#debt

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

This can’t wait

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John Mauldin has written an informative piece entitled “this can’t wait” which sums up a lot of pieces I’ve written on the sickening state of public pension unfunded liabilities and the debt super cycle that is facing us. While Mauldin is trying to sell his investment services on the back of this, I wasn’t when I wrote mine. Public service announcement? Maybe but the stats of the black holes we face in pensions and central bank QE which has failed to boost money velocity will bite. Hard. There will be no “I told you so” glory because almost everyone will lose big.

Even if people want to criticize me for being a perma-bear there is no harm in being aware of what is likely coming.

Bitcoin now on prime time Japanese variety TV

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The picture above is of Tetsuro Degawa, a Japanese comedian who does his best to show himself to have little intelligence. On prime time TV tonite he was talking about Bitcoin. The sign to the right partially says “can you understand Bitcoin in 5 minutes?” 

Japanese TV audiences generally gasp at new information so Bitcoin was a subject of great interest. Still one wonders if Degawa is presenting on the crypto currency that we’re one stage away from the taxi driver giving tips.

Today, Bitcoin is trading over $15,000 up another 13% today alone. Apparently Warren Buffett has disclosed Berkshire Hathaway has bought some too.

In 20 years in financial markets I cannot work out how something backed by nothing other than greed in a market that is not regulated and highly vulnerable to cyber terrorism continues to sucker more people in.

Tulip mania may be removed as the bubble yardstick before long. As one of my experienced private wealth managers likes to say, “I have difficulty fathoming the “no euphoria this time” view.”

Tesla – to err is human. To blame on somebody else is even more human in a dog eat dog industry

This video sums up Tesla’s Q3. Elon Musk (on the left) blaming his supplier on the right. We shouldn’t discount that Tesla maybe pushing the boat out on payables ($3.9bn). As mentioned in the big Tesla report published on Monday, the fact Tesla doesn’t have beefy mainstream suppliers serving it is telling. US suppliers have been bitten too many times to take on high risk projects which won’t provide any better margin. It is a fact that suppliers need stable production just as much if not more than the manufacturer. If a car maker has 20 models and only one stinks and that is the one you’re supplying to then losses are going to result. So blaming suppliers is hardly going to win over the more seasoned players to change their mind on Tesla. Dobbing in your suppliers shows poor management period. Who ate the cookie?

 

Tesla – Aussies will remember One.Tel

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Before mobile telecoms provider One.Tel went bust, it had a cash flow situation like this – operating and investing cash flow negative while financing cash flow was positive. Tesla’s looks eerily similar. The problem is simple. If operating cash flows keep falling and investing cash flow keeps rising, at some stage the ability to raise cash (i.e. financing cash flow) becomes problematic. On the basis of Musk’s Q3 tele-conference Q4 cash position is likely to be worse with milestone payments and production being way behind forcing even nastier cash flow headwinds.

The problem Musk faces is that the federal tax credit is coming to an end sometime next year. Currently in California, you get $2500 kick back for buying a Tesla Model 3 on top of your $7500 from Mr Trump. So $10,000 off meaning your $35,000 Tesla only costs $25,000 (29% off). However if the tax incentive is cancelled at the federal level, the $35,000 Tesla is only $32,500 (7% off) meaning some of the 455,000 outstanding orders may wither on the vine. Remember how the virtue signalers in other parts of the world have reacted when generous EV subsidies come off. In HK, orders after the tax break was ended fell to ZERO and in Norway they plummeted 94%.

So Tesla isn’t just running a race against time to get production sorted to stop the cash bleed it faces a double whammy of its pitiful production rate causing order cancellations when people realise that The Donald may have already burnt the federal tax scheme by the time it lands on the dealer forecourt.

What buried One.Tel is that it owed suppliers so much in payments for equipment yet its cash in from customers was not growing fast enough to stop the wave of cash leaving. Tesla may indeed face the predicament of customers demanding the $1,000 deposits back. What was it Musk said about burgers (you can find out on page 6 here). Better start flipping them burgers Tesla!!

Italy proves the ECB Thinks some banks more equal than others

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The ECB proves it is powerless to push member states into banking solutions. It is in fact nothing more than an accomplice. No sooner had the ECB turned a blind eye to a bailout of two banks last week, this week saw the world’s oldest bank likely to get the same treatment.  The state-backed rescue of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA may be approved by the European Commission as soon as today.

EU approval would pave the way for the third recapitalization of an Italian bank by the state this week. Last month, European authorities and Italian officials reached an agreement in principle on a rescue plan that may include a capital increase of about 8.3 billion euros ($9.4 billion) and the sale of about 26 billion euros of bad loans through securitization. Monte Paschi was forced to seek state aid after it failed to raise capital from investors in December.

All it shows is that for all the rhetoric of bail-ins and tough talk, the ECB has no choice but to let member states handle their own affairs. Italy has a banking sector with 20% NPLs with up to 50% in southern parts of the country.

In reality it shows up the ECB to be powerless to control its members. While the US can openly state it is paring back its balance sheet, the ECB has to be content with rolling over and playing dead. At the same time Italy sets precedents that become the benchmark for others to follow. Must be food for thought for all the banks that have been forced to bail-in…-all banks are equal…some more equal than others!

From Sesame to Elm Street

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ETF markets continue to surge in popularity. With low fees and basic packaging of the ETF product even Big Bird can understand what The Count is going on about. No wonder investors are snapping up these products faster than the Cookie Monster. However there is something chilling about the ETF market. In the lead up to and eventual crash of Lehmans et al CDOs, CDSs and other synthetic products were seen as the root of all evil. They were so complex that even Fields Medal winners in mathematics couldn’t make head nor tail of them. The ETF became the opposite – being too simplistic – and with that the product has brought huge complacency. To that end Sesame Street could well switch to Elm Street.

Today assets invested in ETF/Ps comprise over $3 trillion globally. Put simply the new funds flowing into ETFs vs. traditional mutual funds is at a 100:1 ratio and in terms of AUM is on par with total hedge fund assets which have been in existence for 3 times as long.

However ETFs, despite increasing levels of sophistication, have brought about higher levels of market volatility. Studies have shown that a one standard deviation move of S&P500 ETF ownership carries 21% excess intraday volatility. Regulators are also realising that limit up/down rules are exacerbating risk pricing and are seeking to revise as early as October 2015. In less liquid markets excess volatility has proved to be 54% higher with ETFs than the actual underlying indices. A full report can be seen here.

With the continuation of asset bubbles in a TINA (there is no alternative) world, ETFs in my view will lead to massive disappointments down the line. Their downfall could well invite the revival of the research driven fund manager model again as robots show they’re not as infallible as first thought in managing the volatility. Don’t forget humans designed the algorithms.

There is also the added risk of whether some ETFs actually hold the physical of the indices or commodities they mimic. A gold ETF is a wonderfully good way to store wealth without resorting to one’s own bank vault but how many ETF owners have inspected the subterranean cage that supposedly holds the physical the ETF is backed by? Has it been lent out? Does it own a fraction of stated holdings? It could be any other commodity too. Of course the ETF providers bang on about the safety of the products but how many times have we gasped when fraud reared it’s ugly head right in front of us. Bernie Maddoff ring any bells?

Given the implied volatility on the downside we need to bear in mind the actions of central banks. The Bank of Japan (BoJ) is the proud owner of 60% of the ¥20 trillion+ domestic ETF market. While the BoJ says it isn’t finished expanding its world’s largest central bank balance sheet (now 100% of GDP), the US Fed is looking to reduce its balance sheet by over 40% in order to normalize. While one can applaud some level of common sense pervading sadly the consequences of defusing the timer on the bomb they created at a period when the US economy is showing signs of recession will only be an overhang on asset markets. Should the US market be put through the grinder, global markets will follow.

It is one thing for the Fed to be prudent. It is another for it to be trying to cover its tracks through higher interest rates in a market that looks optically pretty but hides serious life threatening illnesses. The Fed isn’t ahead of the curve at all. It is so far behind the 8-ball that its actions are more likely to accelerate rather than alleviate a crisis. Point to low unemployment or household asset appreciation as reasons to talk of a robust economy but things couldn’t be further from the truth. Wage growth is not the stuff of dreams and the faltering signs in auto, consumer and residential markets should give reason for concern.

Since GFC we have witnessed the worst global economic revival in history. The weakest growth despite record pump priming and balance sheet expansion. Money velocity is continually falling and the day Greenspan dispensed with M3 reporting one knew that things were bad and “nothing to see here” was the order of the day.

Record levels of debt (just shy of $220 trillion or 300% of GDP when adding private, corporate and government), slow growth, paltry interest rates and coordinated asset buying have not done anything other than blown more air into a bubble that should have been burst. GFC didn’t hit the reset button. Central banks just hit print to avoid the pain. We’ve doubled up on stupidity, forgot the idea of prudent and sensible growth through savings and just partied on. Ask any of your friends in finance what they “really” think and I can assure you that after a few drinks they’ll tell you they’re waiting for the exit trade. They know Armageddon is coming but just don’t know when

Whether we like it or not, the reset button will be hit. I often argue people should not worry about the return ON their money but the return OF it. Global markets can’t be bailed out again with massive cash infusion. That has been a recipe for disaster, only widening the gap between haves and have nots. Debt must be allowed to go bad, banks must be allowed to go bust and free markets must be freed from the shackles of state sponsored manipulation to set prices. It will be ugly but more of the same can kicking won’t work.

ETFs are a sign of the times. They represent the slapdash approach to life these days. Time saving apps if you will. However nothing beats hard nosed analysis to understand what awaits us. Poor old Big Bird will be the canary in the coal mine and Sesame Street will be renamed Elm Street as the Kruger’s move in to give us nightmares Janet Yellen assures us aren’t possible.

Perhaps that is the ultimate question. As you go to work each day do you honestly feel that things are peachy as the management town hall meetings would have you believe? Are your friends or colleagues all bulled up about the future? Perhaps that is easier to answer than an ETF.