Monday, January 23, 2017

New York Fed Chief Dudley Has An Idea — Homeowners Should Tap Into Equity

Great Greenspan's ghost, it reminds me of another Fed guy back in 'aught-four, story after the jump.

From MarketWatch, Jan. 17:

Increased consumption would be ‘positive development,’ Dudley says
New York Fed President William Dudley on Tuesday encouraged homeowners to find “prudent” ways to tap into the equity that has built up in the homes, saying the boost in consumption would be a welcome shot-in-the-arm to the economy.

The shape of household finances was a hidden strength of the economy, he said.

“The good news is that, while the current expansion is quite old in chronological terms, it is still relatively young in terms of the health of household finances,” Dudley said in a speech to the National Retail Federation.

“Whatever the timing, a return to a reasonable pattern of home equity extraction would be a positive development for retailers, and would provide a boost to economic growth,” Dudley said.
Homeowners may have overlearned the lessons from the housing boom and bust, the New York Fed [resident said.

Even though home values have risen over 40% since 2012, housing debt has stayed virtually flat, he said.
“The previous behavior of using housing debt to finance other kinds of consumption seems to have completely disappeared,” and people are leaving the wealth generated by rising home prices “locked up” in their homes, he said....MORE
On January 21, 2008 we posted "Alan Greenspan: Competent Criminal or Criminally Incompetent?" done in the style of The Sting:
Cue the soundtrack:
"...all it takes is a little Confidence"**

And now, a tale of how a lot of folks with adjustable rate mortgages got stung:

The Set-up
"...American consumers might benefit if lenders provided greater mortgage product alternatives to the traditional fixed-rate mortgage. To the degree that households are driven by fears of payment shocks but are willing to manage their own interest rate risks, the traditional fixed-rate mortgage may be an expensive method of financing a home."
"Indeed, recent research within the Federal Reserve suggests that many homeowners might have saved tens of thousands of dollars had they held adjustable-rate mortgages..."
-Alan Greenspan
Speech to the National Credit Union Association
February 23, 2004
The Score
The $ 3 Billon Payday In today’s Journal Gregory Zuckerman brings us news of the biggest one-year salary ever paid on Wall Street — that of hedge-funder John Paulson, who made somewhere between $3 billion and $4 billion last year. That’s right, between $3 billion and $4 billion. In one year. 
...Mr. Paulson made his pile by betting against the housing market at just the right time. Lots of people bet their money on a housing crash, but they were too early — his bets happened to coincide with a crash in the debt markets.

The Wall Street Journal's Wealth Report blog.
January 15, 2008
The Payoff
Greenspan joins hedge fund Paulson
Alan Greenspan, the 81 year-old former chairman of the Federal Reserve, is set to join the US hedge fund Paulson & C. as an adviser. 
Dr Greenspan will advise Paulson on the global financial markets, and under the terms of the agreement he will not advise any other hedge fund while he is working for Paulson.
Paulson manages $28bn of assets and last year earned billions of dollars when it called correctly the collapse in the sub-prime mortgage market, a collapse which was caused by Dr Greenspan who kept interest rates too low for long, according to some economic commentators....
The Telegraph
January 16, 2008
The Stinger
Anna Schwartz blames Fed for sub-prime crisis
..."There never would have been a sub-prime mortgage crisis if the Fed had been alert. This is something Alan Greenspan must answer for," she says.

...She is scornful of Greenspan's campaign to clear his name by blaming the bubble on an Asian saving glut, which purportedly created stimulus beyond the control of the Fed by driving down global bond rates. "This attempt to exculpate himself is not convincing. The Fed failed to confront something that was evident. It can't be blamed on global events," she says.
Professor Anna Schwartz, co-author with Milton Friedman of
"A Monetary History of the United States"
The Telegraph
January 14, 2008

The End

*The Sting was based on a great sketch of human nature, The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man by David W. Maurer.
**tag-line from the movie poster.

On the other hand, there's a saying in the con world: "You can't con an honest man".

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Contradicts Finance Minister, Says Nyet, Nyet, Not Limiting Cash (yet)

Following up on Saturday's "Russian Finance Minister Proposes to Return to Idea of Limiting Cash Transactions".

From TASS:

Russian government is not discussing restriction of cash payments
MOSCOW, January 23. /TASS/. Russian government is not discussing the issue of cash payments limiting and will not impose any administrative restrictions, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov.

"The government is not discussing this issue. Banks are currently investing huge funds into modern technologies. We believe administrative limiting of payments is senseless," Shuvalov said.
I'm not sure where the FinMin and the First Deputy Prime Minister line up on the organizational chart but it looks like somebody tipped the coming move.

I'm also not sure who's on top in the TASS/Sputnik hierarchy but they are both Russian government controlled. The first story was from Sputnik which is only directed at non-Russians.

"Uber tripled its lobbying efforts in 2016"

Just a reminder, there is more than one way to lobby.
The numbers cited here are just the declarable dollars spent at the federal level.

In addition there is the money spent at state capitals and for lobbyists at the local level.
Then there's the big money. The best example was probably Austin, Texas where Uber and Lyft spent millions on local political advertising.

Finally there are the political campaign donations which are not as large as the political advertising but do get the attention of the recipients.
From The Hill:
Uber nearly tripled its federal lobbying efforts in 2016 compared with the previous year, reaching an all-time high of more than $1 million.

In the last three months of 2016, the ride-hailing firm spent $390,000 on lobbying, according to disclosure forms.  That figure brings Uber’s total federal lobbying spending to $1.36 million for 2016, which is $890,000 more than it spent in 2015.

In 2014 and 2013, Uber spent just $200,000 and $50,000, respectively.

The company is still considered a relative newcomer to the tech scene, and its federal lobbying pales in comparison to other tech giants such as Google and Amazon.

But Uber has rapidly ramped up its work in Washington under the watch of Niki Christoff, a former Republican campaign operative who previously held high-level positions at Google.

The increased lobbying comes as the ride-hailing firm engages in the debate over self-driving cars. Uber began testing driverless cars in Pittsburgh last year, though it had to end a similar experiment in San Francisco because it lacked the necessary state permit required for autonomous driving....MORE

U.S. Farmland: Returns From Land Growing Grains Lowest Since 1980's

From Agrimoney:

Returns for US grain land investors lowest since at least 1980s

Returns from investing in US land growing annual crops such as grains and soybeans has fallen to its lowest since at least the 1980s – opening up a two-tier farmland investment market.
Investment in arable land planted with crops such as corn and wheat, which are replanted every year, returned 4.7% last year, according to the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries (Ncreif).
That figure - comprising income from growing crops as well as changes in land values - was the "weakest annual total return for the property type since inception" of the data series in 1990, said Ncreif, whose farm data are drawn from properties estimated at $8.0bn.
And the slowdown was underlined by a negative return, of 4.6%, on investment in land in the Corn Belt, a region including big corn and soybean producing states such as Illinois, Indiana and Iowa.
Although the council did not split out the mix between income and land values in the data on annual cropland, it acknowledged a "sharp depreciation" in Corn Belt farm prices in the October-to-December period.
Land price falls
The data tie-in with other reports on the US land market too, with a survey by Creighton University last week revealing a 38th successive monthly decline in farm values in major agricultural states such as Illinois, Kansas and Nebraska.
Central bank data two weeks ago revealed prices in Texas falling across all three major land types – irrigated, non-irrigated and ranchland – for the first time in eight years.
MetLife, one of North America's largest agricultural mortgage lenders, has forecast US land prices falling by some 20% from their peak, usually seen as having occurred early in 2015, and a floor seen being reached next year.
MetLife, like other commentators, has blamed the decline on weaker farm profitability, which has reduced the appeal of buying land, with the potential for rising US interest rates being cited by some observers as a headwind too.
'Unique divergence'
However, Ncreif highlighted that not all types were seeing such as slowdown, with investors in permanent cropland, such as orchards and groves, seeing a positive return of 10.1% last year....MORE

If interested see also: 
As we've been saying for years, most recently in February's "USDA Chief Economist Makes A Case For Farmland ":
It's too early.
Even though we think we'll see some upward price pressure [on crops] come late summer, after a meandering downtrend, the reality of farmland investment is that it is only worth a multiple of the cash flow.
(unless you're on the edge of a metro area and have some non-public zoning info)
Well, La Niña is dawdling in its arrival, so no help from the weather to reduce bin-busting harvests, commodity prices continue their downtrend and land prices follow at a respectful distance.
And many more, use the 'search blog' box if you desire more.

"...the Fed's 'cone of silence' descends ahead of next week FOMC meeting"

From Marc to Market:
The US dollar had a poor close in the North American session before the weekend as investors appear increasing anxious about the new US Administration's economic policies and priorities.With no fresh details emerging over the weekend, some stale dollar longs exited.  The dollar stabilized in the European morning, but broader risk appetites were not rekindled, and the Dow Jones Stoxx 600, led by financials, was sold to its lowest level this month. 
Asian shares did better, with the MSCI Asia Pacific Index snapping a two-day decline by rising nearly 0.2%.  However, Japanese shares were heavy, and the three-day rally in the Nikkei and Topix ended with 1.2%-1.3% loss, the second biggest this month.  

All sectors were lower, and although some report suggests exporters were the hardest hit, which may be the telecoms on the Topix and consumer discretionary on the Nikkei, the real estate sector in both indices were down nearly as much.   Moreover, other markets that might suffer from the shift represented by Trump's "America First" rhetoric, including China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore markets rose.  

Bond markets are mostly firmer.  The US 10-year yield is increased by over 20 bp last week, though pulled back in late pre-weekend activity to finish a little below 2.47%.  Today it fell below 2.43% before steadying in Europe.  European bond yields are mostly lower.  Italy and Portugal are lagging.  British, German and Swedish 10-year yields are off two basis points....
...The new week has begun off with a little fresh news.  It does not get better in the US today.  There are no economic reports, and the Fed's 'cone of silence" descends ahead of next week FOMC meeting.  While some may see a new era in reports that Foxconn, the manufacturer, is considering teaming up with Apple to build a $7 bln display factory in the US, news of the first drone strike (in Yemen) under President Trump suggests some elements of continuity.... 

"Rocket Internet closes $1B fund, the largest out of Europe to date"

"Our proven winners generated aggregated net losses of €442 million" ($568 million)
-Rocket Internet prospectus via "How Do You Say 'Dot-Com Crash' in German?"

The company priced its IPO at 42.50 euros on October 1, 2014.
€19.47 last.
From TechCrunch:
If you thought the problems Rocket Internet has had bringing its portfolio of startups and its business overall into the black would have spelled setbacks for future investing, think again. This week, the firm — based out of Berlin — reported that it had raised a new $1 billion fund, the biggest tech fund of any VC firm to date in Europe, it claims.

The Rocket Internet Capital Partners fund, as it is called, will focus both on early and later stage investments, and marks a shift of sorts for Rocket Internet.

The company will put some of the investment into existing portfolio companies — the company is known for incubating and growing e-commerce businesses around the globe built on models usually pioneered by others (‘clones’ is the less charitable term you may have heard) — but it will also start making more investments in startups beyond those Rocket Internet itself had a hand in starting.
Earlier this month, Rocket Internet was part of a $100 million round for Funding Circle, the P2P lending startup based in London. A spokesperson said that it’s been making investments out of the fund for over a year now.

“RICP has made investments since its first closing in January 2016. The fund seeks to invest in key focus areas of the Internet sector including marketplaces, e-commerce, financial technology, software and travel. Among the investments are Rocket Internet founded companies as well as others,” said the spokesperson.

She declined to comment on which other companies are in the portfolio now or will be in the future, but some of that has been made public anyway. A few of its many recent investments, in addition to Funding Circle, include a seed round for recruitment service UShift; a large cash infusion of $365 million in the Global Fashion Group, an entity created by Rocket to merge several of its online fashion retailing properties under one umbrella (this is one of Rocket’s more problematic businesses and came as a down round); and a smaller round for CaterWings, a corporate catering service....

When A Company Issues A Press Release At 11:40 P.M., It's Usually Not Good News (Rocket Internet: RKET)
Rocket Internet May Have A Proven Winner (RKET)
"Tracking HelloFresh’s Growth"
Rocket Internet Struggles to Prove Its Profits Can Take Off (RKET.GR)
Whoa!! Germany's Rocket Internet May Not Be Valued Correctly
Hey, One of Rocket Internet's 'Proven Winners' May be Coming Public (RKET.GR)
Climateer Line of the Day: Venture Capital Economy Edition

FT Alphaville's David Keohane Gazes Upon Analyst's "self-referential vortex of psychologically important thresholds"

I borrowed the vortex line from Mr. Keohane's confrère Cardiff Garcia who won a prestigious award with it back in 2012:

Climateer Headline of the Day: Strange Loops Edition
...And here's FT Alphaville:

Rally Monkey gets sucked into the self-referential vortex of psychologically important thresholds
Cue the already-deflating* bubble in a) people pointing out that the Dow hit 13,000, then b) people who point out the irrelevance of the Dow’s crossing 13,000, followed by c) people who get annoyed at people who point out the irrelevance of the Dow’s crossing 13,000 because it’s so bleeding obvious, which of course then leads to — oh hell, never mind....MORE
Okay, it doesn't quite fit the instant case but I like it.
I illustrated  that post with a print that does fit:
Drawing Hands M.C. Escher, 1948
Here's today's story:

Once again in circularity and potential leading indicators
That chart of news sentiment (based on Bloomberg articles) is from Citi, who add that “the price action in some markets suggests that the exuberance may now be fading, even reversing somewhat. The US dollar and 10yr USD Treasury yields peaked in mid-December, while equity markets have lost their upside momentum.”

Or: “We maintain a reasonably constructive outlook on both global growth and the investing environment over the next 12-18 months but we do not think that now is the right time to be chasing risk.”

Which is fair enough — USD is getting pushed back this morning too with the Trump inauguration being the proximate cause. Here’s a 5 day and 1 year chart of DXY and here’s SocGen’s Kit Juckes’ note header: “No help for dollar bulls from President Trump”...MORE

Under the Banyan Tree: Bombay Stock Exchange IPO Takes A Nap

From the Business Standard, Jan. 22:

BSE IPO to open on Monday
BSE on Friday raised Rs 373 crore by allotting shares to anchor investors

will hit the capital market tomorrow with its much-awaited initial public offer, the first by a domestic stock exchange, to raise up to Rs 1,243 crore.

The opens on January 23 and closes on January 25. The stock exchange aims to raise up to Rs 1,243 crore from the IPO, which is priced at Rs 805-806 per share.

During the initial share sale — which is also a first by any company this year — shareholders will sell 15.43 million shares estimated to be around Rs 1,243.44 crore at the higher end of the price band.

The of 15,427,197 shares of face value of Rs 2 each will constitute up to 28.26 per cent of the fully-diluted post offer issued share capital of BSE.

Bids for the issue can be made for a minimum of 18 shares and in multiples of 18 thereafter.

Meanwhile, on Friday raised Rs 373 crore by allotting shares to anchor investors....MORE 
Further details at sptulsian.

HT on both: Alpha Ideas

While the Financial Express says:
Dull response to BSE IPO with no institutional bids; issue subscribed 0.12% so far
BSE IPO got no bids from institutional investors till 3:40 pm. Even the retail investors’ participation remained lukewarm at bids for 0.21% of the shares, while the overall issue subscription remained low at 0.12%...
The banyan tree is part of the origin story of the exchange, similar, I suppose, to the NYSE's buttonwood tree.
Brokers/jobbers being creatures of comfort--no calluses on those hands--they wanted to get out of the sun.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

CLSA's Year of the Rooster Feng Shui Index 2017

Kung Hei Fat Choy! 
Year of the Fire Rooster
Happy Lunar New Year

Or as noted earlier this month re: the transliteration of Mandarin:
I was just asking a Chinese associate what year it was going to be and what were the best greetings and he said Rooster and I'd never go wrong with Gong Xi Fa Cai (respectfully wishing you make money in the new year), very close to the '..Fat Choy' from Hong Kong and I know I would have come up with the giant inflatable Trump rooster with just a little thought but no, it's Hunter S Thompson for me...
From CLSA (Hong Kong, which is why we see the Cantonese at the top):
After a fowl year in 2016, how will you and the Hang Seng Index fare with the plucky Rooster in 2017? Our 23rd Feng Shui guide offers an alternative look at what’s in store this year to help the luck flow in your direction.
Feng Shui masters are valued in the Orient by those looking to foretell the future. If you're running a hedge fund, no doubt you'll take our sorcerer’s view on the year ahead with a pinch of salt, but curiosity if not superstition may get the better of you.
So scroll on down and chick out all manner of forecasts for the year ahead. Our longstanding health warning holds: don’t get your feathers ruffled and take it too seriously!
Some predictions - All the thrills and spills
Live broadcasts of cocks crowing every day in Hong Kong (for millennials who’ve never seen or heard of one) • Pokemon Go goes • Earthquake and tsunami hits Hong Kong • KFC closed for a year out of respect for chickens • Brad and Angelina reconcile • New pills prolong life for 50 years; Emperor of Japan decides not to retire after all • Beijing opts for the popular Donnie Yen as new HK Chief Executive to prevent further social disruption • Twitter becomes official channel for announcing US government policy • Russian hackers attempt to disrupt HK Chief Executive election; no one notices - then they hit Crufts • First robot-run corporation is formed by disgruntled former Foxbots • First contract-killing-by-drone occurs • Private prison firms finally get access to lucrative Chinese market • Last white rhino is killed - in Florida, of course • First rhino created from stored DNA is born - in China, of course • Beijing enforces landmark low-emissions policy following Party Congress, sending Australia into recession • North Korea’s nuclear ambitions go ballistic • Shih Tzu dog wins China’s Got Talent • Fake news reporter Paul Keypies wins Pulitzer Prize • iPhone 8 removes lightening socket; now charges by solar panels • Pregnant Serena Williams wins Wimbledon • All McDonald’s outlets in Mexico turned into Ikeas 
Sectors, property etc. 

How Davos Lost Its Mojo

I'll tell you what the problem is, the problem is Bono didn't show up this year, that's the problem.
Note: This photo was lifted from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Feb. 6, 2005.
From The Week:
The global elite descended this week on the Swiss Alps for the annual World Economic Forum at Davos, said Andrew Ross Sorkin at The New York Times. But this year, the cognoscenti who came to sip pricey cocktails and snack on caviar over high-minded discussions about the world's biggest challenges did so against an uncomfortable backdrop: rising nationalism and economic populism that they "largely failed to anticipate — and may have even unconsciously generated." Just as in years past, this year's forum — whose attendees included Microsoft founder Bill Gates, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, and Chinese President Xi Jinping — focused on the belief that "globalization has the potential to benefit everyone." But it was hard to ignore the fact that the events of 2016, from Brexit to the election of Donald Trump, amounted to a stunning "rebuke" of everything Davos regulars stand for.

After years of bearing the brunt of globalization's job losses and growing inequality, "millions of people who never get near this Swiss mountain retreat have finally said 'enough is enough,'" said Richard Quest at CNN. And can you blame them? There were more than 400 sessions this week covering everything from the future of America to global cybersecurity, but there was one panel conspicuously missing: "an admission that 'we are out of touch' and 'we didn't see this coming.'" If Davos attendees can't focus on policies that 99 percent of the world actually cares about, especially after getting the electoral equivalent of the middle finger, they should call it a day.

Those cheering the end of a world managed by Davos attendees "should be careful what they wish for," said Martin Wolf at the Financial Times. Yes, the Davos elite overreached in their zeal to erase borders, and "they ignored, above all, the obligation to share the gains of globalization with its losers." Those mistakes, however, pale in comparison with what could happen if the populists get their way. "Davos people are in business." They don't wield armies, "but rather seek to engage in mutually enriching commercial transactions, and believe in the desirability of a peaceful and essentially cooperative world." By contrast, President Trump threatens to impose punitive tariffs on important partners like China and Mexico that would trigger a global trade war. The result would be a breakdown of the global system of trade and trust that has helped maintain peace since World War II. "The simpleminded populism now on the rise will soon prove far worse than the hubris of the Davos elite."...MORE
Bono was such a feature over the last twelve years that Getty has hundreds of images for sale.
But there won't be any from 2017.

To compensate, a few of our favorite Bono stories:
Bono's Elevation Partners Runs $90 Mil to $1.5 Bil in Facebook, Making Him the World's Most Insufferable Musician (FB)

Mugabe launches Robert Mugabe intelligence academy; Chicago Economists to Aid Inflation-Weary Zimbabwe
..."We were hoping for Bono," says Nkende Masvingo, referring to the rock singer who has made sub-Saharan poverty his personal crusade, "but they sent us Gary Becker because U2 was on tour."

Becker, the winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Economics, will lead a "dream team" including Steven Levitt, co-author of the best-selling pop economics book "Freakonomics", that will set up camp in this city, the nation's capital. "First, we need to understand the situation," said Becker ...
Bono Sings to Warren Buffett

Africans to Bono: 'For God's sake please stop!'

Fake News for Dogs

From McSweeny's:
YOUR KIBBLE COULD BE POISONING YOU – Government & Alpo Have Master Conspiracy, Vets Warn

KITTIES & YOUR WALKERS — IN CAHOOTS?? How They Keep You Away From Squirrels

WHERE THE BALL REALLY WENT: Sick Plot to Hide Sticks, Chew Toys Revealed

HT:Matt Levine at BloombergView

Nikkei Is Reporting: "Foxconn considering $7bn US display facility with Apple"

From Nikkei's Asian Review, Jan. 22:

Company pledges China investment increases for Sharp products
Key iPhone assembler Hon Hai Precision Industry, better known as Foxconn Technology Group, is mulling a joint investment with Apple Inc. in an advanced, highly automated U.S. display facility, Chairman Terry Gou said Sunday.

"Apple is willing to invest in the facility together because they need the [panels] as well," Gou told reporters after the company's annual year-end party in the Nankang district of Taipei.
The Taiwanese tycoon added that the facility's cost would exceed $7 billion and would eventually create some 30,000-50,000 jobs.

The Nikkei Asian Review reported in November that Apple had asked Foxconn to look into making iPhones in the U.S., and earlier this month reported the company and Sharp Corporation, its Japanese subsidiary, were exploring the possible construction of a U.S. display plant.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday evening.
Gou told reporters that with the increase of demand for larger display panels, local production was a more optimal solution than shipping from China to the U.S. market.

In addition to the new display facility, Gou said that Foxconn was planning a new molding facility in the U.S., adding that the state of Pennsylvania was shaping up as a possible site following investment discussions with local officials. A representative from the Pennsylvania trade office was in attendance at Foxconn's Sunday party....MORE

China's HNA Group Co. Is This a Scam?

This is the company that bought Skybridge Capital from President Trump's advisor, Anthony Scaramucci.
A couple weeks before that announcement Gadfly had taken a quick look at the company which got my "something's not right" antennae twitching. I don't have anything concrete to base that instinct on other than the remarkable growth so see what you think.
From Bloomberg Gadfly, December 29, 2016:

HNA's Chen Feng Flies Close to the Sun
There's an old joke: How do you build a $100 million airline? Start off with a $1 billion airline.

Under founding Chairman Chen Feng, HNA Group Co. appears to have gone in the opposite direction. From its first flight in 1993, through a $25 million investment from George Soros in 1995 and a 2000 restructuring, the former Hainan Airlines has never stopped growing.

In December last year, gross assets of the aviation-focused conglomerate already amounted to 468.7 billion yuan ($67 billion) -- more than any U.S. carrier, and greater than the combined assets of Europe's market leaders Deutsche Lufthansa AG and International Consolidated Airlines Group SA. Then in 2016, things really got going.

On Jan. 8, it completed its then-biggest acquisition, the $2.5 billion takeover of Irish aircraft lessor Avolon Holdings Ltd. . A month later, it paid $6 billion for Ingram Micro Inc., the world's biggest electronics distributor, and completed the $2.8 billion purchase of ground cargo handling company Swissport Group. In October, HNA paid $10 billion for another lessor, CIT Commercial Air, and spent $6.5 billion on a quarter of the Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. hotel chain.

Big Deal
HNA and its associates announced or completed more than $34 billion in acquisitions in 2016... 
...Throw in smaller deals and the tally for 2016 should put gross asset value easily over $100 billion. That would be enough, were the closely held HNA listed, to make it one of the world's 100 biggest non-financial companies -- larger than Boeing Co., Walt Disney Co. or Coca-Cola Co.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

"Russian Finance Minister Proposes to Return to Idea of Limiting Cash Transactions"--UPDATED

Update below.
Oeiginal post:

From Sputnik:

Finance Minister said that Russian Finance Ministry is proposing to revive the idea of limiting cash transactions in Russia in a bid to reduce shadow economy.
The Russian Finance Ministry is proposing to revive the idea of limiting cash transactions in Russia in a bid to reduce shadow economy, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said on Saturday.

“Maybe we should think about limiting cash transactions. Many countries are following this path … That is very right as it is an element of reducing shadow economy. This instrument may give an opportunity to raise more taxes and make our economy more transparent,” Siluanov said at the congress of the United Russia party.

The implementation of the new rules should be done gradually, to avoid any inconveniences, especially in those Russian municipalities and regions that do not have the infrastructure for cashless operations, the minister added.

The Russian Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance started to discuss the prospects of limiting cash transactions in 2012....MORE
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Contradicts Finance Minister, Says Nyet, Nyet, Not Limiting Cash (yet)

16 Famous Insurance Frauds

I know I'm violating BuzzFeed's first rule of listicle headlines*, use odd numbers in the header, but I had to add one as an introductory story.
I suppose I could have gone with 1+(5x3) or something but that seems a bit obsessive.

First up, from Timeline:

Jumping in front of cars for insurance money helped some 1920s immigrants achieve the American Dream
Flopping was, and is, a lucrative business*s74g3dgajjBoQy0ANojbNQ.jpeg
A bus swerved to avoid a boy who had been ‘knocked down’ in the road in 1912. (Getty Images
America is the land of the free — and the home of people suing each other over frivolous lawsuits. This is the country where a woman once planted a severed human finger in a bowl of Wendy’s chili — and then tried to sue the fast food chain. The woman was later arrested — but initially thought she could get away with her ‘chili-finger’ scam, because suing people is such a way of American life. That’s why the culture of ‘floppers’ is a clever criminal enterprise.

As they’re known in the trade, floppers, flim-flam-floppers, or flop artists have been a thorn in the side of insurance companies since the 19th century. As mentioned in the book Accidentally, on Purpose, one of the first documented slip-and-fall artists was a woman known as Banana Anna, who would plant banana peels on steam trains, “slip” on them, and fake injuries to rake in insurance money.

The 1950 report Exposing the Fake Claim Racket described a flopper as someone who’d “scout certain parts of a city for openings or defects best suited for causing an ‘accident,’ such as an open cellar door, a broken step, a defective sidewalk coal chute cover, or a broken vault light. Locating such a spot, the flopper will purposely get his foot wedged in a jagged crevice and pretend to fall.”
Jim Quiggle, director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud says, “Flops are so easy to create. It requires so little expertise. How much skill does it take to sit on the floor and cry bloody murder at the top of your lungs?”

In the early 20th century, when New York was the promised land for those who newly arrived via Ellis Island, the story of floppers reads like an immigrant American dream.

In fact, the 1920’s were the Golden Age of flopping. And one of the masters of the form was a man named Daniel Laulicht, who along with his brother Benjamin ran the biggest flopper ring in New York City. Laulicht grew up a poor immigrant in the Lower East Side. According to city records, Laulicht was first arrested for flopping back in 1918, but that was just the beginning. Laulicht eventually became a flopping tycoon. Like something out of Once Upon a Time in America, at the height of his flopper ring, Laulicht had more than 30 people on the payroll, ranging from rogue doctors and lawyers to taxi drivers and so-called “victims.” Together they orchestrated scams citywide, to the point that the actual flopping part wasn’t even necessary....MORE
And from Ideas, Inventions and Innovations: 

Insurance fraud seems like it might be an easy thing to do. Insurance companies are often so huge, one wonders how they might not even notice a few mistakes in your favor. But the fact is that insurance companies have people who make it their full time job to sniff out fraud, ensuring that they keep a tight bottom line. And while they may not catch every tiny little fudge, you can be sure they are on the hunt for major offenders such as the ones on this list. Check out these famous insurance fraud cases that surely carried a huge bounty.
  1. HCA/Medicare: In 2000 and 2002, HCA pleaded guilty to 14 felonies, including fraudulently billing Medicare as well as other programs. HCA had inflated the seriousness of diagnoses, filed false cost reports, and paid kickbacks to doctors to refer patients. HCA had to pay the US government $631 million plus interest, as well as $17.5 million to state Medicaid agencies, on top of $250 million already paid to Medicare for outstanding expense claims. It was the largest fraud settlement in US history, with law suits reaching $2 billion in total.
  2. John Darwin's Death: John Darwin faked his death in a canoeing accident, turning up five years later. He'd been secretly living in his house and the house next door, while his wife claimed the money on his life insurance. They were both sentenced to six years in prison, but released on probation. BBC created a TV drama about their story called Canoe Man.
  3. The horse murders scandal: Between the mid 1970s and mid 1990s many expensive horses were involved in insurance fraud. These expensive horses, often show jumpers, were placed on insurance for accident or death, and killed for the insurance money. The number of horses killed in this manner is believed to be at least 50 and possibly as high as 100. It was the biggest scandal in equestrian sports, resulting in the death of a whistleblower, Helen Brach, in addition to the horses.
  4. John Mango's fire: A Toronto businessman, John Mango hired someone to set fire to his business for the insurance money. Things got quite out of hand, killing one person during the fire and forcing many families to leave the area until the fire could be put out. Mango was charged with second degree murder on top of his fraud charges.
  5. Swoop and squat: In the 90s, car insurance fraud ran rampant. Cars would purposely get into accidents with innocent people on the road, hoping to score insurance money, and often, they did. These accidents frequently injured drivers, and some were even fatal. These accidents usually earned the orchestrators about $20,000 each.
  6. Michael Jackson's prescriptions: Lloyds of London has recently filed suit to invalidate an insurance policy taken out by Michael Jackson. The policy covered his "This Is It" tour in the event that it was not successful. The payout was to be $17.5 million, but Lloyds argues that it is invalid because Michael Jackson did not disclose prescription drugs on his application. As Jackson died from an overdose, Lloyds is claiming deception....
*Not to be confused with the BuzzFeed Style Guide.

AIG's Hank Greenberg to Warren Buffet: "Call Me When You Have A Real Insurance Company!" (AIG; BRK)

From the Aleph Blog:
The title of the article comes from a comment Greenberg supposedly made to Buffett when AIG was much bigger than Berkshire Hathaway [BRK] — times change…

It’s come to this: AIG has sought out reinsurance from BRK to cap the amount of losses they will pay for prior business written.  It’s quite a statement when you are willing to pay $10 billion in order to have BRK pay 80% of claims over $25 billion, up to $20 billion in total.  At $50 Billion in claims AIG is on its own again.

So what business was covered?  A lot.  This is the one of the biggest deals of its type, ever:
The agreement covers 80% of substantially all of AIG’s U.S. Commercial long-tail exposures for accident years 2015 and prior, which includes the largest part of AIG’s U.S. casualty exposures during that period. AIG will retain sole authority to handle and resolve claims, and NICO has various access, association and consultation rights....

Saudi-Led Coalition Intends To Join Fighting In Iraq, Syria

What a mess.
From the Baghdad Post:

Int'l coalition seeks to liberate Mosul, Raqqa - Saudi official
Major General Ahmed Assiri
The international coalition against terrorism seeks to liberate Iraq's Mosul and Syria's Raqqa from the control of Daesh terrorist group, said spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition Major General Ahmed Assiri.

The Arab coalition has coordinated military plans with the US Central Command (CENTCOM), Assiri said Sunday on the sidelines of a meeting held in Saudi Arabia and comprising the countries participating in the anti-Daesh coalition.

The conferees discussed means of upgrading coordination among representatives of the coalition countries and promoting the US-led coalition efforts to "paralyze" Daesh capabilities.

The meeting was held at the level of Chiefs of General Staff of 14 countries, namely Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Jordan, Bahrain, the US, Turkey, Oman, Qatar, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria and Malaysia. 
If interested see also al-Arabiya:    

And in 2016: 
Pakistan Threatens To Wipe Iran Off the Face of The Earth If Saudi Arabia Threatened

There are quite a few more but you get the point. In the words of the eminent philosopher-analyst Eeyore:
"It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily.
"So it is."
"And freezing."
"Is it?"
"Yes," said Eeyore. "However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately."

Barron's Roundtable 2017, Part 2: Jeffrey Gundlach

From Barron's:
The Trump rally looks to be fading, even as the presidency of Donald Trump begins. But if some investors have lost their enthusiasm for stocks following a postelection surge, not so the members of the Barron’s Roundtable. These nine market mavens confessed at our annual get-together, held on Jan. 9 in Manhattan, that they expect the major indexes to post muted gains, if any, in 2017, given today’s rich valuations and a likely rise in interest rates. But they insist the outlook for their picks couldn’t be brighter. That could be especially true if Trumponomics translates into lower tax rates for corporations, less burdensome regulations, and a more robust economy. 

Last week, Barron’s featured the big-picture views of all our panelists—on equities, interest rates, economics, geopolitics, and more—and the specific investment recommendations of Zulauf Asset Management’s Felix Zulauf and Epoch Investment Partners’ William Priest. This week, we turn the mic over to Scott Black, Jeffrey Gundlach, Meryl Witmer, and Mario Gabelli, whose best bets for the new year range from commodity producers to auto-parts suppliers to closed-end funds to companies bearing the indelible fingerprints of yet another investment maestro, John Malone.

Scott, a numbers whiz who runs the show at Boston’s Delphi Management, favors companies with a high return on equity and lots of free cash flow, particularly if he can scoop up their shares at a discount.
Jeffrey calls himself “a bond guy who thinks about macro stuff,” which doesn’t begin to hint at the enormous success of DoubleLine Capital, the Los Angeles-based fixed-income firm he founded in 2009 and grew to more than $100 billion in assets.

Meryl, a general partner at New York’s Eagle Capital Partners, and a member of the Berkshire Hathaway (ticker: BRK.A) board, has earned a sterling reputation for uncovering value among lesser-known companies in unglamorous businesses, whose financials she masters better than any CFO.

Mario, head of Gabelli Funds and its parent firm, is a Wall Street legend, for good reason. He’s a shrewd thematic investor with a love of deals, an eye for steals, and an encyclopedic knowledge of multiple businesses and the people who built them.

To learn what this quartet likes now, please read on....

...Thanks, Scott. Let’s move on to Jeffrey.
Gundlach: One of the best indicators of the direction of bond yields is the ratio of copper prices to gold prices. It signaled the selloff in bonds that started in July. The copper/gold ratio has come down a little, which supports the recent bond rally. The yield on the 10-year Treasury got as high as 2.64% late last year, and has since fallen back to 2.37%. [Bond prices move inversely to yields.] We expect the yield to fall below 2.25%.

Why is the ratio such a good indicator?
Gundlach: Copper is an industrial metal. A higher ratio suggests more manufacturing activity, and that implies an uptick in inflation and yields. As I explained this morning, I expect interest rates to rise later this year. One way to position yourself for further rate increases is to look for things that don’t have much interest-rate risk. Last year, I recommended the Brookfield Total Return fund [HTR], which invests in mortgage-backed securities. It was trading at a steep discount to net asset value. As luck would have it, it got merged into a new fund at its net asset value, producing a total return of 21.7% on a bond-like investment in a 2%-type year. This year, I am recommending something a little less juicy— Putnam Premier Income Trust [PPT], launched in February 1988. Its longevity is a good sign.

Putnam Premium Income is a one-stop-shopping, low-risk bond-portfolio investment with a decent yield. And it is trading at an 11% discount to net asset value. Unlike the Brookfield fund, there is little chance the price will rise sharply and converge with net asset value, as this closed-end fund has been hanging around with a 10% discount to NAV for a long time. Last year, the discount narrowed to 8%.

What are your return expectations?
Gundlach: You might get a capital gain of 3% this year, and the dividend yield is 6.3%. The portfolio is 80% invested in the U.S. The other 20% is a little spicy, and includes Greek, Russian, and Brazilian bonds. While the higher-risk holdings account for less than 10% of the portfolio, they are probably the source of much of the rich yield.

The duration of the fund is 0.3, according to Putnam, which means the fund holds allocations to assets, probably floating-rate or lower-credit securities, that dampen interest-rate-related volatility. But almost a third of the portfolio is invested in something liquid and easy to price: Fannie Mae mortgage-backed securities. Given the discount to NAV, you are buying Fannie Mae 3’s [the coupon is about 3%], basically the current coupon mortgage-backed security, at a price 11% below the actual market price, which translates to a yield about 150 basis points above market yields. It is an unequivocal bargain—kind of like buying a 10-year Treasury today at 4% instead of 2.37%. It is a great starting point.

Does the fund use leverage?
Gundlach: The Putnam fact sheet reports no leverage, but when I add up the numbers, leverage looks to be 20% to 25% of net assets. But leverage doesn’t increase your interest-rate risk because you don’t really have much risk. There is a small risk of your spread [between the yield on assets and the cost of borrowed funds used for leverage] shrinking. Maybe the fund is earning a 4% or 5% spread, which is contributing about a percentage point to the yield. If LIBOR [the London Interbank Offered Rate] goes up 100 basis points [one percentage point], you might lose 25 basis points on the yield. But you are still comfortably at 6% in a world where a total-bond-market index fund would have a net yield of around 2½%.The fund has about $600 million in assets. If someone wants to own one bond investment after this rally is over, this is a good one to have.
BKLN, or PowerShares Senior Loan Portfolio, is an exchange-traded fund. It holds bank loans, which have credit risk, but are at the top of the capital structure in bank debt. There isn’t a lot to worry about, even if oil prices fall. I agree with the consensus that oil will hang around the mid-$40s to high-$50s. Energy-company debt represents only 5% to 6% of the bank-loan market.

What does the fund yield?
Gundlach: It yields 4.1%. If you combine PPT and BKLN, you’ll have a 5%-plus yield and little interest-rate risk. Your total return for the year could be as high as 7% or 7.5%.

Next, like Felix, I would short German Bunds. They are yielding 0.27%, and Germany’s inflation rate is 1.7%. Historically, it is very rare to have a Bund yield below the inflation rate. The current gap is a record. The Bund yield is unsustainably low.

Schafer: What is the best way for an individual to short German Bunds?

Gundlach: Short the futures. I agree with Felix that the Italian bond market is deeply troubled. Shorting Italian bonds could potentially produce a massive home run; they are yielding 47 basis points less than 10-year U.S. Treasuries, which represents a full buy-in on the idea that the euro zone will last forever. If the euro zone breaks up, a possibility we have discussed, and Italy has to go it alone, sovereign bonds could yield 1.9%. The current yield is insanely low. But shorting German Bunds appeals more. They are more vulnerable at this point than U.S. bonds.

One argument for U.S. bonds when yields hit a low last July was that they yielded more than German Bunds, which had negative yields. In other words, U.S. bonds were better than something really terrible, but that didn’t make them good. Underlying the argument was the notion that German yields would stay negative forever. Well, forever lasted about a month. Since then, Treasury yields have risen more than German rates, but Bunds could underperform in the next leg of the bond bear market. 

Zulauf:In 2012, there were widespread fears about the euro zone breaking apart. Back then, money flowed from the southern countries to the northern countries, and into Bunds. The next time the euro zone looks endangered, money will flow out of the euro completely and into another currency, primarily the U.S. dollar....MUCH MORE
Part 1, January 14:
Stocks Could Post Limited Gains in 2017 as Yields Rise

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Color of the Sky In the White House Twitter Account Profile Picture Has Changed

From blue to orange:

HT: Ned Donovan

"Trump Picks Fellow NYC Developers to Oversee Infrastructure Spending"

From Curbed, January 17:

From luxury residential to $1 trillion worth of roads, trains, and bridges  
The view from Vornado’s 220 Central Park South, one of the most expensive buildings in New York City
Photo by Viktor Thomas/@vic.invades
Although the names Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth may not be recognizable to those outside of the New York real estate bubble, they are two of the U.S.’s most powerful developers with projects in cities all over the country. Now LeFrak and Roth are teaming up to execute President-elect Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

According to the Wall Street Journal, LeFrak and Roth will manage a “council of 15 to 20 builders and engineers” convened by Trump’s team to advise the as-yet-unannounced infrastructure program. (Like the infrastructure plan, details on both the council and the developers’ roles are vague.) Both longtime Trump friends, LeFrak and Roth have a long history of managing giant developments in New York—including several of Trump’s own properties.

“They’re pros,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal. “That’s what they do. All their lives, they build. They build under-budget, ahead of schedule.”

The fact that LeFrak and Roth are professionals is not up for debate: The developers have amassed fortunes working in real estate. Very expensive real estate.

LeFrak is known, most recently, for his giant planned communities like the SoLe Mia, a $4-billion luxury development in North Miami with giant artificial swimmable lakes. He’s also responsible for hundreds of projects throughout Florida, New York, New Jersey, and California, including two dozen towers in Jersey City that are transforming the city’s waterfront as part of the $10-billion Newport development. 

New York residents may have noticed the Prospect Park ice skating rink is named for his parents. Like Trump, LeFrak’s father was also in real estate. Among his luxury projects, he built an affordable housing development, LeFrak City, in Queens, which has been sued for alleged discrimination by Orthodox Jewish tenants and a woman living with AIDS.

Roth is CEO of Vornado, one of the most powerful developers in the country, with residential and commercial properties that include 220 Central Park South, which is on track to become the most expensive building in New York City. The 66-floor, $1.3 billion tower cost a mind-boggling $5,000 per square foot to build and is home to a $250 million condo that could become the priciest apartment in New York City. He also has stakes in Trump’s Manhattan and San Francisco office buildings, properties which Trump has not yet revealed how he plans to divest from....MORE

 Frances Fox Piven On President Trump: "Throw Sand In the Gears of Everything"

You may remember her name if you studied political science or the history of the U.S. in the 1960's.
She and fellow Columbia U. professor Richard Cloward proposed a plan to achieve their political goals, including universal basic income, that became known as the Cloward-Piven Strategy.

The strategy was laid out in the May 2, 1966 issue of The Nation magazine in an article titled "The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty" about which the copy hosted at Common Dreams says "The theory here, to force change through chaos, was among the most provocative of the 1960s."

A few years ago The Nation commissioned a new introduction from Ms. Piven, her husband Mr. Cloward having died in 2001, which the magazine published as part of their 150th anniversary issue.

Here's her latest, again at The Nation, January 18, 2017:

Throw Sand in the Gears of Everything
When it comes to stopping Trump, petitions aren’t going to do it.
As many are saying, we woke from a nightmare to find it was our new reality. A gaggle of inflated far-right self-promoters and operatives, big businessmen and their toadies, and homegrown fascists will control the presidency and determine the Supreme Court majority, maybe for a generation or more. The Congress is firmly in Republican hands, save for the uncertain possibility that Senate Democrats will muster the gumption to filibuster. And that possibility could also evaporate with the 2018 midterm elections, when as many as 20 or more Democrats will have to defend their seats. No wonder that everyone I speak with searches for someone to blame—Clinton or Comey or white women or the white working class or the Bernie troops—and then asks plaintively: What do we do now?

There are lots of answers floating about. State governments should band together to pass laws that bind their representatives in the Electoral College to support the winner of the popular vote. Or we should begin the hard work of reconstructing the Democratic Party, finally purging the influence of the Democratic Leadership Council and its Wall Street allies, so that it speaks more convincingly to the aspirations of working people and minorities. Or we should push for the reforms that will somehow prevent gerrymandered districts after the 2020 Census. Or we should restore the Voting Rights Act and push for automatic voter registration. And of course—again, somehow—we should restrict the role of big money in elections.

I support all of these efforts, needless to say, and I sign the petitions and respond to the fund-raising appeals that their advocates generate. But I am not very hopeful that any of them can succeed, at least not in the limited time we have to protect the planet from global warming or nuclear catastrophe or both.

There is another impulse evident in the spontaneous reactions that followed Trump’s election in the streets of New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Baltimore, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Miami, Portland, and elsewhere. Lots of people—especially young people—gathered, made speeches, marched, shouted, and held up signs and banners. All of us who participated can report the lift to our morale the experience offered. We were performing the elementary rites of a social movement, rites that the influential historian Charles Tilly labeled “WUNC”—meaning that people gather together to demonstrate their worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment.

Chanting crowds are the familiar insignia of movements. And I think movement politics may even make resistance to a Trump regime possible. But while the great movements of American history were the crucial determinant of our most important democratic reforms—from the basic electoral elements of representative democracy, to Emancipation, to labor rights, to women’s and LGBTQ rights—none of these movements achieved their successes simply through the gathering of people to show their commitment. People gathered, of course, but what makes movements a force—when they are a force—is the deployment of a distinctive power that arises from the ability of angry and indignant people to at times defy the rules that usually ensure their cooperation and quiescence.

Movements can mobilize people to refuse, to disobey, in effect to strike. In other words, people in motion, in movements, can throw sand in the gears of the institutions that depend on their cooperation. It therefore follows that movements need numbers, but they also need a strategy that maps the impact of their defiance and the ensuing disruptions on the authority of decision-makers.

The repercussions of such mass refusals can be far-reaching, simply because social life depends on systems of intricate cooperation. So does our system of governance. Perhaps the US government, with its famous separation of powers on the national level and its decentralized federal structure, is especially vulnerable to collective defiance. To be sure, the right wing has now taken over many of the veto points in the national government, and it dominates half of the state governments as well (although that could change in 2018, when many hard-right Republican governors will be defending their seats). But the big cities, where a majority of the population lives, have not been captured. Center-left mayors preside over cities like New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco, for example. And that fact can nourish urban resistance movements.

People don’t easily break the rules of institutional life, and especially not collectively and publicly, if only because of the punishments that can be visited on rule-breakers. Think of the possible responses of a Trump administration! And, in fact, movements from the lower reaches of society—whose members are often the most marginalized and vulnerable—usually don’t emerge if people think they’ll have no influence over the regime in power. People are much likelier to risk defiant collective action if leading politicians appear accountable to movement constituencies. The great strike movement among industrial workers arose under Franklin Roosevelt, who promised to speak for “the forgotten man” in the midst of the Great Depression. The civil-rights movement escalated at least partly because of the reluctant encouragement of Democratic presidents newly concerned about the loyalty of urban black voters, and it triumphed under a president who felt it strategic to echo the words of the civil-rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.
* * *
There’s a slogan among organizers to the effect that all organizing is local, meaning that people come together in local workplaces and communities to articulate their grievances and their hopes, and to develop the muscle to act. Local organizing against Trump’s initiatives will be bolstered by the support of local politicians, and movement organizing in turn can stiffen the backs of local politicians when the Trump administration threatens to cut funding to city governments. There would be many opportunities to play a role: Even ordinary householders can take in and shield immigrants. And all of us can render registries useless by insisting on registering ourselves as Muslims or Mexicans or Moldovians. A sanctuary movement gives lots of people a role that matters. Most important, in our complex federal system, where the policies of the national government depend on cooperation by state and local authorities, these local movements have the potential to block initiatives by the incoming Trump regime. ...MUCH MORE