Drug addiction

Aussies pay more tax than Japanese and Shorten wants to raise them higher!

CM is repulsed by the confetti blowing promises being made ahead of May 18. This election is about cost of living to be sure. It is not about climate change and not about resettling refugees. Yet there has to be a limit on the free give away with a growing deficit. Where is the fiscal responsibility? Do politicians run their own household budgets like this? Not in a million years.

Our federal tax receipts are A$430bn this year. Did you know Japan collects $A750bn at the national level? So Aus is 1/5th the population and raises 1/2 the coin of Japan. Having said that the Japanese government must raise A$500bn EVERY YEAR to plug the national deficit! That’s what happens with poor fiscal management. So doing the math including the debt financing, we still raise 31% the revenues than the Japanese on 20% of the population. We might argue our economy is 1/4 Japan’s but we’re following an unsustainable trajectory. It’s insane. How can we tax people more? Yet that is what Shorten will do.

We can debate til the cows come home about how GST is funneled back to the states from federal coffers but we need to wake up to our relative costs! Our budget deficit is c.$600bn yet here we see Labor throw confetti promises around everywhere. $1.18bn in new aid to foreign countries over the next 4 years. PNG spent our aid money on 40 new Maseratis. Shorten pledged $1bn to acquire land to put the VFT in place. Surely the private sector can deal with that. $2bn for a Melbourne metro. We can go on and on.

Everyone seems like a winner until everyone becomes a loser. The sad fact is that we must wake people up to reality. We need to spend smarter, not chuck more money and hope it has impact. Neither government will see a surplus. Take it to the bank. The economic growth projections aren’t there. No matter who wins this election, the global economy is slowing and either party will be handed a basket case of economy controlled by external forces which includes a slowing US and China. It won’t be pretty. The question is who can best manage that? Not Labor. Climate change will be so irrelevant in this downturn.

It gets worse. The Reserve Bank and APRA are asleep at the wheel. Instead of navigating sensible policies to thwart the largest recession we will face in almost 30 years which will decimate housing, both are discussing climate change compliance reporting by corporates. Seriously? It is so telling they are focusing on the wrong message. Have they seen that the world’s central banks have printed $140 trillion in extra debt since 2008 and got $20 trillion extra in GDP. Shockingly poor returns. $7 of debt gets us $1 of GDP.

Yet our political system has only one pair of rose tinted spectacles where the prescription is 27 years out of date. They are equally as oblivious to the oncoming onslaught where our Aussie banks face a real risk of part of whole nationalization. Their position is as bad as the Japanese ahead of the collapse of their bubble.

Do not be fooled. CM personally believes that the Coalition is not deserved of government but the alternative is even worse. The last thing we need is to rest on that old Aussie saying of “time to give the others a go!” because this is a time when we can least afford change. It will be buyer’s remorse + alpha.

Drinking the UnKool-Aid

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It appears President Trump has been bullying the US Federal Reserve to drop rates by 1% and get them to reopen the spigots on QE. What he is failing to grasp is that businesses invest because they see a cycle, not because interest rates fall.

Trump tweeted,

China is adding great stimulus to its economy while at the same time keeping interest rates low. Our Federal Reserve has incessantly lifted interest rates, even though inflation is very low, and instituted a very big dose of quantitative tightening. We have the potential to go…up like a rocket if we did some lowering of rates, like one point, and some quantitative easing. Yes, we are doing very well at 3.2% GDP, but with our wonderfully low inflation, we could be setting major records &, at the same time, make our National Debt start to look small!

This is a frightening proposal. Rates are at 2.25~2.50%. Although it masks a more important reality. Can Trump avoid a market calamity ahead of the next election? The real engine of the economy is slowing.

Despite the headline US GDP print of 3.2%, consumer spending and business investment slumped to the lowest levels under his presidency. Business investment spending was dominated by “intellectual capital” (soft) which is a pretty hard metric to put a reliable number next to. Equipment and structures (hard) contribution to business investment was near as makes no difference zero. Personal consumption of durable goods slumped to their lowest reading since 2011. Wholesale inventories (ex-autos/petroleum) surged ahead of sales.

Trump might argue China is adding stimulus. He is right. China’s Aggregate Financing (approximately system Credit growth less government borrowings) jumped 2.860 billion yuan, or $427 billion – during the 31 days of March ($13.8bn/day or $5.0 Trillion annualised (a Japanese GDP)). This was 55% above estimates and a full 80% ahead of March 2018. This pump priming added 8% to the Chinese stock indices but since then the market has been rolling off.

The world does not need more debt to be inflated away to get us out of the current mess we are in. A recession is inevitable. To put it into context, the world, since GFC, has added $140 trillion in debt for a grand total of $20 trillion in global GDP growth. That is right. $7 of debt only got us $1 of GDP. So if the Fed acquiesces President Trump he will probably get even worse metrics.

Then again perhaps we can take the words of a venture capitalist, Chamath Palihapitiya, who said on CNBC that “central banks have created an environment where major downturns and expansions are almost impossible.” It is statements like this that almost guarantee that central banks have lost control. Central banks have one role – ensure that markets maintain “confidence”. Powell’s latest move to cut rates after such a shallow peak tells us that “confidence” is waning. 

Dill Testing

Pill testing. Yes, it is difficult to stop the youth of today popping drugs at rave concerts. If certain drugs like MDMA are illegal, why is it OK to turn a blind eye at the concert gate? If there is medical evidence to say taking MDMA is harmless then change the law. Sadly the tragic deaths of a handful of kids has shown this not to be the case. Overdoses and bad batches dispensed by nefarious actors.

Is the desire to resort to hallucinating narcotics so great that the government should back legislation to allow young kids to have their risky tablets tested?  Imagine if those asking for their pills to be tested were required to put their name down against the test? None would test! There would be outrage over a violation of privacy. Yet we the tax payer invariably foot the bill of the reckless behaviour should things go wrong. Perhaps attendees should be required to file their Medicare number alongside the pill test and pay higher premiums for willingly taking higher risks? Again, none would line up.

The arguments for pill testing surround removing the potentially deadly drugs off the market by creating a virtuous circle of warnings within the drug taking community. The idea is that they could make informed choices were pill testing made available and inform each other what to avoid. Research from Austria showed that 50% of those that got pill testing changed their consumption behaviours.  Sadly the other 50% did not. Other examples of positive outcomes from pill testing revolve around wider knowledge about what drug compounds are popular which helps medical and emergency services better prepare. There is a company in America which sells NARCAN which revives those that overdose from the dead. You can read more about that here.

The arguments for pill testing seem so strong that it is any wonder the government doesn’t go the whole hog and set up its own narcotic stall at these concerts to sell controlled substances directly to the public. Two MDMA tablets and a foil of heroin please. Are those bongs on special?

The stupidity with pill testing is in the word – “ILLEGAL”. If CM gets caught speeding, why shouldn’t I be as justified in saying I was acceleration testing my potentially lethal BMW to make sure the speedometer was accurate? No NSW Highway Patrol officer will grant clemency. I will be fined for breaking the law. Quite right too.

Then we get Greens MP Cate Faehrmann admitting she’s taken MDMA since her 20s. In her doing so we can now have an honest and open debate. Fantastic to have an elected official out herself as an illegal drug user. Is this the type of lived experience we should be basing policy off? How ironic she lambasts the zero tolerance policies of the NSW Government? It may well be costing lives but the measures to combat are proving ineffective.  That is the issue. Time to think outside the box.

Why not just have police controlled mandatory swab tests at exit, fully funded by the event organizer, who can impute that in the cost of the ticket? Those that show a positive sign to ‘illegal drugs’ are arrested and criminally charged. Simple. Make it clear well in advance that those caught for breaking the law go on a national register. Why shouldn’t employers be able to better screen their employees’ behaviours or and health insurers be able to more accurately assess their customers? If you are clean there is zero to worry about.

If we want to create a culture of stopping drugs, we won’t do it by applying soft measures. Rave concerts are a captive audience where drugs are smuggled in often unsavory ways to escape detection. Make it clear that the swabs are mandatory and one of two things will happen; the attendance will only be enjoyed by those prepared to be clean or the rave concerts will end.

Some will argue there will be a risk that rave concerts will go underground but in the day and age of cyber technology, it won’t be hard to track such events going forward. Make the penalties for organizers failing to register and apply for such concerts punishable by jail terms and multi million dollar fines.

If we truly don’t like the law, then let’s change it. Let’s not have two tier judicial systems that openly favour dangerous behaviour because it infringes on someone’s subjective right to listen to a rave concert completely off their rocker. Maybe that is the test – make these kids recall 50% of the music that were played. One can be rest assured most of them didn’t hear a thing.

2019 Golden Globe ratings down again

It is no surprise to learn that the initial ratings for the Golden Globes In 2019 were down on 2018 which were down on 2017…which were down on…Get the picture? It was the worst showing in a decade.

It seems the formula is so bust that even deliberately leaving Trump mocking out of the corny gag lines saw another 5% drop this year. Despite little competition in the time slot and following on straight after the Chicago Bears vs Philadelphia Eagles (38mn viewers), 20mn switched channels to something other than the Golden Globes.

Who actually took the time to watch The Oscars last year? Viewers voted with their eyes sending ratings down 16% on 2017 and 40% on 5 years ago. Perhaps The Oscars could take a lessson from 90 years ago and stick to silent movies!

From Nielsen:

The 8 p.m.-11 p.m. portion of ABC’s telecast averaged an 18.9 household rating and 32 share in Nielsen’s metered market overnight ratings, which cover about 70% of U.S. TV households. That’s down about 16% from the 22.5/37 rating generated by the 2017 Oscars.

Same with the Emmys.

Neilsen noted the 2018 Emmy awards show pulled in 10.172 million viewers (-4%) and a 2.4 rating among adults 18-49, it’s lowest ever. The 2000 Emmy’s drew in 21.8mn by comparison.

Some may talk to modern day luxuries of streaming which might flatline these dreadful numbers but the reality is Hollywood’s obsession with shaming its intended viewers is the more likely culprit.

Perhaps ABC & NBC need to host these events at a local Hollywood pensioners club from here on in. Save the millions lavished on sets and award movies based on a Bingo wheel. Celebrities can go in smart casual (Cate Blanchett insists on recycling clothes) and dine on a sumptuous smorgasbord with complimentary soft drinks at the beverage bar. Now that would be worth watching.

It costs HOW MUCH?

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The mind boggles. War is expensive to conduct. Once wars finish, the cost of looking after veterans is massive. In 2000, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) in America spent $43.6bn to look after returned servicemen and women. In 2020 it is expected to exceed $212bn (c. 5x), the equivalent of what the Chinese currently spends on its military.  Digging deeper into the data reveals that the cost of the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation New Dawn (OND) on veteran treatment keeps growing in a straight line.

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Total obligations for OIF/OEF/OND patients has grown 19-fold in the last 14 years to over $7bn. Total veterans from those campaigns now totals 965,000 and is expected to hit 1.1mn by 2020. Cost per veteran patient over the 2006-2020 period will virtually treble.

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Expenditure on prosthetic devices (e.g. limbs, hearing aids) has near as makes no difference quadrupled in that period.

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Spending on pharmaceutical products is up 1.9x since 2006.

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Drugs such as Oxycontin which contain opioids have found their way to creating problems in the US armed forces. 15% of Army troops admitted to taking illicit drugs (cocaine, heroin, marijuana) and opioids back in 2008.

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Spending on programs to prevent substance abuse is up 1.8x since 2006.

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The VA notes key clinical metric trends from Quarter Four of 2012 to Quarter Four of 2017 show:

• 67% reduction in Veterans receiving opioid and benzodiazepine together;
• 44% reduction in Veterans on long-term opioid therapy (> to 90 days);
• 38% reduction in Veterans receiving opioids;• 56% reduction in Veterans receiving > 100 Morphine Equivalent Daily Dose;
• 51% increase in Veterans on long-term opioid therapy with a Urine Drug Screen
(UDS) completed within last year to help guide treatment decisions.

Spending on mental health programs is up almost 4x since 2006. The VA plans to promote the development of skills in VA providers to diagnose and assess PTSD
by developing a computer-based training using simulated virtual patient
technology that will allow clinicians to practice and receive customizable feedback
on giving CAPS-5 to a lifelike virtual patient.

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The 2019 VA Budget requests $8.6 billion for Veterans’ mental health services, an increase of 5.8% above the 2018 current estimate. It also includes $190 million for suicide
prevention outreach. VA recognizes that Veterans are at an increased risk for suicide and
implemented a national suicide prevention strategy to address this crisis. Veteran suicide in the US is at a 22/day clip.

The price of freedom. All said and told the US over the last 20 years will have spent the equivalent of $2.476 trillion with a “T” on veterans. That is the equivalent of one entire year of UK GDP.

Smart technologies are an absolute must for the VA. The cost of veteran health is the equivalent of 29% of what the US spends on defence, up from 14.8% two decades ago. Asking for yearly increases is a band aid solution.

Musk charged with securities violations

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been accused by the SEC of violating Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) [15 U.S.C. § 78j(b)] and Rule 10b-5 [17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5]. The SEC claimed,

“Musk’s false and misleading public statements and omissions caused significant confusion and disruption in the market for Tesla’s stock and resulting harm to investors…Musk knew or was reckless in not knowing that each of these statements was false and/or misleading because he did not have an adequate basis in fact for his assertions. When he made these statements, Musk knew that he had never discussed a going-private transaction at $420 per share with any potential funding source, had done nothing to investigate whether it would be possible for all current investors to remain with Tesla as a private company via a “special purpose fund,” and had not confirmed support of Tesla’s investors for a potential going private transaction. He also knew that he had not satisfied numerous additional contingencies, the resolution of which was highly uncertain, when he unequivocally declared, ‘Only reason why this is not certain is that it’s contingent on a shareholder vote.’ Musk’s public statements and omissions created the misleading impression that taking Tesla private was subject only to Musk choosing to do so and a shareholder vote.”

The eccentric and maverick CEO responded,

This unjustified action by the SEC leaves me deeply saddened and disappointed. I have always taken action in the best interests of truth, transparency and investors. Integrity is the most important value in my life and the facts will show I never compromised this in any way.”

It is common knowledge to corporates that the exchange is the first port of call for all public releases to be openly documented for consistency and equal access. It is irrelevant whether a social media feed might be deemed as “in the spirit” of open disclosure to Musk’s personal opinions. The SEC rules are the rules. There aren’t soft interpretations. A listing requirement is to follow the rules of fair disclosure. Whether Musk was or wasn’t aware is irrelevant – as the CEO of a $50bn company he should know better or at least sought the advice from those that do.

In any event if he was true to the spirit of good corporate governance he would have the good sense to realise his position as CEO has become untenable. How the board can have confidence in him is beyond CM? The multiple senior resignations give an insight but for all of Musk’s instellar cosmic brilliance as a salesman, unfortunately laws are there to provide safety for investors. The shares are offered 13% lower in the aftermarket.

A court will ultimately decide his fate but the $420 a share with secured funding unraveled so quickly as to question his judgement.

Investors, even the die hard believers, don’t need a CEO already under the pump to be distracted anymore than he already is. It is a shame because he is undoubtedly a brilliant mind. Unfortunately that would seemingly make him feel he’s somewhat untouchable leading him to make knee jerk decisions such is what he’s been charged over.

Is Musk losing it?

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Is Tesla CEO Elon Musk losing it? More senior resignations from accounting and HR this week  reveal more cracks in the automaker. He emailed a journalist, calling him a “mother f*cker”. He went further to say he hoped the cave rescuer he called a “”pedo” sued him because a UK man who is single and spent so much time in Thailand must be a child rapist.

He rattled off he had “secured” funding of $420/share to go private and then all of a sudden he didn’t, prompting the SEC to investigate. He was then on radio with comedian Joe Rogan toking what is reportedly a mixture of tobacco and marijuana. Are these the actions of a man running a $50bn market cap company?

Clearly his board can’t control him.  With the shares collapsing and bond prices falling, refinancing will become problematic. Chief  Accounting Officer Dave Morton quit the company after revealing his concerns about the various obstacles Tesla faces.

Tesla’s Chief People Officer, Gabrielle Toledano, took leave in August and said she wouldn’t be returning to Tesla.

Musk has been a genius and visionary to get Tesla where it is today. Yet he is a direct victim of his own hubris. Sleeping under boxes with Tesla bankrupt written on them to living on the factory roof to rattling off about production hell while accusing families of drivers dead due to over reliance in a system he aggressively promoted.Tesla was technically asking for suppliers to refund a portion of the monies they were paid since 2016 to the EV maker so it could post a profit which is borderline accounting manipulation in an attempt to give the impression of an ongoing concern.

He also complained at the lack of support in the media despite being called out on this nonsense.

Musk’s compensation is also linked to a $650bn market cap, which is effectively saying to the market that his company will be worth more than Daimler, BMW, VW, GM, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Renault, Fiat-Chrysler, Ferrari and Porsche combined. Just read that last sentence again. Do investors honestly believe that Tesla which consistently misses and is going up against companies that have been in the game for decades, seen brutal cycles, invest multiples more in technology and forgotten more than they remembered will somehow all become slaves to a company which has no technological advantages whatsoever?

The Tesla story is on the ropes. Expect more mega-releases on new products to try to keep the dream alive and the disciples faithful. I guess ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds’ worked for The Beatles…