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How’s the Consumer Doing? Financial Sector Earnings Next Week Could Help Tell Us

Key Takeaways:

  • Big banks to kick off reporting season the week of October 14
  • Earnings for sector expected to fall slightly, analysts say
  • Brexit, trade, consumer health on topic list for Financial earnings calls

During Q2 earnings season, Financial sector results helped renew investor confidence in the U.S. consumer.

The question heading into Q3 is whether banking executives still see the same kind of strength, and if they think it can continue amid trade wars, Brexit, and signs of weakness in the U.S. economy.

Over the last three months, as the broader stock market rallied to an all-time high, slammed the brakes, and then re-tested earlier peaks, consumer health arguably did much of the heavy lifting. It felt like every time stocks pulled back, they got a second wind from retail sales, housing or some other data or earnings news that showed consumers still out there buying.

Today In: Money

The banks played a huge role in setting the stage by reporting better-than-expected Q2 results that showed signs of strong consumer demand even as some of the banks’ trading divisions took a hit. Next week, six of the biggest banks come back to talk about their Q3 experience and what they expect for Q4. Analysts expect Financial sector earnings to drop slightly in Q3.

That said, most of the major banking names have done an excellent job keeping costs in check as they wrestle with fundamental industry headwinds like falling interest rates and slowing revenue from their trading divisions. This time out, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more of the same, and you can’t rule out a bit more vigor from the trading business thanks to all the volatility we saw in the markets last quarter.

Earnings growth may not be there for Financials this time around, or it could be negligible. At the end of the day, though, Financial companies are still likely to be remarkably profitable considering a yield curve that remains relatively flat and global macroeconomic concerns, according to Briefing.com. This sector knows how to make money, but it might just not make as much as it did a year ago. Earnings will likely show large banking companies still in good financial condition with the U.S. consumer generally in decent shape for now, as the U.S. economy arguably remains the best-kept house on a tough block.

Investors have started to pick up on all this, judging from the S&P 500 Financial sector’s good health over the last month and year to date. The sector is up 3.4% from a month ago to easily lead all sectors over that time period, and up 15% since the start of 2019. The 15% gain is below the SPX’s 17% year-to-date pace, but it’s an improvement after a few years when Financials generally didn’t participate as much in major market rallies.

What to Listen For

No one necessarily planned it, but it’s helpful in a way that banks report early in the earnings season. Few other industries have larger megaphones or the ability to set the tone like the biggest financial institutions can. The other sectors are important, too, but they often see things from their own silos. Combined, the big banks have a view of the entire economy and all the industries, as well as what consumers and investors are doing. Their positive remarks last quarter didn’t really give Financial stocks an immediate lift, but it did apparently help reassure investors who were nervous about everything from trade wars to Brexit.

Going into Q3 earnings, those same issues dog the market, and bank executives have a front-row seat. How do they see trade negotiations playing out? Can consumers hold up if trade negotiations start to go south? How’s the consumer and corporate credit situation? Will weakness in Europe spread its tentacles more into the U.S.? And is there anything bank CEOs think the Fed or Congress can do to fend off all these challenges?

On another subject closer to the banks’ own business outlook, what about the shaky initial public offering (IPO) situation? That’s getting a closer look as a few recent IPOs haven’t performed as well as some market participants had expected. One question is whether other potential IPOs might get cold feet, potentially hurting businesses for some of the major investment banks.

All the big bank calls are important, but JP Morgan Chase (JPM) on Tuesday morning might stand out. Last time, CEO Jamie Dimon said he saw positive momentum with the U.S. consumer, and his words helped ease concerns about the economic outlook. More words like that this time out might be well timed when you consider how nervous many investors seem to be right now. On the other hand, if Dimon doesn’t sound as positive, that’s worth considering, too.

While few analysts see a recession in the works—at least in the short term—bank executives might be asked if they’re starting to see any slowdown in lending, which might be a possible sign of the economy putting on the brakes. Softer manufacturing sector data over the last few months and falling capital investment by businesses could provide subject matter on the big bank earnings calls.

Regionals Vs. Multinationals

While big banks like JPM operate around the world and might be particularly attuned to the effects of trade, regional banks make most of their loans within the U.S., potentially shielding them from overseas turbulence.

Regional banks also might provide a deeper view into what consumers are doing in the housing and credit card markets. With rates still near three-year lows, we’ve seen some data suggest a bump in the housing sector lately, and that’s been backed by solid earnings data out of that industry. If regional banks report more borrowing demand, that would be another sign pointing to potential strength in consumer sentiment. Refinancing apparently got a big lift over the last few months, and now we’ll hear if banks saw any benefit.

One possible source of weakness, especially for some of the regional players, could be in the oil patch. With crude prices and Energy sector earnings both under pressure, there’s been a big drop in the number of rigs drilling for oil in places like Texas over the last few months, according to energy industry data. That could potentially weigh on borrowing demand. Also, the manufacturing sector is looking sluggish, if recent data paint an accurate picture, maybe hurting results from regional banks in the Midwest. It might be interesting to hear if bank executives are worried more about the U.S. manufacturing situation.

Another challenge for the entire sector is the rate picture. The Fed lowered rates twice since banks last reported, and the futures market is penciling in another rate cut as pretty likely for later this month. Lower rates generally squeeze banks’ margins. If rates drop, banks simply can’t make as much money.

The 10-year Treasury yield has fallen from last autumn’s high above 3.2% to recent levels just above 1.5% amid fears of economic sluggishness and widespread predictions of central bank rate cuts. The long trade standoff between China and the U.S. has also contributed to lower yields as many investors pile into defensive investments like U.S. Treasuries, cautious about the growth outlook.

Another thing on many investors’ minds is the current structure of the yield curve. The 10-year and two-year yields inverted for a stretch in Q3, typically an indication that investors believe that growth will be weak. That curve isn’t inverted now, but it remains historically narrow. Still, some analysts say the current low five-year and two-year yields might mean healthy corporate credit, maybe a good sign for banks.

Q3 Financial Sector Earnings

Analysts making their Q3 projections for the Financial sector expect a slowdown in earnings growth from Q2. Forecasting firm FactSet pegs Financial sector earnings to fall 1.8%, which is worse than its previous estimate in late September for a 0.9% drop. By comparison, Financial earnings grew 5.2% in Q2, way better than FactSet’s June 30 estimate for 0.6% growth.

Revenue for the Financial sector is expected to fall 1.6% in Q3, down from 2.6% growth in Q2, FactSet said.

While estimates are for falling earnings and revenue, the Financial sector did surprise last quarter with results that exceeded the average analyst estimate. You can’t rule out a repeat, but last time consumer strength might have taken some analysts by surprise. Now, consumer strength in Q3 seems like a given, with the mystery being whether it can last into Q4.

Upcoming Earnings Dates:

  • Citigroup (C) – Tuesday, October 15
  • JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) – Tuesday, October 15
  • Wells Fargo (WFC) – Tuesday, Oct. 15, (B)
  • Goldman Sachs (GS) – Tuesday, October 15
  • Bank of America (BAC) – Wednesday, October 16
  • Morgan Stanley (MS) – Thursday, October 17

TD Ameritrade® commentary for educational purposes only. Member SIPC.

I am Chief Market Strategist for TD Ameritrade and began my career as a Chicago Board Options Exchange market maker, trading primarily in the S&P 100 and S&P 500 pits. I’ve also worked for ING Bank, Blue Capital and was Managing Director of Option Trading for Van Der Moolen, USA. In 2006, I joined the thinkorswim Group, which was eventually acquired by TD Ameritrade. I am a 30-year trading veteran and a regular CNBC guest, as well as a member of the Board of Directors at NYSE ARCA and a member of the Arbitration Committee at the CBOE. My licenses include the 3, 4, 7, 24 and 66.

Source: How’s the Consumer Doing? Financial Sector Earnings Next Week Could Help Tell Us

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Banks Around The World Face Significant Profits Pressure For The Foreseeable Future

Numerous indicators in the U.S. and around the world are signaling a slowing economy at best and a near-term recession at worst.  The slowing global economy, along with low interest rates, ongoing trade tensions, and intensifying Brexit uncertainty will weigh on banks’ profitability for the foreseeable future.  In the US, whatever benefits banks derived from Trump’s tax reform, if any, are long gone.

Global Macroeconomic Outlook for the G-20

Moody’s Global Macroeconomic Outlook, August 2019

Last week’s announcement from Coalition that American and European investment banks’ capital markets and advisory’s revenues hit a thirteen-year low is likely to be the beginning of more challenges to come.  Even before that announcement, Moody’s Investor Services had changed its positive outlook on global investment banks to stable precisely due to slower economic growth and lower interest rates.

Today In: Money

Drivers of Moody’s Stable Outlook for Global Investment Banks

Moody’s Investors Services

As a recession comes closer, bank risk managers, investors, regulators, and rating agencies will be monitoring banks’ loan impairments carefully.  According to the Fitch Ratings’ Large European Banks Quarterly Credit Tracker – 2Q19, released last week, “The economic slow down in Europe has not resulted in material new impaired loans yet, but the substantially weakened economic outlook has increased the likelihood of an at  least modest increase in impaired loans.”

Impaired Loans/Gross Loans

Fitch Ratings, Large European Banks Quarterly Credit Tracker

Banks’ high holdings of leveraged loans and below investment grade bonds and securitizations, especially those that are less liquid and harder to value, will also weigh on their earnings as the global economy slowdown intensifies.  Fitch Ratings’ recent ‘U.S. Leveraged Loan Default Insight’ shows that its “Top Loans and Tier 2 Loans of Concern combined total jumped to $94.1 billion from $74.5 billion in July. The Top Loans of Concern amount ($40.9 billion) is the largest since March 2017, with six names added to the list and nearly all bid below 70 in the secondary market.”  Unfortunately, underwriting continues to deteriorate. The Federal Reserve Senior Loan Officer Survey showed a modest loosening of lending standards on corporate loans for the second consecutive quarter.

Leveraged Loans of Concern Amount Outstanding

Fitch U.S. Leveraged Loan Default Index.

A slowing economy and low interest rate environment are outside of bank managers’ control. Yet, cost efficiency, is something that banks can influence; it needs to improve for banks to be more profitable.  European banks’ median/cost income ratio, for example, is 66%. “The sector’s structural cost inefficiency will eventually have to be addressed given the persistently weak rate and revenue outlook. Improving cost efficiency faster and developing fee-generating businesses are crucial to sustain profitability in 2H19 and beyond.”

Cost Efficiency

Fitch Ratings, Large European Banks Quarterly Credit Tracker

Global investment banks will also have to be very attentive to what changes need to be made to their business models. While there will be demand for their advisory and distribution services, the demand will slow down in what is likely an upcoming recession.

Capital Markets Revenue Relative to Total Revenue, 2018

Source: Moody’s Investors

Moreover, as banks continue to lay-off front office professionals, some top latent to effect deals well will be lost.  Volatility from Trump’s multiple front trade wars and Brexit will put a lot of pressure on banks with capital market activities.

Aggregate capital markets revenue first-half 2009-19 (USD billions)

Moody’s Investor Services

Banks in emerging markets are also under profit pressure.  Many of the banks in Latin America already have a negative outlook by ratings agencies, particularly due to a slowdown in Mexico and recessionary pressures in Brazil. Asian banks are particularly sensitive to US-Chinese trade tensions.

Emerging Markets: Median GDP Growth by Region

Fitch Ratings

More than ever, to increase profitability, bank executives will need to find ways to diversify their revenue streams in all parts of their banks, commercial, investment bank, asset management as well as in custody and clearing services.  Banks need to be profitable to be liquid and to be well capitalized to sustain unexpected losses. What worries me is that a slowing global economy, coupled with increasing deregulation in the US, such as the recent gutting of the Volcker Rule, will embolden banks to chase yield even more and take excessive risks that could imperil depositors and taxpayers.  More than ever, investors, bank regulators, and rating agencies should remain vigilant so as to spare ordinary citizens the pain of when banks run into trouble.

 

 

Source: Banks Around The World Face Significant Profits Pressure For The Foreseeable Future

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Deutsche Bank Ensnared by Billion-Dollar Malaysian Fund Scandal

A multi-billion-dollar fraud scandal perpetrated by an investment arm of the Malaysian government appears to have ensnared another major global financial institution — Deutsche Bank  (DBGet Report) — which already is reeling from massive restructuring efforts.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the Justice Department is investigating whether the German lender violated foreign corruption or anti-money-laundering laws in its work for the 1Malaysia Development Bhd. fund, which included helping the fund raise $1.2 billion in 2014 as concerns about the fund’s management and financials had begun to circulate.

Download Now: To be a profitable investor you first need to know the rules. Get Jim Cramer’s 25 Rules for Investing Special Report

The investigation comes amid a massive overhaul of the Munich-based bank announced over the weekend, which includes layoffs in the thousands and the creation of a separate entity for bad loans, debt and other problem investments and holdings that have plagued the bank since the 2008 global financial crisis.

Investigators reportedly have been assisted by former Goldman Sachs executive, Tim Leissner, the Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter. Prosecutors have been investigating similar issues at Goldman, where Leissner, a former managing director, pleaded guilty last year to helping re-direct billions of dollars from the 1MDB fund.

A state economic-development fund, 1MDB turned into a major global scandal after billions of dollars were drained from it between 2009 and 2014, leading to multiple government investigations and the downfall of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The Department of Justice has said the stolen money totals at least $4.5 billion and that it was used to pay bribes to government officials, pad a slush fund controlled by the former prime minister and purchase hundreds of millions of dollars in luxury goods and real estate.

Shares of Deutsche Bank were down 0.54% at $7.36 in early trading in New York on Thursday.

By:

Source: Deutsche Bank Ensnared by Billion-Dollar Malaysian Fund Scandal – Report

SoftBank Launches New $108 Billion Vision Fund To Invest in AI

SoftBank stunned the venture capital world with its launch of the $100 billion Vision Fund in 2017 and its wide-ranging and aggressive investments. Now billionaire Masayoshi Son has announced an even larger fund with $108 billion to invest in artificial intelligence companies.

Announced on Thursday, the “SoftBank Vision Fund 2” will be the biggest tech fund in the world if it comes to fruition. “The objective of the Fund is to facilitate the continued acceleration of the AI revolution through investment in market-leading, tech-enabled growth companies,” SoftBank Group wrote in a filing with the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

SoftBank has upped its own stake in the new fund to $38 billion from the $25 billion in the original fund and has tapped leading tech companies like Apple, Microsoft and Foxconn, along with Japanese investment investment banks and Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth fund.

One noticeable omission from the second fund is Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which pumped $45 billion into the first Vision Fund. SoftBank has faced criticism over its ties with Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman following the grisly murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

However, SoftBank said discussions are ongoing with additional participants, so it’s possible Saudi Arabia will still participate in the second fund, while the total money raised may top $108 billion.

SoftBank used the first fund to make aggressive billion dollar investments into an eclectic range of technology companies around the world leading to some questioning the rational of the legendary investor and SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son. Uber, DoorDash, and WeWork have all been backed by the fund, European startups Improbable in the U.K. and travel booking website GetYourGuide in Germany.

The SoftBank Vision Fund, run out of an office in London’s exclusive Mayfair neighbourhood, is led by Son and Rajeev Misra, a banker who previously worked at UBS, Deutsche Bank and Merrill Lynch.

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I’m a Staff Writer covering tech in Europe. Previously, I was a News Editor for Business Insider Australia, and prior to that I was a Senior Technology Reporter for Business Insider UK. My writing has also appeared in The Financial Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Wired, The Independent, and elsewhere. I have also appeared on the BBC, Sky News, Al Jazeera, Channel 5, Reuters TV, and spoken on Russia Today and Shares Radio. In 2015, I was shortlisted for Technology Journalist of the Year by the UK Tech Awards and in 2016 I was nominated as one of the 30 young journalists to watch by MHP Communications.

Source: SoftBank Launches New $108 Billion Vision Fund To Invest in AI

U.S. Bank Regulatory Easing Is Negative For Investors And Taxpayers

Storm clouds behind the exterior of the Federal Reserve building in Washington, DC

Storm clouds behind the exterior of the Federal Reserve building in Washington, DC

In a disappointing decision, the Federal Reserve Board announced yesterday that effective this year, it will limit its use of the “qualitative objection” in Dodd-Frank’s Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR). Under Dodd-Frank’s Title I, banks that are designated as systemically important are required banks to design a model using stress scenarios from the Federal Reserve. In order to pass the stress test, banks need to demonstrate that they would be able to meet Basel III capital and leverage requirements even in a period of stress.  It is in the qualitative portion of CCAR, that the Federal Reserve can identify and communicate to the market if a bank is having problems with its internal controls, model risk management, information technology, risk data aggregation, and whether a bank has the ability to identify, measure, control, and monitor credit, market, liquidity and operational risks even during periods of stress.  Easing this requirement, in combination with all the changes to Dodd-Frank that have been taking place since last year, is dangerous to investors, not to mention taxpayers, especially so late in the credit cycle.

Parts of the test that each firm is subject to this year in addition to the hypothetical scenario.

Parts of the test that each firm is subject to this year in addition to the hypothetical scenario.

*All firms subject to the qualitative objection, except TD Group, will have their fourth year in the 2020 cycle. TD Group’s fourth year will be the 2019 cycle.

According to the Federal Reserve’s press release “The changes eliminate the qualitative objection for most firms due to the improvements in capital planning made by the largest firms.”  Yes, there have been improvements in capital planning precisely, because there were consequences to banks which failed the qualitative portion of CCAR. Banks were prohibited from making capital distributions until they could rectify the problems the Federal Reserve found in the CCAR exercise.  This decision essentially defangs the CCAR qualitative review of banks’ capital planning process.

Nomi Prins

Nomi Prins

Dean Zatkowsky

“It is absolutely reckless of the Fed to relinquish its regulatory authority in such a manner, rather than retain the option of qualitative oversight, which has turned up red flags in the past,” said Nomi Prins former international investment banker. “We are after all, talking about what the banks deem a reporting burden versus necessary oversight that could detect signs of a coming credit or other form of banking related crisis from a capital or internal risk management perspective. Why take that risk on behalf of the rest of our country or the world?”

In writing about the Federal Reserve’s decision, the Wall Street Journal wrote that “Regulators dialed back a practice of publicly shaming the nation’s biggest banks through “stress test” exams, taking one of the biggest steps yet to ease scrutiny put in place after the 2008 crisis.” It is not public shaming. It is called regulators doing their job, that is, providing transparency to markets about what challenges banks may be having. Without transparency, the bank share and bond investors cannot discipline banks.

Just last month, the Federal Reserve Board announced that it would be “providing relief to less-complex firms from stress testing requirements and CCAR by effectively moving the firms to an extended stress test cycle for this year. The relief applies to firms generally with total consolidated assets between $100 billion and $250 billion.”

Christopher Wolfe

Christopher Wolfe

Fitch Ratings

Investors in bank bonds, especially, should be concerned about recent easing of bank regulations. Immediately after the Federal Reserve decision was announced yesterday, Christopher Wolfe, Head of North American Banks and Managing Director at Fitch Ratings stated that “Taken together, these regulatory announcements raising the bar for systemic risk designation and relaxed standard for qualitative objection on the CCAR stress test reinforce our view that the regulatory environment is easing, which is a negative for bank creditors.”  Fitch Rating analysts have written several reports about the easing bank regulatory environment being credit negative for investors in bank bonds and to  counterparties of banks in a wide array of financial transactions.

Dennis Kelleher

Dennis Kelleher

Better Markets

Also, a month ago, the Federal Reserve announced that it will give more information to banks about how it uses banks’ data in its model to determine whether banks are adequately capitalized in a period of stress.  In commenting on the Federal Recent decisions, Better Markets President and CEO Dennis Kelleher stated that “Stress tests and their fulsome disclosure have been one of the key mechanisms used to restore trust in those banks and regulators.  By providing more transparency to the banks in response to their complaints while reducing the transparency to the public risks snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the Fed’s stress test regime.”

Gregg Gelzinis

Gregg Gelzinis

Center for American Progress

Gregg Gelznis, Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress also expressed his concern about the Federal Reserve’s recent changes to the CCAR stress tests.  “While Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell and Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles have spoken at length about the need for increased stress testing transparency, this transparency only cuts in one direction.” He elaborated that the Federal Reserve’s decision “benefits Wall Street at the expense of the public. The Fed has advanced rules that would provide banks with more information on the stress testing scenarios and models. At the same time, they have now made the stress testing regime less transparent for the public by removing the qualitative objection—instead evaluating capital planning controls and risk management privately in the supervisory process.”

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I have been dedicated to providing clients high quality financial consulting, research, and training services on Basel III, risk management, risk-based supervision

Source: U.S. Bank Regulatory Easing Is Negative For Investors And Taxpayers

Bank Of England Governor Might Open Opportunity For Ripple Tech, Says That Payments Across Borders Should Be Indistinguishable From Those Across The Street

The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has vowed to transform the central bank in preparation for the upcoming “fourth industrial revolution.”

Speaking at the Innovate Finance Global Summit, Carney said that he would focus on encouraging innovation among fintech startup, and making climate change and Artificial Intelligence (AI) priorities.

Carney stressed on the emerging digital economy, which many developing nations are preparing for by embracing blockchain technology and decentralized systems.

The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has vowed to transform the central bank in preparation for the upcoming “fourth industrial revolution.”

Speaking at the Innovate Finance Global Summit, Carney said that he would focus on encouraging innovation among fintech startup, and making climate change and Artificial Intelligence (AI) priorities.

Carney stressed on the emerging digital economy, which many developing nations are preparing for by embracing blockchain technology and decentralized systems.

The second great wave of globalisation is cresting. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is just beginning. And a new economy is emerging. That new economy requires a new finance. A new finance to serve the digital economy, a new finance to support the major transitions underway across the globe, and a new finance to increase the financial sector’s resilience.

Carney also spoke of the changing nature of the way we exchange value,

Consumers and businesses increasingly expect transactions to be settled in real time, checkout to become an historical anomaly, and payments across borders to be indistinguishable from those across the street.

Though Ripple is not mentioned by name, the kind of solutions that Ripple offers is a partial answer for the kind of upgrade that Carney speaks of. The cross-border solutions that Ripple provides has been warmly welcomed by banks across the world.

Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum released a report that showed over 40 central banks across the world were conducting research and/or implementing blockchain solutions. Certainly there is a lot to be gained by established entities adopting the technology, IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, has also said that “cryptocurrencies clearly shake the world.”

Abhimanyu Krishnan
About Abhimanyu Krishnan

Abhimanyu is an engineer on paper but a writer by living. To him, the most celebratory aspect of blockchain technology is its democratic nature. While he’s hodling, he can be found reading a good book or making the local dogs howl with the sound of his guitar playing.

Source: Bank Of England Governor Might Open Opportunity For Ripple Tech, Says That Payments Across Borders Should Be Indistinguishable From Those Across The Street

Move Over Warren Buffett–For This $200 Billion Man From Japan

uncaptioned image

SoftBank Group Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son delivers a keynote speech during the SoftBank World 2018 conference on July 19, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)

Everybody is wondering what Warren Buffett will buy next. With more than $100 billion in cash, aspirations for another megadeal and an 89th birthday approaching, the Sage of Omaha says he’s on the prowl for big targets.

One wonders, though, if the investment world is looking in the wrong direction. The focus on Buffett, the man and the legend, is about more than nostalgia, of course. In today’s chaotic and disorienting economic climate, the next big move by this value-investment icon will turn many heads.

But 6,000 miles away from Nebraska, SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son is pioneering a new era of value investing. Whether Japan’s richest man can live up to the Buffett-of-Japan hype is anyone’s guess. The report card on the $100 billion Vision Fund he rolled out in 2016 is incomplete, at best. And that’s vital to keep in mind as Son ups his firepower to the $200 billion mark.

Before launching a second $100 billion fund, Son might want to convince the globe that his first one hit his own intended targets. Son can start by answering three questions.

One: What’s the theme here? Don’t get me wrong–Japan needs more risk-takers like Son. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spent the last six-plus years urging ultra-conservative Japan Inc. to rekindle the innovative mojo that drove the nation to such great heights in the 1970s and 1980s. By becoming the world’s top venture capitalist, Son, 61, is showing peers in Asia’s No. 2 economy how it’s done.

Well, we hope so. His splashy investments smash the Japanese CEO mold. But they also raise questions about the grander strategy at play. SoftBank’s journey from software company in 1981 to telecom titan–gobbling up Vodafone and Sprint–has a certain Buffett-esque logic. His aggressive bets on everything from Uber to WeWork to messaging system Slack to online lender SoFi to robot-pizza-maker Zume to Fortress Investment to food-deliverer DoorDash to solar panels to AI (artificial intelligence) to indoor farms to satellite makers, though, are as scattershot as you’ll find among today’s billionaires.

Son doesn’t often swing for the fences the way Buffett does at times. Buffett’s 2016 megadeal purchase of Precision Castparts for $37 billion is a case in point. Consider Son more of a “Moneyball” player who tried to recreate the Buffett-like income streams in the aggregate. Still, investors are anxious to know how dominating the ride-sharing space, betting $3.3 billion on money-manager Fortress and overpaying for startups around the globe can gel together in profitable ways.

Two: Where’s Son’s General Re? One year ago, a tantalizing story swept the markets: Son might be buying a nearly $10 billion stake in Swiss Re AG. It seemed classic Buffett to stabilize Son’s broader constellation of futurist bets the way General Re helps anchor the sprawling Berkshire Hathaway. What better way to reconcile the gap between an increasingly eclectic balance sheet, a discounted SoftBank share price and Son’s global ambitions?

Those ambitions have their roots in a 2000 investment Son made in a then-little-known Chinese visionary. The $20 million Son wagered on Jack Ma helped seed Alibaba. It paid off spectacularly, too. By 2014, when Ma took his e-commerce juggernaut public, Son’s bet was worth some $50 billion. The Vision Fund aims to recreate that success in the aggregate, as many times over as possible.

Anchors are important, though. Son’s talks with Swiss Re ultimately failed. Yet it’s time to build in some Vision Fund cash-flow stability.

In 2016, here’s how Son explained his strategy: “I think I’m better than others at sniffing out things that will bear fruit in 10 or 20 years, while they’re still at the seed stage, and I’m more willing to take the risks that entails.”

Great, so long as there are ample shock absorbers for when some of those risks go awry. The need becomes greater as Son’s arsenal doubles to $200 billion.

Three: How to finesse the Saudi dilemma? A major source of Vision Fund’s seed money–$45 billion–resulted from a September 2016 meeting between Son and Muhammad bin Salman. The Saudi Arabian crown prince, you might’ve noticed, has been in a few headlines since then. None flattering, and it’s not a great look for SoftBank.

The apparent murder of dissident and Washington Post contributorJamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate put a cloud over Riyadh. That, coupled with a gruesome war in Yemen and locking up relatives, made MBS, as the prince is known, a less appealing business partner. In late October, a who’s-who of chieftains dropped out of MBS’s “Davos in the Desert” conference–from JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon to HSBC’s John Flint.

Can SoftBank avoid the taint? Time will tell, but Son may have another Saudi challenge on his hands: divergent visions. So many of Son’s Vision Fund bets are in the renewable energy space. How, though, does that track?

The Saudi royal family has expressed a desire to diversify its fossil-fuel-reliant economy. And yet that effectively means replacing the industry from which Saudi royals derive their wealth. If MBS changed his mind, restoring the primacy of the petrodollar model, the source of Son’s liquidity dries up.

Perhaps Son can indeed reconcile this disconnect. There’s a great deal riding on Son’s ability to juggle–and ultimately answer–these three questions. I’m certainly rooting for him. Few visionaries are doing more, at this very moment, to empower startups with the potential to alter humankind’s trajectory.

A key Son priority, for example, is helping seismically-active nations from Japan to India replace nuclear reactors with safer renewables. If Son and his ilk succeed, future generations won’t know from petrostates, oil rigs or gas stations. Cars, airplanes, ships and indeed buildings will be powered by batteries or other clean-energy sources.

Getting there, though, requires out-of-the-box thinking and even bigger risk-taking. That’s why the trajectory of the global economy will likely owe more to Son’s moves than Buffett’s.

I am a Tokyo-based journalist, former columnist for Barron’s and Bloomberg and author

Source: Move Over Warren Buffett–For This $200 Billion Man From Japan

Australia to Overhaul Regulators After Landmark Banking Inquiry — peoples trust toronto

http://bit.ly/2UB8XjX February 4, 2019 Australia’s corporate regulators will be subjected to a new oversight body in a shake-up of the banking sector designed to combat the excessive greed and unethical practices that have engulfed some of the country’s biggest financial institutions. The Royal Commission, Australia’s most powerful type of government inquiry, also advised in its […]

via Australia to overhaul regulators after landmark banking inquiry — peoples trust toronto

Major Central Bank Institution BIS: Bitcoin Must Depart From Proof-of-Work

Bitcoin’s (BTC) problems are only solvable by departing from a proof-of-work (PoW) system, according to research published by the Bank for International Settlement (BIS) on Jan. 21. According to the paper, when in the future Bitcoin’s block rewards fall to zero — given that only a limited number of new Bitcoin will ever be created — transaction fees alone will not be able to sustain mining expenses. The argument implies that the Bitcoin network would become so slow that it would be virtually unusable, stating…….

Source: Major Central Bank Institution BIS: Bitcoin Must Depart From Proof-of-Work

How Islamic Finance Could Save the Planet

With mystic peaks, coral reefs, jungles and over 4,000 hours of annual sunlight, Malaysia’s Sabah state is an ideal candidate for clean energy initiatives. But what makes its 50-megawatt solar project, launched in April 2018, special isn’t just its potential to provide electricity to this northern Borneo region. The project is the outcome of funds raised from the world’s first Islamic green bond, with a value of $60 million, unveiled by Malaysia’s Securities Commission in July 2017………..

Source: How Islamic Finance Could Save the Planet

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