Bankruptcy

Ding dong the switch is dead

Morgan Stanley has finally lowered its bearish scenario on Tesla from $97 to $10. CM wrote in October 2017 that the shares based on production of 500,000 vehicles was worth no more than $28 (refer to report page 5). That was based on rosy scenarios. Sadly CM thinks Tesla will be bought for a song by the Chinese. Maybe $4.20 a share instead of $420 “funding secured” levels.

The stock breached $200 yesterday for the first time since late 2016.

Morgan Stanley analyst, Adam Jonas, has still kept its base case scenario at $230 per share. His bull case is $391.

Where is the conviction? To drop a bear case target by 90% must surely mean the base case is far lower than presently assumed.

Jonas must assume the bear case is actually the base case. Sell side brokers love to hide behind scenario analysis to cop out having to get off the fence. His compliance department probably prevents him from realizing $10 is his true heart.

Tesla was always playing in a market that it had no prior experience. It is not to say the products didn’t have promise. The problem was the execution. Too much senior management turnover, missed targets, poor quality and too many Tweets from Musk.

The amount of bad press arising from a lack of service centers has driven customers to moan on social media at its amateur approach. The fragile dreams of being an early adopter are being shattered. Cash burn remains high and deliveries remain low. Some pundits think Tesla orders are under real pressure in 2Q 2019.

The recent all share deal with Maxwell Technologies has seen those holders -20% since the transaction a few weeks ago. CM argued how a company with such revolutionary technology could sell itself for all shares in a debt-ridden loss making like Tesla? If the technology was of real value PE funds would have snapped it up or at the very least made a bid in cash. That none was made speaks volumes about what was bought.

All of the arguments hold true in the above link, “Tesla – 30 reasons why Tesla will be a bug on a windshield

Tesla below $200 after a successful cap raise is not a good sign. It’s the faithful slowly tipping out. Await another imaginary Musk-inspired growth engine to be announced shortly to try prop up the stock price. Yet the momentum will continue to sink. The market is losing confidence in Musk. The 1Q results were diabolically bad.

Major holder T Rowe Price has stampeded out the door. The stock is too risky. Musk is a brilliant salesman but he has bitten off more than he can chew.

CM always thought that Toyota selling its Tesla stake was a major sign. Acknowledging that under the hood the company possessed no technology that Toyota didn’t already own.

Watch the free fall. The Tesla stock will be below $100 by the year end.

(CM does not hold Tesla stock)

Go woke, go broke

Yet another example of why CM has cancelled his FT subscription. Where is the critical reporting? This article by Pilita Clark doesn’t critique the ridiculous movement by corporates to virtue signal but falls in line with the stupidity.

Maybe the best metaphor for the woke corporation is parsley. It often looks nice as a garnish but 99.9% of us push it to the side of the plate and leave it to be thrown away.

Corporate hypocrisy is everywhere.

Take Josh Bayliss, CEO of Virgin Group. He says,

“It’s definitely true that right now every one of us should think hard about whether or not we need to take a flight.”

Why doesn’t he close down the airlines in the portfolio? Instead of waiting for his customers to grow a conscience and do the right thing why not force their choice? The obvious answer is that it’s hypocritical.

Airlines operate on about 70% capacity load factor break even so if Virgin flights end up being half full he’ll only end up spewing more or less the same CO2 per flight and go out of business. British Airways, EasyJet and Ryanair will welcome Virgin’s virtue signaling. Go woke, go broke.

Qantas has the world’s largest carbon offset program yet only 2% of passengers elect to pay. That’s the extent of the belief in global warming.

Blackrock’s chief Larry Fink said his asset manager needs to do more than just make money yet it only backed 10% of the climate related shareholder proposals. Why? Supposedly because they would crush profits. All talk, little walk.

BP surprisingly helped prevent a carbon tax it openly launched support for. A fossil fuel company trying to undermine a carbon tax? Wow. Who’d a thunk?

UK shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said Labour would seek to delist companies from the London Stock Exchange that didn’t meet their climate change commitments. In order to meet that, will that mean a child daycare company will be burnt at the stake for not brainwashing kindergarten kids? Will there be a minimum pot plant to child ratio?

How would regulations impact the myriad of different businesses that would trigger being dumped from the LSE? What standard would be applied? CM is betting corporates jus need to “file” a governance statement on climate change which no one will read. As long as 100% of companies file, nothing will happen.

Pretty easy to avoid too. Companies could list on Nasdaq or the Singapore exchange to avoid the regulations and still raise capital. Did you think of that Mr McDonnell? No because it is all about being woke and there are plenty of alternatives to dodge stupid policy. Capital is global.

Pilita Clark closes her article by saying,

“Yet the climate debate is shifting and I am willing to bet that companies failing to match their green claims with solid action face far greater risks than they ever have before.”

Like much of the climate religion, few hard facts are ever presented except the date we are all supposed to die. Even then that is an ever-shifting goal post. We can be assured that when 2028 arrives all of a sudden we’ll have another 12 years to do something. A bit like the joke where a patient asks his doctor how long he has to live and is given an extension so he can pay his bill.

The ever-growing tide of the “woke” corporation is going to thwart ingenuity and entrepreneurship. It is corporate suicide to pander to this nonsense. It is not for companies to bang on about their wonderful commitments. Customers and shareholders can decide for themselves. Maybe if companies listened to both groups they would find profits go up. People are growing sick and tired of being told what to do. How to think.

The world is littered with corporate wokeness backfiring. The irony is much of it is self-inflicted. By trying to create false images of virtue, the results have been disastrous.

P&G had to write off billions from its Gillette brand for the toxic masculinity campaign. Before the campaign Gillette was ranked 7th out of 45 health and grooming brands. After, rock bottom.

There is almost a wave of corporate fear twisted by a minority of social activists like Sleeping Giants which create false narratives about public perceptions of evil companies. There is a flip side.

Chick-fil-A was established by Southern Baptists. They don’t ram their Christian beliefs at all in the restaurants. Activists tried to boycott the fast food outlet because one of the directors personally didn’t support same-sex marriage. Guess what, store numbers have doubled and revenues tripled over the last decade.

Chick-fil-A states it’s mission is, “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”

Chick-fil-A is notable by its closure on Sundays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. So people are well aware ofthis corporate backing its religious beliefs.

There is a difference between founding a company on certain beliefs and concocting them to ride a wave of hijacking social movements. Customers are aware of the difference.

Virgin Group can wax lyrical about its concerns in trying to save the planet but the only woke thing would be to shut down. Pushing the guilt back on its customers shows how hypocritical the airline is.

To be honest it gets tiring waiting in corporate lobbies watching flat panel TVs advertising all of the wonderful community things they do. 99% of the transaction with any corporate will be driven by the ability to deliver goods and services, not supporting tree planting. It is not to diminish charity or good intentions, rather to cut back on acting as though they’re angels to avoid being put on an imaginary naughty step that doesn’t exist.

Perhaps CM should recommend a portfolio of non-compliant ESG companies. When the market sells off, all the passive money in ESG compliant names should well underperform those that don’t. Perhaps an asset manager should establish an ETF with a basket of companies that just provide product or service rather than garnish it with lashings of corporate virtue. Here is betting it would be a contrarian winner.

Actually, vote on the political emergency

No surprise to see The Guardian parrot on about a climate emergency. The editorial completely misses out on the political emergency we face. The economic climate is a massive issue facing Australia. When Bill Shorten tells us that he “will change the nation forever” we shouldn’t view that positively. It is probably the honest thing he has said. Labor’s policy suite is the worst possible collection one could assemble to tackle what economic headwinds lie ahead. Our complacency is deeply disconcerting.

First let’s debunk the climate noise in The Guardian.

The math on the climate emergency is simple. Australia contributes 0.0000156% of global carbon emissions. No matter what we do our impact is zip. If we sell it as 560 million tonnes it sounds huge but the percentage term is all that is relevant. Even Dr Finkel, our climate science guru, agrees. What that number means is that Australia could emit 65,000x what it does now in order to get to a 1% global impact. So even if our emissions rise at a diminishing rate with the population, they remain minuscule.

Bill Shorten often tells us the cost of doing nothing on climate change is immeasurable. He’s right, only in that “it is too insignificant” should be the words he’s searching for.

Perhaps the saddest part of the Guardian editorial was to say that the Green New Deal proposed by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez was gaining traction in the US. It has been such a catastrophic failure that she lost an unsolicited vote on the Senate floor 57-0 because Democrats were too embarrassed to show up and support it. Nancy Pelosi dismissed it as a “green dream.” At $97 trillion to implement, no wonder AOC says feelings are more important than facts.

With the 12-year time limit to act before we reach the moving feast known as the tipping point, it gets confusing for climate sceptics. Extinction Rebellion wants things done in only 6 years. The UK House of Commons still can’t get a Brexit deal done inside 3 years but can act instantaneously to call a “climate emergency” after meeting a brainwashed teenager from Sweden. It speaks volumes of the desperation and lack of execution to have to search for political distractions like this.

The ultimate irony in the recent celebration of no coal-fired power in the UK for one week was fossil fuel power substituted all of it – 93% to be exact. Despite the energy market operator telling Brits that zero carbon emissions were possible by 2025 (40% of the current generation capacity is fossil fuel), it forgot that 85% of British homes heat with gas. Presumably, they’d need to pop on down to Dixon’s or Curry’s to buy new electric heaters which would then rely on a grid which will junk 40% of its reliable power…good luck sorting that out without sending prices sky high. Why become beholden to other countries to provide the back-up? It is irrational.

Are people aware that the German electricity regulator noted that 330,000 households (not people) were living in energy poverty? At 2 people per household, that is 1% of the population having their electricity supply cut off because they can’t afford to pay it. That’s what expensive renewables do. If the 330,000 could elect cheap electricity to warm their homes or go without for the sake of the climate, which would they choose? 100% cheap, reliable power. Yet Shorten’s plan can only push more into climate poverty which currently stands at 42,000 homes. This is before the economy has started to tank!

If one looks across Europe, it is no surprise to see the countries with the highest level of fossil fuel power generation (Hungary, Lithuania & Bulgaria) have the lowest electricity prices. Those with more renewables (Denmark, Germany & Belgium), the highest. That is Australia’s experience too. South Australia and Victoria have already revealed their awful track record with going renewable. Why did Coca-Cola and other industries move out of SA after decades? They couldn’t make money with such an unreliable

Ahh, but we must protect our children and grandchildren’s futures. So low have the left’s tactics sunk that using kids as human shields in the fight for climate change wards off conservatives calling out the truth because it is not cool to bully brainwashed kids. We should close all our universities. As the father of two teenagers, CM knows they know everything already so there is little requirement for tertiary education!

The Guardian mentioned, “But in Australia, the Coalition appears deaf to the rising clamour from the electorate [on climate change].” Really?

CM has often held that human consumption patterns dictate true feelings about climate change. Climate alarmist Independent candidate Zali Steggall drives a large SUV and has no solar panels on her roof! Her battleground in the wealthy seat of Warringah is probably 70%+ SUV so slapping a Zali bumper sticker does nothing but add to the hypocrisy.

Why do we ignore IATA forecasts that project air travel will double by 2030? Qantas has the largest carbon offset program in the world yet only 2% elect to pay the self-imposed tax. Isn’t that telling? That is the problem. So many climate alarmists expect others to do the heavy lifting.

SUVs make up 43% of all new car sales in Australia. In 2007 it was 19%. Hardly the activity of a population fretting about rising sea levels. In Warringah, waterfront property sales remain buoyant and any bank that feared waves lapping the rooves of Burran Avenue would not take such portfolio risk, much less an insurance company.

Shorten’s EV plan is such a dud that there is a reason he can’t cost it. Following Norway is great in theory but the costs of installing EV infrastructure is prohibitively expensive. It will be NBN Mark II. Will we spend millions to trench 480V connectors along the Stuart Highway?

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. That would cost closer to $14bn, or the equivalent of half the education budget.

The Guardian griped that “Scott Morrison’s dismissive response to a UN report finding that the world is sleepwalking towards an extinction crisis, and his parliamentary stunt of fondling a lump of coal”

Well, he might doubt the UN which has been embroiled in more scandals related to climate change than can be counted. Most won’t be aware that an internal UN survey revealed the dismay of unqualified people being asked for input for the sake of diversity and inclusion as opposed to choosing those with proper scientific qualifications. The UN has climbed down from most of its alarmist predictions, often citing no or little confidence of the original scare.

Yet this election is truly about the cost of living, not climate or immigration. The biggest emergency is to prepare for the numbers we can properly set policy against.

We have household debt at a record 180% of GDP. We have had 27 years of untrammelled economic growth. Unfortunately, we have traded ourselves into a position of too much complacency. Our major 4 banks are headed for a lot of trouble. Forget meaningless stress tests. APRA is too busy twiddling its thumbs over climate change compliance. While the Royal Commission may reign in loose lending, a slowing global economy with multiple asset bubbles including houses will come crumbling down. These banks rely 40% on wholesale markets to fund growth. A sharp slowdown will mean a weaker dollar which will only exacerbate the problem.

We have yet to see bond markets price risk correctly. Our banks are horribly exposed. They have too little equity and a mortgage debt problem that dwarfs Japan in the late 1980s. Part/whole nationalization is a reality. The leverage is worse than US banks at the time of the Lehman collapse.

We have yet to see 10% unemployment rates. We managed to escape GFC with a peak of 6% but this time we don’t have a buoyant China to rescue us. Consumers are tapped out and any upward pressure on rates (to account for risk) will pop the housing bubble. Not to worry, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen assures people not to panic if their home falls into negative equity! This is the level of economic nous on the catastrophe that awaits. It is insanely out of touch.

Are our politicians aware that the US has to refinance US$8.4 trillion in US Treasuries in the next 3 years? That amount of money will crowd out a corporate bond market which has more than 50% of companies rated BBB or less. This will be compounded by the sharp rise in inventories we are witnessing on top of the sharp slowdown in trade (that isn’t just related to the trade war) which is at GFC lows. The 3.2% US economic growth last quarter was dominated by “intellectual property”, not consumption or durable goods.

China car sales have been on a steep double-digit decline trajectory for the last 9 months. China smartphone shipments dwindle at 6 year lows. In just the first four months of 2019, Chinese companies defaulted on $5.8 billion of domestic bonds, c.3.4x the total for the same period of 2018. The pace is over triple that of 2016.

Europe is in the dumps. Germany has had some of the worst industrial production numbers since 2008. German GDP is set to hit 0.5% for 2019. France 1.25% and Italy 0.25%. Note that in 2007, there were 78mn Europeans living in poverty. In the following decade, it hit 118mn or 23.5% of the population.

Global bellwether Parker Hannifin, which is one of the best lead indicators of global industrial growth, reported weaker orders and a soft outlook which suggests the outlook for global growth is not promising.

This election on Saturday is a choice between the lesser of two evils. The LNP has hardly made a strong case for reelection given the shambolic leadership changes. Take it to the bank that neither will be able to achieve surpluses with the backdrop we are headed into. Yet when it comes to economic stewardship, it is clear Labor are out of their depth in this election. Costings are wildly inaccurate but they are based on optimistic growth scenarios that simply don’t exist. We cannot tax our way to prosperity when global growth dives.

Hiking taxes, robbing self-managed super fund retirees and slamming the property market might play well with the classes of envy but they will be the biggest victims of any slowdown. Australia has run out of runway to keep economic growth on a positive footing.

We will do well to learn from our arrogance which has spurned foreign investment like Adani. We miscalculate the damage done to the national brand. Adani has been 8 years in the making. We have tied the deal up in so much onerous red tape, that we have done nothing more than treating our foreign investors with contempt. Those memories will not be forgotten.

There will come a point in years to come where we end up begging for foreigners to invest at home but we will only have ourselves to blame.

The editorial closes with,

However you choose to exercise your democratic decision-making on Saturday, please consider your candidate’s position on climate and the rapidly shrinking timeframe for action. We have endured mindless scare campaigns and half-baked policy for too many decades. We don’t have three more years to waste.

This is the only sensible quote in the entire article. The time for action is rapidly shrinking. However, that only applies to the political and economic climate. One can be absolutely sure that when the slowdown hits, saving the planet will be furthest removed from Aussie voters’ minds.

Was Tesla/Maxwell deal smart?

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Tesla (TSLA) has bought Maxwell (MXWL) for an all-stock transaction at US$288m notional value. The question is why any company would accept an all share transaction from a chronic loss-making company to buy its supposedly “amazing” futuristic dry capacitor technology? Are shareholders of MXWL as hooked into the EV cult as those at Tesla? Clearly not all of them. A group of MXWL investors launched a class action to block the deal. Sadly they failed.

If the management of Maxwell truly believed this deal was a winner and the technology was game-changing, why not demand cash? Why didn’t Tesla invite Panasonic’s battery boffins to assess whether the technology had merit? One must question how good is Maxwell’s IP to only find one buyer and for an all share deal? Where were the private equity (PE) vultures circling? How little confidence in one’s product or how much faith in Musk’s cult-like status to fall for such terms?

Maxwell at the 9 month FY2018 stage reported US$91.6mn (-8%YoY) in revenue and a net loss of $30.2mn. Cash halved from $50.122m in 9M 2017 to $23.561mn 9M 2018. The company did sell its high voltage product line to Renaissance Investment Foundation for $55mn with a 2-year $15mn earn out. That involved an upfront payment of $48m making pro-forma cash as at Sep 30, 2018, total $69mn. The company has an accumulated deficit of $277mn.

While the two companies had been in conversation for several years, Musk seemed to get serious in December 2018.

Forget the technological merits of Maxwell. It is easy to work out the quality of the deal based on the structure and the lack of appetite from the mega battery makers or PE firms to validate it. There is no way that MXWL didn’t show its wares to the majors. Given the deal was announced in February 2019, the EV battery and PE world would have at the very least done some back of the envelope calculations to value the business.

All that Musk has done has absorbed another loss-making business into the same cult and give himself another “dream” to add to the smoke and mirrors story.

Maxwell’s management must have channeled Don Adams, “good thinking, 99” but will undoubtedly end up saying, “sorry about that, Chief!”

Slam it then copy it

We shouldn’t expect less in the final week before an election, but Labor Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen has come out slamming PM Scott Morrison’s first home buyer subsidy but promising to copy it anyway. Are these really the financial stewards we need running the country?

Either slam it for the bad plan that it is and reject it or endorse it because he has costed it. Sadly Bowen has done neither. Yet more profligacy from the confetti brigade.

No, ScoMo!

For a Conservative party to push a subsidy of up to 20% of the value of a property for first time home buyers shows how bereft of policy it is. When Vic Premier Daniel Andrews raised a similar plan in March 2017 CM trashed it.

Think about it. Home prices have started to fall in major capitals because of a lack of demand thanks to astronomical prices and tapped out borrowers. This is before the Royal Commission puts the brakes on lending.

Why provide a subsidy to first home buyers toward the top of a bubble? It is not the role of the taxpayer to subsidize nor insure the downside risk in the event of the owner going into negative equity. What happened to free market economics?

What will this 20% subsidy do? If a couple go house hunting with a budget of $800,000, they will be able to shoot for a $1mn property. It might end up being the same property, pushed up by the desperate buyer thanks to the subsidy creating a false sense of security. So the reality is the taxpayer and the homeowner may end up in the red the day they move in. What a policy!!

Has ScoMo just called the top of the property market?

The Untrumpables & the bookkeeper

The NY Times has Donald Trump’s tax returns from 1985-1994. So what? He made losses 25-30 years ago. He obviously made some terrible business decisions to rack up $1.17bn in losses over a decade. Yet the laws allowed him to do so. Two years ago, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow hailed she had Trump’s 2005 tax return that showed he paid $38m tax on $150m income. So he has had some good with the bad.

Because the mainstream media and the Democrats couldn’t pin Russia collusion on him, they want to see if they can get him on tax evasion. Sounds like the accountant in the Treasury Department trying to bust Al Capone in The Untouchables. The Democrats want to make Trump talk with a gun in his mouth. Many Democrat-run states have passed legislation to ban Trump from the 2020 ballot if he doesn’t release his tax returns. CM has mentioned numerous times how this typifies the level to which Democrats think they are just in rejecting the democratic rights of their constituents.  Surely American voters can decide for themselves whether his tax returns are an important enough issue for them.

The question really boils down to whether he has “evaded” tax or “avoided” it? If he used the tax laws to minimise his ultimate tax liabilities then all power to him. In the immortal words of Australian billionaire, Kerry Packer, “if anybody in this country doesn’t minimise their tax they want their heads read. Because as a government I can tell you, you’re not spending it that well that we should be donating extra!

Truth be told, banks continued to lend to him despite having the highest tax losses of any American and he wound up in the highest office in the land. Even if his most recent tax returns show massive losses, if he hasn’t broken the law then what will House Democrats have gained?

Put it this way. The mainstream media might wish to point to the failures of Trump as a good reason to question his judgement. They might mock him by saying he benefitted from Daddy’s money. However, America has the lowest unemployment rate in decades, historic low black and female unemployment and 5.8m unemployed to fill 7m job openings. If individuals feel America is in a better place than when he started, one can be sure that he will be sworn in again in 2020.

When will the Democrats finally realise that putting forward sensible policies to convince the American public they are worthy of government is a more effective method than pushing more and more Trump Derangement Syndrome?