Monday, December 6, 2021

Monday Links

  • Many French solutions to the problems of immigration and Islam appear doomed to fail. A case in point is the belief that laïcité—the system of secularism imposed at the turn of the last century to topple the Catholic Church from its position of cultural and educational dominance—might work to tame Islam as well. To show that education is free, champions of laïcité defend civics classes for small children that subject the prophet Mohammed to robust democratic debate. To show that women are free, they build public swimming facilities, like the refurbished Butte aux Cailles pool in the 13th arrondissement, with mixed-sex showers. They are barking up the wrong tree. The problem with Islam is not that it dominates the country’s official institutions but that the population of its adherents is growing by leaps and bounds. Last summer, Causeur magazine released a set of maps that the government consulting group France Stratégie had been using. They showed a growth of immigrant populations in all French cities that was almost incredible. In vast stretches of Seine-St-Denis, burial place of France’s kings and queens, 70-80% of the children under 18 are born of immigrants from outside of Europe. (“There are 135 different nationalities in Seine-St-Denis,” the Socialist interior minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement once remarked with black humor, “but one of them has pretty much died out.”) [Claremont Review of Books]
  • Our critique of this RethinkX report is threefold. First, it is based on a fatally flawed assumption about why solar capital costs had been decreasing over much of the past decade (as we’ll see shortly, solar costs are going up in 2021). Second, it misses a nearly insurmountable constraint that makes most of their projections grossly irresponsible. Finally, it ignores the substantial energy input needed to achieve their plan, making it virtually indistinguishable from a perpetual motion machine. We’ll take all three in order. [Doomberg]
  • Richard Friedland, chief executive officer of Netcare Ltd., which operates the largest private health-care network in South Africa: “If in the second and third wave we’d seen these levels of positivity to tests conducted, we would have seen very significant increases in hospital admissions and we’re not seeing that. In our primary care clinics it is mainly people under 30-years-old.” “So I actually think there is a silver lining here and this may signal the end of Covid-19, with it attenuating itself to such an extent that it’s highly contagious, but doesn’t cause severe disease. That’s what happened with Spanish flu.” “We are seeing breakthrough infections of people who have been vaccinated, but the infections we’re seeing are very mild to moderate. So for health care workers who have had boosters, it’s mostly mild. I think this whole thing has been so poorly communicated and so much panic generated.” “It’s early days, but I’m less panicked. It feels different to me on the ground.” [Bloomberg]
  • The omicron variant of the virus that causes Covid-19 likely acquired at least one of its mutations by picking up a snippet of genetic material from another virus - possibly one that causes the common cold - present in the same infected cells, according to researchers. This genetic sequence does not appear in any earlier versions of the coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, but is ubiquitous in many other viruses including those that cause the common cold, and also in the human genome, researchers said. By inserting this particular snippet into itself, omicron might be making itself look “more human,” which would help it evade attack by the human immune system, said Venky Soundararajan of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based data analytics firm nference, who led the study posted on Thursday on the website OSF Preprints. This could mean the virus transmits more easily, while only causing mild or asymptomatic disease. Scientists do not yet know whether omicron is more infectious than other variants, whether it causes more severe disease or whether it will overtake Delta as the most prevalent variant. It may take several weeks to get answers to these questions. [CNBC]
  • Simultaneously, between approximately 1880 and 2009, processed, nutrient-deficient foods gradually supplanted and displaced whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods in developed nations, such that by 2009, 63 percent of the American diet was made up of nutrient-deficient foods in the form of refined white flour, added sugars, vegetable oils, and artificially created trans fats. The correlative data in 25 nations shows that increasing sugar and polyunsaturated vegetable oil consumption is invariably associated with new onset or rising prevalence of AMD, generally within about 30–40 years of the beginning of increasing consumption of these proxy marker processed food components. [Medical Hypotheses]
  • Yakutsk has never recorded a temperature above freezing between 10 November and 14 March inclusive – summers are warm and occasionally hot (though short), with daily maximum temperatures exceeding +30 °C (86 °F), making the seasonal temperature differences for the region the greatest in the world at 102 °C (184 °F). [Yakutsk]
  • As long as covid goes away (either through vaccination or herd immunity) in the early part of next year and borrowers who have deferred resume their normal payments, the current valuations will look cheap. There are certainly many bankers feeling sanguine about their loan portfolios given the astonishing number of share repurchases that have been conducted or announced by banks this fall and winter. Profitable companies buying back stock is a great sign, but we should always question why we are being presented with an opportunity that appears juicy. Perhaps the explanation is in something that Gator Capital wrote about in its October letter; a lack of generalists interested in the bank sector. With that valuation and that much excess capital, and a management inclined to repurchase shares, there seems to be a good chance that shares recover to where they were pre-covid. We also very much like the signal of bankers announcing share repurchases – not just the implications for individual banks but for the sector as a whole. They can see what is happening with their borrowers and they have decided to spend capital on accretion instead of hoarding it. [Oddball Stocks]
  • We brought up Bank of Utica in the Small Bank Feature article in this Issue, and the situation is the same as every other time we have mentioned it: big discount to tangible book value, very overcapitalized, but stubbornly refusing to buy back stock. Often when we see an Oddball management making an error like this, the reflexive answer is that they are dumb. However, we have discovered something that makes us think that lack of intelligence is not the problem here. [Oddball Stocks]

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