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Media worth consuming - January 2020

A monthly look at dozens of local and global media articles that often do not receive mainstream coverage in Australia. 

Finance

The beige book survey finds that the US economy is doing fine. US rail traffic points to sub-par economic growth in 2020. On several measures, US stocks are as overvalued as they were in March 2000. Americans are using their homes as ATMs again.  

A former proprietary trader started a hedge that charges no management fee but takes one-third of S&P 500 outperformance. Hedge funds run by white men are being beaten by their peers, though the result could be just a size effect. Expect more asset allocators to buy stakes in fund managers. Managed fund fees are falling, but investors are switching to higher fee funds. Bridgewater’s flagship Pure Alpha fund delivered a 0.5% return in 2019, with the all-weather strategy up 16%.

Fitch upgraded Greece to BB; a 15 year bond issue could follow. The IMF is almost out of its self-created Greek mess. Lebanon’s citizens are rioting as they are limited to withdrawing $200 per week from their bank accounts. Tesla has the highest market capitalisation any US auto maker has ever reached but one company’s detailed analysis argues that Tesla is built on fraud.

American banks are regularly increasing credit card limits without being requested, with subprime borrowers more likely to be targeted. A decade after the financial crisis, American jumbo mortgages are still defaulting with a backlog of arrears waiting to be cleared. Investor protections are being stripped from CLOs. Bad arguments for why leveraged loans aren’t a problem. 32 dumb things people say about investment markets.

Politics and culture

Trump is sick of losing wars and paying the bills for other countries, but the military just doesn’t get it. Elizabeth Warren’s bankruptcy proposals would see some in the middle class relieved of responsibility for their poor decisions.

She was also confronted with the lack of fairness in her policy for cancelling student loans. Trump voters are slightly more likely than Democrat voters to spot fake news. A pro-Clinton Facebook executive credits Trump’s victory to his team’s far better online campaigning. American sanctions have wedged Iran.

A Chinese man has been jailed for six months for posting tweets that mocked President Xi. The Brazilian Culture Minister was sacked for making a speech remarkably like one given by Joseph Goebbels. Chile’s left-wing grievance culture is ruining a prosperous economy. The Austrian Conservative/Greens coalition government is finding ways to work out policy disagreements. German grandmas held a protest after a government owned TV station played a song with children calling them environmental pigs for eating meat and driving fossil fuel powered cars.

CNN is upset that a satirical news website is getting more clicks than it does, with this hilarious article a particularly sharp joke on the network. Rocky Gervais used the Golden Globes to mock the hypocrisy of Hollywood. An American bankruptcy judge has wiped out a $220,000 student loan debt in a case that could signal a turnaround from long standing precedents. A city in Washington state has demanded a widow pay $60,000 for approval to renovate her house. Letting homeless people live with “no rules” is a danger to themselves and others.

Economics and work

Inflation and growth are low due to excessive debt, not a glut of savings. The negative externalities of government deficit financing are like a factory polluting the water for downstream users. A skeptic’s guide to MMT. The basics of rent seeking and how it diminishes an economy. The short, illustrated version of Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom”. If you like coffee remember that many steps of capitalism were required to bring it to you.

Governments would be much more effective in helping low income people if they focused on the cost of living rather than minimum wages. The reasons that welfare reduces work and the incentives to be independent. Henry Ford voluntarily improved conditions for his workers far more than unions did. The Roman Empire failed in part due to ongoing bailouts and the excessive welfare system. DoorDash pays its American delivery personnel an average of $1.45 per hour, but strangely seems to keep finding people willing to work for it.

Pittsburgh’s insurance-free doctor charges $35 per visit. The economics of gift cards. How bulk buying is sometimes more expensive. 5 economic myths that people believe despite overwhelming evidence.

Miscellaneous

How Western society increasingly doesn’t ask questions when they might get in the way of getting paid. Microsoft went to war against the IRS when the agency tried to stop its shady tax ploys. The 30 most evil tech companies. The software service Slack is reducing productivity, the exact opposite of its sales pitch. A Chinese bank manager took $40 million in bribes and kept it in cash in his apartment. How a Missouri farmer defrauded buyers out of $70 million selling fake organic grain.

2019 was the second hottest year on record, with the last decade the hottest ever, but there are still a few who argue that global warming doesn’t matter. Despite trying to make its grid greener, Germany is closing down nuclear power generation and relying more on coal. US electricity demand is falling, but a wave of wind and solar generation is coming online. A remote West Australian township is testing a 100% renewable, hydrogen/solar/wind power system. 7 personal factors that lead to wealth creation. 15 tasty facts about bacon.

 

Written by Jonathan Rochford of Narrow Road Capital. Comments and criticisms are welcome.

This article has been prepared for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional and tailored financial advice. The accuracy of the material cannot be verified in all cases. Narrow Road Capital advises on and invests in a wide range of securities, including securities linked to the performance of various companies and financial institutions.

 

4 Comments
Con
February 02, 2020

The article on Germany/nuclear made it sound as if they were reverting to coal. Just read this article in LA Times which says they are closing all coal plants. Guess the road to fully renewables will heat up. https://www.latimes.com/world/europe/la-fg-germany-coal-power-20190126-story.html

Jonathan Rochford
February 01, 2020

Hi Pat - thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm the first to admit that I have biases, just like everyone else. The questions I consider in pulling the links together are (i) is it interesting and worth others reading, (ii) is it evidence based and (iii) is it something that people are unlikely to be reading elsewhere. Do feel free to send me your favourite articles for consideration next month. I do consume a lot of ABC media and almost nothing from The Australian.

On the climate denialist point I'd simply point you to this month's articles. The evidence is clear that the earth is getting hotter, but a handful of outliers believe that doesn't matter. If Germany wants to have a greener grid, surely nuclear is better than coal? My favourite article was the last one, which showed that there is viable pathway to 100% renewables, though it is still somewhat expensive. Given time, I think this will change and I'm particularly hopeful about possibilities of using excess solar/wind generation during the day to create hydrogen.

Pat Connelan
January 30, 2020

Needs a better balance. It's a neoliberal, libertarian, climate denialist reading list. If we wanted this, we'd buy The Australian.

Tim Johnston
January 31, 2020

Bacon has no political or ideological bias.

 

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