Crypto

Credit card with a carbon limit

Here is a credit card business model bound to fail. Johan Pihl, one of the founders of Doconomy, is launching a new credit card in collaboration with the UN Climate Change Secretariat and Mastercard. It cuts your ability to spend when you’ve hit your “carbon” limit, not your financial one.

To CM, the pricing is wrong. It should allow one to spend beyond their carbon limit and pay penalties on exceeding it straight into the UNIPCC’s coffers. Or perhaps we should ask all UN staffers to use it as a corporate credit card. If it lived up to its promises, most would have their carbon limit triggered when paying for flights to the next COP summit halfway around the globe. That would be a plus!

Pihl said, “we realized that putting a limit that blocks your ability to complete the transaction is radical…but it’s the clearest way to illustrate the severity of the situation we’re in

It is such a dopey idea. Presumably, if you wish to purchase something that you want and your Doconomy cuts you off, you’ll use another card to complete the transaction. The carbon footprint limit will initially be based off a random calculation tied to the industry aggregate. So it is wildly inaccurate from the get go.

Imagine if the consumer would pick up our app and actually look at their footprint and that’s the basis for whether they buy something or not,”

If history is a guide we can look to carbon offset schemes have failed. Aircraft carbon offsets may provide some idea as to how hard this card might be to sell.

In its 2017 Annual Report, Qantas boasts,

We have the world’s largest airline offset program and have now been carbon offsetting for over 10 years. In 2016/17, we reached three million tonnes offset.”

Carbon calculators tend to work on the assumption of 0.158kg CO2/passenger kilometre.

In the last 10 years Qantas has flown around 1 trillion revenue passenger kilometres. While the literature in the annual report denotes one passenger offsets every 53 seconds, the mathematical reality is simple – 2% of miles are carbon offset. So that means that 98% of people couldn’t care less.

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Another example was a cryptocurrency named LivingOffset, which tried to conduct an initial coin offering (ICO) 12 months ago.

LivingOffset notes on its web page,

Let’s say you buy a cup of coffee. You know that producing the coffee has created carbon emissions.  Now, you can offset that damage with a contribution that matches the value of the carbon cost, 5c for a cup of coffee…Your 5c contribution is matched with an equal corporate contribution.  Turning your 5c offset into 10c. Just think, if everyone having coffee did the same… how quickly we could start to make a real difference…All the contributions go to projects that have proven to have a positive impact on the environment by reducing carbon emissions. And, you can track and verify that your money is going exactly where it is meant to go.

To the best of CM’s knowledge, the ICO didn’t succeed and is currently priced at $0. That despite its lofty goals of 128% returns. Perhaps using Wikipedia as a source in the prospectus did not help matters.

CM is not sure about his readers, but to have the card reject a payment based on spurious mathematics would undoubtedly frustrate after a while.

Probably says much about MasterCard to sign up for this virtue signalling rubbish given it is lagging behind Visa. If they looked at Gillette, Colgate-Palmolive and other “woke” corporations, they would learn the value of sticking to their lane and allowing consumers to have the freedom to spend how they choose.

MasterCard 1Q 2019 report showed

Transaction Volume: 19.2 billion

Gross Dollar Value: $1.484 trillion

Cards in Circulation: 2.537 billion

Quarterly Revenue: $3.889 billion

Market Cap: $251 billion

Visa 2Q 2019 report revealed

Transaction Volume: 47.4 billion

Gross Dollar Value: $2.197 trillion

Cards in Circulation: 3.358 billion

Quarterly Revenue: $6.972 billion

Market Cap: $355 billion

Crypto collapso

This is a true conversation a “veteran” Bitcoin miner sent to CM’s LinkedIn messenger. Despite constant assurances all would be ok, had an investment been made on Oct 2, 2018, CM would be down 44% in just 3.5 months. Just wish the argument wasn’t so compelling, especially the last sentence.

It is also quite interesting as to what determines veteran status in crypto currency trading. It certainly seems self appointed.

Crypto schmypto

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CM is not a fan of crypto currencies. Apart from the fact they are solely backed by greed (when you buy a share or bar of gold you get ownership of  a physical asset in return) there are too many of the damn things. We have approximately 190 fiat currencies in circulation. Of that only a handful trade. US$, GBP, euro, yen, A$, C$ and RMB. After that liquidity goes out the window. Try getting a good rate from the Travelex currency window on Malaysian ringit. If you invest in illiquid coins the same nasty spreads will ruin any thirst for making a fortune

With crypto currencies, there are over 2,000 variants. Bitcoin is the bellwether. It has a net worth of $94 billion. Only a handful of others trade. Many should have realised that when the Japanese started to get all excited over the craze the gig was up. Japanese variety show comedians were responsible for the promotion almost 12 months ago when Bitcoin was at all time highs. Some companies like Rakuten were offering to pay staff  in crypto in lieu of cash salaries.  Now Bitcoin is languishing at 20% of that value.

Take a look at some of the products being invented to become crypto. LivingOffset is a classic case in point. It used Wikipedia as a source for justifying the validity of its findings in its prospectus.  That settles it then. Who wouldn’t buy an asset backed by Wikipedia research?!?

From LivingOffset – “Global concern about climate change is growing rapidly. Five out of every 10 people now consider climate change to be a serious problem. In Chile and Peru the number is over 75%. Interestingly, 69% of Americans are concerned about global warming [if you believe Huff Post], despite their government’s position. There is no doubt demand for our offering is there, and like Airbnb, we can provide the means and the mechanism for easy participation. In just a few minutes ordinary people can start to make a real and meaningful difference.

In January 2017, IPSOS held a global poll asking what each country’s major problem was and climate change didn’t feature a mention.

Apart from the completely bogus stats on ‘69% of Americans being concerned by global warming, SUV sales remain a solid staple in the US. In fact the most popular car in America is the Ford F-150 pick-up truck where customers rank ‘fuel economy’ #28 in terms of reasons they buy it.

Here was the promise at prospectus time around March 2018. The launch was delayed on the basis there was a need to make it more global in appeal. It supposedly launches this month.

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Below lists how some of the other crypto currencies performed overnight. This is before heavy handed legislation has come down to regulate the industry. If you look at a crypto kiosk in Shinbashi, Tokyo you’ll likely see a Rolls-Royce parked out front, presumably owned by someone in the Yakuza. As far as money laundering goes, crypto’s are brilliant.

BTC

In an event, crypto currencies are most at the mercy of cyber fraud. Don’t buy the bomb proof guarantees of blockchain. If state agencies want to destroy these markets, they can do it on a whim. Then again there is little need to do so given the numerous events of hackers breaking into crypto exchanges and costing them huge liabilities l. Coincheck in Japan lost $500mn in one day due to a breach.

In short, crypto is little better than betting on a roulette table. If the benchmark crypto is hemorrhaging like this, why put faith in the illiquid stuff being any better? Fiat currencies may not be good stores of value but there are far more sensible places to protect wealth than parking it in products which are underwritten by nothing more than greed.  If you like a flutter by all means throw some loose change into crypto.

Waking up to a horror of our own creation

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Some will say I am a pessimist. I’d prefer to be called an optimist with experience. At only age 16 (in 1987) I realized the destructive power financial markets had on the family home. Those memories were etched permanently. We weren’t homeless or singing for our supper but things sure weren’t like they use to be. It taught me much about risk and thinking all points of view rather than blindly following the crowd. That just because you were told something by authority it didn’t mean it was necessarily true. It was to critically assess everthing without question.

In 1999, as an industrials analyst in Europe during the raging tech bubble, we were as popular as a kick in the teeth. We were ignored for being old economy. That our stocks deserved to trade at deep discounts to the ‘new economy’ tech companies, no thanks to our relatively poor asset turnover and tepid growth rates. The truest sign of the impending collapse of the tech bubble actually came from sell-side tech analysts quitting their grossly overpaid investment bank salaries for optically eye-watering stock options at the very tech corporations they rated. So engrossed in the untold riches that awaited them they abandoned their judgement and ended up holding worthless scrip. Just like the people who bought a house at the peak of the bubble telling others at a dinner party how they got in ‘early’ and the boom was ahead of them, not behind.

It was so blindingly obvious that the tech bubble would collapse. Every five seconds a 21 year old with a computer had somehow found some internet miracle for a service we never knew we needed. The IPO gravy train was insane. One of my biggest clients said that he was seeing 5 new IPO opportunities every single day for months on end. Mobile phone retailers like Hikari Tsushin in Japan were trading at such ridiculous valuations that the CEO at the time lost himself in the euphoria and printed gold coin chocolates with ‘Target market cap: Y100 trillion.’ The train wreck was inevitable. Greed was a forgone conclusion.

So the tech bubble collapsed under the weight of reality which started the most reckless central bank policy prescriptions ever. Supposedly learning from the mistakes of the post bubble collapse in Japan, then Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan turned on the free money spigots. Instead of allowing the free market to adjust and cauterize the systemic imbalances, he threw caution to the wind and poured gasoline on a raging fire. Programs like ‘Keep America Rolling’ which tried to reboot the auto industry meant cheaper and longer lease loans kept sucking consumption forward. That has been the problem. We’ve been living at the expense of the future for nigh on two decades.

Back in 2001, many laughed me out of court for arguing Greenspan would go down in history as one of the most hated central bankers. At the time prevailing sentiment indeed made me look completely stupid. How could I, a stockbroker, know more than Alan Greenspan? It was not a matter of relative educations between me and the Fed Chairman, rather seeing clearly he was playing god with financial markets.  The Congressional Banking Committee hung off his every word like giddy teenagers with a crush on a pop idol. Ron Paul once set on Greenspan during one of the testimonies only to have the rest of the committee turn on him for embarrassing the newly knighted ‘Maestro.’ It was nauseating to watch. Times seemed too good so how dare Paul question a central bank chief who openly said, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

We all remember the horrors of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in September 2008. The nuclear implosions in credit markets had already begun well before this as mortgage defaults screamed. The 7 years of binge investment since the tech bubble collapse meant we never cleansed the wounds. We would undoubtedly be in far better shape had we taken the pain. Yet confusing products like CDOs and CDSs wound their way into the investment portfolios of local country towns in Australia. The punch bowl had duped even local hicks to think they were with the times as any other savvy investor. To turn that on its head, such was the snow job that people who had no business being involved in such investment products were dealing in it.

So Wall St was bailed out by Main St. Yet instead of learning the lessons of the tech bubble collapse and GFC our authorities doubled down on the madness that led to these problems in the first place. Central banks launched QE programs to buy toxic garbage and lower interest rates to get us dragging forward even more consumption. The printing presses were on full speed. Yet what have we bought?

Now we have exchange traded funds (ETFs). Super simple to understand products. While one needed a Field’s Medal in Mathematics to understand the calculations of a CDO or CDS, the ETF is child’s play. Sadly that will only create complacency. We have not really had a chance to see how robots trade in a proper downturn. ETFs follow markets, not lead them. So if the market sells off, the ETF is rapidly trying to keep up. Studies done on ETFs (especially leveraged products) in bear markets shows how they amplify market reactions not mitigate them. So expect to see robots add to the calamity.

Since GFC we’ve had the worst post recession recovery in history. We have asset bubbles in bonds, stocks and property. The Obama Administration doubled the debt pile of the previous 43 presidents in 8 years. Much of it was raised on a short term basis. This year alone, $1.5 trillion must be refinanced.  A total of $8.4 trillion must be refinanced inside the next 4 years. That excludes the funding required for current budget deficits which are growing despite a ‘growing economy’. That excludes the corporate refinancing schedule. Many companies went out of their way to laden the balance sheet in cheap debt. In the process the average corporate credit rating is at its worst levels in a decade. Which means in a market where credit markets are starting to price risk accordingly we also face a Fed openly saying it is tapering its balance sheet and the Chinese and Japanese looking to cut back on US Treasury purchases. Bond spreads like Libor-OIS are already reflecting that pain.

Then there is the tapped out consumer. Unemployment maybe at record lows, yet real wage growth does not appear to be keeping up. The number of people holding down more than one job continues to rebound. The quality of employment is terrible. Poverty continues to remain stubbornly high. There are still three times as many people on food stamps in the US than a decade ago – 41 million people. Public pension unfunded liabilities total $9 trillion. Credit card delinquencies at the sub prime end of town are  back at pre-crisis levels. We could go on and on. Things are terrible out there. Should we be in the least bit surprised that Trump won? Such is the plight of the silent majority, still delinquent after a decade. No wonder Roseanne appeals to so many.

A funny comment was sent by a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, lambasting Trump on his trade policies. He criticized the fact that America had sold its soul for offshoring for decades. Indeed it had but queried that maybe he should be praising Trump for trying to reverse that tide, despite being so late to the party. Where were the other administrations trying to defend America all this time? Stunned silence.

Yet the trends are ominous. If we go back to the tech bubble IPO-a-thon example. We now have crowd funding and crypto currencies. To date we had 190 odd currencies to trade. Of that maybe a handful were liquid – $US, GBP, JPY, $A, Euro etc – yet we are presented with 1,000s of crypto currency choices. Apart from the numerous breaches, blow ups and cyber thefts to date, more and more of these ‘coins’ are awaiting the next fool to gamble away more in the hope of making a quick buck. Cryptos are backed by nothing other than greed. Yet it sort of proves that more believe that they are falling behind enough such they’re prepared to gamble on the biggest lottery in town. One crypto used Wikipedia as a source for its prospectus.

Yet the media remains engrossed on trying to prove whether the president had sex with a porn star a decade ago, genderless bathrooms, bashing the NRA, pushing for laws to curtail free speech, promoting climate change and covering up crime rather than look at reporting on what truly matters – the biggest financial collapse facing us in 90 years.

There is no ‘told you so’ in any of this. The same feelings in the bones of some 30 years ago are back as they were at the time of Greenspan and Lehman. This time can’t be avoided. We have borrowed too much, saved too little and all the while blissfully ignored the warning signs. The faith and confidence in authorities is evaporating. The failed experiment started by Greenspan is coming home to roost. This will be far worse than 1929. Take that to the bank, if it is still in operation because you won’t be concerned about the return on your money but the return of it!

Worst Q2 start for S&P 500 since 1929

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ZeroHedge reported today that the S&P had its worst percentage 2nd quarter start since 1929 overnight. Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke below the 200 day moving average before an at the death rally to close above. Plunge Protection Team (PPT)? The broader S&P 500 failed to hold the 200 dma. All feels ominous. Awaiting the dead cat bounce. Short dated out of the money index put options continue to look ridiculously cheap relative to other asset classes. Gold also having a good day. Bitcoin showing its true value sliding below $7.000. Best to remember in a bear market the winner is the one who loses the least.

Fasten your seatbelts!

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The “Fasten your seatbelts” edition (March 6, 2018) of the High-Tech Strategist by Fred Hickey is best read with antidepressants or a stiff drink. To be honest I hadn’t seen a copy of this research for at least 5 years. Today I’ve read it three times hoping I haven’t missed or misread anything. It is well reasoned and well argued. I would even admit to there being confirmation bias on my side but it is compelling. Usually confirmation bias is a worrying sign although prevailing sentiment or group think, it isn’t!

Perhaps the scariest claim in his report is a survey that showed 75% of asset managers have not experienced the tech bubble collapse in 2000. So their only reference point is one where central banks manipulated the outcome in 2007/8. S&P fell around 56% peak to trough. I often like to say that an optimist is a pessimist with experience. A lot of experienced punters have quit the industry post Lehman’s collapse, hollowing out a lot of talent. That is not to disparage many of the modern day punters but it does experience is a hard teacher because one gets the test first and the lesson afterwards.

Hickey cites an interview with Paul Tudor Jones who said that the new Fed Chairman Powell has a situation not unlike “General George Custer before the battle of the Little Bighorn” (aka Custer’s Last Stand). He spoke of $1.5 trillion in US Treasuries requiring refinancing this year. CM wrote that $8.4 trillion required refinancing in 4 years. In any event, with the Fed tapering (i.e. selling their bonds) couple with China and Japan feeling less willing to step up to the plate he conservatively sees 10yr rates hit 3.75% (now 2.8%) and 30 years rise above 4.5%. Now if we tally the $65 trillion public, private and corporate (worst average credit ratings in a decade) debt load in America and overlay that with a rising interest rate market things will get nasty. Not to mention the $9 trillion shortfall in public pensions.

Perhaps the best statistic was the surge in the number of articles which contained ‘buy-the-dip’ to an all time record. Such lexicon is often used to explain away bad news. It is almost as useless as saying there were more sellers than buyers to explain away a market sell off. In any event closing one’s eyes is a strategy.

Hickey runs through the steps leading up to and during the bear market that followed the tech bubble collapse. It was utter carnage. Bell wether blue chips like Cisco fell 88% from the peak. Oracle -83%. Intel -82%. Sun Microsystems fell 96%.

To cut a long story short, assets (bonds, equities and property) are overvalued. The Bitcoin bubble and consequent collapse have stark warnings that he saw in 2000. He recommends Gold, Gold stocks (which he claims are selling at deeper discounts than the bear market bottom) Silver, index and stock put options (Apple, Tesla, NVidia & Amazon) and cash. Can’t say CM’s portfolio is too dissimilar.

As Hickey says, “fasten your seatbelts