Oct 162017
 
 October 16, 2017  Posted by at 8:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Marc Riboud Street seen from inside antique dealer’s shop, Beijing 1965

 

US Equities “At Most Offensive Level Of Overvaluation In History” (BI)
Yellen Doubles Down: “Valuations Are At High Levels Historically” (ZH)
Goldman Sachs: 88% Chance We’re Heading Into A Bear Market (BI)
The Mystery Of Weak Wage Growth (BI)
China Factory Prices Jump As Government Reduces Capacity (BBG)
China’s Mortgage Debt Bubble Raises Spectre Of 2007 US Crisis (SCMP)
Interest-only Loans Are A Huge Problem For The Australian Economy (Holden)
Revised Figures Reveal UK Is £490 Billion Poorer Than Previously Thought (FL)
How To Weather Brexit: Focus Less On Trade, More On Investment (Pettifor)
UK Financial Regulator Warns Of Growing Debt Among Young People (BBC)
How to Wipe Out Puerto Rico’s Debt Without Hurting Bondholders (Ellen Brown)
Catalan Leader Fails To Spell Out Independence Stance, Calls For Talks (R.)
Electricity Required For Single Bitcoin Trade Could Power Home For A Month (BI)
New Quantum Atomic Clock May Finally Reveal Nature of Dark Matter (USci)
Ai Weiwei On Art, Exile And Refugee Film ‘Human Flow’ (AFP)

 

 

John Hussman correcting Buffett.

US Equities “At Most Offensive Level Of Overvaluation In History” (BI)

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett made a lot of people feel better about historically stretched stock prices earlier this month. Speaking in an interview with CNBC on October 3, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway said, “Valuations make sense with interest rates where they are.” The investment community breathed a sigh of relief. After all, Buffett is arguably the most successful stock investor in world history. An all-clear from him surely gives a green light for adding more equity exposure, right? Wrong, says John Hussman, the president of the Hussman Investment Trust and a former economics professor. In his mind, Buffett only gets half of the equation right. While Hussman acknowledges that low lending rates do, by nature, improve future cash flows, he argues that they must also be accompanied by strong growth — something that he notes the US is not currently enjoying.

To Hussman, the simple idea that “lower interest rates justify higher valuations” is one that gives people false confidence. “It’s an incomplete sentence ,” Hussman wrote in a recent blog post. “Unfortunately, the convenience of investing-by-slogan, rather than carefully thinking about finance and examining evidence, is currently leading investors into what is likely to be one of the worst disasters in the history of the U.S. stock market.” Hussman calculates that stock valuations are stretched 175% above their historic norms, and predicts the S&P 500 will see negative total returns over the next 10 to 12 years. Along the way, the benchmark index will experience an interim loss of more than 60%, he estimates. As touched on above, at the core of Hussman’s bearish argument is a lack of economic growth. He specifically points to slowing expansion in the US labor force, as shown by this chart:

“Put simply, if interest rates are low because growth rates are also low, no valuation premium is ‘justified,'” Hussman wrote. “The long-term rate of return on the security will be low anyway without any valuation premium at all. This observation has enormous implications for current U.S. stock market prospects.” So where does that leave the market at this very moment? In the very near term, Hussman’s neutral, citing the continued speculative impulses of investors. Still, he stresses that traders should be hedging and using other safety nets to protect against potential downside, which he says could materialize quickly. To say he’s less than warm and fuzzy about the stock market is an understatement. And when discussing price levels, he doesn’t exactly pull any punches, saying US equities are now “at the most offensive level of overvaluation in history” — even worse than in 1929 and 2000.

Read more …

People like Yellen focus on one activity: explain away the consequences of their blindly taken actions. They grope in the dark.

Yellen Doubles Down: “Valuations Are At High Levels Historically” (ZH)

On the heels of San Franciso Fed Governor John Williams’ warning that The Fed “doesn’t want there to be excesses in financial markets… ” Janet Yellen has reiterated her concerns that markets are a bit toppy… Market valuations “are at high level in historical terms” when assessed on metrics akin to price-earnings ratios, warned Fed Chair Janet Yellen in response to a question on an IMF panel in Washington, but was careful to add that “overall financial stability risks in the U.S. remain moderate.” “Prospects for U.S. fiscal stimulus have buoyed sentiment but not yet had much impact on spending or investment,” she said. “Broader financial stability risks depend on more than just asset prices and it may also be important just why asset valuations are high. So one factor that clearly comes into play is an environment of low interest rates and central bankers like many market participants have been adjusting our notions of what” interest rates are likely to be in the longer term.

So – to sum up – The Fed doesn’t want excesses… Yellen thinks stock valuations are stretched… but don’t worry coz rates are low (although we are dedicated to raising them) and financial stability (despite record high corporate leverage and record low spreads) is not a problem. Well… The market has almost never been this expensive… As Peter Boockvar warns: “Almost there. S&P 500 price to sales ratio is just 4% from March 2000 peak.”

Additionally, Draghi and Kuroda were also said they saw little evidence of frothiness in markets. Others in Washington were less sanguine… The market “feels as benign in 2017 as it felt in 2006,” said Jes Staley, the chief executive of Barclays Plc, referencing the eve of the crisis. Yellen also added in a subtle jab at Trump that while prospects for U.S. fiscal stimulus have buoyed sentiment but not yet had much impact on spending or investment… “It is a source of uncertainty,” Yellen says of fiscal policy changes, “we’ve taken,” as many households have, “a kind of wait-and-see attitude.” Of course, The Fed head being worried about stock valuations is a nothing-burger for the mainstream. Since Janet Yellen’s first warning in July 2014: “Equity market valuations appear stretched”

Read more …

So there.

Goldman Sachs: 88% Chance We’re Heading Into A Bear Market (BI)

Goldman Sachs has circulated a fascinating but scary research note to clients suggesting that the probability of stocks entering a bear market in the next 24 months currently stands at about 88%, based on the history of previous bear markets. The note is titled “Bear Necessities. Should we worry now?” It is an exhaustive, 87-page dive through macroeconomic data and stock market activity going all the way back to the early 20th Century. It was written in September by London-based Chief Global Equity Strategist Peter Oppenheimer, and European strategists Sharon Bell and Lilia Iehle Peytavin. Most of their data focus on the US S&P 500 index of stocks – the largest and most-followed of the share indices globally. The S&P is currently the second largest and longest bull run in history.

The index is also relatively expensive, the Goldman trio says. The aggregate valuation of the S&P 500 is now in its 88th percentile, as measured since 1976, according to Goldman’s calculations. The median stock is in the 99th percentile. The trio calculated a risk index based on the Shiller price-earnings ratio (the price of S&P 500 stocks divided by the average of 10 years of earnings, adjusted for inflation), the US ISM manufacturing index, unemployment (very low), the bond yield curve, and core inflation. The resultant “GS Bear Market Indicator” is currently flashing at 67%. The indicator typically hits highs right before a bear market in US stocks appears:

Historically, when the indicator is at 67%, there is an 88% chance of stocks falling into a bear market in two years’ time, the Goldman analysts say:

However, the chance of a bear growling into view in the near-term remains low — just 35%. Bear markets are triggered in three different ways, Oppenheimer et al argue: “Cyclical” bear markets are trigged by rising interest rates and recessions; “Event-driven” bears come from negative economic shocks like war or emerging market crises; “Structural” bears come from financial bubbles. Depending on your point of view, all three of those triggers are hovering on the horizon: The Fed and the Bank of England are both signalling interest rates will rise; US President Trump is threatening military action in North Korea; and plenty of people think the low-interest rate environment of the last 10 years has inflated asset bubbles in stocks, real estate and property in Europe, and private equity tech startup valuations.

Read more …

Those for whom this is a mystery are not fit for their jobs. If you export millions of jobs to Asia, take workers’ negotiating powers away and push them into crappy jobs with no benefits, only one outcome is possible.

The Mystery Of Weak Wage Growth (BI)

Many economists say they can’t figure out why US wage growth remains so meager nine years into the economic expansion, especially given a decline in the unemployment rate to a historically low 4.4%. A new study from the IMF might help them out. It finds that shifts in the labor market toward less stable, temporary or contract jobs, including odd hours and often no health insurance, likely play a substantial role in preventing wages from rising. That’s because job uncertainty makes it harder for workers to bargain for higher wages, giving employers a strong upper hand in any salary negotiation. The trend is happening not just in the United States but also in other rich economies, the Fund says. “Labor market developments in advanced economies point to a possible disconnect between unemployment and wages,” IMF staffers write in their latest World Economic Outlook report.

“Subdued nominal wage growth has occurred in a context of a higher rate of involuntary part-time employment, an increased share of temporary employment contracts, and a reduction in hours per worker,” the report adds. That’s not the only factor. The Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, which was a global phenomenon, set labor markets back years, and suppressed wages sharply as unemployment surged, peaking at 10% in the United States. The IMF suggests the policy reaction to that global downturn was underwhelming, particularly when it came to fiscal policies, which were restrictive both in the United States and Europe.

“Whereas in many economies headline unemployment is approaching ratios seen before the Great Recession, or has even dipped below those levels, nominal wage growth rates continue to grow at a distinctly slower pace,” the Fund said. “For some economies, this may reflect policy measures to slow wage growth and improve competitiveness in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and euro area sovereign debt crisis.” [..] “To the extent that declining unemployment rates partly reflect workers forced into part-time jobs, increases in such types of employment may overstate the tightening of the labor market,” the IMF said.

Read more …

It’s all for the Party Congress: close industries so air is cleaner, and let scarcity push producer prices higher. But wait till consumers feel those higher prices. It’s just, that is AFTER the Congress.

China Factory Prices Jump As Government Reduces Capacity (BBG)

China’s factory prices jumped more than estimated, as domestic demand remained resilient and the government continued to reduce excess industrial capacity. Consumer price gains matched projections. • The producer price index rose 6.9% in September from a year earlier. • The manufacturing PPI sub-index climbed 7.3%, the most in nine years • The consumer price index climbed 1.6%, versus a prior reading of 1.8%, the statistics bureau said Monday. Aggressive cuts to capacity in industries like steel and cement, coupled with resilient demand, have contributed to factory inflation that’s lasted longer than economists expected. The drive to cut pollution and boost firms’ efficiency will probably continue as the Communist Party begins its 19th Congress this week.

“The economy has pretty strong momentum now, monetary policy remained loose ahead of the 19th Party Congress, and the environmental cleanup has cut the supply of commodities,” said Shen Jianguang, chief Asia economist at Mizuho in Hong Kong and the lone forecaster in Bloomberg’s survey to correctly predict the PPI reading. “But this is not sustainable. Deleveraging will be moving up on the agenda after the congress.” “Strong PPI shows that economic momentum is pretty robust in the second half,” said Liu Xuezhi, an analyst at Bank of Communications in Shanghai. “It was widely expected that factory-gate inflation could slow in the second half, but apparently it’s still quite resilient, which may lead to a more positive outlook.”

“China’s manufacturing industry, upstream in particular, continues to see decent demand,” said Raymond Yeung, chief Greater China economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking in Hong Kong. “This PPI figure foretells a decent growth number to be out later this week. We see GDP of 6.8% at the moment but should be prepared for an upside risk.”

Read more …

I don’t normally post 3-week-old articles, but this one (h/t Tyler) is just too good. The Chinese never borrowed much, but now they borrow more than anyone. Scary: “..a person without a flat has no future in Shenzhen.” It’ll keep the economy going until it doesn’t.

China’s Mortgage Debt Bubble Raises Spectre Of 2007 US Crisis (SCMP)

Young Chinese like Eli Mai, a sales manager in Guangzhou, and Wendy Wang, an executive in Shenzhen, are borrowing as much money as possible to buy boomtown flats even though they cannot afford the repayments. Behind the dream of property ownership they share with many like-minded friends lies an uninterrupted housing price rally in major Chinese cities that dates back to former premier Zhu Rongji’s privatisation of urban housing in the late 1990s. Rapid urbanisation, combined with unprecedented monetary easing in the past decade, has resulted in runaway property inflation in cities like Shenzhen, where home prices in many projects have doubled or even tripled in the past two years. City residents in their 20s and 30s view property as a one-way bet because they’ve never known prices to drop.

At the same time, property inflation has seen the real purchasing power of their money rapidly diminish. “Almost all my friends born since the 1980s and 1990s are racing to buy homes, while those who already have one are planning to buy a second,” Mai, 33, said. “Very few can be at ease when seeing rents and home prices rise so strongly, and they will continue to rise in a scary way.” The rush of millions young middle-class Chinese like Mai into the property market has created a hysteria that eerily resembles the housing crisis that struck the United States a decade ago. Thanks to the easy credit that has spurred the housing boom, many young Chinese have abandoned the frugal traditions of earlier generations and now lead a lifestyle beyond their financial means.

The build-up of household and other debt in China has also sparked widespread concern about the health of the world’s second largest economy. The Chinese leadership headed by President Xi Jinping has taken a note of the problem and launched an unprecedented campaign in the second half of last year to curb home price rises in major cities by raising down payment requirements, disqualifying some buyers and squeezing the bank credit available for home buyers. The campaign is still deepening, with five more cities introducing rules last weekend that will freeze some property deals.

[..] Government policies are also protecting the interests of homeowners. City governments have squeezed land supply to keep land prices high and made secondary market trading less attractive, with new home buyers left to compete for a few new developments. Meanwhile, there is no property tax, which encourages homeowners to hold on to appreciating property assets. The result has been skyrocketing housing prices in Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai, where property prices can match those in Hong Kong or London. The lesson was that “if you don’t buy a flat today, you will never be able to afford it”, Wang, 29, said. [..] “The debts are huge to me,” Wang said. “But a person without a flat has no future in Shenzhen.”

Read more …

Half of one banker’s loan books are interest-only. Most are 40%. That is an insane amount of principal that is not being paid off.

Interest-only Loans Are A Huge Problem For The Australian Economy (Holden)

I’m not normally a fan of parliament hauling private sector executives before them and asking thorny questions. But when the Australian House of Representatives did so this week with the big banks it was both useful and instructive. And, to be perfectly frank, terrifying. Let’s start with Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer. First, he confirmed the little-known but startling fact that half of his A$400 billion home loan book consists of interest-only mortgages. Yep, half. Of A$400 billion. At one bank. Oh, and ANZ, CBA and NAB are all nearly at 40% interest-only. Hartzer went on to make the banal statement: “we don’t lend to people who can’t pay it back. It doesn’t make sense for us to do so.” So did it make sense for all those American mortgage lenders to lend to people on adjustable rates, teaser rates, low-doc loans, no-doc loans etc. before the global financial crisis?

Of course not. The point is that banks are not some benevolent, unitary actor taking care of their own money. There are top managers like Harzter acting on behalf of shareholders. Those top managers delegate authority to lower-level managers, who are given incentives to write lots of mortgages. And, as we know, the incentives of those who make the loans are not necessarily aligned with those of the shareholders. Those folks may well want to make loans to people who can’t pay them back as long as they get a big payday in the short term. ANZ CEO Shayne Elliot repeated Hartzer’s mantra, saying: “It’s not in our interest to lend money to people who can’t afford to repay.” Recall, this is the man who on ABC’s Four Corners said that home loans weren’t risky because they were all uncorrelated risks (the chances that one loan defaults does not affect the chances of others defaulting).

That is a comment that is either staggeringly stupid or completely disingenuous. Messers Harzter and Elliot must take us all for suckers. They have made a huge amount of interest-only loans, at historically low interest rates, to buyers in a frothy housing market, who spend a large chunk of their income on interest payments. This certainly looks troubling. It may not be US sub-prime, but it could be ugly. Very ugly. To put it in context, there appears to be in the neighbourhood of A$1 trillion of interest-only loans on the books of Australian banks. I say “appears to be” because reporting requirements are so lax it’s hard to know for sure, except when CEOs cough up the ball, like this week. The big lesson of the US mortgage meltdown is that the risks on these mortgages are all correlated. If a few people aren’t paying back an interest-only loan, that is a fair predictor that others won’t pay back their loans either.

Read more …

From a “gated” Ambrose Evans-Pritchard article. Troubles grow fast.

Revised Figures Reveal UK Is £490 Billion Poorer Than Previously Thought (FL)

“Global banks and international bond strategists have been left stunned by revised ONS figures showing that Britain is £490bn poorer than had been assumed and no longer has any reserve of net foreign assets, depriving the country of its safety margin as Brexit talks reach a crucial juncture. A massive write-down in the UK balance of payments data shows that Britain’s stock of wealth – the net international investment position – has collapsed from a surplus of £469bn to a net deficit of £22bn. This transforms the outlook for sterling and the gilts markets. “Half a trillion pounds has gone missing. This is equivalent to 25pc of GDP,” said Mark Capleton, UK rates strategist at Bank of America. Making matters worse, foreign direct investment (FDI) by companies is plummeting. It fell from a £120bn surplus in the first half 2016 to a £25bn deficit over the same period of this year.”

The news comes on top of the OBR confessing to a miscalculation of their own last week in UK productivity potential. Not good news for the UK or pound so let’s see if it plays out as the session progresses.

Read more …

Too late? Won’t happen under Tories.

How To Weather Brexit: Focus Less On Trade, More On Investment (Pettifor)

“Strong and stable” seems of a world so far, far away. Yesterday’s Daily Mail headline “PM slaps treacherous Chancellor down” portrays a government in political chaos. Thanks to open, unresolved intra-Brexiteer warfare, ministers are unable to agree the basics of how to exit the European Union. This state of uncertainty intensifies just as the risks to British jobs and living standards are becoming starker and more potent. Ironically, just as we teeter towards the cliff, ONS data reveals that exports of goods to the EU grew over the last three months, while those to the rest of world fell back, a fact not devoid of dark humour. Yet while ministers appear obsessed by trade, net trade comprises only a small part of UK GDP. Surely, through the coming period of Brexit chaos, government priority must be to “take back control” and maintain and support the domestic economy.

This means a commitment to support not only investment technically defined as “capital” but also public investment in the health, education, and training of the British people. In that way, Britain will have some chance of weathering the storm. George Magnus highlighted the OBR’s acceptance that UK productivity growth is likely to stay much lower than previously assumed. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that—on present course—the ever-weaker economy will lead this government to continue to slash public revenues. Yet even this gloomy OBR data underestimates the dangers. For the OBR has not yet factored in the far greater damage that will flow from a chaotic, unplanned Brexit in less than 18 months.

[..] Investment in the UK has since 2007 been in the 14 – 18% range as a share of GDP. In 2016, the figure was 17%. France, by contrast, has annual investment of between 22 – 24% of GDP, and Germany around 19 – 21%. The UK in 2016 slumped to 116th place out of 141 countries in terms of capital investment as a percentage of GDP. In the EU, only Greece, Portugal, Lithuania and Cyprus were below us. Low levels of investment by the “timid mouse” that is the private sector is directly a function of low levels of aggregate demand. Firms can’t see future customers coming through the door, and are made timid by volatile financial conditions and political uncertainty. Weak demand and financial instability are exacerbated by low levels of public investment.

Read more …

More UK misery: “We should not think this is reckless borrowing, this is directed at essential living costs.”

UK Financial Regulator Warns Of Growing Debt Among Young People (BBC)

The chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority has warned of a “pronounced” build up of debt among young people. In an interview with the BBC, Andrew Bailey said the young were having to borrow for basic living costs. The regulator also said he “did not like” some high cost lending schemes. He said consumers, and institutions that lend to them, should be aware that interest rates may rise in the future and that credit should be “affordable”. Action was being taken to curb long term credit card debt and high cost pay-day loans, Mr Bailey said. The regulator is also looking and charges in the rent-to-own sector which can leave people paying high levels of interest for buying white goods such as washing machines, he added.

“There is a pronounced build up of indebtedness amongst the younger age group,” Mr Bailey said. “We should not think this is reckless borrowing, this is directed at essential living costs. It is not credit in the classic sense, it is [about] the affordability of basic living in many cases.” [..] “There are particular concentrations [of debt] in society, and those concentrations are particularly exposed to some of the forms and practices of high cost debt which we are currently looking at very closely because there are things in there that we don’t like,” Mr Bailey said. “There has been a clear shift in the generational pattern of wealth and income, and that translates into a greater indebtedness at a younger age. “That reflects lower levels of real income, lower levels of asset ownership. There are quite different generational experiences,” he said.

Read more …

Haven’t seen anything from Ellen in a while. This makes a ton of sense. But Puerto Rico’s not the only place that needs it.

How to Wipe Out Puerto Rico’s Debt Without Hurting Bondholders (Ellen Brown)

DWiping out Puerto Rico’s debt, they warned, could undermine confidence in the municipal bond market, causing bond interest rates to rise, imposing an additional burden on already-struggling states and municipalities across the country. True, but the president was just pointing out the obvious. As economist Michael Hudson says, “Debts that can’t be paid won’t be paid.” Puerto Rico is bankrupt, its economy destroyed. In fact it is currently in bankruptcy proceedings with its creditors. Which suggests its time for some more out-of-the-box thinking . . . . In July 2016, a solution to this conundrum was suggested by the notorious Goldman Sachs itself, when mom and pop investors holding the bonds of bankrupt Italian banks were in jeopardy. Imposing losses on retail bondholders had proven to be politically toxic, after one man committed suicide.

Some other solution had to be found. Italy’s non-performing loans (NPLs) then stood at 210bn, at a time when the ECB was buying 120bn per year of outstanding Italian government bonds as part of its QE program. The July 2016 Financial Times quoted Goldman’s Francesco Garzarelli, who said, “by the time QE is over – not sooner than end 2017, on our baseline scenario – around a fifth of Italy’s public debt will be sitting on the Bank of Italy’s balance sheet.” His solution: rather than buying Italian government bonds in its quantitative easing program, the ECB could simply buy the insolvent banks’ NPLs. Bringing the entire net stock of bad loans onto the government’s balance sheet, he said, would be equivalent to just nine months’ worth of Italian government bond purchases by the ECB.

Puerto Rico’s debt is only $73 billion, one third the Italian debt. The Fed has stopped its quantitative easing program, but in its last round (called “QE3”), it was buying $85 billion per month in securities. At that rate, it would have to fire up the digital printing presses for only one additional month to rescue the suffering Puerto Ricans without hurting bondholders at all. It could then just leave the bonds on its books, declaring a moratorium at least until Puerto Rico got back on its feet, and better yet, indefinitely. Shifting the debt burden of bankrupt institutions onto the books of the central bank is not a new or radical idea. UK Prof. Richard Werner, who invented the term “quantitative easing” when he was advising the Japanese in the 1990s, says there is ample precedent for it. In 2012, he proposed a similar solution to the European banking crisis, citing three successful historical examples.

One was in Britain in 1914, when the British banking sector collapsed after the government declared war on Germany. This was not a good time for a banking crisis, so the Bank of England simply bought the banks’ NPLs. “There was no credit crunch,” wrote Werner, “and no recession. The problem was solved at zero cost to the tax payer.” For a second example, he cited the Japanese banking crisis of 1945. The banks had totally collapsed, with NPLs that amounted to virtually 100% of their assets: But in 1945 the Bank of Japan had no interest in creating a banking crisis and a credit crunch recession. Instead it wanted to ensure that bank credit would flow again, delivering economic growth. So the Bank of Japan bought the non-performing assets from the banks – not at market value (close to zero), but significantly above market value.

Read more …

Set for confrontation. Combine with Brexit and Austria’s push to the right, and you get an EU with crumbling foundations.

Catalan Leader Fails To Spell Out Independence Stance, Calls For Talks (R.)

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont failed to clarify on Monday whether he had declared Catalonia’s independence from Spain last week, paving the way for the central government to take control of the region and rule it directly. The wealthy region’s threatened to break away following a referendum in Oct. 1 that Spain’s Constitutional Court said was illegal. That plunged the country into its worst political crisis since an attempted military coup in 1981. Puigdemont made a symbolic declaration of independence on Tuesday, but suspended it seconds later and called for negotiations with Madrid on the region’s future. Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gave him until Monday 10:00 a.m. (0800 GMT) to clarify his position, and until Thursday to change his mind if he insisted on a split – and said Madrid would suspend Catalonia’s autonomy if he chose independence.

Rajoy had said Puigdemont should answer the formal requirement with a simple “Yes” or “No” and that any ambiguous response would be considered a confirmation that a declaration of independence had been made. Puigdemont did not directly answer the question in his letter to Rajoy, made public by local Catalan media. The Catalan leader said instead that the two should meet as soon as possible to open a dialogue over the next two months. “Our offer for dialogue is sincere and honest. During the next two months, our main objective is to have this dialogue and that all international, Spanish and Catalan institutions and personalities that have expressed the willingness to open a way for dialogue can explore it,” Puigdemont said in the letter.

Read more …

And this will go up as the blockchain grows.

Electricity Required For Single Bitcoin Trade Could Power Home For A Month (BI)

Bitcoin transactions use so much energy that the electricity used for a single trade could power a home for almost a whole month, according to a paper from Dutch bank ING. Bitcoin trades use a lot of electricity as a means to make verifying trades expensive, therefore making fraudulent transactions costly and deterring those who would seek to misuse the currency. “By making sure that verifying transactions is a costly business, the integrity of the network can be preserved as long as benevolent nodes control a majority of computing power,” wrote ING senior economist Teunis Brosens. “Together, they will dominate the verification (mining) process. To make the verification (mining) costly, the verification algorithm requires a lot of processing power and thus electricity.”

Comparing the amount of energy used for a bitcoin transaction to running his home in the Netherlands, Brosens says: “This number needs some context. 200kWh is enough to run over 200 washing cycles. In fact, it’s enough to run my entire home over four weeks, which consumes about 45 kWh per week costing €39 of electricity (at current Dutch consumer prices).” Not only does Bitcoin use a vast amount of electricity to complete transactions, it uses an almost exponentially larger amount than more traditional forms of electronic payment. “Bitcoin’s energy costs stand in stark contrast to payment systems that have the luxury of working with trusted counterparties. E.g. Visa takes about 0.01kWh (10Wh) per transaction which is 20000 times less energy,” Brosens notes, pointing to the chart below:

Read more …

3-dimensional quantum clocks. Much of our electronic infrastructure already relies on atomic clocks.

New Quantum Atomic Clock May Finally Reveal Nature of Dark Matter (USci)

Physicists have created a quantum atomic clock that uses a new design to achieve unprecedented levels of accuracy and stability. Its broad range of potential applications could even stretch to research into dark matter. Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder’s JILA (formerly the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics) have developed an incredibly precise quantum atomic clock based on a new three-dimensional design. The project has set a new record for quality factor, a metric used to gauge the precision of measurements. The clock packs atoms of strontium into a cube, achieving 1,000 times the density of prior one-dimensional clocks. The design marks the first time that scientists have been able to successfully utilize a so-called “quantum gas” for this purpose.

Previously, each atom in an atomic clock was treated as a separate particle, and so interactions between atoms could cause inaccuracies in the measurements taken. The “quantum many-body system” used in this project instead organizes atoms in a pattern, which forces them to avoid one another, no matter how many are introduced to the apparatus. A state of matter known as a degenerate Fermi gas — which refers to a gas comprised of Fermi particles — allows for all of the atoms to be quantized. [..] It’s been suggested that monitoring minor inconsistencies in the ticking of an atomic clock might offer insight into the presence of pockets of dark matter. Previous research has shown that a network of atomic clocks, or even a single highly-sensitive system, might register a change in the frequency of vibrating atoms or laser light in the clock if it passed through a dark matter field.

Read more …

Ai himself grew up in miserable conditions due to Mao.

Ai Weiwei On Art, Exile And Refugee Film ‘Human Flow’ (AFP)

In the most tender moments of “Human Flow,” Ai Weiwei’s epic documentary on the worldwide migrant crisis, he is seen hugging, cooking with and cutting the hair of refugees. An ordinary filmmaker might be accused of getting too close to his subject but, as far as the Chinese dissident and internationally renowned artist is concerned, he is the subject. “When I look at people being pushed away from their home because of war, because of all kinds of problems, because of environmental problems, famine, I don’t just have sympathy for them,” he tells AFP. “I do feel that they are part of me and I am part of them, even with very different social status.”

[..] “Human Flow,” his powerful expression of solidarity with refugees around the world, demonstrates the staggering scale of the refugee crisis and its profoundly personal human impact. Captured over a year in 23 countries, it follows a chain of human stories that stretches from Bangladesh and Afghanistan to Europe, Kenya and the US-Mexico border. Ai travels from teeming refugee camps to barbed-wire borders, witnessing refugees’ desperation and disillusionment as well as hope and courage. “I’m so far away from their culture, their religion or whatever the background. But with a human being, you look at him, you know what kind of person he is,” says Ai.

“I have this natural understanding about human beings. So I try to grab them with this kind of approach, a very intimate approach. They can touch me, cut my hair. I can cut their hair. I can cook in their camp.” “Human Flow” is far from Ai’s first work on the refugee crisis. Just last week he scattered over 300 outdoor works across New York as part of a new illustration of his empathy for refugees worldwide. Ai dismisses a common criticism that his work has little artistic merit and that he is more of a campaigner, telling AFP “a good artist should be an activist and a good activist should have the quality of an artist.”

Read more …

Oct 132017
 
 October 13, 2017  Posted by at 7:45 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt Old man with a beard 1630

 

“The Cost of Missing the Market Boom is Skyrocketing”, says a Bloomberg headline today. That must be the scariest headline I’ve seen in quite a while. For starters, it’s misleading, because people who ‘missed’ the boom haven’t lost anything other than virtual wealth, which is also the only thing those who haven’t ‘missed’ it, have acquired.

Well, sure, unless they sell their stocks. But a large majority of them won’t, because then they would ‘miss’ out on the market boom… Some aspects of psychology don’t require years of study. Is that what behavioral economics is all about?

And it’s not just the headline, the entire article is scary as all hell. It reads way more like a piece of pure and undiluted stockbroker propaganda that it does resemble actual objective journalism, which Bloomberg would like to tell you it delivers. And it makes its point using some pretty dubious claims to boot:

 

The Cost of Missing the Market Boom Is Skyrocketing

Skepticism in global equity markets is getting expensive. From Japan to Brazil and the U.S. as well as places like Greece and Ukraine, an epic year in equities is defying naysayers and rewarding anyone who staked a claim on corporate ownership. Records are falling, with about a quarter of national equity benchmarks at or within 2% of an all-time high.

If equity markets in places like Greece and Ukraine, ravaged by -in that order- financial and/or actual warfare, are booming, you don’t need to fire too many neurons to understand something’s amiss. Some of their companies may be doing okay, but not their entire economies. Their boom must be a warning sign, not some bullish signal. That makes no sense. Stocks in Aleppo may be thriving too, but…

“You’ve heard people being bearish for eight years. They were wrong,” said Jeffrey Saut, chief investment strategist at St. Petersburg, Florida-based Raymond James, which oversees $500 billion. “The proof is in the returns.” To put this year’s gains in perspective, the value of global equities is now 3 1/2 times that at the financial crisis bottom in March 2009.

If markets crash by, pick a number, 20-30-50% next week, will Mr. Saut still claim “The proof is in the returns”? I doubt it. Though this time he might be right. As for the ‘value’ of global equities being 250% (give or take) higher than in March 2009, does that mean those who were -or still are- bearish were wrong? Or is there some remote chance that the equities are part of a giant planetwide bubble?

Aided by an 8% drop in the U.S. currency, the dollar-denominated capitalization of worldwide shares appreciated in 2017 by an amount – $20 trillion – that is comparable to the total value of all equities nine years ago. And yet skeptics still abound, pointing to stretched valuations or policy uncertainty from Washington to Brussels. Those concerns are nothing new, but heeding to them is proving an especially costly mistake.

$20 trillion. That’s a lot of dough. It’s what all equities in the world combined were ‘worth’ 9 years ago. It’s also, oh irony, awfully close to the total increase in central bank balance sheets, through QE etc. Might the two be related in any way?

 

 

Clinging to such concerns means discounting a harmonized recovery in the global economy that’s virtually without precedent – and set to pick up steam, according to the IMF. At the same time, inflation remains tepid, enabling major central banks to maintain accommodative stances.

‘Harmonized recovery’ is a priceless find. But you have to feel for anyone who believes it. And it’s obviously over the top ironic that central banks are said to be ‘enabled’ to keep rates low precisely because they fail to both understand and raise inflation. Let’s call it the perks of failure.

“When policy is easy and growth is strong, this is an environment more conducive for people paying up for valuations,” said Andrew Sheets, chief cross-asset strategist at Morgan Stanley. “The markets are up in line with what the earnings have done, and stronger earnings helped drive a higher level of enthusiasm and a higher level of risk taking.”

Oh boy. He actually said that? What have earnings done? He hasn’t read any of the warnings on P/E (price/earnings) for the (US) market in general –“the Shiller P/E Cyclically Adjusted P/E, or CAPE, ratio, which is based on the S&P 500’s average inflation-adjusted earnings from the previous 10 years, is above 30 when its average is 16.8”– or for individual companies (tech) in particular?

The CAPE ratio has been higher than it is now only twice in history: right before the Great Depression and during the dotcom bubble, when tech companies didn’t even have to be able to fog a mirror to attract billions in ‘capital’. And the chief cross-asset strategist at Morgan Stanley says markets are in line with earnings? Again, oh boy.

No, it’s not earnings that “..helped drive a higher level of enthusiasm and a higher level of risk taking.” Cheap money did that. Central banks did that. As they were destroying fixed capital, savings, pensions.

 

 

The numbers are impressive: more than 85% of the 95 benchmark indexes tracked by Bloomberg worldwide are up this year, on course for the broadest gain since the bull market started. Emerging markets have surged 31%, developed nations are up 16%. Big companies are becoming huge, from Apple to Alibaba.

Look, emerging markets and developed economies have borrowed up the wazoo. Because they could. Often in US dollars. That may cause a -temporary- gain in stock markets, but it casts a dark spell over the reality of these markets. If it’s that obvious that a substantial part of your happy news comes from debt, there’s very little reason to celebrate.

Technology megacaps occupy all top six spots in the ranks of the world’s largest companies by market capitalization for the first time ever. Up 39% this year, the $1 trillion those firms added in value equals the combined worth of the world’s six-biggest companies at the bear market bottom in 2009. Apple, priced at $810 billion, is good for the total value of the 400 smallest companies in the S&P 500.

To cast those exact same words in a whole different light, no, Apple is not ‘good for the total value of the 400 smallest companies in the S&P 500’. Yes, you can argue that Apple’s ‘value’ has lifted other stocks too, but this has happened in a time of zero price discovery AND near zero interest rates. That means people have no way to figure out if a company is actually doing well, so it’s safer to park their cash in Apple.

Ergo: Apple, and the FANGs in general, take valuable money out of the stock market. At the same time that they, companies with P/E earnings ratios to the moon and back, buy back their stocks at blinding speeds. So yeah, Apple may be ‘good’ for the total value of the 400 smallest companies in the S&P 500, but at the same time it’s not good for that value at all. It’s killing companies by sucking up potential productive investment.

And Apple’s just an example. Silicon Valley as a whole is a scourge upon America’s economy, hoovering away even the cheapest and easiest money and redirecting it to questionable start-up projects with very questionable P/E ratios. But then, that’s what you get without price discovery.

 

 

Overall, U.S. corporate earnings are expected to rise 11% this year, on track to be the best profit growth since 2010. And after years of disappointments, European profits are set to climb 14% in 2017, Bloomberg data show. The expectations for both regions are roughly in line with forecasts made at the beginning of the year, defying the usual pattern of analysts downgrading their estimates as the months go by.

Come on, the European Central Bank has been buying bonds and securities at a rate of €60 billion a month for years now. How can it be any wonder that officially stock markets are up 14%? Maybe we should be surprised it’s not 114%. Maybe the one main point in all of this is that the ECB is still buying at that rate, and thereby signaling things are still as bad as when they started doing it.

Meanwhile, Asia is home to some of the world’s steepest rallies, led by Hong Kong stocks that are up 29% this year. Shares in Tokyo also hit fresh decade highs this week, bolstered by investor confidence before the local corporate earnings season and a snap election this month. “Asia will benefit from continued improving regional growth, stable macroeconomic conditions and undemanding valuations,” said BNP Paribas Asset Management’s head of Asia Pacific equities Arthur Kwong. Any pullback in Asian equities after the year-to-date rally presents a buying opportunity for long-term investors, he wrote in a note.

In Japan, so-called investor confidence is based solely on the Bank of Japan continuing to purchase anything that’s not bolted down. In China, the central bank buys the kitchen sink as well. How, knowing that, can you harp on about increased investor confidence? As if central banks taking over entire economies either isn’t happening, or makes no difference to economies? Buying opportunity?

Global economic growth has been robust in most places, with Europe finally joining the party and the euro-area economy on track for its best year since at least 2010. The region’s steady recovery has eclipsed worries about populism, which a few years ago would have been enough to derail any stock market rally.

No, global economic growth has not been ‘robust’. Stock market growth perhaps has been, but that’s only due to QE and buybacks. Still, stock markets are not the economy.

“I’ve never been so optimistic about the global economy,” said Vincent Juvyns, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management. “Ten years after the financial crisis, Europe is recovering and we have synchronized economic growth around the world. Even if we get it wrong on a country or two, it doesn’t change the big picture, which is positive for the equity markets.”

Oh man. And at that exact moment the ECB announces it wants to cut its QE purchase in half by next year.

Nowhere is the shifting sentiment more pronounced than in Europe, where global investors began the year with a election calendar looming like a sword of Damocles. Ten months later, the Euro Stoxx 50 Index is up 10%, Italy’s FTSE MIB Index is up 17% and Germany’s DAX Index is up 13%. The rally is even stronger when priced in U.S. dollars, with the Euro Stoxx 50 up 23% since the start of the year.

Sure, whatever. I don’t want to kill your dream, and I don’t have to. The dream will kill itself. You’ll hear a monumental ‘POP’ go off, and then you’re back in reality.

 

 

Note: Rembrandt painted the portrait above when he was just 23-24 years old.

 

 

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.

Read more …

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.”

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

“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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.”

Read more …