Silver Eclipses Gold... Thanks to the EU?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 7/22/2020 05:46:00 PM
I have been looking at an entry point to buy silver over the past few months, but a dip has not really come. Indeed, the metal has soared recently, handily outperforming gold. Why is this so? For a long time, the gold/silver price ratio was historically high, so there is likely some mean reversion there. That is, gold became too costly relative to silver despite having similar attributes, so silver's price had to move up eventually. Like gold, silver is something with intrinsic value unlike paper money or even virtual currencies. So there's some of that consideration at play:
It is hard to find an asset on more of a roll than silver. On Tuesday, silver for September delivery surged nearly 7%, the highest settlement since March 2014, and 83% above its March lows. Silver was up in the early hours of Wednesday as well. “It seems the precious metal has been caught up in the perfect storm,” says Jeroen Blokland, senior portfolio manager at Robeco Asset Management.

Much of what’s driving silver also is driving gold — aggressive monetary policy financing of fiscal spending, which limits the ability of bond yields to rise. That is sending inflation-adjusted, or real, yields lower, which tends to boost precious metals. In addition, silver is still cheap relative to gold by historical measures.
However, it's not probably not enough to say "silver is like gold" for an explanation. Indeed, silver has more industrial applications than gold. That said, how does this function matter when economic activity is slowing down dramatically worldwide? The emerging argument is that "green" industries rely a lot on silver, and that the current pandemic is hastening the emergence of these industries. What's more, the EU recently passing a bloc-wide stimulus measure championing investment in these industries should in theory boost silver's fortunes further:
But the latest catalyst may well be the European Union’s €750 billion recovery fund, which not only earmarked 30% of spending on environmental initiatives but said funding of other projects has to be in line with the Paris climate accord. Furthermore, the possibility the EU could issue so-called green bonds may create a safe asset, providing a reference security for private sector green bond issuance.

“The catalyst of the recent rally, however, seems to be the fact that the world is aiming for a ‘green’ recovery, with a significant part of the stimulus assigned to environmentally friendly measures,” says Blokland. “As silver has a wide range of industrial uses, including electronics and solar panels, demand for this metal should rise from this angle as well. We remain overweight commodities as the outlook for both industrial and precious metals looks bright.”
For the increasingly environment-conscious like myself, this development is a welcome one. I just wish I bought some silver sooner as it races into the distance [aargh].

Is China's TikTok Turning American to Avoid a US Ban?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 7/22/2020 05:15:00 PM
So much international controversy over such a mindless diversion. That is TiktTok's current predicament.
This is just a follow-up on a previous post I made about how India banned TikTok's app there. During these difficult times, countries are understandably adapting protectionist stances. After all, it's the easiest strategy to pursue when confronted with hardship: blame foreigners for whatever ails your country. In the telling of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, TikTok is a Trojan horse for Chinese Communist encroachment into American life. For kicks, I am linking to a Fox News story for the first time ever (I think)--fitting since we're dealing with the realm of xenophobic post-truth here:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday the Trump administration is considering restricting United States' users' access to the Chinese social media application TikTok over concerns it is potentially being used by the Beijing government as a means to surveil and propagandize people.

"With respect to Chinese apps on people's cell phones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right too," he said, adding that he did not want to dive into specifics and potentially "get ahead" of any presidential announcement.

"But, it is something we are looking at," he said, going on to warn Americans that they should be cautious in using TikTok, lest they want their private information "in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.
Nevermind that Pompeo presents no evidence for this claim--eek, it's from China! is the extent of his exceedingly juvenile argument--but when has that deterred anyone from the Trump administration from bashing the PRC for whatever reason? To appease Trump, TikTok's parent company is proposing to hire 10,000 US workers:
TikTok said Tuesday that it plans to create 10,000 jobs in the United States over the next three years, a substantial increase from the roughly 1,400 employees it currently has in the country. The announcement comes as the company faces mounting criticism over its handling of user data and its ties to China through its parent company, ByteDance.
Which is all well and good, but is there any guarantee this appeasement strategy will work? Since it keeps highlighting that its CEO is American, why not go whole hog and become a majority American-owned company? Indeed, some investors are thinking of doing just that to get rid of this folly once and for all:
Beleaguered video app Tiktok could be split from its Chinese parent company Bytedance and sold off to US investors in a bid to curtail a mooted ban on the app in America, as questions over the company’s data protection policies face mounting criticism on both sides of the Atlantic. Tiktok’s $110bn (£86bn) parent firm Bytedance is in talks with a small group of US investors to sell off a majority stake in the viral video platform, according to Silicon Valley news site The Information [...]

ByteDance’s sale discussions have reportedly included the company’s founder and chief executive Zhang Yiming, and Neil Shen, a board member and a partner at Sequoia Capital’s Chinese branch. The sale plan would require investors such as Sequoia, General Atlantic and New Enterprise Associates to form a consortium, with Bytedance potentially retaining a minority stake in the video platform.

It is thought a formal split from China would allay spreading fears that the video platform’s parent company is beholden to Beijing authorities and could be used as a tool of Chinese state surveillance.
i myself am flummoxed by how something so lowbrow and inane can not only find so many devotees but also attract the attention of ardent protectionists. Would Bytedance be willing to offload its golden goose to assuage the concerns of an American madman and his minions? November nears, you know, and Joe Biden may not be as silly. Maybe Bytedance just has to wait Trump out.

"Trade War 4.0": How the EU Plans to Punish US Tech

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 7/20/2020 08:12:00 PM
This is a follow-up to the earlier post about how the EU and US are on a collision course over the tax treatment of American tech giants, which the EU believes are operating nearly tax-free within their countries. If we were still dealing with old-fashioned goods, the solution for the EU would be simple: apply tariffs, which are taxes on goods. After all, the US is applying those on a lot of EU goods right now. But how would you retaliate against services which the US is dominant in? Since these are intellectual property-rich things, you would make it easier to violate IP.

Now, if there is anything the US guards zealously, it's the intellectual property of its firms. Even the WTO reflects this American predilection by incorporating Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) despite there already being a United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) since 1967.

To be sure, the EU is also IP-rich and also pushed for IP inclusion at the WTO. However, the clear difference circa 2020 is that while the US is strong in technology IP, the EU is rather less so. Maybe it's really anger at not getting enough taxes out of the US tech giants. Or maybe it's just plain jealousy that the EU hasn't really developed many of these next-generation industries. No matter; the EU is looking to hit US IP in the quarrel over American tech giants as an emergent trade war strategy:
The EU is preparing a law that could allow its executive body, the European Commission, to hit back against U.S. tariffs by imposing sanctions on the intellectual property of companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook. In a rare united front, Europe's main political groups on July 6 backed proposals to strengthen the EU's trade powers by expanding them into the realm of services and intellectual property rights, which they argue would allow them to match U.S. trade firepower...

Lawmakers in Brussels think sanctions on services will be a bigger deterrent than tariffs on soybeans and machinery. They would also be a better fit for highly globalized value chains, where production easily jumps borders...

Sanctions directly targeting a company's intellectual property, by contrast, would catch a larger share of America's high-value exports, and would be much harder to circumvent [by relocating production outside the US]. Experts contacted by POLITICO agreed that trade retaliation on services and intellectual property would be a powerful weapon, but cautioned that the U.S. could react furiously. “Tariffs on Bourbon and Boeing is one thing, but cross-retaliation against copyright and religious symbols like [trademarks] is a whole different level of warfare," said Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of the ECIPE think tank.
Essentially, the US has found it easy to conduct trade warfare with Europe because the EU still largely exports goods to America. The opposite does not hold, though: the US export mix to the EU is biased towards services, which again cannot be tariff-ied. By abrogating US IP as cross-retaliation, though, the EU walks a tightrope. Truly, it is the nuclear option that would prompt a significant deterioration in transatlantic trade relations. Even in the age of Trump, that's not a place more level-headed Europeans would like to head towards.  

Missing US Innovation: Assisted Suicide On Demand

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 7/16/2020 06:10:00 PM
Numbers don't lie: There isn't much to live for Stateside. Healthcare is largely misspent there, so how about the opposite?
The United States is perceived as an innovator leading the rest of the world. Sometimes, its innovations are not necessarily ethically or socially edifying. Witness the emergence of its sprawling prison industrial complex. No other country on earth spends as much on incarceration or throws as many of its own people behind bars. Usually those jailed are us colored people, but that's another discussion for some other time. Suffice to say that fortunes have been made in this industry. Profiting off the misfortunes of others--such as with "private" prisons--is a staple of Americana. Facebook's critics deride it as a hate-for-profit outfit. So, why not innovate by combining the "on demand" nature of video on demand like Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. with just ending the folly of it all?

Now, it's well-known that the United States stands apart from other OECD (i.e., "developed") countries in having a falling life expectancy the past several years. 2018 was an exception--albeit a very marginal one--when it fractionally rose. Still, 2020 promises to more than wipe out any such gains. The reasons for these declines are equally well-known: radical inequality is causing those left behind--many of whom are Trump voters disaffected with American life, by the way--to harm themselves. Suicides, drug overdoses, and other so-called deaths of despair. In a way, voting for Trump was an act of desperation itself. What sensible reason was there to believe that a serial bankrupt would right the United States' financial situation? Faced with epochal health, financial, and social crises, America is reeling from endless self-inflicted blows by electing this fraudster in 2020. So, those desperate enough to vote for Trump find themselves over worse off.

But I digress. Trump is a symptom, rather than a cause of much of what ails America. I'll get more into America's obesity 'n' indebtedness complex soon enough, but suffice to say that Trump is simply exacerbating already-prevalent US pathologies. Wondering aloud, therefore, why doesn't the United States pioneer assisted suicide on demand? Legally speaking, it's in the same line of thought as another fine US invention, no fault divorce. In short, spare everyone the drama and just get it over with. As believers in the free market, Americans should be comfortable with this service: If the market is always right, then let the laws of supply and demand give adult Yanquis the right to top themselves quick ‘n’ easy. Instead of leaving a physical mess of your guts splattered all over the place, why not make ending it all a quick and convenient process--no questions asked?

2019 set a new Stateside record for drug deaths following a slight drop in 2018 fatalities, which were largely attributable to fewer prescription opioid-related deaths. 2020 is continuing 2019's rising trend, with early numbers suggesting the pandemic is boosting drug deaths. Fentanyl figures large:
Drug deaths in America, which fell for the first time in 25 years in 2018, rose to record numbers in 2019 and are continuing to climb, a resurgence that is being complicated and perhaps worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Nearly 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, according to preliminary data released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — an increase of 5 percent from 2018. Deaths from drug overdoses remain higher than the peak yearly death totals ever recorded for car accidents, guns or AIDS, and their acceleration in recent years has pushed down overall life expectancy in the United States. 

It looks as if 2020 will be even worse. Drug deaths have risen an average of 13 percent so far this year over last year, according to mortality data from local and state governments collected by The New York Times, covering 40 percent of the U.S. population. If this trend continues for the rest of the year, it will be the sharpest increase in annual drug deaths since 2016, when a class of synthetic opioids known as fentanyls first made significant inroads in the country’s illicit drug supply. 
Trumpmerica isn't getting any better, and removing the symptom (Trump) certainly won't be the cure for what ails that country. Almost all health, economic and social indicators suggest things are getting worse. Absent any real hope for change, many are turning to self-harm to end it all in increasing numbers. Americans are masters at profiting from other's misfortunes. In the name of liberty--and commerce, it must be said--this industry is long overdue. As I mentioned, not all innovations are edifying, but some are just...necessary. Aside from being illegal, fentanyl and its ilk represent a messy way of suicide. What's required is something convenient and prepackaged--on demand, indeed.

In post-COVID-19 America, there is arguably no innovation more strangely missing than assisted suicide on demand. [Cue Blue Oyster Cult for mood music.]

Can Trump Destroy Hong Kong's Dollar Peg?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 7/08/2020 07:20:00 PM
Asian financial crisis, SARS, global financial crisis, COVID-19 outbreak...HK$ remains pegged. Whither Trump?
There are several ironies in the Trump administration's ongoing efforts to strike back at China for eroding Hing Kong's political freedoms through passing a national security law via the mainland's rubber-stamp legislature. For a wannabe authoritarian, Trump taking action against China for eroding its territory's independence is kind of rich. For another thing, Hong Kong is one of the few places on earth that imports far more the United States than it exports. Trump regularly bashes those the US runs large bilateral trade deficits with, so what is Hong Kong doing here? Take it from the horse's mouth--the US Trade Representative notes:
U.S. goods and services trade with Hong Kong totaled an estimated $66.9 billion in 2018. Exports were $50.1 billion; imports were $16.8 billion. The U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Hong Kong was $33.4 billion in 2018.
As such, the US cannot punish Hong Kong with the same tariff it hits the rest of the PRC with since it mostly trades in services, not goods. So, how about restricting services trade with Hong Kong, then? One way the Trump administration has thought of doing this is by targeting the Hong Kong dollar's peg to the US dollar at about 7.8 HKD per USD:
The proposal to strike against the Hong Kong dollar peg, possibly by limiting the ability of Hong Kong banks to buy U.S. dollars, was raised as part of broader discussions among advisers to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Bloomberg’s report on Tuesday said. Undermining the peg was seen by some advisers as one way to hit back at China for its moves to whittle away at Hong Kong’s political freedoms, the report said.

Other administration members pushed back against the proposal, worrying that such a move would only hurt Hong Kong banks and the United States, not China, sources told Bloomberg. The idea also was not elevated to White House senior levels, the report said.
The ways it would work are by restricting access to US dollars:
Market watchers are pondering what measures could be implemented to undermine the peg and what the fallout would be. Analysts at broker Hamilton Court FX predicted this could be done by reducing or rescinding swap lines, curbing Hong Kong authorities’ ability to buy and sell dollars in order to keep the currency within its defined trading range. Commerzbank analyst Hao Zhou called it a “low-possibility” event but with risk of huge market impact.
Sure, the Trump administration's China-bashing appears boundless, from pulling out of the World Health Organization over allegations of unwarranted PRC influence to denying entry to foreign students who will only be taking online courses at US universities (since Chinese account for the largest number of foreign students). Remember, though, that the Hong Kong Monetary Authority--its central bank--has $445 billion worth of reserves to combat a US assault on the peg with. If things get tough, Hong Kong authorities have said they can further draw on the PRC's dollar stockpile. Most market commentators also describe this proposed action as futile since it would boomerang mightily on its perpetrator. So the Trump administration can try, but it will most likely fail--after plunging the world economy into heaven-knows-what that would make the global financial crisis look like a rom-com romp by comparison.

Patrick Bennett, head of macro strategy for Asia at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce
It’s a fairly wacky idea that they would be able to force Hong Kong off the peg by some means. I’ve been against the idea that Kyle Bass and others trying to break the peg -- that has been a spectacularly unsuccessful idea so far, and I expect it to be the same.
Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at AxiCorp
Why this is bad not to mention an unlikely move: First, direct U.S. action against the peg could trigger China’s response by putting U.S. assets, including USTs or equities. Second, such a move could destabilize USD pegs elsewhere, including U.S. allies around the world, especially those in the Middle East. Third, the unthinkable instability that it would trigger in the USD-based global financial ecosystem could drive a selloff in US equity markets – an outcome abhorrent to the White House ahead of the November presidential election.
Xia Le, chief Asia economist at BBVA Hong Kong
It’s technically difficult to impose, and it’ll hurt U.S. a lot. The peg is maintained by Hong Kong, which doesn’t need approval from the U.S. and not something the U.S. could easily manipulate. Technically, it’s very hard for them to prevent any businesses from investing in the city or limiting the ability of Hong Kong banks to buy U.S. dollars.
Carie Li, an economist at OCBC Wing Hang Bank
At the moment, the Trump administration isn’t seriously considering this as it’s very risky for them. It’s more about specific restrictions for financial institutions under the sanctions. Hong Kong is the world’s third-largest U.S. dollar trading center, which would mean if the HKD can’t be pegged to the USD it would be unfavorable to the U.S. by curbing the number of transactions in U.S. dollars and would lower investor confidence in the greenback.
Becky Liu, head of China macro strategy at Standard Chartered Bank
At this stage I personally assign a relativity low possibility for this to happen. Having said that, in the recent days U.S. has taken some totally unexpected actions by withdrawing from the WHO. So the likelihood of the U.S. doing something is still very likely, it’s just likely to be less drastic in terms of impacting the convertibility between the HKD and the USD, like setting a limit on how much exposure banks are able to have on the Hong Kong dollar or setting limits on the amount of exposure U.S. companies can have towards the Hong Kong dollar.

Techno-Nationalism: India Bans PRC's TikTok

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 7/02/2020 12:44:00 AM
Slap Xi's image with sandals...and ban Tiktok too!
 Well, well, well: In a previous post concerning whether India could boycott China after the recent, fatal border skirmish, I said "They can burn as many Xi pictures as they like, but their compatriots won't stop buying PRC-made goods anytime soon." As it turns out, techno-nationalism is alive and well but not in the way I had envisioned. (I am still correct on technical points since [1] what's transpired concerns services not goods and [2] it's a government ban instead of a consumer boycott). The jingoistic Modi government apparently couldn't help itself from taking a swipe at China.

Nationalism aside, Modi & co. are hitting China in a way that inflicts less damage on India. True, India still cannot restrict the purchase of PRC-sourced electronic equipment since they have limited domestic manufacturing capabilities for smartphones, 5G infrastructure, and so on. But, India has no lack whatsoever of software writing talent. So, India has banned Bytedance of China's TikTok app, nearly a third of whose users are in India:
For thousands of Indian content creators [...] TikTok was a window into fame and fortune. But on Tuesday, the app, owned by China's ByteDance, went blank on phones across India after the government banned it along with 58 other Chinese-origin apps which it considered a threat to national sovereignty. The move came weeks after a deadly skirmish between Indian and Chinese soldiers along the disputed Himalayan border.
So the first key difference is that the government banned TikTok instead of there being a user backlash against the app (though some users support the Indian government's move):
TikTok was a sensation in India. With more than 600 million downloads, India accounted for 30 percent of its two billion downloads worldwide. ByteDance planned to invest $1bn in India, its top growth market where it employs 2,000 people [...]

Unlike Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, TikTok found resonance in India's hinterland as well as its cities, thanks to its less elaborate user interface, background music options and various special effects. Users - who ranged from top Bollywood stars to people in remote villages who became mini-celebrities - posted a wide variety of content, though jokes, dance clips and videos related to India's thriving movie industry dominated the platform.
And second--this is probably the key to the Modi government's thinking--there aren't many difficulties in cooking up homegrown TikTok alternatives. India is exceedingly good at software development, so why rely on China's?
Indian video-creation apps like Roposo, described on Google's app store as "India's own video app", and another named Chingari are likely to see a popularity surge after the TikTok ban.
Like Huawei, ZTE, and other Chinese telecoms firms, ByteDance's fate in overseas markets is inevitably tied to the PRC's image abroad. It's too bad since ByteDance has actually done more than you would expect to customize its offerings in overseas markets. It's the "reward" it gets from being a Chinese concern circa 2020.