Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Norway’s Giant Pension Fund Hits One Trillion Dollars – Here Are Its 10 Favorite Stocks

Via Business Insider:

The gigantic sovereign wealth fund of Norway passed a milestone this week. Its market value reached one trillion dollars for the first time on Tuesday.

Statens pensjonsfond utland, as it is called in Norway, is actively managed and invests in a wide range of asset classes.

The fund is betting heavily on stocks, which accounts for almost two-thirds of the portfolio (65.1 percent). The rest is divided between fixed-income (32.4 percent) and unlisted real estate (2.5 percent).

Perhaps Norway should send a thank you letter to Apple after reaching the one trillion dollar mark. It has contributed a lot during a successful year, while the stock has gone from being the third largest position to number one.

In August, the fund released its report for the second quarter of the year where one can find the largest stock holdings.

Here are the top 10 stock holdings (as of June 30th):

1. Apple. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 58.2 billion kroner (USD 7.5 billion).

Silicon Valley’s most iconic company has increased its market value by a whopping 38 percent in one year. Now, hopes are high for the upcoming models Iphone 8 and Iphone X.

2. Nestle. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 50.6 billion krone (USD 6.5 billion).

Swiss food and drink company and owner of global brands such as Nespresso, Smarties and Kit Kat.

3. Alphabet. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 42.7 billion krone (USD 5.5 billion).

Google’s mother company which together with Facebook dominate online advertising.

4. Royal Dutch Shell. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 40.1 billion krone (USD 5.1 billion).

Ranked as one of six “supermajor” oil companies in the world and headquartered in the Netherlands.

5. Microsoft. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 39.3 billion krone (USD 5.0 billion).

The late 1990-s biggest company by market cap is now one of Apple’s toughest competitors.

6. Novartis. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 37.4 billion krone (USD 4.8 billion).

The Swiss pharmaceutical company is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies and manufacturer of well-known drugs, including Ritalin and Lamisil.

7. Roche Holding. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 35.6 billion krone (USD 4.6 billion).

Also a Swiss multinational pharma company known for drugs such as Valium and Rohypnol.

8. Amazon. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 29.7 billion krone (USD 3.8 billion).

Jeff Bezo’s startup has grown to become the largest online retailer in the world.

9. HSBC. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 28.5 billion krone (USD 3.7 billion).

British multinational bank with 4,000 offices in 70 countries.

10. Johnson & Johnson. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 26.9 billion krone (USD 3.5 billion).

Global pharmaceutical consumer goods company based in New Jersey.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

You Can Now Buy A Garlic Press Or Other Kitchen Tools From An IKEA Vending Machine In Central Stockholm

Via Business Insider:

Ikea is serious about its foray into central Stockholm. In its latest stunt, aimed to raise awareness for its newly opened kitchen pop-up store, the Swedish furniture giant has placed a vending machine selling kitchen tools in the subway station of Hötorget, in the city center.

“We want to show in a playful way that Ikea is available wherever, not only in our department stores", says Miki Tabakovic, deputy country sales director for Ikea Sweden, to retail site

Although its main job is to nudge bypassing commuters to a visit in the 400 square meter Ikea kitchen showroom just a stone's throw away, the vending machine is a pop-up store unto itself. Among the products sold is Ikea's classic garlic press KONCIS.

“It’s a fully functioning vending machine. You can pay with card and get your product instantly. We sell garbage presses, egg slicers and other small items”, says Tabakovic.

The vending machine, due to stay up for a couple more weeks, is outfitted with a message encouraging customers to "get a kitchen to go with their garbage press", and offers the exact address to the showroom. In a related stunt, Ikea has outfitted a Stockholm archipelago ferries with the punchline: “Ride the ferry to the kitchen”.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Why Are Women Banned From Mount Athos?

Mount Athos is the capital and heart of the Orthodox Christian world, and it consists of 20 monasteries and approximately 2.000 monks.

Women are not allowed within 500 meters of the shore, and even female animals are somewhat prohibited from walking on Mount Athos.

Now, why is this?

Why would a region bigger than Albania and richer than Greece be prohibited for women?

After the resurrection of Christ the disciples of Christ were given different parts of the world to evangelize.

The part given to the Mother of God to evangelize was Mount Athos, and that is one of the reasons why the Holy Mountain is very special to this day.

But there is also another reason for banning women, connected with Orthodox tradition.

One of the traditions is that the Virgin Mary was blown off course when she was trying to sail to Cyprus and landed on Mount Athos. And she liked it so much that she prayed to her son that she should be given it as her own and he agreed.

Mount Athos or Agion Oros is called "the garden of the Mother of God", dedicated to her glory, and she alone represents her sex on Mount Athos.

It is also believed that the presence of women might distract the monks, tempting them away from true celibacy, and lead them into sin.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Anti-EU Parties Face Funding Cuts

Via EUobserver:

Anti-EU parties and their affiliated foundations may see their EU funding reduced by over half, amid a broader push by the European Commission to revamp internal European Parliament rules.

Frans Timmermans, the EU commission vice-president, told reporters on Friday (15 September) that the reform is designed to address loopholes and allow authorities to more easily claw back taxpayer money, in case of fraud.

"These proposed amendments in the existing regulation in no way, I want to stress that, in no way dictate what programs European parties should follow", he said.

The move is part of a so-called democracy package presented by Timmermans, ahead of the 2019 European elections.

It follows a series of scandals over the past two years that have seen top-ranking MEPs embroiled in fraud allegations, as well as virulent anti-EU parties and foundations accused of siphoning off and illegally spending public money.

It also follows public uproar amid revelations that the far-right Alliance for Peace and Freedom (APF), which includes neo-nazis among its ranks, received €400.000 from the EU parliament.

The plan now is to reduce the EU parliament's budget for European political parties, in what Timmermans said would then increase the share of the total funding distributed in proportion to the number of MEPs elected.

"The budget for European political parties is distributed equally among of all them, no matter how big or small. This in our view is not proportionate to true democratic representation in parliament", he said.

European political parties were granted over €30 million for 2017. Fifteen percent of that was distributed equally, with the remaining 85 percent distributed in proportion to each party's share of elected MEPs. The plan now is to reduce the 15 percent share to five percent.

But such a system would cut EU money to the APF by over 44 percent.

The ultra-nationalist Alliance of European National Movements (AENM), the right-wing European Alliance for Freedom (EAF), and the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM) would all also register a 44-percent cut.

The biggest loser, at over 66 percent, is the anti-abortion and catholic nationalist party, Coalition for Life and Family (CVF), which has received almost €300.000 this year alone.

Meanwhile, the more mainstream parties like the centre-right EPP, centre-left S&D, and liberal Alde would see little to no reduction and even some gains.

The Greens would drop by 0.8 percent, Alde increase by 1.5 percent, and no change for EPP and S&D.

Money blues

Pan-European parties and their political foundations are also required to raise at least 15 percent of their own money before they can access EU funding.

Many are finding it difficult to reach the minimum threshold and have instead inflated their figures by using "contributions in kind", a practice that is nearly impossible to audit.

"We also uncovered a number of very questionable practices, blatant conflicts of interest, retrospectively paid commissions", said Didier Klethi, the EU parliament's director of finance, over the summer during a discussion in the constitutional affairs committee.

Other dubious methods include getting people to donate money in exchange for lucrative contracts.

Such tactics were used by the Institute for Direct Democracy in Europe (IDDE), a think tank linked to the Ukip-dominated Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe.

One Swedish organisation donated €12.000 to IDDE in return for a €20.000 contract. Another from Iceland gave €10.000 and ended up a with €36.000 contract, according to internal EU parliament documents seen by EUobserver.

The EU commission's solution "to reduce incentives for questionable practices" is simply to make it much easier to get EU grants.

In practice, that means cutting the co-financing threshold from 15 percent to 10 percent for European political parties and to 5 percent for European political foundations.

2019 election deadline

Given the slow pace of the EU legislative process, it is not clear if such reforms will be ready for the 2019 elections.

German centre-right MEP Rainer Wieland, who is steering the reforms at the EU parliament, expressed some doubts over it in July.

"We should do everything that we can to ensure that by 2019, the year of the elections, these rules can be applied", he said.

A more realistic scenario, he added, would be to have the rules in place in early 2020.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Swedish Pop-Star Turned Philosopher: “Bitcoin Is A Bubble That Will Ruin Millions Of Small Savers”

Via Business Insider:

Philosopher and former pop-star Alexander Bard has been right before when making predictions on the future of capitalism. This time he sees a paralyzed bitcoin community and worries about the prospects of millions of savers "who stand to lose everything when the bitcoin bubble bursts".

The sudden surge in popularity of bitcoin, the world’s first and biggest cryptocurrency, has been nothing short of spectacular. In the last five years, its value has spiked a whopping 15.400 percent. This has no doubt made some investors rich, including programming expert Alexander Bottema, who told his story to VA Finans recently.

On the other hand, the warning bells are tolling. Among the sceptics is the Swedish philosopher and futurologist (and earlier synth player in the band Army of Lovers) Alexander Bard.

“Bitcoin has developed into a classic tulip bubble. The price has been pushed up by hoards of Chinese and Japanese small investors who have bought bitcoin with borrowed money at low rents. It’s clear that the currency is now very unstable and could crash soon”, he says to VA Finans.

“The Chinese market is super sensitive for crashes, and the question is how we will be able to handle millions of small savers in Japan and China, who have had their assets wiped out”.

Bard thinks the bitcoin community needs to get its “shit together”, and that there are two big problems.

One of them is slow transaction processing speeds: “Bitcoin can only manage seven transactions per second, which is way, way too slow if [the currency] is ever to have a decisive influence”.

The other in is the community’ inability to make decisions.

Not surprisingly, Bard is certain there will be many booms and busts in various cryptocurrencies, and warns people from relying on them for things like pensions and savings for grandchildren.

Despite all the gloomy predictions, Bard sees long-term potential in cryptocurrencies, and thinks that their underlying technology, the blockchain, could revolutionize just about everything.

“We have built our entire civilization on contracts. That was the first thing we did when we discovered writing. To suddenly be able to create safe contracts with thousands of strangers, and trust them – that could change everything”.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

China Focus: China Steps Up Building Science And Tech Power

Via Xinhuanet:

China has made a series of achievements in science and technology over the past month as the country quickens its pace in becoming a leading science and tech power by the middle of the century.

China has been a leader in quantum technologies, which eliminate the possibility of wiretapping and secure communication. In early September, it was announced the Beijing-Shanghai quantum communication network has met requirements to open for service.

The 2.000-km network, the world's first, will be used for secure data transmission in the military, finance and government affairs fields.

The country has also completed a test of its high-throughput satellite Shijian-13, designating it as Zhongxing-16. With a transfer capacity of 20 Gbps, the satellite is capable of providing better Internet access on planes and high-speed trains, as well as in less-developed regions.

In a step toward launching a Mars probe around 2020, planners have mapped out a 400-million-yuan (61 million U.S. dollars) development plan to turn a red rock basin in Qaidam basin in northwest China's Qinghai Province into a Mars scientific research base and eco-tourism site.

The base is expected to consist of a "Mars community" and a "Mars campsite". The campsite will have a number of experimental module-like accommodations.

Underground research has also moved swiftly. Researchers recently acquired hot dry rock (HDR), with temperatures of 236 degrees Celsius, from 3.705 meters below Gonghe basin in Qinghai Province.

HDR is usually buried 3.000 to 10.000 meters under the earth's surface. It can be used to generate clean electricity via its high temperatures. The breakthrough means China is a step closer to easing environmental problems related to the greenhouse effect and acid rain.

China has made innovation the core of its 13th five-year plan (2016-2020), with the aim of becoming an "innovation nation" by 2020, an international leader in innovation by 2030, and a world powerhouse in scientific and technological innovation by 2050.

"We will accelerate R&D and commercialization of new materials, artificial intelligence, integrated circuits, bio-pharmacy, 5G mobile communications, and other technology to develop industrial clusters in these fields", said a government work report issued this year.

Such efforts will help the country improve convenience of transportation, raise living standards, resolve energy resource shortages, and boost economic development.

Developers said on Wednesday that track has been laid for China's longest high-speed railway at high latitudes, and the railway is scheduled to open in June 2018.

Running at 200 km per hour, the 343-km railway linking Harbin, capital of the northeast province of Heilongjiang, and Jiamusi in the same province, runs through four tunnels and over 120 bridges. It will cut travel time to 1.5 hours from 7 hours.

On the environmental front, an in-orbit test of China's first orbiting carbon observatory satellite was successfully completed in September. Scientists will convert magnetic signals received from the satellite into visible spectral signals, and then calculate the concentration of carbon dioxide.

While development of science and technology promises a better future, it also saves the lives of millions of people today.

According to a study published in late August, Chinese scientists have found a compound that helps a tumor-targeting virus kill liver cancer more effectively while sparing healthy cells, offering new hope for treating the world's second most common cancer killer.

A therapy that uses viruses to selectively kill cancer cells is rapidly progressing through clinical evaluation, but the therapeutic efficacy in humans has been less than expected from pre-clinical studies, according to the study published in the U.S. journal Science Translational Medicine.

China needs science and technology more than ever and the country's scientists should occupy the world's science and technology high ground, said Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

The quickest and easiest way to achieve innovation is through a global cooperation network to boost innovation.

The G20 Blueprint on Innovative Growth, adopted at the Hangzhou summit in September last year, commits governments to creating a favorable environment for creativity and development.

Scientific innovation was also a central topic at the Belt and Road forum in Beijing in May, with China proposing a Belt and Road Science, Technology and Innovation Cooperation Action Plan.

A science and technology cooperation network along the Belt and Road will be completed in 2030, Bai said.

Friday, September 08, 2017

The "Warren Buffett Of Sweden" Shares 5 Pieces Of Saving Advice That Will Help Anyone Become A Millionaire

Via Business Insider:

Roughly one in ten Swedes are millionaires today (in the local currency). Per H. Börjesson, the founder and CEO of investment company Spiltan, thinks there could, and should, be many more.

Börjesson's bestselling book "Here's how all Swedes can become millionaires" has a simple message: The key to becoming financially independent is to follow a number of simple savings advice, and stick with them through thick and thin. The book had a big impact in Sweden, especially as it came out in the depths of the financial crisis.

Börjesson is an avid disciple of investor legend Warren Buffett, and often quotes his advice: "Everybody can become rich on stocks, but you need to be ready to commit for at least a decade". Börjesson's track record with Spiltan, one of Sweden's foremost investment companies, has earned him (along with a handful of other Swedish financiers) the informal nickname "Warren Buffet of Sweden".

Here are Börjesson's 5 key pieces of advice to young people starting out today (and to anyone else for that matter), according to Veckans Affärer (VA).

1. Start each month by saving 10 percent of your income

When some of his readers question the feasibility of this advice, he reponds: "I notice all the time how people spend money on things that are not necessary, such as eating lunch in a restaurant instead of preparing your own, buying coffee on your way to work, lottery tickets and cigarettes etc".

”Absorb the oldest and best investment advice there is: save 10 percent of your salary each month, before you do anything else. Don't wait", Börjesson told Dagens Industri.

2. Live within your means, i.e. don't let your costs surpass incomes

3. Buy shares or equity funds

"If you buy shares in a company, then investment companies are a good alternative. When it comes to funds, choose index funds with low fees, or active funds. You can also buy individual quality stocks".

4. Hold on to your assets

"The best thing is to never sell all of your shares. But you can use some of your assets for an apartment or for that dream holiday".

5. Be very careful when listening to investment advisors

Börjesson says that you shouldn't rely too much on "experts", but instead make independet decisions when it comes to your money. When buying your index funds, make sure that the fees are low. That way, you will be able to keep most of the returns.

"The most tragic thing is that even the people who do a good job saving each month, cannot become millionaires if they accept bad advice from advisors who are really just salesmen", Börjesson says.