(BEIJING) — Chinese e-commerce giants Alibaba and JD.com reported a total of more than $50 billion in sales on Monday in the first half of Singles Day, an annual marketing event that is the world’s busiest online shopping day.
Singles Day began as a joke holiday created by university students in the 1990s as an alternative to Valentine’s Day for people without romantic partners. It falls on Nov. 11 because the date is written with four singles — “11 11.”
Alibaba, the world’s biggest e-commerce brand by total sales volume, adopted the day as a sales tool a decade ago. Rivals including JD.com and Suning joined in, offering discounts on goods from smartphones to travel packages.
E-commerce has grown rapidly in China due to a lack of traditional retailing networks and government efforts to promote internet use. Alibaba, JD.com, Baidu and other internet giants have expanded into consumer finance, entertainment and offline retailing.
On Monday, online retailers offered discounts on goods from craft beer to TV sets to health care packages.
Alibaba said sales by merchants on its platforms totaled 188.8 billion yuan ($27 billion) between midnight and noon. JD.com, the biggest Chinese online direct retailer, said sales reached 165.8 billion yuan ($23.8 billion) by 9 a.m.
Electronics retailer Suning said sales passed 1 billion yuan ($160 million) in the first minute after midnight. Dangdang, an online book retailer, said it sold 6.8 million copies in the first hour.
Alibaba kicked off the event with a concert Sunday night by Taylor Swift at a Shanghai stadium.
Chinese online spending is growing faster than retail overall but is weakening as economic growth slows and consumers, jittery about Beijing’s tariff war with Washington and possible losses, put off big purchases.
Online sales of goods rose 16.8% over a year earlier in the first nine months of 2019 to 5.8 trillion yuan ($825 billion), according to government data. That accounted for 19.5% of total consumer spending. Growth was down from an annual average of about 30% in recent years.
Nov.11 was Singles’ Day in China, the country’s busiest online shopping day of the year. More than 35 billion RMB was spent on two online platforms, Tmall.com and Taobao.com, which are owned by China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba. A total of 170 million transactions were made during the day.
Sydney Enzler opened her first credit card when she was a 19-year-old college student. Her mom encouraged her to open the account in order to build credit and establish a strong credit score.
“I wanted to use my credit cards every once in a while to build credit, but I generally just use them for larger purchases,” said Enzler.
Now 24 years old, Enzler is one of the millions of Americans who owe a collective $1.1 trillion dollars in credit card and other revolving debt. According to the Federal Reserve, the average interest rate on those credit card balances is 16.97% APR.
With interest rates that high, it’s easy to see how credit card debt can quickly spiral out of control and leave you with a bruised wallet – and ego. The reality is that credit cards aren’t going anywhere, and they play a large role in determining your credit score – a critical factor when it comes to getting the lowest possible interest rate on your mortgage or other loans.
Today, I am dispelling three common credit card myths so that you can focus on the things that will actually improve your credit score.
Myth 1: Carrying A Small Credit Card Balance Is Good For Your Credit
I applied for my first credit card shortly after my 18th birthday and I remember being told by a well-meaning colleague at work that I should try to use the card regularly and carry a small balance. The rationale was that by using the card and paying a small amount of interest monthly, the bank would love having me as a customer and give me a better credit score.
Fortunately, I was a curious teenager and fact-checked that claim, because it’s not true. And not following that advice has saved me hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in unnecessary interest charges over the years.
To begin, your credit score is not determined by your credit card company or any other lender. Your credit card issuer (in my case it was Chase), provides the credit bureaus with regular updates on your payment and account history. These credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) simply receive information from your lenders and use it to calculate your credit score.
Second, carrying a balance on a credit card will increase your utilization, which could actually lower your score. In general, using less of your available credit is better from a credit score perspective.
The important lesson here is that it’s never wise to pay interest on your credit card if you can avoid it. Always pay off your full statement balance in full if possible. It will help you lower your credit utilization while avoiding costly interest charges.
However, the myth that checking your credit hurts your score pervades, in part, because of the confusing language that’s used to notate when your credit file has been accessed. Whenever your credit report is requested, you’ll receive an ‘inquiry’. However, it’s important to note that there’s a big distinction between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ inquiries.
When you request your own credit report, this qualifies as a soft inquiry. Soft inquiries have no effect on your credit score whatsoever. That means that checking your own credit report will not hurt your credit score. It’s that simple.
However, when you apply for a new loan or other type of credit, the prospective creditor will access your credit file to assess your creditworthiness. This will result in a hard inquiry, which will, in fact, have a negative impact on your credit score. Hard inquiries will remain on your credit file for two years, although they will only affect your score for 12 months.
If you’d like to check your credit report, you can do it here for free. By law, each of the three major credit bureaus must give you free access to your credit report once per year. I try to check a credit report from a different bureau every three to four months to check for inaccuracies or fraud. In fact, I just requested my credit report while writing this article and it took all of 90 seconds. You should do the same.
Myth 3: You Can Pay Someone To Fix Your Credit Score
If you have a history of making late payments and don’t practice sound credit management, there’s no magic switch you can flip in order to have accurate information removed from your credit report on-demand.
While there are a lot of credit repair services roaming the web and social media, the fact is that they don’t do anything that you can’t do on your own.
The best way to repair your credit is to practice good credit management strategies. This means paying your cards and other credit accounts on time, every time. It also means understanding how credit scores work and what the components that go into your score are.
The components of your credit score are as follows:
Your payment history comprises 35% of your credit score
Amount of debt (credit utilization) comprises 30%
Length of credit history comprises 15%
Amount of new credit (and inquiries) comprises 10%
Your credit mix comprises the final 10% of your credit score
This means that 50% of your score (payment history and length of credit history) is related to time. Clearly, to meaningfully improve your score it will take patience.
If you’re getting ready to apply for a mortgage, or if you are hoping to lower your student loan interest rates by refinancing, here’s what you can do to give your score a boost more quickly. Thirty percent of your score is based on your credit utilization, which is essentially based on a current snapshot of your accounts. While it could take years for negative marks to roll off of your credit report, you can quickly lower your credit utilization.
Your credit utilization is determined by taking your outstanding balance on your revolving credit accounts and dividing it by the total credit available to you. It could take several weeks for the updated information to be passed from your creditor to the credit bureaus, but it’s a fast way to improve an important metric. For the highest credit scores, aim to lower your utilization below 10%.
Don’t lose sight of the fact that it can take time to improve your credit score. Start to establish healthy credit habits today so that your score reflects them in the future. But most importantly, don’t despair if your credit isn’t perfect.
Stocks down for the week so far but trade optimism gives positive tone early
Micron shares fall on disappointing forecast
Wells Fargo gets a new CEO, helping lift shares
Friday dawns after a week that didn’t provide much direction for investors. Stocks have generally chopped around in reaction to the latest geopolitical or domestic political news, and stayed in a tight range.
The question Friday might be whether the major indices can propel themselves to a victory for the week, because they start the session slightly down from a week ago thanks to positive trade vibes and solid durable goods data. That data looked really nice, up from the previous month and rising for the third month in a row. We’ll have to see if that’s sustainable because a lot of it was from the defense sector in the form of planes and parts. Either way, the trend can sometimes be your friend, as the old market saying goes.
Also, the Personal Consumption Index (PCE)—the Fed’s preferred inflation metric—rose 0.1%, roughly in line with expectations. The core index, which strips out the often-volatile food and energy prices, also rose 0.1% to an annualized rate of 1.8%. It’s an uptick for sure, but still below the Fed’s stated target of 2% inflation. Might this be enough to shift the Fed’s thinking from dovish to neutral?
Whether or not stocks make a last-minute run here, it’s been hard to find much of a theme in the last few days. Hopes for progress in trade negotiations got reinforcement yesterday with an October 10 date set for new talks, but the noise out of China since then has mostly been about how willing they are to buy more U.S. products.
That’s all good, but it doesn’t get at the intellectual property and other issues that U.S. negotiators say are at the heart of the matter and apparently were a sticking point when the last round of talks broke down. It’s hard to see these talks getting much further without movement on these issues.
Another focus is the impeachment drama in Washington. Two big bombshells came out this week, but stocks didn’t show much reaction. As we’ve said, it’s important to keep your emotions out of trading, and impeachment is an emotional issue. It’s likely to be a long process and a constant background noise over the next weeks and months, but investors might serve themselves better by watching earnings and data.
It’s interesting to hear some analysts saying that the impeachment situation might actually be bullish because it could put pressure on the administration to get a trade deal done on the sooner side. This school of thought suggests President Trump might be keen to get some positive headlines to counter the negative ones. That remains to be seen and is just speculation for now.
On the earnings front, bad news came at the end of the week from Micron (MU), as the semiconductor firm issued guidance that Wall Street didn’t seem to like too much. Shares were down 5% in premarket trading. Revenue and earnings beat third-party consensus views, but were way down from a year ago as the company continues to struggle with demand for its memory products. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see the weakness in MU shares work their way into the entire chip sector, maybe putting pressure on Technology stocks today.
And Wells Fargo (WFC) is back in the news today after the financial company hired a new CEO. This ended a six-month search and means investors won’t have to approach WFC’s earnings call next month with more questions about who would head the company. Shares rose in premarket trading.
Quarterly Market Gains Not Much To See
The old quarter is just about over, and it’s been a wild one that basically didn’t go much of anywhere if you look at the major indices. Sure, they surged to new peaks at times, but also retreated. It ended up being almost a wash, with the benchmark S&P 500 (SPX) closing Thursday up just 1% from where it finished at the end of June.
The choppy trade that marked most of the quarter continued on Thursday, with the market giving up early gains, clawing back to flat and then losing more ground by the closing bell. Some of the “risk-on” trading we saw on Wednesday didn’t really carry into Thursday, with small-caps in the Russell 2000 (RUT) drifting lower and Financials having a rough day.
Instead, some caution appears to be coming back into play late this week, with Utilities and Real Estate near the top of the leaderboard Thursday. Those aren’t places people tend to go when they’re feeling gung-ho about the economy. Bonds—another defensive area—also rallied, but gold didn’t share in the fun.
Though every day seems to have a different theme, there’s a lot of concern out there about the fundamental picture. It’s good to hear that new trade talks begin October 10, as we found out Thursday, but a resolution doesn’t seem all that close.
One concern is that new tariffs announced last month on Chinese goods could start having an impact on consumer spending, which would possibly cause companies to get even more cautious. If companies stay in a holding pattern, it’s hard to see any significant rally on the horizon. Earnings growth is already expected to fall year-over-year in Q3 after sinking in Q1 and Q2.
When you get right down to it, earnings drive the market. If investors continue to see earnings grow at slower rates, at some point the market could start to reflect that. FactSet, a research firm, predicts a nearly 4% earnings loss for S&P 500 companies in Q3. Earnings fell 0.4% in Q2 and also fell in Q1, making this potentially the first three-quarter stretch of falling year-over-year earnings since late 2015/early 2016.
No Fun for FAANGS
Some of the FAANG stocks, including Amazon (AMZN), Netflix (NFLX) and Facebook (FB), also are having tough weeks. Again, it’s regulatory issues dogging FB, but the others could be under pressure from changing money flows as the FAANG sector seems to be losing some of its mojo, according to an article this week on MarketWatch.
Next week will be October, after Monday at least, so let’s look at what the market’s going to be grappling with beyond the China trade and impeachment stories. We’re still a few weeks out from earnings, meaning volatility could be a factor and the market could move up or down quickly based on the latest headlines or tweets. It could still do that after earnings start in mid-October, too, but earnings give people something solid to point at in times of turmoil.
One thing we’ll be pointing to next week is a monthly payrolls report for September. A lot of eyes are likely to be on the numbers a week from today, wondering if those relatively modest job gains back in August were a one-time deal or maybe a sign of something more serious. Even before August, job growth had been slowing this year, but it’s still above the level economists think we need to keep unemployment low.
Other data aren’t so exciting next week, but Chicago PMI on Monday might be interesting when you consider recent data where manufacturing activity appears to be slowing down. Chicago PMI surprised to the upside last time and came in above 50. Anything below that would indicate economic contraction, according to how the report is structured. It was 50.4 in August.
Volatility can sometimes tick up the last days of the quarter, but the Cboe Volatility Index (VIX) has dropped below 16 this morning after topping 17 earlier this week.
Company Caution Crimps Quarter: Normally, the government’s report on gross domestic product (GDP) gets lots of attention. That wasn’t the case yesterday because a few other things were going on (there’ve been some political headlines, if you haven’t noticed). A check of the data showed 2% growth in Q2, which means the slowdown that began early this year continued. As a reminder, gross domestic product was nearly 3% in 2018. To some extent, this downturn probably reflects the trade war with China. Many companies appear to be in a holding state because they’re putting off decisions on business plans. You can’t continue to have companies putting decisions off, because it could start affecting the longer curve of growth. It may already be doing that.
Crude Concerns: The fundamental concerns mentioned above aren’t any easier to dismiss when you consider how crude’s behaved recently. Remember when U.S. crude rose above $60 less than two weeks ago in a 15% one-day rally? Seems like a long time ago, with crude back down in the mid-$50s by Thursday. Rising U.S. inventories apparently caught some market participants by surprise and raised questions about demand. It’s just a week or two of data, so you don’t want to make any broad conclusions, but falling crude demand would possibly be a sign of a slowing economy if it continues. That remains to be seen, but for the moment it’s hurting the Energy sector, which suffered more than a 1% loss yesterday.
Batting 3000: The first time the S&P 500 (SPX) crossed the 2000 level was on Aug. 26, 2014. But it traded below 2000 on an intraday basis 22 months later, on June 27, 2016. The lesson here? Just because an index crosses a big round-number benchmark doesn’t mean you can put that magic number in the rearview mirror and forget about it. We’re getting a reminder of that now, with the SPX struggling to get its head above 3000 after first hitting that mark back in July. At this point, the late July intraday high of 3027 remains the peak, and the SPX has fluttered back and forth above and below 3000 ever since.
This doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll still be wrestling with 3000 in mid-2021, though that can’t be ruled out. And while we’re talking scenarios, one can’t rule out a major test to the downside either. In the near term, it’s very hard to see any move above 3000 lasting long without a China deal. Anticipated weak earnings are another major barrier, because without earnings growth, it gets harder and harder to justify rallies.
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
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Stocks have recovered from last fall’s crash, low interest rates stretch out to the horizon and the VIX volatility index is half what it was at Christmas. Sit back and coast to a comfortable retirement.
No, don’t, says Nancy Davis. This veteran derivatives trader runs Quadratic Capital Management, where her somewhat contrarian view is that investors, all too complacent, are in particular need of insurance against financial trouble.
The Quadratic Interest Rate Volatility & Inflation Hedge ETF, ticker IVOL, is designed to provide shelter from both inflation and recession. Its actively managed portfolio mixes inflation-protected Treasury bonds with bets, in the form of call options, on the steepness of the yield curve.
Those options are cheap, for two reasons. One is that, at the moment, there is no steepness: Yields on ten-year bonds are scarcely higher than yields on two-year bonds. The other is that the bond market is strangely quiet. Low volatility makes for low option prices.
“Volatility has been squashed by central bank money printing,” Davis says, before delving deep into the thicket of option mathematics. If volatility in interest rates rebounds to a normal level, her calls will become more valuable. Alternatively, she would get a payoff if the yield curve tilts upward, which it has a habit of doing when inflation surges, stocks crash or real estate is weak.
If IVOL is all about peace of mind for the investor, it’s all about risk for its inventor. Davis, 43, has poured her heart, soul and net worth into Quadratic, of which she is the founder and 60% owner. If the three-month-old exchange-traded fund takes off, she could become wealthy. If it doesn’t, Quadratic will struggle.
The fund showed its worth in the first week of August, climbing 2% as the stock market sank 3%. But it needs a much bigger shock to stock or bond prices in order to get big. It has gathered only $58 million so far. A crash had better arrive soon; IVOL’s call options expire next summer. Quadratic, moreover, needs to somehow scale up without inspiring knockoff products from ETF giants like BlackRock.
Davis was a precocious trader. As an undergraduate at George Washington University, she took grad courses in financial markets while earning money doing economic research for a consulting firm. She put some of her paychecks into a brokerage account. “Some women love to buy shoes,” she says. “I love to buy options.”
This was in the 1990s, a good time to indulge a taste for calls. Davis made out-of-the-money bets on technology stocks, which paid off well enough to cover the down payment, in 1999, on a New York City apartment. Nice timing.
There may be a sour grape, but there’s also truth in her current philosophy that hedge funds are not such a great deal for investors. ETFs, she says, are more liquid, more transparent and cheaper.
Davis spent a decade at Goldman Sachs, most of it on the firm’s proprietary trading desk, then did a stint at a hedge fund. At 31 she quit to actively manage two kids. Returning to Wall Street after a three-year hiatus, she worked for AllianceBernstein and then did what few women do, especially women with children: She started a hedge fund.
Quadratic, whose assets once topped $400 million, used a hedge fund platform at Cowen & Co. When Cowen ended the partnership last year, Davis set about reinventing her firm. There may be a sour grape, but there’s also truth in her current philosophy that hedge funds are not such a great deal for investors. ETFs, she says, are more liquid, more transparent and cheaper.
IVOL’s 1% annual fee is stiff, but Davis says it’s justified for a fund that is not only actively managed but also invested in things that ordinary folk cannot buy. If you want to duplicate her position in the Constant Maturity Swap 2-10 call due July 17, you’d need to know what banker to ring for a quote, because this beast is not traded on any exchange. Each of these calls, recently worth $7.71, gives the holder the right to collect a dollar for every 0.01% beyond 0.37% in the spread between ten-year interest rates and two-year interest rates. The spread has to move a long way up before the option is even in the money. But at various times in the past the spread has hit 2%. Could it do that again? Maybe, at which point the option pays $163.
Starting a firm like Quadratic is like buying an out-of-the-money call: long odds, big payoff. Davis is doing what she was doing in college. You can’t stop a trader from trading.
I aim to help you save on taxes and money management costs. I graduated from Harvard in 1973, have been a journalist for 44 years, and was editor of Forbes magazine from 1999 to 2010. Tax law is a frequent subject in my articles. I have been an Enrolled Agent since 1979. Email me at williambaldwinfinance — at — gmail — dot — com.
Nancy Davis, founder and CIO of Quadratic Capital Management, introduces her new ETF that takes advantage of interest volatility and inflation expectations: IVOL. In this interview with Real Vision’s co-founder & CEO Raoul Pal, Davis deconstructs the structure of the ETF, highlights the cost of carry associated with the strategy, and discusses her macro outlook and where she thinks the yield curve is headed next. Filmed on May 29, 2019. Watch more Real Vision™ videos: http://po.st/RealVisionVideos Subscribe to Real Vision™ on YouTube: http://po.st/RealVisionSubscribe Watch more by starting your 14-day free trial here: https://rvtv.io/2KHDkoc About Trade Ideas: Top traders unveil their specific plans for cashing in on the market’s next move. In these short videos, our traders cut straight to the point and lay out their thoughts on the best risk-reward trades of the moment. Each episode concludes with a visual recap of trade details including profit-loss potential and trade duration. About Real Vision™: Real Vision™ is the destination for the world’s most successful investors to share their thoughts about what’s happening in today’s markets. Think: TED Talks for Finance. On Real Vision™ you get exclusive access to watch the most successful investors, hedge fund managers and traders who share their frank and in-depth investment insights with no agenda, hype or bias. Make smart investment decisions and grow your portfolio with original content brought to you by the biggest names in finance, who get to say what they really think on Real Vision™. Connect with Real Vision™ Online: Twitter: https://rvtv.io/2p5PrhJ Instagram: https://rvtv.io/2J7Ddlw Facebook: https://rvtv.io/2NNOlmu Linkedin: https://rvtv.io/2xbskqx The ETF Play on Interest Rate Volatility (w/ Nancy Davis) https://www.youtube.com/c/RealVisionT… Transcript: For the full transcript visit: https://rvtv.io/2KHDkoc NANCY DAVIS: So we invest with options with a directional bias on everything. So our new product that we recently launched, IVOL, is the first inflation expectations and interest rate volatility fund out there. It’s a exchange traded product. RAOUL PAL: Does anybody even know what that means? NANCY DAVIS: So what we do is for an investor, if you’re an equity investor, you want to have tail protection, for instance. It’s hard to own equity volatility as an asset allocation trade because it decays so aggressively. So it’s a more benign way to carry volatility as an asset class from the long side using fixed income vol. It’s not as sensitive as equity vol, but it’s a lot lower level. Like, the vol we’re buying is 2, 2 basis points a day in normal space. So it’s very, very cheap, in my opinion, and it gives you a way to have an asset allocation to the factor risk of volatility without having as much decay as you would in the equity space. And then for a fixed income investor, the big risk there is obviously Central Bank policy, fiscal spending, trade wars, as well as inflation expectations. And we saw a need to really give a fixed income investor a way to capitalize on the deflation that’s been priced into the market for the next decade. I mean, so current US inflation is around 2%. The five-year break-even is 1.59%. So that’s an opportunity in an option space. And so it’s long options with TIPS. And so that gives investors exposure. It gives you inflation-protected income, but also options that are sensitive to inflation expectations. And we think it’s pretty– you know, you’re never going to time these macro calls perfectly. But given the Central Bank in the US is so focused right now on increasing inflation expectations, and there’s been so much talk about the yield curve inverting– and that’s kind of crazy. If you step back and you’re like, all right, we have a $3.9 trillion balance sheet. We have a fiscal budget deficit. We have unclear or radically changing monetary policy. If you look where we are now with so many cuts priced into the interest rate markets in the US versus where we were four months ago, it’s wildly different. And at the same time, interest rate volatility is literally at generational lows. Equity, while people talk about equity vol, I think VIX today is 17. It’s low, I guess, in the context. But when you look at a percentile, like one-year vol over the last decade in equities, it’s about the 70th percentile. So it might be low, but it doesn’t mean it’s cheap. Interest rate volatility is literally at, like, 2, 1, you know, 0.
It’s been a medal-caliber few years for Japan’s property developers. Not Olympic gold of the kind Tokyo will award athletes 12 months from now. But construction ahead of the 2020 Games, building that’s been a godsend for Japan’s property developers. That will happen when the cost of staging a few weeks of sporting events explode to $25 billion from the $7 billion Tokyo originally estimated.
What if, though, the 2020 construction boom spells trouble for the century ahead? The reference here is to the “Skyscraper Curse” that may be rearing its head in the third-biggest economy.
Building related to Tokyo 2020 turned the Japanese capital into a giant construction site. Even developers unattached to the August 2020 Olympics have used the excitement to build new office towers throughout the city. Office space that, frankly, might have a hard time renting out floors two years from now.
Multinational companies, after all, continue to favor Singapore and Hong Kong (for now, at least) for Asian headquarters. And it’s not Shinzo Abe’s seven-year reflation scheme is catalyzing a startup boom to fill all that office space once the five-ring Olympic circus leaves town.
Mori Building recently unveiled ambitious plans to construct Japan’s tallest skyscraper, a title suddenly held by Osaka. This epic redevelopment project that will include offices, residences, shops, restaurants, a hotel, and an international school will come at a cost of 580 billion yen ($5.45 billion), which surely has contractors and rivals salivating at the possibilities. But there’s reason for broader caution.
One can quibble with the wisdom of putting a 64-story, 330-meter edifice in the center of one of the world’s most seismically active metropolises. It’s economic risks, though, that Prime Minister Abe’s office should be considering.
History betrays an uncanny correlation between world’s-tallest-building projects and financial crises. Roll your eyes if you want, but I’ve been covering the phenomenon for two decades. Here’s a quick recap of the last 112 years.
The Panic of 1907, when the New York Stock Exchange lost 50%, occurred just as Manhattan celebrated the opening of the 47-story Singer Building and 50-story Metropolitan Life North Building. The Great Depression that began in 1929 coincided with the New York christenings of 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler Building. Despair and homelessness spoiled the party over the 1931 opening the Empire State Building.
Fast forward four decades to New York and Chicago, the hosts to the world-topping World Trade Center and Sears Tower projects. Both opened as the Bretton Woods monetary system was breaking down and stagflation was fueling fiscal crises.
In 1997, Kuala Lumpur was quaking amid regional market turbulence just as Malaysia’s Petronas Towers came online. In the early 2000s, Taipei opened the world’s biggest architectural marvel in time for political turmoil at home and growing tensions with China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province. The 2008 completion of Dubai’s 828-metre Burj Khalifa Tower dovetailed with the city’s bust, cascading oil prices and the “Lehman shock” a world away.
This is just the last 100 or so years of the Skyscraper Curse. Spiritualists may track the phenomenon back to the biblical Tower of Babel. But coincidence or not, it’s hard to miss the overlap between history-making economic disruptions and new architectural Guinness World Records entries.
The common, and indisputable, thread is ultra-low interest rates fueling over-investment and froth. Developers are always looking to harness the newest engineering and technological advances. That impulse gets supercharged by excess monetary expansion. It’s not surprising, then, that tallest-building projects often get green-lighted near the top-ticks of speculative manias.
Again, not the most solidly scientific of arguments. Yet Asian developers still engage in serious real-estate one-upmanship. South Korea’s tallest building, the Lotte World Tower, opened in 2017 just in time for President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment and imprisonment on bribery charges. Also in 2017, Shenzhen toasted the opening of the Ping An Finance Center, the No. 4 tallest building globally, as U.S. President Donald Trump was telegraphing his China trade war.
In Melbourne, the ongoing Australia 108 project aims to become the Southern Hemisphere’s tallest residential tower. A coincidence, maybe, but many economists worry Australia is veering toward its first recession in more than 25 years.
What about Tokyo? Abe’s seven-year revival project has been 90% monetary easing and perhaps 10% structural reform (and that’s being generous). All that liquidity, coupled with the construction boondoggle that is Tokyo 2020, has revived land prices in an otherwise deflation-traumatized economy.
As of February, the Nikkei Financial Review reported, Tokyo property prices, as measured by new condos, approached late 1980s bubble-period levels. Yet inflation is advancing just 0.6% year-on-year, less than halfway to the 2% target. And ominously, real wages are down six straight months now as Trump’s China trade war slams Japan’s export engine.
All this means the Bank of Japan’s historic easing has Tokyo construction sites buzzing with activity. The rest of the nation’s slowing economic regions, not so much. All that building is stellar news for property developers, but it’s also creating a bull market in concerns that Japan’s latest building boom could be, well, cursed.
I am a Tokyo-based journalist, former columnist for Barron’s and Bloomberg and author of “Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan’s Lost Decades.” My journalism awards include the 2010 Society of American Business Editors and Writers prize for commentary.
U.S. equity futures edged higher, potentially lifting Wall Street to fresh record peaks again this week, as investors await the first of six major tech sector earnings reports later today that could make-or-break the recent stock market rally. Here are five things you need to know before the start of trading on Wednesday July 17.
1. Netlfix and FAANG
Netflix (NFLX – Get Report) , the first of the six major tech companies — along with Microsoft (MSFT – Get Report) — in the so-called FAANG complex of stocks will report second quarter earnings after the close trading today, with analysts likely keying on it outlook for online streaming subscriber additions in a suddenly competitive market.
Netflix itself is forecasting online subscriber growth of 5 million for the three months ending in June, a figure that would boost its worldwide total to just under 155 million, but the near-term loss of hits such as ‘Friends’ and ‘The Office’ could take its toll on growth rates in the coming months, as will the addition of rival streaming services from Disney DIS, Apple AAPL, and Comcast (CMCSA – Get Report) .
Microsoft will follow with its earnings report Thursday, while Facebook (FB – Get Report) , Amazon (AMZN – Get Report) , Google parent Alphabet (GOOGL – Get Report) and Apple will all update investors will quarter reports over the next two weeks.
The FAANG stock earnings — which comprise nearly a fifth of the S&P 500’s $26 trillion market cap –are expected to be a crucial test for Wall Street as benchmark test fresh record highs, thanks in part to hopes of deeper monetary support from the Federal Reserve, even as broader corporate profits suggest slowing growth in the months ahead as the U.S.-China trade war takes its toll on American businesses.
Bank of America (BAC – Get Report) will publish second quarter earnings Wednesday, with Morgan Stanley (MS – Get Report) rounding out the sector’s biggest players with three months results on Thursday, as investors digest a mixed bag of readings of the health of the country’s lenders amid a slowing — but solid — domestic economy and the likelihood of even lower interest rates.
Tuesday’s trio of big bank earnings — JPMorgan (JPM – Get Report) , Goldman Sachs (GS – Get Report) and Wells Fargo (WFC – Get Report) — all managed to top Wall Street forecasts for top and bottom line growth, but each signaled concern that Fed rate cuts would likely make near-term profits even more difficult to achieve.
Investors today will be looking at one of the sector’s key measurements — net interest margin — for signs of weakness in not only Bank of America, but also smaller rivals such as U.S. Bancorp (USB – Get Report) , PNC Financial (PNC – Get Report) and BNY Mellon (BK – Get Report) .
3. Bitcoin Bashed
Bitcoin prices tumbled well below $10,000 in overnight trading Wednesday as lawmakers on Capitol Hill grilled big tech executives and hounded social media giant Facebook FB over its plans to launch a its new ‘Libra’ digital currency next year.
Facebook’s unveiling of Libra earlier this month helped bitcoin rise past $14,000 amid a renewed rally in cryptocurrency markets linked to the hope that wider use of various digital coins would allow for faster adoption of bitcoins in everyday transactions.
However, with regulators and central bankers around the world expressing doubts — or outright hostility — to Facebook’s Libra ambitions, and President Donald Trump suggesting cryptocurrencies are “based on thin air”, bitcoin prices have fallen more than $5,000 from their early July peak.
“I know we have to earn people’s trust for a very long period of time,” Facebook’s David Marcus told lawmakers Tuesday. “We know we need to take the time to get this right.”
Marcus will appear before the Senate Banking Committee later today.
4. Oil’s Well?
U.S. oil prices bounced higher in early trading following data late Tuesday from the American Petroleum Institute which showed domestic crude inventories fell by 1.4 million barrels in the week ending July 12. If confirmed later today by the Energy Information Administration, the declines will stretch to a fifth consecutive week, the longest in at least 18 months.
Prices were further pressured by the slow return of production capacity in the Gulf of Mexico, where more than half of the area’s output, or around 1.1 million barrels per day, remains offline in the wake of storm Barry, which hammered the Louisiana coast this past weekend.
WTI futures contracts for August delivery, which typically dictate the direction of U.S. gas prices, were marked 29 cents higher in early New York trading at $57.91 per barrel.
5. Apollo Holo
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing mission with a with a life-size projection of the Saturn V rocket on the Washington Monument in a three-day tribute to astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
“The Washington Monument is a symbol of our collective national achievements and what we can and will achieve in the future. It took 400,000 people from across the 50 states to make Apollo a reality,” said Ellen Stofan, the Air and Space Museum director. “This program celebrates them, and we hope it inspires generations too young to have experienced Apollo firsthand to define their own moonshot.”
A 17-minute program outside the Smithsonian Castle, slated for July 19 and 20 will also recreate the Apollo 11 mission’s launch following Congressional approval for the displays earlier this year.
“I don’t feel this time is different. If we have another financial crisis, there isn’t even a plan A. We’re still coming out of the last financial crisis,” Kenneth Rogoff. Are the overheated markets headed towards another financial crisis? Dimensions to be addressed: – Concerns over leverage and liquidity – Implications of passive investing – Transforming financial services business models · Michael Corbat, Chief Executive Officer, Citigroup, Citi, USA · Fang Xinghai, Vice-Chairman, China Securities Regulatory Commission, People’s Republic of China · Anne Richards, Chief Executive, M&G Investments, United Kingdom; Young Global Leader · Kenneth Rogoff, Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics, Harvard University, USA · David M. Rubenstein, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Chairman, Carlyle Group, USA · Jes Staley, Group Chief Executive Officer, Barclays, United Kingdom Moderated by · Tom Keene, Editor-at-Large, Bloomberg Television & Radio, USA http://www.weforum.org/
Tobi Lutke, the Canadian CEO and founder of e-commerce platform Shopify, has a net worth that’s doubled to $3.2 billion in just six months, thanks to his company’s skyrocketing stock.
The e-commerce platform’s stock, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange, has skyrocketed up 106% since mid February, when Forbes measured net worths for the 2019 list of billionaires. Shopify provides the online shopping engine for more than 800,000 customers, including Kylie Jenner’s beauty store Kylie Cosmetics.
Lutke, who was born in Germany, owns nearly 9% of the Ottawa-based company. He founded Shopify in 2004 after he and a friend had attempted to start an online snowboard shop out of Ontario and realized there were no efficient tools to help small business owners operate online. As winter ended and snowboard sales plummeted, Lutke told Forbes in a June 2018 interview that he decided to create Shopify.
Shoppers have spent over $100 billion on Shopify-powered sites since it began operating, according to the company.
Shopify had $1.1 billion in 2018 revenues, a 59% increase from the previous year.
Shopify’s $42.3 billion market capitalization is now larger than that of many big tech brands, including Twitter, Snap, Square and Lyft.
According to the Financial Times, Lutke prefers that his employees refrain from regularly checking Shopify’s stock price.
Today’s GDP report got me curious about something: how does private sector GDP compare to total GDP? That is, if you pull out government contributions to GDP growth, what does purely private-sector growth look like? Here it is:
Private sector growth has been declining since the start of the expansion, and that decline has picked up speed over the past two years. It’s no wonder President Trump was so eager to agree to sizeable increases in the federal budget this week. He knows perfectly well that his tax cut has worn off and he needs all the help he can get from government spending to prop up an increasingly anemic private sector. For the next year, anyway.
Personal consumption was up a healthy 4.3 percent, but business investment plummeted -5.5 percent. Exports were down and imports were flat. Federal government spending added more than usual to GDP by about 0.4 percentage points. State government spending was also higher than average, by about 0.2 percentage points. If government spending had been at normal levels, GDP would have increased 1.5 percent instead of 2.1 percent. Inflation was higher than last quarter.
Overall, this is an OK but not great GDP report for the private sector, saved only by higher government spending.
After the Republican tax cut passed in late 2017, Trump’s approval rating rose to 41 percent and it’s stayed within two points of that ever since. I don’t know if this is good or bad—bad for Trump, I suppose, since that’s a tough re-elect number—or if there’s much Trump can do to improve it. But it’s definitely unusual. It sure looks like nearly everyone has their mind made up about Trump and isn’t likely to change it.
Topline: Economists—especially after the stock market took a dive in December—had been warning that a recession was coming, and possibly imminent. But a combination of low-interest rates and an improving labor market has quickly silenced those fears — and complicating the hopes of Donald Trump’s foes in 2020.
The risk of a recession decreased last week after the Federal Reserve declined to raise interest rates this year, said Brian Rose, senior Americas economist at UBS Global Wealth Management’s Chief Investment Office.
Combined with a stock market bounce-back and a growing economy, investors are now optimistic — a big shift from earlier this year.
Major economic predictors showing an increased threat of a recession have scaled back it’s predictions in recent weeks.
Asterisk: If President Donald Trump escalates the trade conflict with China by adding more tariffs on Chinese imports—particularly auto parts—the economy could suffer, increasing the chances of a recession, Rose said.
Earlier this year, half of economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics predicted a recession in 2020. Another poll of economists by the Wall Street Journal in January put the chances of a recession at 25 percent—the highest since 2011.
And then, suddenly, the panic eased. Now Goldman Sachs economists say there is only a 10 percent chance of a recession. What happened?
The biggest factor in that shift came when the Federal Reserve opted not to not raise interest rates, a pleasant surprise to economists. Rose said lower-than-expected inflation led the Fed to keep rates modest.
The economy, too, has grown, allaying recession fears. According to the latest job numbers, the U.S. has the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years.
“It is hard to have a recession when unemployment is this low and interest rates are this low,” Richmond Federal Reserve president Tom Barkin said on Wednesday.
The biggest risk of recession comes from Trump himself. If he increases tariffs on more goods than the $200 billion in Chinese imports he’s already promised, the risk of a recession increases, Rose said. As trade negotiations remain rocky, investors are increasingly concerned.
“Left on it’s own, there’s little risk to the economy,” he said. “The real risk of a recession comes from policy, particularly trade.”
Barring another recession, positive economic growth should mean good news for Trump in 2020. But as it stands, Trump is still relatively unpopular (his approval rating sits at 46 percent, although that is a high for him). And most forecasters agree the economy won’t grow as much as the White House says it will.
“A normal president with these economic numbers would have job approval somewhere in the vicinity of 60%,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres told the Los Angeles Times. “But Donald Trump is a nontraditional president, and he has, at least at this point, severed the traditional relationship between economic well-being and presidential job approval.”
Still, a recent CNN poll found that 56 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the economy. And while many Democrats haven’t focused on the latest job numbers, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who is running for president, tried spinning the numbers a different way during an appearance on CNN, crediting President Obama with job growth.
Capital Today founding partner Kathy Xu laughs when she talks about her career-making early investment in Chinese e-commerce company JD.com, which began with a late-night meeting with founder Richard Qiangdong in 2006:
“We met at 10 p.m. and we talked until 2 a.m.!” she tells Forbes. “I gave him five times the amount of money that he asked for — I was so worried that otherwise he’d meet with other investors.”
Capital Today managed to become the startup’s sole Series A investor and Xu’s check — $18 million USD — paid off royally as JD swelled into an ecommerce giant, with Xu working closely with Qiangdong along the way, advising him on key hires and company branding. Two years after JD went public in 2015, her firm cashed out returns of $2.9 billion.
A couple years and a handful of new deals later, Xu is making her bold debut on the Forbes 2019 Midas List, ranking in the top 10 venture capitalists in the world in her first year of inclusion (her work has previously been highlighted on Forbes China’s list of top 25 women venture capitalists in China).
This year’s list features 21 investors who are either of Chinese nationality or work for a firm based in China, the largest number ever on the list and a tribute to the growing power of China’s startup and venture capital ecosystems.
Xu says that Capital Today, which manages approximately $2.5 billion, focuses all its energy on companies based in and serving China and has zero interest in looking outside the country.
“It’s a big enough market, the economy is doing well, the entrepreneurship is great, and we’re starting to see real innovation booming for the first time,” she says. “It’s a lucrative market to focus on.”
Xu says that her team disciplines itself to only five or six deals a year in business-to-consumer companies and spends a lot of time with founders that it invests in.
“There’s more and more money here now, so building a connection with the entrepreneur and spending a lot of time with them is more important than ever,” she says, citing proximity as an advantage over out-of-country investors who only make occasional business trips.
Beyond JD.com, other Capital Today portfolio highlights include Chinese gaming company NetEase, discount e-commerce site Meituan-Dianping, classified listings site Ganji.com (which merged with 58.com in 2015), Yifeng Pharmacy, which went public in 2015, and hot snack company Three Squirrels Snack Food.
Other Chinese investors who made this year’s Midas list are Sequoia China partner Neil Shen, who topped the rankings for the second year running, Qiming Venture Partners’ managing partner J.P. Gan, No. 5, and Hans Tung from GGV Capital, No. 7.