Welcome to Bespoke Brunch Reads, our Saturday morning summary of interesting things we’re reading this week. The links are mostly market related, but there will be some other interesting subjects covered as well.  The links are in no particular order.  We hope you enjoy the food for thought as a supplement to the research we provide you during the week.

The definition of recession needs a rethink by Robin Harding (FT)

While Japan has now slipped into negative growth for a second quarter in a row, is the pullback in economic activity that it’s suffering truly a recession? Likely not.  [Link, paywall]

Facebook’s new responsibilities after Paris by Kadhim Shubber (FT Alphaville)

Facebook’s “check-in” tool was widely used in the wake of the bombings in Paris, but is the company opening a can of moral worms by this particular embedding of its services into our social fabric? [Link, registration required]

The Cannibalized Company by Karen Brettell, David Gaffen and David Rohde (Reuters)

A long, deep dive into trends in US corporate capital allocation; while we judge some of the observations as trumped up, the combined return of capital (share buybacks plus dividends paid) recently increased above total net income.  This and other trends are worrying to be sure. [Link]

The Importance of Commodity Prices in Understanding U.S. Import Prices and Inflation by Thomas Klitgaard and Patrick Russo (NY Fed Liberty Street Economics)

An excellent dive into the relationship between the dollar, commodities, and price pressure across the economy. [Link]

As Argentina prepares for presidential elections, Denise Prime and Tim Love explore what is really at stake for the country. by GAM

A good summary of the challenges and nascent opportunities for Argentina ahead of local elections. [Link]

Square Pays $93 Million Penalty to Some Investors in IPO by Scott Austin and Rolfe Winkler (WSJ)

An overview of “ratchets”, which protect late-stage private market investors from big losses at the expense of earlier investors and employee equity holders; the result is a capital structure that looks much, much more like senior and subordinated debt than traditional equity. [Link]

Inside ISIS Inc series by Erika Solomon, Ahmed Mhidi, Guy Chazan, Sam Jones, Robin Kwong and Steven Bernard  (FT)

An excellent set of articles detailing the means and methods of the ISIS war machine’s financing: it’s all about fossil fuels and the logistics they require. [Link 1, Link 2, Link 3, paywall]

Retail as a discipline by Intersect (Medium)

A nice, in-depth read on The Buckle (ticker BKE); while we don’t necessarily recommend the shares, this effort to dig beyond the noise that surrounds the retail sector right now at both the macro and micro level is worthwhile. [Link]

Changes in Sense of Humor May Presage Dementia by Susan Pinker (WSJ)

We’re more than a little bit concerned for the financial community as a whole on this one; apparently, our collective snark is an enormously negative signal for our collective cognitive outlook. [Link]

U.S. Tech Startups Head to Australia for IPOs by Rachel Pannett (WSJ)

In a strange turn of events, small US tech companies are doing reverse mergers and IPOs to get listed in public markets, taking advantage of Australian listing rules originally designed to improve capital access for small mining companies, of all things. [Link]

Stock Traders Reap Promotions and Pay as Bond Brethren Laid Low by Camila Russo, Michael J Moore and Hugh Son (Bloomberg)

The balance of power is shifting on Wall Street as equity traders make gains in pay but highly paid bond trading divisions slash bonuses. [Link]

Pharma’s Bizarre Pricing Shrug by Max Nisen (Bloomberg Gadfly)

A deep-dive into pharmaceutical pricing, which includes the alarming statistic that 80% of the 20 largest pharma companies’ net profit growth was due to price increases on existing drugs. [Link]

The Doomsday Scam by C. J. Chivers (NYT)

Inside the greatest hoax in the history of munitions: the hunt – and its tragic consequences – for red mercury, a substance that does not exist. [Link]

The world’s tallest building planned – in ex-warzone Basra by Steve Rose (The Guardian)

In an unlikely turn of events given the violence that ripped southern Iraq apart in the early 2000s and the threat of ISIS in the north of the country, prosperous Basra is the planned home of a new world’s tallest building, a massive complex of multiple towers. [Link]

A Conversation with Cliff Asness by Tyler Cowen & Cliff Asness (Medium)

Economics blogger at Marginal Revolution, George Mason professor, and Mercatus Center scholar Tyler Cowen interview University of Chicago PhD and AQR Capital Management founder/principal Cliff Asness in a wide-ranging conversation on markets, comic book heroes, and sports. [Link]

China Has a $1.2 Trillion Ponzi Finance Problem (Bloomberg)

Chinese companies are starting to issue new debt that directly finances interest payments as businesses struggle to avoid default amidst a dearth of cash flow. [Link]

China Cracks $64 Billion ‘Underground Bank’ Moving Money Abroad (Bloomberg)

The massive, illicit industry that helps Chinese savers move their capital offshore, skirting capital account restrictions, was dealt a blow this week as authorities arrested hundreds connected to the scheme this week. [Link]

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