Entrepreneur

Tale of the gold coin chocolate & a warning for Tesla Disciples

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It hadn’t really hit until going back to read the conditions of Musk’s new executive compensation package but the first thing that struck me was the risk of the old adage of paying too much attention to the share price. The collection of all 12 tranches for CEO Elon Musk only kicks in when his company hits $650bn in market cap. The first thing to pop in the head was that of Japanese mobile phone retailer Hikari Tsushin back during the tech bubble. The rather eccentric CEO Yasumitsu Shigeta had gold coin chocolates made embossed with “Hikari Tsushin: Target Market Cap Y100 trillion.” One could only conclude he believed in his own BS.

It was at that moment where the only thing that crossed the mind was ‘this spells trouble’. There were magazines like Forbes touting how Shigeta was one of the richest men in the world and analysts fell hook, line and sinker for this unrealistic dream forecasting he’d be #1 before long. The only rational conclusion for the Contrarian Marketplace was to tell them that “bet he won’t be in the top 100 next year.”  Low and behold the tech bubble collapsed and Hikari Tsushin – that believed it was worth 2x the market cap of then highest valued corporation in the world, General Electric – fell over 95%.

While Musk may not yet have printed target market cap $650bn gold coin chocolates, what the incentives are saying to the market is that his company needs to 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?

Once again, this compensation package screams of gold coin chocolates in mentality. Instead of running the business and letting the share price do the talking, the mindset is focused on launching convertibles into space and distracting investors from increasingly dreadful financial results which eventually must come full circle if the results continue to miss. Broader Tesla report here.

Tesla is trucking kidding itself

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Tesla has bagged 55 orders for the semi so far. Although it is no surprise that no major truck hauling companies have signed up. Funny that. To expect trucking companies who operate under strict cashflow constraints (afterall they’re businesses not wealthy consumers) to give Musk a $200,000 upfront deposit (aka interest free loan) per ‘founder series’ truck is to put in Tesla lexicon – ludicrous. Truck companies, as CM wrote in its 30 reasons why Tesla is likely to be a bug on a windshield, are conservative. They want to see the technology proven in the field before just forking over $150-200,000 and hoping for the best. Were the technology or charging infrastructure to come up short then the whole economic proposition would come unstuck.

The Tesla trucks are roughly 30% to 70% more expensive than diesel trucks which have up to triple the range on full tanks. Many new 2018 diesel models are available now at $120k vs Tesla’s $150k (300mi range) and $180k (500mi range).

If we used the $60,000 more expensive Tesla Semi can to recoup the difference then it will need to be driven 240,000 miles using the $.25/saving per mile vs diesel Tesla number. Some estimates suggest payback in 3-4 years.

One former trucking company planner wrote,

I was surprised when I saw this “two-year” payback period quoted by Musk last week and repeated on the website. Two years? Really? He had just gotten through showing us an operational cost savings of $.25 per mile over diesel.

Well if I am going to pay back the truck I need those savings to equal the purchase price in two years. Well $180,000 divided by $.25 is 720,000 miles or 360,000 miles per year. That is not even physically possible. A truck would have to drive non-stop for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at an average speed of 41 mph. Subtract out recharging time of 30 minutes every six hours or two hours per day and four hours per day for loading and unloading and the truck must average 54.7 miles per hour for every mile driven. It is impossible to do.

My big trucks ran long trips moving from coast to coast or north to south. I pulled out my records just for the fun of it and my trucks averaged 13,000 miles per month in summer months and under 10,000 in winter months because of weather and tougher loading and unloading conditions. Most trucks ran about 120,000 miles per year maximum even with driver teams. This was due in many cases to operational time limits of over-sized loads (half hour before sunrise until half hour after sunset is mandatory in many states for safety reasons).“

Whether the new Tesla Roadster or Tesla Semi this new deposit scheme is actually more telling than the vehicles themselves. This can be none other than a cash grab interest free loans to keep the thing alive. I salute Musk for his pioneering spirit but playing with the big boys is never easier done than said. Can’t wait to see the cashflow numbers in Q4 reporting early next year. If we get a worsening of this chart beware.

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Perhaps we can also find some amusement in Tesla’s competitor (Nikola) tweets

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The beauty of honesty

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The above quote is from quirky fund manager Dr Michael Burry MD towards the end of the movie, The Big Short. It says so much of today. One mate who is a very decent asset manager in Australia wrote to his clients, “I realise such may fly in the face of typical adviser recommendations (show me how someone is paid and I’ll show you how they will behave) however, I would rather lose a client than lose a client’s capital.

We share similar views on the state of the global capital markets. We joked about his long message to his investors sounding like Jerry Maguire burning the midnight oil writing the “fewer clients, less money” manifesto which got him sacked.

Now that our world is moving further and further toward automated everything including pre-emptive responses (which I scoffed out the other day about LinkedIn) it is truly refreshing to see this authentic honesty. The irony is that as much as machines are pushing us into ever tighter time windows, humans instinctively carry long term memory whether trauma or positive life events.

May your honesty be paid back in spades when those you saved a bundle recall your genuine gesture.

Tesla – 30 reasons it will likely end up a bug on a windshield

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Contrarian Marketplace ー Tesla – 30 Reasons it will likely be a bug on a windshield

Contrarian Marketplace Research (CMR) provides 30 valid reasons to show Tesla (TSLA) is richly valued. Institutional investors have heard many of the financial arguments of its debt position, subsidies, cash burn and other conventional metrics. What CMR does is give Tesla all the benefits of the doubt. Even when extended every courtesy based on Tesla’s own 2020 production target of 1,000,000 vehicles and ascribing the margins of luxury makers BMW Group (BMW GR) & Daimler (DAI GR) the shares are worth 42% less than they are today. When stacked up against the lower margin volume manufacturers, the shares are worth 83% less. There is no fuzzy math involved. It is merely looking through a different lens. We do not deny Tesla’s projected growth rates are superior to BMW or DAI but the risks appear to be amplifying in a way that exposes the weak flank of the cult that defines the EV maker- ‘production hell’.

Follow social media feeds and Tesla’s fans bathe in the cognitive dissonance of ownership and their charismatic visionary, CEO Elon Musk. No-one can fault Musk’s entrepreneurial sales skills yet his business is at the pointy end of playing in the major leagues of mass production, which he himself admitted 18 months ago was a ‘new’ challenge. Let us not kid ourselves. This is a skill that even Toyota, the undisputed king of manufacturing, a company that has coined pretty much every industrial efficiency jargon (JIT, Kanban, Kaizen) has taken 70 years to hone. It might have escaped most investors’ attention but Lockheed Martin called on Toyota to help refine the manufacturing processes of the over budget F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. If that is not a testament to the Japanese manufacturer’s brilliance Tesla is effectively Conor McGregor taking on Aichi’s version of Floyd Mayweather.

Yet Tesla’s stock has all the hallmarks of the pattern we have seen so many times – the hype and promise of disruptors like Ballard Power, GoPro and Blackberry which sadly ended up in the dustbin of history as reality dawned. Can investors honestly convince themselves that Tesla is worth 25x more than Fiat Chrysler (a company transformed) on a price to sales ratio? 10x Mercedes, which is in the sweet spot of its model cycle?

Conventional wisdom tells us this time is different for Tesla. Investors have been blinded by virtue signalling governments who are making bold claims about hard targets for EVs even though those making the promises are highly unlikely to even be in office by 2040. What has not dawned on many governments is that 4-5% of the tax revenue in most major economies comes from fuel excise. Fiscal budgets around the world make for far from pleasant viewing. Are they about to burn (no pun intended) such a constant tax source? Do investors forget how overly eager governments made such recklessly uncosted subsidies causing the private sector to over invest in renewable energy sending countless companies to the wall?

Let us not forget the subsidies directed at EVs. The irony of Tesla is that it is the EV of the well-heeled. So the taxes of the lawnmower man with a pick-up truck are going to pay for the Tesla owned by the client who pays his wages to cut the lawn. Then we need look no further than the hard evidence of virtue signalling owners who run the other way when the subsidies disappear.

To prove the theory of the recent thought bubbles made by policy makers, they are already getting urgent emails from energy suppliers on how the projections of EV sales will require huge investment in the grid. The UK electricity network is currently connected to systems in France, the Netherlands and Ireland through cables called interconnectors. The UK uses these to import or export electricity when it is most economical. Will this source be curtailed as nations are forced into self-imposed energy security?

So haphazard is the drive for EV legislation there are over 200 cities in Europe with different regulations. In the rush for cities to outdo one another this problem will only get worse. Getting two city councils to compromise is one thing but 200 or more across country lines? Without consistent regulations, it is hard to build EVs that can accommodate all the variance without boosting production costs. On top of that charging infrastructure is an issue. Japan is a good example. Its EV growth will be limited by elevator parking and in some suburban areas, where car lots are little more than a patch of dirt where owners are unlikely to install charging points. Charging and battery technology will keep improving but infrastructure harmonisation and ultimately who pays for the cost is far from decided. With governments making emotional rather than rational decisions, the only conclusion to be drawn is unchecked virtuous bingo which will end up having to be heavily compromised from the initial promises as always.

Then there are the auto makers. While they are all making politically correct statements about their commitments to go full EV, they do recognise that ultimately customers will decide their fate. A universal truth is that car makers do their best to promote their drivetrains as a performance differentiator to rivals. Moving to full EV removes that unique selling property. Volkswagen went out of its way to cheat the system which not only expressed their true feelings about man-made climate change but hidden within the $80bn investment is the 3 million EVs in 2042 would only be c.30% of VW’s total output today. Even Toyota said it would phase out internal combustion in the 2040s. Dec 31st, 2049 perhaps?

Speaking to the engineers of the auto suppliers at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show, they do not share the fervour of policy makers either. It is not merely the roll out of infrastructure, sourcing battery materials from countries that have appalling human rights records (blood-cobalt?) but they know they must bet on the future. Signs are that the roll out will be way under baked.

While mean reversion is an obvious trade, the reality is that for all the auto makers kneeling at the altar of the EV gods, they are still atheists at heart. The best plays on the long side are those companies that happily play in either pond – EV or ICE. The best positioned makers are those who focus on cost effective weight reduction – the expansion of plastics replacing metal has already started and as autonomous vehicles take hold, the enhanced safety from that should drive its usage further. Daikyo Nishikawa (4246) and Toyoda Gosei (7282) are two plastics makers that should be best positioned to exploit those forking billions to outdo each other on tech widgets by providing low cost, effective solutions for OEMs. Amazing that for all of the high tech hits investors pray to discover, the dumb, analogue solution ends up being the true diamond in the rough!

Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (by country)

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In an ever growing world of haves vs have nots, Elliman has released an interesting update on the statues of global wealth and where it is likely to head over the next decade. It suggests North America has 73,100 UNHWIs at an average of $100mn each or $7.31 trillion. To put that in perspective 73,100 North Americans have as much wealth as Japan & France’s annual output combined. Over the next decade they expect 22,700 to join the ranks.

Europe has 49,650 UHNWI also at the magical $100mn mark (presumably the cut off for UHNWI or the equivalent of Japan.

Asia is growing like mad with $4.84 trillion split up by 46,000 or $105mn average. In a decade there are forecast to be 88,000 UHNWIs in Asia.

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I am not sure what the World Bank was smoking when coming up with the coming forecasts I’ve rthe next decade but the figures smel fishy.  Then it all comes down to this chart.

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1) Political uncertainty? Everywhere you look – Trump, Brexit, Catalonia, Australia, France, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Hungary, Poland etc etc

2) Potential fall in asset values – looks a very high chance of that. Current asset bubbles are almost everywhere – bonds, equities, real estate etc

3) Rising taxes – maybe not the US or Canada (if you follow the scrutiny over Finance Minister Morneau), but elsewhere taxes and or costs of living for the masses are rising

4) Capital controls – China, India etc

5) Rising interest rates – well the US tax cuts should by rights send interest rates creeping higher. A recent report showed 57% of Aussies couldn’t afford an extra $100/month in mortgage – a given if banks are forced to raise lending rates due to higher funding costs (40% is wholesale finance – the mere fact the US is raising rates will only knock on to Aus and other markets).

Surely asset prices at record levels and all of the other risk factors seemingly bumping into one another…

So while UHNWIs probably weather almost any storm, perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves that the $100mn threshold might get lowered to $50m. It reminds me of a global mega cap PM who just before GFC had resplendent on his header “nothing under $50bn market cap”. Post GFC that became $25bn then eventually $14bn…at which point I suggested he change the header entirely.

I had an amusing discourse on LinkedIn about crypto currencies. The opposing view was that this is a new paradigm (just like before GFC) and it would continue to rise ( I assume he owns bit coins). He suggested it was like a promissory note in an electronic form so has a long history dating back millennia. I suggested that gold needs to be dug out of the ground – there is no other way. Crypto has huge risk factors because it is ultimately mined in cyber space. State actors or hackers can ruin a crypto overnight. There have already been hacking incidents that undermine the safety factor. It does’t take a conspiracy theory to conjure that up. To which he then argued if it all goes pear shaped, bitcoin was a more flexible currency. Even food would be better than gold. To which I suggested that a border guard who is offering passage is probably already being fed and given food is a perishable item that gold would probably buy a ticket to freedom more readily as human nature can adapt hunger far more easily in the fight for survival. I haven’t heard his response yet.

In closing isn’t it ironic that Bitcoin is now split into two. The oxymornically named Bitcoin Gold is set to be mined by more people with less powerful machines, therefore decentralizing the network further and opening it up to a wider user base. Presumably less powerful machines means fewer safeguards too although it will be sold as impervious to outsiders. Of course the idea is to widen the adoption rate to broaden appeal. Everyone I know who owns Bitcoin can never admit to its short comings. Whenever anything feels to be good to be true, it generally is. Crypto has all the hallmarks of a fiat currency if I am not mistaken? While central banks can print furiously, they will never compete with a hacker who can digitally create units out of thin air. Fool’s Gold perhaps? I’ll stick to the real stuff. I’ll take 5,000 years of history over 10 years any day of the week.

Why MiFID2 is like Spectre and why 007 needs Q more than ever

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Risk is a great leveler. Everyone has different thresholds of it. Of course when you’re young, risk is easier to take. Have a family, take on a mortgage, private tuition and heaven forbid you get wiped out in a divorce – the risk reward equation is constantly swinging. Catching up with an old client last night put a smirk on my face. In 2018 MiFID2 comes to life. For financial markets people it is the latest EU regulations which has many service providers in a blind panic. Investment clients will have to select “research” He spoke of the current equity broker market being a bit like a huge buffet. Lots of selection but hardly a Michelin star in sight. He said he’d met with many bulge bracket brokers who are all tinkering at the edges. Never before has the dangers of not taking risk been greater. While Musk might be tearing up the EV world, MiFID2 is a massive disruptor for financial services and the collective might of the alpha egos inside it can’t summon a slither of courage to be different.

It is easy to hide behind compliance. If I had my way I’d staff compliance with lawyers rather than those with a penchant for saying “no”. MIFID2 is such a huge chance yet all brokers are like rabbits in a headlight. A lawyer will tell you how far you can go. A compliance officer is more worried about protecting his own hide so maximum risk off is the safest option. So worried about compliance are finance companies in some circumstances they outnumber the people they’re assigned to police. Name me one prison where guards outnumber inmates?

The latest trend is to hire product managers. Enlightened ones who are entrusted to revolutionize the research offering. One asked what makes a good product manager? I replied one that is prepared to completely blow up the old model. More importantly one whose management will give him or her carte blanche to start a revolution and to act decisively on hiring analysts with true out of the box vision. Yet time and time again these senior managerial risk experts turn into complete novices and hire conservative group thinkers who have no desire to rock the boat. Throw on top the outsourcing to aggregators like SmartKarma and all you have is an even bigger buffet of substandard gourmet. The aggregator model will not be a success unless it reforms to have serious quality control of which it claims it has but in reality hasn’t.

MiFID2 is a bit like Spectre in a Bond film. The baddie Bond girl is like the client. The equity broker is Bond. If it wasn’t for 007’s array of gadgets from Q-branch (research) he’d be toast. The new breed of product managers (Q) are not creative enough to give equity salespeople (007) the upper hand to woo the baddie Bond girl. The problem is even worse because under MiFID 007 will be unable to use carefully rehearsed lines, expensive meals or fancy sports cars to catch his prey. So without a creative Q, brokers will end up being annihilated by the baddie Bond girl without even so much as a kiss in her death grip. Sadly baddie Bond girl needs to justify her actions to Spectre. Too. She won’t waste time in meeting M to plead her conversion. Quite frankly if 007 can’t deliver the goods she has every right to feel no emotion if he dies.

Q has always been the innovator. The one trying to stay well ahead of the curve. Let’s face it. Every Bond film we see comes out with something new to dazzle. Baddie Bond girl is never easily impressed so without properly engaging, well thought out, reasoned and in depth balanced research, 007 will die a slow death chewing on his high calorie low quality buffet which Q unimaginatively sprinkled Tabasco on.

Baddie Bond girl wants to be charmed. Like Pussy Galore ditching the poison gas canisters for a mild sleeping agent over Fort Knox, Baddie Bond girl will be only too happy to oblige switching broker repellent for commission dollars if Q makes the difference.

So to me MiFID 2 is an absolute bounty for the Michelin star research providers. Ones who give clients such a gustation experience that they can’t wait to book another opportunity to pay for another culinary experience.

In closing perhaps the biggest schadenfreude in all of this is three realization of how internal politics which have driven sell side bonuses gets exposed when next to no clients want to dine at their smorgasbord.

I’m no fan of MiFID2 but now that it is coming I see it as a huge opportunity rather than a sign to wave the white flag. Bring on January 2018.

 

The best way to insult women is to enforce gender quotas

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What is it with the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and the plan to enforce gender quotas for private businesses bidding on government projects? What an insult to women. To imply that somehow women are so lacking in quality, intelligence or skill to be selected on their own merit that this quango needs to step up and address gender imbalance. Furthermore it suggests that men are clearly biased in their hiring policies. One of my best bosses was female. She now runs her own company in the UK and is connected better than almost anyone I know. She has never wilted in the face of a man’s world and has a work ethic that would put almost anyone to shame. She has made it by herself without the need for state sponsored free kicks. What is it with the interview  process now that we need to put gender or sexual orientation ahead of ability? Surely any rational company tries to hire the best possible candidate regardless.

I run a business where 50% of my staff are women. Nothing to do with gender but ability. I even pay them more than me. However as an independent business it survives on the ability to execute and I base all hires on that premise. I don’t care if they are LGBT, Muslim, Christian or atheist. Why is the AHRC trying to dictate who I hire for my business? Surely tax payers want the best return on their money so if my business can provide it why should my hiring practices be brought into question? All of a sudden my firm’s profitability may be impacted by having to hire less talented people to fill a pointless quota.

To apply it across industries is also kind of ridiculous. Looking at the table above I would imagine that the AHRC would view Education & Training and Healthcare & Social Assistance, two areas women totally dominate, as fair game. If men were to protest at the  gap in those industries they’d be laughed out of the AHRC offices.

88% of men employed in construction is likely down to the nature of the industry. Chippies, sparkies or brickies tend to be male. It isn’t due to sexism or discrimination rather, once would imagine, interest. Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins on the other hand has told the federal government to take “disruptive action’’ to enforce gender quotas.

Contractors would have to prove that they have “gender-balanced shortlists’’ for job ­interviews. “This means that the gender balance in the organisation would be 40 per cent men and 40 per cent women, with the remaining 20 per cent unallocated to allow for flexibility,’’ Ms Jenkins said.

However we live in a victimhood culture these days meaning we must pander to making everyone a winner regardless of whether they’ve actually made an effort. Every successful woman I’ve ever met got to where she is through her own talent, intelligence and ability.