China

Nothing to see here

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Chinese regional bank, Guangdong Nanyue Bank Co said it won’t exercise an early redemption on its 1.5 bn yuan (US$215 million) 6% tier-two bond in December.

According to Bloomberg,

Chinese banks reported 2.2 trillion yuan (US$315bn) of non-performing loans at the end of June, which, according to the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) is the highest level in over 15 years…Troubles facing Guangdong Nanyue’s biggest shareholders may also add to its woes. Neoglory Holding Group Co., which is going through a court-led bankruptcy restructuring after defaulting on its bonds, is the largest shareholder of Guangdong Nanyue with a 16.52% stake, followed by Gionee Communication Equipment Co., which is in liquidation, according to a report published by China Lianhe Credit Rating in June. The two hold a combined 25.4% stake in the lender.

Note in recent times, Baoshang Bank was taken over by the government in May and the Bank of Jinzhou was rescued in July.

We shouldn’t forget “special mention” loans which are not classified as NPLs but potentially at risk of becoming so (equivalent to being 90+ days in arrears), rose to 3.63 trillion yuan (US$521bn), accounting for 3.3% of the total loan volume for commercial banks according to the CBIRC.

Westpac reported a 40% increase in home repossessions

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Don’t get CM wrong – this is still the law of small numbers.  Westpac reported this week that it repossessed another 162 properties in the latest fiscal year.  That is a 40% increase. While it is but a dribble compared to the 100,000s of total loans outstanding it is none-the-less a harbinger of things to come. Westpac made clear, “the main driver of the increase has been the softening economic conditions and low wages growth.”

The current status of 90-day+ delinquencies has been rising over time. As have 30-day +. While nothing alarming, the current economic backdrop should give absolutely no confidence that an improvement in conditions is around the corner. We are not at the beginning of the end, but at the end of the beginning.

Former President Ronald Reagan once said of the three phases of government, “if it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it.” How is that relevant to the banks?

We have already had the government fold and attach a special bank tax on the Big 4. Phase 1 done. Now we are in the middle of phase 2 which is where knee-jerk responses to the Hayne Banking Royal Commission (HBRC) where banks will be on the hook for the loans they make. That is a recipe for disaster that could bring on phase 3 – bailouts.

Sound extreme? How is a bank supposed to make a proper risk assessment of a customer’s employability in years to come? Can they predict with any degree of accuracy on the stability of candidates who come for loans? The only outcome is to cut the loan amount to such conservative levels that the underlying purpose gets diluted in the process and prospective home buyers have to lower expectations. Not many banks will look positively at taking several loans on the same property with different institutions. That won’t work. SO loan growth will shrink, putting pressure on the property market.

What is the flip side? Given property prices in Sydney hover at 13x income (by the way, Tokyo Metro was 15x income at the peak of its property bubble), restrictions on further lending against loan books that are on average 63% stuffed with mortgages (Japan was 41.2% at the peak) won’t be helpful. A property slowdown is the last thing mortgage holders and banks need.

While equity continues to rise at Aussie banks, the equity to outstanding mortgages has gone down since 2007 i.e. leverage is up. If banks saw their average property portfolios drop by more than 20% many would be staring at a negative equity scenario. Yet, it won’t be just mortgage owners that we need to worry about. Business loans could well go pear-shaped as the onset of higher unemployment could see a sharp increase in delinquencies through a business slowdown. A concertina effect occurs. More people lose their job and a vicious circle ensues. It isn’t rocket science.

Of course, Australia possesses the ‘boy who cried wolf‘ mentality over the housing market. Yet it is exactly this type of complacency that paves a dangerous path to poor policy prescriptions.

In Japan’s property bubble aftermath, 40% of the value of loans went bang. 17% of GDP. $1.1 trillion went up in smoke. It took more than 10 years to clean up the mess and the aftershocks remain. Accounting trickery around the real value of loans on the balance sheet can hide the problems for a period but revenue tends to unravel such tales. 181 banks and building societies went bust. The rest were forced into mergers, received bailouts or were nationalised. Now the Japanese government is a perpetual debt slave, having to raise $400bn per annum in debt just to fill the portion of the $1 trillion budget that tax collections can’t fill.

The problem  Japan’s banks faced was simple.  If a neighbour’s $2m home was repossessed through mortgage stress and the bank fire sold it for $1.4m, the bank needed to mark to market the value of the loan portfolio for that area by similar amounts. In doing so, a once healthy balance sheet started to look anything but. Extrapolate that across multiple suburbs and things look nauseating quickly.

This is where Aussie banks are headed. This time there is no China to save us like in 2009. Unemployment rates in Australia never went above 6% after the GFC in 2008/9, unlike the US which went to 10%. We weathered that storm thanks to a monster surplus left by the Howard government, which we no longer have.

Sadly China has had 18 months of consecutive double-digit car sales decline. Two regional Chinese banks have folded in the last 3-4 months. China isn’t a saviour.

Nor is the US. While the S&P500 might celebrate new highs, aggregate corporate profitability hasn’t risen since 2012. The market has been fuelled by debt-driven buybacks. We now have 50% of US corporates rated BBB because of the distortions created by crazed central bank monetary policy, up from 30%. Parker Hannifin’s latest order book shows that customer activity is falling at a faster pace.

Nor is Europe. German industrial production is at 10-year lows. The prospects for any EU recovery is looking glib. Risk mispricing is insane with Greek bond spreads only 1.8% higher than German bunds.

What this means is that 28 years of unfettered economic growth in Australia is coming to an end and the excesses built in an economy that believes its own BS is going to leave a lot of people naked when the tide goes out.

The Australian government needs to focus on more deregulation, tax and structural reforms. Our record-high energy prices, ridiculous labour costs and overbearing red-tape are absolutely none of the ingredients that will help us in a downturn. We need to be competitive and we simply aren’t. Virtue signalling won’t help voters when the whole edifice crumbles.

All a low-interest rate environment has done is pull forward consumption. It seems the RBA only possesses a hammer in the tool kit which is why it treats everything as a nail. It is time to come to terms with the fact that further cuts to the official cash rate and the prospect of QE will do nothing to ward off the inevitable.

Pain is coming, but the prospects of an orderly exit are so far off the mark they are in another postcode. Roll your eyes at the stress tests. Stress tests are put together on the presumption that all of the stars align. Sadly, in times of panic, human nature causes knee-jerk responses which put even more pressure.

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The Aussie banks have passed their best period. While short term news flow, such as a China trade deal, might give a short term boost, the structural time bomb sits on the balance sheet and while we may not get a carbon copy of the Japanese crisis, our Big 4 should start to look far more like the rest of the global banks – truly sick. The HBRC will see that it becomes way worse than it ever needed to be.

Complacency kills.

Titanic shipbuilder manages to stay afloat

It seems that Titanic shipbuilder, Harland & Wolff, has been thrown a £6m lifeline after the Belfast based business looked to sink into receivership. The company has 79 staff, well down on the historic peak of 35,000. The trends are only too self-evident.

The OECD notes “As of March 2018, the global order book of registered ships totalling approximately 78 million CGT, thus continuing to remain at historically very low levels. In year-on-year (y-o-y) terms this represents a decline of around 10% and is almost 66% lower than the peak in September 2008.  The order book continuously declined after 2008 before stabilising in 2013 and staying above 120 million CGT throughout 2014. With deliveries stable and new contracting at record lows, the order book again decreased substantially in 2016, declining by around ¼ from January 2016 to January 2018. In the course of 2018, new ordering picked up again from its lows, but declined in the first quarter of 2018.

It wasn’t so many years ago that Korea’s largest container transporter Hanjin Shipping declared bankruptcy.  The above chart shows the daily shipping rates for the industry which remain tepid for the past decade. The problem with the shipping industry is the fleet. Ships are not built overnight. Surging order books and limited capacity meant that as the pre-GFC global trade boom was taking place, many shipping companies were paying over the odds without cost ceilings on major raw material inputs (like steel). This meant that ships were arriving at customer docks well after the cycle had peaked at prices that were 3x market prices because of the inflated materials.

H&W may live to see another day, but the consolidation in the shipping industry will be ongoing. P.22 of this report shows the slowing $ value of trade in recent months.

Our education is the problem, not the climate

You know things have got to be bad when Zali Steggall OAM MP is launching The Australia Institute’s (TAI) ‘Climate of the Nation 2019‘ report which claims 81% of Aussies are concerned that climate change will impact droughts and flooding. Huh? The IPCC has already admitted, “available climate data do not show any increasing trend in extreme weather events (e.g. extreme precipitation, extreme drought, thunderstorms, winter blizzards) in any part of the world.”

Did TAI conduct the survey at the Australian Medical Association (AMA) which is now trying to dictate climate policy? Between the RBA, APRA and the AMA, we might need a beauty contest to see which of them takes over at the Department of Environment & Energy. CM is surprised that the AMA hasn’t demanded to take over the organization of the Royal Easter Show from the Royal Agricultural Society now they are experts in food security!

Why do people get so embroiled in talking about the “science being settled”. OK, let’s assume it is. We use all of the well publicized and peer-reviewed data scrapes from the IPCC reports, the EU’s in house statistics bureau, Eurostat, and the EIA.

We only need a basic Year 7 grasp of elementary mathematics to educate on the facts. The IPCC claim that CO2, as a proportion of the atmosphere, is 0.0415%. It also tells us that human-made CO2 is 3% of the total. 97% is natural. Australia for its sins is 1.08% of human-made global CO2 emissions.

So, 0.0415% x 3% x 1.08% = 0.00001345%. Let’s forget the science and say it was the interest earned on a 20-year compounding deposit of $10,000. If you doubled or halved the above percentage across that deposit you’d get virtually the exact same result in all three scenarios.

Farting cows are no different. Methane is an even smaller part of the atmosphere. 722 parts per billion. Animals (in total) make up 13% of the methane produced meaning that 0.00000939% of the atmosphere is down to animals. Angela Merkel was imploring Chinese don’t grow a meat habit so she can save the planet (aka justify a meat tax increase at home). By the way, Australia has 26mn cattle out of a total of 1 billion worldwide. So Australia is 2.6% of global head of cattle. So 2.6% x 0.00000939% = 0.00000024%. That is a disingenuous number because it doesn’t factor horses, ducks, sheep, household pets and budgies. Perhaps Africans need to educate lions to move to plant-based meat substitutes and leave water buffalo alone.

Do people realize that rice paddies account for more methane than cows? Where are the environmentalists and climate alarmists demanding that Asian nations, 40% of the global population, must cease eating rice? Better tell Mother Nature that she creates 45% of the methane out there through peat bogs and tundras.

How ironic that Zali Steggall, the Member for Warringah (home to the Northern Beaches Council (NBC)) is TAI’s champion. Did she read that NBC declared a climate emergency after having a sermon delivered by Tim Flannery, who has made countless dud predictions leading to the waste of billions of spending in desal plants?

In the  2017/18  NBC annual report it states the council saved 293 tons of CO2. Given that Australia produces around 561m tons, this amazing effort has meant a reduction of 0.0000522% of Australia’s total. Put it against Australia’s CO2 impact vs the entire atmosphere means that Northern Beaches have hammered home a mammoth 0.000000000699857% saving! Yes, 9 zeroes. C’mon Zali, you should be citing this impactless tokenism in your address. By the way, we’re still waiting for wind farms on Balmoral Beach.

The range of claims made in the TAI report speaks to little more than agenda based data gathering with leading questions.

For instance, if Labor was destroyed in the federal election over Adani, how could 73% of Queenslanders possibly want Australia’s coal-fired power stations phased out as soon as possible or gradually? Did the pollsters mistakenly manage to interview Bob Brown’s anti-Adani convoy which skewed the findings? If you want to get answers to questions that effectively make claims (climate change already causing) it is easy if it is written as though it is a fact to begin with,

“Melting of the Polar ice caps” (51%) – IPCC has already climbed down from such claims
“More heatwaves and extreme hot days” (48%) – no consistent data on this. 
“Destruction of the Great Barrier Reef” (44%) – it isn’t happening – just ask Peter Ridd or the Vice-Chancellor at James Cook University
“More droughts affecting crop production & food supply” (42%) – global crop yields growing
“More Bushfires” (36%) – fallen over time
“Water Shortages in the Cities” (30%) – haven’t experienced one 

Taking bushfires as an example. Facts from the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) show that 85% of bushfires are either deliberately, suspiciously or accidentally lit. The AIC sees that while the data is somewhat sketchy that the most common profile of arsonists was “white male, mid-20s, patchy employment record, often above average intelligence, but poor academic achievement and poor social development skills…56% of convicted structural arsonists and 37% of bushfire arsonists in NSW had a prior conviction for a previous offence. ”

In the US those figures are around 90%. A study in the journal Science determined the global burnt area from fires, rather than growing, had declined by roughly 25% from 1999 to 2017.

So do the stats support global warming or successful mainstream media coverage sensationalising the truth to feed narratives? Don’t get started on the Amazon fires. CM wrote about it here.

Energy source rank went Wind (76%), Solar (58%) & Hydro (39%) although nuclear power ranked above coal and gas. Surprise, surprise.  (p.11).

Apparently, 64% of Aussies want to be net-zero emissions by 2050. To do that we’d need to stop all mining, end farming and phase out all fossil-fuel power from transport to power generation. Just think of the UK’s plan to do this. Going to be a bit hard when 85% of British households rely on gas to heat their homes. Will the power grid hold up to a switch to electric heating?

On p.25, TAI makes reference to the Icelandic glacier, Ok, that lost its status 5 years ago. According to the UN Chronicle, “The sudden surging of glaciers is not related to climatic fluctuations, and surges can take place even at times when glaciers retreat. This is the usual behaviour of some glaciers and can not be evidence of an impending surge… unfortunately, direct observations of a change in the movement of a glacier at the onset of a surge are still very rare, and the causes for surges are not yet clear…It should be emphasized that the problem of climate change is extremely difficult to understand, and it has still not been possible to know what factors in the past decades — natural or anthropogenic — have caused the warming. There are still many uncertainties in solving this problem. IPCC estimates are rather wide in their range of accuracy and, therefore, cannot predict with confidence…at least not in the coming decades and centuries.”

Maybe we just need to accept that China produces more GHG in two weeks than we do in a year. At the rate it is going, by 2030 it will likely be closer to one week. Once again folks, education seems a bigger problem than climate change. Basic fractions are more valuable than deep knowledge of climate science. Even using numbers supplied by the organisations they constantly espouse as the oracle, the minuscule impacts we can have are never mentioned. Tokenism is somehow virtuous.

Banker Buster?

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Before the GFC in 2008, bank shares across the globe were flying. Financial engineering promised a new paradigm of wealth creation and abundant profitability. They were unstoppable.

However 12 years later, many banks look mere shadows of their former selves. We are told by our political class to believe that our economies are robust and that a low-interest rate environment will keep things tickety-boo indefinitely. After all the wheels of the economy have always been greased by the financial sector.

If that were true, why does Europe’s largest economy have two of its major banks more than 90% off the peak? Commerz has shrunk so far that it has been thrown out of the DAX. Surely, Japan’s banks should be prospering under Abenomics so why are the shares between 65% and 80% below 2007 levels?

Ahh, but take a look at those Aussie beauties! How is it they have bucked the global trend? How can Commonwealth Bank be worth 6x Deutsche Bank?

Although we shouldn’t look at the Aussie banks with rose-tinted glasses they have mortgage debt up to the eyeballs. Mortgages to total loans exceed 62% in Australia. The next is daylight, followed by Norway at 40%. Japanese banks, before the bubble collapsed, were in the 40% range. CM wrote a comparo here. There is a real risk that these Aussie banks will require bailouts if the housing market craps out. It carries so many similarities to Japan and when anyone ever mentions stress tests – start running for the hills.

If you own Aussie banks in your superannuation portfolio, it is high time you dumped them. Franked dividends might be an ample reason to hold them, but things in finance turn on a dime and this time Australia doesn’t have a China to rescue us like it did in 2008-09. More details contained in the link in the paragraph above.

In closing, Milton Friedman said it best with respect to the ability of central banks to control outcomes,

“… 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.

 

Brexit – No Deal is a No Brainer

Brexit 1.pngAs BoJo signs up more future FTA deals with the likes of America, Australia and Japan at the G7, where does Project Fear come from? What manner of spurious schoolyard bullying makes anyone think Britain will be thrown back into the stone age? Surely the exploits of Ben Stokes at Edgbaston shows only too well how the lion can roar when pushed into a corner. Plucky Brits indeed.

Looking at the latest trade stats between the EU and Britain it is simple. EU members make up 7 of the Top 10 British export markets accounting for 37.4% of all trade. Top 10 accounts for 65.9% of trade. Trump acccounts for £54.9bn vs £36.5bn from Merkel.

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On the Import side, the UK matters much more to the likes of Germany £68bn. The Dutch at £42bn and France at £28bn.

In short of the UK ‘s Top 10 importing nations, 8 are EU members. The Top 10 account for 65.7% of total. Those 8 EU nations make up 48.1%. 7.13% of Germany‘s exports end up in Blighty. One might argue that 10% of UK exports ending up in Germany is reason enough to back down. Yet why would either seek to make their position worse off. Germany is the UK’s #1 importer and Germany is the #2 destination for British exports. For Germany the UK ranks #11 importer and #3 export nation.

By all means play hard ball Brussels. Something tells me you’ll put the Brits at the front of the queue to do any trade deal. Especially Mrs Merkel. The trade surplus she runs with the UK is the equaivalent of 1% of GDP. Hardly something she will go out of her way to jeopardize given her economy went backwards last quarter.

No Deal is the best outcome. Start with a fresh slate. As soon as we start negotiating back stops and all manner of political trickery the disappointment will come thick and fast.

It is unlikely BoJo can get his Oct 31 deal done. It will take a partnership with Farage to do this. The lack of proportional represntation in British politics plays into the hands of Corbyn so there is a real necessity to ensure Brexit Party & Tory votes aren’t split like wthat experienced in the Peterborough by-election.

More stats to follow.

Thank God China has clarified the Pacific Island claims with action

One would think China is channeling the former Iraqi Ministry of Information.

China’s Special Envoy to the Pacific, Ambassador Wang Xuefeng, told the Pacific Island Forum in Tuvalu,

“As the largest developing country in the world, China always attaches great importance to the special concerns and legitimate demands of small island countries in combating climate change…Developed countries should earnestly carry out their obligations set out in the (UN Climate Change) Convention and the (Paris) Agreement, including providing sufficient support in terms of finance, technology and capacity-building to small island countries and other developing countries to help them increase their capacities in combating climate change.”

What he should have added was,

We intend to belch as much CO2 as we please until 2030. We know we’re already 29.3% of global CO2 emissions. We’re not sure why but until the Extinction Rebellion Beijing chapter starts we figure it mustn’t be a concern in China. ”

Perhaps the most laughable part of it was to say all countries, big or small, are equal in China’s eyes. Except HK, Taiwan, Paracelsus, Spratly and Senkaku Islands.

It wasn’t so long ago that CM was covering machinery stocks and local Chinese governments preferred industry polluted because it meant fines that filled up their coffers. The industry obliged because it was cheaper to produce by paying the fines.

Perhaps China will open its doors to all these climate refugees when whole villages are forced to move to mountain tops.

We should expect that Ambassador Wang will travel by sailing boat to future summits. It’s for the planet you know.