Financial Markets

44% of Americans can’t raise $400 in an emergency. It is actually an improvement

IMG_0673.PNG

44%. This is actually an improvement on the 2015 survey that said 47% of Americans can’t raise $400 in an emergency without selling something. The consistency is the frightening part. The survey in 2013 showed 50% were under the $400 pressure line. Of the group that could not raise the cash, 45% said they would go further in debt and use a credit card to pay It off over time. while 25% would borrow from friends or family, 27% would forgo the emergency while the balance would turn to selling items or using a payday loan to get by. The report also noted just under a quarter of adults are not able to pay all of their current month’s bills in full while 25% reported skipping medical treatments due to the high cost in the prior year. Additionally, 28% of adults who haven’t retired yet reported to being largely unprepared, indicating no retirement savings or pension whatsoever. Welcome to a gigantic problem ahead. Not to mention the massive unfunded liabilities in the public pension system which in certain cases has seen staff retire early so they can get a lump sum before it folds.

Comey testimony proves media can’t stop playing the man rather than the ball

IMG_0114

Comey admitted in his testimony that he was never pressured by Trump to end any investigations. Damn and blast. The media has done another collective Rachel Maddow “we’ve got his tax returns” backfire. So insistent on trying to seek revenge they forgot the old Chinese proverb, “before setting out on revenge, first dig two graves.” So eager are they to play the man they overlook basic check sheets to find balance. Trump may well be a loose cannon at times but the media is the pot still calling the kettle black.

While I long argued Trump would win the election I’ve been an advocate of trying to seek balance to the one sided argument against him. It doesn’t mean I think he is ideal.  I disagree with many (not all) things he has done and petty things (like his attitude to Merkel) are certainly not fitting the most powerful office in the world. Trump derangement syndrome is none-the-less real. The media attack dogs never seek to do moral equivalence with their beloved Obama over the same supposed crimes of leaking sensitive info or whatever. I do think Trump is Turnbull-esque in lacking judgement as well as constant cabinet reshuffles but the most twisted irony is that financial markets would seem to want him there using any wobble on the back of an impeachment scenario as an excuse rather than admit the hyper asset bubble blown for 8 years.

The mainstream media now preys on clickbait. Thinking the number of clicks, likes and shares are endorsements and can replace quality content (as much as they self appraise it’s high value added factual). In fact the revenue numbers of media outlets who continually rant  is telling. Fairfax in Australia has had two rounds of layoffs in the space of 12 months and The Guardian is openly begging for donations.

The media is surely going to keep launching salvo after salvo to try get him out of office. As stupid as they keep suggesting the ‘orange baffoon” is he keeps getting their measure. I issue a caution though. The deplorables that voted him in want him to get on with the job. With all these distractions the quest that they hope will get them under the “have not” hole is pushed further into the future. Getting an impeachment to stick and force a resignation is not high on a have not’s priority list. They need help as I argued at the time of the election. Whether Trump can provide it is a moot point but they voted for change and the “haves” ought to be careful how they indirectly impact the “have nots”

The screaming, carrying on and promoting blood sport may end up creating proper civil unrest. It’s simmering but the media as usual is oblivious to it all. In any event the last thing the world needs is instability in the world’s largest economy at this point in a peaking cycle.

Are the Aussie major banks as greedy as made out?

IMG_0552

One would imagine that Turnbull and Morrison would consult the Treasury or the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to get a feel for the true state of bank greediness. Of course as a political point scorer it is an easy one because Aussie mortgage debt stress is so high and any relief that absolves their own accountability is a plus. Turnbull doesn’t worry about reality and given his supposed business acumen saw no need to consult the banks. Just Mug them in a back alley. Then wonder why they say in response to the proposed tax slug why employees, customers and shareholders will suffer in some way or another. Any conservative government knows that nearly all financial institutions operate for shareholders over customers. In a round about way customers can always choose to switch institutions if they find a better deal. Market forces keep some level of competition but the above chart shows that the return to shareholders for the evil major banks is at 24 yr lows. Profitability is well off the highs. So shareholders aren’t getting the spoils they are accused of. Of course low interest rate environments place extra pressure on net interest margins and they too are hovering at post GFC lows. Never mind. When trying to arrest disastrous polling Turnbull will happily put himself ahead of country. Even if it means dynamiting the tracks of the one sector that greases the wheels of the economy.

The McTurnbull Burger – 2017 budget that says ‘waistline be damned!’

mcturnbull

Remember the Big Mac jingo? “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles,  onions on a sesame seed bun?”  Well the 2017 budget From the Coalition might as well be called the super sized McTurnbull Burger. Two all thief parties, special porkies, levies, fees, spun on a $600bn dollar bomb. While the government needed to introduce a vegan budget of lentils, tofu and alfalfa to get the country’s nutrition properly sorted they’ve said waistline be damned. Morgan Spurlock couldn’t keep up with this super sized meal. As my wise sage Stu told me last week, “About as well-timed as Mining Super Profits tax – ding ding ding – top of the banking cycle just called by inept bureaucrats”

If people wanted a tax and spend party they’d have voted Labor. In a desperate attempt to supersize the meal they’ve made of the economy since Turnbull took office the debt ceiling will be raised. Wage growth has slowed for the past 5 years from 4% to under 2% according to the RBA. Throw higher Medicare on top why not?!. Cost of living is soaring. So let’s look at the extra calories they’ll inevitably load on the taxpayer.

1) Let’s tax the big 4 banks. That’ll work. What will they do as responsible shareholder owned organizations? Pass those costs straight on to the tapped out borrower where 1/3 mortgagees already under strain and 25% odd have less than a month of buffer savings. NAB already jacked interest only loans 50bps.

2) allowing retirees to park $300,000 tax free into super if they downsize their empty nest. Wow! So sell your $5mn waterfront property so you can park $300k tax free into superannuation. Can see those Mosmanites queue up to move to Punchbowl to retire. Hopefully the $1mn fibro former council shack the Punchbowl pensioner flips will mean they can move to a $500,000 demountable in Casula in order to free up the property market for the first home buyer who is getting stung with higher interest rates, .

3) Australia has a property bubble. The Reserve Bank has recently had an epiphany where they’re afraid to raise rates to crash the housing market and they can’t cut because they’ll fire it up more. Allowing creative superannuation deposit schemes (max $30,000 per person & $15k/year) to help with a deposit only doubles down on encouraging first home buyers to get levered up at the top of the market using a system designed to build a safety net for retirement. When governments start abusing sensible policies in ways it was never designed for then look out for trouble down the line. This doesn’t help first home buyers it just pushes up the hurdle to enter.

4) Australia’s credit rating is on the block. Australia’s main banks are 40% wholesale financed meaning they have to go out into the market unlike Japanese banks which are almost 100% funded by their depositors. Aussie banks could see a rise in their cost of funds which the RBA could do little to avoid. That will put a huge dent in the retail consumption figures.

5) speaking of credit cards. Have people noticed that average credit card limits have not budged in 7 years. If banks are confident in the ability of consumers to repay debt, they’d let out the limits to encourage them to splash out! Not so – see here for more details.

6) Infrastructure – I live in the land of big infrastructure. Jobs creation schemes which mostly never recover the costs – especially regional rail. The Sydney-Melbourne bullet train makes absolute sense. We only need look at the submarines to know that waste will be a reality.

7) small business – tax concessions of $20,000 not much to write home about. Small businesses thrive on a robust economy which is unlikely to occur given the backdrop. Once again this budget is based on rosy assumptions and you can bet your bottom dollar Australia won’t be back in surplus by 2021.

Some  media are talking of Turnbull & Morrison stealing the thunder of the Labor Party, providing a budget more akin to their platform. Sadly I disagree that this legitimizes Turnbull. It totally alienates his base, what is left of it. Tax the rich, give to the poor. Moreover voters see through the veneer. The stench of the Coalition is so on the nose that without ditching Turnbull they have no chance of keeping office. Labor is not much better and One Nation and other independents will hoover up disaffected voters by effectively letting the others dance around the petty identity political correctness nonsense.

In the end the McTurnbull Burger meal will look like the usual finished product which resembles nothing like the picture you see on the menu. A flattened combination of squished mush, soggy over-salted fries and a large Coke where the cup is 90% ice. Yep, the Coalition has spat between your buns too. This is a meal that won’t get voters queuing up for more. Well at least we know Turnbull remembers that smiles and selfies are free after all ‘he’s lovin’ it‘! After all virtue signaling is all that matters. All this to arrest some shoddy poll numbers which will unlikely last more than one week.

Bon chance! Macron aims to hollow out The City (of London)

IMG_0591.PNG

According to the French Consulate in London, there are around 400,000 French nationals living in Great Britain. ONS reports that there are 157,000 Brits living in France. A fair assessment would be because the working opportunities in the UK are more abundant than those in France. Indeed London is the 6th largest French city. Bigger than Nantes, Bordeaux or Strasbourg. London has always been the financial hub of Europe and Macron is promising to shift that to Paris. There are plenty of reasons why that won’t happen.

First, the latest survey on financial sector relevance puts London at #1. Financial sector relevance really revolves around one crucial thing – liquidity and sensible regulation that isn’t overly onerous.

President-elect Macron is discussing the idea of stealing up to 20,000 brains from London into Paris. The surest fire way to ensure that won’t happen is that the UK can easily nip this in the bud. If the EU looks to slap certain financial restrictions on banks that don’t comply then they’ll happily conduct business in places where they can. Macron should know that ‘liquidity attracts liquidity’. Put in roadblocks that inhibit it and capital will seek freer climes to operate in. UK can cover that put option simply and easily. Nothing tickles a banker’s appetite more than the ability to operate in a less restrictive environment. There is no reason a multinational company listed in Frankfurt would try to raise capital in Europe if the UK was half the cost. Goldman Sachs employs some of the best legal brains to get around any problem.

Money is more global than ever. Singapore is a good example of that. More and more robots are trading currencies, equities and commodities. ETFs abound. The financial services industry is shrinking in absolute number of employed. By way of example the number of registered securities professionals in Japan has more than halved in a decade.  So Macron can make all the half-baked knee jerk promises he likes but social media has a way of making everyone remember when it suits least.

I’m betting on Britain. National currency, national central bank and soon to be fully flexible policy setting. Speaking of currencies. Did you know that none of the bridges depicted on euro notes actually exist? They decided against on the basis that certain nations might get rubbed the wrong way if say Germany was on the 500 euro note and Rome was on the 5 euro note…that ought to tell us something.

Bon chance mon ami!

Twitter – Macron 66%, Le Pen 34%; Facebook – Macron 53%, Le Pen 47%

IMG_0575.PNGFor once the polls seem to reflect the Twitter stats. Since the first round, Macron has accumulated 66% of the Twitter follower growth vs 34% for Le Pen. Facebook follower growth on the same metric puts Le Pen at 47% of the growth vs Macron at 53%, As we gleaned from the first round, Macron had the third highest number of followers on Twitter but the fastest growth, with Le Pen 2nd. Twitter seemed to forecast better than Facebook.

IMG_0576When her father ran in 2002, Jean Marie Le Pen garnered only 17.9% of the second round. It would seem Marine Le Pen should double that number. That in and of itself is a massive shot across the bows of the establishment. Of course a Macron victory will be viewed by the EU as an endorsement when there could be nothing further from the truth.

We only need to see Tusk & Merkel’s slapdown of Juncker over Brexit in recent days to show the disharmony within the inner sanctum. Have you seen the latest Greek  bail-out negotiations? Talk about surrendering sovereignty to Brussels. Note the Conservatives gained 558 council seats in local elections this weekend by taking voters back from UKIP, which lost all but one of the 115 seats the party contested and Labour surrendering 320 seats, a margin which if replicated on June 8 will hand Theresa May a healthy majority. Brits want a hard Brexit not one built on compromises.

While there is some cachet in voting in the ‘youth’ in France we only need to look at Canada to see what an utter disaster Trudeau has been. His ratings are falling like a stone as Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose makes regular mince meat of him in Parliament. View any of their debates in parliament and Trudeau can’t string two sentences together.

In any event, markets should breathe a sigh of relief at a Macron victory although they’re pricing that already. Note that he is likely to be far more Trudeau than Alexander the Great and for France that will likely mean more of the same which will only give Le Pen far a better chance in 2022.

Why don’t firms hire staff like they’d choose a heart surgeon?

IMG_0571.PNG

How many times have I heard over my career senior management talk incessantly about the need for new blood yet when it comes to doing anything about it with regards to new hires 99% of the time  the safe cookie cutter is favoured over the left field choice. It is ever more so the truth in the post GFC world. Managers seem afraid to take calculated risks because the left-field candidate may jeopardize their own positions if he/she fails.

As an example managers in finance often fall foul of hiring exclusively within the industry. The level of inferiority complex can be so overwhelming that they fawn at the idea a Goldman Sachs employee will work for them for some ridiculous sum. Invariably they forget that Goldman hires duds too and usually those that get cast off are in that bucket. If you are properly good, there is no incentive to leave Goldman as the salaries, opportunities and product capabilities are too wonderful vs peers.

Yet many financial firms set upon trying to change the firm into a wannabe Goldman Sachs. They forget that their clients can already deal with Goldman directly should they feel the urge. Why on earth would they choose to deal with a wannabe copy? Surely each firm has a unique selling property that is of value to clients. Why not invest and promote that rather than overlook the talent within. Who honestly values flattery? Besides, there are so many cautionary tales with hiring ex-bulge bracket employees who are so used to being spoon fed every possible product line that they struggle immensely when they are required to actually put elbow grease into the job. It is uncanny.

Some firms occasionally hire from outside the industry with huge success. Instead of financial analysts pontificating about a stock, someone who has worked within the industry has a far better feel for cycles, internal decision processes and strategy that formulates under different points in the cycle. Clients glean that value. They couldn’t care less about the stock target or valuation metrics because that ultimately is the investor’s job. Besides the history of brokers behind the curve is etched in stone. Unique context and perspective trumps commoditization every time.

Some financial (and other) professionals have such checkered histories that one wonders how on earth they get rehired. If companies viewed their hiring decisions as akin to selecting a heart surgeon for a life threatening operation, many of these people would never make the cut (no pun intended) given the body count from previous poor execution. Yet many firms continue to put quacks in their ‘surgeries’ with expected disastrous results. Generally hiring managers run interference on these bad choices to cover their own mistakes.

Many HR surveys (including Harvard) show that bad hires end up costing way more than the salary when the cost of onboarding is included. Not only do companies potentially have to foot the cost of a headhunter (25-30% of salary is a standard fee) , what follows is poorer output, the potential for incumbent employees to become disgruntled at the new hire’s lack of ability and most worryingly an increase in dissatisfied customers. If they land a toxic employee that can damage team productivity to such an extent the best performers will seek challenges elsewhere.

So in a world that is getting harder and harder to succeed in, on what basis does conventional thinking bring anything to the table but more of the same? What does hiring a competitor do other than bring similar tactics? In fact, the more telling question is if they were knocking the lights out their success would permeate within their current employer. Unseating happy employees requires dynamite way over and above what they can probably afford.  What hirers often forget is the extent to which internal human capital plays a part. How awful does one’s human capital creation have to be to consider jumping ship?

That is where the left field choice comes into its own when hiring. A person genuinely looking for career change may well be doing it because they’ve tired of several decades of the same industry. They’ll likely come full of fresh ideas, out of the box solutions and lessons from a completely different background with the passion of a new graduate.

Many companies fail to adapt because the stupid questions don’t get asked by the incumbent staff for fear of ridicule. Yet someone eager to learn may ask the most basic of questions and ask “does it work?” One company I consult had a new boss join from HQ and he questioned why staff had meetings on such trivial matters? One staff member said “we’ve been doing it for 15 years!” When the boss said “does it work?” all replied ‘not really”. Yet they offered little in the way of proposals to change what was broken.

In a sense I see many businesses that operate in status quo mode where change if ever happens on a trivial or traumatic basis not through consistent due diligence and proactive leadership.

Think of it like asking an elderly person “if you had one more day to live what would you do?” “Well I’d play golf, take my wife to an expensive dinner and drive a Ferrari” If you asked Athenia”why don’t you do it now” the response would be “well I’m not dead yet!”

Look at the successful businesses around the world today and invariably the corporate culture is likely to be open and flexible. Bosses are prepared to hire people more qualified than them because they want to learn. Show me a company where inferior staff are hired to protect a manager and I’ll show you a dud business.

Which then goes back to the most important ingredient in a tech savvy smartphone world. Analog relationships. Look at the latest recruitment sites which ask candidates to fill in fields where a computer will sift through algorithms to screen. These systems remove the most important skill in selecting good candidates – gut feel. A good recruiter can understand a client’s needs far better than a computer. Besides if a computer is searching for terms fixated on what you’ve done and not what you want to do it will screen you out every time. What a wasted opportunity!

Human nature is uncanny. Risk taking is inevitable but instead of most people becoming  victims of change only a mere few will end up being agents of it and there will be no second guessing who dares wins! So instead of screening for the textbook definition of identity based diversity how about focus on diversity of thought!