Australia

KTM wins 18th straight Dakar

Aussie Toby Price has won the grueling 10-day Dakar endurance race in Peru overnight. Despite starting the race with a broken wrist, he still managed to overcome his disadvantage.

This chalks up Austrian brand KTM’s 18th consecutive victory. The manufacturer took 2nd and 3rd with its sister brand, Husqvarna taking 4th & 5th.

Refreshing honesty

Honesty really works. Once again capitalism allows companies to work out very quickly when consumers shun product changes without proper consultation. From Carlton Dry:

We overcomplicated things…

A beer that’s now harder to open! We clearly got this wrong and we’re sorry.

Last October we replaced our twist off caps with a ring pull cap and it didn’t take long for all of you loyal drinkers to let us know that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

So we’re pulling our fingers out, and pulling the pin on the ring pulls. As of March, the twist tops that you know and love will be back on our stubbies.

At the time we changed to ring pulls, our bottles were also reduced from 355ml to 330ml so we could avoid increasing the price – keeping it as one of the most affordable beers on the market.

To keep our prices unchanged on our stubbies we’re not passing on any of our increases in production costs for a 12-month period and we won’t pass on the Government’s February increase in beer tax. This will help keep Carlton Dry prices as low as possible.

We hope the twist top brings back the simple joy of cracking open one of our beers without burning a hole in your pocket.

TL;DR

We F’d up. Ring pull bad. Twist top good. Changing back at good price.”

Sydney Harbour Bridge is falling down?

CM is no construction engineer but this bridge expansion joint on the right (under the south side of the Cahill Expressway 100~150m before it veers left across Circular Quay) is looking rather sickly. While the top has a ball joint and the bottom leading edge looks to have a beveled surface to allow some flex/give to the structure above, it looks as if it has been sitting in that position for quite some time. Simple physics around force distribution at odd angles and metal fatigue data on a 60yr old part might be worth checking.

Averaging 30,000-40,000 cars a day and a dedicated bus lane means it gets a regular pounding. NSW RMS Minister Melinda Pavey has been informed of it.

Langer should tell selectors to keep Warner out

Just do it? There are two options. Aussie cricket coach Justin Langer knows a thing or two about opening batsmen. He was one of our best. Yes, if we want a better chance of winning sooner we could easily insert David Warner post his ban. However at 32 years and 64 days (154 days when the ban ends), isn’t there an argument to develop new talent for the long term? This is merely putting expedience ahead of principle.

We can argue that Warner will have served his punishment but does the team need to risk diluting its rebirth by reintroduction of a toxic force? Are we to believe Warner will return to the team as a reformed choirboy or play his hand at being the same ruffian who believes in his own mind he’s still a rightful veteran? Proof of the pudding was his trademark celebration after scoring a century in local grade cricket. He has changed not a jot.

Yes we lost the 3rd Test today but despite the woeful batting efforts in the 1st innings, Pat Cummins (who deserved man of the match) showed what grit means. 9 wickets and approaching 100 runs with the bat. We deserved to be flogged when bowled out for 151 runs but Cummins took out the top order including India’s highest scoring batters in the 1st innings for zero in the 2nd. He single handedly rallied his team to believe mentally it wasn’t over when they would have otherwise folded. He made Aussies proud.

Justin Langer has worked some miracles with the gutted side after taking the reins from Darren Lehman. Aussie team captain Tim Paine has also been impressive. Stephen Smith has none of Paine’s tenacity. Smith was made captain for being the best batsman in the world. Ability and leadership aren’t axiomatic. Smith’s weakness was evident. He allowed Warner to bully him into burying his judgement. It speaks volumes of why Smith should never captain again. His only real crime was to be a wimp.

It is also questionable whether Smith has the mental side to regain his top spot. He may well succumb to the pressure. He wouldn’t be the first gifted sports star to fall into a deep and prolonged slump post a scandal.

Warner can play 20 over big bash leagues (BBL, IPL) to earn his keep and feed his family but do we really want to send a message to kids that cheaters can prosper in our national side? His actions were disgraceful. Cheating is cheating and no rush of blood to the head is acceptable when earning millions let alone representing one’s country. It is a privilege to wear a baggy green, not a right.

CM would prefer to lose honorably than win with players who were only ever in it for themselves. Matches like today bear out how fighting as a “team” is so much more admirable. The taste of victory will be that much sweeter. No better opportunity to cast the net wide for sleeper talent who would probably have been overlooked otherwise. Make sure current players are kept on their toes to earn their spot.

It should be impressed upon incumbent players as a deterrent that cheating means life long bans. It would also be a stronger signal that the terrible governance of the farcical former Cricket Australia board is over.

Time to start afresh. Langer should take the option of keeping Warner out of the dressing room. It’s the only sensible choice.

Doing what it says on the tin

How often do we buy products that don’t do what they claim? In the case of “Start ya bastard” it is a question of whether they spent more on the marketing than the R&D. Let’s hope the compelled speech brigade don’t attack this Aussie icon! CM is sure Nulon can make some fruitier arguments to protect the brand.

The Katowice Kindergarten

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While Swedish 15-yo Greta Thunberg deserves absolutely no criticism for presenting in front of a COP24 audience for something she has been made to believe, the deliberate use of children to behave as political pawns is disgraceful, although hardly surprising from a body which has such dreadful ethics. Climate alarmism hit new lows when UN Secretary General Guterres and a collection of hand picked delegates fawned over Thunberg’s catchphrases like she was smarter than all of those there. Honestly if kids are so smart, why bother with pursuing tertiary education? Although the mainstream media might have had a point about the children being more mature than the adults.

Childishness seems to be a recurring theme at the COP24 summit. Whether it is the chanting and laughter brigades deployed to disrupt forums on coal or the “Fossil of the Day Awards” where the host brazenly shames representatives who don’t conform to the realpolitik of the climate alarmists, it is juvenile. There are even fossil fuel derived signs and a T-Rex suited sidekick to add to the childish antics of slagging off the Polish hosts for promoting clean coal.

There was touch of irony when the masked compere in a skeleton tuxedo lambasted Australia for having the hide to use its $100s of millions of carbon credits it earned from the Kyoto Protocol. So flimsy is the framework behind these self-coined “historic” agreements, that countries can get a bashing for adhering to the clauses agreed by the same body hosting the summit. Take that!

When will these stooges work out that shaming those that hold alternative views won’t win over the hearts and minds of those they haven’t convinced?  Why can’t they debate with reasoned arguments, facts and courteous common sense rather than tease those that disagree with them in the sandpit? Surely if the supposedly flaky arguments presented by skeptics are allowed to be heard without interruption, they’ll dig their own grave when asked to back up their own untruths? It is that simple. Ahh but to the cultural Marxists, there are no voices to be heard other than their own. A bit like the marching Maoist Chinese girls in The Last Emperor.

Let us be frank. The UN could not give two hoots for this girl other than what she can do to resurrect the fortunes of a conference that is dying in relevance. Think about it. In Copenhagen, 40,000 climate pilgrims showed up to COP-21. This was the summit where Al Gore mysteriously disappeared when it was shown his hockey stick prophecies were utter tripe. Katowice COP24 has managed 22,000 delegates and 7,331 observers. At least we can say there are far fewer hypocrites at this function shooting to maintain frequent flyer status.

COP summits are little more than a cash grab which is pretty obvious when looking at the delegates present. 42% of those at COP24 are from Africa lining up to receive millions in funding from guilt ridden Western nations. There is a reason why Guinea sent 409 delegates and Australia 30, even though the latter has twice the population of the former.

Although is there another reason why the political class is not listening to the kids? Thunberg is probably unaware many leaders of European nations have no progeny.

France’s Emmanuel Macron – no kids.
Germany’s Angela Merkel – no kids
UK PM Theresa May – no kids.
The Netherlands PM Mark Rutte – no kids.
Former Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni – no kids.
Swedish PM Kjell Stefan Löfven- no biological kids.
Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel – no kids.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz – no kids (although he’s only 32)
Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon – no kids.
EC President Jean-Claude Juncker – no kids.
Incidentally Japan’s PM Abe also has no children.

CM is a fervent supporter of children learning and becoming passionate about certain topics, on the proviso that teaching faculties are prepared to debate both sides of the story in earnest and allow critical evaluation. As evidenced by the 15,000 strong school student led climate strikes across Australia, the Department of Education & Training should be fast tracking spirit levels to schools around the country to ensure there is balance in the classroom.

Complacency kills – the ticking time bomb for Aussie banks

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In the late 1980s at the peak of the property bubble, the Imperial Palace in Tokyo was worth the equivalent to the entire state of California. Greater Tokyo was worth more than the whole United States. The Japanese used to joke that they had bought up so much of Hawaii that it had effectively become the 48th prefecture of Japan. Japanese nationwide property prices quadrupled in the space of a decade. At the height of the frenzy, Japanese real estate related lending comprised around 41.2% (A$2.5 trillion) of all loans outstanding. N.B. Australian bank mortgage loan books have swelled to 63% (A$1.7 trillion) of total loans.

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Sensing the bubble was getting out of control, the Bank of Japan went into a tightening rate cycle (from 2.5% to 6%) to contain it. Unfortunately it led to an implosion in asset markets, most notably housing. From the peak in 1991/2 prices over the next two decades fell 75-80%. Banks were decimated.

In the following two decades, 181 Japanese banks, trust banks and credit unions went bust and the rest were either injected with public funds, forced into mergers or nationalized. The unravelling of asset prices was swift and sudden but the process to deal with it took decades because banks were reluctant to repossess properties for fear of having to mark the other properties (assets) on their balance sheets to current market values. Paying mere fractions of the loan were enough to justify not calling the debt bad. If banks were forced to reflect the truth of their financial health rather than use accounting trickery to keep the loans valued at the inflated levels the loans were made against they would quickly become insolvent. By the end of the crisis, disposal of non-performing loans (NPLs) among all financial institutions exceeded 90 trillion yen (A$1.1 trillion), or 17% of Japanese GDP at the time.

The lessons are no less disturbing for Australia. Don’t be surprised to hear the authorities and local banks champion stress tests as validity that we are safe from any conceivable external shock. The November 2018 Reserve Bank of Australia minutes revealed that the next rate move is likely up but the board is happy to sit on its hands because housing is slowing even at 1.5% cash rates.

With US rates heading higher, our banks are already facing higher funding costs because of our reliance on overseas wholesale markets to fund mortgage lending. Japanese banks have 90%+ funding from domestic deposits. Australia is around 60-70%. Our banks need to go shopping in global markets to get access to capital. Conditions for that can change on a dime. External shocks can see funding costs hit nose bleed levels which are passed onto consumers. When you see the press get into a frenzy over banks passing on more than the rate rises doled out by the RBA, they aren’t just being greedy – a large part is absorbing these higher wholesale funding costs.

What about America? Who could forget former Goldman Sachs CEO and US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson tell us how robust US financial institutions were right before plugging $700 billion to rescue the crumbling system? US banks such as Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America (BoA) have been reducing mortgage exposure relative to total loans outstanding. Yet each received $10s of billions in TARP (bail out funds) courtesy of the US taxpayer.

By 2009 the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) had turned over 16% of Bank of America’s residential mortgage portfolio into either NPLs, mortgage payments over 90-day in arrears or impaired (largely from the shonky lending practices of Countrywide (which BoA bought in 2008). Countrywide’s $2.5bn acquisition price turned out to cost BoA shareholders a further $50bn by the end of the clean-up. Who is counting?

Oh no, but Australia is different. Residential property prices in Australia have had a far steadier rise over a longer period – a 5-fold jump over 25 years – meaning our local banks should be less vulnerable to external shocks. There is an element of truth to that, although it breeds complacency.

Property loans in Australia as at September 2018 total A$1.653 trillion. 82% of those loans are made by the Big 4 banks. Interest only loans are around $500 billion of that. As a percentage of total loans outstanding in Australia, mortgages make up 65%. The next is daylight, followed by Norway at around 40%. US banks have cut overall property exposures and Japanese banks are now in the early teens. Post GFC, US banks have ratcheted back mortgage exposure. They have diversified their earnings through investment banking and other areas. You can see this below.

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The advent of interest only loans has helped pushed property prices higher. NAB notes in its latest filing that 29% of its mortgage loan book is in interest-only form. The RBA expects $120 billion of interest only loans resetting to principal & interest (P&I) each year to 2020 which will hike monthly mortgage repayments to jump 30-40%. If investors were up to the gills in interest only mortgage repayments, adding one third to the bill will not be helpful. This is before we have even faced a bump in wholesale finance rates due to market instability. Look at the way that GE – once the world’s largest company in 2000 – is being trashed by the credit markets as they seek to reprice the risk attached to the $111bn in debt after a credit downgrade. This is a canary in the coalmine issue.

We also need to consider what constitutes a bubble in property. Sensibly, affordability makes the strongest argument. At the height of the bubble, the average central Tokyo property value was around 18.2x income. Broadening this out to greater Tokyo metropolitan area this was around 15x. This figure today is around 5x. Making arguments that ever higher levels of migration will keep property buoyant is not a sound argument as affordability affects them too.

Back in 2007, Sydney house prices were 8x income. In 2017 Demographia stated average housing (excluding apartment) prices are in the 13-14x range. The Australian Bureau of Statistics notes that 80% of people live in houses and 20% on apartments. Only Hong Kong at 19x beats Sydney for dizzy property prices.

In 2018, Australia’s GDP is likely to be around A$1.75 trillion. Our total lending by the banks is approximately $2.64 trillion which is 150% of GDP. At the height of the Japanese bubble, total bank lending as a whole only reached 106%. Mortgages alone in Australia are near as makes no difference 100% of GDP.

Balance sheets are but snapshots in time. If we look at our current bank exposure to mortgages, it is easy for analysts to paint rosy pictures. Banks’ shareholder equity has quadrupled in the past 16 years. Prosperity and record bank profits should give us comfort. Or should it? We need to understand that the underlying tenets of the Australian economy are completely different to that of a decade ago.

At the time of Global Financial Crisis (GFC) Australia’s economy was lucky to get away broadly unscathed. We carried no national government debt and were able to use a $50 billion surplus to prime the economy through that period of turmoil. Many countries were not so lucky. Our fiscal stewardship leading up to the crisis allowed economic growth to remain in positive territory soon after. Now we have $600 billion debt and charging the national credit card with all of the promises so aggressively that we should expect $1 trillion of debt in the not too distant future.

Australian banks are highly leveraged to the mortgage market. It should come as no surprise. In Westpac’s full year 2018 balance sheet, the company claims around A$710 billion in assets as “loans”. Of that amount, according to the latest APRA data, A$411 billion of lending is ‘real estate’ related. Total equity for the bank is A$64.6 billion. So equity as a percentage of property loans is just shy of 16%. If Australia had a nationwide property collapse (we have not had one for three decades) then it is possible that the banks would face significant headwinds.

What that basically says is if Westpac suffered a 16% decline in the value of its entire property loan book then it would at least on paper appear in negative equity, or liabilities would be larger than assets. Recall in 2009 that BoA had over 16% of its residential loan portfolio which went bad. It can happen. CommBank is at a similar level. ANZ and NAB are in the 20% range before such a hypothetical situation would be triggered. See the chart below. Note how the US banks stung by the GFC have bolstered balance sheets

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Of course the scenario of a housing collapse would imply that a growing number of borrowers would have to find themselves under mortgage stress and default on payments. It also depends on the portfolio of the properties and when those loans were written. If the majority of loans were made 10 years ago at 40% lower theoretical prices than today then there is lower risk to solvency for the bank if it foreclosed and dumped the property.

Although if we look at the growth in loans since 2009, the Australian banks have been making hay while the sun shines. As it stands, the likes of Westpac and CommBank each have extended mortgage loans to Aussies to nearly as much as BoA has to Americans. That said the American banks, so stung by the GFC, have become far more prudent in managing their affairs.

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It goes without saying that keeping one’s job is helpful in paying the mortgage. If you were a two income family and one of you lost your job, it is likely that dining out, taking fancy overseas holidays, buying new cars (which have been awful this year) and so on will go on the backburner. Should those actions swell to a wider number of mortgage holders, the economic slowdown will exacerbate in a downward spiral. Even your local coffee store may be forced to close because $4 is just cash you and others might not be able to spend. Boarded up High Streets were everywhere in America and Europe post GFC.

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The following chart shows the negative correlation between housing prices and unemployment rates. US unemployment doubled to 10% when Lehman collapsed. Housing prices took heavy hits as defaults jumped. It is not rocket science.

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On the other hand, Australia’s unemployment curve remained below 6% for around two decades. Even with GFC, jobless numbers never got out of hand. Our housing prices only suffered a mild dip.

We can argue that a sub-prime style mortgage crisis is highly unlikely. But it does not rule the risk out completely. To have that, mortgage holders would need to be in arrears on monthly payments, their houses would need to be in negative equity and banks would be required to take asset devaluations.

An ME Bank survey in Australia found only 46% of households were able to save each month. Just 32 per cent could raise $3000 in an emergency and 50 per cent aren’t confident of meeting their obligations if unemployed for three months.

According to Digital Finance Analytics, “there are around 650,000 households in Australia experiencing some form of mortgage stress. If rates were to rise 150 basis points the number of Australians in mortgage stress would rise to approximately 930,000 and if rates rose 300 basis points the number would rise to 1.1 million – or more than a third of all mortgages. A 300 basis point rise would take the cash rate to 4.5 per cent, still lower than the 4.75 per cent for most of 2011.”

Do you know how many homes NAB has under repossession on its books at the latest filing? Around 277. Yes, Two hundred and seventy seven. Out of 100,000s. Recall BoA had 16% of its loan portfolio go bang in 2008?

If we think about it logically, examining the ratio of total assets to shareholder equity (i.e. leverage), the Aussie banks maintain higher levels than the US banks listed below did in 2008. Were total asset values to suddenly drop 7% or more ceteris paribus, Aussie banks would slide into a negative equity position and require injection.

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Human nature is conditioned to panic when crisis hits. Sadly many of our middle management class have never experienced recession. They are in for a rude shock. As for depositors note that you should be focused on the return “of” your money, not the return “on” it.

As Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so!