Economics

Around 97% of existing yuan-denominated bonds hold ratings of double-A to triple-A—the best a company can get.

That is from Fiona Law, cited by Christopher Balding, and ultimately Alex Frangos, those are ratings from Chinese sources.  Law reports:

With nine Chinese ratings firms to choose among, “bond issuers are encouraged to pick the highest ratings among agencies,” said Guan Jianzhong, chairman of Dagong Global, the country’s third-biggest ratings company in terms of market share. The fact that the bonds are rated double-A-minus or above, they “are not without risks,” he said.

By the way, the Shanghai Composite Index closes down 8.5%.

We’re going to be hearing more about this topic I suspect, so let’s start by looking at some of the evidence.  For now I’ll turn the microphone over to Xuemin (Sterling) Yan and Zhe Zhang (pdf):

We show that the positive relation between institutional ownership and future stock returns documented in Gompers and Metrick (2001) is driven by short-term institutions. Furthermore, short-term institutions’ trading forecasts future stock returns. This predictability does not reverse in the long run and is stronger for small and growth stocks. Short-term institutions’ trading is also positively related to future earnings surprises. By contrast, long-term institutions’ trading does not forecast future returns, nor is it related to future earnings news. Our results are consistent with the view that short-term institutions are better informed and they trade actively to exploit their informational advantage.

And here is from the Geoff Warren 2014 survey (pdf):

The link between investor short-termism and corporate myopia is not clear cut – While there is some evidence in support of such a link, it is by no mean compelling. Laverty (1996) examines arguments on the existence of short-termism, and points out there is: (1) no clear evidence of flawed short-term oriented management practices; (2) only mixed evidence that stock market myopia encourages corporate short-termism, noting for instance findings of positive stock market reactions to long-term investment by some papers; and, (3) an absence of empirical support for the supposed influence of ‘fluid capital’ on corporate behaviour.

Results of a survey of company management by Marston and Craven (1998) also question the extent to which institutional investors are short-term in focus. While their survey uncovers a perception that sell-side (broking) analysts are focused on the short-term, company management did not consider this the case for buy-side analysts and fund managers. When asked if the buy-side was too concerned with short-term profit opportunities, only 21% agreed while 53% disagreed.

There is more evidence to consider, but I will start by introducing the idea that the standard anti-publicly traded company tropes are not self-evidently true, or at the very least we do not know them to be true.

They are not good, as evidenced by a new paper by Buggle and Nafziger (pdf):

This paper examines the long-run consequences of serfdom in the countries of the former Russian Empire. We combine novel data measuring the intensity of labor coercion on the district level in 1861 with several intermediate and present-day outcomes. Our results show that past serfdom goes along with lower economic well-being today. We apply an instrumental variable strategy that exploits the transfer of serfs on monastic lands in 1764 to establish a causal link between past serfdom and current economic development. Tracking the evolution of city populations throughout Soviet times corroborates the finding of persistent economic differences. Furthermore, our results suggest a political economy mechanisms linking higher historical economic inequality with worse public goods provision (roads and education), as well as lower urbanization and structural change towards factory production, as explanation for this persistence. We do not find differences in contemporaneous cultural attitudes and preferences.

The pointer is from Pseudoerasmus.

Arresting the central bank’s governor. Emptying its vaults. Appealing to Moscow for help.

These were the elements of a covert plan to return Greece to the drachma hatched by members of the Left Platform faction of Greece’s governing Syriza party.

That is from the FT, and there is more:

The plan demonstrates the apparently ruthless determination of Syriza’s far leftists to pursue their political aims — but also their lack of awareness of the workings of the eurozone financial system.

For one thing, the vaults at the Nomismatokopeion currently hold only about €10bn of cash — enough to keep the country afloat for only a few weeks but not the estimated six to eight months required to prepare, test and launch a new currency.

The Syriza government would have quickly found the country’s stash of banknotes unusable. Nor would they be able to print more €10 and €20 banknotes: From the moment the government took over the mint, the European Central Bank would declare Greek euros as counterfeit, “putting anyone who tried to buy something with them at risk of being arrested for forgery,” said a senior central bank official.

“The consequences would be disastrous. Greece would be isolated from the international financial system with its banks unable to function and its euros worthless,” the official added.

For all the flaws of the euro, the case for it has never been made more effectively.

Overall, the dogmatic argument that a financial transactions tax is unworkable is clearly false. It operates in a lot of countries. The wide-eyed hope that such a tax can be a truly major revenue source also seems to be false. In part because of concerns over the risk of creating counterproductive incentives–either just to structure transactions in a way that minimizes such a tax or even to react in a way that reduces liquidity and increases volatility in financial markets–the rate at which such taxes are set is typically pretty low. As the authors write, “the idea that an FTT can raise vast amounts
of revenue—1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) or more—has proved inconsistent with actual experience with such taxes.”

The question with any tax is not whether it is perfect, because every real-world tax has some undesirable incentive effects. The question is whether a certain tax might have a useful role to play as part of the overall portfolio of real-world taxes. For what it’s worth, this particular review of the evidence leaves me skeptical that expanding the currently existing US financial transactions tax from its very low present level would be a useful step.

That is from Timothy Taylor.

Rolls-Royce will be celebrating Singapore’s 50th year of independence with a special bespoke luxury car, the first time the carmaker has commissioned a car to celebrate the anniversary of a country.

Based on the Ghost line of vehicles, the limited edition “SG50 Ghost Series II” bears the red and white colors of Singapore’s flag. The white exterior will feature red trim, while the interior seats are dark red in color, with the city’s iconic half-fish, half-lion Merlion symbol stitched into the four headrests.

Unfortunately only one model will be released for sale, for $290,000.  And that is not all:

Singapore’s independence day falls on August 9, and is slated to be the country’s biggest anniversary celebration ever. Other brands that have released special products to mark the day include Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Singapore Special Edition watch, a Singapore Airlines plane bearing a special motif, and Ayam Brand’s specially designed sardine cans.

The story is here, and perhaps I will be blogging Singapore a bit more as the country’s fiftieth anniversary approaches.  Who would have thought?

An excellent collection, edited by Jonathan Anomaly, Geoffrey Brennan, Michael C. Munger, and Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, self-recommending.  If I wanted a one-stop collection on PPE for teaching purposes, this exactly what I would use.

Rent Control in Stockholm

by on July 24, 2015 at 7:31 am in Data Source, Economics | Permalink

Here’s an interesting letter from “Stockholm” to Seattle

Dear Seattle,

I am writing to you because I heard that you are looking at rent control.

Seattle, you need to ask your citizens this: How would citizens like it if they walked into a rental agency and the agent told them to register and come back in 10 years?

stockholm1

I’m not joking. The image above is a scan of a booklet sent to a rental applicant by Stockholm City Council’s rental housing service. See those numbers on the map? That’s the waiting time for an apartment in years. Yes, years. Look at the inner city – people are waiting for 10-20 years to get a rental apartment, and around 7-8 years in my suburbs. (Red keys = new apartments, green keys = existing apartments).

Stockholm City Council now has an official housing queue, where 1 day waiting = 1 point. To get an apartment you need both money for the rent and enough points to be the first in line. Recently an apartment in inner Stockholm became available. In just 5 days, 2000 people had applied for the apartment. The person who got the apartment had been waiting in the official housing queue since 1989!

Stockholm2

In addition to Soviet-level shortages, the letter writer discusses a number of other effects of rent controls in Stockholm including rental units converted to condominiums and a division of renters into original recipients who are guaranteed low rates and who thus never move and the newly arrived who have to sublet at higher rates or share crowded space. All of these, of course, are classic consequences of rent controls.

Addendum: More details on Sweden’s rent-setting system can be found here, statistics (in Swedish) on rental availability in Stockhom are here and a useful analysis of the Swedish housing crisis with more details on various policies (e.g. new construction is exempt for 15 years but there isn’t nearly enough) is here. Jenkins wrote a comprehensive review of the literature on rent controls in 2009 that echoed what Navarro said in 1985 “the economics profession has reached a rare consensus: Rent control creates many more problems than it solves.”

Hat tip to Bjorn and Niclas who confirmed to me the situation in Stockholm and to Peter for the original link.

Washington fact of the day

by on July 24, 2015 at 12:59 am in Current Affairs, Economics | Permalink

…San Francisco does not have a massive network of regional public transit connecting hundreds of different high-density, walkable communities to the city. In fact, neighborhoods that foster urban life and convenience are tremendously scarce in the Bay Area. All of this means the pressure on San Francisco has proven to be even greater than other cities in the country.

Regardless of these realities, most San Francisco progressives chose to stick with their familiar stance of opposing new development, positioning themselves as defenders of the city’s physical character. Instead of forming a pro-growth coalition with business and labor, most of the San Francisco Left made an enduring alliance with home-owning NIMBYs. It became one of the peculiar features of San Francisco that exclusionary housing politics got labeled “progressive.” (Organized labor remained a major political force throughout this time period, and has allied with both pro-growth and anti-growth forces, depending on the issue.) Over the years, these anti-development sentiments were translated into restrictive zoning, the most cumbersome planning and building approval process in the country, and all kinds of laws and rules that make it uniquely difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to add housing in San Francisco.

That is from Jed Kolko, hat tip to Conor Sen.

University of California President Janet Napolitano announced Wednesday the school will become the first to raise the on-campus minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“This is the right thing to do,” Napolitano said at a meeting in San Francisco. “For our workers and their families, for our mission and values, and to enhance UC’s leadership role by becoming the first public university in the United States to voluntarily establish a minimum wage of 15 dollars.”

The raise will benefit college employees who work more than 20 hours a week. It will also be applied to thousands of contractors working with the school.

There is more here, via NinjaEconomics.

The word is now in, Nikkei is the buyer, but Pearson is keeping The Economist.

I find the Financial Times works well as a purely digital product, and of the major newspapers it is the one I can most easily imagine reading digital only.  From a newspaper I care not only about the amount of absolute content, but also the sense that I haven’t “missed anything.”  Often I find this feeling of completeness hard to get from digital editions, even when they are fairly well done.  There is too much content, with too many overlapping categories, to organize everything neatly.  There is a new set of stories up before I am sure I really have culled through the old.  The FT runs fewer stories, has fewer sections and content areas, and the wonderful Saturday edition has a relatively transparent structure which I can navigate on-line.

Would it be so terrible for other newspapers to concentrate their arts and leisure coverage, or their book reviews, on one or two days of the week?  Digitalization might eventually bring that about, for greater ease of navigation.  In the digital world, “less content” seems less miserly, because a universe of alternative content is at your fingertips in any case.

One equilibrium is that more newspapers copy the FT in their greater focus.  Another equilibrium is that only the FT goes digital only.  A third option is that the home page dies altogether, even for major newspapers, and this difference between the FT and other papers ceases to matter altogether.

Here is a good Nieman article on the economics of the FT.

Addendum: Here is Peter Thai Larsen: “In 1987 Pearson sold the FT’s building to a Japanese buyer and kept the paper. Now it’s selling the paper and keeping the building. Discuss.”

Recent overweighting to stem A-share plunge has made China Securities Finance Corp (CSF), central bank-backed refinancing institution, among top 10 shareholders of many listed-firms, reported Securities Times on Wednesday.

Among all investments, eight firms have been confirmed of the CSF’s stake, which include property developer Dulexe Family, Hualan Biological Engineering, resource purifying developer SJ Environment Protection, Yunnan Tin Company Group, Fujian Cosunter Pharmaceutical Co, Hunan Er-Kang Pharmaceutical Co, digital map provider NavInfo Co, and retailer Friendship&Apollo.

The CSF has been listed as the second-largest holder of tradable shares at Cosunter Pharmaceutical, third largest at SJ Environment Protection, and fifth-largest shareholders at Yunnan Tin Company, according to the Times citing disclosures to Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges.

There is more here, by ChinaDaily, via Patrick Chovanec.  I wonder how they are planning to unwind all of those share purchases?

Patents should be made more difficult to obtain, say by raising the obviousness standard or more speculatively by requiring patent terms to vary with investment. Aside from these types of changes, however, damages for infringement can also be made more reasonable. The issue is especially pronounced for design patents.

In the recent Apple v. Samsung case, the infringement of a handful of “look and feel” design patents resulted in Apple being awarded Samsung’s total profits on the infringing devices. A friend of the court brief from industry heavyweights, Dell, eBay, Facebook, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Limelight Networks, Newegg, and SAS Institute explains:

In this closely watched case, the panel upheld a jury’s award of the entirety of Samsung’s profits on smartphones that were found to have infringed three Apple design patents relating to a portion of the iPhone’s outer shell and one graphical-user-interface screen. Although the design patents covered only minor features of those complex electronic devices, the panel rejected Samsung’s argument that damages must be limited to the profits made from those infringing features. See slip op. 25-28. It instead concluded that the relevant statute, 35 U.S.C. § 289, “explicitly authorizes the award of total profit from the article of manufacture bearing the patented design.” Id. at 26-27. Viewing the smartphone as a single “article of manufacture,” the panel held that the statute required it to award the total profit where the “innards of Samsung’s smartphones were not sold separately from their shells as distinct articles of manufacture to ordinary purchasers.” Id. at 27-28.

A typical device might involve many design elements and what the total profit rule means is that a finding of infringement on any of these elements can get you all of the profits. The total profits rule is an invitation to rent seek. For a complex product, trawling the patent databases will almost always find some handful of patents that some court might rule were infringed. Defendants are put in the unenviable position of having to be right one hundred percent of the time while trawls need only be right once.

Do we really want to turn serifs into billion-dollar weapons of commercial war?

Hat tip: Mark Thorson.

Addendum: Keep in mind the general point: Patents are supposed to protect innovators but when weak claims of imitation are easily made and well-rewarded then patent law can harm innovators and reduce innovation, as the Tabarrok Curve illustrates.

I mean that question quite um…seriously.

Paul Krugman, who I believe originated the concept, recently defined it as follows: “…someone distinguished by his faith in received orthodoxy no matter the evidence.”  I would rather have something less normative and also more specific.

I think of it this way: the People are Very Serious if they realize that common sense morality must, to a considerable extent, rule politics.  At least if voters are watching.

So what is common sense morality in this context?  It embodies a number of propositions, including, for instance (with cultural variants across nations):

1. Political decisions should be based on what people and institutions deserve, based on their prior conduct and also on their contributions to the general good.

2. Economic nationalism.

3. Traditional morality, based on respect for authority, repayment of debts, savings, and hard work.

4. Inflation is bad, in part because it violates #1 and #3, and in the case of the eurozone it often violates #2 as well.

5. “I don’t care what you all say, the government should be able to find some way of arranging things so that I don’t have to suffer too badly from this.”

Now here’s the thing: common sense morality very often is wrong, or when it is right that is often with qualifications.

Therefore at the margin there is almost always a way to improve on what the Very Serious People are pushing for.  The Very Serious People realize this themselves, though not usually to the full extent, because they have been cognitively captured by their situations.  They see themselves as “a wee bit off due to political constraints,” instead of “a fair amount off due to political constraints.”  So there is usually some quite justified criticism of the Very Serious People.  Common sense morality is needed at some level, but still at the margin we wish to deviate from it.

That said, it is a big mistake to try to throw the Very Serious People under the bus.  The Very Serious People understand pretty well how to deal with a public which believes in some version of 1-5, and furthermore they often know that such public beliefs, whatever their limitations, are useful too.  Anyone else trying to manage the situation may come up with some favorable breakthroughs, but also may make a total hash of it, as was the case with Syriza.  Syriza failed to realize the import of 1-5 for both domestic and foreign politics,and so they drove the Greek economy to the point of total desperation.  There is a nested game going on, where the public has a big say on the heavily publicized issues, and the politicians must in some way heed that.

If you want to try the “replace the Very Serious People” game, and assume the subsequent risks, that is a judgment which can be made.  The mistake is to think that the partial wrongness of the Very Serious People is necessarily a reason to take matters out of their hands.

Addendum: Via Tim, here is the entry on Very Serious People on RationalWiki, it seems Atrios first put forward the concept.  And here are the remarks of Tsipras.