Month: November 2018

Unconditional Surrender

There is absolutely no way on earth that the 17mn who voted ‘Leave’ envisaged a Brexit plan that gave away money, took away voting rights, kept the country tied up in all current and future EU red tape, open borders and laws they’ll have no say over. On every level it’s a lose-lose. May’s plan virtually guarantees Britain will be worse off. No deal would make way more sense.

The UK is the 5th largest economy in the world. It should have been enough reason to negotiate FTA’s with anyone. Obama might have threatened that Brits would go to the back of the line, but who was he fooling? 17mn Brits thought otherwise. The people spoke.

Of course the Remainers will crow about their foresighted wisdom. Leavers will wonder why the Tory party room are prepared to back a deal that just looks so ridiculous. It doesn’t look like a negotiation took place. Unconditional surrenders have come with more  favourable T’s & C’s. If May is such good mates with Trump, why didn’t she take a leaf out of his negotiation tactics with the EU? EC President  Jean-Claude Juncker stumbled on the White House lawn after agreeing to sign an FTA with America in one day. Of course the Europhiles will argue the fine print will overwhelmingly protect EU rights, but the point is May never went into bat for her constituents. She sold her countrymen and women down the Thames.

Boris Johnson correctly summed up,

I really can’t believe it but this Government seems to be on the verge of total surrender. With every day that passes we seem to be getting more craven. We have already agreed to hand over £40bn for nothing – and certainly not a trade deal – in return.

We have agreed to become the punk of Brussels, signing up not just to their existing rulebook but to huge chunks of future regulation – even though we will have no say in drafting that legislation. We have agreed against all promises that the European Court of Justice will have a say in the enforcement of that regulation in the UK.

We have been so feeble in our preparations to leave the EU on WTO terms, and so unnaturally terrified of the consequences (greatly exaggerated by the scaremongers) that we have now said we will remain in the so-called customs union.

Which means that our trade policy will be run by Brussels at least until 2022, and – at this rate – long beyond that date. We will not be able to do free trade deals of any great value. We will not be able to take back control of our tariffs, our borders, our money, our laws. It is not even clear whether we will be able to set our own VAT rates – and yet we will have no one round the table to argue the UK case…”

With any luck, the bill will be blocked by Parliament. Leave Rebel MPs should vote against this travesty and look to file a no confidence motion to boot May. This is not what the people voted for. Regardless of whether people may or may not have changed their minds, everyone knew what was on the table and what the expected  outcomes. The ticket stated clearly in black and white,

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So May’s plan technically keeps the UK in the EU without being a member.  No doubt she has been promised a fat cat advisory role in Brussels when she is turfed, which she surely deserves to be.

We should not overlook the behaviour or Brussels with unruly members in the past. Austria, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Ireland etc. You can take it to the bank that the EU will go out of its way to punish the Brits. Easier to bully the UK which may yet sign  away their own rights as if they were the vanquished army in war.  This isn’t a negotiation but a total capitulation.

So much for protecting democracy and respecting the results of a referendum. Why bother holding it in the first place?

 

Crypto schmypto

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CM is not a fan of crypto currencies. Apart from the fact they are solely backed by greed (when you buy a share or bar of gold you get ownership of  a physical asset in return) there are too many of the damn things. We have approximately 190 fiat currencies in circulation. Of that only a handful trade. US$, GBP, euro, yen, A$, C$ and RMB. After that liquidity goes out the window. Try getting a good rate from the Travelex currency window on Malaysian ringit. If you invest in illiquid coins the same nasty spreads will ruin any thirst for making a fortune

With crypto currencies, there are over 2,000 variants. Bitcoin is the bellwether. It has a net worth of $94 billion. Only a handful of others trade. Many should have realised that when the Japanese started to get all excited over the craze the gig was up. Japanese variety show comedians were responsible for the promotion almost 12 months ago when Bitcoin was at all time highs. Some companies like Rakuten were offering to pay staff  in crypto in lieu of cash salaries.  Now Bitcoin is languishing at 20% of that value.

Take a look at some of the products being invented to become crypto. LivingOffset is a classic case in point. It used Wikipedia as a source for justifying the validity of its findings in its prospectus.  That settles it then. Who wouldn’t buy an asset backed by Wikipedia research?!?

From LivingOffset – “Global concern about climate change is growing rapidly. Five out of every 10 people now consider climate change to be a serious problem. In Chile and Peru the number is over 75%. Interestingly, 69% of Americans are concerned about global warming [if you believe Huff Post], despite their government’s position. There is no doubt demand for our offering is there, and like Airbnb, we can provide the means and the mechanism for easy participation. In just a few minutes ordinary people can start to make a real and meaningful difference.

In January 2017, IPSOS held a global poll asking what each country’s major problem was and climate change didn’t feature a mention.

Apart from the completely bogus stats on ‘69% of Americans being concerned by global warming, SUV sales remain a solid staple in the US. In fact the most popular car in America is the Ford F-150 pick-up truck where customers rank ‘fuel economy’ #28 in terms of reasons they buy it.

Here was the promise at prospectus time around March 2018. The launch was delayed on the basis there was a need to make it more global in appeal. It supposedly launches this month.

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Below lists how some of the other crypto currencies performed overnight. This is before heavy handed legislation has come down to regulate the industry. If you look at a crypto kiosk in Shinbashi, Tokyo you’ll likely see a Rolls-Royce parked out front, presumably owned by someone in the Yakuza. As far as money laundering goes, crypto’s are brilliant.

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In an event, crypto currencies are most at the mercy of cyber fraud. Don’t buy the bomb proof guarantees of blockchain. If state agencies want to destroy these markets, they can do it on a whim. Then again there is little need to do so given the numerous events of hackers breaking into crypto exchanges and costing them huge liabilities l. Coincheck in Japan lost $500mn in one day due to a breach.

In short, crypto is little better than betting on a roulette table. If the benchmark crypto is hemorrhaging like this, why put faith in the illiquid stuff being any better? Fiat currencies may not be good stores of value but there are far more sensible places to protect wealth than parking it in products which are underwritten by nothing more than greed.  If you like a flutter by all means throw some loose change into crypto.

Perspective

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What have both these stocks have in common? Apple & GE have both held the title for world’s largest stock by market capitalisation at one point in time. GE was worth $594bn at its peak during the tech bubble. Apple has been valued at over $1 trillion this year but is at $921bn as of today. The irony of over the last 7 days Apple has lost more market cap than GE is worth, two times over. How the mighty have fallen.

32% more honey in Smokey Bear’s fire fighting budget

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Utterly unnecessary comments from Trump when he threatened to slash the Forestry Service budget due to supposed Forestry Management incompetence being behind the devastating fires in California. The budget of the US Department of Agriculture Forestry Service does prove that he has a point in that monies directed at “preparedness” and “suppression” will have risen 32% since he took office. No fire is alike and there have been plenty of deaths and property destruction from the terrible conditions. What is to be gained by knocking the leadership of the Forestry Service when the brave fire fighters and volunteers still put their lives on the line to prevent the spread of fires? Hardly motivational. While there maybe grounds to improve operational efficiency, the timing couldn’t have been more inappropriate.

CalPERS unfunded pension deficit approaches $1 trillion. Who is counting?

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California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) lost around 2% of its funds in 2015/16. The fund assumed an aggressive 7.5% return. Dr. Joe Nation of Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research thinks unfunded liabilities have surged to $150bn from $93bn in the last two years. He suggested the use of a more realistic 4% rate of return last year. At that rate, CalPERS had a market based unfunded liability of $412bn (or the equivalent of 2 years’ worth of California state revenue). At present Nation now thinks the number is just shy of $1 trillion using a 3.25% discount rate. He expects that the 2017 data for CalPERS will be out in a week or so which should give some interesting perspective as to how much deeper the pension hole is for Californian public servants.

N.B. California collects $232bn in state taxes annually in a $2.3 trillion economy (around the size of Italy).

 

Ocasio-Cortez’s DC dilemma

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One would hope that newly elected Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would be quick on her feet when it comes to dazzling her colleagues. She is complaining she can’t afford a property in DC before her $172,500pa salary kicks in 3-4 months down the line.

She could do three things:

1) ask her multi million dollar gated mansion, rent-a-cop guarded Democratic colleagues to let her stay in one of the spare rooms. Obama has an $8.5mn 8-bedroom mansion in DC. Surely she won’t cramp them too much especially with Malia at college and Sasha likely to move out soon.

2) crowd fund for the 3 months which will likely win her millions  so she can buy a place of her own.

3) or in her own words to justify everything that costs money  – “you just pay for it”

How long will it take to learn from Chuck, Nancy, Maxine, Elizabeth and so on that some pigs are more equal than others? My guess isn’t very long. First world problems for someone with third world policies.

 

Does the data show Donald in the dumpster?

Midterm

This is a simple schematic of first term presidents and the results at the ballot box of their first mid term. Since 1910, the incumbent parties have invariably lost ground. More interestingly, Democrats had control of either/both House of Reps and Senate during Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush Sr – all Republicans. Republican Presidents Taft, Harding, Hoover, Eisenhower and Trump lost the House at the midterms. Truman, Clinton and Obama suffered the same fate for the Democrats.

Trump achieved the highest number of Senate seats taken by a first term Republican president for over 100 years. George W Bush achieved rising numbers for HoR/Senate  post 9/11 but only Democrats have achieved the feat – Woodrow Wilson, FDR and JFK. Perhaps the irrelevance of the outcomes in the mid-terms is that despite the floggings Wilson, Truman, Ike, Reagan, Clinton, Bush Jr and Obama all were comfortably reelected for a second term.

Given the headwinds Trump was facing from the mainstream media, his unorthodox outbursts, twitter tirades and so forth, the electorate didn’t grant the Democrats a huge gift  they were expecting. Even worse they gave Trump a bigger authority to appoint SC justices should an opportunity arise by bumping his numbers in the Senate. Not surprising given the shocking gutter level political theatre over Justice Kavanaugh, vindicated by  victims confessing they had lied.

The Democrats should still be concerned that the $70mn spent on Beto O’Rourke came to nothing.  Beyonce also endorsed Beto. Oprah endorsed Abrams in Georgia – who is likely to lose. Taylor Swift endorsed Bredesen – who also lost. All four candidates openly supported by Obama lost. So much for celebrity power swaying electorates. It probably had a counter effect.

Even worse, in Nevada a brothel owner and reality TV star won his race despite dying last month. It is hard to work out what is the bigger tragedy. Voting for someone dead or being the competing Democrat to lose to a dead person. A Republican is to be appointed to the seat by county officials.

We shouldn’t forget that the Republicans had the highest number of sitting member retirements at a first midterm in the House of Representatives for 88 years. 25 seats had a new face. Republicans won re-election as governors in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Maryland – three of them deep blue states. Where was the mainstream media on that?

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Turnout was good (for a mid term). 48.1% voted in 2018. In the last 100 years the average has been 41%. Only in 1966, did the first midterm of LBJ exceed this level at 48.7%. So much for either party causing a red or blue wave. Less than half of eligible voters showed up on November 6th 2018. More cared, but not enough.

Felons make for an interesting outlier subset. While it is hard to know their exact voting intentions, for the Gubernatorial in Georgia, would 219,431 felons have made a difference for Abrams? She trails Kemp by just under 100,000 votes. So if 55% of felons (the Georgia midterm turnout ratio) voted, 120,687 votes were up for grabs. Were it legal for Georgian state felons to vote, she would have been wise to campaign there.

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Now that the Democrats have the lower house, one wonders why they have put Nancy Pelosi in charge of the House? This is possibly to be contested. Up to fifty Democrat congressmen might oppose her for Speaker. Trump couldn’t wish for a better adversary as her litany of gaffes will undoubtedly embarrass her party. Pelosi represents pretty much everything Americans have come to despise about the Democrats.

More worryingly, Maxine Waters is being put in charge of the Financial Services Committee. At a point in the cycle where financial acumen is probably most required, this is an embarrassment, made worse by her open calls for payback.

The Democrats need fresh faces. Ones that will look for bipartisan support. If the Democrats embark upon a cocktail of revenge politics and look to push for investigation after investigation in order to impeach Trump but end up with nothing they will be seen for what they are – a party completely self-absorbed with petty vendettas. The toxic Senate debacle should have given them warning enough that voters won’t tolerate more political roadkill like that going forward.  Yet Pelosi will likely use her subpoena powers to drag everything through the gutter instead of working to improve things for Americans. Failure here will only lead the electorate to conclude they wasted two years and gift wrap 2020 for Trump.

This mid-term election was anything but a slam dunk. Put aside personal hatred of Trump, look at the data and see that Americans did not write him off as many pundits predicted. It should be more scary to realise that he is probably more Teflon-Don than he was in 2016. Second biggest mid-term turnout in history, highest net gain of seats in the Senate in 100 years for a first term GOP president, record dollars thrown at Democrat candidates backed by Trump-hating billionaires. At the end of the day folks, this is just the data talking.

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