Corporate Governance

Greatest Corporate Showman on Earth

Tesla’s 1Q 2019 results were dreadful. CM has long held that Tesla is a basket case. The ever charismatic Elon Musk is trying to fan the flames of his company with dying embers. The question is where do we start on this diabolical 1Q report?

1. Musk started off with cash to speak to solvency. Tesla talks to $2.2bn in cash and equivalents. Down $1.5b, partly due to a $920m convertible repayment. Don’t forget Tesla has $6.5bn in recourse debt and $3.5bn in non-recourse debt. It has payables and accrued liabilities of another $5.5bn offset with receivables of just over $1bn.

2. Model S/X deliveries fell from 21,067 in 1Q 2018 to 12,091 in 1Q 2019. That’s -56% at the high margin premium car end. Musk claimed it was due to demand pull forward with a reduction in tax credits. Well he just proved that without credits, demand suffers appreciably.

Model 3 production was 3% higher on the quarter but deliveries were 20% lower. Note customer deposits total $768m, marginally down on the previous quarter. If Tesla starts to implode, customers have a right to get those credits back. Residual values aren’t holding as we discuss in pt.5.

3. Solar deployed -38% year on year

4. (Battery) Storage deployed -39%YoY

5. CM made it clear in point 11 of the 30 reasons why Tesla will be a bug on a windshield report,

The Tesla Residual Value Guarantee, while well intentioned carried risks that crucified the leasing arms of the Big 3. After the tech bubble collapsed at the turn of the century, do you remember the ‘Keep America Rolling’ programme, which was all about free financing for five years? While sales were helped along nicely, the reality was it stored up pain…Goldberg & Hegde’s Residual Value Risk and Insurance study in 2009 suggested on average 92% of cars returned to leasing companies recorded losses on return of up to 12%. Any company can guarantee the price of its used product in theory, the question is whether used car buyers will be willing to pay for it. Sadly Tesla does not get a say in what the consumer will be willing to pay.”

In the 1Q 2019 result, Musk admits that Tesla suffered $121m impairment on residual value guarantees (RVG). Is it any wonder they stopped this scheme. Now it’s payback time. There are $480mn worth of RVGs still on the balance sheet that are unlikely to have been marked to market values.

6. Level 5 autonomous driving is a pipe dream in the near term. 20+ years away. A fleet of Tesla taxis is an even bigger thought bubble. Regulation will put that on the back burner. The current level 2 systems have already shown significant short comings given the numerous beta testing deaths at the wheel of the Tesla auto pilot.

7. Musk is doing a stealth cash raise by putting a time limit on auto pilot upgrades. The question is when will the next cap raise come. His noise around Tesla taxis, Level 5 autonomous systems, Model Y all speak to the snake oil promises that he needs to distract investors from what is clearly going on.

8. His public spat with his biggest supplier, Panasonic, will not end well. Suppliers have to be on board with production expansion. Panasonic is cooling off its relationship. Musk publicly slapped the Japanese battery maker. It doesn’t augur well for the rest of the supply chain either to see these ructions

Peter DeLorenzo wrote the following with respect to Musk,

That this latest charade from Musk is yet another desperate act in an attempt at saving his floundering company is obvious. Where it differs from other Muskian braggadocio is the fact that he is insisting that his AV technology is safe for mass application and consumption. Sorry to disappoint all of the St. Elon acolytes out there, but this is the insane part…

…Unleashing a fleet of zombie Teslas on the streets of America curated by a notorious nanosecond-attention-span personality such as Musk is the quintessential definition of flat-out crazy. You can’t even squint hard enough to suggest that this is, in some way, shape, or form, rational thought. It’s a case of an intermittently brilliant mind that has wandered over the line into the Abyss of Darkness. A dangerous mind that is so obsessed with pushing his perpetually sinking car company into some sort of elevated stratosphere that he is willing to treat real people as so much collateral damage...

This country is 25 years away – at least – from widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles. Yes, there will be scaled deployment in limited, commercial applications primarily in urban centers over the next two decades, but driverless Teslas careening around less than two years from now? It is a recipe for disaster the likes of which simply defies calculation.”

All the reasons CM has disliked Tesla remain. It is so chronically overvalued. This stock will be lucky to be $100 by year end. Sadly the economy is slowing meaning it will be tougher to compete with more competition launching this year. China may give cause for some future hope but don’t bet on it.

The more Musk talks, the more desperate he is. Don’t forget he is not learning from SEC requests to lay off Twitter. His guidance in 1Q is lower than recent tweets suggesting appreciably higher targets. Tesla is a time bomb.

Harley delinquencies at 8 year high

Just noted from the conference call that Harley-Davidson (HOG) motorcycle loan delinquencies (30+ days in arrears) are at an 8 year high of 3.73%. While actually loss experiences have tracked sideways for the past few years, they are still higher than 8 years ago.

Interestingly, HOG loans outstanding were $7.53bn in 1Q 2015. In 1Q 2019 that figure was $7.63bn. So next to no loan growth against c.20% lower unit sales. In 1Q 2015 HDFS made $683.6m in new loans, 80% prime out of $1.5bn in 1Q motorcycle (incl parts/accessories) sales (43.6% financed). In 1Q 2019, $685.3m in new loans were made with a claimed 80-85% “prime” against $1.124bn (61.0%) of m/c and P&A sales. Essentially total sales would be worse without the finance arm. Why does CM smell Ford Credit all over?

So delinquencies up against a strategy to pump more bikes through financing. Is it the non-prime portion is faltering at greater rates? Or the prime?

Luxury motorcycles are generally considered discretionary spend items. Are aspirational consumers just tapped out?

HOG’s 2mn new riders in the US by 2027 seems an irrelevant target. 200,000 “new” riders per year by definition should not include existing customers. Management combine new and used sales using IHS Markit Motorcycles in Operation (MIO) data, not their own! That is fine if all are new Harley customers yet the brand has some of the highest loyalty rates of any maker period. Are we to believe that long term Harley owners didn’t upgrade?

Of the 138,000 new domestic US sales in 2018, the brand assumed 278,000 new riders to the family. It also cites that 50% of that were 18-34yo (implies poorer product mix), women (smaller capacity hence poorer product mix) or ethically diverse (irrelevant) riders. So by definition at least 140,000 sales were used bikes. Harley used bike sales in America are around 2.5x new, or 350,000 units. So assuming half were new customer sales for new bikes, 60% of used sales must have been to ‘never owned a Harley’ customers. Seems high.

It doesn’t much matter if HOG hit targets for new riders, the actual financial results point to further deterioration across the board at the top of the cycle. Most competitor luxury brands are ticking along just fine.

100 new high impact motorcycles has all the hallmarks of chucking spaghetti at the wall and hoping some of it sticks.

This stock should continue to flounder. CM thinks it will get back to the GFC $8 handle.

CM is not invested in HOG nor short the stock. This doesn’t constitute financial advice.

Gillette value cut by P&G

CM was at Woolworths this morning and noted Gillette products still deeply discounted. Schick products still at the standard price. Of note it is interesting to see that parent P&G, in its 3Q 2019 earnings release overnight, wrote:

“The most significant assumptions utilized in the determination of the estimated fair values of Shave Care reporting unit and the Gillette indefinite-lived intangible asset are the net sales and earnings growth rates (including residual growth rates) and discount rate. The residual growth rate represents the expected rate at which the reporting unit and Gillette brand are expected to grow beyond the shorter-term business planning period. The residual growth rate utilized in our fair value estimates is consistent with the reporting unit and brand operating plans, and approximates expected long term category market growth rates. The residual growth rate is dependent on overall market growth rates, the competitive environment, inflation, relative currency exchange rates and business activities that impact market share.

Is the last sentence related to ridiculous campaigns that attacked toxic masculinity? Did the YouGov poll conducted afterwards set off warning lights inside P&G headquarters? Before the campaign Gillette was ranked 7th out of 42 personal care brands. After it aired, it ranked dead last.

P&G went on to say, “While management can and has implemented strategies to address these events, changes in operating plans or adverse changes in the future could reduce the underlying cash flows used to estimate fair values and could result in a decline in fair value that would trigger future impairment charges of the reporting unit’s goodwill and indefinite-lived intangibles.

In either a positive or negative 25bp change scenario in the discount rate, an impairment cut of 6% has been factored.

A look under P&G’s “Grooming” division in these results and it becomes clear that revenues have plunged 8.1% and operating profits slashed 22%. For the 9 month period, it is 6.1% and 12.7% respectively. So it can be deduced that the Gillette toxic masculinity campaign has accelerated the demise. Only proves that customers don’t want politics attached to their products.

Noone needs ‘woke’ corporations. Why do corporations feel the need to become paragons of virtue? Just stick to the products and leave us to decide for ourselves on societal values. In Gillette’s case, attempts to correct customer behaviour have been a resounding failure. Oh, to imagine the excuse making inside the marketing department.

Harley has another howler

Harley-Davidson (HOG) announced Q1 2019 earnings today. The results continued the horrendous pattern we’ve written about. HOG is a good example of discretionary spend.

Motorcycle revenue fell 14% vs Q1 2018 and group operating income crashed 37.3%. US retail sales fell 4.2%, slightly better than market decline of 4.7%. Operating margin fell from 12.7% to 9.1%. The company expects FY margins to be 8-9%.

Volume projections of 217,000-220,000. This is down from 228,000 deliveries in 2018.

CM has been critical of the company’s mid term business plan. It is preposterously over optimistic. How has CEO Matt Levatich managed to hold on over the past 4 years? Since taking the helm, volumes have fallen from 268,000. Revenues have shrunk from $6bn to $5.7bn and EBIT of $1.2bn to $733mn.

Harley continues to suffer from the divine franchise. It isn’t about introducing 100 new high impact motorcycle models. It needs to revamp what it has. It needs to go back to is roots. Not use the metrics of an expensive consultant to paint rosy pictures that are unattainable.

Harley bought a kid’s electric scooter company. It should be looking to M&A to diversify the portfolio of motorcycle brands and segments. Harley building an adventure bike is not going to cut it. They need to buy Ducati, something CM has encouraged for ages.

Using Extinction Rebellion for free publicity

How one should take a letter written to the Times with a pinch of salt. When estimates of lost business caused by the Extinction Rebellion (XR) were purported to be in the millions of pounds, the following executives put their names to the following letter saying it was for the greater good. Given that most co-signatories aren’t retail stores that are being inconvenienced in the thick of the protest, the letter appears far more about free publicity than environmental heroics.

We attach their own published business models in brackets below. We also attach the distance of each HQ from the protest epicenter. It’s easy to say how woke you are about impacting local businesses when you’re nowhere near it. Read on

The letter to the Times

Sir, Contrary to belief, there is business support for the Extinction Rebellion (XR) agenda. The multi million-pound costs that the Extinction Rebellion protests have imposed on business are regrettable, as is the inconvenience to Londoners. But future costs imposed on our economies by the climate emergency will be many orders of magnitude greater.

Hard pressure drives change, but even the most committed businesses will need time to respond. We welcome the news that  Extinction Rebellion is evolving a new platform, XR Business, to engage business leaders, investors and advisers. To drive things forward, the idea is to convene a meeting of XR activists and experts with business leaders and influencers.

Most businesses were not designed in the context of the developing climate emergency. Hence  we must urgently redesign entire industries and businesses, using science-based targets. 

To kick start the process, businesses should make a declaration that we face a climate emergency and organise a session at a full board meeting to consider the case for urgent action. We will encourage the senior management teams of which we are part to do likewise.

Signed

Seb Beloe, partner at WHEB

(“WHEB is a positive impact investor focused on the opportunities created by the transition to a low carbon and sustainable global economy.“)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 1.3km

——

Thomas Bourne, CEO and co-founder, Greenheart Business Ltd

(“Using the B Corp framework to assess, plan for and embed positive social & environmental impact improvements within your business – from specific operational improvements through to comprehensive or transformational (i.e. business model) change.)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 337.6km

——
Amy Clarke, co-founder, Tribe Impact Capital LLC

(“We use the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework for uncovering client’s values and to measure and report portfolio performance…To facilitate this we have created four Tribe Themes…we actively select positive investments that directly contribute to global sustainable development and address a social, economic or environmental issue society is facing.)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 3.5km

——
Chris Davis, CSO, The Body Shop International Ltd

(Social activism has been a part of the Body Shop since 1986 when it proposed an alliance with Greenpeace to save the whales. “Protecting and regenerating habitats is also known as ‘re-wilding’. Find out how you can help us re-wild the world and protect our animal friends by fighting against deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats.“)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 107.2km

——–

John Elkington co-founder and Louise Kjellerup Roper, CEO, Volans Ventures Ltd

(“By conducting inquiries into our planet’s most wicked problems, we help business drive positive change at an unprecedented pace and scale.“)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 3.2km
——-

Brad Frankel, CEO and co-founder, Flooglebinder Ltd

(“Our aim is to inspire students to become changemakers and future leaders through a range of educational programmes that connect young people with the outdoors. Our programmes firmly adhere to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. By understanding, enjoying and respecting these environments through adventure and play, we hope to develop more global citizens and positive ambassadors for our planet.“)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 267.2km
—–

Jake Hayman, CEO, Ten Years’ Time

(“Whether the cause area is climate change or economic fairness, mental health, homelessness or education, we work with those who are ready to leave the safe ideas behind and want instead to understand, challenge and do their bit to reinvigorate failing systems.“)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 6.4km

——

Jeremy Leggett, founder and director, Solarcentury Ltd

(“We’re in business for a purpose: to make a meaningful difference in the fight against climate change through the widespread adoption of solar power.“)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 4.8km

——

Charmian Love and Amanda Feldman, co-founders, Heliotropy Ltd

(“We broker partnerships across sectors  to support private sector engagement in social and environmental issues.“)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 6.4km

—-
Andy Middleton, founder and chief exploration officer, TYF Group

(“Our mission is to inspire long lives of adventure, and promote discovery and care for nature.We create life changing adventures with a light touch on nature, focus young people’s sight & skills for the future and help organisations with innovation & sustainability. We play for the planet.“)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 387.2km

—-
Safia Minney, founder & Former CEO, People Tree Fair Trade group.

(“Fairtrade promotes training on climate change mitigation for farmers. For example, some training offers advice on switching to environmentally friendly practices, such as developing nutrient-rich soils that support healthy plants and encouraging wildlife to help control pests and diseases.“)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 3.2km

—–
James Perry, partner, Snowball LLP

(“Project Snowball LLP is a pioneering investment organisation that targets social and environmental impact alongside financial return.“)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 60.8km

——
Paul Polman, former CEO, Unilever plc

(“The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan sets out to decouple our growth from our environmental footprint, while increasing our positive social impact. “)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 361.6km

—–
Samer Salty, co-founder and managing partner, Zouk Capital LLP

(“Zouk’s ESG Policy includes an Ethical Investment Policy for negative screening and an innovative and bespoke methodology for assessing the value creation across Environmental, Social, and Governance principles driven by the portfolio companies…Zouk adheres to and is a signatory of the United Nation’s Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI) and is also fully Carbon Neutral.“)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 3.2km

—–
Sir Tim Smit, founder of The Eden Project, executive chairman of Eden Regeneration Ltd

(“Get a feel for what we believe in – from the way we run our site to the transformational social and environmental projects that we run on our doorstep and around the world.“)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 396.8km

—–
Hermione Taylor, CEO and founder, The Do Nation Enterprise Ltd

(“If changing behaviours was easy, we’d all be super-fit with PhDs, empty inboxes and spotless bathrooms. And, what’s more, climate change probably wouldn’t be a problem.“)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 6.4km

—–
Diana Verde Nieto, CEO and co-founder, Positive Luxury Ltd

(“Fashion recycling has been on the rise in recent years – so how are consumers shopping pre-worn today? To celebrate Earth Day, we investigate the popularity of the more environmentally-friendly way to stay stylish.“)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 4.8km

—–
Dale Vince OBE, founder, The Ecotricity Group

(“We’ll use the money from your energy bills to develop new sources of green energy. So you can help build a green Britain – just by being with us.“)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 171.2km

—–
Bevis Watts, managing director, Triodos Bank UK

(“Our bank was founded on the conviction that banking can be a powerful force for good. We offer a range of financial and banking services to savers, investors and entrepreneurs who want to change the world for the better. By connecting these groups, we are building a community of people united in their desire to make a positive impact on society, culture and environment.“)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 189km

—–
Tim Westwell, co-founder and former CEO, Pukka

(“Doing good things helps make good things happen. We create things that help you, help nature and everything inbetween. It’s called conservation through commerce – striving to positively change the world for you, business and the planet.“)

HQ Distance from XR protest: 182.6km

—–
Gail Bradbrook (co-founder)  Extinction Rebellion
Fiona Ellis (XR Business)

We’ve covered XR in previous posts. They’re leading this disruption.

—-

So there you have it. Every co-signatory has a vested interest with a business model attached to climate change. Many advertise the brands of other collaborators on their respective websites. There is nothing woke about signing a letter which seeks self promotion. Is this about saving the planet or cynically riding off the back of a movement to get press based marketing?
It is so typical of a growing number of companies today. Kowtowing to this politically correct nonsense for fear of being singled out. Look at the corporate virtue signaling from Gillette, Colgate, Starbucks etc etc. In Gillette’s case, post it’s toxic masculinity campaign, a YouGov poll took it from 7th out of 45 health and beauty brands to bottom.
CM wonders whether XR Business will hound corporates into signing up for this nonsense for threat of being named and shamed. Sadly many boards seem too timid to stand up to lashing by social media. So much for looking after shareholders!

The ABC shows its shocking political bias

The ABC loves to say it has no political bias. Yet one of its leading journalists posted this tweet essentially encouraging people to vote Labor or Greens to ensure they get more funding.

As CM wrote at the start of the month, the ABC’s own internal staff survey showed how poorly run the corporation is. It doesn’t need more funding but better managers to improve efficiencies. Moreso the staff satisfaction is below 50%. Read on…

The ABC conducted its second Corporation-wide employee engagement survey in late 2017. The previous survey was conducted in November 2015, with outcomes reported in the 2016 Annual Report.

The overall employee engagement score from the 2017 survey was 46%, down six points from the 2015 results. 6% down!!!!

This moved the ABC from the median to the bottom quartile when benchmarked with other Australian and New Zealand organisations. Bottom quartile!!! 

Employees expressed the need for improvement in several areas, including:

• that the ABC Leadership Team needs to be more visible, accessible and communicate more openly.

 that the ABC needs to do a better job of managing poor performance. Even the staff want to move duds on. A commercial spirit among the staff?

• that employees want to know what action is being taken to address feedback received in the survey.

The ABC management (no longer with us) conducted sessions on the back of the survey.

Three key priorities were identified from these sessions:

1. The way in which the ABC recruits, contracts, inducts, develops and manages its people needs a huge amount of work. Inefficiency!!!

2. More communication is needed between teams – employees want to know what other teams are doing, and want less top-down, hierarchical communication. Bureaucracy!!!

3. Many of the ABC’s processes, tools and technology don’t work effectively for its people. Obsolescence!!!

So instead of giving the ABC more money, perhaps an efficiency drive driven by a change manager could achieve the same outcomes desired by the market for far less cost. This reads like an organization that has too much fat.

To that effect, the annual report also noted:

Bureaucracy Stop was launched in March 2018 with the aim of creating a working environment with less bureaucracy and red tape. The program wrapped up three months later with 147 ideas on simplification of processes, 55 of which were resolved by the end of the financial year.Where a simplification solution wasn’t available in response to an idea, an explanation was provided as to why that process needed to remain.

What were the dollar savings for these 55 improvements?

Maybe the government should say to ABC management for every dollar saved, the ABC keeps 50c? For a broadcaster with over $1.1bn in funding, 10% of savings would mean they keep c.$60m. Morrison’s $44mn is easily covered.

Digging a bit deeper into the stats of the ABC reveals a big need for overhaul. Comparing 2017/18 and 2015/16 we see that TV audience reach for metro fell from 55.2% to 49.7% and regional slumped from 60.3% to 54.0%. If we go back to 2007/8 the figures were 60.1% and 62.4% respectively. For the 2017/18 period, the ABC targets a 50% reach. Hardly a stretch.

Since 2008, the average salary of ABC’s staff has risen 18% from $86,908 to $105,219. Total staff numbers have risen from 4499 to 4939. Therefore salaries as a percentage of the ABC revenues have risen from 37.1% of the budget to 50%. The ABC’s ability to generate sales from content has fallen from A$140mn in 2015/16 to A$46mn last fiscal year.

It is a breach of charter for the ABC to be using taxpayer dollars to advertise political messages for its own purposes. If it was managed properly it could comfortably do more with less rather than ignore the realities that improvement is required across the scale rather than chucking more money at it.

Carlos Ghosn speaks out against 忖度

In what is usually the reserve of Hollywood films, Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn has released a video on the basis he was rearrested. He eloquently puts forward his case on why he wants a fair trial. He said he always wanted to preserve the independence of Nissan as a brand despite wanting to move alliance talks forward to a merger but he was backstabbed along the way.

Japan may wish to crow about how it is dedicating itself to best practice corporate governance but the manner in which Ghosn was thrown under the bus certainly raises many red flags. It wasn’t so long ago that the board of Olympus staged a coup against then CEO Michael Woodford when he discovered all of the shady deals and offshore bank accounts. While the updated corporate governance code is a step in the right direction, far too many companies are unwilling to embrace the spirit of it. Filing documents with the exchange are done in ways to say that “we comply”. If you delve into the relationships, one company had an independent director who received 20% of revenue from the board he now sat. So much for conflict of interest.

Nissan’s performance was suffering. Ghosn said that “autonomy” is not a given for the brand. This is where “le cost killer’s” business style clearly rubbed the local management the wrong way. For a man who helped save the company from bankruptcy how quickly they forget his two decades of a turnaround when they feel the company is in a safe enough position to stall for time.  The reputation is in the mud.

忖度 (sontaku) sums up Ghosn’s problems. Several years ago the fanfare of the Corporate Governance Code was thrust into the faces of the international investment community that Japan Inc was changing. After visiting multiple staff inside the Financial Services Agency and the Tokyo Stock Exchange there was absolutely no pulse of proactively to be seen anywhere. Even CM’s slight nudge to get the FSA to tap the shoulder of the TSE to suggest listed corporates provide English language materials to encourage more transparency for foreign investors was met with the response, “it might help if you spoke directly to the Deputy PM & Minister of Finance Taro Aso.” Not a word of a lie. Knowing CM’s task was impossible, they were satisfied to brush it aside with that level of enthusiasm. i.e. we won’t lift a finger until told to do so.