Saturday, September 30, 2017

Weekly Commentary: Just the Facts - September 29, 2017

My apologies.  Unexpected demands on my time today.

For the Week:

The S&P500 increased 0.7% (up 12.5% y-t-d), and the Dow added 0.2% (up 13.4%). The Utilities slipped 0.2% (up 8.7%). The Banks jumped another 2.3% (up 8.1%), and the Broker/Dealers rose 3.2% (up 17.6%). The Transports gained 2.2% (up 9.6%). The S&P 400 Midcaps rose 1.5% (up 8.2%), and the small cap Russell 2000 jumped 2.8% (up 9.9%). The Nasdaq100 advanced 0.8% (up 22.9%). The Semiconductors rose 1.9% (up 29.3%). The Biotechs gained 0.9% (up 36.7%). With bullion down $17, the HUI gold index fell 1.5% (up 7.8%).

Three-month Treasury bill rates ended the week at 102 bps. Two-year government yields rose five bps to 1.49% (up 30bps y-t-d). Five-year T-note yields gained seven bps to 1.94% (up 1bp). Ten-year Treasury yields jumped eight bps to 2.33% (down 11bps). Long bond yields rose eight bps to 2.86% (down 21bps).

Greek 10-year yields jumped 10 bps to 5.60% (down 142bps y-t-d). Ten-year Portuguese yields dropped 15 bps to 2.29% (down 146bps). Italian 10-year yields were unchanged at 2.11% (up 30bps). Spain's 10-year yields slipped two bps to 1.60% (up 22bps). German bund yields gained two bps to 0.46% (up 26bps). French yields added a basis point to 0.74% (up 6bps). The French to German 10-year bond spread widened one to 28 bps. U.K. 10-year gilt yields increased one basis point to 1.37% (up 13bps). U.K.'s FTSE equities index gained 0.8% (up 3.2%).

Japan's Nikkei 225 equities index added 0.3% (up 6.5% y-t-d). Japanese 10-year "JGB" yields gained three bps to 0.07% (up 3bps). France's CAC40 increased 0.9% (up 9.6%). The German DAX equities index jumped 1.9% (up 11.7%). Spain's IBEX 35 equities index added 0.7% (up 11%). Italy's FTSE MIB index gained 0.7% (up 18%). EM equities were mixed. Brazil's Bovespa index fell 1.5% (up 23.4%), while Mexico's Bolsa was little changed (up 10.3%). South Korea's Kospi added 0.2% (up 18.2%). India’s Sensex equities index dropped 2.0% (up 17.5%). China’s Shanghai Exchange was about unchanged (up 7.9%). Turkey's Borsa Istanbul National 100 index declined 1.2% (up 31.7%). Russia's MICEX equities index gained 1.2% (down 7%).

Junk bond mutual funds saw inflows of $433 million (from Lipper).

Freddie Mac 30-year fixed mortgage rates were unchanged at 3.83% (up 41bps y-o-y). Fifteen-year rates were unchanged at 3.13% (up 41bps). The five-year hybrid ARM rate increased three bps to 3.20% (up 39bps). Bankrate's survey of jumbo mortgage borrowing costs had 30-yr fixed rates up six bps to 4.15% (up 61bps).

Federal Reserve Credit last week slipped $1.0bn to $4.424 TN. Over the past year, Fed Credit was little changed. Fed Credit inflated $1.613 TN, or 57%, over the past 255 weeks. Elsewhere, Fed holdings for foreign owners of Treasury, Agency Debt declined $4.5bn last week to $3.372 TN. "Custody holdings" were up $228bn y-o-y, or 7.3%.

M2 (narrow) "money" supply last week declined $13.8bn to $13.681 TN. "Narrow money" expanded $663bn, or 5.1%, over the past year. For the week, Currency increased $3.4bn. Total Checkable Deposits dropped $39.7bn, while Savings Deposits expanded $19.1bn. Small Time Deposits were little changed. Retail Money Funds added $1.4bn.

Total money market fund assets rose $16.1bn to $2.740 TN. Money Funds increased $11bn y-o-y, or 2.2%.

Total Commercial Paper jumped $15.3bn to a new one-year high $1.059 TN. CP gained $113bn y-o-y, or 11.9%.

Currency Watch:

The U.S. dollar index rallied 1.0% to 93.076 (down 9.1% y-t-d). For the week on the downside, the Mexican peso declined 2.8%, the South African rand 2.3%, the Norwegian krone 2.0%, the Swedish krona 2.0%, the New Zealand dollar 1.7%, the Australian dollar 1.6%, the Brazilian real 1.2%, the euro 1.2%, the Canadian dollar 1.1%, the Singapore dollar 0.9%, the British pound 0.8%, the South Korean won 0.8%, and the Japanese yen 0.5%. The Chinese renminbi dropped 0.94% versus the dollar this week (up 4.39% y-t-d).

Commodities Watch:

The Goldman Sachs Commodities Index increased 0.3% (up 0.2% y-t-d). Spot Gold declined 1.3% to $1,280 (up 11.1%). Silver fell 1.8% to $16.676 (up 4.4%). Crude jumped $1.01 to $51.67 (down 4%). Gasoline sank 4.6% (down 5%), while Natural Gas gained 1.6% (down 20%). Copper added 0.4% (up 18%). Wheat slipped 0.3% (up 10%). Corn increased 0.5% (up 1%).

Trump Administration Watch:

September 27 – Reuters (Steve Holland and Idrees Ali): “President Donald Trump warned North Korea… that any U.S. military option would be ‘devastating’ for Pyongyang, but said the use of force was not Washington’s first option to deal with the country’s ballistic and nuclear weapons program. ‘We are totally prepared for the second option, not a preferred option,’ Trump said… ‘But if we take that option, it will be devastating, I can tell you that, devastating for North Korea. That’s called the military option. If we have to take it, we will.’”

September 24 – Reuters (Michelle Nichols, Yara Bayoumy and Phil Stewart): “North Korea said… targeting the U.S. mainland with its rockets was inevitable after ‘Mr. Evil President’ Donald Trump called Pyongyang’s leader ‘rocket man’, further escalating rhetoric over the North’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho’s remarks to the United Nations General Assembly came hours after U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers escorted by fighters flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea in a show of force the Pentagon said showed the range of military options available to Trump.”

September 27 – Reuters (David Morgan and Richard Cowen): “President Donald Trump proposed… the biggest U.S. tax overhaul in three decades, calling for tax cuts for most Americans, but prompting criticism that the plan favors business and the rich and could add trillions of dollars to the deficit. The proposal drew a swift, skeptical response from Senator Bob Corker, a leading Republican ‘fiscal hawk,’ who vowed not to vote for any federal tax package financed with borrowed money. ‘What I can tell you is that I’m not about to vote for any bill that increases our deficit, period,’ Corker, who said… he would not seek re-election in 2018, told reporters.”

September 28 – Wall Street Journal (Richard Rubin and Siobhan Hughes): “A day after announcing their ambitious tax plan, Republicans debated scaling back one of their largest and most controversial proposals to pay for lower tax rates: repeal of the individual deduction for state and local taxes. Faced with the potential for defections by House Republicans from high-tax states such as New York and New Jersey, Republicans are exploring ways to satisfy those lawmakers… ‘The members with concerns from high-tax states have to be accommodated. This has to be dealt with,’ said Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee…”

September 28 – CNBC (Jeff Cox): “Tax cuts Republicans proposed this week will be paid for entirely through economic growth, chief White House economic advisor Gary Cohn said… Republicans issued the tax overhaul plan… that simplifies the tax code, breaking rates down into three categories and cutting corporate rates. The plan also seeks to give companies a break for profits stashed overseas while doubling the standard deduction for most filers. The tax cuts are projected to cost at least $1.5 trillion and up to $2.2 trillion, according to one analysis… Cohn said the cuts won't increase the budget deficit. ‘We think we can drive a lot of business back to America, we can drive jobs back to America, we can make ourselves very competitive,’¬ Cohn told CNBC… ‘We think we can pay for the entire tax cut through growth over the cycle.’”

September 28 – Wall Street Journal (Kate Davidson): “Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said… a sweeping GOP tax overhaul would generate more than enough economic growth to offset the cost, pressing the administration’s argument that the plan would pay for itself. ‘Not only will this tax plan pay for itself, but it will pay down debt,’ he said…in, arguing the proposal would fuel stronger growth, causing tax payments to rise and offsetting the revenue lost from lower rates. He also said lower rates would discourage corporate tax avoidance, which would help boost revenue. Analysts and economists on both sides of the aisle, however, have disagreed over how much growth tax cuts are likely to generate, and said there is no clear evidence that cuts generate enough growth to offset their costs.”

China Bubble Watch:

September 26 – CNBC (Evelyn Cheng): “The China-driven surge in commodity prices could soon come to an end, according to a private survey of Chinese businesses. Contrary to ‘markets’ unremitting faith in the Chinese government campaign to combat" oversupply in metals, ‘firms are saying quite the opposite. For the sixth quarter in a row, coal, aluminum, steel, and copper each saw capacity rise on net,’ according to the China Beige Book's early brief of third-quarter data… In its third-quarter survey of 3,300 firms and 160 bankers across 34 industries, the China Beige Book also found that companies borrowed at the second-highest rate in four years, contrary to widespread beliefs that China is reducing its use of credit to fuel growth. ‘Most of the year when the Chinese government has been talking about deleveraging that has not been evidenced in China Beige Book data… At least part of the time corporations have had even easier access to capital and even when conditions have been tightening it has not contributed to deleveraging or slower deleveraging.’”

September 25 – New York Times (Keith Bradsher and Ailin Tang): “Over the past eight years, to the world’s growing alarm, China’s big state-owned companies and powerful local governments have borrowed trillions of dollars to get what they want. Now, it’s Li Jing’s turn. Ms. Li, a 33-year-old car saleswoman here in the middle of China’s declining industrial zone, is one of the growing millions of Chinese using mortgages and credit cards to finance a middle-class lifestyle. Over the past two years, she and her husband have bought and remodeled a $120,000 apartment and purchased two new cars for $30,000 apiece. To help pay for it all, they took out a 10-year mortgage that absorbs nearly a third of their monthly income — once considered an unusual amount of debt in a country that used to depend almost solely on cash. ‘I view the mortgage as a form of savings,’ Ms. Li said, ‘because in 10 years, I’ll own the whole apartment.’”

September 26 – Financial Times (Henny Sender): “When a mix of Chinese privately owned and state-owned companies came together in August to buy shares in China Unicom’s $11.7bn offering, Beijing heralded it as another milestone for reform of country’s state-owned enterprises. It certainly marks another step in the blurring of the line between private enterprises in China and SOEs. Sadly, the blurring is in the wrong direction. Rather than freeing up state enterprises to act more efficiently, the latest move by Beijing is all about asking private companies to subsidise them. ‘Mixed ownership will do little to change Unicom’s behaviour,’ analysts at TS Lombard noted of China’s second-largest telecom wireless company. ‘On the contrary, it is the latest sign of the Chinese Communist party extending its influence over China’s private sector. SOE reforms suck resources from the private sector.’ Moreover, the heavy hand of Beijing — and its obsession with control — is undermining solid economic performance as well as threatening financial stability.”

September 27 – Reuters (Yawen Chen and Elias Glenn): “China will boost imports to make its trade structure more balanced, a spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce said… China runs a massive trade surplus and has been accused by other countries of restricting access to its markets in order to protect domestic industry.”

September 25 – Wall Street Journal (Yifan Xie): “The manager of the world’s largest money-market fund said it would take steps to reduce risk in its investments and lower the lofty yields that have helped draw a flood of cash into the fund over the past year. Tianhong Asset Management Co., a Beijing-based company that manages a money-market fund with more than $200 billion in assets, is making changes to comply with liquidity rules imposed recently by Chinese regulators, according to Wang Dengfeng, general manager of Tianhong’s fixed-income department. ‘We will step up efforts to adhere to the original function of money-market funds as a cash management tool that carries low risk, low yield and high liquidity,’ Mr. Wang said…”

September 25 – Bloomberg: “The world’s most extreme stock rally is getting a reality check. After share price gains at Chinese property developers accelerated at a breathtaking pace in the past month, led by an 87% surge in Sunac China Holdings Ltd., the momentum has started to turn as authorities have taken a harder line on reining in financial risks. Six of the 10 best performers on the MSCI All-Country World Index in the one month through Sept. 21 were Chinese real estate firms. Chinese developers had their biggest slump in six years on Monday and slipped again on Tuesday.”

Global Bubble Watch:

September 28 – Bloomberg (Suzanne Woolley): “The rich are, predictably, getting richer. Both the number of people with investable assets of at least $1 million in U.S. dollars and the total wealth that represents are expanding around the globe, according to World Wealth Report 2017 from Capgemini. By 2025, the consulting and technology services company predicts, assets held by high-net-worth investors will exceed $100 trillion, up from $63.5 trillion in 2016. Sadly, even the very wealthy suffer from income inequality. While the ranks of the millionaire next door, with $1 million to $5 million in investable assets, increased by 7.4%, the number of people in the top 1% of the high-net-worth world—those with at least $30 million in investable assets—grew by 8.3%.”

September 28 – Financial Times (Javier Espinoza, Robert Smith and Arash Massoudi): “Private equity transactions have hit a post-financial crisis high this year as cheap debt and record sums of ready cash lifted the value of deals to $212bn. Buyout values surged nearly 25% in the first nine months of the year, representing just under one-tenth of total M&A dealmaking…, with activity in the US and Europe at its strongest since 2007… Worldwide M&A activity totalled $2.4tn during the year-to-date 2017, up 2% compared with the same period last year.”

September 24 – Wall Street Journal (Paul J. Davies): “One common sign of trouble ahead is people borrowing heavily to buy equities. Investors should be worried then that stocks are being supported by record amounts of margin debt, according to… the Bank for International Settlements… These kinds of loans secured against stocks have often proved dangerous in a downturn because when share prices fall borrowers are forced to sell. In the U.S., margin debt is more than three-times the level ahead of the 2008 crisis and is greater even than its peak in 2000 before the dot-com crash, according to the B.I.S.”

September 28 – CNBC (Diana Olick): “Home prices are rising in most major cities around the world, but in some they are rising too far, too fast. When prices reach the so-called bubble territory, that is, overvalued in relation to fundamentals like income and employment, they are at a far greater risk of correction… In the last five years, bubble risk has grown significantly in several cities, according to a new report from UBS. Toronto, Stockholm, Munich, Vancouver, British Columbia, Sydney, London, Hong Kong and Amsterdam are at "bubble risk," according to its Global Real Estate Bubble Index.”

Fixed-Income Bubble Watch:

September 24 – Wall Street Journal (Christopher Whittall): “Lending to the most highly indebted companies in the U.S. and Europe is surging, a development that investors worry could pressure financial markets if the global economic expansion starts to fade. Volume for these leveraged loans is up 53% this year in the U.S., putting it on pace to surpass the 2007 record of $534 billion, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence’s LCD unit. In Europe, recent loans offer fewer investor safeguards than in the past. This year, 70% of the region’s new leveraged loans are known as covenant-lite, …more than triple the number four years ago. Covenants are the terms in a loan’s contract that offer investor protections, such as provisions on borrowers’ ability to take on more debt or invest in projects. Toys ‘R’ Us offered a reminder of the risks of piling on debt when the company filed for bankruptcy protection…”

Federal Reserve Watch:

September 23 – New York Times (Kate Kelly and Binyamin Appelbaum): “The White House has created a list of about a half-dozen candidates to be the next leader of the Federal Reserve, including its current chairwoman, Janet L. Yellen, and the president’s chief economic adviser, Gary D. Cohn… The list also includes Jerome H. Powell, a member of the Fed’s board of governors; Kevin Warsh, a former Fed governor; and the Stanford University economist John B. Taylor, the officials said. Preliminary interviews with some candidates have already begun with an eye toward presenting finalists to President Trump later this year.”

September 28 – Reuters (David Milliken): “U.S. Federal Reserve Vice-Chairman Stanley Fischer said it was important for the central bank to reverse its massive bond buying program, given that it had previously said they were a temporary measure. ‘The importance of the shift that is now underway, of reducing the size of the Fed’s balance sheet (is that) I think it’s very important that we said these are temporary measures, that they be temporary measures,’ he told a conference on central bank independence hosted by the Bank of England.”

September 25 – Bloomberg (Jeanna Smialek and Matthew Boesler): “Two Federal Reserve officials offered different views on the inflation outlook on Monday, as the central bank begins to debate whether to raise interest rates again this year or wait for price pressures to pick up. Laying out the case for sticking with the Fed’s strategy of gradual monetary policy tightening, New York Fed President William Dudley that with firmer import prices and the ‘fading of effects from a number of temporary, idiosyncratic factors, I expect inflation will rise and stabilize around the FOMC’s 2% objective.’ That echoed remarks last week by Chair Janet Yellen after officials voted to gradually start shrinking the Fed’s balance sheet in October.”

September 28 – Bloomberg (Jeanna Smialek): “Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren said the central bank should raise rates in a ‘regular and gradual’ way despite low inflation, because weak price pressures appear temporary and a tight labor market risks overheating the economy. ‘Appropriate risk mitigation would argue for continued gradual removal of monetary accommodation, even though we are currently below the inflation target,’ Rosengren said… ‘I believe policy makers should not overreact to low current inflation readings that are widely expected to be temporary.’”

September 26 – Bloomberg (Steve Matthews): “Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Raphael Bostic said an interest rate increase may be appropriate in December given clear signs of growing inflation pressures. ‘I am at this point feeling pretty comfortable about the idea that we will be looking to move rates come December,’ Bostic told reporters… If the U.S. economy continues ‘to see strong signs of economic growth with a pickup in inflation,’ then he would support a hike.”

U.S. Bubble Watch:

September 28 – CNBC (Stephanie Landsman): “The stock market looks expensive and it may not be equipped to handle rising interest rates, according to Yale University fellow Stephen Roach. The former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia suggests Wall Street has a case of amnesia, and the prognosis is poor for the 8½-year-old rally. ‘Inflation has all but vanished from the scene. Policymakers as well as investment managers, to say nothing of the investors that they represent, don't remember what inflation is like and what monetary tightening might be in that environment,’ Roach warned… Roach has been critical of the world's central banks — particularly the Federal Reserve. ‘The point on policy is: Just because inflation is surprising in terms of coming in below what we think doesn't mean we should not restore our policy to a more normal approach,’ he said.”

September 27 – Reuters (Robert Frank): “America's top 1% now control 38.6% of the nation's wealth, a historic high… The Federal Reserve's Surveys of Consumer Finance shows that Americans throughout the income and wealth ladder posted gains between 2013 and 2016. But the wealthy gained the most, driven largely by gains in the stock market and asset values. The top 1% saw their share of wealth rise to 38.6% in 2016 from 36.3% in 2013. The next highest nine percent of families fell slightly, and the share of wealth held by the bottom 90% of Americans has been falling steadily for 25 years, hitting 22.8% in 2016 from 33.2% in 1989. The top income earners also saw the biggest gains. The top 1% saw their share of income rise to a new high of 23.8% from 20.3% in 2013. The income shares of the bottom 90% fell to 49.7% in 2016.”

September 28 – Bloomberg (Patricia Laya): “U.S. second-quarter growth was revised up slightly without altering the bigger picture of a consumer- driven economy that also got a healthy contribution from business spending during the period… Gross domestic product rose at a 3.1% annualized rate from prior quarter (est. 3%); revised upward from second estimate of 3%.”

September 26 – Bloomberg (Patricia Laya): “Home prices in 20 U.S. cities climbed more than forecast in July, reflecting solid demand against a backdrop of modest listings of properties, figures from S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller showed… 20-city property values index rose 5.8% y/y (est. 5.7%). National price gauge increased 5.9% y/y.”

September 26 – CNBC (Diana Olick): “From a broad view, the U.S. housing market looks very healthy. Demand is high, employment and wages are growing, and mortgage rates are low. But the nation's housing market is assuredly unhealthy; in fact, it is increasingly mismatched with today's buyers. While the big numbers don't lie, they don't tell the real truth about the affordability and availability of U.S. housing for the bulk of would-be buyers. First, several reports out this week point to both continued heat in home values as well as pushback from homebuyers. Prices remain nearly 6% higher than they were a year ago, nationally, with some local markets seeing double-digit annual price gains. Those prices are being driven by a severe lack of supply at the low end of the market, which is where the most demand exists. That means lower-priced homes are seeing bigger price gains than higher-priced homes because of the competition. At the same time, sales are falling, again, because there are too few homes on the low end, and the homes that are available are very expensive.”

September 26 – Bloomberg (Sridhar Natarajan, Dakin Campbell, and Alastair Marsh): “Jia Chen was in London again this summer -- just one of the many trips she’s recently made across the Atlantic -- to peddle a product left for dead in the ruins of the financial crisis. The 35-year-old Citigroup Inc. director has spent the past two years meeting clients, speaking at industry panels and becoming the face of a resurgent market for synthetic CDOs -- complex derivatives that let buyers make big, leveraged bets on the health of corporate America. Along the way, she’s helped establish Citigroup as its dominant player. It’s an astonishing comeback for the roughly $70 billion market for synthetic CDOs, which rose to infamy during the crisis and then faded into obscurity after nearly destroying the financial system. But perhaps the most surprising twist is Citigroup itself. Less than a decade ago, the bank was forced into a taxpayer bailout after suffering huge losses on similar types of securities tied to mortgages.”

September 28 – Bloomberg (William Selway): “Few places were as financially ill-equipped to deal with a catastrophe as Puerto Rico. After years of losing residents as the economy staggered, the U.S. territory of 3.4 million residents collapsed into a record-setting bankruptcy in May and has stopped making payments on much of its more than $70 billion of debt. Then came Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, which wiped out the already dilapidated electricity system, flooded cities and ruined crops.”

September 26 – CNBC (Steve Liesman): “Prices for already beleaguered Puerto Rican debt fell to record lows on Tuesday as investors realized that the devastation from Hurricane Maria made it likely they would receive even less principal than previously thought. Puerto Rico's 8% general obligation bond due in 2035, a benchmark for the island's debt, plunged an additional 1.25 cents, or 2.36%, to 51.75 cents on the dollar… ‘I think that it's a realization on the part of a lot of people that the damage is a lot worse than anticipated,’ said one muni trading executive.”

Europe Watch:

September 27 – Reuters (Thomas Escritt): “Germany took a first decisive step… toward forming a new government when its veteran finance minister, conservative Wolfgang Schaeuble, agreed to become president of the parliament, clearing the way for another party to take his job. Chancellor Angela Merkel will hope that Schaeuble, deeply respected in Germany for helping to steer the euro zone through its debt crisis, can stamp his authority on a fractious Bundestag lower house that will include two more parties after Sunday’s federal election. Merkel must assemble Germany’s first three-way coalition since the 1950s after her conservatives lost support and a far-right party, the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), entered parliament for the first time in half a century.”

September 25 – Bloomberg (Arne Delfs, Rainer Buergin, and Patrick Donahue): “Angela Merkel’s political bloc is starting to draw lessons from its electoral losses to the Alternative for Germany party as pressure mounts for the chancellor to win back voters lost to the populist right. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-led bloc met in Berlin on Monday in the wake of its defeat of the Social Democratic Party while falling to the worst result since 1949. ‘The chancellor’s nightmare victory’ was the verdict of Germany’s best-selling Bild newspaper.”

September 27 – Financial Times (Michael Stothard): “Antoni Castellà grew up near Barcelona’s Modelo prison in the 1970s and says he can still remember hearing the cries of Catalan nationalists held as political prisoners by the regime of Francisco Franco, the dictator who suppressed Catalan language, autonomy and culture. For Mr Castellà, now a member of the Catalonian regional parliament for the Demòcrates party, the independence referendum on October 1 is a chance for the Catalan people to finally break free from the Spanish state after decades of what he sees as mistreatment going back to the 18th century. On Sunday… Catalans are set to be asked if they want to be independent. If more than 50% of voters say Yes, the parliament says it will declare independence within 48 hours — regardless of the turnout.”

Japan Watch:

September 28 – Wall Street Journal (Peter Landers): “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faced one of the biggest threats to his solid hold on power after the leading opposition force agreed to line up behind a new party led by popular Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike. Parliament’s lower house was dissolved on Thursday, and the government formally set a general election for Oct. 22… Analysts initially expected Mr. Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and a smaller coalition ally to have little trouble retaining a solid majority in the election, which would clear the way for Mr. Abe to continue in the office he has held since December 2012. They said Mr. Abe called the Oct. 22 election, more than a year ahead of the end of the lower house’s term, in anticipation that opposition parties would split the support of anti-Abe voters.”

Leveraged Speculator Watch:

September 26 – CNBC (Evelyn Cheng): “Investing giant Mike Novogratz may soon join the rush of new digital asset funds as the largest of them all. The head of Galaxy Investment Partners and former macro hedge fund manager at Fortress Investment is launching a $500 million fund to invest in digital assets like bitcoin… When it launches, Novogratz's fund will be by far the largest in a growing world of funds investing in digital products like bitcoin, ethereum and initial coin offerings. Financial research firm Autonomous Next estimated this summer that about 70 such ‘crytpo-funds’ now exist. ‘The pace is frantic right now,’ said Brian Kelly, a CNBC contributor and head of BKCM, which officially launched a digital assets strategy in July. ‘This is a brand new asset class for investors and this is just beginning.’”

Geopolitical Watch:

September 27 – Reuters (Christine Kim): “South Korea expects more provocative acts by North Korea next month, to coincide with the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean communist party and China’s all-important Communist Party Congress. During a meeting with President Moon Jae-in on Thursday, national security adviser Chung Eui-yong said he expected Pyongyang to act around Oct. 10 and 18, but gave no details.”

September 26 – Reuters (Ahmed Rasheed and Raya Jalabi): “Baghdad heaped pressure on Iraq’s Kurds on Wednesday, demanding they cancel their overwhelming vote for independence while parliament urged the Iraqi central government to send troops to take control of vital oil fields held by Kurdish forces. Stepping up efforts to isolate autonomous Kurdish-held northern Iraq, whose people endorsed secession in a referendum on Monday that angered neighboring countries, Baghdad demanded that foreign governments close their diplomatic missions in the Kurdish capital Erbil. Final results… showed nearly 93% in favor of independence, and 7.3% against.”

September 25 – Bloomberg (Onur Ant and Khalid Al Ansary): “Turkey can choose to ‘close the valves’ on oil exports from Iraq’s Kurdish region through the Turkish port of Ceyhan, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned as Kurds voted in a referendum on independence from Iraq. The landlocked Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq can ship as much as 700,000 barrels a day through the pipeline to Ceyhan on the Mediterranean. The Turkish president’s comments served as a reminder that Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government depends on good relations with neighboring Turkey for most of its oil sales. Turkey, which has its own restive Kurdish minority, opposes the Kurdish independence referendum.”