Tag Archives: financial markets

“Nothing Else Matters”: Central Banks Have Bought A Record $1.5 Trillion Of Risk Assets YTD In 2017

One month ago, when observing the record low vol coupled with record high stock prices, we reported a stunning statistic: central banks have bought $1 trillion of financial assets just in the first four months of 2017, which amounts to $3.6 trillion annualized, “the largest CB buying on record” according to Bank of America. Today BofA’s Michael Hartnett provides an update on this number: he writes that central bank balance sheets have now grown to a record $15.1 trillion, up from $14.6 trillion in late April, and says that “central banks have bought a record $1.5 trillion in assets YTD.”

https://i0.wp.com/www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user5/imageroot/2017/06/04/CBs%201.5tn_0.jpg

The latest data means that contrary to previous calculations, central banks are now injecting a record $300 billion in liquidity per month, above the $200 billion which Deutsche Bank recently warned is a “red-line” indicator for risk assets.

This, as we said last month, is why “nothing else matters” in a market addicted to what is now record central bank generosity.

What is ironic is that this unprecedented central bank buying spree comes as a time when the global economy is supposedly in a “coordinated recovery” and when the Fed, and more recently, the ECB and BOJ have been warning about tighter monetary conditions, raising rates and tapering QE.

To this, Hartnett responds that “Fed hikes next week & “rhetorical tightening” by ECB & BoJ beginning, but we fear too late to prevent Icarus” by which he means that no matter what central banks do, a final blow-off top in the stock market is imminent.

He is probably correct, especially when looking at the “big 5” tech stocks, whose performance has an uncanny correlation with the size of the consolidated central bank balance sheet.

https://i2.wp.com/www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user5/imageroot/2017/06/04/Central%20banks%20vs%20tech%20stocks_0.jpg

Source, ZeroHedge

 

The 90,000 Square Foot, 100 Million Dollar Home That Is A Metaphor For America

Just like “America’s time-share king”, America just keeps on making the same mistakes over and over again.  Prior to the financial collapse of 2008, time-share mogul David Siegel and his wife Jackie began construction on their “dream home” near Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  This dream home would be approximately 90,000 square feet in size, would be worth $100 million when completed, and would be named “Versailles” after the French palace that inspired it.  In fact, you may remember David and Jackie from an excellent 2012 documentary entitled “The Queen of Versailles”.  That film documented how the Siegels almost lost everything after the financial collapse of 2008 devastated the U.S. economy because they were over leveraged and drowning in debt.

Source: Zero Hedge – Author: Michael Snyder

https://i0.wp.com/www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user3303/imageroot/2015/05/20150509_vers1.jpg

But since that time, David’s time-share company has bounced back, and the Siegels now plan to finally finish construction on their dream home and make it bigger and better than ever before.


But before you pass judgment on the Siegels, it is important to keep in mind that we are behaving exactly the same way as a nation.  Instead of addressing our fundamental problems after the last financial crisis, we have just continued to make the exact same mistakes that we made before.  And ultimately, things are going to end very, very badly for us. As Americans, we like to think that we are somehow entitled to the biggest and best of everything.  We have been trained to believe that we are the wealthiest and most prosperous nation on the entire planet and that it will always be that way.  This generation was handed the keys to the greatest economic machine in world history, but instead of treating it with great care, we have wrecked it.  Our economic infrastructure is being systematically dismantled, Wall Street has been transformed into the biggest casino in the history of the planet, we have piled up a mountain of debt unlike anything the world has ever seen, and the reckless Federal Reserve is turning our currency into Monopoly money.  All of our decisions have been designed to make things better for ourselves in the short-term without any consideration about what we were doing to the future of this country.

That is why “Versailles” is such a perfect metaphor for America.  The Siegels always had to have the biggest and the best of everything, and they almost lost it all when the financial markets crashed

David Siegel (“They call me the time-share king”) and his wife, Jackie Siegel — titular star of the 2012 documentary “The Queen of Versailles” — began building their dream home near Disney World about a decade ago. Soon it became evident that the sheer size of the mansion was almost unprecedented in America; it’s thought that only Biltmore House and Oheka Castle are bigger and still standing, and both of those are now run as tourist attractions, not true single-family homes.

But when the bottom fell out of the financial markets in 2008, their fortunes were upended too. By the time the documentary ended, their dream home had gone into default and they’d put it on the market. The listing asked for $100 million finished — “based on the royal palace of Louix XIV of the 17th century or to the buyer’s specifications — or $75 million “as is with all exterior finishings in crates in the 20-car garage on site.”

But just like the U.S. economy, the Siegels have seemingly recovered, at least for the moment.

Thanks to a rebound in the time-share business, the Siegels plan to finally complete their dream home and make it bigger and better than ever

The unfinished home sits on 10 acres of lakefront property and when completed will feature 11 kitchens, 30 bathrooms, 20-car garage, two-lane bowling alley, indoor rollerskating rink, three indoor pools, two outdoor pools, video arcade, ballroom, two-story movie theater modeled off the Paris Opera House, fitness center with 10,000-square-foot spa, yoga studios, 20,000-bottle wine cellar and an exotic fish aquarium.

Two tennis courts, a baseball diamond and formal garden will be included on the grounds.

The couple admitted that some of their plans for the house – such as children’s playrooms – will have to be modified now that their kids are older.

However, they are determined to see the project through.

‘I’m not at the ending to my story yet, but so far, it’s a happy ending, and I’m really looking forward to starting the next chapter of my life and moving into my palace, finishing it and throwing lots of parties – anxious for the world to see it,’ Mrs Siegel said.

It is easy to point fingers at the Siegels, but the truth is that they are just behaving like we have been behaving as an entire nation.

When our financial bubbles burst the last time, our leaders did not really do anything to address our fundamental economic problems.  Instead, they were bound and determined to reinflate those bubbles and make them even larger than before.

Now we stand at the precipice of the greatest financial crisis in our history, and we only have ourselves to blame.

Just consider what has happened to our national debt.  Just prior to the last recession, it was sitting at about 9 trillion dollars.  Today, it has just crossed the 18 trillion dollar mark…

Total Public DebtYou may not think that you are to blame for this, but most of the people that will read this article voted for politicians that fully supported all of this borrowing and spending.  And yes, that includes most Democrats and most Republicans.

We have stolen trillions of dollars from future generations of Americans in a desperate attempt to prop up our failing standard of living in the present.  What we have done is a horrific crime, and if we lived in a just society a whole lot of people would be going to prison over this.

A similar pattern emerges when we look at the spending habits of ordinary Americans.  This next chart shows one measure of consumer credit in America.  During the last recession, we actually had a brief period of deleveraging (which was good), but now we are back on the exact same trajectory as before…

Consumer Credit 2015Even though we had a higher standard of living than all previous generations of Americans, that was never good enough for us.  We always had to have more, and we have borrowed and spent ourselves into oblivion.

We have also shown absolutely no respect for our currency.  Having the primary reserve currency of the world has been an incredible advantage for the U.S. economy, but we are squandering that privilege.  Like I said at the top of the article, the Federal Reserve has been treating the U.S. dollar like Monopoly money in recent years in an attempt to prop up the financial system.  Just look at what “quantitative easing” has done to the Fed balance sheet since the last recession…

Fed Balance SheetMost of the new money that the Fed has created has been funneled into the financial markets.  This has created some financial bubbles which are absolutely insane.  For example, just look at how the NASDAQ has performed since the last financial crisis…

NASDAQThese Fed-created bubbles are inevitably going to implode, because they have no relation to economic reality whatsoever.  And when they implode, millions of Americans are going to be financially wiped out.

Just like David and Jackie Siegel, we simply can’t help ourselves.  We just keep on making the same old mistakes.

And in the end, we will all pay a great, great price for our utter foolishness.

Chart Of The Day: Recession Dead Ahead?

By Tyler Durden

The chart below showing the annual increase, or rather, decrease in US factory orders which have now declined for 6 months in a row (so no one can’t blame either the west coast port strike or the weather) pretty much speaks for itself, and also which way the US “recovery” (whose GDP is about to crash to the 1.2% where the Atlanta Fed is modeling it, or even lower is headed.

https://i0.wp.com/www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user5/imageroot/2015/03/Factory%20Orders%20YY.jpg

As the St Louis Fed so kindly reminds us, the two previous times US manufacturing orders declined at this rate on an unadjusted (or adjusted) basis, the US economy was already in a recession.

https://i0.wp.com/www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user5/imageroot/2015/03/fed%20recession%20NSA.jpg

And now, time for consensus to be shocked once again when the Fed yanks the rug from under the feet of the rite-hike-istas.

Housing Crash In China Steeper Than In Pre-Lehman America

China has long frustrated the hard-landing watchers – or any-landing watchers, for that matter – who’ve diligently put two and two together and rationally expected to be right. They see the supply glut in housing, after years of malinvestment. They see that unoccupied homes are considered a highly leveraged investment that speculators own like others own stocks, whose prices soar forever, as if by state mandate, but that regular people can’t afford to live in.

Hard-landing watchers know this can’t go on forever. Given that housing adds 15% to China’s GDP, when this housing bubble pops, the hard-landing watchers will finally be right.

Home-price inflation in China peaked 13 months ago. Since then, it has been a tough slog.

Earlier this month, the housing news from China’s National Bureau of Statistics gave observers the willies once again. New home prices in January had dropped in 69 of 70 cities by an average of 5.1% from prior year, the largest drop in the new data series going back to 2011, and beating the prior record, December’s year-over-year decline of 4.3%. It was the fifth month in a row of annual home price declines, and the ninth month in a row of monthly declines, the longest series on record.

Even in prime cities like Beijing and Shanghai, home prices dropped at an accelerating rate from December, 3.2% and 4.2% respectively.

For second-hand residential buildings, house prices fell in 67 of 70 cities over the past 12 months, topped by Mudanjiang, where they plunged nearly 14%.

True to form, the stimulus machinery has been cranked up, with the People’s Bank of China cutting reserve requirements for major banks in January, after cutting its interest rate in November. A sign that it thinks the situation is getting urgent.

So how bad is this housing bust – if this is what it turns out to be – compared to the housing bust in the US that was one of the triggers in the Global Financial Crisis?

Thomson Reuters overlaid the home price changes of the US housing bust with those of the Chinese housing bust, and found this:

The US entered recession around two years after house price inflation had peaked. After nine months of recession, Lehman Brothers collapsed. As our chart illustrates, house price inflation in China has slowed from its peak in January 2014 at least as rapidly as it did in the US.

Note the crashing orange line on the left: year-over-year home-price changes in China, out-crashing (declining at a steeper rate than) the home-price changes in the US at the time….

US-China-housing-crash

The hard-landing watchers are now wondering whether the Chinese stimulus machinery can actually accomplish anything at all, given that a tsunami of global stimulus – from negative interest rates to big bouts of QE – is already sloshing through the globalized system. And look what it is accomplishing: Stocks and bonds are soaring, commodities – a demand gauge – are crashing, and real economies are languishing.

Besides, they argue, propping up the value of unoccupied and often unfinished investment properties that most Chinese can’t even afford to live in might look good on paper, but it won’t solve the problem. And building even more of these units props up GDP nicely in the short term, and therefore it’s still being done on a massive scale, but it just makes the supply glut worse.

Sooner or later, the hard-landing watchers expect to be right. They know how to add two and two together. And they’re already smelling the sweet scent of being right this time, which, alas, they have smelled many times before.

But it does make you wonder what the China housing crash might trigger when it blooms into full maturity, considering the US housing crash helped trigger of the Global Financial Crisis. It might be a hard landing for more than just China. And ironically, it might occur during, despite, or because of the greatest stimulus wave the world has ever seen.

Stocks, of course, have been oblivious to all this and have been on a tear, not only in China, but just about everywhere except Greece. But what happens to highly valued stock markets when they collide with a recession? They crash.


What to Expect When This Stock Market Meets a Recession

Last week I had a fascinating conversation with Neile Wolfe, of Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC., about high equity valuations and what happens when they collide with a recession.

Here is my monthly update that shows the average of the four valuation indicators: Robert Shiller’s cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio (CAPE), Ed Easterling’s Crestmont P/E, James Tobin’s Q Ratio, and my own monthly regression analysis of the S&P 500:

Click to View

Based on the underlying data in the chart above, Neile made some cogent observations about the historical relationships between equity valuations, recessions and market prices:

  • High valuations lead to large stock market declines during recessions.
  • During secular bull markets, modest overvaluation does not produce large stock market declines.
  • During secular bear markets, modest overvaluation still produces large stock market declines.

Here is a table that highlights some of the key points. The rows are sorted by the valuation column.

Beginning with the market peak before the epic Crash of 1929, there have been fourteen recessions as defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). The table above l ists the recessions, the recession lengths, the valuation (as documented in the chart illustration above), the peak-to-trough changes in market price and GDP. The market price is based on the S&P Composite, an academic splicing of the S&P 500, which dates from 1957 and the S&P 90 for the earlier years (more on that splice here).

I’ve included a row for our current valuation, through the end of January, to assist us in making an assessment of potential risk of a near-term recession. The valuation that preceded the Tech Bubble tops the list and was associated with a 49.1% decline in the S&P 500. The largest decline, of course, was associated with the 43-month recession that began in 1929.

Note: Our current market valuation puts us between the two.

Here’s an interesting calculation not included in the table: Of the nine market declines associated with recessions that started with valuations above the mean, the average decline was -42.8%. Of the four declines that began with valuations below the mean, the average was -19.9% (and that doesn’t factor in the 1945 outlier recession associated with a market gain).

What are the Implications of Overvaluation for Portfolio Management?

Neile and I discussed his thoughts on the data in this table with respect to portfolio management. I came away with some key implications:

  • The S&P 500 is likely to decline severely during the next recession, and future index returns over the next 7 to 10 years are likely to be low.
  • Given this scenario, over the next 7 to 10 years a buy and hold strategy may not meet the return assumptions that many investors have for their portfolio.
  • Asset allocation in general and tactical asset allocation specifically are going to be THE important determinant of portfolio return during this time frame. Just buying and holding the S&P 500 is likely be disappointing.
  • Some market commentators argue that high long-term valuations (e.g., Shiller’s CAPE) no longer matter because accounting standards have changed and the stock market is still going up. However, the impact of elevated valuations — when it really matters — is expressed when the business cycle peaks and the next recession rolls around. Elevated valuations do not take a toll on portfolios so long as the economy is in expansion.

How Long Can Periods of Overvaluations Last?

Equity markets can stay at lofty valuation levels for a very long time. Consider the chart posted above. There are 1369 months in the series with only 58 months of valuations more than two Standard Deviations (STD) above the mean. They are:

  • September 1929 (i.e., only one month above 2 STDs prior to the Crash of 1929)
  • Fifty-one months during the Tech bubble (that’s over FOUR YEARS)
  • Six of the last seven months have been above 2 STDs

Stay tuned.

How The Baltic Dry Index Predicted 3 Market Crashes: Will It Do It Again?

Summary

  • The BDI as a precursor to three different stock market corrections.
  • Is it really causation or is it correlation?
  • A look at the current level of the index as it hits new lows.
 by Jonathan Fishman

The Baltic Dry Index, usually referred to as the BDI, is making historical lows in recent weeks, almost every week.

The index is a composition of four sub-indexes that follow shipping freight rates. Each of the four sub-indexes follows a different ship size category and the BDI mixes them all together to get a sense of global shipping freight rates.

The index follows dry bulk shipping rates, which represent the trade of various raw materials: iron, cement, copper, etc.

The main argument for looking at the Baltic Dry Index as an economic indicator is that end demand for those raw materials is tightly tied to economic activity. If demand for those raw materials is weak, one of the first places that will be evident is in shipping prices.

The supply of ships is not very flexible, so changes to the index are more likely to be caused by changes in demand.

Let’s first look at the three cases where the Baltic Dry Index predicted a stock market crash, as well as a recession.

1986 – The Baltic Dry Index Hits Its first All-time Low.

In late 1986, the newly formed BDI (which replaced an older index) hit its first all-time low.

Other than predicting the late 80s-early 90s recession itself, the index was a precursor to the 1987 stock market crash.

(click to enlarge)

1999 – The Baltic Dry Index Takes a Dive

In 1999, the BDI hit a 12-year low. After a short recovery, it almost hit that low point again two years later. The index was predicting the recession of the early 2000s and the dot-com market crash.

(click to enlarge)

2008 – The Sharpest Decline in The History of the BDI

In 2008, the BDI almost hit its all-time low from 1986 in a free fall from around 11,000 points to around 780.

(click to enlarge)

You already know what happened next. The 2008 stock market crash and a long recession that many parts of the global economy is still trying to get out of.

Is It Real Causation?

One of the pitfalls that affects many investors is to confuse correlation and causation. Just because two metrics seem to behave in a certain relationship, doesn’t tell us if A caused B or vice versa.

When trying to navigate your portfolio ahead, correctly making the distinction between causation and correlation is crucial.

Without doing so, you can find yourself selling when there is no reason to, or buying when you should be selling.

So let’s think critically about the BDI.

Is it the BDI itself that predicts stock market crashes? Is it a magical omen of things to come?

My view is that no. The BDI is not sufficient to determine if a stock market crash is coming or not. That said, the index does tells us many important things about the global economy.

Each and every time the BDI hit its lows, it predicted a real-world recession. That is no surprise as the index follows a fundamental precursor, which is shipping rates. It’s very intuitive; as manufacturers see demand for end products start to slow down, they start to wind-down production and inventory, which immediately affects their orders for raw materials.

Manufacturers are the ultimate indicator to follow, because they are the ones that see end demand most closely and have the best sense of where it’s going.

But does an economic slowdown necessarily bring about a full-blown market crash?

Only if the stock market valuation is not reflecting that coming economic downturn. When these two conditions align, chances are a sharp market correction is around the corner.

2010-2015 – The BDI Hits All-time Low, Again

In recent weeks, the BDI has hit an all-time low that is even lower than the 1986 low point. That comes after a few years of depressed prices.

(click to enlarge)

Source: Bloomberg

What does that tell us?

  1. The global economy, excluding the U.S., is still struggling. Numerous signs for that are the strengthening dollar, the crisis in Russia and Eastern Europe, a slowdown in China, and new uncertainties concerning Greece.
  2. The U.S. is almost the sole bright spot in the landscape of the global economy, although it’s starting to be affected by the global turmoil. A strong dollar hits exporters and lower oil prices hit the American oil industry hard.

Looking at stock prices, we are at the peak of a 6-year long bull market, although earnings seem to be at all-time highs as well.

(click to enlarge)

Source: Yardeni

What the BDI might tell us is that the disconnect between the global economy’s struggle and great American business performance across the board might be coming to an end.

More than that, China could be a significant reason for why the index has taken such a dive, as serious slowdowns on the real-estate market in China and tremendous real estate inventory accumulation are disrupting the imports of steel, cement and other raw materials.

Conclusion

The BDI tells us that a global economic slowdown is well underway. The source of that downturn seems to be outside of the U.S., and is more concentrated in China and the E.U.

The performance of the U.S. economy can’t be disconnected from the global economy for too long.

The BDI is a precursor for recessions, not stock market crashes. It’s not a sufficient condition to base a decision upon, but it’s one you can’t afford to ignore.

Going forward, this is a time to make sure you know the companies you invest in inside and out, and make sure end demand for their products is bound for continued growth and success despite overall headwinds.

We Live In An Era Of Dangerous Imbalances

by Tyler Durden

The intervention by the world’s central banks has resulted in today’s bizarro financial markets, where “bad news is good” because it may lead to more (sorry, moar) thin-air stimulus to goose asset prices even higher.

The result is a world addicted to debt and the phony stimulus now essential to sustaining it. In the process, a tremendous wealth gap has been created, one still expanding at an exponential rate.

History is very clear what happens with dangerous imbalances like this. They correct painfully. Through class warfare. Through currency crises. Through wealth destruction.

Is that really the path we want? Because we’re for sure headed for it.

The Next Housing Crisis May Be Sooner Than You Think

How we could fall into another housing crisis before we’ve fully pulled out of the 2008 one.

https://i0.wp.com/cdn.citylab.com/media/img/citylab/2014/11/RTR2LDPC/lead_large.jpgby Richard Florida

When it comes to housing, sometimes it seems we never learn. Just when America appeared to be recovering from the last housing crisis—the trigger, in many ways, for 2008’s grand financial meltdown and the beginning of a three-year recession—another one may be looming on the horizon.

There are at several big red flags.

For one, the housing market never truly recovered from the recession. Trulia Chief Economist Jed Kolko points out that, while the third quarter of 2014 saw improvement in a number of housing key barometers, none have returned to normal, pre-recession levels. Existing home sales are now 80 percent of the way back to normal, while home prices are stuck at 75 percent back, remaining undervalued by 3.4 percent. More troubling, new construction is less than halfway (49 percent) back to normal. Kolko also notes that the fundamental building blocks of the economy, including employment levels, income and household formation, have also been slow to improve. “In this recovery, jobs and housing can’t get what they need from each other,” he writes.

Americans are spending more than 33 percent of their income on housing.

Second, Americans continue to overspend on housing. Even as the economy drags itself out of its recession, a spate of reports show that families are having a harder and harder time paying for housing. Part of the problem is that Americans continue to want more space in bigger homes, and not just in the suburbs but in urban areas, as well. Americans more than 33 percent of their income on housing in 2013, up nearly 13 percent from two decades ago, according to newly released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The graph below plots the trend by age.

Over-spending on housing is far worse in some places than others; the housing market and its recovery remain highly uneven. Another BLS report released last month showed that households in Washington, D.C., spent nearly twice as much on housing ($17,603) as those in Cleveland, Ohio ($9,061). The chart below, from the BLS report, shows average annual expenses on housing related items:

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

The result, of course, is that more and more American households, especially middle- and working-class people, are having a harder time affording housing. This is particularly the case in reviving urban centers, as more affluent, highly educated and creative-class workers snap up the best spaces, particularly those along convenient transit, pushing the service and working class further out.

Last but certainly not least, the rate of home ownership continues to fall, and dramatically. Home ownership has reached its lowest level in two decades—64.4 percent (as of the third quarter of 2014). Here’s the data, from the U.S. Census Bureau:

(Data from U.S. Census Bureau)

Home ownership currently hovers from the mid-50 to low-60 percent range in some of the most highly productive and innovative metros in this country—places like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. This range seems “to provide the flexibility of rental and ownership options required for a fast-paced, rapidly changing knowledge economy. Widespread home ownership is no longer the key to a thriving economy,” I’ve written.

What we are going through is much more than a generational shift or simple lifestyle change. It’s a deep economic shift—I’ve called it the Great Reset. It entails a shift away from the economic system, population patterns and geographic layout of the old suburban growth model, which was deeply connected to old industrial economy, toward a new kind of denser, more urban growth more in line with today’s knowledge economy. We remain in the early stages of this reset. If history is any guide, the complete shift will take a generation or so.

It’s time to impose stricter underwriting standards and encourage the dense, mixed-use, more flexible housing options that the knowledge economy requires.

The upshot, as the Nobel Prize winner Edmund Phelps has written, is that it is time for Americans to get over their house passion. The new knowledge economy requires we spend less on housing and cars, and more on education, human capital and innovation—exactly those inputs that fuel the new economic and social system.

But we’re not moving in that direction; in fact, we appear to be going the other way. This past weekend, Peter J. Wallison pointed out in a New York Times op-ed that federal regulators moved back off tougher mortgage-underwriting standards brought on by 2010’s Dodd-Frank Act and instead relaxed them. Regulators are hoping to encourage more home ownership, but they’re essentially recreating the conditions that led to 2008’s crash.

Wallison notes that this amounts to “underwriting the next housing crisis.” He’s right: It’s time to impose stricter underwriting standards and encourage the dense, mixed-use, more flexible housing options that the knowledge economy requires.

During the depression and after World War II, this country’s leaders pioneered a series of purposeful and ultimately game-changing polices that set in motion the old suburban growth model, helping propel the industrial economy and creating a middle class of workers and owners. Now that our economy has changed again, we need to do the same for the denser urban growth model, creating more flexible housing system that can help bolster today’s economy.

https://i2.wp.com/www.thefifthestate.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/High_Density_Housing_____20120101_800x600.jpg
Dream housing for new economy workers
?

Energy Workforce Projected To Grow 39% Through 2022

The dramatic resurgence of the oil industry over the past few years has been a notable factor in the national economic recovery. Production levels have reached totals not seen since the late 1980s and continue to increase, and rig counts are in the 1,900 range. While prices have dipped recently, it will take more than that to markedly slow the level of activity. Cycles are inevitable, but activity is forecast to remain at relatively high levels.  

An outgrowth of oil and gas activity strength is a need for additional workers. At the same time, the industry workforce is aging, and shortages are likely to emerge in key fields ranging from petroleum engineers to experienced drilling crews. I was recently asked to comment on the topic at a gathering of energy workforce professionals. Because the industry is so important to many parts of Texas, it’s an issue with relevance to future prosperity.  

 

Although direct employment in the energy industry is a small percentage of total jobs in the state, the work is often well paying. Moreover, the ripple effects through the economy of this high value-added industry are large, especially in areas which have a substantial concentration of support services.  

Petroleum Engineer

Employment in oil and gas extraction has expanded rapidly, up from 119,800 in January 2004 to 213,500 in September 2014. Strong demand for key occupations is evidenced by the high salaries; for example, median pay was $130,280 for petroleum engineers in 2012 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  

Due to expansion in the industry alone, the BLS estimates employment growth of 39 percent through 2022 for petroleum engineers, which comprised 11 percent of total employment in oil and gas extraction in 2012. Other key categories (such as geoscientists, wellhead pumpers, and roustabouts) are also expected to see employment gains exceeding 15 percent. In high-activity regions, shortages are emerging in secondary fields such as welders, electricians, and truck drivers.  

The fact that the industry workforce is aging is widely recognized. The cyclical nature of the energy industry contributes to uneven entry into fields such as petroleum engineering and others which support oil and gas activity. For example, the current surge has pushed up wages, and enrollment in related fields has increased sharply. Past downturns, however, led to relatively low enrollments, and therefore relatively lower numbers of workers in some age cohorts. The loss of the large baby boom generation of experienced workers to retirement will affect all industries. This problem is compounded in the energy sector because of the long stagnation of the industry in the 1980s and 1990s resulting in a generation of workers with little incentive to enter the industry. As a result, the projected need for workers due to replacement is particularly high for key fields.

The BLS estimates that 9,800 petroleum engineers (25.5 percent of the total) working in 2012 will need to be replaced by 2022 because they retire or permanently leave the field. Replacement rates are also projected to be high for other crucial occupations including petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators, and gaugers (37.1 percent); derrick, rotary drill, and service unit operators, oil, gas, and mining (40.4 percent).  

http://jobdiagnosis.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/petroleum-engineer.jpg

Putting together the needs from industry expansion and replacement, most critical occupations will require new workers equal to 40 percent or more of the current employment levels. The total need for petroleum engineers is estimated to equal approximately 64.5 percent of the current workforce. Clearly, it will be a major challenge to deal with this rapid turnover.

Potential solutions which have been attempted or discussed present problems, and it will require cooperative efforts between the industry and higher education and training institutions to adequately deal with future workforce shortages. Universities have had problems filling open teaching positions, because private-sector jobs are more lucrative for qualified candidates. Given budget constraints and other considerations, it is not feasible for universities to compete on the basis of salary. Without additional teaching and research staff, it will be difficult to continue to expand enrollment while maintaining education quality. At the same time, high-paying jobs are enticing students into the workforce, and fewer are entering doctoral programs.  

Another option which has been suggested is for engineers who are experienced in the workplace to spend some of their time teaching. However, busy companies are naturally resistant to allowing employees to take time away from their regular duties. Innovative training and associate degree and certification programs blending classroom and hands-on experience show promise for helping deal with current and potential shortages in support occupations. Such programs can prepare students for well-paying technical jobs in the industry. Encouraging experienced professionals to work past retirement, using flexible hours and locations to appeal to Millennials, and other innovative approaches must be part of the mix, as well as encouraging the entry of females into the field (only 20 percent of the current workforce is female, but over 40 percent of the new entries).

Industry observers have long been aware of the coming “changing of the guard” in the oil and gas business. We are now approaching the crucial time period for ensuring the availability of the workers needed to fill future jobs. Cooperative efforts between the industry and higher education/training institutions will likely be required, and it’s time to act.

https://i1.wp.com/oilandcareers.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Petroleum-Engineer.jpg

Update: The FBI Is Looking Into American Realty Capital Properties

https://i2.wp.com/static.cdn-seekingalpha.com/uploads/2014/2/17/15103192-139263037610315-Achilles-Research_origin.png

About: American Realty Capital Properties Inc (ARCP)  by Albert Alfonso

Summary:

  • According to a Reuters report, the FBI has opened a criminal probe of American Realty Capital Properties.
  • This follows the disclosure of accounting errors by the company.
  • This investigation is in addition to a SEC inquiry.

American Realty Capital Properties (NASDAQ:ARCP) just cannot catch a break. Reuters reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened a criminal investigation into ARCP, according to their sources. The FBI is conducting the investigation along with prosecutors from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office in New York, according to the Reuters report.

This news comes just days after the company announced a series of accounting errors which had been intentionally not corrected and thus concealed from the public. The amount of money involved, roughly $9.24 million GAAP and $13.60 million AFFO, was relatively small. However, these accounting errors resulted in the resignation of two senior executives, chief financial officer, Brian Block, and chief accounting officer, Lisa McAlister.

Shares of ARCP were trading for as low as $7.85 each on Wednesday, before recovering to $10 per share after CEO David Kay held fairly well received conference call explaining what happened. In the call, Mr. Kay stressed that ARCP’s key metrics were sound. He reaffirmed that the dividend policy will not change, noting that the operating metrics were not impacted and that the NAV is unchanged at $13.25. Nevertheless, the stock continued to fall, closing the week at below $9 per share. In total, ARCP’s stock has fallen 30% since news of the accounting errors first arose, wiping out $4 billion in market value.

Conclusion:

This is quite the shocking development. Not only is the FBI looking into ARCP, but also the Securities and Exchange Commission, which announced its own investigation of the accounting errors late last week. Furthermore, the company was placed on CreditWatch with negative implications by S&P, which risks putting the credit rating into junk territory.

As I noted in my earlier article, accounting issues equal an automatic sell in my book. I sold most of my ARCP holdings on Wednesday, though I still kept some shares, opting instead to sell calls on the remaining position. I now lament that choice as I fear the stock can fall further. An FBI criminal probe is no small matter and represents a clear material risk. What an absolute disaster.

Update: American Realty Capital Properties: The Turmoil Is Only Getting Worse

by Achilles Research

Summary

  • ARCP sent shock waves through the analyst community last week after the REIT said its financials should no longer be relied upon and said goodbye to the CFO and CAO.
  • ARCP is now also attracting heat from the FBI.
  • In addition, RCS Capital Corporation cancels Cole Capital transaction.

Investors in American Realty Capital Properties (NASDAQ:ARCP) need to demonstrate that they have nerves of steel at the moment. After the company reported that it overstated its AFFO last week, and that its Chief Financial Officer and Chief Accounting Officer departed as a result of the accounting scandal, more bad news are seeing the light of day.

First of all, as various news outlets reported, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is putting up some additional heat on ARCP. As Reuters reported:

(Reuters) – U.S. authorities have opened a criminal probe of American Realty Capital Properties in the wake of the real estate investment trust’s disclosure that it had uncovered accounting errors, two sources familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting the investigation along with prosecutors from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office in New York, the sources said. Further details of the probe could not be learned.

The involvement of the New York U.S. Attorney’s office is particularly bad news as Preet Bharara takes a tough stance with companies that break the law or push its limits too far. While the criminal probe certainly is bad news and comes in addition to the involvement of the SEC, something else caused massive irritation among ARCP shareholders today: The Cole Capital deal with RCS Capital Corporation (NYSE: RCAP) is in real danger.

According to ARCP’s latest (and angry) press release:

In the middle of the night, we received a letter from RCS Capital Corporation purporting to terminate the equity purchase agreement, dated September 30, 2014, between RCS and an affiliate of ARCP. As we informed RCS orally and in writing over the weekend, RCS has no right and there is absolutely no basis for RCS to terminate the agreement. Therefore, RCS’s attempt to terminate the agreement constitutes a breach of the agreement. In addition, we believe that RCS’s unilateral public announcement is a violation of its agreement with ARCP. The independent members of the ARCP Board of Directors and ARCP management are evaluating all alternatives under the agreement and with respect to the Cole Capital® business, generally. ARCP management and the independent members of the ARCP Board of Directors are committed to doing what is in the best interests of ARCP stockholders and its business, including Cole Capital.

That’s right. Since the FBI now has its fingers in the pie, and the SEC, management at RCS Capital has informed ARCP that it is terminating the deal. Whatever side you are one, you’ve got to admit: American Realty Capital Properties is just falling apart.

The once mighty real estate investment trust has lost a staggering 36% of its market capitalization since shares closed at $12.38 on October 28, 2014, which is a tough pill to swallow for those investors who pledged allegiance to American Realty Capital Properties, despite the turbulence that erupted a week ago.

Technical picture
Shares of American Realty Capital Properties are trading extremely weakly today in light of the new information, and I continue to see further downside potential for this REIT in the near term.

It seems as if all the forces of the universe are conspiring to bring American Realty Capital Properties down to its knees, and an investment in this REIT is not recommendable at the moment.

Source: StockCharts.com

Bottom Line:
The American Realty Capital Properties’ story has gotten significantly worse today: In addition to two of the most important executives abruptly leaving the company amid an accounting scandal, the SEC and the FBI are investigating the company, lawyers are very likely going to hit ARCP with litigation, and the latest transaction is in the process of collapsing.

Bulls must either have nerves of steel or clinging to hope. In any case, ARCP’s prospects have gotten much worse today, and I continue to expect further downside potential driven by litigation concerns, potential fines and extremely negative investor sentiment.

American Realty Capital Comes Clean, And I Feel Dirty

by Adam Aloisi

Summary:

  • American Realty Capital’s restatement has created rampant volatility in a stock already under the gun.
  • Why I decided to sell half of my position in the company.
  • Important portfolio takeaways for investors of all kinds.

This is one of the tougher articles I’ve written for Seeking Alpha. Asset allocation and portfolio strategy for income investors has been my focal point of writing over the past three years. I’ve always been of the opinion that talking about how to fish trumps simply giving someone fish to chew on.

Still, I mention equity-income stocks all the time in articles, but it’s rare that I write focus articles. On October third, I wrote, “American Realty Capital Properties: 30% Total Return Next Year“. Less than a month later, I find that post in an inverse position, with American Realty Capital (NASDAQ:ARCP) having dropped around 30% in market value.

First, I will tell readers that I sold a bit more than half of my position as a result of ARCP’s restatement, and still retain shares. However, it is now one of my smallest income portfolio positions and one that I have lost a majority of my conviction in. ARCP, in my mind, has transitioned from being a higher-risk investment into now becoming day-trader fodder, and at least for the near term, highly speculative. I would have been all over this thing during my trading days, but having become more conservative today with less portfolio churn, it has little room in my portfolio.

I considered all options here. I thought about increasing my position, extinguishing it altogether, selling put options at attractive premiums, or potentially doing nothing. Being so supportive of this story over the past year, I was mostly disappointed that I had to put any thought into the matter at all. For a variety of reasons, I came to the conclusion that halving the position — taking a loss, which I needed to do anyway for taxes — was a prudent near-term choice. I will revisit the decision in a month, and could conceivably buy back those shares once wash sale rules have passed.

Though selling during a period of fear and volatility is not typically in my playbook, following this restatement, I have lost confidence in this story. If you follow me, you know that I certainly identified the elevated risk that ARCP brought to real estate investors. Over the past six months, here are some comments that I made in regard to ARCP in several articles:

If you invest in ARCP today, you should expect the unexpected.

Given all the deals and potential for a misstep, there is heightened risk in owning ARCP.

But with the baggage it continues to drag along with it…..it may not necessarily be appropriate for more conservative investors

I do not consider the stock a table pounding buy.

I even compared Nick Schorsch to Monty Hall from “Let’s Make A Deal,” following the Red Lobster purchase and flip-flop on the strip mall IPO-then-sale.

As the year wore on, however, my convictions rose, since the company did not materially change its guidance to investors, despite all the acquisition activity. I figured if there were a stumble, it would have been disclosed earlier this year as the various acquisitions had time to be absorbed into operations.

While there was much criticism over the Cole quasi-divestiture to RCS and lowered guidance, I remained resolute, thinking there wasn’t another buyer, and this at least got Cole out from under the ARCP umbrella.

Of course as we now know, some financial disclosures were not to be relied upon and guidance should have been changed. If there were not so much other controversy with regard to this company, I doubt the stock would have tanked as much as it has. When you have a managerial crisis of confidence already in place and make a restatement announcement, you create panic. If we take this on face value, it does not appear to be a huge restatement, but taken in totality, this is a monumental, perhaps insurmountable, credibility problem. It’s now all aboard for the ambulance-chasing lawyers.

At this point I have decided that it is in my best interest to rip the towel in half and throw it in. I see it as a hedge against further deterioration in this story that I would not necessarily rule out given the loose management style that I and every ARCP investor knew existed.

We’re not talking about some low level accounting bean counter or paper pusher that seems to have perpetrated this; we’re talking about CFO Brian Block, assumedly someone that David Kay and Nick Schorsch had drinks with regularly. So when Kay defended the culture at ARCP on the conference call by uttering, “We don’t have bad people, we had some bad judgment there,” forgive me if I now wonder if he really has a clue how good, sweet, and honest his executives and rank-and-file workers really are. Although the restatements appear isolated to this year’s AFFO, we’ll have to see if anything turns up in 2013. While I’d like to give this company the benefit of the doubt once again, I’m finding myself staring at a slippery slope of hope that another shoe will not drop.

Still, I did not jettison the entire position because these are emotional times, and the glass-is-half-full part of me says the market is overreacting. We are, keep in mind, still talking about a high-quality portfolio of real estate, not a biotech company whose sole drug was deemed inefficacious by the FDA. In the end, however, I had to make a decision for my own portfolio that I deemed appropriate. This was it.

Meanwhile, I would not criticize nor blame someone for selling out here and moving on to more stable pastures. Fellow REIT writer Brad Thomas apparently has. On the flip side, I could see the more adventurous or those with continued conviction buying in now or upping exposure. The “right” thing to do for many investors may be to simply hold through the volatility. As I opined in a past article on ARCP:

But with the considerable sentiment overhang and “show me” attitude of the market, it could take some time and a strong stomach to see it through.

The sentiment “overhang” has basically become something much worse. And at this point I wouldn’t even want to predict how much time it could take for a rebound. Your stomach constitution will need to be stronger than I first suspected.

Portfolio Takeaways

I’ve had more than one reader tell me that the various risks I identified made them conclude that ARCP was not a stock they should own. And given what has happened here, at least for the near-term, that was obviously a prudent decision. We must all come to personal conclusions as to how much risk we are willing to take to attain income and capital growth goals.

For investors of all types, the most important thing to take away from this near-term “disaster” is that diversification and limiting position size is critical. If ARCP amounted to a couple of percent, or less, of a portfolio, the stock’s tank may not be all that impacting. If it was a more concentrated portion of the overall pie, it becomes a more painful near-term event and makes various portfolio maneuver decisions more challenging to come to.

In the end, portfolio management is a personal endeavor that amounts to an inexact science. Whether you think what I’ve done with my ARCP position is right or not is not really all important. The more important thing is whether you are comfortable with the personal portfolio decisions you make or not, why you make them, and whether they are right for your situation.

I’ve used the word “I” more than I normally would in an article. This one was indeed about me and owning up to putting wholesale trust in a management team that apparently I shouldn’t have. And it was a about a decision I really didn’t want to make as a result. Unfortunately, we have to take the bad with the good in the investment world, brush ourselves off, move on, and continue to make personal decisions that are right for our portfolios.

BofA Banker Arrested In Hong Kong For Double Murder Of Two Prostitutes

Rurick Jutting, a Cambridge University graduate, has been named as the suspect of the double murder

by Tyler Durden

The excesses of 1980s New York investment banking as captured best (and with just a dose of hyperbole) by Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho may be long gone in the US, but they certainly are alive and well in other banking meccas, such as the one place where every financier wants to work these days (thanks to the Chinese government making it rain credit): Hong Kong. It is here that yesterday a 29-year-old British banker, Rurik Jutting, a Cambridge University grad and current Bank of America Merrill Lynch, former Barclays employee, was arrested in connection with the grisly murder of two prostitutes. One of the two victims had been hidden in a suitcase on a balcony, while the other, a foreign woman of between 25 and 30, was found lying inside the apartment with wounds to her neck and buttocks, the police said in a statement.
|
A spokesman for Bank of America Merrill Lynch told Reuters on Sunday that the U.S. bank had, until recently, an employee bearing the same name as a man Hong Kong media have described as the chief suspect in the double murder case. Bank of America Merrill Lynch would not give more details nor clarify when the person had left the bank.

Britain’s Foreign Office in London said on Saturday a British national had been arrested in Hong Kong, without specifying the nature of any suspected crime.

The details of the crime are straight out of American Psycho 2: the Hong Kong Sequel. One of the murdered women was aged between 25 and 30 and had cut wounds to her neck and buttock, according to a police statement. The second woman’s body, also with neck injuries, was discovered in a suitcase on the apartment’s balcony, the police said. A knife was seized at the scene.

According to the WSJ, the arrested suspect, who called police to the apartment in the early hours of Nov. 1, was until recently a Hong Kong-based employee of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

 
 

Filings with Hong Kong’s securities regulator show that the suspect was an employee with the bank as recently as Oct. 31.The man had called police in the early hours of Saturday and asked them to investigate the case, police said.

Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper said the suspect had taken about 2,000 photographs and some video footage of the victims after the killings including close-ups of their wounds. Local media said the two women were prostitutes.

The apartment where the bodies were found is on the 31st floor in a building popular with financial professionals, where average rents are about HK$30,000 (nearly $4,000) a month.

According to the Telegraph the suspect, who had previously worked at Barclays from 2008 until 2010 before moving to BofA, and specifically its Hong Kong office in July last year, had apparently vanished from his workplace a week ago. It has also been reported that he resigned from his post days before news of the murders emerged.

And as usual in situations like these, the UK’s Daily Mail has the granular details. It reports that the British banker arrested on suspicion of a double murder in Hong Kong has been identified as 29-year-old Rurik Jutting. 

 
 

Mr Jutting, who attended Cambridge University, is being held by police after the bodies of two prostitutes were discovered in his up-market apartment in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Officers found the women, thought to be a 25-year-old from Indonesia and a 30-year-old from the Philippines, after Mr Jutting allegedly called police to the address, which is located near the city’s red light district. The naked body of the Filipina victim, who had suffered a series of knife wounds, was found inside the 31st-floor apartment in J Residence – a development of exclusive properties in the city’s Wan Chai district that are popular with young expatriate executives.

The second woman was reportedly discovered naked and partially decapitated in a suitcase on the balcony of the apartment. She is believed to have been tied up and to have been left there for around a week. 

Sex toys and cocaine were also reportedly found, along with a knife which was seized by officers.

Mr Jutting’s phone is today being examined by police in a bid to identify possible further victims, according to the South China Morning Post. 

It is understood that photos of the woman who was found in the suitcase, apparently taken after she died, were among roughly 2,000 that officers found on the device.

Mr Jutting attended Winchester College, an independent boys school in Hampshire, before continuing his studies in history and law at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he became secretary of the history society.  

He appears to have worked at Barclays in London between 2008 and 2010, when he took a job with Bank of America Merrill Lynch. He was moved to the bank’s Hong Kong office in July last year. 

A spokesman for Bank of America Merrill Lynch confirmed that it had previously employed a man by the same name but would not give more details nor clarify when the person had left the bank.

CCTV footage from the apartment block, located near Hong Kong’s red light district, showed the banker and the Filipina woman returning to the 31st floor shortly after midnight local time yesterday.

He allegedly called police to his home at 3.42am, shortly after the woman he was seen with is believed to have been killed.

She was found with two wounds to her neck and her throat had been slashed. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The body on the balcony, wrapped in a carpet and inside a black suitcase, which measured about three feet by 18 inches, was not found by police until eight hours later. 

A police source quoted by the South China Morning Post said: ‘She was nearly decapitated and her hands and legs were bound with ropes. ‘She was naked and wrapped in a towel before being stuffed into the suitcase. Her passport was found at the scene.’

Wan Chai, the district where the apartment is located, is known for its bustling nightclub scene of ‘girly bars,’ popular with expatriate men and staffed by sex workers from South East Asia.  Police have today been contacting nearby bars in an attempt to find out more about the background of the two murdered women.  

One resident in the 40-storey block, where most of the residents are expatriates, said he had noticed an unusual smell in recent days. He told the South China Morning Post that there had been ‘a stink in the building like a dead animal’.

And just like that, the worst excesses of the “peak banking” days from 1980, when sad scenes like these were a frequent occurrence, are back.


Government workers remove the body of a woman who was found dead at a flat in Hong Kong’s Wan chai district in the early hours of this morning. A British man was been arrested in connection with the murders.

A second victim was found stuffed inside a suitcase on the balcony of the residential flat in Hong Kong

The 40-storey J Residence is reportedly a high-end development favored by junior expatriate bankers

Update

Bank Of America Psycho Killer Was Busy Helping Hedge Funds Avoid Taxes During His Business Hours

The most bizarre story of the weekend was that of Bank of America’s 29-year-old banker Rurik Jutting, who shortly after allegedly killing two prostitutes (and stuffing one in a suitcase), called the cops on himself and effectively admitted to the crime having left a quite clear autoreply email message, namely “For urgent inquiries, or indeed any inquiries, please contact someone who is not an insane psychopath. For escalation please contact God, though suspect the devil will have custody. [Last line only really worked if I had followed through..]”

But while his attempt to imitate Patrick Bateman did not go unnoticed, even if it will be promptly forgotten until the next grotesquely insane banker shocks the world for another 15 minutes, the question that has remained unanswered is what did young Master Jutting do when not chopping women up.

The answer, as the WSJ has revealed, is just as unsavory: “he had been part of a Bank of America team that specialized in tax-minimization trades that are under scrutiny from prosecutors, regulators, tax collectors and the bank’s own compliance department, according to people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.”

Basically, when not acting as a homicidal psychopath, Jutting was facilitating full-blown tax evasion, just the activity that every developed, and thus broke, government around the globe is desperately cracking down on, and why every single Swiss bank is non-grata in the US and may be arrested immediately upon arrival on US soil.

More from the WSJ:

Mr. Jutting, a U.K. native and a competitive poker player, worked in Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Structured Equity Finance and Trading group, first in London and then in Hong Kong, according to these people and regulatory filings. Mr. Jutting resigned from the bank sometime before Oct. 27, which police say was the date of the first murder, according to a person familiar with the matter.

 The trading group, known as SEFT, employs about three dozen people globally, one of these people said. It helps hedge funds and other clients manage their stock portfolios, often through the use of derivatives, according to the people and internal bank documents.

Mr. Jutting joined Bank of America in 2010 and worked three years in its London office, the bank’s hub for dividend-arbitrage trades, the people familiar with the matter say. He moved to Bank of America’s Hong Kong office in July 2013.

Ironic, because it was just this summer that a Congressional panel headed by Carl Levin was tearing foreign banks Deutsche Bank and Barclays a new one for providing structures such as MAPS and COLT, which did precisely this: give clients a derivative-based means of avoiding taxation (as described in “How Rentec Made More Than 34 Billion In Profits Since 1998 “Fictional Derivatives“).

As it turns out not only did a US-based bank – Bank of America – have an entire group dedicated to precisely the same type of hedge fund, and other Ultra High Net Worth, clients tax evasion advice, but it also housed a homicidal psychopath.

Perhaps if instead Levin had been grandstanding and seeking to punish foreign banks, he had cracked down on everyone who was providing this service, Jutting’s group would have been disbanded long ago, and two innocent lives could have been saved, instead allowing the alleged cocaine-snorting murderer to engage in far more wholesome, banker-approrpriate activities:

During his time in Asia, Mr. Jutting’s pastimes apparently included gambling. In a Sept. 14 Facebook post, he boasted of winning thousands of dollars playing poker at a tournament in the Philippines. He signed off the post: “God I love Manila.” The comment drew eight “likes.”

Alas one will never know “what if.”

But we are certain that with none other than America’s most prominent bank, the one carrying its name, has now been busted for aiding and abetting hedge fund tax evasion around the globe, it will get the same treatment as evil foreign banks Barclays and Deutsche Bank, right Carl Levin?

Americans Pay More For Slower Internet

internet speeds

When it comes to Internet speeds, the U.S. lags behind much of the developed world.

That’s one of the conclusions from a new report by the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, which looked at the cost and speed of Internet access in two dozen cities around the world.

Clocking in at the top of the list was Seoul, South Korea, where Internet users can get ultra-fast connections of roughly 1000 megabits per second for just $30 a month. The same speeds can be found in Hong Kong and Tokyo for $37 and $39 per month, respectively.

For comparison’s sake, the average U.S. connection speed stood at 9.8 megabits per second as of late last year, according to Akamai Technologies.

Residents of New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. can get 500-megabit connections thanks to Verizon, though they come at a cost of $300 a month.

There are a few cities in the U.S. where you can find 1000-megabit connections. Chattanooga, Tenn., and Lafayette, La. have community-owned fiber networks, and Google has deployed a fiber network in Kansas City. High-speed Internet users in Chattanooga and Kansas City pay $70, while in Lafayette, it’s $110.

The problem with fiber networks is that they’re hugely expensive to install and maintain, requiring operators to lay new wiring underground and link it to individual homes. Many smaller countries with higher population density have faster average speeds than the United States.

“Especially in the U.S., many of the improved plans are at the higher speed tiers, which generally are the most expensive plans available,” the report says. “The lower speed packages—which are often more affordable for the average consumer—have not seen as much of an improvement.”

Google is exploring plans to bring high-speed fiber networks to a handful of other cities, and AT&T has also built them out in a few places, but it will be a long time before 1000-megabit speeds are an option for most Americans.

U.S. Housing Sector Is in Big Trouble

Source: National Mortgage News

Events in the Ukraine have been distracting the global financial markets, but for investors and financial institutions in the U.S., the deteriorating economic fundamentals in the housing sector are probably a more urgent concern.

While many parts of the U.S. economy are growing, the housing sector is increasingly a drag on consumption and job creation. The fault lies not with the market, however, but with ill-considered regulations and bank capital rules.

On the surface, things look o.k. Nationwide, house prices rose 1.2% in the fourth quarter of 2013 according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s index. This is the tenth consecutive quarterly price increase in the purchase-only, seasonally adjusted index.

But the FHFA’s principal economist, Andrew Leventis noted that the appreciation was “more modest than in recent periods,” and cautioned: “It is too early to know whether the lower quarterly growth rate represents the beginning of more normalized price appreciation patterns or a more significant slowdown.”

Most housing indicators suggest that the overall rate of home price appreciation is slowing considerably, with a few of the more attractive markets around the country. accounting for most of the upward momentum. Home prices probably peaked overall in the second quarter of 2013, but the time delay in most of the major data series on housing masks this reality.

For example, the National Association of Realtors reports that existing home sales and median home price information showed gains of 10.4% in prices in January compared to a year earlier, “a slight acceleration from the 9.7 percent year over year gains in December but notably slower than trends in early summer/fall 2013.”

The Realtors report the median price of all homes that have sold while FHFA and Case-Shiller report the results of a weighted repeat-sales index. Because home sales among higher priced properties have been growing more than among lower-price tiers, the Realtors’ median price had risen by more than the weighted repeat sales index, which computes price change based on repeat sales of the same property.

Only six cities – Dallas, Las Vegas, Miami, San Francisco, Tampa and Washington – posted gains for the month of December, according to the 20-city Case Shiller Index. While average home prices have returned to 2004 levels, 20% to 30% of American homeowners remain either underwater on their mortgages or have too little equity to sell their homes. A lack of supply of homes is actually driving appreciation in many of the hottest markets, but sales volumes remain well below pre-2007 levels.

Applications for home mortgages, including both new purchases and refinancings, are at the lowest levels in more than a decade. While many observers blame rising interest rates for the paucity of new loan applications, factors such as a poor job market, flat to down consumer income and excessive regulation are probably more important. Commercial banks are fleeing the mortgage lending and loan servicing businesses, in large part because of punitive regulations and new Basel III capital requirements which demonize private mortgage lending.

“Rules enacted last year appear to be steadily forcing banks to exit the mortgage servicing business, transferring such rights to nonbanks,” Victoria Finkle writes in American Banker. “The situation is stoking fears on Capitol Hill and elsewhere that regulators went too far.” Those fears are well founded.

The latest data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. confirms that the loan portfolios of commercial banks devoted to housing are running off. For example, the total of 1-4 family loans securitized by all U.S. banks fell almost 5% in the fourth quarter of 2013 to a mere $610 billion. Real estate loans secured by 1-4 family properties held in bank portfolios as of the fourth quarter fell to $2.4 trillion in the last quarter, the lowest level since the fourth quarter of 2004. The FDIC reports that the amount of 1-4 family loans sold into securitizations exceeded originations by almost $30 billion.

As 2014 unfolds, look for lending volumes in 1-4 family mortgages to continue to fall as a lack of demand from consumers and draconian regulations force many lenders out of the market. While leaders such as Wells Fargo have indicated that they will write loans with credit scores in the low 600s range, there are not enough borrowers in the below prime category to make up for the dearth of consumers seeking a mortgage overall. When home prices measures generally start to fall later this year, maybe our beloved public servants in Washington will start to get the message.