Nov 272017
 
 November 27, 2017  Posted by at 10:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Guatave Courbet The cliffs of Étretat after the storm 1870

 

Why Are We Addicted To Debt? (Forbes)
China Debt Grows At Faster Pace Despite Years Of Efforts To Contain It (R.)
Maybe China Shouldn’t Open Up (Pettis)
OECD Warns on Rising Debt Risk as Canadians Most in the Red (BBG)
Bitcoin – Too Far Too Fast? (Peter Tchir)
Italy’s 5-Star, Stung By Fake News Claims, Wants OSCE Election Monitors (R.)
The Problem Isn’t Populism: the Problem Is the Status Quo Has Failed (CHS)
Britain Must Accept High Immigration Or Forget Trade Deal With India (BI)
Why There Is No Peace On Earth (Stockman)
Australia’s Final Solution (Connelly)
Fears For World’s Rarest Penguin As Population Plummets (G.)

 

 

Asia, that is. Check the marginal productivity of debt graph. And remember, once you’re at zero, you’re done. I’d venture you’re done way before even.

Why Are We Addicted To Debt? (Forbes)

Almost everyone is familiar with Asia’s rags to riches story. The recent economic miracle led to huge increases in living standards across the region. Average incomes rose by factors of 100% to even 400% in some areas. Not to mention the number of people surviving on less than $2 USD a day was cut in half. A major turning point for this economic wonder was when China joined of the World Trade Organization in 2002. Shortly after, Asia’s contribution to the global GDP jumped from 11% to 21%. However, debt distorts these figures in a variety of ways. So, that begs the question; was it a miracle or just an illusion? What tricks does Asia have up its sleeve? Many are becoming increasingly anxious over Asia’s debt-fueled economy. Their fears may soon become a reality.

[..] Asia’s ability to consume credit seems never ending. Even during the recent financial crisis, Asia witnessed governments working hard to maintain cheap money flowing into their financial systems. The Chinese government implemented a stimulus package with record low interest rates. They wanted to mimic the methods used by other global central banks during the 2007 and 2008 financial crisis. Despite the large amount of media attention China’s borrowing levels received, they’re not special. As you can see in the chart below, credit levels have soared throughout Asia. Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Malaysia all have increased their debt to GDP ratios since 2001.

An increased dependency on cheap, available credit produced household debt to shoot up in South Korea and Taiwan. What are the possible outcomes? In many of these economies, high debt levels could lead to tragedy. The main culprit would be GDP growth rate’s inability to balance out spiraling debt levels. This situation is called the marginal productivity of debt. Or put more simply, new debt is not as efficient at creating new growth. Look at the chart below to see how the marginal productivity of debt plays out in Asian economies. Even major, regional growth contributors like South Korea, Japan and China, have experienced this downward trend. Indonesia is the only exception.

Since 2001 China’s marginal productivity has declined by a factor just short of 50%. Since investment has been one of China’s main growth drivers (almost entirely financed by debt), this is concerning. To add fuel to the fire, much of that debt has been funneled into China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs). For instance, while corporate debt was at 165% of the GDP in 2015, SOEs made up 71% of it. Meanwhile, those SOEs only contributed around 20% to China’s total GDP.

Read more …

Unstoppable?

China Debt Grows At Faster Pace Despite Years Of Efforts To Contain It (R.)

For years China’s top officials have touted their ambitious policy priority to wean the world’s second-largest economy off high levels of debt, but there is not much to show for it. On the contrary, a Reuters analysis shows the debt pile at Chinese firms has been climbing in that time, with levels at the end of September growing at the fastest pace in four years. The build-up has continued even as policymakers roll out a series of measures to end the explosive growth of debt, including persuading state firms and local governments to prune borrowing and tighter rules and monitoring of banks’ short-term borrowing. By some estimates, China’s overall debt is now as much as three times the size of its economy.

Without a comprehensive strategy to tackle the overhang, there is a growing risk China will have a banking crisis or sharply slower growth or both, the IMF said last year. China’s central bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, made global headlines with a warning last month of the risks of a “Minsky moment”, referring to a sudden collapse in asset prices after long periods of growth, sparked by debt or currency pressures. On the sidelines of a key, twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress in October, Zhou referred to relatively high corporate debt and the fast pace of growth in household lending. While also pledging to fend off such risks, Zhou has acknowledged it will take some time to bring debt down to more manageable levels.

Reuters analysis of 2,146 China listed firms showed their total debt at the end of September jumped 23% from a year ago, the highest pace of growth since 2013. The analysis covered three-fifths of the country’s listed firms, but excluded financials, which have seen the brunt of government de-risking and deleveraging efforts so far.

Read more …

Michael Pettis still sees isolationism as an answer. But isn’t China too open for that already?

Maybe China Shouldn’t Open Up (Pettis)

China needs reform. This has long been the consensus advice from economists and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, whose recent “China 2030” report argues that Chinese leaders should strengthen the role of markets and liberalize legal, financial and other institutions governing the economy. Their to-do list is virtually gospel by now: free up trade and investment, unshackle the exchange rate and ease capital controls. Such reforms are held not only to be worthy in themselves, but critical to solving China’s biggest problem: its debt, which has skyrocketed to well over 260% of GDP from 162% in 2008. The speed and scale of credit expansion has raised fears of a financial crisis, even from such normally staid figures as central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan. The hope is that reforms will boost productivity enough to allow China to outgrow its debt burden before that crisis hits.

This logic is flawed for two reasons. First, China is unlikely to suffer a financial crisis, and this is precisely because of the government’s ability to restructure banking-sector liabilities at will. The real threat is different. Once a country’s debt burden is high enough to create uncertainty about allocating future debt-servicing costs, the debt itself becomes an obstacle to growth. This process – known as “financial distress” – is well-understood in finance theory but is still unfamiliar to many economists. So, unfortunately, is the corroborating history. In the past two centuries, there have been dozens of cases of overly-indebted countries whose policymakers have promised to implement liberalizing reforms meant to allow the country to outgrow its debt. None has succeeded. No excessively indebted country has ever outgrown its debt until a meaningful portion has been forcibly assigned to one economic sector or another.

There are many ways this can occur. Mexico restructured its debt at a discount in 1990, thereby forcing the cost onto creditors. Germany inflated the debt away after 1919, forcing the cost onto pensioners and others with fixed incomes. A decade ago, China forced the cost onto household savers through negative real interest rates. If it is going to regain sustainable growth, China, too, must deleverage. The only healthy way to do so is first, to force local governments to liquidate assets and assign part of the proceeds to debt reduction, and second, to wean China off its dependence on excessive investment by transferring wealth from local governments to households, so they can consume more.

Read more …

I wanted to include this article because it raises a serious question. The countries with arguably the highest household debt levels (or close) are New Zealand, Australia, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway. They are all missing from the OECD numbers. How can that be a coincidence?

OECD Warns on Rising Debt Risk as Canadians Most in the Red (BBG)

The OECD warned that rising private debt loads in both advanced and developing economies pose a risk to growth as Canada, South Korea and the U.K. lead the world in household borrowing. “Household and corporate debt in many advanced and emerging market economies is high,” the OECD said Thursday in a pre-released section of a report to be presented next week. “While higher indebtedness does not necessarily imply that problems are just around the corner, it does increase vulnerability to shocks”. With the global economy showing its most even expansion since the financial crisis, debt levels and credit quality are among the risks that could trigger a downturn. Consumer debt tops 100% of GDP in Canada, with South Korea and Britain both above 80%. On corporate borrowing, the OECD warned about a shift in risk from banks to the bond market and a “substantial” decrease in credit quality.

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As bitcoin nears $10K, Tchir reflects.

Bit from Twitter: @JorgeStolfi: “Bitcoin’s market cap just passed 150 billion USD. For those who do not know, that is how much money NEW bitcoin “investors” will have to spend, in order for the current bitcoin holders to get the money that they THINK they have.”

Bitcoin – Too Far Too Fast? (Peter Tchir)

As Bitcoin surges above $9,250 on the open this Sunday, I have to admit to having some real trepidation at these levels. I have been a proponent of the view that Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies would benefit from the launch of ETFs and futures. My view is that allowing for easier ‘adoption’ of Bitcoin will help fuel its growth as it lets new investors participate indirectly. I should not limit that theory to just more traditional ways to invest, like ETFs and futures, but should also include easier ways to establish wallets and to own Bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies) the ‘traditional’ way. There are a growing number of ‘easy’ to use guides to getting Bitcoin (I have glanced at many but haven’t followed through to verify how well they work of don’t work).

I am convinced that ease of access and the potential for more mainstream products linked to Bitcoin has helped fuel its surge. But now, I am concerned it has gone too far, too fast. I have three major concerns that could slow the price rise or even cause it to have a significant correction (yes, I am converting from bullish Bitcoin to at best neutral). Here are the three concerns:

1) Are all the ETF and Futures launches a ‘sell the news’ event? Basically the question is, while I believe that easier adoption will lead to inflows, how much of that is priced in? Have speculators loaded their electronic wallets with Bitcoin hoping to capitalize on the expected gains to the point, there won’t be more expected gains? Understanding when something is ‘already’ priced in is difficult at the best of times, let alone with something as complex and growing exponentially like Bitcoin, but, I can’t help but wonder. I have felt a switch in discussions I’m having over the last few weeks. A subtle switch, but one where the Bitcoin bulls seem more eager to name ever higher price targets, while the agnostics seem more willing to do work and think about it more, rather than in a rush to get some money into Bitcoin. The sort of behavior that may be indicating a ‘sell the news’ type of environment.

2) There are becoming too many competing investments which are causing some investors to question how ‘real’ the existing ones are. Yes, I understand that ICO’s aren’t necessarily dilutive, if you can purchase them with Bitcoin, but it does start to appear odd when it seems like virtually every day, someone or some entity is announcing some new variation on the theme.

3) Fedcoin, the potential for the Fed could be classified within concern number 2, but is really only part of a larger, separate concern – that governments or central banks will push back. I read this week, along with a lot of other people, an article describing that Bitcoin was now worth more than McDonald’s. While that sort of article is designed to ‘shock’ investors, especially more conservative investors, I think it represents a larger, growing concern that the ‘establishment’ has surrounding cryptocurrencies. Whether the concerns are more focused on the potential for illegal funds to enter the system, taxation, controlling ‘pump and dump’ schemes or making your own job more difficult to manage, I’m sensing they are rising to the surface again. I think we have hit another tipping point where to expect a response to attempt to slow down the growth and valuation of crytpocurrencies should be expected.

Something that has risen almost a ‘ten-bagger’ in less than a year is bound to attract attention. Bitcoin rebounded strongly after the China crackdown, so this fear might be over-rated, but a more organized government or central bank crackdown shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The bigger question, in my mind, is whether Bitcoin can withstand that – but that is a question for another day. I am torn, because my thesis of ‘ease of adoption’ seems to be playing out and in general it is a long way from being fully played out, which by itself is supportive of greater price appreciation. But, at the moment, my concerns are winning out and I’d be taking some chips, or bits, as the case may be, off the table.

Read more …

Russigate spreads its wings. But what if Russiagate is the real fake news?

Italy’s 5-Star, Stung By Fake News Claims, Wants OSCE Election Monitors (R.)

Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement wants international observers to monitor next year’s national election campaign to help ward off “fake news”, party leader Luigi Di Maio said on Sunday. His comments came after the ruling Democratic Party (PD) accused 5-Star supporters of using interlinked internet accounts to spread misinformation and smear the center-left government. Di Maio, who was elected 5-Star leader in September, said his party was often misrepresented by the traditional media and said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should oversee the forthcoming election. “The problem of fake news exists and we think it is necessary to have the OSCE monitor news and political debate during the election campaign,” Di Maio said on Facebook.

Such a request is unlikely to gain traction with 5-Star’s opponents, who allege that the maverick group is to blame for some of the most egregious smear campaigns. Last week unofficial Facebook accounts that back 5-Star published a photograph purportedly showing a close ally of PD leader Matteo Renzi attending the funeral of Mafia boss Salvatore Riina. In fact it was a photo taken in 2016 at the funeral of a murdered migrant. “Di Maio says he wants to call up OSCE monitors. Why doesn’t he call up U.N. peacekeepers and the Red Cross, and while he is at it, why not telephone (his associates) who are continuing to post this filth,” Renzi told a conference on Sunday. The sharing of false or misleading headlines and mass postings by automated social media “bots” has become a global issue, with accusations that Russia tried to influence votes in the United States and France. Moscow has denied this.

Some PD leaders called this weekend for legislation ahead of the elections, which are due by May, to crack down on the spread of false news. Renzi ruled that out on Sunday, but said his party would release twice-monthly reports on web abuses. “We do not want to shut down any website, but we want accountability,” Renzi said. The 5-Star party complains that it is unfairly treated by mainstream media, saying state broadcaster RAI is under the sway of the government, while the largest private media group is controlled by the family of former center-right prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Italy’s leading newspapers, which are owned by large industrial concerns, have also been highly critical of 5-Star, which has promised a campaign against corruption and is seen as unfriendly to big business.

Latest polls show 5-Star has built a stable lead over other parties, with support of around 28% against 24% for the PD and 15% for Forza Italia. A new electoral law which encourages coalition building ahead of the vote, means Berlusconi’s center-right bloc should emerge as the single largest political force, albeit without a clear parliamentary majority.

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Or the problem is that nobody wants to understand this.

The Problem Isn’t Populism: the Problem Is the Status Quo Has Failed (CHS)

The corporate/billionaires’ media would have us believe that the crisis we face is populism, a code word for every ugly manifestation of fascism known to humanity. By invoking populism as the cause of our distemper, the mainstream media is implicitly suggesting that the problem is “bad people” -those whose own failings manifest in an attraction to fascism. If we can successfully marginalize these troubled troglodytes, then our problem, populism, would go away and the wonderfulness, equality and widespread prosperity of pre-populist America will be restored. The problem isn’t populism -the problem is the status quo has failed 95% of the populace.

Life isn’t wonderful, prosperous and filled with expansive equality except in the Protected Elite of the top 5% of technocrats, corporate executives, tenured academics, bureaucrats, financiers, bankers, lobbyists and wealthy (or soon to be wealthy) politicos. The bottom 95% need a time machine to recover any semblance of prosperity. They need a time machine that goes back 20 years so they can buy a little bungalow on a postage-stamp lot for $150,000 on the Left and Right Coasts, because now the little bungalows cost $1 million and up. Housing valuations have become so detached from what people earn that even the top 5% has trouble qualifying for a jumbo mortgage without the help of the Bank of Mom and Dad or the family trust fund. The bottom 95% need a time machine to return to the days when college tuition and fees were semi-affordable–say, 30 years ago.

The bottom 95% also need a time machine to return to a time when they could afford healthcare insurance without government subsidies–a generation ago, or better yet, two generations ago. In an age where phantom wealth sprouts like poisoned mushrooms from speculative bubbles, the bottom 95% need a time machine that goes back 8 years so they buy the S&P 500 at 670, or better yet, buy bitcoin for $1 or $10, just to make up the loss in the purchasing power of their wages. Populism is the dismissive propaganda term that the media uses to distract us from the real cause of our problems: the total failure of the status quo, the corrupt, predatory, exploitive, inefficient, rentier pay-to-play-“democracy” cartel-state hierarchy that has failed the bottom 95%.

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Boomerang. Right back at you.

Britain Must Accept High Immigration Or Forget Trade Deal With India (BI)

Britain will struggle to sign new free trade deals with economic powerhouses like India after Brexit unless it is willing to accept high levels of immigration from these countries into Britain. That’s according to Lord Bilimoria, co-founder of Cobra beer, and one of Britain’s most well-known entrepreneurs. Bilimoria spoke to Business Insider on Friday following International Trade Secretary Liam Fox’s claim that his efforts to make Britain a great trading nation are being undermined by the unwillingness of British businesses to export. The Indian-born British businessman described Fox as “utterly unfit” to serve as International Trade Secretary and claimed that nobody “across the board” in British business “has any respect” for the Conservative minister. “Nobody takes him seriously. That’s a fact,” Bilimoria told BI.

Bilimoria then described what he felt was a contradiction at the heart of the case for Brexit, in that Britain will not be able to significantly reduce inward migration — as many have Brexiteers promised — if it wants any hope of ambitious and wide-ranging free trade deals with countries like India. “What trade deals has he [Fox] actually done?” the life peer said. “The Indian high commissioner has warned that an agreement [between Britain and India] might not be in place until 2030 — and said talks haven’t even begun. “He said India will want the movement of professionals; the movement of doctors, the movement of engineers. He said both sides will benefit from this exchange. It won’t be a one-way street.”

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Excellent expansive overview of the past 100 years.

Why There Is No Peace On Earth (Stockman)

After the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989 and the death of the Soviet Union was confirmed two years later when Boris Yeltsin courageously stood down the red army tanks in front of Moscow’s White House, a dark era in human history came to an end. The world had descended into what had been a 77-year global war, incepting with the mobilization of the armies of old Europe in August 1914. If you want to count bodies, 150 million were killed by all the depredations which germinated in the Great War, its foolish aftermath at Versailles, and the march of history into the world war and cold war which followed inexorably thereupon. To wit, upwards of 8% of the human race was wiped-out during that span.

The toll encompassed the madness of trench warfare during 1914-1918; the murderous regimes of Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism that rose from the ashes of the Great War and Versailles; and then the carnage of WWII and all the lesser (unnecessary) wars and invasions of the Cold War including Korea and Vietnam. [..] The end of the cold war meant world peace was finally at hand, yet 26 years later there is still no peace because Imperial Washington confounds it. In fact, the War Party entrenched in the nation’s capital is dedicated to economic interests and ideological perversions that guarantee perpetual war; they ensure endless waste on armaments and the inestimable death and human suffering that stems from 21st century high tech warfare and the terrorist blowback it inherently generates among those upon which the War Party inflicts its violent hegemony.

In short, there was a virulent threat to peace still lurking on the Potomac after the 77-year war ended. The great general and president, Dwight Eisenhower, had called it the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address, but that memorable phrase had been abbreviated by his speechwriters, who deleted the word “congressional” in a gesture of comity to the legislative branch. So restore Ike’s deleted reference to the pork barrels and Sunday afternoon warriors of Capitol Hill and toss in the legions of beltway busybodies that constituted the civilian branches of the cold war armada (CIA, State, AID etc.) and the circle would have been complete. It constituted the most awesome machine of warfare and imperial hegemony since the Roman legions bestrode most of the civilized world. In a word, the real threat to peace circa 1991 was that Pax Americana would not go away quietly in the night.

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What’s happening to us? Manus, Greece, let alone Yemen, Myanmar, Syria, where are we heading?

Australia’s Final Solution (Connelly)

Over the weekend, 620 refugees were forcibly removed from the now decommissioned prison on Manus Island, following a ruling in October that their incarceration was unconstitutional. Under instruction from Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, prisoners were beaten with steel bars by Papua New Guinea’s paramilitary guards, starved of food, water, and electricity. They are forbidden access to doctors, nurses, social workers, urgently needed medication, and legal representation. Water supplies were deliberately destroyed. Makeshift wells were poisoned. The Australian government claims the prisoners were relocated to new facilities in nearby town, Lorengau, however those at the site say the facilities are both still under construction and at excess capacity. Prisoners forced onto buses were turned away at the gates, left sitting out in the heat for hours with no word on when they would be allowed to enter their new makeshift prisons.

[..] Australia, the ‘innovation nation’, the country of the fair go, could not possibly entertain a system of incarceration whose cruelty wasn’t entirely by design. So anchored are they to the lie that they ‘stopped the boats’, they will let more than 620 refugees fleeing civil war and religious persecution die from starvation, malnutrition, heart-problems and disease than find them a permanent home, lest they appear soft on national security. (FYI, they haven’t stopped the boats. The government has simply stopped reporting on their arrival. I have been told by members of the defence force who work on refugee ‘intercept vessels’ of mothers whose children had died in their arms, being sent back out to sea to drift aimlessly towards… anywhere but here. The boats haven’t stopped).

New Zealand’s Labour government has already volunteered to resettle the prisoners on both Manus and Nauru but their offers have been met with vitriol, scorn and diplomatic threats. Taking responsibility for a mess of its own making is a response too compassionate for this government. It needs to be barbaric. That’s the point of deterrence. If the barbarism isn’t obviously, outrageously cruel, then the system has failed. This is Australia’s final solution: ‘Deterrence’. Robbed of even the right to their own name, the refugees languishing in detention on Manus Island were literally issued numbers that would become their formal identity and how they are referred to by the prison guards (who incidentally have a long and “well-documented history of rapes, sexual assaults, physical abuse, murders and other serious human rights abuses”, according to a report from The Age).

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We’re picking off species one by one. We no longer respect life itself. Who are the gods we’re praying to, and why would they listen?

Fears For World’s Rarest Penguin As Population Plummets (G.)

Almost half the breeding population of the world’s most endangered penguin species, the yellow-eyed penguin, has disappeared in one part of New Zealand and conservation groups believe commercial fishing is to blame. The yellow-eyed penguin is endemic to New Zealand’s South Island and sub-Antarctic islands, where there are just 1,600 to 1,800 left in the wild, down from nearly 7,000 in 2000. During a recent survey of the island sanctuary of Whenua Hou (Codfish Island), department of conservation staff made the alarming discovery that close to half the island’s breeding population of penguins had vanished. Elsewhere in New Zealand the bird’s population is at its lowest level in 27 years. Forest & Bird’s chief executive Kevin Hague said because the island was predator-free the evidence pointed to the animals being caught and drowned in the nets of commercial fishing trawlers.

Only 3% of commercial trawlers have independent observers on them to report bycatch deaths. “Unlike previous years where disease and high temperatures caused deaths on land, this year birds have disappeared at sea,” said Hague. “There is an active set net fishery within the penguins’ Whenua Hou foraging ground, and the indications are that nearly half the Whenua Hou hoiho population has been drowned in one or more of these nets.” Last year 24 nests were recorded on Whenua Hou, but this year rangers only found 14. Penguin numbers are declining in other parts of the South Island as well, and researchers fear the beloved bird, which appears on the New Zealand $5 note, is heading ever closer to extinction. University of Otago’s Thomas Mattern, a penguin expert, told the Otago Daily Times he believed time was running out for the birds. “Quite frankly, the yellow-eyed penguins, in my professional opinion, are on their way out,” Mattern said.

Read more …

Oct 132017
 
 October 13, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Joan Miro Dancer 1925

 

The Shoeshine Boy Moment For FANG And Friends (DR)
Valuations Are Expensive (Lance Roberts)
Central Banks Have Effectively Manufactured The World’s Biggest Economy (BBG)
ECB to Consider Cutting QE Purchases in Half Next Year (BBG)
Boeing Passenger Jets Have Falsely Certified Kobe Steel Products (R.)
Kobe Steel Scandal Expands Into Core Business Overseas (BBG)
Distressed Investors Buying Houston Homes for 40 Cents on the Dollar (BBG)
Tesla Plays Auto Game By Silicon Valley Rules (DN)
What Powers America (CB)
Greek Civil Servants’ Wages 38% Higher Than Private Sector Staff (K.)
US Obesity Rates Hit New Records: 39.6% of Adults Now Obese (AFP)
Antibiotic Resistance Could Spell End Of Modern Medicine (G.)
Penguin Disaster As Only Two Chicks Survive From Colony Of 40,000 (G.)

 

 

My guess is that once one of them starts falling, the others will domino right along.

The Shoeshine Boy Moment For FANG And Friends (DR)

In early March 2009, the current bull market began in the same way that most of the great bull runs in history have, at a moment when investors were terrified to own stocks. Since then it has been nothing but good times. We are now eight and a half years into this bull market making it the second longest in history. This party has been fun. And for a handful of the most popular stocks, fun doesn’t do it justice. The party has been positively off the chains. The stocks that I’m talking about are the FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) stocks plus a few of their friends (Tesla, Alibaba and others). These stocks have vastly outperformed the market during this bull-run. Now this is where I become a bit of a party-pooper.

Where Joseph Kennedy Sr. had his shoeshine boy moment for the market in 1929, I believe that a similar warning sign arrived for FANG and friends this summer. Remember, they don’t ring a bell at the top but there are signs. This I believe is a big one… The demand for these stocks has become so high that specific ETFs and dedicated index funds are being launched that are comprised only of FANG and friends. Not just an ETF or index fund, but multiple versions. That latest is called the NYSE FANG+ index. It includes 10 highly liquid stocks that are considered innovators across tech and internet/media companies. It is marketed as a benchmark of today’s tech giants. That may be true, but it is also a benchmark of some of the most expensive stocks in the entire S&P 500. Here are its components:

Yes, I’d love to go back in history and own this group of stocks three years ago. But would I want to own them after an already incredible run? No! As a group these stocks are frighteningly expensive today. That is generally what happens when stocks go up that fast, they become much less attractively valued.

Read more …

Another great effort by Lance.

Valuations Are Expensive (Lance Roberts)

[..] the repetitive cycle of monetary policy: • Using monetary policy to drag forward future consumption leaves a larger void in the future that must be continually refilled. • Monetary policy does not create self-sustaining economic growth and therefore requires ever larger amounts of monetary policy to maintain the same level of activity. • The filling of the “gap” between fundamentals and reality leads to consumer contraction and ultimately a recession as economic activity recedes. • Job losses rise, wealth effect diminishes and real wealth is destroyed. • Middle class shrinks further. • Central banks act to provide more liquidity to offset recessionary drag and restart economic growth by dragging forward future consumption. •Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

If you don’t believe me, here is the evidence. The stock market has returned more than 60% since 2007 peak, which is more than three times the growth in corporate sales growth and 30% more than GDP. The all-time highs in the stock market have been driven by the $4.5 trillion increase in the Fed’s balance sheet, hundreds of billions in stock buybacks, PE expansion, and ZIRP.

It is critical to remember the stock market is NOT the economy. The stock market should be reflective of underlying economic growth which drives actual revenue growth. Furthermore, GDP growth and stock returns are not highly correlated. In fact, some analysis suggests that they are negatively correlated and perhaps fairly strongly so (-0.40). However, in the meantime, the promise of a continued bull market is very enticing as the “fear of missing out” overrides the “fear of loss.” This brings us back to Jack Bogle and the importance of valuations which are often dismissed in the short-term because there is not an immediate impact on price returns. Valuations, by their very nature, are HORRIBLE predictors of 12-month returns should not be used in any strategy that has such a focus. However, in the longer term, valuations are strong predictors of expected returns.

[..] I have also previously modified Shiller’s CAPE to make it more sensitive to current market dynamics. “The need to smooth earnings volatility is necessary to get a better understanding of what the underlying trend of valuations actually is. For investor’s, periods of ‘valuation expansion’ are where the bulk of the gains in the financial markets have been made over the last 116 years. History shows, that during periods of ‘valuation compression’ returns are more muted and volatile. Therefore, in order to compensate for the potential ‘duration mismatch’ of a faster moving market environment, I recalculated the CAPE ratio using a 5-year average as shown in the chart below.”

To get a better understanding of where valuations are currently relative to past history, we can look at the deviation between current valuation levels and the long-term average going back to 1900.

Read more …

“Central Banks’ Return to Normalcy Is Nothing But a Charade”

Central Banks Have Effectively Manufactured The World’s Biggest Economy (BBG)

The Federal Reserve keeps talking about a “return to normal” in monetary policy. The media must buy into it, because it keeps repeating the phrase. Many investors buy into it, too. After all, it is the high and mighty Fed speaking. This “normal” is defined by interest rates, but interest rates are defined by the economics that surround them. Interest rates do not exist in a vacuum. But since we are in an economic environment never before seen in history, where data compiled by Bloomberg show that central banks have amassed $21.5 trillion in assets, how can there possibly be any notion of “normal?” Nothing in history supports the claim. Without a history, “normal” is a meaningless term. Think about it: In response to the financial crisis, central banks have essentially manufactured in just nine years an economy that is bigger than the gross domestic products of either the U.S. or China.

I am more than willing to recognize the accomplishment, but to call it “normal” is either a ruse or the height of foolishness. There is nothing “normal” about it. Some may say it is the “crown of creation,” and a case can be made for this argument, but it is not a crown that was ever seen before. This is why, when assessing financial markets, I keep pointing at the money. It is the giant amount of manufactured capital that is holding interest rates down, pushing equities up and compressing all risk assets against their sovereign benchmarks. It isn’t inflation or housing data or wages or any other piece of data that can be singled out. Those are, by comparison, flyspecks in the wind. Simply put, all that money has created demand that outstrips the current supply in bonds, in equities, in stock price-to-earnings multiples, in historical risk valuations and in credit assets.

Therefore, the economic environment that underlies asset pricing is, in fact, distorted. The Fed’s claim of some sort of “normalcy” is a charade. Fed Chair Janet Yellen can say it, and so can Fed governors and presidents, but there is not one grain of truth in the telling. It is nothing more than mumbo-jumbo because they do not wish you to recognize what is actually happening. They have taken over markets and now totally control and dominate them, regardless of the usual day-to-day antics.

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More ‘normalcy’.

ECB to Consider Cutting QE Purchases in Half Next Year (BBG)

ECB officials are considering cutting their monthly bond buying by at least half starting in January and keeping their program active for at least nine months, according to officials familiar with the debate. Reducing quantitative easing to €30 billion ($36 billion) a month from the current pace of €60 billion is a feasible option, said the officials, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private. While the central bank’s governors are split on the need to identify an end date for purchases, a pledge to keep buying bonds until September – with the proviso that it could be extended if needed – may offer grounds for compromise, they said. Policy makers led by President Mario Draghi are becoming increasingly confident that ECB policy makers will on Oct. 26 agree to the specifics of how much debt the euro-area’s central banks will buy in the coming year.

After more than 2 1/2 years of trying to revive the region’s economy through bond purchases, some governors see the recent period of robust growth as a reason to rein in the support. Others are concerned that inflation remains too weak. Any changes to the sum and time frame of quantitative easing would still fit into the ECB’s present guidance on monetary policy, which commits the ECB to promise “a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation consistent with its inflation aim.” It also pledges that if “the outlook becomes less favorable, or if financial conditions become inconsistent with further progress toward a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation, the Governing Council stands ready to increase the program in terms of size and/or duration.”

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The Japanese government better act fast. Kobe requires controlled demolition.

And this sort of comment needs to stop: “Boeing does not as yet consider the issue a safety problem..”

Of course it’s safety problem. Or are we to believe the safety standards never amounted to anything?

Boeing Passenger Jets Have Falsely Certified Kobe Steel Products (R.)

Boeing, the world’s biggest maker of passenger jets, has used Kobe Steel products that include those falsely certified by the Japanese company, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters. Boeing does not as yet consider the issue a safety problem, the source stressed, but the revelation may raise compensation costs for the Japanese company, which is embroiled in a widening scandal over the false certification of the strength and durability of components supplied to hundreds of companies. The U.S. airline maker is carrying out a survey of aircraft to ascertain the extent and type of Kobe Steel components in its planes and will share the results with airline customers, said the source who has knowledge of the investigation.

Even if the falsely certified parts do not affect safety, given the intense public scrutiny that airlines operate under they may opt to replace suspect parts rather than face any backlash over concerns about safety. Any large-scale program to remove those components, even during scheduled aircraft maintenance, could prove costly for Kobe Steel if it has to foot the bill. Kobe Steel’s CEO, Hiroya Kawasaki, on Thursday said his company’s credibility was at “zero.” The company, he said, is examining possible data falsification going back 10 years, but does not expect to see recalls of cars or airplanes for now.. Also in the U.S., General Motors said it is checking whether its cars contain falsely certified components from Kobe Steel, joining Toyota and around 200 other firms that have received falsely certified parts from the company.

Boeing does not buy products such as aluminum composites, used in aircraft because of their light weight, directly from Kobe Steel. Its key Japanese suppliers, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Subaru, however, do. These Japanese companies are key parts of Boeing’s global supply chain, building one fifth of its 777 jetliner and 35% of its carbon composite 787 Dreamliner.

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This is getting bigger by the minute.

“..the company holds roughly half of the global market share for the wires used in valve springs of auto engines

Kobe Steel Scandal Expands Into Core Business Overseas (BBG)

Kobe Steel’s fake data scandal expanded to its core business after the company admitted “inappropriate actions” related to steel wire produced overseas, triggering a fresh collapse in its shares and heightened speculation that the steelmaker may get broken up. Customers have been informed about the issue, which has been resolved, Tokyo-based spokeswoman Eimi Hamano said by phone, declining to provide details. Kobe Steel falsified quality certification data for steel wire used in auto engines and to strengthen tires, the Nikkei newspaper reported Friday. Kobe’s admission of misconduct in its steel business, which accounts for about a third of revenue, ratchets up the pressure on Japan’s third-biggest steelmaker.

The company’s disclosures had up until now dealt with aluminum, copper and iron ore products used in everything from cars to computer hard drives to Japan’s iconic bullet trains, although there haven’t been any reports of products being recalled or safety concerns raised. The deepening scandal “suggests that this is company culture, not just the actions of a few rogue employees,” Alexander Robert Medd, managing director at Bucephalus Research in Hong Kong, said by email. The question to be resolved is “were they trying to save money or just unable to produce the right spec in the right quantities,” he said. Kobe’s shares have plunged 42% this week, including a 9.1% drop on Friday, after it revealed on Sunday that it had fudged data on the strength and durability of metals supplied to as many as 200 customers around the world, including Toyota, General Motors and space rocket-maker Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

[..] SMBC Nikko Securities said in a note the new revelations around steel wires could be “quite negative” for Kobe Steel’s creditworthiness as the company holds roughly half of the global market share for the wires used in valve springs of auto engines. If doubts arose over the safety of the wires, it could “shake the foundation” of the company, according to chief credit analyst Takayuki Atake.

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“The whole thing makes me feel like there’s a bunch of vultures sitting on my back fence..”

Distressed Investors Buying Houston Homes for 40 Cents on the Dollar (BBG)

Bryan Schild drives through the byways of Houston looking for what could be the investment opportunity of a lifetime: homes selling for as little as 40¢ on the dollar. “We Pay Cash For Flooded Homes $$$$$$$$ Don’t fix it, sell it. Quick close,” read the signs piled in the back seat of his Ford pickup. Schild stops by a ranch-style house where 74-year-old Paul Matlock lives with his wife, disabled from multiple sclerosis. Matlock is desperate to leave and is considering Schild’s offer of $120,000—half the home’s value three weeks earlier. A half-dozen other investors have made offers, one as low as $55,000. “The whole thing makes me feel like there’s a bunch of vultures sitting on my back fence,” Matlock says. “They’re waiting for the dead body to fall over.”

It’s axiomatic on Wall Street that the time to buy is when fear overtakes greed—when blood (or, in this case, water) is in the streets. Now some are eyeing the billions of dollars in hurricane-ravaged property in Texas and Florida and deciding it may be the time to take out their checkbooks. Investors such as Schild figure they can buy low, either fix up and flip the houses or rent them out for several years, and unload them later, doubling their money or more. Those kinds of bets have often paid off. Buyers who snapped up co-ops and office towers when New York was near bankruptcy in the 1970s made a killing. More recently, companies including Blackstone and other marquee names bought foreclosed homes after the 2008 financial crisis and are sitting on billions in potential gains.

The cycle begins with small-time investors such as Schild, who’s bought more than 30 waterlogged houses for an average $175,000 apiece. Then Wall Street swoops in. Gary Beasley, former CEO of Waypoint Homes, also sees an opportunity. He’s pitching private equity firms and pension funds on the potential profit in buying flooded homes, repairing them, and renting them back to homeowners. Bain Capital and billionaire Marc Benioff, co-founder of Salesforce.com, are backing Beasley’s two-year-old company, Roofstock. It runs a website where investors can buy and sell single-family rental properties. Beasley thinks owner-occupants may be interested in selling there, too, and that flooded neighborhoods are the Next Big Thing. “It’s much like the housing crisis, when the institutional guys came in to buy homes nobody wanted,” he says. Like other investors, Beasley and Schild view themselves as helping homeowners to move on and Houston to rebuild.

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Will Musk take Silicon Valley down with him?

Tesla Plays Auto Game By Silicon Valley Rules (DN)

Lest there be any doubt, the electrified race for supremacy in self-driving cars is being played by Silicon Valley rules. How do we know this? By Tesla Chairman Elon Musk’s recognition that his long-awaited Model 3 compact is “in production hell,” that it’s complicated by “bottlenecks” and by confirmation that parts of the cars are being “hand-built.” This amazing accomplishment is being greeted, well, differently by investors than it would if, say, General Motors Chairman Mary Barra copped to the same kind of chaos with its electric Chevrolet Bolt … or just about any other eagerly anticipated model in its lineup. Tesla mostly gets a pass, as it does for losing money on every car it produces. The nearly 4% slide in its shares Monday, the first trading day after The Wall Street Journal reported the messy Model 3 launch, has since recouped most of the loss, judging by the market close Wednesday.

To free “resources to fix Model 3 bottlenecks” and increase battery production to help hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, Musk tweeted that Tesla’s anticipated demonstration of its self-driving truck would be delayed until Nov. 16. Detroit (and its foreign-owned rivals) would get crucified for a similar mess. Analysts, the news media and, especially, investors would show scant tolerance for misses of that magnitude from traditional auto industry players — and all of them would demand answers. Tesla? Not so much. Never mind that Musk, the automotive wunderkind, might risk missing what Barclays Research calls the “iPhone moment” for the Model 3, Tesla’s long-awaited entry into the volume-priced electric car segment. You know, the segment already occupied by GM’s Chevy Bolt, Nissan’s Leaf and a slew of coming electric entrants from global automakers.

As a rule, they don’t botch production launches with the same aplomb as Musk’s hand-built production hell. They also have broader distribution networks under existing state franchise laws; more disciplined production systems with longer lead times to ensure more consistent quality at launch; and greater transparency with investors, analysts and the news media. This will be fascinating to watch. Tesla’s Model 3 is one of the most highly anticipated car launches in a long time. It’s supposed to be sheet metal and electric powertrain proof that Silicon Valley innovation can beat Detroit and Stuttgart, Tokyo and Seoul at their own game.

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Click the link to see the whole thing.

What Powers America (CB)

The US electricity system is often described as the world’s largest machine. It is also incredibly diverse, reflecting the policy preferences, needs and available natural resources of each state. Carbon Brief has plotted the nation’s power stations in an interactive map to show how and where the US generates electricity. A few key messages can be gleaned from the map and associated data interactives below: • The US electricity system has been changing rapidly over the past decade. This reflects not only federal policy, but also technologies, geographies, markets and state mandates. •The average US coal plant is 40 years old and runs half the time. Some 15% are at least 50 years old, against an average retirement age of 52. • Planned new power plants are almost exclusively gas, wind or solar.

Supplying electricity to a nation’s homes, business and industry is an almost uniquely challenging enterprise. For now, electrical energy is either expensive or inconvenient to store, meaning supply and demand must be balanced in real time. It is also easier to generate power close to home than to transport it over long distances. The way electricity is generated fundamentally depends on the fuels and technologies available. The march of progress means this mix is changing – but natural resources and geographies are fixed. Moreover, US states have broad powers to influence the electricity systems within their borders. Putting the US electricity system on a map offers visual confirmation of how important these factors are. Why is solar so prevalent in North Carolina, for example? Or coal in West Virginia?

You can use Carbon Brief’s interactive map to view all the power plants in the US and their relative electricity generating capacities, which are proportional to the size of the bubbles. The dynamic chart in the sidebar summarises the makeup of the capacity mix. It’s important to note that the map and related charts, below, are based on electrical generating capacity. The electricity generated each year by each unit varies according to its load factor (average output of a power station, relative to its installed capacity). US wind has a load factor of around 35% while solar is around 27%. These are lower load factors than for nuclear at around 90%. Coal and gas can, in theory, have similarly high load factors, but in practice both are at around 50% in the US.

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Article gets numbers mixed up, but one thing is certain: Greeks make very little money compared to cost of living.

Greek Civil Servants’ Wages 38% Higher Than Private Sector Staff (K.)

Despite years of austerity policies, Greek civil servants remain significantly better paid than private sector wages, with their average wages 38% higher than their counterparts in the private sector, according to the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV). The average net monthly wage in the public sector is €1,075 compared to €777 in the private sector, according to figures made public in SEV’s weekly bulletin which underlined that the gap between the two is widening rather than closing. In the first half of this year, the average wage in the public sector rose marginally – by 0.1% – compared to a drop of 1.3% for private sector salaries, according to SEV’s analysis, which concluded that private sector workers saw their wages shaved by about €10 a month over that period.

In a related development, a report conducted by the civil servants’ union ADEDY reported an increase in permanent staff in the Greek civil service over the past year. An additional 1,293 staff were hired between August 2016 and last August, bringing the total number to 566,022, according to the report. Another finding was that most Greek civil servants – 80% of the total – take home a net monthly salary of less than €1,300. Half earn up to €1,000 a month, 44% take home between €1,000 and €1,500 and 3.6% net between €1,500 and €2,100, according to the report. Last month, SEV painted a dire picture of the state of the Greek pension system, which it described as running on empty, while warning that the country’s beleaguered private sector has taken on a disproportionate share of the burden to support pensioners and the public sector.

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Easy to figure out what this will mean to health care. The richest country in the world kills its people for profit.

US Obesity Rates Hit New Records: 39.6% of Adults Now Obese (AFP)

The rate of obesity in the United States has reached a new high, at 39.6% of adults, according to US government data released Friday. Health experts are concerned about obesity because it is associated with a number of life-threatening health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain kinds of cancer. The adult obesity rate in the United States has risen steadily since 1999, when 30.5% of adults were obese. “From 1999–2000 through 2015–2016, a significantly increasing trend in obesity was observed in both adults and youth,” said the report, based on a nationally representative sample of the population, and issued by the National Center for Health Statistics.

“The observed change in prevalence between 2013–2014 and 2015–2016, however, was not significant among both adults and youth.” Its previous report for 2013 to 2014 found that 37.7% of adults were obese. Researchers said the difference between the current and last report is not statistically significant because it falls within the margin of error of the estimate. Adult obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. Among youths aged two to 19, 18.5% are obese, the report said. The rate of youth obesity was 13.9% in 1999.

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Another example of killing people for profit.

Antibiotic Resistance Could Spell End Of Modern Medicine (G.)

England’s chief medical officer has repeated her warning of a “post-antibiotic apocalypse” as she urged world leaders to address the growing threat of antibiotic resistance. Prof Dame Sally Davies said that if antibiotics lose their effectiveness it would spell “the end of modern medicine”. Without the drugs used to fight infections, common medical interventions such as caesarean sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements would become incredibly risky and transplant medicine would be a thing of the past, she said. “We really are facing – if we don’t take action now – a dreadful post-antibiotic apocalypse. I don’t want to say to my children that I didn’t do my best to protect them and their children,” Davies said.

Health experts have previously said resistance to antimicrobial drugs could cause a bigger threat to mankind than cancer. In recent years, the UK has led a drive to raise global awareness of the threat posed to modern medicine by antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Each year about 700,000 people around the world die due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis, HIV and malaria. If no action is taken, it has been estimated that drug-resistant infections will kill 10 million people a year by 2050. The UK government and the Wellcome Trust, along with others, have organised a call to action meeting for health officials from around the world. At the meeting in Berlin, the government will announce a new project that will map the spread of death and disease caused by drug-resistant superbugs.

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Too sad for words.

Penguin Disaster As Only Two Chicks Survive From Colony Of 40,000 (G.)

A colony of about 40,000 Adélie penguins in Antarctica has suffered a “catastrophic breeding event” – all but two chicks have died of starvation this year. It is the second time in just four years that such devastation – not previously seen in more than 50 years of observation – has been wrought on the population. The finding has prompted urgent calls for the establishment of a marine protected area in East Antarctica, at next week’s meeting of 24 nations and the European Union at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Hobart. In the colony of about 18,000 breeding penguin pairs on Petrels Island, French scientists discovered just two surviving chicks at the start of the year. Thousands of starved chicks and unhatched eggs were found across the island in the region called Adélie Land (“Terre Adélie”).

The colony had experienced a similar event in 2013, when no chicks survived. In a paper about that event, a group of researchers, led by Yan Ropert-Coudert from France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, said it had been caused by a record amount of summer sea ice and an “unprecedented rainy episode”. The unusual extent of sea ice meant the penguins had to travel an extra 100km to forage for food. And the rainy weather left the chicks, which have poor waterproofing, wet and unable to keep warm. This year’s event has also been attributed to an unusually large amount of sea ice. Overall, Antarctica has had a record low amount of summer sea ice, but the area around the colony has been an exception.

Ropert-Coudert said the region had been severely affected by the break-up of the Mertz glacier tongue in 2010, when a piece of ice almost the size of Luxembourg – about 80 km long and 40km wide – broke off. That event, which occurred about 250km from Petrels Island, had a big impact on ocean currents and ice formation in the region. “The Mertz glacier impact on the region sets the scene in 2010 and when unusual meteorological events, driven by large climatic variations, hit in some years this leads to massive failures,” Ropert-Coudert told the Guardian. “In other words, there may still be years when the breeding will be OK, or even good for this colony, but the scene is set for massive impacts to hit on a more or less regular basis.”

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