Automotive

When the supervisor can’t follow the rules

Japan Exchange Group’s (owner of the Tokyo Stock Exchange) CEO Akira Kiyota has agreed to take a 30% pay cut for 3 months after admitting he’d broken internal rules on prohibited investment.

Surely as the supervisor of one of the largest stock exchanges in the world there would be sufficient systems in place to prevent such embarrassing events. A bit hypocritical to come down hard on listed corporates when the headmaster can’t follow his own rules.

As a former stockbroker, it was a sackable offense to make stock and bond investments without sign off from compliance and a manager to mitigate any risk of insider trading. It is a bit rich to suggest the JPX boss wasn’t aware of his internal rules and had he any doubt whatsoever it would have been an easy discussion had with the relevant department.

Corporate governance in Japan remains woefully inadequate. The JPX board has approved the ¥20mn (US$180k) profit made by the CEO on the initial ¥150mn (US$1.3mn) investment be given to the Japanese Red Cross. Will that be pre or post any capital gains tax? Why isn’t the board calling for him to resign? Why isn’t Kiyota resigning on principle to save the organization’s stained reputation as the vanguard of best practice?

Then again we should not be surprised. It took months for the JPX to remove/suspend Toshiba from the best in class corporate governance index (JPX Nikkei 400) after its accounting scandal became outed and there has been no investigation of Kobe Steel when blatant insider trading was visible to a novice. It leaked information about its fraudulent product specifications to customers three weeks before announcing to the market. All the tell-tale signs of heavy short selling positions on many multiples of average daily volume traded on the day of informing clients was evident. Yet nothing was even suspected, investigated or referred to the regulator.

Then take a look at the saga of Nissan. Documents have revealed former CEO Carlos Ghosn supposedly washed his multi-million dollar personal investment losses through the company as well as using Nissan money to buy several private properties in his name. That would still require the board to be willfully blind to sign off on such big ticket items or point to woeful internal controls. What governance structures could be in place when there is no board accountability over Ghosn’s actions? Being bullied by a dominant CEO is no excuse. The board should have tendered their resignations en masse.

Indeed there have been countless corporate governance lapses overseas – Parmalat, GSK, Stanford, Enron, Tyco etc- but in Japan there is little or no punishment for most executives who break laws (internal or external). Throwing the book at Ghosn will be an exception. Most C-level managers in Japan escape with little more than wounded pride.

Cutting salary for misdemeanors is woeful governance too. The biggest way to force compliance is to threaten a Japanese boss’ company car privileges. The highest status for a CEO is to be whisked around in a personal Toyota Century. Stripping it would literally force corporate leaders to do the walk of shame.

How many canaries in the coalmine do we need?

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CM has said for ages that President Trump risks being hoisted by his own petard if he continues to attribute the stock market to his leadership. It works both ways. Stock markets are suffering. Suck it up.

GM has announced it is pulling the plug on over 14,000 US workers (8,000 white collar, 3,300 blue-collar workers in Canada and another 2,600 in the US) and potentially closing  5 plants. Is this a surprise? The chart above shows the % year over year change of US car sales. It has been stepping down clearly since GFC. In September this year GM’s sales slumped 19% in before falling 5.5% in October. The brutal storm activity is unlikely to help November either.

This quote will live to haunt in the coming downturn – CEO Mary Barra said the company doesn’t predict an economic downturn any time soon and is making the cuts “to get in front of it while the company is strong and while the economy is strong,

50% of US corporations have a credit rating of BBB or less. We are at the sharp end of massive government sector recapitalization crowding out and companies with dodgy balance sheets (that have levered up to conduct massive buybacks to flatter EPS masking anemic earnings growth) won’t be given the same tight interest rate margin spreads come the next refinancing. Await the implosion.

Rising interest rates don’t help and credit markets wait like vultures over the likes of GE which is having a reality check over its $115bn of debt, negative equity and troubled restructuring. Credit rating downgrade have booted it from some funds so the stock is in the cross hairs. If it had any sense it would file for Chapter 11 to buy breathing space.

If you want to put some perspective on it, GE’s market cap in 2000 was $592bn and now is $65.8bn. Tesla is now worth $56bn.

GM is yet another canary in the coalmine

 

Carlos Ghosn facing arrest

The Asahi Shimbun says Nissan group President Carlos Ghosn is expected to face arrest by prosecutors for underreporting salary. Noone should be above the law but to think of the number of jobs at Nissan he saved plus the return to record profitability makes CM think the tax man is well ahead on the trade.

40 Maseratis for PNG shows commitment to combat climate change

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Last month Australia was beaten over the head for not helping the Pacific Islands cope with the dangers of climate change which is causing those countries to supposedly slip below the waves. What better way to use part of the $150mn in aid money from Australia to buy gas guzzling sports limousines from Italy.

Of all the 4-door cars least suited to the PNG climate, Maseratis would be top of the list. Pot holed roads, firm suspension  and 20inch alloy rims wouldn’t work so well neither would the high performance V6s help lower the CO2 content that is such a grave risk to their survival. Lord only knows why anyone would pick an Italian car to stand up to corrosion by the sea side?!? To the best of CM’s knowledge a Maserati Port Moresby dealership does not exist,

Yet we shouldn’t forget that as angry as we have every right to be in Australia, these islands know how strategically important we are to them for national security that we should count ourselves lucky they didn’t go for the 4.7 litre high performance V8s with the optional high performance pack.

China’s President Xi has visited these islands in the Pacific. Our Aussie PMs Turnbull and Morrison have just sent the Foreign Minister showing a lack of priority. We just take for granted that cutting cheques should be enough to curry favour.

Do we really believe the $12mn gift from China to install CCTV cameras in PNG is for the locals’ benefit? Beijing will happily monitor everything, including facially recognizing our politicians when they visit. Might as well bug the meeting rooms while they’re at it! All because we’re too daft to think just because we have history that gives us a leg up over China. Best think again.

At the very least signing FTAs with these island nations won’t even be a rounding error for China’s GDP but there is no question we are way behind on diplomatic negotiations.

So when they buy Maseratis with our taxes we should not bat an eyelid. It’s a pittance in terms of what places like PNG mean to our long term security.  In fact we might have been better off suggesting the PNG government buy Rolls-Royce Cullinans as  a more sensible alternative given its SUV abilities.

Musk flips the ‘bird’ at the SEC

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Tesla shareholders must wish Elon Musk would be as silent as his products. It seems the Tesla CEO has learnt nothing from his $20mn fine. Given that Tesla is still under investigation for other reporting  matters, it seems unprofessional to bait the SEC when shareholders want to see stability at the helm. Musk tweeted,

Just want to that the Shortseller Enrichment Commission is doing incredible work. And the name change is so on point!,”

Just further evidence this CEO has no wish to listen to his board or interact with them in a way that promotes best practice corporate governance. It’s still a one man band. The irony of the tweet is that the SEC’s leniency allowed him to stay at the top causing a 17% jump on the settlement.

Even worse Paragraph 13 of his settlement with the SEC requires him to seek board oversight of any public communications although has yet to be officially signed off by a judge.

In a twist or irony one shareholder tweeted back that he wasn’t just attacking the stock shorters  but the long only owners as well.

Tesla shares closed down 4.4% and indicated at $273 in the after market, a fitter 3% fall. At the start of the SEC decision last week the shares had traded as low as $267. In a sense Musk has been the Shortsellers Enrichment CEO not the SEC.

Musk’s $20mn fine covered if Tesla shares jump 59 cents

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$20mn sounds like a lot. It is a lot. The SEC has struck a deal with Tesla’s Elon Musk which demands he steps down as chairman and hires two independent directors. Musk owns 33.7mn shares. Technically he would only require a 59c share price rise to cover his fine. Make it a dollar to cover taxes and transaction costs plus legal fees. In any event the fine is peanuts in the grand scheme of things.

To be honest, Tesla disciples will breathe a sigh of relief that their king still remains in the company and more importantly as the figure head. The question remains is whether a new chairman (from outside?) will see to it that the company is not just a one man band which has been painfully obvious with so many senior level defections. Too often the board has seemed to be an onerous burden for Musk in that his intergalactic brilliance shouldn’t require checks and balances.

Will a new chairman demand a thorough audit into business practices to date? It is likely that the SEC will expect a new chairman to lift the standards of the board to make sure that shareholders interests are properly decided with all directors heard. An independent audit should be viewed as the bare minimum. What would that unearth?

Tesla shares should bounce on this news and in aftermarket trading it is up. The question is how a new structure changes dynamics which reveal the short cuts and internal processes which have created so many reporting inconsistencies.

Musk channels the Black Knight?

It has become apparent that the SEC & Musk had a deal which would see him removed from Tesla yet his lawyers have rejected it at the last minute because he’d rather fight the charges. One could argue in favour of his bravery to appeal against what looks to be a very open and shut case about breaching probably the most basic of errors in standard reporting to the exchange to ensure fairness.

Maybe he feels that he is only going to get a slap on the wrist? In the 63 odd charges laid out against individuals by the SEC for reporting violations in 2018, the average fine has been $75,000. Hardly a ripple to Musk’s net worth.

The bigger risk for Tesla shareholders if Musk loses in court against the SEC and is forced out (to be honest his board should demand it) will be losing a figurehead who at the very least has managed to make a company with no profits, monster debts and questionable actions worth more than Ford, FCA & GM combined. Betting against Musk has been a dangerous game. He may well be teflon coated but it remains questionable whether he can strap himself to his reusable rockets and escape the fraud charges.