Benchmarks

More public pension roadkill ahead

CM has been writing about the public pensions crisis in the US for years. This chart only serves to highlight that the problem doesn’t seem to be getting any better. It seems in Illinois, 200 of the 650 public pension funds out there have more beneficiaries than active workers contributing to the fund. By 2021 this is expected to be half of all public pension funds in Illinois.

ZeroHedge noted,

The value of all future pension promises to be paid out to public safety workers totalled just $320 million in 2005. By 2017, that number had jumped to nearly $600 million. That’s a jump of over 80% or more than three times the pace of inflation.

It’s the main reason why taxpayer contributions can’t keep up with pension costs. Pols are doing nothing to control the growth of promises to be paid, sticking taxpayers with ever-increasing costs and ratcheting up the likelihood the pension plans will fail…

… In 1987, municipalities owed a total of $2.6 billion in benefits earned to active and retired public safety workers across the state. Today, that number has jumped to more than $23 billion. That’s a jump of nearly nine times.”

Don’t forget what the Illinois Police Dept did several years back. IN June 2017 CM wrote,

“Sadly 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) wroteAt 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 year…Fund 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.”

What have the police been doing? Retiring early and cashing in their pensions to avoid the inevitable.

The problem for Illinois is that a taxpayer-funded bailout is all but impossible. The State of Illinois ranked worst in the Fed study on unfunded liabilities.  The unfunded pension liability is around 24% of state GDP. In 2000 the unfunded gap to state revenue was 30% and in 2013 was 124% in 2013. Chicago City Wire adds that the police fund isn’t the only one in trouble.

“Chicago’s Teachers Union Pension Fund is $10.1 billion in debt. Its two municipal worker funds owe $11.2 billion and its fire department fund owes $3.5 billion…All will require taxpayer bailouts if they are going to pay retirees going into the next decade…Put in perspective, the City of Chicago’s property tax levy was $1.36 billion in 2017…Paying for retirees “as we go,” which will prove the only option once funds run dry, will require almost quadrupling city property tax bills…Last year, it would have required more than $4 billion in revenue– including $1 billion for City of Chicago workers, $1.5 billion for teachers, and $1.5 billion for retired police officers and firefighters.”

This problem is going to get catastrophically worse with the state of bloated asset markets with puny returns. Looking at how it has been handled in the past Detroit, Michigan gives some flavour. It declared bankruptcy around this time three years ago. Its pension and healthcare obligations total north of US$10bn or 4x its annual budget. Accumulated deficits are 7x larger than collections. Dr. Wayne Winegarden of George Mason University wrote that in 2011 half of those occupying the city’s 305,000 properties didn’t pay tax. Almost 80,000 were unoccupied meaning no revenue in the door. Over the three years post the GFC Detroit’s population plunged from 1.8mn to 700,000 putting even more pressure on the shrinking tax base.

In order for states and local municipalities to overcome such gaps, they must reorganise the terms. It could be a simple task of telling retiree John Smith that his $75,000 annuity promised decades ago is now $25,000 as the alternative could be even worse if the terms are not accepted. Think of all the consumption knock-on effects of this. I doubt many Americans will accept that hands down, leading to class actions and even more turmoil.

Did CM mention gold?

Joe Nation’s Pension Tracker is a really good website to look at the actuarial setting of pensions against the marked-to-market unfunded liabilities. Have a stiff drink handy before you open up.

Greta, the poster child for a dysfunctional education system

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You have to hand it to the left. They truly have indoctrination down pat. While there is a sense of awe at the sheer number of kids who attended Friday’s protests around the world at the expense of school (in some cases even exams), 16yo Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, the poster child for ‘climate change’, has exposed how dysfunctional our educational system has become. Forget discipline. Dismiss reasoned discussion. Conform and get rewarded for it.

CM has always felt sorry for Greta’s exploitation. She typifies the style of propaganda used over generations. The way that the UN, EU or World Economic Forum hang off her every word. It is deeply embarrassing. Made worse by the hypocrisy of 1,500 private jets used to fly to hear her speak in Davos.

Many teachers and parents of these kids are no better. Often espousing patronizing and sanctimonious sermons about the intelligence of the youth today. Not to worry, Extinction Rebellion has even published a piece on hypocrisy. Thomas Sinclair wrote,

Someone who doesn’t know the evidence might perhaps be persuaded to review it. But someone who thinks I’m a hypocrite may suppose that I’ve reviewed the evidence and am acting on it — so she can skip the review herself and take my actions as her guide.” Take that!

He goes on,

However, XR can do better than the standard response. The most important point is this. There is no hypocrisyDriving to XR protests, or using vinyl banners, or eating a Pret sandwich at an XR roadblock — these are not hypocritical actions. Hypocrisy is a matter of preaching one thing but practising another. But what XR preaches is a radical change of the system within which we must make our choices, not of the choices we make within the system as it stands.

What infallible logic! How could we be so obtuse? Those kids CM found eating McDonald’s before the climate strike were completely aware of their actions. They were “highlighting” the problem of the fast-food chain’s utter disdain for the planet to serve food in single-use plastics and paper packaging. It was a cry to get McDonald’s to change its wicked ways. Or was it they were just oblivious to the fact that, while gorging on hamburgers, fries and thick shakes, were unable to fathom their own double standards. Lucky for them, Sinclair has a get out of jail free card. Who knew?

It wasn’t so long ago that a CIS study in Australia revealed that 58% of millennials had a favourable view of socialism. Unfortunately, 51% did not know who Chairman Mao was. Another 32% did not know Stalin and 42% hadn’t heard of Lenin. If we combine with “know but not familiar” with “don’t know” we see almost 80%, 66% and 74% respectively. Oh, how wonderful to learn in school about three men whose social policies led to the deaths of 10s of millions. Unbeknownst to them, many of their teachers follow the same Marxist mindset.

What more proof do you need when an RMIT senior lecturer tweeted he’d award full marks for 5% of the course for those that attended provided they sent in a selfie. Presumably, those that didn’t submit a selfie would be secretly docked marks. RMIT made a glib response to the professor’s tweet which went along the lines of defending the indefensible. Pathetic. He should be severely reprimanded or sacked for completely unprofessional conduct.

Corporations often complain about the difficulty in hiring the skills they need to grow. Shouldn’t they now be extra wary that the degrees awarded to those they are looking to hire have been issues on the basis of aligned participation, not academic effort? Qantas CEO Alan Joyce and Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah might make noise about having to be big on social justice to attract the next generation but if they attend schools which openly support activism quite frankly they are all theirs! CM would prefer investing in companies that hire kids who got their education that cost $2.50 in late charges at the public library.

CM has written before on the slipping standards in Aussie education. Is it any wonder when a growing number of teachers are radical activists. Our education system needs a massive overhaul. Our ranks in maths, science and literacy have all been heading south. We aren’t teaching our kids that the real world out there is a touch place. Wrapping them in cotton wool will not serve them at all in later life. That will ironically be the real impact of chasing climate change agendas and the misguided policy that was enacted due to weak-willed authorities.

Although don’t get too excited about a sea change in thinking to fix this awful course. The latest 2019 OECD report has been captured by the warming cult, justifying worsening trends in education on shifts in society, even going so far as to quote (p.16) Decca Records rejecting The Beatles back in 1962 as evidence of how we can get it wrong.

Justifying – although not admitting – the slip (denoted as a “shift”) in education standards on climate change is insane in the extreme. Lucky for us there is a summary version written by the OECD. The full report is here. 479 pages of blather.

There are too many examples of schools around the globe folding to this Marxist nonsense. In the past, student bodies embracing Marxism as a fad were par for the course. Now the university faculties are the drivers. For example:

Posters from the University of San Francisco (uSF) point at white students so they appropriately check their privilege. Karl Marx may have recently turned 200 but his legacy lives and breathes in California. So much for universities being the cradle of free and open thinking.

The Inclusive Communications Task Force at the Colorado State University has introduced an appropriate language guide and it has deemed the words “America” and “Americans” might prove offensive to some and have discouraged their use on campus.

The University of Texas launched, “MasculinUT”, a program which was organized by the school’s counselling staff with a poster series encouraging students to develop a “healthy model of masculinity.” The program is built around “restrictive masculinity” and tries to encourage men to drop traditional gender roles to “act like a man”, be “successful” or “the breadwinner.”

Dr. Aaron Brough of Utah State University conducted a study to see if there is a correlation between toxic masculinity and climate change. His assumptions ran the line that men see environmentalism as more feminine and get triggered if forced to make ecological choices if they feel threatened.

The University of Melbourne allowed an artistic performance that required “paying” white customers access on the basis of signing an acknowledgement of white privilege. The $600mn+ taxpayer-funded University of Melbourne’s motto is Postera Cescam Laude, which is Latin for “We shall grow in the esteem of future generations.” It is not clear whether the founders of the UoM had Marxist theories at the forefront of their minds in 1853. Growing the esteem of future generations was not to come by cutting down those whose passions as individuals cause them to strive for greatness. Yet the radical leftists believe esteem comes, not from effort, but allocation.

Don’t think that the indoctrination begins in secondary or tertiary education. From tender ages, in the Democratic People’s Republic of Victoria, some educational apparatchiks believe a grandparent kissing their grandchild can violate them and can be considered assault. In what world does a grandparent showing affection to their own flesh and blood have incest on their minds? Most likely never.

It would seem to CM that the most important Royal Commission to be conducted is on our education system. From Safe School programs to universities, Australia’s long term future is being seriously impacted by utterly valueless indoctrination. We will not be the lucky country for much longer because this garbage is already seeping into corporate board rooms.

Note CM in no way thinks Greta Thunberg is associated with Nazis.

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

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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?

The depression we have to have

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In his 1967 presidential address to the American Economic Association, Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman said, “… we are in danger of assigning to monetary policy a larger role than it can perform, in danger of asking it to accomplish tasks that it cannot achieve, and as a result, in danger of preventing it from making the contribution that it is capable of making.

What we are witnessing today is not capitalism. While socialists around the world scream for equality and point to the evils of capitalism, the real truth is that they are shaking pitchforks at the political class who are experimenting with economic and monetary concoctions that absolutely defy the tenets of free markets. As my learned credit analyst and friend, Jonathan Rochford, rightly points out, central banks have applied “their monetary policy hammer to problems that need a screwdriver.

Never has there been so much manipulation to keep this sinking global ship afloat. Manipulation is the complete antithesis to capitalism.  Yet our leaders and central banks think firing more cheap credit tranquillizers will somehow get us out of this mess. IT. WILL. NOT.

BONDS

As of August 15th, 2019, the sum of negative-yielding debt exceeds $16.4 trillion. That is to say, 30% of outstanding government debt sits in this category. Every single government bond issued by Germany, The Netherlands, Finland and Denmark are now negative-yielding. Germany just announced a 30-yr auction with a zero-interest coupon.

Unfortunately, insurance companies and pension funds are large scale buyers of bonds and negative interest rates don’t exactly serve their purposes. Therefore the hunt for positive yield (that ticks the right credit rating boxes) means the pickings continue to get slimmer.

Put simply to buy a bond with a negative yield, means that the cost of the bond held to maturity is more than the sum of all the coupons due and the receipt of face value combined. It also says clearly that controlling the extent of the loss of one’s money is preferable to sticking to strategies in other asset classes (e.g. property, equities) where TINA (there is no alternative) is the rule of thumb.

CM believes that there is a far bigger issue investors should focus on is the return “of” their money, not the return “on” it.

Rochford continues,

Central banks have hoped that extraordinary monetary policy would kick start economic growth, but they have instead only created asset price growth. In applying their monetary policy hammer to problems that need a screwdriver they have created the preconditions for the next and possibly greater financial crisis. The outworkings of many years of malinvestment are now starting to show with increasing regularity.

Argentina’s heavily oversubscribed issuance of 100-year bonds in 2017 was considered insane by many debt market participants at the time. The crash to below 50% of face value this month and request for maturity extensions is no surprise for a country that has a long rap sheet of sovereign defaults. Greece’s ten-year bond yield below 2% is another example of sovereign debt insanity…

…There have been three regional bank failures in China in the last three months, likely an early warning of the bad debt crisis brewing in China’s banks and debt markets. Europe’s banks aren’t in much better shape, there’s still a cohort of weak banks in Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain that haven’t fixed their problems that first surfaced a decade ago. Deutsche Bank is both fundamentally weak and the world’s most systemically important bank, a highly dangerous combination.”

What about equity markets?

EQUITIES

We only need look at the number record number of IPOs in 2018 where over 80% launched with negative earnings, you know, just like what happened in 2000 when the tech bubble collapsed.

Have people paid attention to the fact that aggregate US after-tax corporate earnings have been FLAT since 2012? That is 7 long years of tracking sideways. Where is this economic miracle that is spoken of?

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The only reason the markets have continued to remain excited is the generous share buyback regimes among many corporates which have flattered earnings per share (EPS). The “E” hasn’t grown. It is just that “S” has fallen. Credit spreads between AAA and BBB rated corporate paper has been so narrow that over 50% of US corporates now have a BBB or worse credit rating. Now credit spreads between top and bottom investment-grade bonds remain ridiculously tight. At some stage, investors will demand an appropriate spread to account for market “risk.”

Axios noted that for 2019, IT companies are again on pace to spend the most on stock buybacks this year, as the total looks set to pass 2018’s $1.085 trillion record total. Pretty easy to keep markets in the clouds with cheap credit fuelling expensive buybacks. Harley-Davidson is another household name which suffers from strategy decay yet deploys more cash to share buybacks instead of revitalising its core franchise. Harley delinquencies are at a 9-yr high.

Companies like GE embarked on a $45bn share buyback program despite a balance sheet which still reveals considerable negative equity. GE was the largest company in the world in 2000 and now trades at 20% of that value almost 20 years later.

Should we ignore Harry Markopolos, who discovered the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, when he points to the problems within GE? GE management can protest all they like but ultimately the company is not winning the argument if the share price is a barometer.

Valuations are at extreme levels. Beyond Meat trades at 100x revenues. Don’t get CM started on Tesla. A largely loss-making third rate automaker which is trading at outlandish premiums. The blind faith put in charge of a CEO that has lost over 100 senior management members.

Bank of America looked at 20 metrics to evaluate current market levels of the S&P500. 17 of them pointed to excess valuations relative to history including one metric that revealed S&P500 being 90% overvalued on a market cap to GDP ratio. Never mind.

Then witness the push for diversity nonsense inside corporate boardrooms. CM has always believed if a board is best suited to be run by all women based on background, skills and experience, then so be it. That is the best outcome for shareholders. However, to artificially set targets to morally preen will mean absolutely nothing if a sharp downturn exposes a soft underbelly of a lack of crisis management skills. Shareholders and retirees won’t be impressed.

It was laughable to hear superannuation funds ganging up on Harvey Norman last week for not having a diverse enough board. Even though Harvey Norman is thumping the competition which focuses too much on ESG/CSR, the shortcomings of our retirement managers are only too evident. Retirees want returns and their super managers should focus on that, rather than try to push companies to meet their ridiculous self-imposed investment restrictions. Retirees won’t be happy when their superannuation balances are decimated because fund managers wanted to appear socially acceptable at cocktail parties.

PROPERTY

It was only last month that Jyske Bank in Denmark started to offer negative interest mortgages. That is the bank pays interest to the mortgage holders. Of course, the bank is able to source credit below that rate to make a profit however net interest margins for the banks get squeezed globally. What next? Will people be able to sign up to a perpetual negative interest mortgage? Shall we expect a Japan-style multi-generational loan?

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The RBA’s latest chart pack shows net interest margins at the lowest levels for two decades. With the Hayne Banking Royal Commission likely to further crimp on lending growth, we are storing up huge pain in property markets despite the hope that August clearing rates signal a bottom in the short term. Yet more suckers lured in at the top of a shaky economy and financial sector.

Of course, central banks will dance to the tune that all is OK. Until it isn’t.

Don’t forget former US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, said “our financial institutions are strong” right before plugging $700bn worth of TARP money to save many of them from bankruptcy in 2008.

CM has previously investigated the Big 4 Aussie banks who have equity levels that are chronically low levels. Our major banks have such high exposure to mortgages that a severe downturn could potentially lead to part or whole nationalisation. Of course, between signalling the importance of factoring climate change, APRA assures us the stress tests ensure our financial institutions are safe.

Back in 2007, Sydney house prices were 8x income. In 2017 Demographia stated average housing (excluding apartment) prices were in the 13-14x range. The Australian Bureau of Statistics notes that 80% of people live in houses and 20% in apartments. Only Hong Kong at 19x beats Sydney for dizzy property prices. In 2019, expect that price/income rates remain at unsustainable levels.

In 2018, Australia’s GDP was around A$1.75 trillion. Our total lending by the banks was 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. Where there is smoke, there is fire.

At the height of the property bubble 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 64% (A$1.8 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. 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. That doesn’t let them off the hook mind you.

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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.

Central banks need a mea culpa moment. We need to move away from manipulating interest rates to muddle through. It isn’t working. At all.

Rochford rightly points out,

Coming off the addiction to monetary policy is going to be painful, but it is the only sustainable course. It is likely that normalising monetary policy will result in a global recession, but this must be accepted as an unavoidable outcome given the disastrous policies of the past. Excessive monetary and fiscal stimulus has pulled consumption forward, the process of unwinding that obviously requires a level of consumption to be pushed backwards.”

Rochford is being conservative (no doubt due to his polite demeanour) in his assessment of a global recession. It is likely that this downturn will make the GFC of 2008 look like a picnic. CM thinks depression is the more apt term. 1929 not 2008. Central banks are rapidly losing what little confidence remains. If the RBA think QE will be a policy option, there is plenty of beta testing to show that it doesn’t work in the long run.

It is time to have the recession/depression we had to have to get the markets to clear. It will be excruciatingly painful but until we face facts, all the manipulation in the world will fail to keep capitalism from doing its job in the end. The longer we wait the worse it will get.

“It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble…..it is what you know to be sure that just ain’t so! – Mark Twain.

Identity Politics rejected by those who would seemingly benefit

Quillette columnist Coleman Hughes testified in front of a House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties on the subject of a bill proposing to conduct a commission into slavery reparations. Hughes’ testimony was not what activists wanted to hear so he was heckled by them.

He argued that such a path would further divide the nation. Such is the scourge of identity politics and the victim mentality.

He was booed when he said, “Black people don’t need another apology. We need safer neighborhoods and better schools. We need a less punitive criminal justice system. We need affordable health care. And none of these things can be achieved through reparations for slavery.”

He went on to describe that reparations were not only divisive, but an “insult to many black Americans by putting a price on the suffering of their ancestors, and we would turn the relationship between black Americans and white Americans from a coalition into a transaction

Reparations by definition are only given to victims, so the moment you give me reparations, you’ve made me into a victim without my consent. Not just that, you’ve made 1/3 of black Americans who poll against reparations into victims without their consent, and black Americans have fought too long for the right to define themselves to be spoken for in such a condescending manner...

The question is not what America owes me by virtue of my ancestry, the question is what all Americans owe each other by virtue of being citizens of the same nation…And the obligation of citizenship is not transactional. It’s not contingent on ancestry. It never expires, and it can’t be paid off. For all these reasons, bill HR 40 is a moral and political mistake.”

Isn’t it ironic how out of touch the political class is when the very people they hope will give them the answer they want to hear do the exact opposite.

RBA should expect a dead cat bounce from the rate cut

The RBA has cut rates to a record low 1.25%. The irony here is people and businesses invest because they see a cycle, not because interest rates are low. Lowering rates will do little to spur investment, especially as the global economy cools.

Post the Hayne Royal Commission, the banks will likely pass on the full amount which will only impact margins and weaken them given the high reliance on wholesale funding.

The other problem the RBA faces is that banks have become so reluctant to lend post the RC that the net impacts of the rate cut will be negated by the unwillingness to lend at levels we have seen in the past given the penalties associated with it.

CM still contends that the Aussie banks tread a perilous path given their leveraged balance sheets. CM thinks part nationalization or worse is a real prospect if the slowdown is severe enough. The equity buffers are tiny relative to the real estate portfolio. All contained in the above link.

The rate cut is unlikely to boost confidence other than loosen the noose around stretched borrowers’ necks.