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

    LVMH, Hermes Spark $30 Billion Luxury Stocks Rout on US Slowdown

    This article from Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

    Confidence in that view has now been dented, however, with attendees at a luxury conference in Paris organized by Morgan Stanley flagging a “relatively more subdued” performance in the US, according to Edouard Aubin, an analyst at the investment bank. That reflects “weakness in the aspirational consumer in particular.”

    That was counterbalanced by more buoyant demand elsewhere, according to Morgan Stanley. “Overall, we found corporate commentary resilient, pointing to an ongoing soft landing in the US largely offset by strength in other markets.”

    Both Asia and the US are important markets for European luxury companies. Asia excluding Japan accounted for 30% of LVMH’s sales in 2022, while the US made up 27%, according to the company’s annual report. 

    Deutsche Bank AG analysts have also said that a slowdown in the US is now a growing concern. While the rebound in Chinese demand has been among the key drivers of strong sales, investors are likely to be picky from here on, they added.

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    Technology Was Supposed to Transform Insurance Pricing. It Hasn't.

    This article from the Wall Street Journal may be of interest. Here is a section: 

    At first, the insurance pricing process -- heavily reliant on algorithms and mathematical modeling -- seemed ripe for upending, thanks to advances in the sheer amount and variety of data digitally-native companies could suddenly collect on customers.

    But the Silicon Valley axiom to move-fast-and-break-things hasn't been enough to transform an industry built on centuries of observed human behavior, massive marketing budgets and a savvy grasp of the regulatory environment.

    Founded in 2015, Lemonade initially aimed to sell renters and homeowners insurance. It was worth $9.87 billion at its peak in 2021; it's now worth $1.23 billion. Root Insurance, also founded in 2015, began with the idea of using telematics -- or in-car data -- to offer personalized auto insurance based on how people drive. In 2020, it was worth roughly $6.8 billion, and has since swooned to about $67 million. Property and casualty insurance startup Hippo went public at a $5 billion valuation in 2021. It is now worth around $425 million.

    So far, the insurtechs have been slow to gather and contextualize enough data to actually build better models. Regulations have restricted the use of some of their data and differentiated pricing. And it has been difficult to chip away market share from established industry giants.

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    China's $23 Trillion Local Debt Mess Is About to Get a Lot Worse

    This article from Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    “Many cities will become like Hegang in a few years’ time,” said Houze Song, an economist at US think tank MacroPolo, noting that China’s aging and shrinking population means many cities don’t have the workforce to sustain faster economic growth and tax revenue.
    “The central government may be able to keep things stable in the short term by asking banks to roll over local governments’ debt,” Song said. Without loan extensions, he added, “the reality is that over two thirds of the localities won’t be able to repay their debt on time.” 

    In Heilongjiang province, where Hegang is located, bond investors are already wary of the risks. The province’s outstanding seven-year bond had an average yield of 3.53%, 18.8 basis points higher than the average nationwide, ranking it among the top four most expensive.

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    New type of quasiparticle emerges to tame quantum computing errors

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    The Quantinuum group, meanwhile, made non-Abelian anyons in a different way. Using the Honeywell 32-qubit H2 quantum processor, which holds ytterbium ions in an electromagnetic trap and alters their quantum states using lasers, they created a quasi-one-dimensional chain of interacting trapped-ion qubits.

    Here, the anyons correspond to natural excitations of the ground state of the qubit system – which technically means they are not quasiparticles, since quasiparticles must be excited states. “The Majorana zero modes at the end of superconducting wires in the Microsoft experiment and the lattice defects in the Google experiment are non-Abelian defects,” emphasizes Ashvin Vishwanath of Harvard University, who collaborated with the Quantinuum team. “Unlike our experiment, they are not realized on top of true non-Abelian topological order.”

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    Why So Many Electric Car Chargers in America Don't Work

    This article from Bloomberg may be of interest. Here is a section: 

    There isn’t a single reason for EV charger failures. Some of the problems, particularly with older machines, can be chalked up to a new technology going through the usual learning curve of improvements, all while sitting outside, exposed to the weather. There have been cycles of needed upgrades, such as replacing modems to deal with 5G wireless internet service. The myriad networks, retail outlets and garage owners who own the machines don’t always stay on top of maintenance. And chargers must communicate with a rapidly expanding variety of cars. 

    To that end, the precise scope of the problem isn’t known. EV drivers face a complex landscape of competing charging companies, each with its own stations and app, and there is no central repository of data on station performance. One widely cited 2022 study of fast-charging stations in the San Francisco Bay Area (excluding Tesla Inc.’s Superchargers), found that about 25% of the 657 plugs weren’t working. While J.D. Power doesn’t disclose reliability rankings, Gruber said the worst-performing charging company leaves drivers unable to plug in about 39% of the time. 

    “With public charging, it’s a bit of the wild, wild West,” he said.

    Tesla proved that reliable charging is possible. The all-electric automaker runs a global network of 45,000 Superchargers, which can add up to 200 miles of range in just 15 minutes. Tesla consistently gets the highest customer-satisfaction marks of any charging company in J.D. Power’s surveys, Gruber said. Its drivers report charger downtime of just 3%.

    But Tesla has the advantage of keeping everything in-house. Until recently, Superchargers could only be used by Tesla cars, and didn’t need to work with the growing array of other EVs and batteries. Tesla also owns its Supercharger network, whereas many of the public chargers installed over the past decade are owned by whoever owns the parking lot where they’re located. Such property owners, Gruber said, don’t have as strong an incentive to maintain their machines.

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    'In a lot of the world, the clock has hit midnight': China is calling in loans to dozens of countries from Pakistan to Kenya

    This fascinating article by Bernard Condon for The Associated Press may be of interest. Here is a section:  

    As Parks dug into the details of the loans, he found something alarming: Clauses mandating that borrowing countries deposit U.S. dollars or other foreign currency in secret escrow accounts that Beijing could raid if those countries stopped paying interest on their loans.

    In effect, China had jumped to the front of the line to get paid without other lenders knowing.

    In Uganda, Parks revealed a loan to expand the main airport included an escrow account that could hold more than $15 million. A legislative probe blasted the finance minister for agreeing to such terms, with the lead investigator saying he should be prosecuted and jailed.

    Parks is not sure how many such accounts have been set up, but governments insisting on any kind of collateral, much less collateral in the form of hard cash, is rare in sovereign lending. And their very existence has rattled non-Chinese banks, bond investors and other lenders and made them unwilling to accept less than they’re owed.

    “The other creditors are saying, ‘We’re not going to offer anything if China is, in effect, at the head of the repayment line,’” Parks said. “It leads to paralysis. Everyone is sizing each other up and saying, ‘Am I going to be a chump here?’”

    Loans as ‘currency exchanges’
    Meanwhile, Beijing has taken on a new kind of hidden lending that has added to the confusion and distrust. Parks and others found that China’s central bank has effectively been lending tens of billions of dollars through what appear as ordinary foreign currency exchanges.

    Foreign currency exchanges, called swaps, allow countries to essentially borrow more widely used currencies like the U.S. dollar to plug temporary shortages in foreign reserves. They are intended for liquidity purposes, not to build things, and last for only a few months.

    But China’s swaps mimic loans by lasting years and charging higher-than-normal interest rates. And importantly, they don’t show up on the books as loans that would add to a country’s debt total.

    Mongolia has taken out $1.8 billion annually in such swaps for years, an amount equivalent to 14% of its annual economic output. Pakistan has taken out nearly $3.6 billion annually for years and Laos $300 million.

    The swaps can help stave off default by replenishing currency reserves, but they pile more loans on top of old ones and can make a collapse much worse, akin to what happened in the runup to 2009 financial crisis when U.S. banks kept offering ever-bigger mortgages to homeowners who couldn’t afford the first one.

    Some poor countries struggling to repay China now find themselves stuck in a kind of loan limbo: China won’t budge in taking losses, and the IMF won’t offer low-interest loans if the money is just going to pay interest on Chinese debt.

    For Chad and Ethiopia, it’s been more than a year since IMF rescue packages were approved in so-called staff-level agreements, but nearly all the money has been withheld as negotiations among its creditors drag on.

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    This Equities Rally Is Running on Hope and a Story

    This article from John Authers at Bloomberg may be of interest. Here is a section:

    For the first, virtually all of the S&P 500’s gain for the year (barring this week’s surge) can be traced to the 7.5% rally from March 13 to April 13, which took it from 3,856 to 4,146. This coincided with the creation and growth of the BTFP as well as an expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet in response to the collapse of SVB and Signature Bank. Whatever the official interest rates, money was available. As money is also fungible, it had a way of finding where it could make the best return. The Fed’s balance sheet grew roughly $400 billion to $8.73 trillion between March 1 and March 22 as it tried to contain the crisis. It currently stands at around $8.50 trillion.

    For the second, there was a slide in the expected federal funds rate on the anticipation that the Fed would pivot (since largely reversed). As the rally started, the projected rate after next month’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting had just dropped from about 5.5% to about 4.7%. Coinciding with this was a “defrosting of credit markets” that saw investment-grade corporate spreads compressing almost 30 basis points from this year’s peak of 163 on March 15 — again a phenomenon that was likely helped by the BTFP and increased liquidity.

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