Thursday, January 31, 2019

Economics: Why China Continues To Disappoint The Crash Callers

(Drivebycuriosity) - Last night we got fresh news from China`s economic front which were disappointing again - for the China crash callers. The government reported their Purchasing Manager Indices (PMIs) for January which indicate the status quo of China´s economy. Both indicators were better than in December and higher than expected.

This month the Non-Manufacturing PMI, which represents China´s service sector, climbed to 54.7 from 53.8 in December, signalling that the service sector is growing faster. The manufacturing PMI advanced to 49.5 from 49.4, signalling a slower drop  (charts below).

( source)

The services sector accounts for more than half of the Chinese economy and is therefore more important than manufacturing (like in the US).  Both indices together indicate that China grew a bit faster in January than in December, not really a China crash. The better numbers are not surprising. In January Beijing announced tax cuts “on a larger scale” in order to boost business activity and The People's Bank of China  injected more money into the market via a targeted cut of the reserve requirement ratio. There are also signs that the trade talks between China and the US are making progress.

I suppose that China`s solid growth will continue in the coming months, driven by the expanding service sector. China is rapidly changing from an industrial country - which relies on exports - into a modern economy like the US which is dominated by services and focuses mostly on the domestic market. The China crash callers will be disappointed again.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Books: The Best Science Fiction Of The Year Volume 3 Edited By Neil Clarke

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like science fiction. Unfortunately most science fiction novels disappoint. Often a writer has an interesting idea which carries a story about maybe 100 pages or less, but when she stretches the plot the story gets thinner and thinner and the text has too many fillers.  Just a minority of authors is capable to keep the tension over hundreds of pages. Therefore I usually skim collections of science fiction short stories in order to find some gems.

I just finished "The Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume 3", curated & edited by Neil Clarke (amazon). The series is a relatively newcomer in this market. For many years I have been reading the anthology "The Year`s Best Science Fiction" edited by Gardner Dozois (driveby). His compilations have been the market leader for 3 decades and offered a kaleidoscope of plots, ideas and styles. Dozois catered to a lot of different tastes and showed the state of art in science fiction. Unfortunately Dozois passed away last year, ending his series with the number 35. I also used to read & collect the series "Year`s Best SF"  edited by David G. Hartwell, which ended with Vol. 18 published in December 2013. Hartwell passed away in 2016. I really miss Hartwell`s selection because he a focus on hard science fiction

It seems that Clarke, who also is the editor of "Clarkesworld Magazine", has now a monopoly for these kinds of collections (624 pages with 26 stories). Like Dozois Clarke begins his collection with a summation of the trends  in the scifi world in the respective year and precedes each story with a short introduction of the authors.

There are 3 strong stories which I found also in Dozois` latest collection:

"A Series of Steaks" by Vina Jie-Min Prasad. The tale is set in a near future Hong-Kong and focuses on Helena, who sees herself as an artist. Helena has an university degree and tries to make a living by producing fake steaks with the help of 3D-Printers, which is strictly illegal and brings her into deep trouble. The story is fresh & original, certainly one of my favorites in this book, I want to read more by Jie-Min Prasad.

"Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance" by Tobias S. Buckell is told in first person by a robot with artificial intelligence (AI) who does maintenance works on the hull of a space ship. He has to deal with a superior power which causes a conflict of interests. Very subtle and thought provoking.

“An Evening with Severyn Grimes” by Rich Larson focuses on a billionaire who got abducted by a group of radical terrorist. A slick near-future thriller.

But Clarke has also some strong stories which were not covered by Dozois, including:

"Every Hour of Light and Dark" by Nancy Kress. The author belongs to the top-stars in the science fiction scene and collected many Nebula, Hugo and other awards. This story is another gem by the gifted write. In the year 2270 scientists found a method to replace art works and other pieces from the past by fakes and transfer them into their time. Some of them messes with a Vermeer painting from the year 1668 which has a lot unintended consequences. For me the best scifi story of 2017.

"Holdfast" by Alastair Reynolds. The only human survivor from an epic battle against aliens is stranded on an exotic planet facing the only alien survivor of this battle. A interesting psychological take on alien encounters and futuristic wars.

"The Martian Obelisk" by Linda Nagata. A woman is constructing an obelisk on Mars as a monument of human`s development. She`s continuing even though humans had abandoned the red planet thanks to robots and remote control -  but suddenly a complication appears.

"The Secret Life if Bots" by Suzanne Palmer. A funny tale about a  group of maintenance robots on a spaceship who play an important role in an unpleasant confrontation with vicious aliens.

"Shadows of Eternity" by Gregory Benford. The author wove an elaborate tale based on cosmology. Not much is happening here but I really enjoyed the stylish use of science.

The rest may cater different tastes. The book costs in the moment of writing just $9,99. I am looking forward to read Number 4 which is scheduled for April 2019.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Contemporary Art: Interesting Collages @ Gallery Perrotin New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - Do you like collages? The ambitious gallery Perrotin on Manhattan´s Orchard Street presents an exhibition with composite paintings and nested assemblages by the Swedish artist Jens Fänge, called "Alcove" (through February 16, 2019 perrotin ).

I like the fanciful compositions which are telling mysterious stories.

And Perrotin has more exhibitions. Below a glance into the show "Big Time" displaying works by Josh Sperling (Sperling).

To be continued

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Stock Market: Are We Still In A Bull Market?

(Drivebycuriosity) - It seems there is some confusion. Some commentators claim that the market for stocks entered a new bear market - and dismiss the recent gains as a bear market rally -, others assert that the bull market, that started in spring 2009, is still going on (cnbc  marketwatch). What is behind it?

A bull market starts when stocks climb 20% or more from a recent low and a bear market begins when stocks drop 20% or more from the peak. During the turbulence of the last December week 2018 the S&P 500, the gauge for US stock market, dropped temporarily to 2,346 points, which is 20.2% below the all-time high of 2,940 point from last September. But if we believe Bloomberg the S&P 500 did not enter bear market territory in December (bloomberg   ). Apparently they calculate with Wall Street closing prices (at 4pm) instead of the fickle intra-day prices and sharp late afternoon rallies saved the bull (screenshots below). According to Bloomberg this happened twice in the past, once in 1998, and again in 2011.

And the stock market quickly reversed its course. Since the December lows the S&P 500 already regained about 14% and closed this Friday at 2,664 points, a minus of just 7% in the recent 12 months. The situation is not comparable with the bear markets from 1968-1970, 1973-1974, 2000-2002 & 2007-2009. They all lead to stock market declines of 33%+ and lasted each >1 year. Apparently in December we experienced just another correction which is part of every long lasting bull market, amplified by a temporary panic attack (driveby).

 (   macrotrends )

Some groups have an economic interest to use the term bear market. Many hedge funds and other speculators are betting on falling stock prices. They borrow stocks and sell them immediately in the hope to repurchase them later for a lower price (short selling) or they buy options which benefit from dropping stocks prices (puts).  They are losing money in a bull market and need a bear market to survive. They are dismissing the recent gains as "bear market rally" in order to spoil the sentiment and to convince others that stocks have to fall again and to discourage potential stock buyers.

I assume  that the current stock market rally will continue and confirm the bull market again. The recession, which is already priced into the stock prices, at least partly, won`t happen. The US economy is still solid, jobless rates & weekly jobless claims are at all-time lows and company earnings are growing about 15% annually. Companies are still benefiting from a new industrial revolution: Advances in Internet, mobile computing, 3-d-printing, robotics, nano- & biotechnology and other technologies are reducing costs, raising efficiency and creating new markets. And oil got much cheaper in the recent months - minus 30% since October - and created a new tailwind for the global economy. I assume that the global economy will re-accelerate this year, thanks to cheaper oil and the still reduced US taxes. The bear market callers will get wronged again.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Contemporary Art: Mehdi Farhadian @ Richard Taittinger New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - New York`s Lower East Side was once the slum of the metropolis, filled with sweat shops; now the neighborhood is one of the fanciest districts of the metropolis and a symbol for gentrification. A legion of bars, pubs & restaurants and flocks of drunk college kids gave LES the image of a party mile.

But the LES also has an artsy and attractive side: More than one hundred art galleries choose to be in this area - thanks to more affordable rents. In the recent years LES became a contender to Chelsea where usually the big classy art dealers reside. Richard Taittinger Gallery, owned and founded by a heir of the French Champagne empire Taittinger (at 154 Ludlow St. taittinger), belongs to the ambitious LES galleries. The gallery, which specializes in the works of mid-career artists, occupies 5,000-square-foot 154 in a space formerly used by the music venue the Living Room (bloomberg). The Wall Street Journal praises the 20-foot-high ceilings which allow Taittinger to present large-scale museum-quality works (wsj).

Last week I saw there an exhibition with works by the Iranian artist Mehdi Farhadian (exhibition). Every painting seems to tell a story. I display here my favorites, a very subjective selection as usual. Let the images speak for themselves.

Above you can see "Drops" followed by "Nocturnal Vistas"; "Abandoned Airport"; "Peace Girls";"Inflated Lion" ; "Technical Defect" & "The Fall of Peace".

To be continued

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Books: Best Of British Science Fiction 2017

(Drivebycuriosity) -  I like science fiction. Unfortunately most science fiction novels disappoint. Often a writer has an interesting idea which carries a story about maybe 100 pages or less, but when she stretches the plot the story gets thinner and thinner and the text has too many fillers.  Just a minority of authors is capable to keep the tension over hundreds of pages. Therefore I usually skim collections of science fiction short stories in order to find some gems.

I just finished "Best Of British Science Fiction 2017", curated & edited by Donna Scott (amazon). There are a lot fine British Science Fiction writers, including Alistair Reynolds, Ian McDonald,  Neil Asher & Paul McAuley.  Unfortunately Scott ignored them, maybe she doesn`t even know them. This editor seems to prefer amateurs. The result is a harvest of 22 mostly weak stories.

But I found 4 gems anyway:

"The Ghosts of Europa will keep you trapped in a Prison you make for Yourself" by Matt Dovey.  Amira is a scientist who works on the Jupiter Moon Europa, where an ice shield covers a hidden ocean. Apparently she is alone there and something is wrong & mysterious.

"When I close my Eyes" by Chris Barnham. This story is set on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. An explorer  - supported by his AI - is fighting for his live after having an accident on the deeply frozen moon surface. Thrilling!

"After the Atrocity" by Ian Creasey. A woman is working in a highly classified military laboratory. She had developed a sophisticated machine which can duplicate humans. She uses this machine to create a duplicate of the body of an extremely dangerous terrorist which brings her to some critical ideas.

"Voicemail" by Karen McCreedy. This is just a funny idea on less than one page. Aliens had sent a voicemail to earth.

I doubt that this collection represents really the "best British science fiction". I don´t plan to read more books written, curated or edited by Donna Scott.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Culture: Dutch Masterpieces @ Metropolitan Museum Of Art

(Drivebycuriosity) - Do you like Dutch Masters? New York´s amazing Metropolitan Museum of Art offers now a show with Dutch paintings from the 17th century: "Dutch Masterpieces" (through October 4, 2020 metmuseum). Above you can see a detail from  "Apollo and Aurora" by Gerard de Lairesse from 1671 (Oil on canvas; 80 1/2 x 76 1/8 in. (204.5 x 193.4 cm). She looks like an early hippy queen.

Above you can see “Moses Striking the Rock” by Abraham Bloemaert from 1596 (Oil on canvas; Dimensions: 31 3/8 x 42 1/2 in. (79.7 x 108 cm). Wild & beautiful.

Above "The Disillusioned Medea" by Paulus Bor painted ca. 1640
(Oil on canvas; 61 1/4 x 44 1/4 in. (155.6 x 112.4 cm). She looks like real.

Above Johannes Vermeer`s famous "Young Woman with a Water Pitcher" from  ca. 1662 (Oil on canvas; 18 x 16 in. (45.7 x 40.6 cm).

But I like "The Visit" better, painted by Pieter De Hooch, ca. 1657 (Oil on Wood). It seems that De Hooch was a pupil of Vermeer because he has a similar style. I really enjoy how he used the light in this image, which also is typical for Vermeer.

I also like "A Young Woman at Her Toilet with a Maid" by Gerard ter Borch the Younger from
 ca. 1650–51 (Oil on wood; 18 3/4 x 13 5/8 in. (47.6 x 34.6 cm).

Above Rembrandt`s Self-Portrait from 1660 (Oil on canvas; 31 5/8 x 26 1/2 in. (80.3 x 67.3 cm).

Above "Merry Company on a Terrace" by Jan Steen created ca. 1670 (Oil on canvas;
55 1/2 x 51 3/4 in. (141 x 131.4 cm). According to the curators this is one of "Steen’s self-deprecating depictions of his own unruly household, this painting centers on the inviting figure of his wife, who looks out at the viewer with an empty wineglass in her hand. Steen, his face flushed with drink and a comic hat on his head, sits at the far left; next to him, with a sausage in his cap, is Hans Worst, the same theatrical figure depicted by Hals in a nearby work. To this day in the Netherlands, "a household by Jan Steen" remains proverbial for disorder and domestic chaos."

Above "Drawing the Eel" by Salomon van Ruysdael from early 1650 (Oil on wood; 29 1/2 x 41 3/4 in. (74.9 x 106 cm). The curators explain: "A live eel strung on a line is plucked down by young people charging past on horseback. The contest provides the pretext for a festive gathering, allowing Ruysdael to combine his eye for local color with an evocation of limpid winter light and its reflection in the frozen skating pond below."

Above "Entrance to a Dutch Port" by Willem van de Velde II from ca. 1665 (Oil on canvas; 25 7/8 x 30 5/8 in. (65.7 x 77.8 cm).

Above "Interior of the Oude Kerk, Delft" by Hendrick van Vliet from 1660 (Oil on canvas;
32 1/2 x 26 in. (82.6 x 66 cm) followed by "Still Life with Oysters, a Silver Tazza, and Glassware" by Willem Claesz Heda from 1635 (Oil on wood).

To be continued