David Fuller and Eoin Treacy's Comment of the Day
Category - General

    Le Pen Wins Over Women Voters Who Feel Left Behind in France

    Here is the opening of this topical article from Bloomberg:

    French women are starting to picture their next president as a divorced mother of three.

    The anti-euro, anti-immigrant candidate Marine Le Pen has been playing up her gender as she seeks to convert a likely first-round victory into an overall majority in the run-off on May 7 -- and it’s paying off. The 48-year-old National Front leader has already rallied some 2 million additional female voters to her cause since her last run for president in 2012 and she’s betting more will follow.

    “Women are the key,” said Nonna Mayer, a researcher at the Sciences Po institute in Paris who has studied the National Front for 25 years. “These women often abstain and now they are backing Le Pen to protect their jobs and their security.”

    While women make up just over half of the electorate in France they are far less likely to turn out than men, offering a well of untapped support for the candidate who manages to tune into their concerns. Le Pen’s pitch weaves together concerns about immigration, security, and the economic decline of many white French communities into a potent populist brew that borrows freely from U.S. President Donald Trump, blaming “the elite” for the problems of ordinary voters.

    In 2012 Le Pen lagged behind with female voters, winning 17 percent compared with 20 percent of men’s ballots. Now she’s closed that gender gap, attracting 26 percent of voters of both sexes, according of pollster Ifop. That makes her the favored candidate among women for the first round.

    “What she is proposing is really different, just like Trump offered something really new,” said Cindy Blain, a 27-year-old pharmacist in the rural north east of France. “Maybe if we see Trump succeed, then voters will give her a chance.”

    The prospect of a populist president committed to taking France out of the single currency pushed the spread between French 10-year bonds and similar-maturity German bunds to its widest in more than four years on Wednesday. The risk premium dropped 3 basis points to 76 basis points at 5:24 p.m. Paris time after earlier reaching 84 basis points.

    Asked if she was concerned about the risks involved in Le Pen’s plan to leave the euro, Blain brushed the question off with a flick of her hand, as if swatting away a fly.

    Le Pen’s bid for women’s votes is clear: on Feb. 4 she began distributing 4 million copies of a glossy, magazine-style brochure that set out her plan to “defend French women” as the country’s first female president. The pamphlet was interspersed with pictures of her navigating “the world of men” as a sister, mother, lawyer, sailor and political leader and included a promise to be a shield against Islamic fundamentalists who, she said, want to stop women “wearing a skirt, going to work or to the bistro.”

    “This is not a feminist vote,” Mayer said.

    Le Pen sent another signal to the voters Tuesday on a visit to Beirut, when she refused to wear a head scarf to meet with a senior Muslim official, who insisted she don one. With neither side backing down, she left without seeing him.

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    Trump Eyes Easing Obama Rules for Sprawling Pipeline Network

    Here is the opening of this article from Bloomberg:

    The hints of a pipeline spill are subtle: the hiss of rushing fluid, a streak of rainbow sheen. Tucked far below ground, a ruptured line can escape notice for days or even weeks, especially in the backcountry, where inspectors rarely venture. 

    Regulators in the waning hours of the Obama era wrote rules aimed at changing that, and the industry is looking forward to the new administration rolling them back. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration “has gone overboard,” said Brigham McCown, a former head of the PHMSA who served on President Donald Trump’s infrastructure transition team. “They built a Cadillac instead of the Chevrolet that Congress told them to build.”

    The oversight agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is just one of many where Barack Obama’s policies are in the Trump team’s sights. The battle lines are predictable, with companies on one side and safety and environmental activists on the other. What’s particularly worrying the latter is timing, because the rules could be upended as new shipping routes go into service across the country.

    The president, a fan of fossil fuels, has revived two controversial pipelines, TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL and Energy Transfer Partners LP’s Dakota Access. They would add 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) to the U.S. network with room to transport 1.1 million barrels a day. As it is, there are more than 200,000 miles of pipe cutting across the country carrying crude, gasoline and other hazardous liquids -- about 18 billion barrels worth annually. Many other projects are on the map; in Houston alone, planned lines are expected to increase capacity by 550,000 barrels a day in the next few years.

    “I’m terrified about what is going to happen under Trump,” said Jane Kleeb, president of the Bold Alliance, a coalition of groups opposing Keystone XL. “My worry is that they will just budget-starve PHMSA.”

    Read More: Why Keystone counts

    While Obama was president, the PHMSA budget grew by 61 percent. Then, seven days before Trump’s inauguration, the agency finalized a ruletoughening up inspection and repair demands, mandating, for example, that companies have leak-detection systems in populated areas and requiring they examine lines within 72 hours of flooding or another so-called extreme weather event. The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s main trade group, characterized it all as overreaching and unnecessary.

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    The Weekly View: Ride the Bull, But Do Not Chase It

    My thanks to Rod Smyth for his excellent timing letter, published by RiverFront Investment Group.  Here is a brief sample:

    Our advice to investors is to “ride the bull” but not to chase it.  We believe the bull market in global stocks reflects the recovery in global economic and earnings growth, which we think will continue in 2017.  Our strategic allocation process recently reaffirmed our strategic preference for stocks over bonds, and this is currently reflected across our asset allocation portfolios. 

    That said, we do not see this as a time to take above-normal risk by chasing the current bull market.  Our strategic process reminds us that US stocks are above trend, and with sentiment so optimistic, we think the pace of returns is likely to moderate.  As you can see from the chart above, the 200-day moving average is rising (a good thing, in our view), but the index is now at the top of its rising band, with the 200-day moving average at the bottom of the band.  Our balanced portfolios are close to their strategic targets and have sufficient cash and bonds to take advantage of a pullback should it occur.

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    Big Batteries Coming of Age Prompt Bankers to Place Bets

    This article by Joe Ryan and Brian Eckhouse for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

    “Having big money come in is the first step to widespread deployment,” Brad Meikle, a San Francisco-based analyst for Craig-Hallum Capital Group LLC, said in an interview.

    That’s a shift from many of the storage projects we’ve seen to date as expensive components and unproven revenue potential made commercial lenders leery. Developers typically have financed systems from their own balance sheets, cobbling together revenue from short-term utility contracts or wholesale electricity markets.

    “We see an opportunity in the space,” Ralph Cho, Investec’s co-head of power for North America in New York, said in an interview. “We’re attempting to be a first mover.”

    Storage contracts to date in the U.S. and Canada rarely exceeded three years, said Bryan Urban, head of North American operations for the Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland-based storage developer Leclanche SA. Now utilities are signing agreements for three to seven years, and sometimes as long at 10 years, he said. And in the U.K., National Grid Plc is signing four-year contracts for storage services

     

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    The Mark Zuckerberg Manifesto Is a Blueprint for Destroying Journalism

    This article by Adrienne Lafrance for The Atlantic may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    In other words, Facebook is building a global newsroom run by robot editors and its own readers.

    This strategy may be right for Facebook, which has a strong track record of predicting what its users want. You certainly don’t rake in nearly $9 billion a quarter by building something people aren’t interested in. But if journalism is an indispensable component of the global community Zuckerberg is trying to build, he must also realize that what he’s building is a grave threat to journalism.

    “A strong news industry is also critical to building an informed community,” Zuckerberg wrote in his manifesto. “There is more we must do to support the news industry to make sure this vital social function is sustainable—from growing local news, to developing formats best suited to mobile devices, to improving the range of business models news organizations rely on.”

    There is more Facebook must do. But what? Lip service to the crucial function of the Fourth Estate is not enough to sustain it. All of this is the news industry’s problem; not Zuckerberg’s. But it’s also a problem for anyone who believes in and relies on quality journalism to make sense of the world.

     

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    Deviations From Covered Interest Rate Parity

    I found this report by Wenxin Du, Alexander Tepper and Adrien Verdelhan for the National  Bureau of Economic Research to be fascinating and commend it to subscribers. Here is a section:

    In this paper, we examine the persistent and systematic failures of the CIP condition in the post crisis period. After formally establishing CIP arbitrage opportunities based on repo rates and KfW bonds, we argue that these arbitrage opportunities can be rationalized by the interaction between costly financial intermediation and international imbalances in funding supply and investment demand across currencies. Consistent with this two-factor hypothesis, we report four empirical characteristics of the CIP deviations. First, CIP deviations increase at the quarter ends post crisis, especially for contracts that appear in banks’ balance sheets. Second, proxies for the banks’ balance sheet costs account for two-thirds of the CIP deviations. Third, CIP deviations co-move with other near-risk-free fixed income spreads. Fourth, CIP deviations are highly correlated with nominal interest rates in the cross section and time series.

    Looking beyond our paper, we expect a large literature to investigate further the CIP deviations. The deviations occur in one of the largest and most liquid markets in the world after the crisis in the absence of financial distress, suggesting that other arbitrage opportunities exist elsewhere. While trading in exchange rate derivatives is a zero-sum game, the CIP deviations may have large welfare implications because of the implied deadweight cost borne by firms seeking to hedge their cash flows. Furthermore, the existence of CIP deviation introduces wedges between the interest rates in the cash and swap markets, which affects the external transmission of monetary policy. The welfare cost of the CIP deviation is behind the scope of this paper; it would necessitate a general equilibrium model. Yet, even without such model, the CIP condition is a clean laboratory to test the impact of financial frictions in a very general framework. In this spirit, we present the first international evidence on the causal impact of recent banking regulation on asset prices. We expect more research in this direction in the future.

     

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    Fillon Jumps in French Polls as Macron Pays for Campaign Gaffe

    Here is the opening of this topical report from Bloomberg:

    Republican candidate Francois Fillon is back on track to qualify for the run-off in France’s presidential race, a poll showed on Tuesday, as a sweetened program of reforms and intensive campaigning on social media and across the country pay dividends.

    Fillon leapfrogged independent front-runner Emmanuel Macron, gaining three percentage points to 21 percent, while Macron shed five points to 18.5 percent, according to the survey by Elabe for L’Express magazine. National Front leader Marine Le Pen would still get the most votes in the first ballot on April 23 but she would lose to Fillon by 56 percent to 44 percent in the second round on May 7. Le Pen was on 28 percent, up as much as two points.

    Contenders across the board are searching for traction in the most open presidential election in living memory. The campaign has already seen former Prime Minister Alain Juppe lose the Republican primary after a year as favorite while one ex-president dropped out and the incumbent Francois Hollande opted not to run.

    For a dashboard on European political risk, click here

    While no surveys have shown Le Pen winning the presidency, Elabe showed she’s narrowing the gap polling above 40 percent in the second round against both Fillon and Macron for the first time.

    The prospect of the anti-euro Le Pen cutting through the melee to claim victory has pushed the spread between French 10-year bonds and similar-maturity German bunds to its widest in more than four years. The risk premium rose 2 basis points to

    Fillon, a 62-year-old former prime minister, has made gestures to both conservative and moderate voters in the past days with an intense campaigning to ram home his credentials on security while dialing back his plan to cut health care spending. Macron was in London Tuesday to raise his international profile, meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May before a rally later to court expatriate and a fund-raising dinner.

    For an analysis of the hurdles facing a Le Pen presidency, click here

    Running for office for the first time in his career, Macron suffered his first significant misstep of the campaign last week, when he qualified French colonial rule in North Africa as a “crime against humanity.” Since then he’s taken the brunt of rivals’ attacks and was forced to apologize to French citizens who left Algeria when it gained independence in 1962.

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    Brexit Could Be the Best Thing That Ever Happened to the UK Tech Industry

    The EU used to be a start-up on a mission. The first mission was peace, after two world wars in four decades. Then food security… the single market… eastern expansion… the euro. It achieved extraordinary things. 

    But at some point it grew too big. It did not know what its mission was any more. It caught “institutionitis”. To quote Yuval Harari in his book Homo Deus: “As bureaucracies accumulate power, they become immune to their own mistakes”.

    How do I know this? Well, when your second largest customer, sorry, country, gives you a vote of no confidence, and instead of resigning or promising reform, you continue exactly as before and “punish” it for its “mistake”, you have a clear case of institutionitis.

    When two million migrants enter your Schengen zone illegally in a single year, stoking an alarming rise in the Far Right, and it takes you years to do anything about it, you have institutionitis.

    When four of your member countries still have youth unemployment of more than 40pc five years after the financial crisis, and you say it’s not your problem, you have institutionitis.

    In companies, the cure for institutionitis is the market. Companies that stop caring about their customers will be killed off by a new disruptive company (hopefully one backed by my VC fund) turning up and stealing their customers. The old companies change, or they die. It’s healthy. 

    In government bodies, the cure for institutionitis is democracy. If a government is doing a lousy job, we throw it out and replace it with new leadership and bold policies. That is healthy. It clears out the bureaucrats who have forgotten their purpose. But there is no way to “throw out” the EU if it does a lousy job. 

    What is worse, our national governments, whom we can throw out, increasingly find they cannot make the dramatic change which people are calling for because the EU has tied their hands. So we, too, get infected by EU institutionitis. We cannot behave like a start-up any more. 

    Which brings me to Britain, and our tech sector. I voted firmly to Remain in last year’s Brexit vote, but the EU’s response has forced me, uneasily, to re-think. 

    Most of us in the UK tech sector have blithely assumed the EU is “a good thing” because it gives our companies access to fantastic pools of talent, and untrammelled access to the world’s biggest single market.

    But what about all that fantastic talent outside the EU? Is it really fair that if I am Polish or have an Italian grandma then I get access to the UK willy-nilly, but if I am Indian or Zimbabwean I have to pass stringent tests and arduous visa renewals every year? 

    Tech City & Nesta’s Migration survey, published this week, shows that non-EU nationals make up a higher share of the UK’s tech sector than those from the rest of the EU – and they are more likely to have a Master’s or PhD. 

    ROLI is a case in point: it has 60 Britons in its team, and 17 people from the rest of the EU, but nearly twice as many, 33, from the rest of the world. They include Chinese product designers, Ecuadorian engineers, Korean material scientists, American execs… ambitious companies think beyond the EU.

    At Oxford and Cambridge universities right now, we have more than 11,000 students from non-EU countries such as the US, China and India, against 6,000 from the rest of the EU. Yet our EU bias means we send most of those brilliant non-EU students back home at the end of their studies.

    There is no doubt that extracting ourselves from the EU is going to be an almighty and expensive pain in the neck. 

    Yet Brexit could prove to be a fabulous chance to simplify our immigration policies, so that the most brilliant enterprising people from every country, Asian, African, European or American, have a fair chance to work in the UK, and to nudge our most ambitious entrepreneurs to think beyond the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea in terms of talent. 

    And perhaps the upheaval of Brexit might even cure us of institutionitis, and free us to become a truly “start-up” nation. 

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