Australia

Well done Senator Leyonhjelm for inviting Milo to Parliament

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Full marks to Senator David Leyonhjelm for inviting Milo Yiannopolous to Parliament House. Despite the Greens Party leader Senator Richard Di Natale doing his best to ban him as a hate preacher, bigot, racist etc etc Milo had a pretty full audience. It is not whether one agrees with what he says but it is important to let any ideas out in the marketplace of free speech and debate the issues rather than shut them down. Indeed one would hope that Di Natale has such a strong case he could pin the Armani suited Milo’s arguments in person. That’s the thing. If Di Natale is convincing enough people will back his views on the sheer weight of  merit.

As an Australian citizen (even from afar) I watch the painful political correctness in the West that seems to turn a blind eye to almost anything that even remotely runs up against an identikit. We mustn’t offend this group or that group.

To be honest, as an example our government, in its quest to prevent on the fringe Islamophobia actually creates the environment for a worse time for Muslims. The majority of Muslims probably don’t care if we celebrate Christmas with trees in Martin Place but our political class decide to strip the tree of its significance in order to pander to something that just isn’t relevant. “Merry Christmas” is replaced with “Seasons Greetings.” In turn, some think that Muslims are behind it which means governments push for “hate speech laws” to cover up for their own stupidity and short-sightedness. Celebrate Australian traditions. Just like Aborigines seeking umbrage over statues of Cook and Phillip – the overwhelming majority don’t care but our politicians are all too busy trying to cater to another minority whose arguments and grievances are usually trivial to say the least.

Even the lunatic torch and swastika flag bearers in Charlottesville should be able to protest. Sunlight (torchlight) is the best disinfectant. Let these people go on parade for all to see. One can see for themselves they have no platform. The KKK (the former militia of the Democratic Party) has dwindled from 4mn members to less than 6,000. Out of a population of 330mn people they represent less than 0.02% of the population.

Probably some of the best footage of ‘like minds thanks to open platforms’ came when a BLM protest was given time on a stage at a Trump supporters event. BLM were told you’ve got several minutes and if you don’t like it then tough!

Still some in the political class feel the need to introduce all manner of laws to cover up their own weakness. At least some voices in parliament are not afraid to speak out and defend free speech. So credit to Senator Leyonhjelm for encouraging Milo to talk to our lawmakers.

It is not whether one thinks Milo is palatable (although a sellout tour in Australia is indicative) it is that he has a view. We don’t have to agree with it but again the left who try to shut him down will find far more backers of their cause if they combat him with concise and constructive arguments based on facts and truths. Said with authority and authenticity and watchMilo’s support wane. Indeed shutting him down actually helps Milo sell more tickets so it ends up being an own goal.

It really makes me want to join the political class in Australia to shore up the tide that is flowing toward feeble policy, further inaction and muzzling what they’re too gutless to admit. I want peace and harmony as much as the next person but it doesn’t come about by silencing dissenting voices. Embracing those voices is a tenet of democracy. Perhaps if the country was being run competently then people like Milo would be a footnote rather than front page.

ABC gives yet more reasons to be defunded

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The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has a charter to be politically unbiased. The public knows it is unashamedly partisan. Yet its overseers (aka the Government) still give funding north of $1bn to the state owned media group without calling it up for what it gets away with. What it passes for ‘free speech’ usually ends up in the climate change, asylum seekers or any other social justice cause it feels strongly about. Yet the charter is not supposed to act as a platform for disgruntled public servants to broadcast their own views on the taxpayer’s purse. The latest saga is the ABC’s JJJ station which broadcasts alternative music. It has decided it won’t be playing the Hottest 100 Countdown on Australia Day because of its political views that it is in reality ‘invasion day.’ There is no problem for each and everyone of those JJJ employees who thinks of Australia Day that way to believe that. It is another to provide a tax payer funded platform to express it.

To put it in perspective, given several Victorian local councils decided several months ago not to host naturalisation ceremonies on Australia Day, one would hope that JJJ has just woken up from the marijuana smoke haze in the studio to realize this fact. Otherwise, why has it taken them so long? Surely if the producers  were savvy enough at JJJ they could have announced their political stunt the week all of the social justice governments were announcing it.

However it is a serious issue. Why is there a need for four taxpayer funded stations in Melbourne? It is a similar story in the other states. The original purpose of the ABC was to fill in for a lack of a commercial alternative, especially for those in the countryside. Now we can all choose to stream Australian radio stations while we’re in Berlin or Caracas if we feel like it. When you look through the stats, JJJ key demographic is 25-39yo but across all time segments except ‘Afternoon’ it struggles for better than 5%. ABC Melbourne caters to pensioners. Is there a need to provide the infrastructure to supply four stations. Surely the rational argument is that a similar number of bodies must be employed to fill the same roles – the producer, technician, the script writer, the news gatherer….even the guard at the front door. Run many of these stations on commercial terms and most wouldn’t pay the cost of operating.

If one believes we must have a public broadcaster then the number of stations should be cut to one, not four. If the private sector can’t see a ‘commercial’ justification for filling the gap it would leave then it is odds on that advertisers aren’t prepared to either. On the flip side if the ABC radio presenters are desired by particular audiences then the private stations will gladly snap them up.

This is not to undermine the efforts of some quarters of the ABC. Some documentaries such as ‘The Killing Season’ or Foreign Correspondent’s expose of the Fukushima reactor were extremely well done. However it is the fact that some in the ABC think they have a right to dispense the billion plus funding on their own political and social causes. Yet who can blame them when the former Communications Minister (now the Prime Minister) is desperate to avoid courting negative media coverage? When a conservative (by name plate) PM is afraid to go on private radio stations with conservative audiences you know this problem of bias at the ABC won’t be going away for a long time, especially after the drubbing the conservatives will get at the coming election.

With a $500bn and rising debt in Australia, we can ill afford frivolous public spending, especially on broadcasting where the ABC ignores its charter so brazenly. We can chose to listen to left leaning or conservative radio stations in the commercial space. We can consume on line any form of media we choose from around the globe. With media now so ubiquitous, what is the ABC offering that is remotely ‘differentiated’ to warrant its existence? None that can be seen.

If everything is so great then why is our political scene so broken?

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Queensland’s state election said it all. Both the incumbent parties lost massively even though the incumbent Labor Party looks like holding on to power. While Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party looks like it fared poorly in terms of seats it still got 13.8% of the vote from 1% in 2015. Forget the headline results but think of what the political turmoil In local, state and federal levels is telling us more broadly.

Think logically about it all. If the economy is booming, jobs are abundant and prosperity is on the march then there is little need for governments to be running deep deficits let alone facing hung parliaments and acts of desperation. Surely the incumbent governments of the day can laud their own achievements and their constituents would happily keep returning the status quo. The majority should continue to be happy. More by rights should be winners in such a world of record housing prices, steady wage growth, low unemployment and 25 years of economic growth as experienced in Australia.

Yet PM Turnbull turned on many of the traditional supporters of the conservative wing of his Liberal National Party (LNP) coalition who turned their back on him to hand Labor the victory in Queensland. Not so fast Prime Minister. They didn’t leave the party. The party under your incompetent stewardship left them. At all levels the LNP is divided. There are some quarters suggesting that the Nats may split from the Coalition in the next election in Queensland to leave the stench of the Liberal Party to themselves. This is when personal ambition trumps wish to serve a nation.

While the LNP was handed the most valuable and recent lesson of the disaster that was the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd internal factional knifing during their time in power, it completely buried its judgement and started following a left leaning press, weak poll numbers and copied Labor’s folly. Now we have a hung parliament (not withstanding the dual citizenship fiasco) with chronically weak and misguided leadership. One that tells voters that they have no clue rather than introspection that the party may indeed be the problem.

It used to be said that Australia enjoyed the most stable politics in the Asia Pacific region. That encouraged foreign investment and gave Australia low interest rates, a superior credit rating and a regulatory platform that ensured trust (important for corporations), the envy of many nations. Yet inside a decade we have had 5 (soon to be 6) prime ministers which has thrown that ‘reputation’ in the toilet. In a world where international capital is more mobile than ever and asset prices are peaking, instability in government eventually carries severe financial market penalties.

For Aussie banks, levered up to the gills with inflated mortgage books on their balance sheets, such things have negative implications for the 40% reliance on global wholesale credit markets to fund themselves in the face of a tightening US interest rate cycle. Do not underestimate the negative connotations of a federal government that has lost its way, no matter which major party is in power. Where the average Aussie can’t bear anymore on the mortgage, a third admitting they can’t pay the home loan if they lose their job for 3 months or more. Almost 1,000,000 Aussie households would be in severe mortgage stress if rates moved 150bps(1.5%). Think of the spill-over effects on consumption which would only lead to a recession and lay offs, exacerbating a cycle, all the while bashing the currency making international funding even more biting. If only we had a stable government that had a decent fiscal position to weather that storm. Oh, that is right we squandered that in 2008.

One Nation in Australia, AfD in Germany, Party for Freedom in The Netherlands, Front National in France, 5 -Star Movement in Italy, Fidesz in Hungary, FPO in Austria, the Sweden Democrats, Vlaams Belang in Belgium,  Progress Party in Norway, Trump, Brexit…these patterns aren’t random. It isn’t just populism but protest votes to establishment parties that aren’t delivering. While we are constantly told how great our lot is, sadly the gap between haves and have nots is widening globally. Politicians who are ditching political correctness and making waves on publicly uncomfortable issues are thriving. Why could that be?

Donkey (informal) votes in Australia have seen numbers soar from 2.2% in the 1950s to over 5.0% in the 2016 election. Some electorates in NSW saw as high as 14% informal votes. These are powerful messages in a country that has compulsory voting, which has slid to 90.9%.

The sad reality is that the electorate is making louder noises every election that things are not pointing in the right direction yet the muppets are still being returned to their box seats on a dwindling majority. Why? Because not enough voters are heeding the warning signs that are sounding in front of them. Of course politicians still continue to sell comforting lies backed by ever more unaffordable promises to keep themselves in power for as long as possible when we all need to be facing the unpleasant truths that will happen whether we like it or not.

Indeed those deplorables who voted One Nation might have spurned the LNP but not without good reason. In time, they will be viewed as the wiser ones. Not because they necessarily believe in Pauline Hanson’s platform but because they believe in Turnbull and Shorten’s even less. It all rings like a Premier League football coach making a litany of excuses for his team’s woeful performance that ignores the fact that the collection of individuals have absolutely no cohesion as a team. All the fans can do is bury their heads in their hands until the point they can’t bear to watch another game until the coach is sacked.

Houston we have a housing problem

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Yes, Australian banks are the most levered to the Home mortgage market. Over 61%. Daylight comes second followed by Norway and Canada. US banks are half the Aussies. Of course any snapshot will tell us that prices are supported by immigration and a robust economy. However when Aussie banks are c.40% exposed to wholesale markets for credit (Japanese banks are around 95% funded by domestic depositors) any turn around in global interest rates means Aussie banks will pay more and eventually be forced to pass it on to tapped out borrowers. The Reserve Bank of Australia kept interest rates flat while tacitly admitting its stuck

A study back in March showed that in Western Australia almost 50% of people with a home loan would be in stress/severe stress if rates jumped 3%. Victoria 42% and bubbly NSW at 38%. I can’t remember bubble Japan property (as dizzy as it got) experienced such stress. A recent ME Bank survey in Australia found only 46 per cent 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.

The Weekend AFR reported that 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.”

The problem for Aussie banks is having so many mortgage loans on their books backed against lofty housing prices means that we could face a situation of zombie lending. The risk is that once the banks mark-to-market the real value of one house that is foreclosed upon the rest of the portfolio then starts to look shady and all of a sudden the loss ratios blow out to unsustainable levels. So for all the negative news flow the banks cop for laying off staff while making billions, note net interest margins continue to fall and when confidence falls out of the housing market, the wholesale finance market will require sizable jumps in risk premiums to compensate. Indulge yourself with the chart pack from the RBA on pages 29 & 30 where net margins are 50% lower than they were in 2000, profitability under pressure, non performing loans starting to rise back toward post GFC levels…call me pessimistic but housing prices to income is at 13x now vs only 7x when GFC bit, how is that safety net working for you?

Some may mock, but there is every chance we see a semi or total nationalization of the Aussie banks at some point in the future. Nobody will love the smell of napalm in the morning but then again when the Vic government is handing out interest free loans to the value of 25% of the house price for first home buyers you know you’re at the wrong point in the cycle. Maybe TARP is just short for tarpaulin.

The beauty of honesty

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The above quote is from quirky fund manager Dr Michael Burry MD towards the end of the movie, The Big Short. It says so much of today. One mate who is a very decent asset manager in Australia wrote to his clients, “I realise such may fly in the face of typical adviser recommendations (show me how someone is paid and I’ll show you how they will behave) however, I would rather lose a client than lose a client’s capital.

We share similar views on the state of the global capital markets. We joked about his long message to his investors sounding like Jerry Maguire burning the midnight oil writing the “fewer clients, less money” manifesto which got him sacked.

Now that our world is moving further and further toward automated everything including pre-emptive responses (which I scoffed out the other day about LinkedIn) it is truly refreshing to see this authentic honesty. The irony is that as much as machines are pushing us into ever tighter time windows, humans instinctively carry long term memory whether trauma or positive life events.

May your honesty be paid back in spades when those you saved a bundle recall your genuine gesture.

Snigger if you have to but the bigger trigger is in the voter figures

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The latest Galaxy Poll ahead of the Queensland state election on Nov 25 has the One Nation party surging to 18% of the vote. It was a mere 0.9% in 2015. Once again the stench of the two major parties completely buried in political correctness and tip-toeing around issues that are bothering voters are losing their core supporters. Say what you like about One Nation leader Pauline Hanson’s “in yer face” style but it appears to be working. For all those that look at anyone who would vote for her as being a bigot, racist or fool, the major parties must do soul searching as to why a growing number of voters would look to select her.

It is one thing to ridicule her voters. It is more telling that these mainstream parties can’t seem to win their trust via sensible policies of their own. Surely even bigots and racists have enough common sense to vote for parties that have the best balance of law making. Yet the LNP and Labor parties continue to bleed support heavily.

Yes we can jump to conclusions by pinning it on the “populist” thematic that seems to be sweeping across the world. People are growing sick on tired of governments that lack accountability, The mass screw ups in public policy. They’re sick of seeing limp wristed responses and more laws that gag voters who question their incompetence.

So to mainstream parties across the world. You need to look within rather than blame voters. You either have dreadful delivery, policy that is out of touch or both. Still you will eventually learn that experience is a hard teacher – you get the test first and the lesson afterwards.

 

The signals of true intentions on climate change…“don’t raise my fuel prices!”

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This was a poll last week in Australia showing the majority would prefer cheaper electricity than to save the planet. I recall a study before GFC and after it showing the relative rank of ‘climate change’ as a serious issue. It was a Top 10 concern for voters pre GFC and slipped to last place (out of 25) after it. Yes, human nature and the will to survive trumps everything.

So according to Rasmussen Reports,

The Trump administration is considering raising the gas tax for the first time in 24 years to help pay for a one trillion dollar infrastructure plan, but Americans unsurprisingly are not on board…A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 54% of American Adults do not think the government should raise the gas tax to help meet new transportation needs. Just 33% think the government should raise the gas tax, but 13%”

At least the $7,500 subsidies to buy EVs will be repealed next year. Not that it will save the government too much. A lot of people with Tesla Model 3s on order are banking on the tax break so if they don’t roll out quick enough their $25,000 car will soon be $32,500.