March 30: Daily Contrarian Reads

Wall Street “Research” Racket Exposed—-Less Than 1% Of Reports Actually Read

As Reuters points out today, just the top 15 global investment banks produce over 40,000 research reports every single week.  Unfortunately, only about 1% of those reports are actually read by investors on any given day and we suspect even that estimate is generous.

NYC Retail Vacancies Soar Prompting Massive Rent Concessions

As Bloomberg points out this morning, in the wake of Manhattan’s retail drought, commercial landlords, who have seen retail occupancy levels plummet over the past 12 months, are doing everything possible to avoid big price cuts.  Instead, like residential landlords, commercial real estate owners are providing massive rent concessions through things like interior redesigns and moving expenses to keep storefronts from going empty……Tenant-improvement allowances haven’t been typical in the Manhattan retail market. But now the concessions, which can pay for anything from lighting and displays to a complete overhaul, are becoming a key component in some new leases, particularly for large, flagship stores in high-profile areas, such as Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue, according to Steve Soutendijk, an executive director at brokerage Cushman & Wakefield Inc. “We’re seeing tenant-improvement and concession packages that retail landlords never, ever contemplated before,” he said.

Italy at the Grim Edge of a Global Problem

Eurostat statistics in October 2016 showed that less than a third of under-35s in Italy had left their parental home, a figure 20 percentage points lower than the European average. The trend is expected to worsen as the economy continues to struggle. Researchers said that for Italians who turn 20 in 2030, it will take an average of 28 years to be able to live independently. In other words, many of Italy’s children today won’t have “grown up” until they’re nearing their 50s…..The trend could also have major implications for Italy’s huge stock of non-performing loans, which, unless resolved soon, threatens to overwhelm the country’s banking system. If most young Italians are not financially independent, who will buy the foreclosed homes and other properties that will flood the market once the soured loans and mortgages are finally removed from banks’ balance sheets?

The Surveillance State Behind Russia-gate

Although many details are still hazy because of secrecy – and further befogged by politics – it appears House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes was informed last week about invasive electronic surveillance of senior U.S. government officials and, in turn, passed that information onto President Trump. This news presents Trump with an unwelcome but unavoidable choice: confront those who have kept him in the dark about such rogue activities or live fearfully in their shadow. (The latter was the path chosen by President Obama. Will Trump choose the road less traveled?)

Nationalism Versus Globalism—-The World’s Newest Fault Line Runs Through France

In France as in most of the West, politics has long been dominated by a left wing and a right wing party. This year an earthquake is in the making: If current polls are borne out, neither the left-wing Socialists nor right-wing Republicans will make it past the first round of the presidential election in April. Instead, two parties that have never held power will proceed to May’s runoff. And both agree their contest isn’t over traditional issues of right and left, such as taxes and spending. Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, says it’s between “globalists and patriots” or, as supporters of Emmanuel Macron, leader of the upstart En Marche (“Forward”) put it, “open and closed.”

Carnage In Mosul: Civilians in West Mosul Being Shot by Isis and Iraqi Forces Alike

Civilians trying to flee the besieged Isis-held enclave in west Mosul are being shot dead by Isis and Iraqi army snipers as they try to cross the Tigris River, says an eyewitness trapped inside the city with his family…..Controversy continues to rage over the death of as many as 240 civilians, many hiding in cellars, killed during an air strike by the US-led air coalition on the Jadida district on 17 March which reduced three buildings to heaps of rubble. The coalition says it did carry out air strikes called in by Iraqi ground forces on this area at that time, but the Iraqi Defence Ministry claims that only 61 civilians were killed and these died because Isis had booby trapped the walls of the buildings in which they had taken shelter..

Crackdown In Hong Kong—–Tidal Wave Of Money Fleeing The Red Ponzi

Illicit flows have been a substantial part of China’s fund exodus. Net errors and omissions in the nation’s balance of payments — an accounting fix used to plug the gap when official records of cross-border flows don’t balance — dropped precipitously below zero starting from late 2014, reaching a record-low negative $188 billion in the last quarter of that year. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in January 2015 this item reflects hidden cash transfers.

The $10 Billion Insurer Bailout Question: Why Obamacare Could Explode On May 22nd

As it turns out, that ‘explosion’ could come faster than anyone really expects as legislators and health insurers have to make several critical decisions about the 2018 plan year over the next 2 months which could seal Obamacare’s fate. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution points out today, the Trump administration has until May 22nd to decide whether they will continue to pursue the Obama administration’s appeal to provide subsidies to insurers who participate in the federal exchanges.  Of course, any decision to remove those subsidies would likely result in yet another massive round of premium hikes and further withdrawals from the already crippled exchanges where an astounding number of counties across the country have already been cut to just 1 health insurance provider.  And, as we’ve pointed out before, higher rates = lower participation = deterioration of risk pool = higher rates….and the cycle just repeats until it eventually collapses.

Huishan Dairy Turmoil Highlights China’s $8 Trillion Shadow Loan Risk

Turmoil at a small Chinese dairy company is shedding rare light on the final destination for some of the country’s estimated $8 trillion of shadow banking loans…..The practice of recording loan-type exposures on balance sheets under categories including investment receivables has allowed hundreds of smaller Chinese banks to boost assets and profits. At the same time, it has created opaque risks that could lead to failures, bailouts or liquidity shocks with the potential to jolt national and global markets……About two weeks after the first loan, Carson Block, the short seller and founder of Muddy Waters LLC, issued a report on Huishan Dairy alleging the company was worth “close to zero.”

Retailing in America: Game Theory in Reverse

……..Don’t recall companies being charged with making their own death throes’ announcements from your Accounting coursework? You are correct. Meet the new and improved U.S. accounting rules that have just come into effect for public companies reporting annual periods that ended after December 15, 2016, Sears included. The change shifted the onus to disclose from a given company’s auditors to its management. It was telling that the Sears news fell on the very same day discount retailer Payless announced it could soon file for bankruptcy protection. That same day, the less ubiquitous Bebe female fashion chain said it too was ‘exploring strategic options,’ typically code for that same ill-fated Chapter in the court system.