Wall Street is currently basking in a vigorous “Trump rally,” with the Dow rising more than 1000 points since the election. The rally is driven by analysts who are salivating over the future prospect of sweeping deregulation of many markets. But there is also chorus of concern from dozens of financial experts, that the global financial markets are “whistling in the graveyard,” acting in a classicly irrational manner. Experts cite a host of issues both financial and geopolitical, among them Trump’s intention to exit TPP, NAFTA, and the COP21 Climate Agreement. Combined with rising geopolitical tensions with China, North Korea, and Iran, a perfect storm of global uncertainty and instability is forming.
Reading this article today, I am dumbfounded that Anbang managed to get this far in the purchase of B.C. commercial real-estate without red flags going up. This mysterious Chinese company, Anbang Insurance Group has attracted the attention of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune Magazine, and government authorities in the United States and other countries. A months-long investigation by the New York Times revealed an extremely opaque structure, empty offices, obscure shareholders, and extensive political connections to the Chinese elite. Anbang has all the earmarks of Chinese money laundering, corruption at the highest levels, and mysterious shell companies. It is a cautionary tale for Canadian authorities fretting over foreign real-estate buyers and skyrocketing real-estate prices.
This has just hit the wires tonight, September 11th. The South China Morning Post, perhaps the most influential and important bilingual, English and Chinese, media outlet in Hong Kong has suddenly and somewhat mysteriously announced that it is ceasing operations of its Chinese-language website nanzao.com. SCMP is owned by Jack Ma and Alibaba. It should also be noted that local elections in Hong Kong last week elected at least six new “pro-democracy” legislators.
Global Financial Contagion, is a well-understood phenomenon among economists, but less so among the general public. Financial contagion refers to “the spread of market disturbances — mostly on the downside — from one country to the other, a process observed through co-movements in exchange rates, stock prices, sovereign spreads, and capital flows.” Financial contagion can be a potential risk for countries who are trying to integrate their financial system with international financial markets and institutions. It helps explain an economic crisis extending across neighboring countries, regions, or in the worst case, the entire global economy.
In the Autumn of 1999, I joined a Hong Kong friend for the amazing “K98” train trip from Hong Kong north through the heart of China to Beijing, just in time for the 50th Anniversary celebration of the People’s Republic of China. It was my version of Paul Theroux’s “Riding the Iron Rooster,” and the images of China at that time still stick in my head. Since then China has changed so dramatically that those images no longer exist. Since Deng Xiaoping declared that “getting rich is glorious,” and China’s growth has skyrocketed, China’s domestic and international problems have also multiplied.
Anonymous, the murky global and leaderless hacking group has struck out on a campaign to disrupt ISIS’ sophisticated use of the Internet and social media. It claims to have disabled over 11,000 identified ISIS Twitter accounts with looped Rick Astley videos. For those of you not familiar with Rick Astley, he was a 1980’s British pop star of limited talent, whose videos are sometimes painful to watch. For unknown reasons, Astley’s videos have been used in a variety of online pranks and hacking incidents. So Anonymous did the convenient thing and used old Astley videos, a tactic now known as “RickRolling”, to disrupt and confound ISIS Twitter and other social media accounts. I like it. Striking back in this way is probably causing smiles in the French Intelligence Service, U.S. Defense Department, NSA, and GCHQ in the UK.
Yesterday, the United Stated Federal Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. issued a ruling that was essentially a “technical” setback for the notion that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, better known as Net Neutrality. The ruling now permits giant corporations like Verizon, NBC/Comcast, and Time Warner to charge higher fees to content providers like Netflix, Amazon and even potentially, Google. If that sounds bad for consumers, you are right. This decision was essentially caused by an earlier decision of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to maintain a free and open “hands off” policy, and not regulate Internet traffic, considered evil by Internet purists. But the effect of this Court ruling may be greater evil, leading to the conclusion that “common carrier” regulation may be the lesser of two evils.
In a somewhat surprising article this weekend, Wall Street Journal investigative reporters Rebecca Smith and Cameron McWhirter have reported on the sorry saga of efforts to create allegedly “clean coal” in Mississippi. This is one of those topics that one would expect the Wall Street Journal to crow about, as it is part of the Murdoch Fox News Empire. What better than another great story about how American technology is once again conquering a challenge by make coal clean and affordable, like in the television ads….? But when the evidence does not add up, the Murdoch minions can reinvent the story as an indictment of government policy and waste. This story has obvious implications for the continued reliance on coal in China and the United States, and the associated problems with carbon emissions from the tar sands in Alberta.
the New York Times published a Breaking News Alert on a story written by three of the best NYT investigative journalists. The four page detailed article, “Chinese Army Unit Is Seen as Tied to Hacking Against U.S.,” provides extraordinary detailed evidence. The breadth and depth of the cyber attacks on the United States go back as far as 2006, and the article describes attacks on numerous industries and hundreds of U.S. companies. Most concerning, there is now compelling evidence of near-miss attacks seeking means to disable our critical infrastructure. There has been much talk about our vulnerability, but until this NYT article nothing has so explicitly exposed our risk to cyber attack from the Chinese military. For me, one of the more interesting details was that the source of the attacks was a PLA building in Shanghai.