Automotive

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.

Lewis Hamilton’s life had no meaning

One’s heart must bleed for Lewis Hamilton. The soon to be 6x World F1 Champion said,

I want my life to mean something and honestly up until now my life’s had no meaning...” until he went vegan.

CM is finding it hard to reconcile how Lewis believes a life spent at the pinnacle of motorsport, flying around the world on a private jet (which he recently sold), galavanting with bikini-clad supermodels on luxury motor yachts and torturing Pirelli tyres as he gives joy rides in Mercedes AMG sports cars is somehow a life without meaning!? CM is sure many would gladly take his place.

Could his veganism be the problem for turning him into a limp-wristed Extinction Rebellion activist in the making? To think of how his fossil-fueled life has led to a monster carbon footprint…no doubt he has the means to calculate and pay the offsets…

As Jo Nova recently noted,

Meat is a good (as in “the only”) source of Cobalamin, known as vitamin B12, which your body uses to make the myelin sheath on nerves among other things (it’s the insulation on your personal electricity grid). The side effects of not getting enough include:

demyelinisation of peripheral nerves, the spinal cord, cranial nerves and the brain, resulting in nerve damage and neuropsychiatric abnormalities. Neurological symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include numbness and tingling of the hands and feet, decreased sensation, difficulties walking, loss of bowel and bladder control, memory loss, dementia, depression, general weakness and psychosis. Unless detected and treated early, these symptoms can be irreversible.” — Zeuschner et al 2013″

Lewis understands the laws of small numbers in motor racing. 1/1000th of a second can be the difference between winning and coming second. He should take solace to know that animals make up 13% of the methane in the atmosphere. Methane is 722 parts per billion in the atmosphere. So animals – of which cows, sheep, pigs and chickens make a proportion of the total – are responsible for 0.000009386% of the atmosphere. Good luck beating that Lewis. Not even the Rolex timing device in F1 can measure a race with that small a margin.

Although, Lewis apparently wants to be a part of the solution.

That is the simplest thing to do. Quit the championship today dear boy! Forgo the sixth title even though it is one race from your grasp. That would be the ultimate gesture in finding a solution.

Naturally, he will continue on with his £40m per year Mercedes contract that expires end 2020. Perhaps he wants to beat Michael Schumacher’s record of 7 titles before he truly commits to a solution. Woke!

CM suggests he has a steak and just keeps on racing. F1 is such a boring sport now so having a clown on the grid can only add to its appeal. Alternatively, Lewis,  you could speak to the Mercedes F1 catering team manager to ensure that the fat-cat corporate clients and their mistresses can only dine on vegan offerings inside the entertainment chalet.

A colossally poor comparison, as usual

As ever the Climate Council of Australia rarely gets numbers right. Now they are benchmarking electric cars against Norway as a “leader”. While all these wonderful benefits might accrue to Norwegians, Norway is a poor example to benchmark against. Not to mention Wilson Parking won’t be too keen to join the party without subsidies.

Norway is 5% of our land mass, 1/5th our population and new car sales around 12% of Australia. According to BITRE, Australia has 877,561km of road network which is 9x larger than Norway.

Norway has around 8,000 chargers countrywide. Installation of fast chargers runs around A$60,000 per charging unit on top of the $100,000 preparation of each station for the high load 480V transformer setup to cope with the increased loads.

Norway state enterprise, Enova, said it would install fast chargers every 50km of 7,500km worth of main road/highway.

Australia has 234,820km of highways/main roads. Fast chargers at every 50km like the Norwegians would require a minimum of 4,700 charging stations across Australia. Norway commits to a minimum of 2 fast chargers and 2 standard chargers per station.

The problem is our plan for 570,000 cars per annum is 10x the number of EVs sold in Norway, requiring 10x the infrastructure.

While it is safe to assume that Norway’s stock of electric cars grows, our cumulative sales on Shorten’s dud election plan would have required far greater numbers. So let’s do the maths (note this doesn’t take into account the infrastructure issues of rural areas where diesel generators power some of the charging stations…shhhh):

14,700 stations x $100,000 per station to = $1,470,000,000

4,700 stations x 20 fast chargers @ A$60,000 = $5,640,000,000 (rural)

4,700 stations x 20 slow chargers @ A$9,000 = $846,000,000 (rural)

10,000 stations x 5 fast chargers @ A$60,000 = $3,000,000,000 (urban)

570,000 home charging stations @ $5,500 per set = $3,135,000,000 (this is just for 2030)

Grand Total: A$14,091,000,000

Good to see the Climate Council on message with thoroughly poorly thought out comparisons. That’s the problem with virtue signaling. It rarely looks at total costs. Never mind. Tokenism to them is worth it. Not to mention a Swedish study funded by the left leaning government in Stockholm which showed the production of the batteries to power EVs did the equivalent of 150,000km in CO2 before it has left the showroom. That’s not woke.

A deadly problem: should we ban SUVs from our cities?

Activists, including one wearing a Angela Merkel mask, outside the Frankfurt International Auto, holding signs reading ‘gas guzzling vehicles off the road’ and ‘Stop petrol and diesel’.

More junk journalism from The Guardian. Why can’t the paper make sensible commentary on the auto industry? Essentially it pushes a narrative that we should ban SUVs, a long term growth market for automakers because they advertise the segment too much. Shame on trying to act in the interests of shareholders. The article encourages the movement to push for a ban of SUVs in cities. Why? The socialisation of transport!

The article makes the early assertion that passengers are 11% more likely to die in an SUV accident than a regular passenger car. Unfortunately, it cited an article written 15 years ago. In that time, SUVs have evolved leaps and bounds. A far greater proportion of SUVs are made using a monocoque chassis as opposed to the old ladder frames. Even those SUVs with ladder chassis hold 5-star safety NHTSA ratings in 2019:

2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee – 5 star (ladder) vs 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee – 3 star

2019 Ford Expedition – 5 star (ladder) – 2004 Ford Expedition – 5 star

2019 GMC Acadia – 5 star (ladder) – 2007 GMC Acadia – 4 star

2019 Toyota RAV4 – 5 star (monocoque) – 2004 Toyota RAV4 – 4 star

2019 Mazda CX-9 – 5 star (monocoque) – 2007 Mazda CX-9 – 4 star.

Some may recall in the early 2000s when the Ford Explorer/Firestone tyre rollover incident killed 261 people. Since then, carmakers have installed so many safety items – passive and active. Automatic braking, lane departure detection, forward collision warning, electronic brakeforce distribution (which prevents rollovers). SUVs are safer than ever, including pedestrian facing features.

Never mind the huge leap in safety. Let’s shame the automakers and buyers instead.

The Guardian noted, “In Germany, in 2018 they spent more on marketing SUVs than on any other segment; they actually spent as much as they spent on other segments together” says Stephan von Dassel, the district mayor of Berlin-Mitte. “This is not some accident that people suddenly are really into these cars, they are heavily pushed into the market.”

Wow, so carmakers actually made a sensible advertising budget allocations and convinced new buyers to voluntarily select their SUVs. Those wicked capitalists. They should be burnt at the stake for being in touch with their customers. Perhaps politicians could learn from the carmakers about being in touch with their constituents?

The Guardian then noted the following,

In Europe, sales of SUVs leapt from 7% of the market in 2009 to 36% in 2018. They are forecast to reach nearly 40% by 2021. While pedestrian deaths are falling across Europe, they are not falling as fast as deaths of those using other modes of transport.

So even though the sales of these vehicles have skyrocketed, pedestrian deaths are falling. Reading the paper published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, stated

“A total of 5,987 pedestrians were killed in crashes in 2016, accounting for 16 percent of all crash fatalities. The number of pedestrians killed each year has declined 20 percent since 1975…”

Surprisingly, The Guardian waits till the end to point the finger at the pet issue facing SUVs – emissions.

“Transport, primarily road transport, is responsible for 27% of Europe’s carbon emissions. A decade ago the EU passed a law with a target to reduce carbon emissions to 95g/km by 2021 but a recent report by campaign organisation Transport and Environment highlights what is calls it “pitiful progress”. “Sixteen months from before the target comes into force carmakers are less than halfway towards their goals,” the report adds. The car industry faces hefty fines in Europe of €34bn in a few months for failing to meet emissions targets.”

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How is it that diesel engines, the increasingly preferred powerplant in SUVs, have had emissions cut 97% over the last 25 years? That is monumental progress.

Yet why have legislators tried to ban petrol and diesel cars and looking to force adoption of dirtier EVs which have done 150,000km equivalent CO2 emissions before leaving the showroom? Because ideology distorts reality. Even Schaeffler AG, an auto supplier, admitted it is almost impossible for automakers to comply with the different demands of over 200 cities in Europe with EV rules. No common standards and the quest of woke city councils trying to outdo each other on being climate-friendly. Then governments need to consider the 5% of total tax revenue that fill the coffers they would be giving up, although already in the US, Illinois is looking to impose a $1,000 a year EV tax.

Shouldn’t the EU and other countries face the realities that consumers (taxpayers) like the utility these SUVs provide for their individual needs over and above saving the planet? Shouldn’t politicians realise that consumers make conscious decisions when making the second largest purchase for the household?

One can absolutely bet that if some maker came out with a Hummer sized EV, these cities that want to ban SUVs from driving in them would grant the monster truck an exemption and special parking zones.

Julia Poliscanova, director of clean vehicles and e-mobility at Transport and Environment, says regulators must step in to force car manufacturers to produce and sell zero-emission and suitably sized vehicles, for example, small and light cars in urban areas.”

What if consumers don’t want to buy small and light cars? Force car makers to produce cars their customers don’t want? That is a winning strategy. If carmakers must sell zero-emission vehicles, why on God’s earth are politicians with absolutely no engineering pedigree dictating technology to the experts? Why not let necessity be the mother of invention? If carmakers can get fossil fuel-powered vehicles to be zero-emission and keep their brand DNA at the same time, imagine the billions that could be saved on reckless waste rolling out often unreliable charging infrastructure? Maybe then carmakers could build cars its customers wanted and make money to literally fuel the economy. Politicians would still be able to virtue signal! Win-win.

Maybe the modus operandi is to socialise transport. Poliscanova said, “Smart urban policies are also key to drive consumers towards clean and safe modes…Mayors should reduce space and parking spots for private cars and reallocate it to people and shared clean mobility services.

That is the ticket – force everyone off the road. That is a sure vote winner!

Seen this all before

What is it with the US auto market that throws up so many canaries in the coal mine? Several years back CM wrote about the growth in sub-prime auto loans. What triggered this boom? Easier access to finance? That was one reason. As it happens the largest factor was driven by the ability for finance companies to shut down a vehicle by remote and repossess the vehicle should the buyer be unable to afford the monthly payments. This lowered risk and allows these long-dated loan products to thrive. Average subprime auto loans carry 10% p.a. interest rates. More than 6 million American consumers are at least 90 days late on their car loan repayments, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

About a 1/3rd of all US auto loans issued today are stretched out to seven years and beyond, according to the WSJ. A decade ago, the seven-year loan only made up about 10% of all loans. Even 10% of 2010 model year bangers are being bought on 84-month term loans.

After the tech bubble collapsed at the turn of the century do you remember the ‘Keep America Rolling’ programme, which was all about free financing for five years? While sales were helped along nicely, the reality was it stored up pain. As new car sales became harder to achieve, new financial products offered sweeter upfront incentives and buyback guarantees (because cheap finance was everywhere and not a differentiator) helped keep the fire stoked.

However, as front end incentives kept getting juicier, the cars on guaranteed buybacks were starting to return to the market at prices well below the ‘guarantee’ leaving automotive finance arms in a whole world of hurt and huge losses. Goldberg & Hegde’s Residual Value Risk and Insurance study in 2009 suggested on average 92% of cars returned to leasing companies recorded losses on return of up to 12%. Any company can guarantee the price of its used product, in theory, the question is whether used car buyers will be willing to pay for it.

In the last decade, auto loans have ballooned from $740bn to $1.3 trillion. Auto dealers are now making a majority of their money on the finance deal as opposed to the sale of the actual car. Even worse, the US car market is experiencing a third of trade-ins in negative equity meaning the gap is being added to the price of the new car, hence the push out of the loan period to keep a lid on the size of monthly payments. This was 17% in 2008.

CM is sure there is nothing to worry about. It is consistent with nearly everything else that has occurred in finance since the GFC. Just double down, spend more, close your eyes and hope nothing bad happens. Ultimately it will be someone else’s problem.

Serious auto-loan delinquencies – 90 days or more past due – in 2Q 2019, jumped 47 basis points year-over-year to 4.64% of all outstanding auto loans and leases, according to New York Fed. This is equivalent to the delinquency rate in Q3 2009, just months after GM and Chrysler had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The 47-basis-point jump in the delinquency rate was the largest year-over-year jump since Q1 2010. Actual outstanding delinquent 90 day + delinquencies stand at $60bn in 2Q 2019, almost double the amount of 4Q 2010.

Did CM mention gold?

Ford downgraded to junk

This week, Ford Motor Co’s credit rating was downgraded by Moody’s to junk. $84bn worth of debt now no longer investment grade. It will be the first of many Fortune 500s to fall foul to this reality. In 2008, there was around $800bn of BBB status credit. That number exceeds $3.186 trillion today.

CM has long argued that the credit cycle would be the undoing of the economy. For too long, corporates binged on easy money, caring little for credit ratings because the interest spreads between AAA and BBB were so negligible. The market ignored risk and companies went hell for leather issuing new debt to fu buybacks to artificially prop up weak earnings to give the illusion of growth.

Sadly this problem is likely to cause widespread sell offs by companies/investors which must stick to products (as woefully yielding as they may be) with an investment grade, exacerbating the problem of refinancing debt close to maturity. The thinking during easy credit times was simple – refinancing could be done with low interest rates because there was no alternative.

This is problematic for three reasons:

1) under the Obama era, much of the newly issued debt was short term meaning $8.4 trillion arrives for refinancing in the next 2.5 years, crowding out the corporate market.

2) more than 50% of US corporates are one notch above junk status. Refinancing will not be a simple affair.

3) more and more investment grade debt will be driven to zero or even negative yields as a result further exacerbating the problems for insurance companies and pension funds dealing with massive unfunded liabilities.

Last year, in relation to unfunded liabilities at US public pension funds, CM wrote,

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).”

This is just California, which in the last 8 years has seen a 2.62-fold jump in the gap between liabilities and state total expenditures.

Unfunded liabilities per household. In California’s case, the 2017 figure is $122,121. In 2008 this figure was only $36,159. In 8 years the gap has ballooned 3.38x. Every single state in America with the exception of Arizona has seen a deterioration.

Switching to Illinois, we have a case study on what happens when pension funds go pear shaped.The Illinois Police Pension is rapidly approaching the point of being unable to service its pension members and a taxpayer bailout looks unlikely given the State of Illinois’ mulling bankruptcy.

Local Government Information Services (LGIS) writes, At the end of 2020, LGIS estimates that the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago will have less than $150 million in assets to pay $928 million promised to 14,133 retirees the following yearFund assets will fall from $3.2 billion at the end of 2015 to $1.4 billion at the end of 2018, $751 million at the end of 2019, and $143 million at the end of 2020, according to LGIS…LGIS analyzed 12 years of the fund’s mandated financial filings with the Illinois Department of Insurance (DOI), which regulates public pension funds. It found that– without taxpayer subsidies and the ability to use active employee contributions to pay current retirees, a practice that is illegal in the private sector– the fund would have already run completely dry, in 2015…The Chicago police pension fund held $3.2 billion in assets in 2003. It shelled out $3.8 billion more in benefits to retired police officers than it generated in investment returns between 2003 and 2015…Over that span, the fund paid out $6.9 billion and earned $3.0 billion, paying an additional $134 million in fees to investment managers.”

Therefore Ford’s downgrade to junk will have the effect of repricing over a decade of misplaced central bank policy across all markets. The dominos are only beginning to fall. The market can absorb Ford’s downgrade but not if it has to deal with the panic of dozens like it.

CM has long been warning of GE. Despite being the world’s largest stock in 2000, it is 1/5 the size today, trades in negative equity, wasted $45bn on share buybacks in 2015/16 and were it be classified as junk would increase the pile of junk by 10% on its own. Broadcom and American Tower are other monsters ready to be hurled onto the ratings scrap heap.

Buy Gold. The US Fed will likely embark on QE. It requires an act of Congress to approve the purchase of equities but don’t be surprised if this becomes a reality when markets plunge.

This will be the reset of asset prices which has been long overdue thanks to almost two decades of manipulation by authorities. It has 1929 written all over it. Not 2008.

WeWorked

WeWork Financials.jpg(770×481)

WeWork has delayed the IPO. According to Zerohedge, the initial appraisal value of $47 billion appears to be entering the realm of $10 billion. This has ‘canary in the coalmine‘ written all over it. The kaleidoscope of razzle-dazzle in the free money world looks to have stopped spinning.

The company looks toxic. Most people point fingers at the co-founder Adam Neumann,  who, according to WSJ,  reportedly sold $700 million in a mixed debt and equity transaction. CM may be a contrarian, but even he sees the pre-IPO sale as somewhat suspicious. Selling part of your stock as part of an IPO is one thing. Doing it prior doesn’t pass the pub test.

How can IWG plc (better known as Regus) make profits (albeit sideways) with the same concept? 2018 IWG revenue and profit after tax increased 51% over 2014 levels. Revenue increased 13.5% since 2016, but post-tax profit slumped 24%.

WeWork seems like the Tesla of the office space world. Huge promises but the numbers are struggling to stack up. Maybe WeWPresumably, due to a combination of intensifying shared office competition, start-ups spoilt for choice or simply failing to grow.ork should leap into insurance as a way to generate cash flow like Tesla has started to do?