Tag: Wealth Management Products

February 28, 2018

Perspective

WSJ – Chinese Regulator Seizes Anbang Insurance, Owner of Waldorf Astoria – James T. Areddy 2/23

  • “China’s insurance regulatory agency Friday took control of hard-charging, acquisitive Anbang Insurance Group Co., saying the action is needed to avoid a collapse of the firm following suspected illegal activity and the downfall of its once-highflying chairman.”
  • “The China Insurance Regulatory Commission published a letter to Anbang management saying duties of the board and management will now be overseen by a working group of regulators from various agencies for one year. ‘All transactions of your company, asset trading, information dissemination, contract signing other than traditional insurance business are subject to the consent of the working group,’ said the statement dated Feb. 12.”
  • “Separately, ​Wu Xiaohui, who led Anbang until he was detained eight months ago, has been indicted on charges of fraudulent fundraising and abusing his position, according to a one-sentence notice by prosecutors in Shanghai on Friday. The insurance regulator’s statement refers to Mr. Wu as Anbang’s former chairman.”

NYT – Beijing Takes Over Anbang, Insurer That Owns Waldorf Astoria – Keith Bradsher and Alexandra Stevenson 2/22

  • “The Waldorf Astoria purchase ushered in the rise of a new breed of Chinese deal makers. The companies, which also included Dalian Wanda Group, HNA Group and Fosun International, bought up everything from hotels to banks to movie production companies. Though the companies are privately owned, their leaders often benefited from their political connections, and they were often backed by cheap debt provided by China’s state-run banks.”
  • “The deals made the companies truly global players. For example, in a financial disclosure last spring, shortly before the police detention of its chairman, Anbang said that nearly three-fifths of the assets of its main business, life insurance, were overseas.”
  • “Property was a big focus for Anbang. In 2016, it spent more than $6 billion for a group of hotels in the United States, buying it from Blackstone Group, a private equity giant. That gave it marquee properties including the Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco, the Loews Santa Monica hotel in California and the Fairmont Chicago hotel.”
  • “Anbang also offered more than $13 billion for Starwood Hotels and Resorts before abandoning its bid in 2016, without explanation. By then, the Chinese deal makers had hit a wall.”
  • “China was shaken three years ago by a surge of money out of the country and concerns that its economy had been layering on too much debt. Anbang and the other Chinese deal makers, which had borrowed heavily to fund their shopping sprees, soon drew attention from officials. State media labeled them ‘gray rhinoceroses‘ — big problems that are ignored until they start moving fast.”

FT – China conglomerates suffer different fates in Beijing crackdown – Tom Hancock and Lucy Hornby 2/23

  • “The Chinese government’s takeover of Anbang Insurance and criminal prosecution of founder Wu Xiaohui marks the biggest step yet in an official crackdown on risky financing by ambitious conglomerates that has prompted a severe decline in China’s overseas dealmaking.”
  • “But on the same day as the Anbang seizure was announced, Chinese company Fosun said it would buy a controlling stake in Lanvin, France’s oldest couturier. The move underlines the diverging fates of the four largest private conglomerates — the others are HNA and Dalian Wanda — that Beijing identified last year as borrowing too aggressively to fund offshore deals.”
  • “All have captured headlines over the past few years with a series of audacious foreign acquisitions. These include Anbang’s $2bn purchase of New York’s Waldorf Astoria, Dalian Wanda’s takeover of Hollywood studio Legendary Entertainment for $3.5bn, and HNA’s $40bn splurge on stakes in companies including Deutsche Bank and Hilton Worldwide.”
  • “Beijing stepped in last year to curb the spree, worried that companies were overpaying for foreign assets and draining China’s foreign currency reserves, while relying on risky financing methods to fund acquisitions.”
  • Analysts say the government’s treatment of the groups differs depending on their sources of financing, and whether they have co-operated in the government’s campaign to slow capital outflows and cut leverage.
  • “Wanda has co-operated with official directives by unloading more than $4bn in overseas assets over the past nine months and promising to “refocus” on the domestic economy. Last week it sold its 17% stake in Spanish football club Atlético Madrid.”
  • “HNA, meanwhile, has appeared to win back support as it regroups amid a liquidity crunch. Last week, the debt-laden company announced the HK$15.8bn ($2bn) sale of two plots of land in Hong Kong to local developer Henderson Land.”
  • “It was Anbang’s financing model that caused the Chinese authorities most concern. Unlike other groups that relied on bank loans or bond issuances to fund acquisitions, Anbang relied on sales of investment-like products it sold to wealthy Chinese retail investors labelled as life insurance, a part of China’s sprawling shadow-banking system.”
  • “Anbang’s finances were also in a more precarious state than other companies due to the mismatch between the short-term nature of its assets and the longer-term nature of its liabilities.”

WSJ – Who Will Be Called On to Clean Up the Anbang Mess? – Jacky Wong 2/26

WSJ – Anbang and the Financialization of China’s Economy – Nathaniel Taplin 2/23

  • “China’s Anbang Insurance went from zero to too-big-to-fail in the blink of an eye. It is a lesson in how quickly China’s financial problems grow—and how much is left to clean up.”
  • “A capital raising, including a possible government capital injection seems likely. The total cost of cleaning up the mess, including whatever losses sit on Anbang’s gargantuan balance sheet—put at close to 2 trillion yuan ($300 billion) in April by financial magazine Caixin—is an unknown.”
  • “This yearlong ‘management’ of Anbang announced by regulators could be misinterpreted as a positive for China: financial shares rose. But investors celebrating China’s apparent success at containing financial risks without damaging the broader economy shouldn’t be so sanguine.”
  • “Anbang fueled its international shopping spree, including a top-dollar price for the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, on the back of high-yielding, often highly leveraged investment products sold to retail investors. Some of these, known as wealth-management products, or WMPs, became the target in 2017 of government efforts to clean up China’s highly leveraged financial system. That essentially cut off one the biggest sources of Anbang’s funding.”
  • “Anbang and WMPs are not, however, the end of China’s debt crackdown story. While WMPs and the bonds they invested in withered, companies have returned to previously popular forms of non-bank finance including trust loans, off-balance sheet company-to-company loans and bankers’ acceptances.”
  • “These grew 15% last year after just 4% growth in both 2015 and 2016. Overall debt and equity issuance stayed robust despite the crackdown.”
  • “Anbang may be wrapped up. But the cost of letting finance take such a big chunk of China’s economy is far from being resolved.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Teachable Moment – Where Everybody Doesn’t Know Your Name – Anthony Isola 2/26

  • A comparison of financial markets and roads.

Economist – China’s leader, Xi Jinping, will be allowed to reign forever 2/26

Economist – Money stolen by Bernie Madoff is still being found – 2/26

  • “Almost a decade after the Ponzi scheme collapsed, trustees are still returning money to the victims.”

FT – Xi Jinping’s bid to stay in power more of a gamble than it seems – Tom Mitchell 2/27

  • “President’s move risks backlash from China’s urban elites if not the masses.”

FT – Why Donald Trump will never escape Russia – Edward Luce 2/21

FT – Three questions for Federal Reserve chairman Jay Powell – Rana Foroohar 2/25

WSJ – Stocks Are Probably Overpriced, but Don’t Be Too Sure – Jason Zweig 2/23

WSJ – A Reality Check for Wayfair – Elizabeth Winkler 2/26

  • “The game of growing revenue by burning cash can’t go on forever and investors don’t want to be there at the end.”

Finance

FT – Rush to buy frontier debt brings higher risks and yields – Kate Allen 2/26

  • “For three decades Tajikistan has wanted to build the world’s tallest hydroelectric dam but struggled to pay for it.”
  • “That changed last September when the mountainous central Asian country tapped international debt markets for the first time, was inundated with $4bn of orders and eventually sold $500m of debt at a yield of 7.125% — a landmark moment for an economy with an annual GDP of just $7bn.”
  • “Investors’ search for yield, brightening global economic conditions and structural reforms in many countries have resulted in benign conditions for what debt bankers refer to as ‘frontier’ economies.”
  • “The world’s riskiest countries are selling debt at a record rate, research published late last year found, with junk-rated borrowers comprising nearly half of all borrowing from emerging markets in 2017; one adviser called it a ‘gold rush’.”
  • “’The markets are so good at the moment that clients can literally ask for whatever they want,’ said an experienced deals banker. ‘People will buy anything so long as it offers them yield and diversification. They get bored of only being able to buy the same names and have also hit their limits for some of the more frequent names’.”
  • “’Ultimately this is people’s pensions we’re talking about,’ said one investor. ‘If you explained to the man on the street that their pension fund is being invested in Nigeria at 7%, they would be incredulous. If you threw that decision out to ordinary people, would they buy it? Probably not’.”

Cryptocurrency / ICOs

WSJ – What Bitcoin Rout? Sales of New Digital Tokens Are Still Soaring – Paul Vigna 2/22

  • “Bitcoin and many of its peers have crashed in recent months from all-time highs reached in December. But that hasn’t dented the popularity of one crypto-fundraising method: so-called initial coin offerings.”
  • “Sales of those digital tokens have already raised about $1.66 billion this year, according to research and data firm Token Report. About 480 have launched in 2018 and only 126 of those have closed to new funds. That puts the market on pace to top last year’s total of $6.5 billion raised in coin offerings, according to the firm.”
  • “Whatever their motive, coin-offering investors have created some of the best-capitalized startups in incredibly short periods. The $1.5 billion raised by block.one in less than a year is equal to the amount raised by Twitter Inc. between 2007 and 2011 across nine separate funding rounds. And only four initial public offerings in 2017 and 2018 raised more than the amount block.one has attracted, according to data from Dealogic.”
  • “The continued success of coin offerings is even more remarkable given heightened regulatory scrutiny globally of cryptocurrencies and on the sales of digital tokens.”
  • “In the U.S., the SEC and Commodity Futures Trading Commission have heightened their oversight of the coin-offering market. The CFTC recently issued a customer advisory in which it advised people to avoid ‘pump-and-dump’ schemes, and offered whistleblowers a monetary reward in the case of successful enforcement actions.”
  • “The SEC has brought enforcement actions against several ICOs, most recently a Texas-based outfit called AriseBank, which had claimed to have raised more than $600 million in an ICO.”
  • “That pressure may have led to something of a bifurcation in the market for coin offerings. While large, widely publicized projects like block.one and Telegram have no problem raising money, others have had trouble meeting their fundraising goals.”
  • Researchers at Ernst & Young found that less than 25% of the ICOs in November 2017 hit their goals, down from 93% in June. Token Report said the median amount raised by ICOs this year is about $12 million.”

Africa

FT – Gupta empire crumbles in wake of Zuma’s departure – Joseph Cotterill and Simeon Kerr 2/26

  • “Indian-born brothers flee South Africa as businesses go into administration.”

China

WSJ – What Will Keep the Chinese Consumer Strong? – Jacky Wong 2/22

  • “Beijing’s nationwide anticorruption drive, which drove luxury spending to a halt just three years ago, has faded. That coincided with a rebound in property prices, Chinese consumers’ main source of wealth. According to Deutsche Bank, the housing boom has added 86 trillion yuan ($13.5 trillion) to the total value of residential properties in the past two years. And unlike previous cycles, the gains aren’t concentrated in the biggest cities such as Shanghai and Beijing but have spread to smaller cities. People in these so-called tier-two and tier-three cities have made more money from their houses on paper last year than from their wages, according to Deutsche.”

February 26, 2018

Perspective

Economist – Daily Chart: Are alpha males worse investors? 2/20

WSJ – Household Debt Sees Quiet Boom Across the Globe – Josh Zumbrun 2/18

WSJ – Daily Shot: United Nations – Global Population Trends 2/23

  • “The global population pyramid is expected to invert by 2100 as the population gets closer to peak levels.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Credit Suisse – Domestic Equity Flows 2/23

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: FRED – US mortgage rates 2/23

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: U.S. 3-Month LIBOR Exchange Rate 2/20

WSJ – Daily Shot: U.S. Borrowing Costs Among Highest in Developed World – Richard Barley 2/21

Cryptocurrency

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bitcoin 2/22

China

Economist – The rapid rise and fall of the Anbang empire 2/23

  • “China’s government takes control of its would-be financial colossus.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMI, Chinawealth – China Wealth Management Product Growth 2/22

WSJ – China’s Communist Party Proposal Sets Stage for Xi to Hold Onto Power – Chun Han Wong 2/25

  • “Proposal would eliminate the constitutional cap on presidential terms.” Currently set at two terms of five years each.

February 15, 2018

Perspective

WEF – Norway’s Central Bank has recommended oil and gas holdings are removed from its sovereign wealth fund – Thomas Colson 11/20/17

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg Businessweek – Ten Years After the Crisis, Banks Win Big in Trump’s Washington – Robert Schmidt and Jesse Hamilton 2/9

Economist – As California’s fires died down, fraudsters arrived 2/8

  • “David Passey, a spokesperson for FEMA, says that more than 200,000 applications for relief related to the hurricanes and northern California wildfires are suspected to be fraudulent.”

Economist – China is in a muddle over population policy 2/8

Economist – The merits of revisiting Michael Young – Bagehot 2/8

  • “A book published 60 years ago predicted most of the tensions tearing contemporary Britain apart.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg – Teslas Are Finally Replacing Porsches on the Autobahn – Elisabeth Behrmann 2/12

WSJ – Daily Shot: NY Fed – US Consumer Debt Balance 2/14

WSJ – Daily Shot: NY Fed – US Consumer Delinquent Debt Percentage 2/14

WSJ – Brace Yourself for Higher Cellphone Bills This Year – Drew FitzGerald 2/8

Real Estate

Economist – How a brothel owner created the world’s biggest industrial park 2/10

  • “Google, eBay, Tesla and dozens of other tech firms have bought nearly all of the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center’s vast tract of land.”

Energy

Bloomberg Gadfly – OPEC’s Oil Price Nightmare Is Coming True – Julian Lee 2/11

Tech

NYT – The Autonomous Selfie Drone Is Here. Is Society Ready for it? – Farhad Manjoo 2/13

  • “Autonomous drones have long been hyped, but until recently they’ve been little more than that. The technology in Skydio’s machine suggests a new turn. Drones that fly themselves — whether following people for outdoor self-photography, which is Skydio’s intended use, or for longer-range applications like delivery, monitoring and surveillance — are coming faster than you think.”

Environment / Science

Economist – Antidepressants are finding their way into fish brains 2/8

China

Bloomberg Businessweek – China Takes a Hard Look at Corporate Borrowers – Enda Curran 2/6

  • “China’s total debt equaled 162% of gross domestic product in 2008. By 2016 it had climbed to 259%, an increase of more than $22 trillion, in large part because of massive corporate borrowing. And even with the current push to deleverage, it could reach 327% by 2022, according to Bloomberg Economics.”

  • “China’s banking regulator last summer ordered lenders to examine their exposure to private conglomerates, which was a way to slow borrowing by corporations without raising benchmark interest rates. In China, the amount of lending, rather than official interest rates, is the best indicator of how tight or loose government monetary policy is. And the picture is pretty clear: Broad-based money supply growth slowed to 8.2% in December, the weakest since data became available in 1998. ‘They are tightening,’ says Chetan Ahya, chief Asia economist at Morgan Stanley. ‘China has always relied more on actually controlling the flow of credit through direct measures’.”

Bloomberg – China’s War on Risk Has Banks Fleeing Shadowy Wealth Products – Jun Luo 2/7

  • “Chinese regulators appear to be winning their war against risk in one of the more dangerous corners of the country’s shadow banking industry — the so-called wealth management products that banks buy from each other in a search for easy profits.”
  • “Interbank holdings of WMPs more than halved last year, to 3.25 trillion yuan ($514 billion) in December from 6.65 trillion yuan a year earlier, according to the annual report of China Central Depository & Clearing Co., an industry body. That suggests higher interest rates and increased scrutiny by regulators are deterring Chinese banks from their previous practice of using cheap interbank borrowing to invest in each others’ higher-yielding WMPs.”
  • “The interbank WMP market will continue to contract this year, as China keeps interest rates high as part of its campaign against financial-sector risk, according to analysts from Shenwan Hongyuan Group Co. and Macquarie Group Ltd. Higher rates make it less profitable to use interbank borrowings to invest in WMPs. And many were deterred after the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) ordered banks to ‘self-review’ their interbank and shadow banking exposures in April, widely seen as a move to rein in the lenders.”
  • “The CBRC and other regulators are working closely in an unprecedented campaign to curb the $16 trillion shadow banking industry, of which WMPs issued by banks are the largest component. Another risky area that is contracting rapidly is some $3.8 trillion of so-called trust products, which have been a popular way for debt-ridden property developers and local governments to raise funds. That market has been hit by delayed payments as wealthy Chinese savers turn sour on the products.”
  • “Despite the retreat in the interbank sector, the wider WMP market continued to grow last year, albeit at a slower pace, according to the industry body. Strong appetite among individual investors helped the outstanding balance of WMPs rise 1.7% to 29.5 trillion yuan in December from a year earlier. Still, the escalating clampdown on all types of asset management products slowed the growth rate markedly from an average compound rate of about 50% between 2013 and 2015.”

Economist – Creditors call time on China’s HNA 2/8

  • “Analysts had foreseen an unravelling for some time, before even the regulatory wrist-slapping. A Chinese business expert calls HNA’s empire-building ‘a classic case of overextending’. For five years it has only been able to service its debts by taking on new ones. Returns on its investments have not exceeded 2% in almost a decade, according to calculations by Bloomberg, a data provider. As a result, HNA’s ratio of debt to earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization is around a lofty ten, estimates Standard & Poor’s, a ratings agency. Bond investors have grown nervous, and the firm’s financing costs have soared.”

South America

WSJ – Daily Shot: Venezuela Official Exchange Rate VEF/USD 2/13

  • “Venezuela has devalued its official exchange rate to be closer to the levels seen in the black market. This chart shows how many (bags of) bolivares are needed to buy one dollar – the official rate.”

  • “This move eliminated a major source of corruption.”
    • “BMI Research: – The move to … devalue the … official exchange rate is a positive step, as it will help to correct some of the extreme distortions in the market for foreign exchange. The massive discrepancy between the official and black market exchange rates has been a major source of corruption and arbitrage over recent years. Those with access to the subsidized exchange rate typically re-sell dollars on the black market at a substantial profit, rather than using the currency to import goods that must be sold at artificially low prices due to the country’s system of price controls. The market has reacted positively to the news of the devalued exchange rate, with the black market value of the bolivar rising to VEF233,531.1/USD as of February 6, up from a low of VEF266,630.7/USD on January 28.”

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMI Research – Venezuela Black Market Exchange Rate VEF/USD 2/14

 

November 10, 2017

Perspective

Pew – How U.S. refugee resettlement in each state has shifted since 2002 – Jynnah Radford 11/2

  • Animation

WSJ – Daily Shot: Convoy Investments – Rise and Fall of Some Famous Asset Bubbles 11/9

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – How to Reduce Shootings – Nicholas Kristof and Bill Marsh 11/6

NYT – Want Kids, a Degree or a Home? The Tax Bill Would Cost You – The Editorial Board

  • “An immense tax giveaway to the rich will hurt everyone else. Here’s how.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Yardeni Research – Investor Bulls vs Bears 11/7

Real Estate

Business Insider – Zillow: America’s red-hot housing market is a bit of a problem – Akin Oyedele 11/8

  • “The recovery in US house prices since the recession has created a so-called seller’s market.” 
  • “In this part of the cycle, housing inventory is tight, especially in big cities where there’s plenty of demand. But buyers in these markets are getting stretched as prices climb above their prerecession highs and choices remain limited.”  

Energy

WSJ – Daily Shot: OPEC – Growth in energy demand by fuel type and region 11/9

WSJ – Daily Shot: OPEC – Energy demand next five years 11/9

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: LCD – Cov-Lite European Leveraged Loans 11/9

China

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMI Research – China Wealth Management Products 11/9

  • “Beijing’s deleveraging drive is having an impact on wealth management products (WMPs).”

Europe

FT – Germany creates third gender in ruling hailed as ‘revolution’ – Tobias Buck 11/8

  • “Germans will in future be able to register officially as neither male or female, after the country’s constitutional court issued a ruling establishing a third gender option that was hailed by intersex campaigners as a ‘revolution’.”

South America

FT – Venezuela inches closer to a formal default – Robin Wigglesworth 11/9

  • “Venezuela is closer to a formal default on its debts, with a global derivatives body set to rule on whether credit insurance should be paid out after a crucial payment deadline missed by state-backed oil company PDVSA.”
  • “Venezuela and PDVSA are legally separate entities, so PDVSA’s default would not trigger Venezuelan CDS or a Venezuelan sovereign default. But there are myriad other overdue interest payments by both borrowers, and unless the money appears soon then Venezuela will be in formal default on all its international bonds.”
  • “Venezuela has summoned bondholders for negotiations in Caracas on November 13, but the talks are expected to yield little. Indeed, US investors will be wary of even attending, given that the person leading the Venezuelan side of the talks, vice-president Tareck El Aissami, has been sanctioned by the US Treasury as an alleged drug smuggler.”
  • “None of the big rating agencies have formally declared a default yet, but S&P Global Ratings on Monday lowered the country’s rating to CC, the second-lowest rung possible, and said there was a 50% chance of a default within three months.”

September 11, 2017

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Mauldin Economics – Irving Fisher and Japan – Charles Gave 8/23

Oaktree – Yet Again? – Howard Marks 9/7

WSJ – Why American Students Need Chinese Schools – Lenora Chu 9/8

  • “After putting her son in an elite state-run school in Shanghai, an American mother finds that the U.S. education system could learn a few things from China – most of all that teacher knows best.”

Finance

FT – Red hot competition for private equity deals will hit returns – Chris Flood 9/9

  • “Private equity managers have raised around $260bn so far this year and are on track to surpass the industry’s annual fundraising record of $369bn registered in 2007, according to Prequin. The data supplier reckons that 811 managers are currently on the road looking to raise a further $578bn. “
  • “As a result, competition for deals among private equity managers is red hot at a time when many equity markets are trading at or close to their all-time highs. This is fueling concerns that profitable deals are becoming increasingly difficult to identify for private equity managers, which are now sitting on a record $1tn of excess capital that they have been unable to put to work.”
  • “Thomas Toth, a managing director at Wilshire Associates, the consultancy, says the amount of excess capital is ‘very substantial’ and has helped push up prices paid for deals. He says assets are being acquired on multiples of 10 (measured as total enterprise value as a multiple of underlying earnings), beyond the previous peak of 9.7 times, registered in 2007 before the financial crisis.”
  • “’We don’t expect to see private equity managers generate the same levels of returns that investors have been accustomed to,’ says Mr. Toth.”
  • “Wilshire’s working assumption is that private equity managers, on average, will generate annualized returns of 9.4% over the next decade, down from its 11.2% 10-year estimate in 2009.”
  • “He says that any rush to put money to work by private equity managers will ‘further compress’ future returns.”
  • “But just 6% of private equity managers plan to invest less money over the next 12 months, while 62% plan to invest more, according to Preqin.”
  • As to whom is raising this money,
  • “Apollo Global raised the bar for private equity fundraising to a fresh high last month when the New York-based investment manager said it had gathered $24.7bn for its latest buyout fund, the largest of its kind.”
  • “CVC Capital Partners raised around €16bn while Silver Lake gathered $15bn for its fifth buyout fund. KKR attracted $13.9bn for its 12th Americas fund and a further $9.3bn for an Asia-focused fund, while 3G and Bain are looking to raise $10bn and $7bn respectively.”
  • “Jeffrey Hooke, a finance lecturer at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, says that institutional investors, such as US public pension schemes, and their consultants feel more comfortable with established ‘name brand’ managers, even if smaller, lesser-known companies might offer better return prospects.”
  • “Mr. Hooke examined funds run by the 18 largest private equity managers and found that three-quarters, including some funds run by KKR, Silver Lake and Bain, failed to beat the S&P 500 consistently between 2006 and 2016.”
  • “Mr. Hooke says the lavish marketing budgets of large private equity managers entice potential clients and that institutional investors could achieve better results if they themselves acquired holdings in the types of companies targeted by buyout funds.”
  • Not surprisingly, “those funds that have performed better than average tend to launch during periods of notable equity market weakness.”

China

Reuters – Trust issues? China targets a $3 trillion shadow banking industry – Engen Tham 9/9

  • “The trusts, at the heart of a vast shadow banking industry, are being pressured to step up compliance and background checks, and are being pushed towards greater transparency.”
  • “But the fast-growing 20 trillion yuan ($3 trillion) industry, whose lending operations are cloaked behind opaque structures, will be tough to rein in, according to employees at some trusts.”
  • “One of the biggest challenges facing regulators is that many trusts employ a baffling array of structures, and funnel money through complex webs of beneficiaries, which makes untangling transactions extremely difficult.”
  • “The practices of the trusts, and the speed at which the industry is growing, have made them a target for Beijing as it tries to keep a lid on risky lending, cool overheated markets and control corporate debt.”
  • “In April, Deng Zhiyi, head of the CBRC’s trust department, warned of ‘severe risks’ from funds flowing into the real estate, coal and steel sectors through trusts.”
  • “The industry is now roughly a tenth the size of China’s commercial banking sector.”
  • “However, the regulator set out in detail in April certain structures that the trusts should not use, such as money-pooling schemes and structuring products to avoid restrictions on leverage.”
  • “That was ‘a signal for financial institutions that from a legal and enforcement perspective, we are entering a stricter period,’ said Armstrong Chen, financial compliance partner at King & Wood Mallesons.”
  • “Trust firms will also have to start registering the details of their products, identifying the ultimate borrower of funds, this year, said Chen, who is in regular contact with the regulators.”
  • “Chen said the requirement would improve transparency, but people at trust firms say it will still be difficult to detect the use of the under-the-table agreements typical of the industry.”
  • “Despite these changes, the government’s job managing the trusts keeps growing. In the first half of this year, trust loans increased by 1.31 trillion yuan, which compared with 279.2 billion in the period last year, according to central bank figures.”

Reuters – China studying when to ban sales of traditional fuel cars: Xinhua – Tom Munroe and Yawen Chen 9/9

  • “China has begun studying when to ban the production and sale of cars using traditional fuels, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing comments by the vice industry minister, who predicted ‘turbulent times’ for automakers forced to adapt.”
  • “Xin Guobin did not give details on when China, the world’s largest auto market, would implement such a ban. The United Kingdom and France have said they will ban new petrol and diesel cars from 2040.”
  • “To combat air pollution and close a competitive gap between its newer domestic automakers and their global rivals, China has set goals for electric and plug-in hybrid cars to make up at least a fifth of Chinese auto sales by 2025.”
  • “Under the latest proposals, 8% of automakers’ sales would have to be battery electric or plug-in hybrid models by next year, rising to 10% in 2019 and 12% in 2020, but the rules would not be enforced until 2019, a year later than initially planned, the sources said.”

August 31, 2017

Perspective

FT – Taxpayers face lion’s share of $50bn storm Harvey bill – Alistair Gray 8/30

  • “Tropical storm Harvey is shaping up to be one of the three costliest natural disasters in modern US history.”
  • “As the system encircles the devastated region for a sixth consecutive day, some forecasters warn it may prove even more financially ruinous than superstorm Sandy and be topped only by Hurricane Katrina.”
  • “This time, however, the insurance industry — traditionally the backstop in tough times — is expected to avoid picking up much of the tab as many householders lack cover for flooding. Taxpayers are likely to cover a big chunk of the loss, but how much support the state will provide is far from clear.”
  • “Gary Martucci, director at the rating agency Standard & Poor’s, described the storm as ‘unique’ in that it released so much rainfall while its winds caused a small proportion of the devastation. Flood damage is particularly difficult to assess, not least because it makes it harder for loss adjusters to access stricken properties.”
  • “Many homeowners will not, in any case, be covered as standard US home insurance policies exclude flood damage. For decades the industry has been unprepared to underwrite flood risk because of the potential for catastrophic losses.”
  • “Householders can get cover from a government-backed scheme, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), but only about one in six properties in the county in which Houston is located has the protection, according to Larry Greenberg, insurance analyst at Janney Montgomery.”
  • “Lawyers predict protracted disputes over insurance coverage — on issues ranging from the definition of flood damage to whether or not a property was rendered inaccessible.”
  • “Mr. Pasich (Kirk Pasich, attorney), who represents corporate policyholders, expects battles for years to come. ‘Some of the litigation that came out of Katrina is still going on,’ he said.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

Bloomberg – Kushners’ China Deal Flop Was Part of Much Bigger Hunt for Cash – David Kocieniewski and Caleb Melby 8/31

MarketWatch – Amazon is actually the weakest of the big U.S. retailers, Moody’s says – Ciara Linnane 8/31

  • “The perception that as soon as Amazon enters a product category, it immediately wins is also flawed, said the analyst. While Amazon is clearly disruptive, it does not dominate any category in which it operates.”
  • Well maybe not ‘any’…very few companies have figured out the hype game so well (except for maybe Tesla and Bitcoin).

Project Syndicate – Odious Ratings for Public Debt – Ricardo Hausmann and Ugo Panizza 8/30

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: ADP – US Job Creation by Category 8/31

Real Estate

FT – Harvey floods prompt alert on risk of mortgage bond defaults – Joe Rennison 8/30

  • “Tropical storm Harvey has put up to $30bn of securitized commercial mortgages on the watch list of analysts and investors, as damage from the disaster has heightened the risk of defaults.”
  • “Morningstar Credit Ratings said 1,529 properties, with an outstanding mortgage balance of $19.4bn could be affected. The majority of the properties are in Harris County, which has suffered from severe floods since Harvey hit Texas as a hurricane on Friday.”
  • “Data company Trepp cast a wider geographical net and put the universe of affected loans at a larger $29.6bn across 2,200 properties.”
  • “Fitch Ratings estimates $10.4bn of loans in bonds it has provided credit ratings to could be impaired.”
  • “’The storm could add long-term uncertainty to the performance of the properties if homes are damaged and residents . . . are unable to move back promptly,’ Fitch said.”
  • “The risk centers on properties that may be uninsured against flood. The widespread impact of the hurricane means that properties outside traditional flood zones could be affected, said analysts. Other risks include the possibility that flooding may have left undamaged properties stranded. For example, a hotel may be open but if people cannot reach it, then it will suffer.”
  • “But Mr. Clancy (Manus Clancy, head of research at Trepp) added that damage from previous storms, such as from Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Sandy, had resulted in little knock-on effect to commercial mortgage-backed securities. Traders and analysts said there had been little noticeable effect in markets, with bonds trading without impairment on Wednesday.”
  • “’The market has not reacted in a way to assume assets will be written off,’ said Mr Clancy. ‘People want to know their Houston exposure but they are expecting there will be enough insurance proceeds to cover the value of the bonds.’”

FT – ‘Nonprime has a nice ring to it’: the return of the high-risk mortgage – Ben McLannahan 8/30

Energy

FT – Storm Harvey exposes Achilles heel for global energy market – Gregory Meyer and Jude Webber 8/31

  • “’It’s a major event. It’s going to impact both domestic and world markets,’ says John Auers, executive vice-president at Turner Mason, a consultancy.”
  • “The shale drilling boom catapulted the US into the top tier of oil and gas producers in the past decade. Refineries clustered in Texas and Louisiana have expanded and now export about 4m barrels per day of refined fuel overseas.”
  • “The US’s new status as an energy powerhouse has created a more flexible, diverse, and arguably resilient world fuel market.”
  • “But Harvey is exposing an Achilles heel: the concentration of US energy assets in a low-lying, hurricane-prone coastal corridor makes the world more exposed to local weather.”
  • “The immediate effects of the storm have been to knock out more than 3m barrels per day of oil refining capacity, or 16% of the US total, according to S&P Global Platts. Among the refineries to close was the nation’s largest, Motiva in Port Arthur, Texas, where nearly four feet of rain fell.”
  • “’There are huge amounts of US products that are not being delivered,’ says Olivier Jakob of Petromatrix, a Swiss-based consultancy. ‘The US is exporting so much compared to before, this is a major disruption for world oil flows.’”
  • “The Gulf’s energy industry may well recover quickly from Harvey, but the Atlantic hurricane season has months to go. On Thursday a storm named Irma was forecast to blow into the Caribbean as a major hurricane.”

FT – European fuel armada heads for US after tropical storm Harvey – David Sheppard 8/30

  • “A flotilla of European fuel tankers is preparing to sail to the US in the wake of tropical storm Harvey, as oil traders rush to replace supplies of petrol knocked out by the worst storm to hit Texas in 50 years.”
  • “Shipbrokers in London said almost 40 cargoes of petrol had been booked or were being negotiated so far this week, well up on the usual volume, and traders were asking for flexibility to deliver either to the Atlantic seaboard or the Gulf Coast depending on when ports may reopen.”
  • “Tanker earnings for the transatlantic route, a proxy for demand, have soared almost six-fold in the past week, shipbrokers said, rising to more than $20,000 a day for the benchmark voyage, from $3,500 a week ago. The total number of shipments could still change because not all voyages are arranged through brokers, and some still being discussed may not be finalized. About 25 have already been fixed or are expected to be in the coming days.”

Finance

WSJ – Daily Shot: S&P Global Market Intelligence – BB/BB- Spreads 8/31

WSJ – Daily Shot: S&P Global Market Intelligence – B+/B Spreads 8/31

WSJ – Daily Shot: S&P Global Market Intelligence – Debt Buyers 8/31

  • “This chart shows banks pulling out of corporate leveraged loans, as institutions (such as BDCs, CLOs, credit funds, hedge funds, etc.) pile into the market.”

China

Bloomberg – China’s $2 Trillion of Shadow Lending Throws Focus on Rust Belt – Jun Luo and Alfred Liu 8/29

  • “By analyzing 237 Chinese banks, many of them small and unlisted regional lenders, Bedford casts a new spotlight on underground financing and the risks it poses to the nation’s $35 trillion banking industry. Shadow loans grew almost 15 percent to 14.1 trillion yuan ($2.3 trillion) by December from a year earlier, equal to about 19% of economic output, he estimates.”
  • “’This is a sleeper issue,’ Bedford wrote. ‘The remarkable level of concentration in regional banks in rust-belt region banks, combined with evidence that these assets are increasingly being used to roll over loans to existing borrowers as well as being swapped between banks without a clear transfer of risk are alarming.’”
  • “Accounting for this financing, Chinese banks’ nonperforming loans could be three times higher than the official published level, he said.”
  • “By recording such lending under ‘investment receivables’ rather than ‘loans’ on their financial statements, banks were able to disguise what is in effect lending, to get around regulatory lending curbs or heavy reliance on wholesale funding. Such financial engineering also enabled some lenders to overstate their capital adequacy ratios, understate nonperforming loans and reduce provision charges.”

August 30, 2017

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: Houston is on some the nation’s least absorbent soil 8/29

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

NYT – Harvey, the Storm That Humans Helped Cause – David Leonhardt 8/29

FT – A happier Japan is a concern for investors – Leo Lewis 8/28

  • “A record 74% of Japanese are satisfied with their lives, and, for the first time in two decades, a majority are content with their income, says a Cabinet Office survey.”
  • “The trouble with all this reported satisfaction, from a market point of view, is that it has happened too early.”
  • “One of the biggest fears is that a too-easily-pleased Japan will lose its hunger for serious reform and salary increases after a couple of years of superficial tinkering. That would undermine many of the big thematic investment cases that have been in place since 2013 — corporate governance reform, womenomics, unwinding of cross-shareholdings and inducing Japanese households to take more investment risk.”
  • On top of that Japanese corporates are basking in the limelight again. “The danger is that, in the glow of public satisfaction they are tending back to the investor-repellent habit of hoarding cash away from the pockets of both their shareholders and employees.”

FT – China’s tech groups are building too much power – Henny Sender 8/28

  • “There is no Silicon Valley comparison to the dominance of Alibaba and Tencent.”

Markets / Economy

FT – US home ownership fall hits young and minorities hardest – Lauren Leatherby 8/28

Energy

WSJ – Harvey’s Lessons for America’s Stretched Energy Infrastructure – Spencer Jakab 8/28

  • “For more than 40 years, the U.S. has worried about the security of its oil supply. Hurricane Harvey is another reminder that the infrastructure that processes and delivers oil is in many ways more important.”
  • “The U.S. has 141 operable oil refineries today, which is 79 fewer than 30 years ago. Those refineries have nearly 30% more capacity and are used much more heavily, about 90% on average over the past 12 months. The heaviest concentration is along the Gulf Coast where the industry has deep roots and has been allowed to expand. Harvey has temporarily knocked out about 15% of U.S. refining capacity.”

Finance

FT – Wall St’s top bankers sell own groups’ shares as Trump rally reverses – Ben McLannahan 8/27

  • “Wall Street analysts have been urging investors all year to buy stocks in the big US banks. But Wall Street itself is not listening.” 
  • “Executives and board members at the top six US banks have been consistent sellers of their own banks’ shares this year, according to an Financial Times analysis of disclosures tracked by Bloomberg.” 
  • “Insiders at the big six banks by assets — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley — have in total sold a net 9.32m shares on the open market since the turn of the year. Even excluding Warren Buffett’s big dumping of shares in Wells in April, to avoid tripping over rules capping ownership by a non-bank, sales by insiders outnumber purchases by about 14 to one.” 
  • “That is an unusually long streak of net sales, across each of the big six. Last year, for example, insiders at JPMorgan, Citigroup and Bank of America bought more shares than they sold.”

Environment / Science

FT – Blue dogs of Mumbai expose poor pollution controls – Simon Mundy 8/28

  • “Roaming packs of stray dogs are an established part of the landscape of Taloja, an industrial district to the north-east of Mumbai. But when a group of them turned blue this month, environmental activists sounded the alarm at this vivid evidence of industrial failure to adhere to proper standards of pollution control.”
  • Photo from National Geographic
  • “Investigation of the phenomenon by Mumbai’s pollution control board (MPCB) led it to a more prosaic explanation: the dogs had wandered into the grounds of a factory run by Ducol Organics, a local paint and plastic producer.”
  • “The outcry over the colored dogs reflects rising concerns about pollution in India. A study in February by the US-based research group Health Effects Institute found that India was poised to overtake China as the country with the most deaths caused by air pollution.” 
  • “A study this year by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai estimated premature deaths due to air pollution in Mumbai rose 62% to 32,014 between 1995 and 2015, outstripping the 41% population increase in the same period.”
  • “In New Delhi — which according to some estimates has the worst air of any major city in the world — the estimated death toll rose 147%, to 48,651.”

Economist – Louisiana fights the sea, and loses 8/26

  • “Between 1932 and 2010 the state [Louisiana] lost more than 1,800 square miles (470,000 hectares) of land to the sea, representing about 80% of America’s coastal erosion over the period. Recent losses have been especially severe because of an increase in big storms raging in from the Gulf of Mexico—such as Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, which led to the inundation of New Orleans and 1,836 deaths. Between 2004 and 2008 alone, Louisiana shrank by more than 300 square miles.”
  • For reference to the Hawaii readers, Oahu is 597 square miles and Maui is 727 square miles.
  • “According to a new report by RAND Corporation, a think-tank, infrastructure in the state worth up to $136bn could be threatened by land loss and increased storm damage, a related threat.”
  • “Starved of silt, and with less new organic matter to counteract its settling, coastal Louisiana is sinking back into its former watery state. Meanwhile, because of melting polar ice caps and thermal expansion, the sea level is rising. In the past decade the observed relative sea-level rise in coastal Louisiana—a figure that combines the effects of rising seas and subsiding land—was over a centimeter a year, or around four times the global average. The delta’s system of land creation has thus been thrown into reverse. In 1930, despite much engineering of the Mississippi’s channel, Louisiana was expanding by almost a square mile a year. Since then, an area the size of Delaware has been lost to the Gulf.”
  • One of the principal causes is due to the levees established by the Army Corps of Engineers along the Mississippi river to protect the flood basins back in the day. Trade-offs…
  • “The damaging effect of the levees was predicted. Weighing the benefits of engineering the Mississippi in 1897, a former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, E.L. Corthell, noted the need to take into account ‘withholding by the levees…of the annual contributions of sedimentary matters” and, because of this, ‘subsidence of the Gulf delta lands below the level of the sea and their gradual abandonment.’ But while he warned that “the present generation should not be selfish,’ Mr Corthell assumed the economic benefits of protecting the flood zone would ‘be so remarkable that people of the whole United States can well afford, when the time comes, to build a protective levee against the Gulf waters.’”
  • “That illustrates two related weaknesses in much environmental policymaking: an assumption that future politicians will take a longer-term view than current ones, and an excessive willingness to discount the future costs of solving environmental problems caused today… In any event, it is doubtful such a scheme would be affordable or otherwise practical, considering the effects of rising sea levels and fiercer storms, both consequences of global warming…”

Britain

WSJ – Daily Shot: Datastream – UK Household Savings Ratio 8/29

  • “UK’s households are struggling. With real wage growth in negative territory, the household savings ratio is collapsing.”

China

WSJ – Evergrande’s Ever More Risky Bet on Chinese Housing – Jacky Wong 8/28

FT – China orders videotaping of retail investment sales – Tom Mitchell 8/29

  • “China’s banking regulator has issued new rules requiring financial institutions to make video and audio recordings of all investment product sales, saying they were needed to ‘further regulate market order and protect customer rights’.” 
  • “The recordings will also help state-owned banks and the government fend off compensation demands from retail customers when their investments turn sour.” 
  • “’If investors make irrational choices after sales staff have clearly explained the risks, then they will have to accept the consequences,’ said Zhao Xijun, a finance professor at Renmin University in Beijing. ‘In the event there is a dispute, the recordings can be used as evidence’.” 
  • “The new surveillance rules issued by the China Banking Regulatory Commission require financial institutions to preserve the recordings for six months after the relevant investment product has expired. Banks are also not allowed to market investments to customers who refuse to be recorded.” 
  • “The value of outstanding [Wealth Management Products] WMPs has soared from Rmb4.6tn ($690bn) at the end of 2011 to Rmb29tn last year, according to data from Wind Information. But year-on-year growth moderated in 2016 to 23%, compared to a 56% increase in the value of outstanding WMPs in 2015.” 
  • “Data for the value of WMP products sold this year are not yet available. In volume terms, Chinese financial institutions sold 43% more WMP contracts through August 25 compared to the same period a year earlier.” 

FT – Huarong chief warns of bubble in China’s distressed debt market – Don Weinland 8/28

  • “Bubbles in credit and real estate have led to a steady flow of bad debt in China for years. But now a bubble is forming in the market for the bad loans themselves, says the chairman of China’s largest state-controlled ‘bad bank’.”
  • “Banks in China are dealing with an onslaught of non-performing loans that have resulted from poor risk controls and years of loose monetary policy. Investors estimate that China’s stock of bad debt has risen to $3tn this year, in step with a decelerating economy. One prominent analyst said recently that the figure could be as high as $6.8tn.”
  • “As the pool of bad assets rises, so too has the number of Chinese investors willing to chase after bad debt portfolios.”
  • “But many of the newcomers had little experience investing in distressed debt and were pushing up prices for the assets at auctions, said Lai Xiaomin, chairman of China Huarong Asset Management, and a deputy to the 12th National People’s Congress.”
  • “Inexperienced investors presented the risk of creating new losses while also failing to resolve troubled loans, he said.”
  • “China has experienced steady deregulation in how distressed debt is bought and sold since the industry was launched 18 years ago.”
  • “Huarong, along with three other centrally controlled asset managers, was created by the ministry of finance in 1999 to absorb perilously high levels of bad debt from China’s largest commercial banks. At the time, the government directed banks to transfer $1.4tn to the four groups.”
  • “Since then, the asset managers have greatly expanded their businesses in China and globally, operating more like investment banks than bad debt investors. Huarong went public in Hong Kong in late 2015.”

India

Economist – Undue reverence for company founders harms Indian firms 8/26

June 7, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

WSJ – Chinese Banks Face Up to Funding Squeeze – Anjani Trivedi 6/5

  • “Household deposits—long the backbone of China’s economy, funding inexorable loan growth—are fleeing: Around 1.2 trillion yuan ($176 billion) left the banking system last month. Meanwhile, growth in corporate deposits has slowed, reducing the rise in deposits overall to a crawl.”
  • “The exodus is proving a double whammy for China’s banks. Not only are they losing a stable source of funding, they are also bearing the brunt of higher costs to raise cash as financial conditions tighten.”
  • “Much of the money pulled out of conventional deposits is being invested in the rapidly multiplying population of investment funds, which offer higher rates. Yu’e Bao, run by Alibaba-backed Ant Financial, has become one of the world’s biggest money-market funds—with $165 billion under management—offering investors a 7-day annualized rate of over 4%.”
  • “Ironically, it and other funds are achieving such returns by investing in financing tools issued by banks. When China liberalized deposit rates in 2015, banks started churning out new investment products, including so-called negotiable certificates of deposit. Issuance of these short-term products in April totaled $180 billion, up 60% from a year earlier. Their relatively high rates—up to 4% or 5%—have made them attractive to money-market funds like Yu’e Bao.”
  • “But the upshot for banks is that stable deposits on which they pay just 1.5%—the benchmark rate—are being converted into flighty funds on which they must pay up to 5%. And even this source of funding may dry up. Last month, Yu’e Bao capped the size of new investments, likely under pressure from regulators alarmed at its rapid growth.”

Perspective

FT – Beer sales slide as global alcohol consumption falls – Scheherazade Daneshkhu 6/3

  • “The global market for alcoholic drinks contracted 1.3% last year, which was steeper than the average fall of 0.3% in the previous five years, according to figures from the International Wine and Spirits Research, the London-based industry group.”
  • “Alexander Smith, editor of IWSR magazine, said the drop was surprising given an improving global economy and the usually close correlation between global growth rates and drinking alcohol.”
  • “Global gross domestic product rose 3.1% last year, according to the International Monetary Fund, which forecasts a further improvement to 3.6% this year.”
  • “Beer sales fell 1.8%, compared with a five-year average decline of 0.6%. This was mainly because of weakness in China, the world’s biggest beer market by volumes, though sales in other large beer markets, such as Brazil and Russia which have both been in recession, were down.”
  • “In the US, ‘2017 is shaping up to be the worst year for beer volumes since 2009, when total industry volumes were down 2%’, according to Trevor Stirling, analyst at Bernstein.”
  • However, “the IWSR said it expected the alcohol industry to return to growth this year, predicting a rise in consumption of 0.8% until 2021, driven by whisky.”

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

The Irrelevant Investor – Satisfaction Yield – Michael Batnick 6/6

  • “The utilitarian benefit of two investments are identical when they yield an identical return, but the satisfaction yield, reflecting expressive and emotional benefits, varies by the paths of identical returns.”
  • “The fact that the return of principal under different scenarios can evoke such different emotions tells us a lot about why investor behavior is the most important factor in determining success or failure.”

Real Estate

WSJ – Daily Shot: Wells Fargo – Origin of Foreign Capital buying US Real Estate 6/5

Bloomberg – Americans Are Pouring Money Into Their Homes Like It’s the 1990s – Vince Golle 6/6

Energy

Bloomberg – ‘Gas Apocalypse’ Looms Amid Power Plant Construction Boom – Naureen Malik and Brian Eckhouse 5/23

  • “The Marcellus Shale formation has added lots of supply to a major power grid, but demand is growing slowly.”

NYT – The Biggest, Strangest ‘Batteries’ – Diane Cardwell and Andrew Roberts 6/3

Africa

NYT – Nigeria’s Afrobeats Music Scene Is Booming, but Profits Go to Pirates – Dionne Searcey 6/3

  • “Artists across the world battle illegal sales of their work. But Nigeria’s piracy problem is so ingrained that music thieves worry about rip-offs of their rip-offs, slapping warning labels on pirated CDs to insist that ‘lending is not allowed.'”

Canada

FT – Toronto house price fall signals market is cooling – Ben McLannahan 6/5

  • “According to sales data released on Monday by the Toronto Real Estate Board, the average sale price for all home types in the Greater Toronto Area was C$863,910 ($640,674) in May, a drop of 6.2% from C$920,791 in April. The number of home sales fell by 12% over the month, while listings were up 19%.”
  • “Talk of tackling rapid price appreciation appears to have ‘changed market psychology’, said Jean-François Perrault, chief economist at Scotiabank in Toronto. ‘The benefits of holding on to a property, if you’re a speculator, have probably peaked. I think we’re moving to a healthier market.’”
  • A change from one month to the next does not make a trend. Keep your eye on this.

China

Economist – A provincial shuffle shows the power of China’s president 5/27

WSJ – Here’s How a Chinese Tech Firm Borrowed $2.1 Billion in a Hurry – Ryan McMorrow 6/3

  • “LeEco, a catchall name for a variety of businesses controlled by the internet tycoon Jia Yueting, poses little threat by itself to China’s financial system. But a review of the company’s finances shows the extent of the opaque ways Chinese firms can use to raise money — and how failures could ripple through the system.”

FT – China’s new graduates hit by falling wages – Tom Hancock 6/4

India

FT – India Inc walks a banking tightrope – Simon Mundy and Amy Kazmin 6/4

  • “A wave of defaults by struggling infrastructure companies, and others that borrowed heavily during much of the past decade, has left India’s public-sector banks saddled with a huge and growing bad loan burden that represents one of the most serious long-term threats to the country’s economic growth.”
  • “Even after the 1990s liberalization that allowed the entry of new private-sector banks, the state-owned lenders still hold more than two-thirds of banking sector assets. Impaired loans now account for 17.8% of assets, and well over 20% at several banks. As these banks now reel under the weight of $186bn in stressed assets, loan growth in the country has fallen dramatically, to 5.1% in the financial year ending in March — the slowest pace for 63 years — while corporate investment fell in three out of four quarters last year.”

South America

Economist – Bello: Argentina’s new, honest inflation statistics 5/25

  • “The end of bogus accounting.”

Other Links

BBC – How air conditioning changed the world – Tim Harford 6/5

April 20, 2017

China

FT – Beijing’s migrants no longer welcome as city caps population – Lucy Hornby 4/19

  • “Beijing has announced plans to combat what it calls ‘urban diseases’ by capping its population and shrinking its footprint, wreaking havoc on the small businesses and migrants that throng its bustling streets.”
  • “The Chinese capital will cap its population at 23m ‘long-term residents’ by 2020 ‘and keep it at that level for the long term,’ a city government notice said.”
  • “The permanent population of Beijing’s central districts dropped by 353,000 last year, according to municipal data released last week. The capital’s official population is now close to 22m.”
  • “Within the capital, the campaign has translated into the destruction of small shops and businesses that make up 35% of the city’s economy but only 7.5% of its tax revenues, according to 2011 figures, the most recent available.”
  • “Officially, China still encourages the integration into cities of hundreds of millions of people still residing in the countryside.”
  • “But migrants with a rural hukou, or household registration, are expected to settle in provincial cities or county seats, where a multiyear property bubble has left rows of empty apartment blocks. They are not so welcome in cities such as Beijing or Shanghai, where hospitals and schools are much better and higher incomes allow the service industry to flourish.”
  • “In the past two years Beijing has torn down wholesale markets and made it harder for children to attend school in order to force out migrant families.”
  • “‘They needed us when Beijing was growing but now that it’s developed, they don’t want us anymore,’ said one woman who has lived in Beijing since she arrived as a 15-year-old nanny 23 years ago.”
  • “In 2016 the capital tore down 30m square meters of small shops, restaurants and fruit stands deemed ‘illegal construction.’ It is targeting the destruction of 40m sq meters this year, shrinking the land zoned for construction to 2,760 sq km by 2030 while expanding parks and gardens.”

FT – China seeks return of outspoken tycoon Guo Wengui – Gabriel Wildau and Lucy Hornby 4/19

NYT – Chinese Investment Scandal Highlights ‘Shadow Banking’ Risks – Sui-Lee-Wee and Owen Guo 4/19

  • In regard to the latest wealth management product scandal…”Investors, assured that the government will come to the rescue, do not worry about the potential risks and continue to pour money into the products. According to the state news media, Chinese investors have put $4.4 trillion into wealth management products, equivalent to about 40% of the country’s annual economic output.”
  • “China Minsheng, the bank at the heart of the latest scandal, had a good pitch.”
  • “The product, it told investors, would provide a return of 8% to 27%. To sweeten the deal, the bank offered free golf events and trips to South Africa and other overseas locales.”
  • “…Chinese news media reported that more than $400 million of investors’ money had disappeared.”
  • “Along with wealth management products from banks, online lenders are jumping into the game, adding to the risks. Last year, Chinese authorities said an online finance company had bilked investors out of more than $7.6 billion in what they said was a huge Ponzi scheme.”

South America

FT – Venezuelans take to the streets in ‘mother of all marches’ – Andres Schipani 4/19

March 24 – March 30, 2017

Shale markets to the financial markets – can I get some more money please… Slow housing recovery sapping GDP growth. China’s smartphone users flock to risky investments.

Headlines

FT – Chile heads for first recession since 2009 3/23. The Chilean economy contracted 0.4% in the fourth quarter of 2016 and it is looking like there will be another contraction in the first quarter of 2017 due to a strike at Escondida (the world’s largest copper mine) which would put the country in a technical recession, it’s first since 2009.

WSJ – Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye Is Arrested in Corruption Probe 3/30. First she was impeached and now arrested…geez.

Special Reports / Opinion Pieces

Briefs

  • Gloria Cheung and Don Weinland of the Financial Times highlighted recent restrictions by UnionPay barring Chinese from buying HK property with plastic.
    • “Chinese citizens have been barred from using their debit and credit cards to buy property in Hong Kong in the latest attempt by Beijing to curb capital flight.”
    • “The use of Chinese credit cards to pay for a portion of property transactions is widespread in Hong Kong. Willy Liu, chief executive of local real estate agent Ricacorp, said 15-20% of new property buyers were mainland Chinese. The majority use UnionPay (China’s sole clearing house for bank card transactions) cards to pay for 5% of the home price as a mortgage deposit in Hong Kong.”
    • “Most of those transactions are worth at least HK$500,000 ($64,371), Mr. Liu said, surpassing the $50,000 annual limit for personal foreign exchange imposed by China’s regulators.”
    • However, agents don’t expect the curbs to have much effect on Hong Kong property.
    • “UnionPay cards have been a common conduit for mainland Chinese to move cash offshore, and the company has sought to shutter those channels. In October, it said it had barred the use of its credit and debit cards to purchase investment-linked insurance products.”
    • “Investment-linked insurance products often have a cash value that allows customers to cash out after a set period. The business was viewed by Chinese regulators as a means of moving money offshore.”
    • “The insurance policies bought by Chinese customers last year were much larger than those bought by other customers. Average single-paid premiums for life and investment-linked policies bought by Chinese were HK$3.7m-HK$6.1m ($477,000-$786,000), Moody’s said in a report this year.”
  • David Blood of the Financial Times illustrated that fake news is shared as widely as the real thing.
    • “Nearly a quarter of web content shared on Twitter by users in the battleground state of Michigan during the final days of last year’s US election campaign was so-called fake news, according to a University of Oxford study.”
    • “Researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) also determined that these users shared approximately as many fake news items as ‘professional news’ over the same period.”
    • “The report, published on Monday, concludes that links to fake news stories accounted for 23% of the links tweeted by a sample of 140,000 Michigan-based users during the ten days up to November 11 last year.”
  • Bryan Harris and Kang Buseong of the Financial Times covered the how South Korea has joined the ranks of the world’s most polluted countries.
    • “South Korea has joined the ranks of the world’s most polluted countries, with air pollution in the first months of this year soaring to record levels.”
    • “Long associated with Asian capitals such as Beijing or Delhi, hazardous smog has for weeks blanketed Seoul – a city now appearing among the world’s three most polluted in daily rankings.”
    • “Already this year authorities in South Korea have issued 85 ultrafine dust (PM2.5) warnings, up more than 100% from the 41 advisories in the same period last year.”
    • “An OECD report found that up to 9m South Koreans could die prematurely by 2060 as a result of current levels of air pollution – the worst projection among members of the group of mainly rich countries.”
    • “Many in South Korea blame pollutants wafting in from China – but experts say much of the pollution is homegrown.”
    • “The South Korean environment ministry attributes up to 80% of the fine dust to overseas sources during periods of pronounced pollution.”
    • “But Prof. Kim (Kim Shin-do, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Seoul) believes China is to blame for only 20% of South Korea’s fine dust. Environmental group Greenpeace puts the figure at 30%.”
    • “Much of the country’s pollutants come from vehicle emissions and construction or industrial sites. Power plants also play a crucial role – and energy officials are pushing to develop even more coal-powered capacity.”
  • Don Weinland and Javier Espinoza of the Financial Times highlighted the shock waves that have resulted in the global M&A world due to Chinese capital constraints.
    • “In the space of 12 months, China’s companies have gone from being the most prolific and sought after bidders in international dealmaking to some of the most unreliable and sometimes even unwelcome, according to senior bankers and lawyers.”
    • “The stark change reflects the regulatory crackdown in China on outbound transactions since the start of 2017, which has been part of a coordinated effort to stem the hundreds of billions of dollars in capital pouring out of the country.”
    • “In the first three months of the year, the value of announced outbound deals from China dropped sharply to $23.8bn, according to Thomson Reuters data, its lowest level since 2014.”
    • “In 2016, Chinese companies agreed [to] about $222bn worth of deals…”
    • Bottom line, the restrictions put in place by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) to limit acquisitions of non-core lines of business are working.
    • Granted, “groups with sizeable assets overseas, such as the airlines and hospitality conglomerate HNA Group, have continued to ink deals at a ravenous pace this year.”

Graphics

FT – Struggling Sears signals decline of US malls – Gary Silverman, Lindsay Whipp and Joe Rennison 3/24

WSJ – Why China’s Latest Cash Crunch Is Scarier This Time – Anjani Trivedi 3/24

WSJ – Daily Shot: Insider Sentiment 3/26

Bloomberg – Manhattan Landlords Are Turning to Retailer Giveaways – Sarah Mulholland 3/28

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s Investors Service – Plateauing US auto sales 3/27

WSJ – Daily Shot: BMO Wealth Management – World Housing Affordability 3/28

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

America’s shale firms don’t give a frack about financial returns. Schumpeter. The Economist. 25 Mar. 2017.

“Shale’s second coming is testament to Texan grit. But the industry’s never-say-die spirit may explain why it has done next to nothing about its dire finances. The business has burned up cash for 34 of the last 40 quarters, according to figures on the top 60 listed E&P (exploration and production) firms collected by Bloomberg, a data provider. With the exception of airlines, Chinese state enterprises and Silicon Valley unicorns-private firms valued at more than $1bn-shale firms are on an unparalleled money-losing streak. About $11bn was torched in the latest quarter, as capital expenditures exceeded cashflows. The cash-burn rate may well rise again this year.”

“Meanwhile, the prospect of rapidly rising production is rattling global energy markets.”

“When oil prices halved in just 16 weeks starting in late 2014, panic hit Texas, followed-for a while-by grim austerity. The number of drilling rigs in America dropped by 68% from peak to trough. Companies slashed investment. Over 100 firms went bankrupt, defaulting on at least $70bn of debt.”

But here we go again.

“The partial recovery in the oil price, which at one point fell as low as $26, is only one factor behind renewed enthusiasm for shale. Houston’s optimists also argue that the full geological potential of Texas’s Permian basin has only just become apparent. Some experts think it could in time produce more barrels each day than Saudi Arabia does.”

“But the fact that the industry makes huge accounting losses has not changed. It has burned up cash whether the oil price was at $100, as in 2014, or at about $50, as it was during the past three months. The biggest 60 firms in aggregate have used up $9bn per quarter on average for the past five years. As a result the industry has barely improved its finances despite raising $70bn of equity since 2014. Much of the new money got swallowed up by losses, so total debt remains high, at just over $200bn.”

Thing is E&P firms are rewarded for taking risks. “Not one of the ten biggest E&P firms, for example, puts significant emphasis in its pay scheme on how much return on capital it produces. Low interest rates make it easy for shale firms to borrow, and fee-hungry banks cheer on the spectacle. But the only way that this mania will end well is if oil prices rise sharply, bailing out the industry, or if E&P firms are bought by bigger energy firms. That is possible, but companies such as Exxon and Shell are too seasoned to pay a lot for small, unprofitable firms.”

Then there is the circular argument that they’ll produce their way out of the debt with higher production at higher or sustained prices – but the more they produce (particularly as the swing producer in a global context) the more likely it is that prices will fall.

“The oil bulls of Houston have yet to prove that they can pump oil and create value at the same time.”

Sluggish Housing Recovery Took $300 Billion Toll on U.S. Economy, Data Show. Laura Kusisto. The Wall Street Journal. 26 Mar. 2017.

“The decline in homeownership rates to near 50-year lows is partly to blame for the U.S. economy’s sluggish recovery from the last recession, new data suggests.”

“If the home-building industry had returned to the long-term average level of construction, it would have added more than $300 billion to the economy last year, or a 1.8% boost to gross domestic product, according to a study expected to be released Monday by the Rosen Consulting Group, a real-estate consultant.”

“In 2016, total spending on housing declined to 15.6% of GDP, a broad measure of goods and services produced across the U.S., compared with a 60-year average of nearly 19%. The share of spending specifically lined to new-home construction and remodeling likewise declined to 3.6% of GDP, just over half its prerecession peak in 2005.”

“If you want to get the economy going, housing is typically the flywheel.” – Ken Rosen, chairman of Rosen Consulting and chairman of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

“The homeownership rate stood at 63.7% in the fourth quarter of 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That was down from a high of 69.2% during the housing boom and below the 65% economist say is a normal level.”

“It is unlikely that easing credit alone would be enough to bring the share of households who own back up to historic norms. Even in hot markets where demand is strong despite tight credit standards, builders can’t construct enough homes to meet demand because of labor shortages and regulatory barriers, said Robert Dietz, chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders.”

“Tighter mortgage lending has led to sharp declines in default rates and helped produce a market in which price growth is linked to economic prosperity.”

“But some experts argue default rates are too low. Under typical conditions, similar to those in the early 2000s, about 12% of mortgages are at risk of default, but in the third quarter of 2016, just 5.1% of mortgages were at risk of default – a level that indicates that lenders aren’t making loans to thousands of people who pose little risk, according to the Urban Institute, a nonprofit think tank.”

“Mr. Rosen said many middle-class families have missed out on the appreciation that has occurred over the past five years because they haven’t been eligible for mortgages.”

“‘We’re being paternalistic in our regulatory environment and it’s forcing lower middle-class people…to rent,’ he said.”

Swipe by Swipe, Chinses Smartphone Users Flock to Risky Investments. James T. Areddy. The Wall Street Journal. 28 Mar. 2017.

“In China, about 700 million people carry a smartphone, and many of them are comfortable sending money from their screens through the world’s busiest mobile-payment networks. That has created a crowdfunding wave bigger than anywhere else, a real-time experiment in a type of online investing proponents have long pushed in the U.S.”

“A million companies in China have turned to the internet to raise money, hawking loosely regulated, often risky investments, according to one of the country’s largest online lenders.”

“Swipe by swipe, the online money supply is helping to democratize investing and loosen capital markets. It also is propping up indebted Chinese companies and inflating bubbles in asset types from bonds to plastic pellets. And it is shifting more of the risks from China’s corporate debt load onto consumers.”

“Chinese banks hold more than $20 trillion in deposits, with more than a third of the total from household savings. Online pitches…attracted roughly $200 billion in 2015 and even more last year, consulting firm McKinsey & Co. estimated.”

“In just one corner of the booming online finance sector, more than 5,700 firms are registered with the Association of Shanghai Internet Financial Industry, a quasigovernmental group, to match small lenders and borrowers.”

“In January and February, Chinese electronics maker Cosun Group failed to repay about $166 million in bonds sold through an online marketplace owned by Ant Financial Services Group. Ant is an affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and is valued by some analysts at more than $70 billion.”

“Last April, crying investors flocked to Shanghai Kuailu Investment Group to demand their money back after its 13 fundraising platforms halted redemptions for about 38,000 customers who invested more than $2 billion, according to company documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. It had invested in at least 20 feature films, one starring former boxer Mike Tyson.”

“The company’s owner has disappeared, and investors claim they haven’t been repaid.”

You can imagine that the government has a cautious eye on the sector; however, previously they were all for it – hence the rapid adoption.

“In a recent survey, about 70% of Chinese internet users said carrying cash is no longer a daily necessity. It is common for consumers to swipe from deal to deal on apps that advertise investment opportunities. The apps usually are connected to online payment services that supply the customer’s personal details and link to bank accounts.”

“The migration of investing onto mobile phones happened in a flash. After Alipay pioneered a way to pay for goods with mobile phones, entrepreneurs used Alipay to sell shares during the 2015 stock-market boom. Stocks crashed, but other investment options proliferated, including commodities trading and interest-bearing insurance products.”

As an aside “multiple financial firms accept nude photos of borrowers as collateral on loans to college students.”

“Online finance is part of China’s wider shadow-credit system, where borrowings totaled $9.22 trillion in 2016, equivalent to 90% of GDP, according to UBS Securities. The term shadow credit refers to lending outside the formal banking system and its regulations.”

“Many people in the industry say investors pay little attention to details, other than the advertised return. Their money often is supposed to be tied up for just days or weeks, giving investors more comfort about the risks.”

“While most borrowers have been able to repay, often with a new round of money borrowed from somewhere else, investors have suffered losses in the billions of dollars.”

As Andrew Collier, founder and managing director of research firm Orient Capital Research in Hong Kong puts it, investors “are handing over their cash to a small group of internet pioneers who are trying to find ways to lend it short-term.”

Buckle your seatbelts.

Other Interesting Articles

Bloomberg Businessweek

The Economist

 

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