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Frontline special: To Catch a Trader – The fall of king of hedge fund, SAC.
Fantastic journalism and story.
American Dream is all about upward mobility. But it depends on how you define income mobility.
According to the recent research by San Francisco Fed, America is indeed very mobile when mobility is defined by absolute mobility: each generation achieves a higher economic status than the prior generation. But if mobility is measured by relative mobility, the extent to which individuals can change rank in the income distribution relative to their parents, America is much less mobile.
Two graphs to illustrate the story (graph courtesy of SF Fed):
The below graph shows the average growth rate by decade in the US since 1790. The recent decade, 2000-2009, ranks the bottom 2nd. The only worse decade was 1930s. This helps to put a lot of things into perspective.
(Note: the small number on the bar indicates the ranking; graph courtesy of Hoisington Investment Management)
Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates updates his outlook on the Europe, the US and emerging markets, and what keeps him up at night.
His view that the success of the great deleveraging depends on the right balance between fiscal austerity and debt monetization is interesting and insightful.
The rise of rentership in the US, and the decline of home ownership.
In the post-bust climate, renting has emerged as a much more economically efficient way to pay for housing. A one-year lease represents a far less onerous financial obligation than a 30-year mortgage. It's difficult to get into too much financial trouble as a renter. The homeownership rate has fallen from its peak in 2006 to 65.4% today. The foreclosure crisis, which has caused millions of Americans to turn over homes to lenders, is responsible for much of this decline. What's more, given the weak labor market and higher lending standards, more Americans today have a difficult time scraping together the required down payments.
For an increasing number of Americans, though, it simply makes more sense to rent these days. According to Moody's, by late 2011 it was cheaper to rent than to own in 72% of American metropolitan areas, up from 54% a decade ago. And the more people who do it, the more socially acceptable and desirable it becomes. The decline in the ownership rate means that about three million more households rent today than did at the height of the bubble.
It's tempting to view the rise of rentership as an economic step backward. Renters can't build up equity, and they have less control over their living standards than owners. Renting is generally seen as something you do when you've failed as a homeowner or are not yet ready to be one. But I'd argue the rise of rentership is a sign of a system adapting—albeit too slowly—to new realities.
The U.S. economy needs the dynamism that renting enables as much as—if not more than—it needs the stability that ownership engenders. In the current economy, there are vast gulfs between the employment pictures in different regions and states, from 12% unemployment in Nevada to 3% unemployment in North Dakota. But a steelworker in Buffalo, or an underemployed construction worker in Las Vegas, can't easily take his skills to where they are needed in North Dakota or Wyoming if he's underwater on his mortgage. Economists, in fact, have found that there is frequently a correlation between persistently high local unemployment rates and high levels of homeownership.
WSJ essay on tastes of Chinese:
Apple has taken China by storm. A Starbucks can be found on practically every major street corner in coastal cities and beyond. From Nike to Buick to Siemens, Chinese consumers actively prefer Western brands over their domestic competitors. The rise of microbloggers, the popularity of rock bands with names like Hutong Fist and Catcher in the Rye, and even the newfound popularity of Christmas all seem to point toward a growing Westernization.
But don't be deceived by appearances. Consumers in China aren't becoming "Western." They are increasingly modern and international, but they remain distinctly Chinese. If I've learned anything from my 20 years working as an advertising executive in China, it is that successful Western brands craft their message here to be "global," not "foreign"—so that they can become vessels of Chinese culture.
Understanding China's consumer culture is a good starting point for understanding the nation itself, as it races toward superpower status. Though the country's economy and society are evolving rapidly, the underlying cultural blueprint has remained more or less constant for thousands of years. China is a Confucian society, a quixotic combination of top-down patriarchy and bottom-up social mobility. Citizens are driven by an ever-present conflict between standing out and fitting in, between ambition and regimentation. In Chinese society, individuals have no identity apart from obligations to, and acknowledgment by, others. The clan and nation are the eternal pillars of identity. Western individualism—the idea of defining oneself independent of society—doesn't exist.
To win a following among Chinese buyers, brands have to follow three rules. First and most important, products that are consumed in public, directly or indirectly, command huge price premiums relative to goods used in private…The second rule is that the benefits of a product should be external, not internal. Even for luxury goods, celebrating individualism—with familiar Western notions like "what I want" and "how I feel"—doesn't work in China…The last rule for positioning a brand in China is that products must address the need to navigate the crosscurrents of ambition and regimentation, of standing out while fitting in. Men want to succeed without violating the rules of the game, which is why wealthier individuals prefer Audis or BMWs over flashy Maseratis.