US Obesity & Stupidity: Barr, Pompeo & Trump

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 12/28/2020 02:49:00 PM

Who's the fattest of them all? Everyone else's well-being may be victims of their brainless girth.

[WARNING: In the spirit of Trump's disdain for political correctness, I am waiving it for this post, although the subjects here fully deserve the opprobrium they receive.] I do not need any encouragement to poke fun at American obesity since I've always considered it as part of US descent into, ah, fatheadedness. Prominent examples of US decline are its recent political class: Chicken Barr, Portly Pomepo and Plump Trump. These lard-assed eater-leaders exemplify current Americanness to the rest of the world--fat and obnoxiously loud despite having nothing good to say (or do). While busy wrecking the United States--and the rest of the world by sheer dint of America's influence and reach--the question is posed: How can the planet be saved from more malevolent Yankee lardasses?

This post was inspired by a Quora question asking who is the most obese among these biggies. I'm not entirely certain, but I'd say (1) Barr, (2) Pompeo, (3) Trump in terms of body mass index. No matter; all are comfortably obese. The more important question is the relation between obesity and stupidity as the title states: Trump and Pompeo have teamed up to destroy America's reputation abroad. Barr has done the same to the Department of Justice but lost Trump's favor anyway. That's some reward for longtime sycophancy.

Now, the evidence is not clear on whether low IQ leads to being fat or the other way around. Is it that fatsos like these cannot comprehend what it takes to maintain one's health, or that being fat has deleterious effects on cognitive functioning? That chicken-and-egg question remains unresolved. (In terms of sheer idiocy, Trump's idea that minimal exertion is the key to health literally takes the cake[s].) Still, one can probably make the intermediate argument that low IQ is an obesity risk based on existing research on the subject matter:

Although the present findings provide valuable information on the link between low IQ and obesity, it is important to understand that IQ is a nonmodifiable risk factor that is rarely assessed in the general population. Therefore, the development of obesity prevention programs focusing on intelligence is difficult to implement. Nevertheless, IQ may be regularly assessed in specific situations such as the follow‐up of children with developmental difficulties or the follow‐up of adults with psychiatric disorders. Our findings suggest that low IQ is an independent risk factor for obesity even after adjusting for several potential confounding factors. Thus, we believe that individuals with low cognitive abilities should be screened for obesity on a regular basis. Furthermore, the management of individuals with low IQ should be transdisciplinary, and should involve several health professionals (eg, dietitian, physiotherapist, and general practitioner) in order to evaluate their health behaviors (eg, diet and physical activity) that may lead to obesity.

They say that people choose the leaders they deserve. In the US case, you can at least vouch for its leaders exemplifying the, ah, width and breadth of its population. Physique-wise, and I would argue intellect-wise, these three are representative democracy weighing in fully on leadership attributes. 

Stopping Americans from electing obese people--who then put even more of their kind in leadership positions--is probably an overlooked way to avoid further American damage to the rest of the world. Given current trends, though, non-obese people are becoming an endangered species Stateside, so too bad for us all.

The British Empire Died on 1 September 2020

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 12/14/2020 03:04:00 PM

The chief architect of British decline at "work".

What marks the end of Britain's dominance in world affairs? That question has always been tied to that on British identity in the post-WWII era. To be sure, there are some who would say the ascent of the United States relative to the United Kingdom's fall rendered that debate moot a long time ago. (And many now question whether the US remains hegemonic, anyway.) Regardless, there have been bits of evidence to suggest how Britain still plays an outsized role in global affairs even after its numerous former territories--most notably India--became independent. 

Prominent among these has been London's status as a global financial capital. Many have argued that, at least until recently, London vied with New York for this status. Brexit largely put paid to that argument--not so much that New York is outperforming London so much as London has slumped so far back of New York (even if NY is not appreciably moving ahead). 

For me, then, London's loss as a global financial capital reached its apotheosis a few months ago. On 1 September 2020, a single US-listed firm, Apple, was worth more than the entire 100 corporations making up the FTSE 100 stock index:

Apple has notched up another milestone by overtaking the combined market value of the entire FTSE 100 index of the UK’s biggest publicly listed companies.

The iPhone and iMac maker has had a stellar performance this year with its share price rising an astonishing 75%, and last month it became the first US company to reach a $2tn (£1.48tn) market value. It has since climbed even further, reaching a new record of $2.268tn (£1.69tn) in early US trading on Tuesday.

In contrast London’s blue-chip companies, from Shell to HSBC, have lost nearly a quarter of their combined value since the start of the year. On Tuesday the FTSE 100 was down by 1.7% to 5862, its lowest level since the middle of May. In total the index is valued at £1.5tn.

Despite COVID-19 inflicting more damage Stateside than the UK, the US benefits from having many more "winners" in the pandemic era: technology companies offering the tools people living and working from home rely on nowadays. By contrast, British companies are in old school industries that have been losers during the pandemic. Think of the likes in energy, financial services, or even worse still, tobacco:

But the [FTSE 100] index has also missed out on the technology boom seen in the US and elsewhere during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Businesses in tech and e-commerce, from Apple and Amazon to online retailers, have benefited from consumers turning to digital services for entertainment and shopping while stuck at home during lockdown. The FTSE 100 is light on technology businesses and heavily populated by companies badly affected by the pandemic in sectors including property, aviation, hospitality and bricks-and-mortar retail.

Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at, said: “The FTSE 100 is a dinosaur, full of rather lumbering old-world stocks with precious little growth to offer. The FTSE 100 is a very good proxy for the global economy, which we know is on its knees. And if not exposed to the global economy (non-sterling earners), then they are fully exposed to the UK economy (eg Lloyds, RBS), which is doing worse than peers, we think.”

Years of British stock underperformance have dispelled the argument the UK is economically better off outside the European Union. Yet, the beating UK stocks have received post-Brexit vote has been such that people are beginning to look at them as promising dirt-cheap investments [1. 2]. The larger point remains: any "empire" worthy of the name would be able to command higher valuations befitting the regard others show it instead of being bargain basement buys. Insofar as UK plc has been deemed nearly worthless as evidenced by the discount placed on British companies, 1 September marked an important milestone showing just how far Blighty's standing has fallen in global league tables.  

The British Empire died on 1 September 2020, indeed.

Trump's Losing War on ESG Investing

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 12/06/2020 03:32:00 PM

Funds like this one from BlackRock's iShares now list ESG no-nos. Trumpists couldn't care less.

The Trump administration is essentially a throwback to a time when white men ruled the world, burned fossil fuels with wild abandon, and were unapologetic about America's dodgy history concerning racism. So, it was perhaps inevitable that one of its last few efforts on the way out the door was to throw a middle finger to the very idea of environmental, social and governance [ESG] investing. You see, the US government manages any number of funds, including those of government employees for retirement. 

The Department of Labor manages one of these, and under the guise of maximizing returns and not entertaining misguided leftist ideas about being politically correct while investing, it has ruled out ESG criteria:

In a new Department of Labor (DOL) rule issued on October 30, the DOL essentially prohibits the use of widely used environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors in selecting investments for employee retirement plans...

For 30 years, however, the US Department of Labor has been considering whether recommending these kinds of investments in employee retirement accounts - that is, those factors which look at other than financial objectives - might be problematic. Their concern was that by focusing on the ESG needs, a manager using ESG products was not focusing attention on the client's financial goals - which is the basic fiduciary requirement under DOL rules.

Alike with many of these parting shots from the Trump administration, however, the mad rush to get them done make them vulnerable to rollbacks when Joe Biden becomes president.

Unlike many DOL rules, which typically take at least 18 months and often years to be passed, the ESG rule was pushed through at "warp speed," commented Bryan McGannon of US SIF, a sustainable business policy group. But it is considered likely that litigation under the Administrative Procedures Act may reverse the rule or that an incoming Biden administration may well act to reverse the rule. The Biden administration has been predicted to be far more sympathetic to ESG issues and is expected by some to begin reversing controversial Trump administration policies such as this.

In the end, the large and growing interest from investors in ESG investments as well as the likely hostility of the incoming administration to the new rule make it unlikely that the rule will stand. Moreover, the current research and performance history demonstrate that it probably shouldn't.

I think the economic rationale of ESG will ultimately prove irresistible anyway. Arms, energy and tobacco are your archetypal sunset industries, and stock valuations do bear this assertion out. The days of--shall we call it antisocial investing?--are numbered.

Trump's Expanding PRC Blacklist: CNOOC, SMIC

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 12/01/2020 06:59:00 PM

If you think Trump's 2020 electoral defeat at the hands of Joe Biden have slowed his anti-China instincts, then you are sadly mistaken. Given that Biden has historically been sanguine about free trade, his policies towards China are expected to be more moderate than the orange China-basher. To preempt Biden, therefore, the Trump administration is speeding up plans to blacklist even more state-owned companies over their Communist Party links. 

Reuters reports that China's largest energy company, CNOOC, and its largest chipmaker, SMIC. In reaction, their share prices declined significantly:

The Department of Defense (DOD) is poised to designate four more Chinese companies as owned or controlled by the Chinese military, bringing the total number to 35. A recent executive order issued by President Donald Trump would prevent U.S. investors from buying securities of the blacklisted firms starting late next year.

It was not immediately clear when the new additions to the blacklist would be published in the Federal Register, making the move official. But the list includes China Construction Technology Co Ltd and China International Engineering Consulting Corp, as well as Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) and China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC), according to the document seen by Reuters and four sources.

SMIC said it continued “to engage constructively and openly with the U.S. government” and that its products and services were solely for civilian and commercial use. “The Company has no relationship with the Chinese military and does not manufacture for any military end-users or end-uses,” it said in a statement. Shares in SMIC closed 2.7% lower on Monday.

CNOOC’s listed unit CNOOC Ltd, whose shares fell by almost 14% on Monday, said in a statement that it had checked with its parent and no formal notice from relevant U.S. authorities had been received.

What is the practical implication of this move, though? As mentioned, Biden will probably roll things back to try and bring the temperature down in Sino-US relations. What's more, some US fund managers may have to divest their holdings in these large PRC SOEs:

This month, the White House published an executive order, first reported by Reuters, that sought to give teeth to the list by prohibiting U.S. investors from buying securities of the blacklisted companies from November 2021.

The directive is unlikely to deal the firms a serious blow, experts said, due to its limited scope, uncertainty about the stance of the Biden administration and already-scant holdings by U.S. funds.

Still, top U.S. asset managers Vanguard Group and BlackRock Inc each own about 1% of shares of CNOOC’s listed unit CNOOC Ltd, and together own roughly 4% of outstanding shares of SMIC, disclosures show.

Like Trump's other scorched earth measures, the intent is not only meant to irreparably harm relations such that Biden's team can't fix them but to also show action on anti-China rhetoric. Unfortunately, Trump remains a political force Stateside, and he will be able to point to actions like this in the future should he choose to run again or endorse allies or relatives running for office.