was necessary to wipe out inflation.”

Economist – The rebellion of Venezuela’s top prosecutor 6/20

  • “Ms. Ortega’s rebellion and Mr. Ramirez’s resignation are a sure sign that the regime has lost moral authority even among some of its most fervent supporters. As misery and anger grow, disenchantment within the regime will spread. Its power to coerce may then begin to weaken.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMO – Bloomberg Economic Surprise Index 6/20

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMO – S&P 500 Earnings & Dividend Growth v. Index Total Return 6/20

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg Intelligence – OPEC Nations Production Changes 6/20

Environment / Science

Honolulu Star-Advertiser – Astronomers find more Earth-like planets – Jim Borg 6/20

  • “At a news conference Monday at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., the Kepler space telescope team released a catalog of 219 new planet candidates, including 10 that are near-Earth size and orbiting in their star’s “Goldilocks zone” – neither too hot nor too cold – where liquid water could exist.”

Canada

Economist – The lessons from Canada’s attempts to curb its house-price boom 6/17

  • “In its twice-yearly health-check on the financial system, published this month, the Bank of Canada concluded that ‘extrapolative expectations’ are a feature of the market. In other words, people are buying because they hope, or fear, that prices will keep rising.”
  • “Common to all these cities are buyers from emerging markets, notably China, who have helped to drive a wedge between the price of homes and the local fundamentals of incomes and rental payments. They are willing to pay above the odds to secure a safe place for their savings. Though fairly small in number, their presence is enough to inflate bubbles.”
  • “Canada’s housing market thus opens a window on a tragic flaw in the global economy. In only a few decades China has mastered the manufacture of high-quality goods. But it takes far longer to be able to manufacture safe stores of value. Instead, their affluent citizens seek out rich-country assets, including houses. This fundamental mismatch limits the ability of policymakers to stop bubbles from inflating.”
  • Thing is, “the demand from emerging markets for safe assets will not soon diminish. Recent history shows that big run-ups in property prices often reverse suddenly. Better to batten down the hatches now in case the weather turns bad.”

China

FT – China property tax languishes as vested interests block reform – Gabriel Wildau 6/19

  • “As Chinese authorities struggle to contain runaway home prices, a long-awaited plan for a property tax has stalled, the latest sign of entrenched interests impeding efforts to transform the country’s growth model.” 
  • “The average price of a Shenzhen home last year was 41 times the average income, against 29 in London, 23 in Tokyo and 15 in New York, according to Macquarie Securities. Since late last year, 45 Chinese cities have introduced purchase limits and other measures in an attempt to cool rising property prices.”
  • “For years, economists have advocated for China to move away from administrative tools like purchase bans in favor of a property tax. Top Communist party leaders committed to imposing a property tax in a landmark blueprint for economic reform approved in November 2013.” 
  • “By imposing an annual levy on home ownership, a property tax would reduce the appeal of housing as a speculative investment. While the merits of property taxes in general are a matter of debate among economists, few doubt that is sorely needed in China, where 50m homes lie empty, according to the China Household Finance Survey conducted by researchers from Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu.”
  • “Yet market observers say there is little prospect of the government implementing a tax within the next few years — at the annual session of China’s rubber-stamp parliament in March it was announced that legislation for the levy was not on the agenda this year.” 
  • “’Among well-informed economists in the government, establishing a property tax has been consensus for a long, long time,’ says Gan Li, director of the CHFS and professor of economics at Texas A&M University. ‘The concern is politics. No one wants to be blamed for bursting the housing bubble.’” 
  • “China’s home ownership rate is 87%, according to the survey — creating a large and powerful constituency opposing a property tax. In the US, the rate is only 64%, according to census data.” 
  • “A survey by FT Confidential Research, an independent research service owned by the Financial Times, found that 28% of families in medium-sized and large cities own a home that is vacant. Chinese investors have long favored housing over the volatile stock market and low-yielding bond market, and capital controls limit households’ ability to buy foreign assets.”

Bloomberg – China’s Workers are Saying Goodbye to Double-Digit Pay Raises 6/19

Still good though…

South America

FT – OAS fails to pass resolution condemning Venezuela’s Maduro – Jude Webber 6/19

  • “Twenty countries of the Organization of American States backed a resolution condemning Mr Maduro’s unpopular plans to convene a constituent assembly to draw up a new constitution on July 30 – falling short of the two-thirds majority needed. A rival proposal, backed by Caribbean countries, also failed to pass after hours of talks and bickering over procedural matters at the body’s general assembly in the Caribbean resort of Cancún.”
  • “’The crisis is real,’ Honduras’ foreign minister María Dolores Agüero told the meeting. ‘It cannot be that under the doctrine of non-intervention the alternative is to do nothing.’”

June 19, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

FT – The real risks of the falling oil price – Nick Butler 6/11

  • “In any discussion of the oil market it is all too easy to ignore the real world consequences of the price fall that has occurred over the last three years. We might appreciate a small cut in the price of petrol or gasoline at the pump, even though its effect is dampened by high levels of taxation. But we do not give much thought to the impact of price changes on the supplying countries. That is short-sighted because the structural shift that has taken place is profoundly destabilizing and potentially very dangerous.”
  • “A new note from the Energy Information Administration in the US published last month sets out the impact of the fall in prices in recent years. It is worth summarizing the data, which are expressed in real 2016 dollars.”
  • “These are big numbers for all the countries involved. Very few have diverse economies that can adjust quickly to the fall in the price of a crucial export commodity. Most have large dependent populations, especially of children and young people. Nigeria, for instance, has some 115m people, amounting to 61% of its population, under the age of 25; Angola 13m — 63% of its population.”
  • “But simply looking down on the failings of the oil producers is not an adequate response.”
  • “The price fall has reduced the revenue of the Opec states by some $750bn from the 2012 level — a fall of over 60%. None have fully adapted to that loss of income. Most have assumed that the price change would be temporary and some have even borrowed to cover the shortfall of revenue against current spending — thereby storing up even more problems for the future.”
  • “The real pain of enforced austerity is only just beginning and will deepen as governments realize that the price fall is more structural than cyclical. The latest attempt to manage the market by extending the production quota for another nine months has had no positive effect. Prices for Brent crude on Friday were down to about $48 per barrel.”
  • “The pain will be profoundly destabilizing. At least five Opec states are at risk of very serious political and economic destabilization, including major economies such as Venezuela and Nigeria. Civil unrest is already evident in Libya and latent in Algeria. Across the whole of the cartel there is a substantial and growing group of restless, unemployed youths aged between 15 and 30.”
  • “In reality, the structural fall in the oil price is the most destabilizing economic event to have hit the world since the financial crash of 2008. In this case, the impact is being felt in slow motion but it is building and feeding on existing conflicts and tensions. And just as the collapse of the subprime housing market in the US shook the global economic system, so the problems of the cartel cannot be contained within the countries themselves. When problems are rapidly globalized through migration, terrorism and even health risks if key public services collapse, the deteriorating situation within Opec is all too likely to become our problem too.”

Perspective

Bloomberg – The U.S. Is Where the Rich Are the Richest – Ben Steverman 6/16

cnsnews.com – Census: More Americans 18-to-34 Now Live With Parents Than With Spouse – Terence Jeffrey 4/19

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – How Anbang Could Clog China’s Financial Plumbing – Anjani Trivedi 6/16

  • “China’s decision to detain the chairman of Anbang Insurance Group, one of the country’s most acquisitive companies, is stunning in itself. The knock-on effects on the Chinese financial system could deepen the drama.”
  • “If customers of Anbang—owner of New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel—start surrendering their policies and stop buying new ones, that could accelerate a continuing cash drain at the company. China’s insurance regulator has already been clamping down on the primary source of Anbang’s cash since late last year—short-term, high-yielding investment products disguised as insurance policies. Its premium income plunged 99% in April while its solvency ratio halved in the first quarter from the previous year.”
  • “The company’s tentacles reach far and deep into China’s financial system, with one key route being its lending of short-term funds into Chinese money markets.”
  • “Take its dealings with Chengdu Rural Commercial Bank, a provincial bank of which Anbang owns more than one-third, and which itself has some 40 subsidiaries across towns and villages in China. Anbang provides around 40% of the deposits for Chengdu Rural, and accounts for 80% of its related-party transactions, most of which are short-term, money-market loans. The bank also pays Anbang a high 5% interest on its deposits and holds some of Anbang’s debt.”
  • “Such tight relationships illustrate how financial stress at Anbang could quickly ripple through China’s banking system. Banks like Chengdu Rural have already become increasingly reliant on short-term wholesale funding and have been resorting to capital raises: The loss of a big cash provider like Anbang could cause real pain. Interbank funding conditions are already tight in China—the country’s central bank made its biggest one-day cash injection into the market in nearly six months on Friday. If the detention of Anbang’s chairman leads to the company stepping back more broadly from Chinese markets, the saga could have a while to run.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg – Nissans Crowding Rental-Car Lots Carry Risk as U.S. Sales Slow – Jamie Butters and John Lippert 5/30

Real Estate

Investment News – W.P. Carey exiting the nontraded REIT business – Bruce Kelly 6/16

Energy

Bloomberg – Solar Power Will Kill Coal Faster Than You Think – Jess Shankleman and Hayley Warren 6/15

National Post – This lonely drifting tanker carrying 2 million barrels nobody wants to buy sums up global oil’s struggle – Laura Hurst and Javier Blas 6/14

Asia – excluding China and Japan

FT – US targets $540m in assets bought with 1MDB funds – David Lynch 6/15

  • “The US Department of Justice on Thursday moved to seize an additional $540m in assets purchased with funds stolen from Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, including a luxury yacht, a Picasso painting, jewelery and rights to the movie Dumb and Dumber.” 
  • “The US now estimates that a total of $4.5bn was pilfered by Malaysian public officials and their associates including Jho Low, a well-connected Malaysian businessman who held no formal role in the project.” 
  • “Including the new lawsuit and earlier civil forfeiture actions, the US government has moved to recover $1.7bn of that amount, according to Kendall Day, acting deputy assistant attorney-general. This represents the largest such US seizure action under a DoJ initiative aimed at recovering money stolen by corrupt foreign officials.”

China

Bloomberg Businessweek – Try Getting Your Kid Into a Beijing Public School – Dexter Roberts 6/7

FT – A deal too far for China’s Anbang – Tom Mitchell, Henny Sender, Lucy Hornby, and Gabriel Wildau 6/16

  • “The apparent fall from grace of the founder Wu Xiaohui has shone a spotlight on a brand of Chinese capitalism that has taken root in the financial industry.”

South America

FT – Venezuela’s food parcels prove imperfect solution to crisis – Gideon Long 6/16

  • “According to Fedeagro, an agricultural association, Venezuela produces only enough food to cover between 30-40% of domestic consumption, compared with about 70% a decade ago. Chronic food shortages ensure that Venezuelans regularly skip meals and go hungry. A survey from the Universidad Central de Venezuela found that three-quarters of the Opec nation’s population lost weight involuntarily in 2016.”

Other Links

Tax Foundation – How High Are Wine Taxes In Your State? – Jose Trejos 6/15

June 14, 2017

Perspective

Economist – Climbing without ropes 6/8

  • “A series of remarkable feats increases the appeal of a niche sport.”

FT – Diplomatic victory for China as Panama ditches Taiwan – Ben Bland 6/13

  • “Panama has cut ties with Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with China, as Beijing intensifies efforts to isolate the self-governing island, which it considers Chinese territory.”
  • “Isabel Saint Malo, Panama’s foreign minister, signed a communiqué with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Tuesday in Beijing to formalize the switch, leaving Taiwan with just 20 diplomatic allies.”
  • “Juan Carlos Varela, the president of the central American nation, said that signing up to Beijing’s ‘One China’ principle would generate ‘great potential in all areas’ including investment and job creation.”
  • “Beijing has tightened the squeeze on Taiwan since the election last year of President Tsai Ing-wen and her pro-independence Democratic Progressive party.”
  • “Panama’s defection is the latest diplomatic coup for Beijing, which is capitalizing on the uncertainty surrounding President Donald Trump’s foreign policy by exerting its influence from Southeast Asia to South Korea.”
  • “’China is exercising smart power more often, while the US is retreating from mainstream international politics,’ said Huang Kwei-bo, a professor of diplomacy at National Chengchi University in Taipei.”
  • “Taiwan still has expansive political and economic relations with many countries that do not formally recognize it, including the US, Japan and China itself, which consumes about 40 per cent of Taiwan’s exports.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Economist – America is no longer a force for stability in the Gulf 6/10

NYT – ‘No Such Thing as Justice’ in Fight Over Chemical Pollution in China – Javier Hernandez 6/12

Real Estate

WSJ – The Mall of the Future Will Have No Stores – Esther Fung 6/12

  • “Some landlords plug empty spaces with churches, for-profit schools and random enterprises while they figure out a long-term plan. Others see a future in mixed-use real estate, converting malls into streetscapes with restaurants, offices and housing. And some are razing properties altogether and turning them into entertainment or industrial parks.”
  • “In all, retailers have announced 2,880 store closings from January to April 6 of this year, more than twice as many as in the same period a year earlier, according to Credit Suisse . For the full year, the investment bank anticipates more than 8,600 stores to close. Analysts predict that 400 or so of the roughly 1,100 malls in the U.S. will close in the coming years.”
  • “Many mall owners are trying to liven up the experience, bringing more dining and entertainment tenants and eschewing the traditional mix of middling food courts, fashion retailers and department stores.”
  • “In GGP’s holdings of more than 130 shopping centers, apparel takes up half of the portfolio by gross leasable area. Food has risen to 13% from 6% and is projected to go to 20% by 2025, said GGP Chief Executive Sandeep Mathrani in a recent earnings call. Apparel will fall by another 10% or so by the fall, and stabilize at around 40%, he said.”

China

Economist – China’s rockiest environmental problem: its soil 6/9

  • “Cleaning filthy soil is much harder than cleaning foul air.”

FT – China drive to relocate millions of rural poor runs into trouble – Tom Hancock 6/12

  • “Villagers return home after struggling with lack of jobs in urban apartments.”

FT – China accuses 2 more provinces of faking data – Lucy Hornby 6/12

  • “Corruption watchdog cites concerns over figures from Jilin and Inner Mongolia.”

FT – Anbang confirms chairman detained by Chinese government – Tom Mitchell and Lucy Hornby 6/13

Japan

FT – Japan Inc’s silence over Toshiba sends chill across Tokyo – Leo Lewis and Kana Inagaki 6/12

  • “For almost 70 years, Japan Inc, a support network of invisible corporate allegiances, binding investments and unwritten understandings, has stood behind the nation’s companies as the ultimate guarantor of stability.”
  • “But for Toshiba, one of its famous industrial names, corporate Japan has gone missing in its darkest hour of need.”
  • “The failure of Japan Inc to bail out Toshiba is not only a shock for the embattled group — it suggests the framework that has previously helped rescue troubled megabanks and distressed electronics makers may be disintegrating.”
  • “’The deal of Japan Inc was: ‘I will help you when times are tough’,’ says Jesper Koll, head of fund manager WisdomTree Japan, pointing to the diminishing grip of the ‘keiretsu’ — the business groupings whose closeness and mutual support underpinned Japan’s postwar economic growth.”
  • “The Japan Inc concept, say economic historians, evolved over decades to remedy precisely the problem thrown up by Toshiba. It is an unwritten code that demands that, even if the result is unsuccessful, an all-Japanese solution will not only be attempted but will receive broad support from big business, banks and government.”
  • “So far, say people involved in the talks, not a single Japanese company has submitted a bid for the chip division even though business leaders have voiced dismay at the prospect of Toshiba’s technology falling into the hands of Asian rivals.”
  • “Thinning financial ties have contributed to the unravelling of the Japan Inc structures. A long-term trend, accelerated under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s governance push, has been the unwinding of the cross-held share stakes between friendly companies.” 
  • “According to Nomura Securities, the ratio of holdings of Japanese stocks by listed Japanese banks and non-financial companies was 10.3% at the end of the financial year that ended in 2015. At its height in 1990, the ratio was 34%. Nomura optimistically predicts Japan’s megabanks will reduce their shareholdings in Japanese companies over the next few years by 20-30% from current levels.” 
  • “The question remains, according to Mr Koll, whether it is still meaningful to talk about Japan Inc, as the Toshiba situation has clearly shown that the old safety nets are gone.”
  • “The chief executive of a large Japanese company, who is close to top METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) officials, adds that it is not just a lack of willingness to help. ‘I don’t know if you would call this the ‘end of Japan Inc’ but it is certainly true that the task of resolving the Toshiba problem has taken everyone here by surprise because of its difficulty,’ he says.” 
  • “’I think it has been a wake-up call for METI and Japan for what they can really do in a crisis. Less than they thought, is the frank answer.’”

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Caracas Stock Exchange 6/12

  • “Venezuela’s stock market was up another 10% on the day.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: Venezuelan Black Market value for one US dollar 6/12

  • “This rally has little to do with the stock market and everything to do with the collapsing Venezuelan bolivar. It takes over 7k bolivares to buy one dollar on the black market.”

Other Links

WSJ – Daily Shot: Tax Foundation – U.S. Beer Taxes by State 6/13

June 12, 2017

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

WSJ – The Cushion That Saved Taxpayers From Banco Popular’s Failure – Paul Davies 6/7

  • “Regulators can make a determination that a bank is failing or likely to fail with information that investors don’t have. Regulators shouldn’t act too early, but it is right that they should act when waiting threatens the integrity of the financial system or a drawdown of public money. Any investor who doesn’t understand that should steer clear of bank equity and debt. Period.”

The Big Picture: Bloomberg – Jim Chanos on Tesla, China 6/7

  • Interview

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Green Street Commercial Property Index 6/9

FT – Real estate: The global luxury condo glut – Anna Dedhar 6/8

  • Podcast

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: EIA – Total US Effective Rig Count 6/9

China

FT – LeEco’s listed arm cancels bond fundraising – Emily Feng 6/8

  • “A bond sale (meant to raise Rmb2bn – $300m) by the Shenzhen-listed arm of embattled company LeEco has been cancelled, after the group was asked to address regulators’ concerns about the health of its financials.”

WSJ – Beijing Lands in Another Debt Mess – Anjani Trivedi 6/9

WSJ – Perpetual Doesn’t Mean Forever in China – Jacky Wong 6/8

  • “Chinese companies growing appetite tapping an unconventional source of financing might not be a source of eternal bliss.”
  • “Perpetual securities, bondlike instruments that pay interest but have no maturity dates, have become popular in China in recent years: Issuance jumped to $55 billion in 2016 from less than $1 billion in 2012, according to Dealogic. This year, Chinese companies have been keener to issue them in offshore markets, raising some $4.4 billion, more than their dollar-denominated issuance in all of 2016.”
  • “A big reason Chinese companies like perpetuals is that they are classified as equity on their balance sheets. The accounting logic is that perpetual issuers don’t ever have to repay the bond’s principal and can choose to defer annual coupon payments—making them similar to dividends.”
  • “Treating perpetuals as equity means companies can report lower gearing ratios, a measure investors commonly use to assess a company’s indebtedness. China Evergrande, the country’s biggest property developer by assets, had a net debt-to-equity ratio of 120% as of December. That ratio would have jumped to 432% if its perpetual bonds had been counted as debt. Investors are happy to play along as the perpetuals usually pay higher yields. Evergrande effectively paid an 11% coupon on its perpetuals last year.”
  • “But whatever the accounting rules say, perpetual securities still work much more like debt than equity in China. To start with, companies can defer coupon payments on perpetuals only if they aren’t paying dividends to their shareholders. Given that Chinese companies often have a majority shareholder, and therefore nearly always pay a dividend, that clause rarely applies.”
  • “Moreover, perpetuals in China often include a clause that automatically steps up the coupon rate, usually after three to five years. Since the step-up is usually quite steep, issuers have a strong incentive to redeem their perpetuals early—making them not so perpetual, after all. The coupon on a recent $500 million perpetual bond issue from state-owned Power Construction Corp. of China will jump by 5 percentage points, more than double its initial yield, after five years.”
  • “Investors hoping to live happily ever after with perpetuals ought to scrutinize why companies are issuing such disguised debt in the first place—and whether it is really in their interests.”

FT – Chinese regulators target staff shareholding plans – Gabriel Wildau and Nan Ma 6/9

  • “The Shenzhen Stock Exchange is querying listed companies about a series of unusual plans to sell shares to employees while insuring them against losses if stock prices fall.”
  • “At least 21 Shenzhen-listed companies announced employee shareholding plans in the first week of June that include guarantees by the chairman or senior executives to protect workers against downside risk, according to exchange filings compiled from Wind Information.” 
  • “While it is not yet clear whether such plans will enable large shareholders to sell directly to employees, market observers still view them as a response to the tighter rules. With stake sales more difficult to execute, large shareholders are looking for ways to boost their share prices, at least until they can find ways to offload their shares.”

NYT – China’s New Bridges: Rising High, but Buried in Debt – Chris Buckley 6/10

Middle East

FT – Crisis in the Gulf: Qatar faces a stress test – Simeon Kerr 6/9

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Caracas Stock Exchange 6/9

  • “Venezuela’s stock market has gone ‘vertical’ as it becomes the only legal ‘safe-haven’ to escape the currency collapse.”

FT – Venezuela woes on paying Russia debt raise prospect of default – Jonathan Wheatley and Robin Wigglesworth 6/9

  • “Reports of a failure to pay a debt to Russia and a requested ruling on whether such a failure constitutes a ‘credit event’ that could trigger insurance contracts on billions of dollars of international bonds have brought Venezuela closer than ever to the brink of financial collapse.”
  • “Matters may soon come to a head. On Wednesday, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, an umbrella organization of the finance industry’s biggest banks and money managers, was asked by an anonymous member whether the reported default to Russia should be classified as a ‘credit event’ and trigger insurance-like contracts on Venezuela’s roughly $36bn in sovereign bonds.”
  • “The ISDA ruling may take some time. And even if it decides a credit event has occurred, there would be no automatic default on Venezuela’s sovereign bonds.”
  • “But it is clear from the terms of those bonds that should the government fail to meet any other debt obligations, bondholders can demand immediate payment.”
  • “Should the sovereign bonds then go into default, the roughly $35bn of outstanding PDVSA bonds would not be affected, and may even be left intact. The government in Caracas almost certainly would not.”

June 9, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

FT – Amazon to ramp up lending in challenge to big banks – Ben McLannahan 6/7

  • “Amazon is planning to expand its lending to small businesses in the US, the UK and Japan, in a direct challenge to the big banks which have historically dominated.”
  • “The Seattle-based company launched Amazon Lending with little fanfare six years ago, offering select sellers on its platform instant loans for up to 12 months at annual interest rates ranging from about 6 to 17%.”
  • “Now, having done about $3bn of originations in total and $1bn within the past year, Amazon is expanding offers to more of the 2m or so businesses on its ‘marketplace’ platform. Such independent sellers — many of which pay Amazon to store, package and ship merchandise to customers on their behalf — account for about half of Amazon’s total units sold worldwide.”
  • “Amazon supplies funds from its own balance sheet within 24 hours, then deducts loan payments every two weeks automatically from the seller’s account. If the account runs dry, or if sales suddenly dip, Amazon can put a freeze on any merchandise held in its warehouses until the seller pays up.”
  • “’It’s a ‘can’t lose’ proposition for Amazon,’ said Jordan Malik, a Las Vegas-based publisher, noting that the company has a near-perfect view of any seller’s cash flows. ‘It’s a very clever thing they’ve done.’”

FT – Tech companies invade banks’ territory with customer loans – Ben McLannahan 6/7

Perspective

NYT – Venezuelan Exiles in Miami Turn to Public Shaming of Maduro Supporters – Lizette Alvarez 6/7

FT – Is it finally time for a pay rise for American workers? – Sam Fleming 6/7

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg View – It’s Not Just Retail That’s Changing. It’s Us. – Barry Ritholtz 6/7

Markets / Economy

FT – Streaming revenue to surpass physical music sales this year – Shannon Bond 6/6

WSJ – Daily Shot: Banco Popular CoCo debt 6/8

FT – Streaming revenue to surpass physical music sales this year – Shannon Bond 6/6

Real Estate

National Real Estate Investor – Are Investors Ready to Return to Non-Listed REITs? – Beth Mattson-Teig 6/7

WSJ – Daily Shot: John Burns Real Estate Consulting – US Home Prices 6/8

  • “With wage growth remaining tepid, this estimate suggests that homes are overvalued (in part due to low mortgage rates).”

WSJ – New Houses Get Smaller as First-Time Buyers Move Into the Market – Jeffrey Sparshott 6/5

  • “The median size of a new single-family home slipped by a scant 2% to 2,422 square feet in 2016, according to Census Bureau data released last week. While that’s a small adjustment, it’s the first time since 2009 and only the third time in the last 20 years it’s fallen.”

Energy

Bloomberg – Iraqi Oil Floods Into U.S. After Saudi Arabia Cuts Back – David Marino 6/7

South America

Bloomberg – No One Has Ever Made a Corruption Machine Like This One – Michael Smith, Sabrina Valle, and Blake Schmidt 6/8

  • “Year after year… 0.5% to 2% of revenue was directed to illicit payoffs, mainly to Brazilian politicians and executives of state companies, particularly the national oil producer, Petrobas. Some years graft expenses neared 2 billion reais ($611 million). It just depended on the demands of Odebrecht’s political contacts.”

Other Links

Ancestry.com – What’s the Most Popular Surname in Your State?

June 1, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

Business Insider – A likely shift in the mortgage market is creating ‘prisoners’ in housing – Akin Oyedele 5/29

  • “The housing market’s comeback after the financial crisis has turned out to be a mixed bag.”
  • “Prices have recovered to pre-housing-crisis levels. But with slow wage growth, that means there are fewer affordable houses available to buyers, especially in bigger cities.” 
  • “On the surface, the price trend ought to be good news for existing homeowners looking to sell. However, the likely rise in mortgage rates from historic lows means that there will be less incentive to move, according to Mark Fleming, the chief economist at First American.”
  • “‘You do become a prisoner in your home because of rates,’ he told Business Insider.” 
  • “‘There’s going to be a growing challenge of an increasing financial penalty caused by the rate lock-in effect over time.'”
  • “Since the 1980s, the long-term drop in interest rates created a built-in incentive to move, Fleming said. Even if a seller’s income was unchanged, it was possible to effectively move into a lower mortgage rate, and so be able to even afford a slightly bigger home.” 
  • “Now, the likelihood that rates will rise from historic lows has spurred the so-called rate lock-in effect: homeowners don’t sell because of the perceived or actual difference in their monthly mortgage payments if they swap their old rate for a new, higher one, Fleming said.”
  • “In a market with tight inventory, the decision to sell depends on whether homeowners want to risk selling and then not being able to find a new home.”
  • “‘The existing homeowner is trapped in this prisoner’s dilemma of the cooperative outcome,’ Fleming said. ‘If we all acted simultaneously, it would solve the problem. But we can’t take the risk of being the one that acts when everyone else doesn’t.'” 

Perspective

FT – Central banks risk messy ‘market melt-up’ – Michael Mackenzie 5/26

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – The hidden dangers of passive investing – Renaud de Planta – 5/29

  • “At first glance, it’s a persuasive argument. Poorly performing and expensive active managers have lingered in the system for too long, eroding returns for investors.”
  • “Yet on deeper reflection, index-tracking products are no miracle remedy. They’re more like antibiotics: valuable when deployed in moderation, but likely to do more harm than good should their use become widespread.”
  • “Indeed, if passive equity funds were to continue their present growth trajectory, they would own all listed stocks by 2030. That could threaten the free-market economy.”
  • “Essentially, the industry is an oligopoly, dominated by just three giants of asset management, who between them control almost three quarters of all passively-managed investment in stocks.”
  • “As demand for index products grows, a greater proportion of the world’s listed companies will fall under the control of the three largest investment management groups. Already, these firms collectively own close to 20% of US large-cap companies.”
  • “Passive dominance won’t happen overnight. Yet, left unchecked, the growth of index-trackers has the potential to erode the market-based economy, one industry at a time.”
  • “There is also a geopolitical dimension. If the passive giants end up owning large swaths of the capital market, they will also have a big say on the composition of stock and bond indices. Effectively able to decide which country or company should be included or excluded from those benchmarks, they would wield enormous influence over international capital flows. Note BlackRock’s recent call for China to be included in MSCI’s global equity indices.”
  • “Some might see that as an excessive concentration of power.”
  • “None of this relieves the pressure on active managers to perform and offer better value to their clients. Nor does it deny the utility of passive investment. Index products offer benefits to investors. The problem is that if the majority of us embrace them, index-trackers threaten to sabotage the entire economic system. Much like antibiotics, if passive funds are overused, they will create more problems than they solve.”

WSJ – Going Out for Lunch Is a Dying Tradition – Julie Jargon 5/30

Markets / Economy

FT – Debt pile-up in US car market sparks subprime fear – Ben McLannahan 5/29

WSJ – Smoky Diesel Cloud Hangs Over Auto Industry Profits – Stephen Wilmot 5/30

  • The knock-on effect: diesel engine cars now have a bad taint to them making inventories of auto manufacturers with large diesel production less valuable and hurting the resale value of existing diesel vehicles.

Real Estate

WSJ – Why Banks Haven’t Been Burned by Retail’s Meltdown – Lillian Rizzo and Rachel Louise Ensign 5/28

WSJ – Dead Mall Space Could Spur Warehouse, E-Commerce Deals – Esther Fung 5/30

  • “Excess parking facilities and underused retail space could be redeveloped into small-scale last-mile delivery or pickup facilities, according to Fitch Ratings.”

Energy

WSJ – OPEC Oil Deal Sinks Tanker Industry – Spencer Jakab 5/30

FT – Oil prices slip further as traders seek bigger production cuts – Anjli Raval and Neil Hume 5/30

  • “Oil prices took a further hit on Tuesday, reflecting disappointment among traders that Opec and its allies agreed to only extend, but not deepen, production cuts to drain the market of excess inventories.”

Australia

Zero Hedge – “This Market Is Crazy”: Hedge Fund Returns Hundreds of Millions To Clients Citing Imminent “Calamity” – Tyler Durden

  • “…Australian asset manager Altair Asset Management made the extraordinary decision to liquidate its Australian shares funds and return ‘hundreds of millions’ of dollars to its clients according to the Sydney Morning Herald, citing an impending property market ‘calamity’ and the ‘overvalued and dangerous time in this cycle.'”

South America

FT – Venezuelan armed forces stay loyal to President Maduro – Gideon Long 5/29

  • Bottom line as Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, Latin American specialist at Northwestern University, puts it “[The government] has gone to great lengths to keep the military on its side through cash bonuses, wage hikes and the doling out of lucrative governorships and ministries,.”
  • “Having profited from ‘smuggling, arbitrage and narco-trafficking schemes,’ many within the military worry that if the president falls they will end up in court and then jail, he said.”

Other Links

WSJ – Daily Shot: FiveThirtyEight – Sleep Patterns by U.S. State 5/30

WSJ – Daily Shot: World Economic Forum – World’s Most Crowded Cities 5/30