Tag Archives: Economy

China Is Killing its Tech Industry

Major news over the holiday weekend as the Chinese government required all app stores in China to remove the Didi Chuxing app. Didi is the Chinese equivalent to Uber, and dominates shared rides in the country, along with a major presence abroad:

China has ordered app-store operators to remove the app of Didi from their stores, the latest as tension escalates between the nation’s largest ride-hailing giant and local regulators. The app has disappeared from several stores including Apple’s App Store in China, TechCrunch can confirm.

The nation’s cyberspace administration, which unveiled the order on Sunday, said Didi was illegally collecting users’ personal data.

Existing users can continue the use the app for now, but new signups are blocked. This comes just days after Didi raised billions in an IPO in New York, perhaps angering the Chinese government.

The claim of data violations seems specious. Didi’s CEO, Li Min, denies that any data is handled improperly or passed to the US.

This is part of a broader crackdown on China’s technology industry:

  • Alibaba Group fined $2.8 billion shortly after CEO Jack Ma criticizes the Communist Party
  • Fintech giant Ant Group, also founded by Jack Ma, has IPO cancelled
  • Bitcoin miners forced to shut down and are racing to move their servers elsewhere, including the US, as the Chinese government prepares to launch its own competing digital currency
  • A Chinese billionaire, many of whom are in the technology industry, dies every 40 days on average, often in suspicious “accidents” and “suicides.” Some are simply executed.

What is this doing to China’s technology industry? The damage is reflected in a massive decline in the number of “unicorns,” or startups reaching $1 billion valuation, in China. Meanwhile, the number of unicorns in the US is skyrocketing and the tech industry as a whole is hotter than ever.

China’s overall economy has also trended sharply downwards in recent years:

The Communist Party doesn’t want any competing power centers, and the Chinese tech industry, with its wealth and control of information, is perhaps the biggest alternative power center left.

But the industry needs freedom to experiment and exchange ideas, and a stable climate without the constant threat of fines, shutdowns and imprisonment. Entrepreneurs can find that here in the US, along with abundant funding. And I think you’ll see more and more of them making that jump.

More on technology:

7 COMPANIES HAD 3 MINUTES EACH TO PITCH US. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED.

INSIDE A STARTUP ACCELERATOR DEMO DAY

UNICORNS ARE BEING MINTED FASTER THAN EVER

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Can Bitcoin Protect You From Inflation?

Bitcoin is often referred to as digital gold. Unlike fiat money such as the US dollar, its supply expands at a slow, steady rate.

The Federal Reserve has printed so much money during the COVID crisis that money supply is up over 25%. This has led to fears of inflation. The consumer price index (CPI) jumped by 4.2% in the first quarter of this year, the highest since 2008.

So can bitcoin, with its steady supply, provide protection from inflation? Bitcoin hasn’t existed long enough to provide a good test, but the evidence we have indicates that it doesn’t really correlate with the price index and thus is unlikely to provide a good inflation hedge.

Take a look at the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) index excluding volatile food and energy prices. It’s been pretty consistent in the last decade, bouncing around the 2% level:

At the end of 2020, prices plummeted, pushing the US economy into deflation for the first time since this data series began in the 1950’s. If bitcoin is to provide an inflation hedge, it would need to drop when prices do and increase when prices rise. But we saw the opposite behavior, with bitcoin going vertical:

If you look at CPI as an inflation measure, you see the same pattern, with a noticeable decline in 2020 that wasn’t reflected in bitcoin:

Bitcoin doesn’t seem to perform well as an inflation hedge, although it could be useful for other purposes. If you’re worried about inflation, I’d suggest Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, which pay you a fixed rate plus the rate of inflation, protecting your interest payments from erosion by rising prices.

Dig into these posts for more on Bitcoin:

Photo: “Bitcoin, bitcoin coin, physical bitcoin, bitcoin photo” by antanacoins is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! 

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

The Tiny Village That Beat the Great Depression

Nestled in the Austrian Alps is the tiny village of Worgl. In 1932, as the world economy was in the depths of the Great Depression, Worgl too had fallen on hard times:

The Great Depression was in full swing and of its population of nearly 5000, a third were jobless, and about 200 families were bankrupt. The situation was desperate. The town would try anything.

What followed was one of the most radical economic experiments in history. The town created a new form of money. It was a lot like the standard Austrian schilling it replaced, except its value dropped by 1% every month. In a year, you’d have just 88.64 left of every 100 schillings.

This gave residents a strong incentive to stop hoarding currency, a natural reaction to a scary economic climate:

The speed that money changed hands (14 times higher than the national schilling) helped keep local businesses afloat and, in time, brought back the town’s lost jobs.

Soon, the town went from 1/3 jobless to full employment. Tax revenues boomed as people paid their bills in the new currency before it lost its value.

Worgl’s success attracted attention from its neighbors:

Things looked up for Worgl and [Mayor] Unterguggenberger. The town did so well that six neighbouring villages successfully copied the system and over 200 grew an interest in following suit.

Ultimately, the central bank shut down this experiment in a local currency. Shortly thereafter, unemployment shot right back up to where it was before Worgl’s mayor made this bold move to save his town.

It makes sense that Worgl would’ve rocketed ahead of nearby villages. Worgl essentially had (very) negative interest rates and a far more accomodative monetary policy than its neighbors.

Today too, lowering interest rates, even below zero, is a commonly used tactic to stimulate economic activity. The US Federal Reserve lowered interest rates substantially at the beginning of the COVID crisis, and Japan and much of Europe has had negative rates for years.

But despite the success of Worgl, the results of negative rates today are mixed. Negative rates might encourage consumers to spend, but they could also discourage banks from lending. After all, who wants to lend when you might have to pay for the privilege!

Worgl remains an interesting footnote to monetary policy. Whatever the applications to today may be, I applaud the bravery of those villagers who took a radical step to try to save their home.

For more on markets and the economy, check out these posts:

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Photo: “File:Pfarrkirche Woergl Osten.jpg” by Thom16 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

When the Suez Canal Was Blocked for Eight Years

As the Suez Canal, chokepoint for 15% of world shipping, was cleared today, I thought of another time it was blocked. Not for a week, but for 8 years.

Following the Six Day War in 1967 between Egypt and Israel, Egypt blocked the canal to prevent Israel from using it. They placed old ships, debris, and even explosives in the canal. And it stayed that way, for eight years.

Thousands of workers rotated on and off the ships over the years to protect these valuable pieces of equipment. They organized joint social events and even created their own postage stamps, which have since become hot items for collectors.

The closure also had a serious effect on world trade, especially for countries that relied heavily on the canal. Seventy-nine country pairs saw the effective distance between them increase by 50% or more:

For these pairs, the closure caused an average fall in trade of over 20% with a three to four year adjustment period. Trade between these pairs recovered completely after the canal reopened eight years later with a similar adjustment period.

By the time the canal reopened, most of the ships in the Yellow Fleet could no longer make the trip:

The canal had remained closed so long that most of the Yellow Fleet ships had decayed and needed to be towed. But two of them—the German ships Münsterland and Nordwind—made it out on their own steam.

We had the benefit of peace this time, so the canal could be unblocked quickly. These episodes really emphasized to me the importance of peace and the free flow of goods to our prosperity.

For more on current events and the world economy, check out these posts:

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Photo: “File:Israeli Tanks Cross the Suez Canal – Flickr – Israel Defense Forces.jpg” by Israel Defense Forces is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Europe Is Falling Behind the US, and It’s Going to Get Worse

A huge untold story of the world today is how far Europe has fallen behind the US economically in recent decades:

Here are the 2019 numbers (in 2019 dollars, again World Bank) US: $65,297. UK $42,330. That’s 35% less than the US. Or, the US is 54% better off than the UK.. France: $40,494. Italy: $33,228 That’s 50% less than US. Or the US is 96% better off than Italy. China: $20,261.

And it’s been getting steadily worse. France got almost to the US level in 1980. And then slowly slipped behind. The UK seems to be doing ok, but in fact has lost 5 percentage points since the early 2000s peak. And Italy… Once noticeably better off than the UK, and contending with France, Italy’s GDP per capita is now lower than it was in 2000.

More here.

So why is this happening? Regulation and lack of investment in IT in the services sector are chief suspects.

I definitely noticed this difference when I went to Paris for the first time in the fall of 2019. I was expecting a gleaming city, but I was surprised at the poverty I saw. There were panhandlers at the airport, which I’ve never seen in the US, and a lot of crumbling buildings and down-and-out people. It was rather sad. However, I enjoyed my time there a great deal, and would recommend their delicious food and superb art highly.

With the vaccine rollout in Europe going far more slowly than in the US, I think they will fall much further behind, and quickly. Other parts of the world will be wide open while they’re still locked down.

On the bright side, this could provide a great opportunity for the UK to catch up, since it has outpaced the US, China and almost every other country worldwide on vaccines. Their speed and innovative policies, like delaying second doses of vaccines, have impressed me a great deal.

For more on the economy and financial markets, check out these posts:

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Photo: Image by Nocturnales is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Australia Takes the Lead As Governments Move to Reign in Interest Rates

Government bond yields are increasing in many countries, including the US. Australia is already taking action. Europe and Japan also appear to be close:

This morning, Australian three-year government bond yields reached as high as 0.15% at the market open, far above the 0.1% ceiling established by the Reserve Bank of Australia last November under its yield curve control policy.  The RBA accordingly pledged to buy up to A$3 billion ($2.3 billion) in three-year paper in an unscheduled operation just one day after undertaking the largest purchases since March, successfully pushing yields back down towards that 0.1% bogey by day’s end.  

In a report predicting that the RBA will wait until July before deciding whether to tweak its existing policies, Andrew Boak, Goldman Sachs chief economist for Australia and New Zealand, noted yesterday that “there are no modern day precedents for a central bank exiting yield curve control.” 

A similar struggle is underway in the Land of the Rising Sun.  Japan, which instituted yield curve control back in 2016 with a targeted 0% yield on the 10-year government bond, is now facing a test of its resolve:  The yield on 10-year government debt reached 0.175% this morning, the highest since the debut of that program.  “I want you to understand that we aren’t aiming to raise our target from around 0%,” BOJ governor Haruhiko Kuroda declared in an address to parliament this morning, a message surely intended for Mr. Market as well. 

Meanwhile, a scaled-down bond selloff on the Old Continent looks to spur the powers that be to further impose their will on the market. Yesterday, German 10-year yields reached minus 0.23%, near a one-year high and up from minus 0.53% one month earlier, three days after ECB president Christine Lagarde declared she is “closely monitoring the evolution of longer-term nominal bond yields.”  

In light of that dizzying ascent to minus 0.23%, one of her colleagues appears ready for action. “In my view, there is an unwarranted tightening of bond yields, so it would perhaps be desirable for the ECB to accelerate the pace of [asset] purchases to ensure favorable financing conditions during the pandemic,” Greek central bank governor Yannis Stournaras told Reuters this afternoon.

More here (see the Feb 26 post).

Higher interest rates on government bonds tend to lead to higher interest rates throughout the economy. This can be a problem for stocks, since it can make it more expensive for companies to borrow to fund expansion, etc. It can also make bonds more attractive compared to stocks, which hurts the stock market.

If we see sustained upward pressure on US rates, I expect to see the US follow Australia and try to get the rates back down.

For more on interest rates on markets, check out these posts:

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Photo: “Pebbly Beach Kangaroos Australia – 095” by Kyle Taylor, Dream It. Do It. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Forget GameStop, Treasury Yields Are The Thing to Watch

Treasury bonds have been falling hard lately. Their interest rates are up significantly as a result:

The yield on the 10-year note, a bellwether for borrowing costs on everything from mortgages to corporate loans, has jumped to near 1.5% from around 1% in a matter of weeks, lifted by increased expectations that vaccines and government stimulus efforts will accelerate growth and inflation.

And the sell-off is making its way into the stock market today:

The sell-off in the bond market ricocheted into equities, pushing the broad S&P 500 down 2.3 per cent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite down 3.3 per cent by afternoon on Wall Street.

A lot of this is the side effect of something good: people are getting vaccinated, new vaccines are coming, and economic stimulus could boost the economy further. That picture is leading investors to expect greater economic growth in the future, along with greater inflation (see the Feb 22 post):

Signs of a renewed economic boom, in tandem with pockets of price pressure, color that move in rates. Bianco Research notes today that Wall Street economists now expect U.S. real GDP growth of nearly 5% this year

But higher rates on Treasury bonds could affect other markets negatively in several ways:

  • Higher Treasury yields tend to mean higher rates in other areas. This could make it more expensive for companies to borrow to fund expansion, etc. That would hurt their shares.
  • If Treasuries offer more interest, that makes stocks less attractive by comparison.
  • Treasury yields, especially the 10 year note, tend to drive mortgage rates. Higher mortgage rates mean a weaker real estate market.

Nonetheless, the Fed remains committed to low interest rates and a loose monetary policy:

In his remarks to the House Financial Services Committee, [Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome] Powell said it could take more than three years before inflation reached the Fed’s target of 2%. That helped to reiterate the message that the central bank was in no rush to pare back on stimulus anytime soon, Deutsche’s Reid said.

I think that if rates spike too high, Powell will probably get the Fed in there buying lots of bonds (with printed money, if necessary) to get the rates back down. He doesn’t want to see higher rates derailing the economic recovery.

A slower rate rise may be less problematic:

“If it is stable and steady, it is easier for equities to digest,” O’Rourke said in an interview. “A quick spike has the potential to create a shock.”

Overall, this situation concerns me and it’s one I’m going to watch. But I am pretty confident that Powell will put a stop to extreme increases in Treasury yields.

For more on recent developments in financial markets, check out these posts:

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Photo: “Jerome H. Powell, governor of the Federal Reserve Board, discusses how markets currently function” by BrookingsInst is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0