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Monthly Archives: October 2021

U.S. Homebuilders Confidence and Homebuyers Confidence Diverged Substantially

Source : Bloomberg

Chart: China Reduced Holdings of U.S. Treasuries

Source : Bloomberg

Humour: News in Cartoons

Nations Agree to 15% Minimum Corporate Tax Rate

Daniel Thomas wrote . . . . . . . . .

Most of the world’s nations have signed up to a historic deal to ensure big companies pay a fairer share of tax.

A hundred and thirty six countries agreed to enforce a corporate tax rate of at least 15% and a fairer system of taxing profits where they are earned.

It follows concern that multinational companies are re-routing their profits through low tax jurisdictions.

Countries including Ireland had opposed the deal but have now agreed to the policy.

UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the deal would “upgrade the global tax system for the modern age”.

“We now have a clear path to a fairer tax system, where large global players pay their fair share wherever they do business,” he said.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organisation, has led talks on a minimum rate for a decade.

It said the deal could bring in an extra $150bn (£108bn) of tax a year, bolstering economies as they recover from Covid.

Yet it also said it did not seek to “eliminate” tax competition between countries, only to limit it.

The floor under corporate tax will come in from 2023. Countries will also have more scope to tax multinational companies operating within their borders, even if they don’t have a physical presence there.

The move – which is expected to hit digital giants like Amazon and Facebook – will affect firms with global sales above 20 billion euros (£17bn) and profit margins above 10%.

A quarter of any profits they make above the 10% threshold will be reallocated to the countries where they were earned and taxed there.

“[This] is a far-reaching agreement which ensures our international tax system is fit for purpose in a digitalised and globalised world economy,” said OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann.

“We must now work swiftly and diligently to ensure the effective implementation of this major reform.”

This deal marks a sweeping change in approach when it comes to taxing big global companies.

In the past, countries would frequently compete with one another to offer an attractive deal to multinationals. It made sense when those companies might come in, set up a factory and create jobs. They were, you could say, giving something back.

But the new digital era giants have become adept at simply moving profits around, from the regions where they do business to those where they will pay the lowest taxes. Good news for tax havens, bad news for everyone else.

The new system is meant to minimise opportunities for profit shifting, and ensure that the largest businesses pay at least some of their taxes where they do business, rather than where they choose to have their headquarters.

Some 136 countries have signed up – an achievement in itself. But inevitably there will be losers as well as winners.

‘Race to the bottom’

Ireland, Hungary and Estonia – all of which have corporate tax rates below 15% – at first resisted the plan but are now on board.

Ireland currently has a rate of 12.5%, which has helped it attract large amounts of foreign investment and become a base for big US firms such as Apple. But after securing a compromise on the wording of the agreement, Finance Minister Pascal Donohoe said he was “absolutely certain” Ireland’s interests were served by being part of the deal.

However, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have not yet signed up to the plan.

The pact resolves a spat between the US and countries such as the UK and France, which had threatened a digital tax on big mainly American tech firms.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said: “As of this morning, virtually the entire global economy has decided to end the race to the bottom on corporate taxation.

“Rather than competing on our ability to offer low corporate rates, America will now compete on the skills of our workers and our capacity to innovate, which is a race we can win.”

‘Off the hook’

Facebook welcomed the deal, saying it has long called for reform of global tax rules.

“We recognise this could mean paying more tax, and in different places,” said Nick Clegg, its vice president for global affairs. “The tax system needs to command public confidence, while giving certainty and stability to businesses. We are pleased to see an emerging international consensus.”

But Argentine economy minister Martin Guzman said the proposals would do little to help developing countries. Despite agreeing to the pact, he had argued for a tax rate of at least 21%.

Oxfam also said the 15% rate was too low and would “let big offenders… off the hook”. The corporate tax rate in industrialised countries averages at 23.5%, well above the agreed 15% floor.

Oxfam’s tax policy lead Susana Ruiz said: “The world is experiencing the largest increase in poverty in decades and a massive explosion in inequality but this deal will do little or nothing to halt either. Instead, it is already being seen by some wealthy nations as an excuse to cut domestic corporate tax rates, risking a new race to the bottom.”


Source : BBC

政府是推手也是對手 — 恆大危機與中國房地產熱的根源

作者: 梁錫嵐 . . . . . . . .

今年 9 月,中國恆大未能按期向海外債券持有人支付利息,財務數據顯示其負債近 2 萬億人民幣。10 月,中國房地產企業(以下簡稱房企)「花樣年」、「當代置業」、「新力」也指無法如期支付債券利息。有人擔憂「恆大」成為另一個「雷曼」、中國房地產業的問題會觸發經濟危機。

恆大問題直接觸發經濟危機的可能性不大。2008 次貸危機的近因是向貧困者銷售高利息的房貸,而不管長期的還貸問題。恆大事件的近因,則是中國政府要求房企「去槓桿」的政策,限制負債過多的企業再借新債,目的正是避免泡沫爆破。最近,中國人民銀行指恆大問題對金融市場的風險可控。中國銀行系統有約 40-45 萬億資產,以及 30 萬億借出的貸款。恆大的債務數目相對小。

不過,這次事件仍顯示了房地產業債務高的問題,而且將部分債務轉嫁給各層供應商,資金鏈斷裂時對供應商、勞動者造成傷害,已購買期房的人也有收不到房屋的風險。另外,中國房地產自 1990 年代投資不斷增加、價格不斷上升,泡沫風險的問題仍然存在。

最近《華爾街日報》報道,習近平提出全面開徵房地產稅,卻遇黨内強烈反對,很可能削減試點城市。政府過去十多年也曾多次提出抑制樓市和房價的政策,但是成效不大。

究竟中國房地產業的債務為何高企?房地產投資和房價為何不斷上升?政府「去槓桿」、「房住不炒」的改革又有多大機會成功?我們將從幾方面分析,包括房地產業的融資與競爭狀況、中國整體的經濟政策及房地產政策、中央與地方政府的張力、房屋的投資品性質。

恆大為何債務高企?

房地產是一個高槓桿的行業。槓桿即房企只出項目的一部分起始資金,其餘則從各種途徑融資。房企融資的方式包括銀行借貸、在岸債券、離岸債券、延遲交錢給供應商、預售房屋。根據 2019 年第一季度數據,房企槓桿比例(總資產/股本)中位數是 2,即總資產約一半是債務,大型企業更達 3-5(見下圖)。房地產企業需要依賴槓桿,獲得更多投資、開發更多項目,搶佔市場份額。這種商業模式很受金融借貸政策、房屋購買政策影響。

恆大是中國第二大房地產企業,在 280 多個城市有 1,300 個項目。恆大的債務從約 2014 年開始大幅增長。

中央政府 2010 年起推出限購政策 ,收緊銀行對房企貸款,以穩定地價和樓價,防止投資過熱。2014-2017 年,中央政府要求房地產「去庫存」,減少商品房過剩、空置的情況(特別是在三、四綫城市),不鼓勵新的投資項目。其中一個方向是放寬城市戶口入籍,鼓勵農民入城購買房屋。三四綫城市購買量有提升,不過整體銷售量仍下降。有農民猶豫是否轉為城市戶口,因農村的各項服務正在改善,而且他們擔心會拿不到土地補償、三四綫城市缺少工作機會。

2014-2017 年,中國整體房地產銷售減弱,龍頭企業銷售卻上升。銀行對大型房企比較友好,故大型房企在融資方面相對較少困難。大型房企迅速對準一二綫城市的市場(其樓價仍在提升),並且可以在中小企退場時,低價購買土地。頭二十名房企的市場佔有率提升,其中頭十名(包括恆大)的升幅更高 [6]。2015 年樓市下滑,多家銀行向恆大批出 1,000 億元貸款額度,令市場認為恆大「大到不能倒」,引發更大投資、恆大更大規模的擴張,債務進一步上升。[7] 不過,政府已意識到房地產槓桿的問題。2016 年習近平提出「房住不炒」、「抑制房地產泡沫」,各地限購令加強。2020 年 8 月,政府提出「三道紅線」。恆大三項槓桿比率不達標,不能再借新債。其後,恆大流動性資金短缺的問題曝光。

房地產投資為何不斷上升?

房地產業不斷加大槓桿比例和債務,很可能導致泡沫。房地產投資不斷攀升,也會導致樓價不斷上升,影響人的基本生活和社會穩定,是多方不願見到的結果。究竟為何中國的房地產投資會不斷上升?

中國在 1949 年實行城鎮土地公有制,國企工作單位向職員提供房屋。當時的房屋是社會福利,只收很低的租金。沒有私營房屋,也沒有房企。房地產市場在 1990 年代開始發展,房企也在此時興起。此後,房地產業所佔 GDP 比例持續上升,槓桿問題也開始出現。

這樣的變化有三大原因,一是宏觀經濟週期及產業政策,二是地方財政問題,三是房屋變為投資工具。

(1) 宏觀經濟週期及產業政策

1978 年中國改革開放,開始引入私營經濟及外資,房屋也經歷了兩個階段的商品化。第一階段是 1979-1998 年,這時期房屋市場萌芽,不過房屋整體來說還是福利品。國企會為職工購買商品房,或以補貼價格向職工出售其住所。

從 80 年代開始,中國以發展出口導向的輕工業為主。通過向發達國家出口產品、壓低勞動者薪酬,資本獲得高額利潤,中國經濟增長。不過,1997 年亞洲金融危機,外需減少,中國面臨工業生產過剩、内需不足的問題。

中國政府此時採取擴大内需的政策,為資本尋找投資渠道,其中主要方向是發展城市建設與房地產市場。1998 年是房屋商品化第二階段,國家正式停止國企分配房屋的制度,發展「住房公積金」(類似強積金,購買房屋時可取用),放寬房屋貸款。從 1998-2002 年,中國人民銀行降低房貸利率五次,以鼓勵人買房。2012 年,中國金融機構借出的個人房貸達到 8.1 萬億人民幣,佔所有銀行貸款 16%。中國人民銀行也擴大房企借貸範圍、允許房企預售房屋。房企迅速膨脹和集中。1999 年,中國房企平均資產不足 5,000 萬,2007 年僅萬科一家公司的總資產就達到 950 億元。2008 年,福布斯中國富豪榜的前 100 名有三分一是地產商。

2007 年,就在全球金融危機爆發之前,房地產價格指數上揚幅度增加。這是因為製造業受挫,中小型企業選擇不再生產,而是投資房地產,以獲得更多利潤。2008 年金融危機,2009 年房地產價格指數九年以來首次下降。中央政府放寬銀行貸款,房屋項目的最低資本要求從 30% 降至 20%,個人購買房屋的首付(首期)也從價格的 30% 降至 20%。房地產再次成為推動經濟增長的工具。2017 年,中國房地產及相關產業(包括建築及銷售)佔 GDP 29%,高於許多發達國家的比例。

(2) 地方財政問題

1994 年,為改善中央政府入不敷出的情況,加強中央作宏觀調控職能(包括負責重大基礎建設、將富裕地區資源分給貧困或受災地區等),中國實施分稅制,地方稅收有更大部分需要上交中央。同時,地方政府開支增加,因為各地方政府要競爭投資,而其中的重要方法是要提供基礎建設,以及推動城市化。2012 年,地方政府開支佔全國 85%,收入卻只佔 52%。由於主要稅項歸中央,地方政府依靠土地租借及轉讓費用來獲得收入,也會通過土地融資、大幅投資房地產。

(3) 房屋變為投資工具

中國社會福利不健全,人們需要依靠儲蓄和投資來為未來生活增加保障。中國儲蓄率高(近十年都在 40-50%),銀行利息低,因而房屋變成保值和投資的工具。2003-2013 年,中國銀行利息年均 2-4%,房屋回報率則是 10-16%。現時中國超過九成家庭擁有房屋,其中兩成擁有多於一間房屋,中國家庭七成資產是房產 [15]。2017 年,中國城鎮有約 21% 的房屋空置,相當於 6,500 萬套空置房。

除了個人投資,銀行也有投資壓力,也會投資房地產,放寬個人與房企借貸。 這令樓市上升趨勢加劇,部份人越來越難負擔房屋,現時中國雖然九成家庭擁有房屋,不過許多從外地到一線城市打工的人都難有自己的居所。

改革的困局

中國現時一線城市的樓價收入比已經超越全球許多發達城市。房價持續上升,造成泡沫風險,特別是在房企投資和槓桿比例高的情況下。根據一份 2016 年的研究,有些買樓人士收入低 ,二三線城市樓價相等於他們 8-10 年的可支配收入(未計按揭利息),一線城市更高,但他們仍然買樓,就是因為相信他們的收入和樓價會持續上升。但是,如果中國經濟增長比預期低,甚至停滯,這些人士和樓市便會受到衝擊,收入較高者也會受影響。與美國次貸相比,中國的房貸審批較嚴格(首期一般需要 30% 以上),但仍不能排除泡沫風險。

中央政府近年提出「房住不炒」、「去槓桿」,過去也有抑制房價和房地產槓桿的措施,不過政策反覆、成效有限。

2006 年中央政府推出「國六條」以穩定樓價,其中包括「制止囤積土地行為」、「重點發展中低價位、中小套型普通商品住房」、「加快城鎮廉租住房制度建設」、「調整信貸」等。不過 2008 年後又推動房地產業增長,放寬房屋項目的最低資本要求(見上)。德州農工大學經濟學的李教授(Li Gan)最近在接受傳媒訪問時表示,中國政府在房價過低時,會以各種措施阻礙銷售和交易,以防止樓價大幅下跌。

中央政府要保證經濟增長與社會穩定,既不希望樓價下跌,又不希望樓價過高,既要在經濟危機時以房地產推動內需和投資,又要避免房地產泡沫爆破。

而地方政府與中央政府在房地產政策上有張力。地方政府依賴土地收入,官員升遷受經濟增長影響,因而傾向支持房地產發展。1998 年中央政府原訂計劃是「住房雙軌制」,有政府補貼的公共房屋佔大部分,但最後執行結果卻是商品房佔主導,公共房屋成為邊緣。2006 年,中央政府批評北京和深圳市政府沒能控制房屋通脹。另外,地方政府以土地為擔保向銀行借貸,投資地產。如果房屋價格大幅下降,很可能引發地方的債務危機。

未來思考方向

房地產業令中國得以在兩次金融危機後恢復經濟增長,卻又有可能醞釀新一輪泡沫危機。現時國家若不能維持每年 2-3% 的 GDP 增長,便會爆發經濟危機,投資者因為沒有利潤而撤資,生產停滯,工人失業,直到資本找到新的投資渠道。這樣的生產方式並非為人的需要服務,在經濟危機時,人們仍然需要(甚至更需要)各種生活用品,資本卻因沒有利潤而停止生產。以房地產作為新的經濟增長點的模式,令公共房屋退場、樓價越來越難以負擔,本來的安樂窩,成了人的枷鎖,令人變成「樓奴」。若然經濟轉趨不景、影響樓市或供樓,又會令人失去居所和資產。

最近習近平提出大規模開徵房地產稅,但在黨内遇到很大的阻力,有官員擔心拖累經濟和消費,也有地方官員擔心房企要求土地低價出售,影響地方財政收入。政府抑制樓市和房價的措施,似乎難以走出過往的困局。

房地產投資熱、房價過高是世界各地都需要面對的問題。根據一份 2018 年關於全球 200 個城市的研究,全球的公共房屋佔整體房屋數量的比例只有 13%(私人房屋約 70%,非正式居所 15%)。有充裕土地的發達國家提供更少公共房屋(公共房屋 3%,私人房屋 96%,非正式居所 1%)。全球房屋收入比(房屋價格中位數/家庭收入中位數)是 6.2,即需要六年不吃不喝才凑夠買樓的錢。有九成城市的房屋收入比高於 3,這屬於不可負擔水平。(這數字在香港人眼中可能不算誇張,不過這不是一個鬥慘的問題,而是怎樣才是合理的問題)。

疫情亦令房屋價格進一步上升,除了因為通脹,也因政府依賴房地產刺激經濟與就業、房屋成為投資品。2020 年下半年至 2021 年上半年,全球房屋價格急速上升,美國上升 11%(15 年來最快),紐西蘭上升 22%。土耳其伊斯坦堡市的租金在疫情期間上升 66%,觸發學生示威。

出路在何方?筆者沒有完整的答案,不過筆者認為基本方向是,我們需要一個不以追逐利潤和 GDP 增長為依歸、以人的需要為目標的經濟制度。福利國家、有民主的社會主義是其中一些值得研究和思考的方向。


Source : The Stand News

Infographic: The Most Popular Halloween Costumes of 2021

See large image . . . . . .

Source : Visual Capitalist

Squid Game Cryptocurrency Rockets in First Few Days of Trading

Katie Silver wrote . . . . . . . . .

If you’re a fan wanting to express your devotion to the hit Korean Netflix show Squid Game – well, there’s a cryptocurrency for that.

Gamers have created an online version of the programme, for which you need the Squid cryptocurrency to play.

On Tuesday, it was worth a modest 1 cent, but by Friday it had exploded in value, reaching $4.39 (£3.18).

But Squid has been criticised for not allowing investors to resell their tokens.

The dystopian series – which tells the story of a group of people forced to play deadly children’s games for money – has become a viral sensation.

Squid is what is known as a “play-to-earn” cryptocurrency, where people buy tokens to play in online games where they can earn more tokens. These can then be exchanged for other cryptocurrencies or fiat money.

In the case of Squid, many buyers will be gamers looking to play in the online game of the programme, which begins in November.

“The more people join, the larger reward pool will be (sic),” according to the issue document, which says developers will take 10% of the entry fee with the remaining 90% given to the winner.

“More importantly, we do not provide deadly consequences apparently!”

Individual rounds have costs to join – for example, playing Round 1: Red Light, Green Light will cost a player 456 Squid – with six rounds in total that get more expensive as they go along.

Buyer beware

But prospective buyers should beware with crypto price-tracking website CoinMarketCap issuing a warning that many users have been unable to resell their tokens on cryptocurrency exchanges.

Its market capitalisation, or total volume in the market, has reached $184m (£133m).

One trader told the BBC on Twitter they have $7,500 (£5,442) tied up in the currency that they are hoping will be released in 48-hours.

It is unclear why this is happening, but the company says it is using “innovative” anti-dumping technology that limits people from selling their coins if there are not enough coins being bought in the market.

The company has not immediately responded to the BBC’s request for clarification.

“This cryptocurrency joins a long and growing list of digital coins and tokens that piggyback on random memes or cultural phenomena,” Cornell University economist Eswar Prasad told the BBC.

“Remarkably, many such coins rapidly catch investors’ fancy, leading to wildly inflated valuations. Naïve retail investors who get caught up in such speculative frenzies face the risk of substantial losses.”

Play-to-earn games: the future of gaming?

Play-to-earn games have grown increasingly popular during the pandemic as the surge in online gaming encouraged the development of the GameFi technology sector which combines entertainment with real tools for earning money.

The metaverse is expected to help this sector develop even further.

It’s not just crypto traders that have benefited from Squid Game’s popularity.

Netflix’s subscriptions saw a bounce when the program was released. According to Bloomberg, the Korean series is thought to be worth some $900m to the streaming giant, after costing just $21.4m to make.


Source : BBC

In Pictures: 1968 Toyota 2000GT

Source : Bring A Trailer

Charts: Europe Leads in Electric Car Sales, China Second

Source : Pew Research Center

Hong Kong House Prices Fall by the Most in Nearly a Year

Cheryl Arcibal wrote . . . . . . . . .

Hong Kong’s lived-in home prices declined by the most in nearly a year in September, after touching a record high in July as buying power was hit because of a retreating stock market, according to property consultants.

Prices slipped 0.4 per cent to 396.3 last month, according to an index published on Wednesday by the Rating and Valuation Department.

It was the steepest fall since October 2020 when it retreated by 0.5 per cent, according to property consultancy Knight Frank. It was also the second consecutive monthly decline since the index touched a record high of 397.7 in July.

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“Property prices have softened slightly after peaking in July,” said Derek Chan, head of research at Ricacorp Properties. “Homebuyers have stayed on the sidelines after media reports said that Beijing officials told a number of Hong Kong property tycoons in a closed-door meeting to throw their resources and influence behind the central government’s effort to ease the city’s housing problems.”

New home sales too have cooled in recent days. Sales at Centralcon Properties’ The Arles in Sha Tin flopped on the weekend, with the developer selling less than half of the 338 flats on offer. Wheelock Properties fared even worse, selling only four of 110 units at its Koko Hills project. The flats on sale were the last remaining units in these projects.

“The local residential market has been impacted by the fluctuation in the stock markets and concerns over a worsening economy in the mainland in the short term,” said Martin Wong, head of research and consultancy in Greater China at Knight Frank.

Hong Kong’s stock market was among the worst-performing globally in the third quarter. The benchmark Hang Seng Index shed nearly 15 per cent as investor sentiment was affected after Beijing ramped up its crackdown on tech giants in July.

So far this year, home prices have gained 4.3 per cent, with both large and small flats posting increases. For the rest of the year, analysts said they expect prices to rise between 2 per cent and 3 per cent on the back of Hong Kong’s improving economy and employment rate.

“Home prices will increase in the fourth quarter,” Wong said. “The market for properties valued below HK$10 million (US$1.3 million) will continue to perform well, while those valued over HK$10 million will have fewer transactions.”

The city’s unemployment rate dropped to a new low of 4.5 per cent in the third quarter, the lowest since the coronavirus pandemic began in the early part of 2020.

In August, authorities upgraded their forecast of Hong Kong’s economic growth to between 5.5 per cent and 6.5 per cent for the year, after the economy registered a robust growth of 7.6 per cent in the second quarter.


Source : Yahoo!