Confidence

Where money talks

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If there was one thing that could be transplanted into Japanese business culture it would be the Chinese practice of “there is a price for everything”. So often do we see sensible deals slip thru the cracks involving  Japanese corporates based on petty rigidities which serve no other purpose but to scuttle their own long term fortunes. Just 6 hours in HK and already it smells of business opportunity. Clear skies too.

4 charts Dems should pay attention to before censuring Trump’s State of the Union address

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While these four Democratic reps plan to skip the SOTU address one can pretty much take it to the bank that they’ll be the first to hurl abuse at the contents of it. As Robert Gottliebsen wrote today,

No American President in recent US history has so dramatically improved the American economy boosting pay rates, job numbers, retail sales, business investment, profits and, of course, the share market. It’s an astounding transformation that will create a tidal wave of repercussions around the world…Conversely no President in recent US history has been more politically incorrect and insensitive in his use of language. And in most media outlets this aspect of his administration completely overshadows the economic achievements.

They might also note that black, Hispanic and Asian unemployment rates have never been this low in history. It is the Whites who should be up in arms at this supposed racist president who is making them live in a relative unemployment ‘sh*thole’.

US White Unemployment Rate

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US Asian Unemployment Rate

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US Black/African-American Unemployment rate

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US Hispanic/Latino Unemployment Rate

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Why buy a Rolls-Royce without a Rimowa??

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I guess even the some of well heeled are strapped for cash. Surely the pomp of being able to buy a Rolls-Royce is the theatrics of handing the dealer a Rimowa briefcase stuffed with crisp bank notes. The RR offer is a combination of a $10,000 special buyers support and 0.99% financing. Maybe RR realizes that its customers are probably punting bitcoin so need the extra leverage a 0.99% loan provides?

In the old days as an industrials analyst, I used to cover a stock called Ferretti which made ridiculously large motor yachts where the average price was $15 million +. When Asking the company how the tech-wreck internet bubble collapse would impact sales they responded “our customers do not experience recessions”. One wonders if RR are requiring discounted financing to shift product that costs as much as a house that perhaps their customers “do experience recessions

Is this another sign of the top of the asset bubble?

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Is this sign of the top? Normally Japanese banks are more risk averse than a politician speaking after a scandal has leaked. So what is the connection of Rolls-Royce using the foyer of the HQ of one of Japan’s megabanks (SMBC)? To promote high net worth banking customers to take out negative interest car loans? To give a luxury element to their brand? Do we need to remind ourselves the last time Japanese corporates shunned conservative values and splashed out on Van Gogh and Monet artworks? It was before the bubble collapsed.

At least the expensive artworks can be theoretically smuggled out of the building in style! We shouldn’t worry about security either as the SMBC foyer has robot security.  They have a “game function” on the touch panels meaning that would be robbers need only distract the robots with video game junky children.

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The “bigger” point about the FANG sell off

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While the press is waxing lyrical about the unprecedented loss caused by a sell off in FANGs (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix & Google) we should note that it overlooks one factor. Before getting to that, to start with the sell off in gross dollar terms it is unsurprising given the already highly inflated value of the base stocks. So if A $500bn market cap Facebook loses 4% it is equivalent to $20bn. On one day FB lost a Fiat Chrysler. It’s math. Let’s not forget that Bitcoin is now worth $165bn but let’s not let that bubble spoil the party.

The problem that faces financial markets is the advent of ETFs. While stupefyingly simple to understand as an investor it is that same simplicity that breeds complacency. ETFs are simple products that enable investors to pay much lower fund management fees to buy easy to understand baskets- whether coal, gold, oil or FANGs. There are 106 ETF products that own Facebook as a Top 15 holding with that averaging between 5% and 10% of the entire fund.

Yet on the way up things are rosy. It is what happens on the downside that has yet to be fully tested. Around two years ago, CM wrote a report which warned of the risk of ETFs on the downside, especially levered ETFs (i.e. you buy a 2x levered FANG fund which means if FANG stocks go up 5% you theoretically get 2x the return for any given move up or down.

However in times of uncertainty (i.e. heightened risk) the options markets that price risk move magnitudes on the downside vs the upside. Meaning for an ETF to replicate what it proclaims on the brochure becomes much more difficult meaning the fund may under or overshoot the promises. Also in certain markets (e.g. US & Japan) where stocks on the exchange have limit up/down rules on the physical stock, should a market crash ensue, the ETF prices on the theoretical values of stocks that may not have opened for trading. What that means is that the ETF may reflect a market that is 10-15% below where it actually eventually opens. Meaning poor ETF buyers get gouged. However the computer algorithms in the ETF end up chasing, not leading the market which in and of itself creates more panic selling further reducing market confidence. Where a market might have traditionally fallen  3% on a given piece of bad news, ETFs tend to react in ways that might cause a market to retreat 6%. Indeed market volatility is amplified by ETFs.

At the moment market behavior is exceedingly complacent about risk. Before GFC highly complex products like CDOs and CDSs were the rage. 99% had next to no clue how they operated but they found their way into the local government investment portfolios of even small country towns in Australia.

ETFs on the other hand are strikingly simple to grasp but that also means we pay far less attention to the risk that goes with them. That is the bigger worry. People complacently thinking their portfolios are safe as houses may wake up one morning wondering why some flash crash has caused Joe and Joanne Public’s retirement nest egg to get decimated.

 

Thoughts for the day – Group think, crypto and taxi drivers

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It is important to challenge convention. I have had countless questions from people on bitcoin and crypto lately. Sort of reminded me of the above. Perhaps the golden rule of investing doesn’t lie in complex models and sci-fi scenario analysis but the simple question of whenever an overwhelming majority think something is great, it is time to take the opposing view and vice versa. I haven’t been in a taxi yet to confirm Bitcoin is overdone. As I put it – gold needs to be dug out of the ground with effort. The thing that spooks me about crypto (without trying to sound conspiracy theorist) is that state actors (most top end computer science grads in China end up working in the country’s cyber warfare teams), hackers or criminal minds (did you know 70% of top end computer science grads in Russia end up working for the mob (directly or indirectly) the value of coins in the system could be instantaneously wiped out at the stroke of a key. We’ve had small hiccups ($280m) only last week. So as much as the ‘security’ of these crypto currencies is often sold as bulletproof, none of them are ‘cyberproof’.

Think of why your Norton, Kaspersky or Trend Micro anti-virus software requires constant upgrading to prevent new threats trying to exploit new vulnerabilities in systems. We need only go back to the Stuxnet virus of 2010 which was installed inside computers controlling uranium centrifuges in Iran. The operators had no idea. The software told the brain of the centrifuges to spin at multiples faster than design spec could handle all the while the computer interface of the operators showed everything normal. After a while the machines melted down causing the complete destruction of the centrifuges which were controlled from a remote location.

So much in life is simple. Yet we have lawyers writing confusing sentences that carry on for pages and pages, politicians complicating simple tasks, oil companies trying to convince us their additives are superior to others and so on. The reality is we just have to ask ourselves that one question from Mark Twain,

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

The beauty of honesty

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The above quote is from quirky fund manager Dr Michael Burry MD towards the end of the movie, The Big Short. It says so much of today. One mate who is a very decent asset manager in Australia wrote to his clients, “I realise such may fly in the face of typical adviser recommendations (show me how someone is paid and I’ll show you how they will behave) however, I would rather lose a client than lose a client’s capital.

We share similar views on the state of the global capital markets. We joked about his long message to his investors sounding like Jerry Maguire burning the midnight oil writing the “fewer clients, less money” manifesto which got him sacked.

Now that our world is moving further and further toward automated everything including pre-emptive responses (which I scoffed out the other day about LinkedIn) it is truly refreshing to see this authentic honesty. The irony is that as much as machines are pushing us into ever tighter time windows, humans instinctively carry long term memory whether trauma or positive life events.

May your honesty be paid back in spades when those you saved a bundle recall your genuine gesture.