Economy

We want your business!

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Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ran through the nation’s commitment to cyber noting the country has 200x the next country in per capita revenue in the area. They are 20% of global cyber revenue. Very scary outlook for the capabilities that cyber can do if in the wrong hands. In closing though the Prime Minister said four words:

We want your business!

It would be nice to see the Aussie PM shout as loudly for investment at home.

Oi vey Australia! Time to develop innovation

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While the Australian school system seems obsessed dealing with LGBT awareness, gender fluidity and social causes, a day in the most up to date Israeli cyber park in the Negev Desert shows just how seriously the small nation deals with the real world and preparing future generations for it.

It should come as no surprise that Israel lives under constant threat. The Jewish State is happy to leave LBGT 20yr celebrations to rainbow flags on the beachfront in Tel Aviv. When it comes to education it is all about working kids hard to be competitive, hungry and innovative. Primary school students learn computer coding and mathematics. They don’t hold cross dressing presentations or participate in Family Day as a replacement for Mothers Day to show inclusiveness for minorities. Survival matters.

Those same primary schoolers learn even more skills when they hit high school. The government monitors 13yo kids for their cyber acumen to screen the best possible assets for the future. By 16yo the weeding out process is all but done.

The notorious IDF cyber unit 8200 is relocating to this cyber centre in Negev where over a dozen buildings are being erected to gather the finest innovators in the world. It’s a $50bn investment. Even the Israeli Defence Force standard cyber units will relocate there. As Israelis have compulsory military service from 18 years of age, the best and brightest get automatically assigned to these cyber teams.

The universities are collaborating with corporates and government. They work on real solutions that matter rather than shoot for research on questions nobody is asking. Companies like Intel are setting up R&D centres in Israel because the talent is there.

Australia may have a Department if Innovation & Science which has a billion dollar budget. The Israeli tech infrastructure organizers in places like the Negev encourage start ups. They award grants thru competitive processes based purely on merit. Instead of cutting grant cheques to all for participating in the Aussie “everyone wins a prize” mentality, the idea is that only the “best” idea out of 500 wins. The rest are forced to make more compelling arguments and work to secure alternative funding. That weeds out waste. If Australia just divvies out with fairness in mind, resources are misallocated and it is more likely the capital allocators are clueless.

The system is impressive beyond words. Listening to a dozen presenttions ranging across medical, cyber and agricultural fields, one cannot be thoroughly in awe of an early-thirties doctor from the neighboring university who has racked up 20+ patents for his inventions.

Then there is the tale of a 17yo intern who was given an asssignment to hack the vulnerability of a mobile phone manufacturer whose PR department lied through its back teeth to cover up a flaw in the system they boasted was secure. They cited the original hack wasn’t done over a secure VPN. In 3 days the 17yo kid hacked that too. Take about a face plant.

The same group told a large American corporate that it’s video streaming had a bug. Instead of admitting the lapse, the tech giant hunkered down and dug in its heels. They put a bandaid on it and were hacked again. They have managed to make a computer that is next to another but not connected in anyway, even via WiFi to make functions purely based on heat.

The answer is simple though. There are many cultural reasons why this type of education system works in Israel. While Australia has no hope of holding a candle to the Israelis there are huge lessons to be learnt about fostering a culture of individual excellence rather than move down the slippery slope that fails to prepare our kids for the future. It maybe too late.

Priorities, priorities…

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Maryland (MD) – 2018

  • High school graduation rate: 87.6% (12th highest)
  • Public school spending: $13,075 per pupil (19th highest)
  • 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 34.7% (math), 37.4% (reading) (11th highest).
  • Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 39.3% (3rd highest)
  • Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 61.6% (2nd highest)
  • Violent crime 4.72/1000 residents (national average 4.0/1000) (9th highest)
  • Crimes per square mile 57 (national average 31.9)
  • Baltimore, MD most dangerous city (out of biggest 50) in America.
  • Opioid death rate 29.7/100,000 (3rd highest) – national average 13.3/100,000

Good to see where things are ranked among the worst, Democrats wish to put the least focus and vice versa. Rather telling. Where is the focus on healthcare and climate change? Even more telling.

Slovenia slaps the EU too

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Slovenia has joined the list of populist movements. In 2000, there were 4 countries in the EU that had populist coalitions/majorities (Lithuania, Latvia, Switzerland & Austria). Scroll forward to today we have 15 (the previous 4 countries + Poland, Norway, Czech Rep, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Crete, Bulgaria, Romania). Neighboring Bosnia and Serbia are also populist led. We shouldn’t forget the in the populist/nationalist party surges in The Netherlands, Germany and France . Perhaps more amazing is that the EU still isn’t getting the message, most highlighted by the push to get the President of Italy to put in charge a non-eurosceptic former IMF employee as PM. That’ll work.

So to Slovenia’s election. The Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) topped Sunday’s election on 25%, handing the anti-immigrant party 25 seats in the parliament. Center-left LMŠ, led by comedian and political satirist Marjan Šarec, came in second on 12.7% (13 seats), and the Social Democrats third on just under 10% (10 seats). SDS leader Janez Janša acknowledged forming a governing coalition will be difficult.

Juncker typified all of the arrogance that has propelled so many anti-establishment parties to power. He said, “Italians have to take care of the poor regions of Italy. That means more work, less corruption, seriousness.” Stereotyping rarely helps. Juncker also made clear that Italy’s problems are not the EU’s fault.

Time and time again, when studying poverty within the EU, the overwhelming number of countries inside the bloc remain worse off than in 2008. Growth rates remain anemic. If you were to look at a map of the floodgates of illegal immigration (which Deutsche Bank published) it isn’t a surprise that the local populations are voting for those governments that will seek to look after the citizens first. So before casting aspersions on a growing number of EU citizens’ assessment of the human rights of asylum seekers, the reality is that the socialists within the EU are clearly utterly dreadful at messaging and even poorer in execution. Then again Baroness Thatcher warned them of that in 1990.

Does Trump have a right to brag about unemployment?

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The Trump vs Obama camps are lighting up over who was responsible for the drop unemployment rates. Looking at the long term decline one could argue that Obama was a key part of the decline and the incremental drops in the rate are Trumps. Here are the raw figures.

In Jan 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Obama had 115.818m people full time employed. In December of 2012 that number was 115.791m. (-270,000). There were 8.046m and 7.943m part time jobs over the same period. Minus 103,000. At the end of his 8 years, there were 124.3m FT jobs and 5.554m PT jobs. All told his FT workforce went up 8.48mn and PT fell 2.492m. So gross employment increased 5.98m.

Trump started at 124.3mn FT and as of May 2018 there are 128.657m FT jobs and 4.948m PT jobs. So he’s increased FT 4.347m and cost PT 606k. Net increase of 3.741mn jobs. So even if you ran the narrative that Obama’s second term was enough to put the “Great Recession to bed”, Trump has achieved 63% of Obama’s employment legacy in only 30% of his first term as president.

The number of people working two or more jobs surged to over 8mn (a record) under BHO as did food stamps (doubled to c.48m before coming down to 43m by his term end). SNAP stands at 40m now. 3mn fewer.

30 million people claim disability and welfare in the US. The Social Security Administration (SSA) highlighted that back pain and musculoskeletal problems are 33.8% of claims for disabled workers, followed by mental illness at 19.2% in 2013. This compares to 8.3% and 9.6% respectively in 1961. Half of claims in the 1960s came from heart attack/stroke and ‘other’ categories which made up only 17% of the 2013 figure.

Yet the truth is that if Americans wanted more of Obama’s successful policies, Hillary was Obama 2.0. No change in policies. Sensible to keep if they wanted the status quo. Ironic that 19 out of 25 states that voted for Trump had poverty levels exceeding the national average. Which means that had the “marry the state” policies of the Obama admin resonated with the poor it would have been a coronation for Hillary. This is a perfect example as to why a hollowed out middle America want to live the American dream rather than queue up for more welfare. God Bless America?

 

Kindergarten level agenda behind Kinder Morgan buyout

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The Canadian Liberal government is paying $4.5bn for a 60yr old pipeline that was sold a decade ago to Kinder Morgan for $377m for an asset RBC values at $2.5bn. Another $7.5bn will be spent to “create jobs”. Apart from Canadian tax dollars going to fund a US company’s ability to expand and compete against Canadian suppliers, the real truth of Trudeau’s intentions probably don’t become any clearer when examining the sponsored summer jobs programme (where businesses could only get greenlighted if they shared “his” values). Yes, taxpayer dollars were approved by Trudeau to help activists protest a pipeline he’s just bought. This was an ad posted by Dogwood:

“As an organizing assistant through the Canada Summer Jobs program you will work directly with a Dogwood Provincial Organizer and the field organizing team to help our organizing network stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker project, as well as help us strengthen the public call for stronger, more accountable and transparent democracy.”

He has already been crashing in the polls. This will help to no end. So much for transparency.

GE’s Angolan Kwanza exposure

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Sell-side analysts rarely read through the fine print of an annual report. Hidden away in the prose, one can find some pretty eye-opening paragraphs. From GE’s 2017 Annual Report,

“As of December 31, 2017, we held the U.S. dollar equivalent of $0.6 billion of cash in Angolan kwanza. As there is no liquid derivatives market for this currency, we have used Angolan kwanza to purchase $0.4 billion equivalent bonds issued by the central bank in Angola (Banco Nacional de Angola) with various maturities through 2020 to mitigate the related currency devaluation exposure risk. The bonds are denominated in Angolan kwanza as U.S. dollar equivalents, so that, upon payment of periodic interest and principal upon maturity, payment is made in Angolan kwanza, equivalent to the respective U.S. dollars at the then-current exchange rate.”

On that basis the marked to market figure is actually another $250mn hole in 2017. One wonders what the exchange rate will be in 2020? Furthermore at what level will Travelex or Thomas Cook exchange that for? It would be safe to assume the ‘bid/offer’ spread will be horrendous. GE might find it more useful to run a Nigerian mail scam to hedge the expected losses. For a company as large as GE, potentially losing $850mn should look like a rounding error unless the company is bleeding as the monster is. GE took a pretax charge of $201mn on its Venezuela operations.

We shouldn’t forget that “GE provides implicit and explicit support to GE Capital through commitments, capital contributions and operating support. As previously discussed, GE debt assumed from GE Capital in connection with the merger of GE Capital into GE was $47.1 billion and GE guaranteed $44.0 billion of GE Capital debt at December 31, 2017. See Note 23 to the consolidated financial statements for additional information about the eliminations of intercompany transactions between GE and GE Capital.

As 13D Research noted, “GE spent roughly $45 billion on share buybacks over 2015 & 2016  despite the shares trading well above today’s levels all the while ignoring the $30 billion+ shortfall in its pensions. Management disclosed in a recent analyst meeting that it would have to borrow to fund a $6 billion contribution to its pension plans next year, as well as chopping capex by 26% in 2018.

As mentioned yesterday, there are some who have faith in the sustained turnaround in medical. Indeed it has seen some top line and margin improvement but management seems more concerned with focusing on cutting costs than pushing innovation. Efficiency drives should be part and parcel of all businesses but one must hope CEO John Flannery has far bigger hopes for its market share leading product line (which GE admits facing pricing pressure in some segments) than trimming the staff canteen cookie tin.

GE remains a risky investment. Flannery has it all to prove and to date his performances have been anything but inspiring. GE feels like a business suffering from the divine franchise syndrome synonymous with former CEO Jack Welch. That dog eat dog culture seems to be biting its own tail.