Month: October 2019

Harley Davidson sneaks in a 50% cut to future hoping no one would spot it

Harley-Davidson’s (HOG) Q3 results continued the poor run. Declining global unit sales and 30+ day delinquencies plus annualized loss experience are at 9-year highs. The company sneakily halved its outlook on plans to cultivate its rider base which further shows the management is clueless and running out of options. It smacks of desperation.

Shares bounced almost 10% on the numbers. The funny thing is that quarter after quarter, the earnings releases read like Groundhog Day. Of any positive news, international ended up slightly positive (+2.7% for Q3, -3.9% for 9M) but were was still below expectations). Japan was cited as a positive. Then again Japan sales are 40% below the peak and have been dwindling for 10 years. Australia was ok but EU weak.

Only two thing worth paying attention to in these results.

1) Targets

For the last few years, HOG has been banging on about how it will create 2 million “new” US riders into the Harley fold by 2027. Indeed CEO Matt Levatich was adamant on the conference call that “the team is laser-focused on building riders today and preparing us and our dealers to welcome a broader array of new riders moving forward.” Typical bluster.

Levatich must be using lasers from The Dollar Store given their accuracy to date.

In Q3, HOG has shifted that language to 4m total riders in the US by 2027. It currently stands at just over 3m. So that 2m new US rider target has effectively more than halved but no explanation for the change was given which proved CM’s hunch. It was snuck in. HOG management said “we’ve done the math“. CM would argue, “what, so you hadn’t done it properly beforehand?” This only reveals the ineptitude within management ranks. Instead of investigating where the problem is needless share buybacks are continuing at a heady clip. $112.5m for the quarter.

CM has written in the past sets of results,

HOG’s 2mn new riders in the US by 2027 seems an irrelevant target. 200,000 “new” riders per year by definition should not include existing customers. Management combine new and used sales using IHS Markit Motorcycles in Operation (MIO) data, not their own! That is fine if all are new Harley customers yet the brand has some of the highest loyalty rates of any maker period. Are we to believe that long term Harley owners didn’t upgrade?

Of the 138,000 new domestic US sales in 2018, the brand assumed 278,000 new riders to the family. It also cites that 50% of that were 18-34yo (implies poorer product mix), women (smaller capacity hence poorer product mix) or ethnically diverse (irrelevant) riders. So by definition at least 140,000 sales were used bikes. Harley used bike sales in America are around 2.5x new, or 350,000 units. So assuming half were new customer sales for new bikes, 60% of used sales must have been to ‘never owned a Harley’ customers. Seems high.”

Yet Levatich continued in the conference call by saying,

guiding all our efforts is deeper analysis and insights on why people engage, participate and disengage from riding. Our advanced analytics capabilities and rider migration database has evolved into a powerful asset and a wealth of information and inspiration for us.

But Mr Levatich, HOG unit sales and revenues have been in retreat for 5 years in a row. Sure, motorcycle markets are tough but it hasn’t affected other premium makers BMW Motorrad, KTM, Ducati and Triumph at the luxury end. HOG sounds a bit like the Australian Wallabies. Lots of positive talk despite overwhelmingly negative signals, results and glaring problems with the management structure. It is time to wake up. HOG is missing the simplest of things – product that customers want.

This is a company that continues to rely on its 116-yo divine franchise. Basing its future on what seems to be a marketing company puffing up fanciful predictions in the face of a dire outlook. The worst thing about it is that management is in denial.

2) Finance

HOG is the ultimate discretionary spending item. Doesn’t seem that they are spending at HOG. If anything, the financial services business shows current customers are struggling to pay their loans. An interesting anecdote from Polaris (PII) Q3 results overnight was the claim that its Indian brand (which competes directly with Harley) admitted,

North American consumer retail sales for Polaris Indian motorcycles decreased mid-teens percent during the third quarter of 2019 primarily due to the weak mid to heavy-weight two-wheel motorcycle industry that was down high-single digits percent and retail pressure from heavy competitive promotional spending.”

If HOG is cranking up the finance and promotional spending shouldn’t investors be wary of a further deterioration in the types of customers they are lending to? When CM covered HOG as an analyst 20 years ago, the then management told CM that Harley owners would forgo the mortgage before payments on the bike, such was the rock-solid nature of the finance arm.

No, HOG’s loan book is unlikely to bury it but the signals are such that it is having to resort to pushing so much harder to make sales. That is evidence of a soft backdrop which management is not being open and transparent enough about.

HOG fortunes are bound to get a lot worse before they get better. The hopes and dreams of the delayed electric LiveWire e-bike is too expensive to attract eco-mentalist millennials and completely unattractive to overweight bearded men covered in tattoos to desire. Harleys were always an escape tool. Products where owners could hide away in the man cave tinkering. That isn’t to say that Harley doesn’t need to innovate but at the moment it isn’t staying true to itself. That is why customers are disengaging.

Expect the 2020 numbers to follow the trend of the last 5 years. An utter disaster.

NB this piece does not constitute as investment advice. CM has no positions in HOG.

Teflon Trudeau

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At this stage, it seems that Canadian PM Justin Trudeau will form a minority government. Look forward to 4 more years of gaffes ahead. Having said that, the Conservatives need to take a long hard look in the mirror and realise they lost to a completely empty suit. That speaks volumes of their (lack of) popularity where it mattered. CM has said for a long time that Rona Ambrose was always the better choice to be the leader of the Conservatives. This was an own goal.

Trudeau had blackface, brown face, dressing like an Indian, using words like peoplekind, using two planes on the election campaign and the Trans Mountain pipeline debacle despite his climate emergency antics, found guilty of breaching ethics in the Aga Khan and SNC Lavalin scandals and even suggesting the use of haiku and poetry to assimilate returning ISIS fighters etc. against him but despite all that and more, it didn’t upset enough Canadians to sway their vote. All of this was on the ticket, much like Trump’s “grab ’em by the p#ssy” remarks. Say all you want about the morals or ethics of those that still voted for him despite all this. It is irrelevant. They did. Deal with it. For once Obama got a call right.

The Conservatives should have done far better but obviously failed to connect with the people. Scheer should step down as leader. Canada is obviously not that conservative despite a strong gain. Sadly, Scheer’s performances were quite poor in the final weeks when deflecting questions, especially related to hiring people that Trump used on his campaign. Just sounded disingenuous. Best to admit it and carry on. If there was a worry this would be discovered Scheer’s team shouldn’t have hired him.

No point in Conservatives wheeling out the old “we won the popular vote” excuse as the Democrats did in the 2016 US election as Trudeau has held onto power by the rules. In the end that is all that counts.

Still, Canadians, nor the Liberals should be cheering the outcome. Minority governments are poisonous. Australia’s 2010 election proved how disastrous compromise can be. As politicians look to serve their own interests, poor compromise is often made. Note that Singh’s NDP has been slaughtered so even as a coalition partner, he can’t wield so much power with such a poor outcome, so net-net Trudeau won’t face much of a different landscape.

On a positive note, by losing their majority, the Liberals will also lose a majority on parliamentary committees. This will mean far less ability to shut down investigations of scandals. A strengthened opposition may look into a deeper investigation on SNC-Lavalin but is that what Canadians want?

So with bitter disappointment, congratulations still go to Teflon Trudeau. CM believes it will be a case of buyer’s remorse in Canada. Conservatives have 4 more years to get their house in order. Much like Albanese is struggling with Labor’s platform in Australia, Conservatives need to wake up and smell the coffee.

It is worth assessing what has happened in Canada translating south of the border in next year’s US presidential election. Can people see how despite being cloaked in scandals, gaffes, blunders and many other flaws, Trudeau didn’t lose enough voters to cost him his job? That is why, despite the hateful media, Trump is set to romp home in 2020. Ultimately people care (and vote) about issues affecting them, not the morals or actions of those that hold power. Do people really think the Democrats are in with a shot with the current crowd of candidates? Trump has a Teflon coating too.

“Houston, we have a problem” (with Hillary)

Poor Hillary! NASA (founded in 1958), back in the late 1950s & 1960s, probably weren’t rejecting applications based on gender as a form of sexism but because to be an astronaut in those days meant one had to be at the elite end of an exceptionally high pool of candidates that were invariably drafted from US Navy, Marine or Air Force jet-fighter corps where no women were serving in such roles at the time. John Glenn served as a fighter pilot in WWII, as well as Korea. Moonwalkers, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were Korean War fighter pilots. Michael Collins, the spring chicken in that group was a USAF fighter pilot. Noticing a pattern Hillary?

Back then, spaceships weren’t as automated as today. The space programme 70 odd years ago required pilots with in-depth flight experience, as technology back then was very much in its infancy. Exploring the flight envelope was properly in the danger zone. Perhaps the mood at NASA back then was one of chivalry, not gender bias. Maybe they believed in keeping women out of harm’s way after the war, rather than acting like a cabal of white male supremacist misogynists?

Although if Hillary bothered to check her history it shows us that Sally Ride became the first American woman in space back in 1983. 36 years ago. Diversity and inclusion in the rocketship have been around for almost 4 decades!

Did Hillary forget the brave souls including Christa McAulliffe who lost their lives in 1986 on the space shuttle Challenger?

CM once wrote to BMW Motorsport racing as a clueless 16yo car fanatic with dreams to become a racing driver. Sadly, CM’s dimensions (6’2″ and 100kg at the time… err hem even worse now) were not the stuff that would have been suitable for anything other than semi-trailer rigs which BMW didn’t make. Sometimes, at the pinnacle of certain professions, physical attributes, unfortunately, rule certain folk out.

It is none-the-less amazing to witness the oppression Hillary Clinton has faced during her life. Doesn’t your heart bleed? CM thinks many Americans would gladly see Hillary as an astronaut with a one-way ticket. Jettisoned as space junk. Can you imagine if Apollo 13 had Clinton on board during that rescue mission? She would undoubtedly be arguing with Mission Control on how things should be done, not the other way around. At least now, she would have made up for the weight deficit that ill-fated mission required to get the module safely back to earth!

I have no relationship with the CEO & not much with the chairman

Doesn’t this speak volumes? As Australian Wallabies coach Michael Cheika announced his resignation he let loose that it was no secret he had no relationship with the CEO Raelene Castle and a very poor one with Chairman Cameron Clyne.

How could it be that top management had no rapport with one of the most senior line managers of the flagship product? Is it any wonder the Folau debacle got to where it is? Incompetence reigns supreme.

For a leadership team that bangs on incessantly about inclusion, diversity and cohesion, Cheika’s remarks show how loose the grip was on the very people that needed to be the flashing beacon of the very institution Rugby Australia (RA) proclaims it instills. Where was the partnership?

Time for rebirth. The fans just want a winning team and to achieve that communication between the upper echelons of management and staff is key. As it stands it isn’t hard to fathom that there is next to zero at present. Hence why RA’s results (financial and game) are as abysmal as they are

For Cheika to launch a parting shot of that kind doesn’t smack of professionalism but at the same time it is probably the most truthful expose of the inner workings of the RA cabal.

Toxic employees are bad for any business. In most cases the resentment in the ranks coming from management’s tolerance of people who let poison fester within the workplace only worsens performance of the core. Eventually political cunning gives way to results that doesn’t match the bluster. The question is whether RA can be exorcised quickly enough to enable a proper healing? Given the insistence on being woke, that looks unlikely.

The values RA uphold may seem wonderfully progressive in theory but surely as a body seeking to uphold the pinnacle of sports and sportsmanship it should strive to understand where the future lies for the franchise. It isn’t yearning for diversity or participation prizes. Best look across the ditch for inspiration as to why the All Blacks are so strong. Just read their objective #1: to stay on top of the world. CM guesses NZ coach Steve Hansen has a wonderful bond with his board. You can’t fool kids who lose 100-0 that they played well either. Best start with grass roots that embody the spirit of competition. Embrace it. Then watch the fans flock back to the game.

Time we Cheiked out, DeClyned and binned the deflated Castle

The truculence of Australian Wallabies coach Michael Cheika’s is infamous. While he has never shied away from roughing up journalists at media press conferences (like a coach who might have an enviable win record) he couldn’t take a question on his future (around the 3-minute mark in the video). As if he wasn’t going to be asked such a question? His preparation was worse than that of the Wallabies. Cheika said, “Find a little compassion for people that are hurting!” Really? Feel sympathy for a bully? Harden up, snowflake!

Watching the Wallabies last night showed a team with little cohesion and the all too common inability to execute. Is it any wonder fans have grown disinterested. The stats speak to the disaster.

The Wallabies had 64% of possession (68% in 2H) and 62% of the territory (66% in 2H) yet conceded 18 turnovers to England’s 8. England made 172 tackles vs our 73. Clearly, when England had the ball they managed to execute, hence four tries (including two embarrassing intercepts) to one. Dismal.

Post the Rugby World Cup 2019, Cheika has a 50% overall win record. With the All Blacks, it was 17%. England @ 13%. Ireland @ 20%. Even Scotland was @ 50%. Other Wallabies coaches had the following win ratios:

Bob Dwyer – 64% win record

Alan Jones – 68%

Greg Smith – 63%

Rod Macqueen – 79%

Eddie Jones – 58%

John Connolly- 59%

Robbie Deans – 58%

Ewen Mackenzie- 50%

However, the problem in CM’s view isn’t the quality or talent of the players. Far from it. It is the management off the field. Aussie rugby is being systematically destroyed. CM has written before about the falling attendance and drifting profitability. Fans are clearly well and truly tired of the excuses.

It shouldn’t surprise us when Rugby Australia (RA) & NZ Rugby (NZR) reveal primary objectives. It shouldn’t surprise us when RA & NZR reveal primary objectives.

Objective 1 in the NZR 2018 Annual Report is “REMAINING ON TOP OF THE WORLD” (p.18)

Objective 1 in RA’s 2018 Annual Report is written as, “For rugby to continue to be a sport of choice in a rapidly changing society…community coaches are responsible…for creating fun, safe and inclusive environments” (p.10).

Between 2014 vs 2018, RA had the following statistics:

-Wallabies team costs (coach, support etc) +70% ($9.97m)

-Matchday revenue -42.1% ($20.17m)

-Sponsorships -11.5% ($28.23m)

-Player contracts +3.2% ($16.79m)

– Licensing revenue -12.9% ($1.67m)

Has the board reflected on what might be the problem?

It smacks of similar issues that plagued Cricket Australia (CA) leading into the cheating scandal. A culture that thought it was untouchable. The arrogance that they knew better. CA has finally had a cathartic cleansing at the board and coaching level. Results are now starting to show.

If RA wants a new coach, they’d be better off looking to one which promotes fluidity and allows improvisation. The problem with set plays is that it requires the opposition to fall into the trap the attacking team want to set. Simplicity is key.

This video of Coach Brian Clough is a great story of how one man built a team and took it from the bottom of 2nd division to the top of the Premier League. He won two European championships too. Listen to how his players had such great respect for Clough (from the 37th minute).

The three C’s of RA need to go – Chairman Clyne, CEO Castle and Coach Cheika.

Forget the return “ON” your money. Just look to the return “OF” it

CM knew a lot of passive indices existed but not to this crazy extent. Probably explains why there is so much stupid money tied up in me too commoditised investment products. 4 years ago CM wrote a piece on the dangers of ETFs (especially leveraged)  and passive products in a downturn. These products predominantly follow the market, not lead it. So if these products end up stampeding toward the exits in a market meltdown, the extent will be amplified, especially those levered funds potentially making market panic look worse than it really might otherwise be. Don’t be surprised to see the mainstream media sensationalise the size of any falls in the market.

According to Bloomberg, 770,000 benchmark indexes were scrapped globally in 2019…however  2.96 million indexes remain around the world, according to a new report from the Index Industry Association…There are an estimated 630,000 stocks that trade globally, including c.2,800 stocks on the NYSE and c. 3,330 on NASDAQ or 5x as many indices as there are securities globally.

CM wrote back in October 2015,

ETFs are hitting the market faster than the dim-sum trolley can circle the banquet hall. Charles Schwab, in the 12 months to July 2015, saw a 130-fold preference of ETF over mutual funds given their relative simplicity, cost and transparency….

…ETFs, despite increasing levels of sophistication, have brought about higher levels of market volatility. Studies have shown that a one standard deviation move of S&P500 ETF ownership as a percentage of total outstanding shares carries 21% excess intraday volatility. Regulators are also realising that limit up/down rules are exacerbating risk pricing and are seeking to revise as early as October 2015. In less liquid markets excess volatility has proved to be 54% higher with ETFs than the actual underlying indices. As more bearish market activity has arrived since August 2015 we investigate how ETFs may impact given a large part of recent existence has been under more favourable conditions…

CEO Larry Fink of Blackrock, the world’s largest ETF creator, has made it clear that
leveraged ETFs (at present 1.2% of total ETF AUM) have the potential to “blow up the whole industry one day.” The argument is that the underlying assets that provide the leverage (which tend to have less liquidity) could cause losses very quickly in volatile markets. To put this in perspective we looked at the Direxion Daily Fin Bull 3x (FAS) 3x leverage of the Russell 1000 Financial Services Index. As illustrated in the following chart FAS in volatile markets tends to overshoot aggressively

…The point Mr Fink is driving at is more obvious with the following chart which shows in volatile markets, the average daily return is closer to 10x (in both directions) than the 3x it is seeking to offer. This is post any market meltdown. On a daily basis, the minimum and maximum has ended up being -1756x to 1483x of the index return, albeit those extremes driven by the law of small numbers of the return of the underlying index. Which suggests that in a nasty downturn the ETF performance of the leveraged plays could be well outside the expectations of the holders.”

CM has said for many years, where CDOs and CDSs required the intelligence of a mystical hermit atop a mountain in the Himalayas to understand the complexities, ETFs are the complete opposite. Super easy to understand which inadvertently causes complacency. Unfortunately, as much as they might try to do as written on the tin, the reality could well turn out to be the exact opposite.

Hence CM continues to believe that stocks with low levels of corporate social responsibility (CSR) scores like tobacco companies such s Philip Morris, JT and Imperial Tobacco, as well as gold/silver bullion,  look the places to be invested. Cash won’t necessarily be king because the banks are already in a world of pain that hasn’t even truly started yet. Aussie banks look like screaming shorts at these levels. The easiest way for the plebs – without access to a prime broker – to do this is to buy put options on individual bank names. Out of the money options are dirt cheap.

Banks

Forget the return ONyour money. Just look to the returnOFit.

NB, none of this constitutes investment advice. It is a reflection of where CM is invested only.