Geopolitics

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. 

Could the message be any clearer for Theresa May?

The latest YouGov opinion poll has Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party at 28%, Labour at 22% and the Tories at 13%. Interestingly YouGov polled 5x as many people as usual. Very damning indictment on Theresa May’s lack of decisive leadership. The PM has had no authority from the beginning of this process and remaining (no pun intended) in the top job is toxic for the Conservatives.

Extinction Rebellion – instinctive revulsion

The lunacy is incredible. Carbon neutrality in the UK by 2025. Good luck with that. The Extinction Rebellion (ER) is the next radical left protest movement that seeks widespread civil disobedience, because in the words of one of the founders, “getting arrested can be quite fun.” Some have goals to see inside of a prison cell. CM suggests doing such protests in China where most of the “environmental” problem they fear lies. No doubt President Xi will warmly oblige requests for long stays in one of his many jails.

ER’s manifesto is a collection of web links to climate alarmist sites and comments. Pretty much every maximum alarmist reference has been uploaded. No balance in there.

Sadly they haven’t done much proof checking of the website contents. That’s what happens when one is foaming at the mouth kneeling at the altar of climate alarmism.

Note the following 3 examples

1) under pollution ER notes,

All forms of pollution were responsible in 2015 for an estimated 9 million premature deaths“.

Yet only one paragraph later it follows up with:

the very air we breathe is growing dangerously polluted: nine out of ten people now breathe polluted air, which kills 7 million people every year.

So deaths have gone down? Which is it?

2) The Great Barrier Reef

Corals reefs are suffering mass die-offs from heat stress.  These events are becoming much more common with back to back die-offs on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in 2016 and 2017.

Wrong again. The reef has been seen to be flourishing. Scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Sep 2017 surveyed 14 coral reefs between Cairns and Townsville to see how they fared after being bleached and were surprised to find the coral had already started to reproduce.

3) Rising sea levels

2°C warming  would threaten to inundate areas now occupied by 130 million people while increase to 4°C could lock in enough eventual sea level rise to submerge land currently home to 470 to 760 million people globally

Analysis using tide gauges and satellites showed 30 Pacific and Indian Ocean atolls including 709 islands, revealed that no atoll lost land area and that 88.6% of islands were either stable or increased in area, while only 11.4% contracted. What sea level rise? The most experienced is around. 1mm pa.

Maybe we should feel safer in the knowledge that ER co-founder, Gail Bradbrook, flew to Costa Rica to have a high dose of a psychedelic substance (iboga) which induced visions according to the FT. Should we put her eR movement down to the hallucinations and anxiety caused by the drug?

Two certainties.

We can be sure ER will not be a peaceful conscientious objector (charges for property damage already reported) and CM was right to cancel his FT subscription given they thought giving these loonies any airtime was warranted.

That sinking feeling?

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We are often told how robust the world economy is. Global trade tends to be a good indicator. Looking at the latest Clarkson’s December 2018 annual review, we can see that the number of shipyards that make the vessels (20,000dwt+) that look after global trade has slid from a peak of 306 in 2009 to 127. Newbuild orders have slid from 2,909 vessels to 708. Wärtsilä is anticipating a gradual recovery in contract new builds as high as 1,200 ships by 2022. Wishful thinking?

According to Clarksons, the global fleet of all types of commercial shipping is 50% larger than it was before the GFC despite the World Trade Organization saying growth in global trade for 2019 is expected to fall 2.9%. The WTO has fingers crossed for 2020. The charts in this WTO report show the sharp slowdown in freight in Q4 2018 and Jan 2019.

Germany’s five leading ship financiers reported outstanding ship-related loans of 59 billion euros at the end of 2016 with an average problem loan ratio of 37%. In recent years they have been busy reducing or selling off shipping portfolios. HSH Nordbank required a 10 billion euro bailout by its 85% owners, federal states Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein. It ended up being swallowed by private equity and renamed Hamburg Commercial Bank. Nord LB was looking to bail in Bremer LB beyond the 54.8% it already owns. Bremer LB had to write off  €400m of its shipping portfolio.

China has been aggressive, filling the void left by the Germans with high leverage financing to support the longer-term objectives of the Belt & Road Initiative. One wonders whether China plans to spoil the market by squeezing a damaged sector further. It wasn’t so long ago that South Korea’s  Hanjin Shipping went bust.

BTIG reported that ship scrapping in Q1 2019 was up 35% to 107,000dwt. Ship owners tend to scrap ships if the cost of idling or operating them exceeds this. Note Capesize shipping rates have fallen to around $9,000/day well below the $25,000 breakeven rate. The bellwether Baltic Dry Index is 27% down year on year and 85% below the peak levels seen in 2009.

The shipping industry has been sick for a decade. The majors have been busy merging, cutting debt and right sizing. Unfortunately it is  still in a pickle. A global slowdown will only exacerbate the issues in the industry.

The one area that looks interesting is the scrubber makers (eg Alfa Laval, Valmet, Fuji Electric). There has been a sharp uptick in growth for retro-fitting pollution equipment to existing ships instead of buying new equipment. Sometimes the best investments come when industries that require massive consolidation hit breaking point.

Populist Finns Party set to more than double number of seats

The nationalist, anti-immigrant and eurosceptic Finns Party is set to grow seats from 17 in 2015 to 38 in today’s election, or represent around 17% of parliament. The party election video is an interesting one to say the least.

Whatever one’s personal views on populism, in Europe it is the fastest growing segment in politics. With 118m Europeans below the poverty line, 50% higher than 2007 is it any wonder the citizens of many member states have had enough of EU control. Finland has only 15.7% (up from 12.6% in 2007) poverty as a percentage vs 22.4% (16% in 2007) in the EU-28 but that is enough to trigger the ice cold welfare state to revolt.

Mrs May, do you understand more EU members don’t want to be held captive by Brussels?

Profligacy paid for by wishful thinking

Lots of promises. Lots of grand assumptions. To be honest, best just ignore the minutiae. It’s a complete waste of time. The biggest question is, if the global economy, by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s own admission, is slowing down (just look at government bond yields flattening/gone negative) how on earth is Australia going to grow receipts from $485.2bn in 2018/19 to $566.9b in 2021/22? A 17% growth in tax revenue. Expenses will rise from $487bn to $559.9bn respectively. Give aways +15%. Best hope the world economy doesn’t tank. Expenses are locked in. Tax revenues aren’t.

Worse, these projections have all been massaged higher than the 2018-19 budget. What has changed to our overall net position in the last 12 months to gain such confidence? Climate alarmists would blush at the extent of the upward massaging of numbers. Did Treasury sit down after consuming 3 bottles of Absinthe to come up with these revisions? Think about it. How can we get an extra $5.9bn in tax receipts in 2021-22 when conditions are sure to be worsening?

This is NOT an old school Coalition budget by any measure. This is a crossing fingers, closing the eyes and hoping we muddle through budget. If the proverbial hits the fan, a monster deficit is assured. Take it to the bank.

We are technically at full employment. Unless we embark on mass migration (which we’re looking to cut) how will flat wage enduring Aussies and corporates contribute to a 17% rise in the Canberra coffers? Wishful thinking. The government targets around 23.9% of GDP for tax receipts and pats itself on the back for “the government’s average real spending growth is expected to be the lowest of any Commonwealth government in over 50 years.” Although that claim is dispelled by their own tables contained here.

Cutting taxes can create more tax revenue. Poland sliced its corporate taxes in half in 2004 and doubled revenue. However that was more a grey money grab than pure unadulterated tax policy spurring public revenue growth.

Giving away more money to the middle class through tax cuts and hand outs in the hope they spend more seems wishful thinking. The problem is if global growth hits a wall, we don’t have a Howard/Costello surplus to buffer the storm. No $38bn backstop in the war chest.

China, the US and EU are struggling. Things are so bad in the US that the Federal Reserve had to chicken out of any more rate rises because it would tank the economy. Our growth will stall if the world slows. Forget 28 straight years of continuous growth in Australia. The knock on effects will see unemployment surge, consumption fall off a cliff, housing prices crash and tax revenues slump. Forget a $7.1bn surplus. Think $20bn deficit because the promises are too grand and the tax receipts blindingly optimistic.

Of note in the 2019-20 budget is the expansion of the ATO’s tax grab from evil multinationals and HNW individuals who’ve avoided paying their fair share. That will result in a $3.612bn extr over the next 4 years. That against the $5.74bn tax cut for middle class Aussies over the same period. Spending up everywhere. Just not sure why the Treasury hasn’t pointed to where the extra revenue is coming from.

Take the assumptions of 2.75% GDP growth flat to 2020/21. Unrealistic. Treasury assumes the same labour force participation rate with unemployment remaining to 5% and wage growth of 3.25% in 2020/21, up from 2.1%. All looks so simple. Yet inflation is expected to grow to 2.5% meaning real wages will be flat.

Aussies, saddled under 180% debt to GDP, shouldn’t take any sense of comfort from this budget. What Frydenberg presented tonight was nothing more than a hope that the most rosy scenarios play out when thunder clouds are so obviously rolling in. It’s utterly irresponsible. Yet that’s today’s political class – spineless. They’re unprepared to tell Aussies that they have to be prepared to live with much less. Instead of asking us to tighten our belts, a whole load of freebies that can’t be paid for end in our laps so they can hold on to power for a bit longer.