Greater Depression

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.

Debunking Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)

Corp Profit

While the Dow & S&P500 indices grind back higher thanks to the US Fed chickening out on a rate rise in because the economy can’t handle it, many people still overlook the fact that core US profitability has tracked sideways since 2012. 6 years of next to nada. Sure one can boost profits by adding back unrealistic  “inventory adjustments” but the reality is plain and simple. If you search for inventory adjusted earnings they’re still marginally growing but there in lies the point. Real profits aren’t.

Record buybacks fueled by cheap debt is the cause for ‘flattered’ earnings. No growth in E  just falls in S.  EPS growth can look spectacular if you ignore 50% of US corporates have BBB credit ratings or worse.

The latest lexicon is “modern monetary theory” (MMT). The idea that the central banks just manipulate markets in perpetuity. Austerity is no longer needed. Central banks print money and extinguish debts the same way. Seriously why bother with taxation? The question is if it is meant to be a sure winner, why aren’t we all living in 5 bedroom mansions with a Mercedes Benz and a Porsche in the driveway? Why not a helicopter?

Logically if central banks can buy our way out of this debt ridden hellhole, why is growth so anemic? Why is European GDP being cut back? Why is German industrial production at its worst level since 2009? Why does Salvini want to jail the Italian central bankers? Why does the Yellow Vest movement in France carry on for its 15th consecutive week? If MMT works why would the EU care if the UK leaves with No Deal? MMT can solve everything for unelected bureaucrats in theory. Even £39bn can be printed

Last year the US Fed announced it had stopped reporting its balance sheet activity. In 2006 it stopped reporting M3 money supply. Curious timing when inside 2 years the world was flung into the worst recession since 1929. Transparency is now a danger for authorities.

The question boils down to one of basic sanity. All assets are priced relative to others. It’s why an identical house with a view in a nice neighborhood trades at a relatively higher price than one in a outer suburban back lot. The market attributes extra value even if the actual dwelling is a carbon copy. It is why currencies in banana republics trade by appointment and inflation remains astronomical. Investors don’t trust their ability to repay debts unless given extremely favorable terms. Market forces at work.

To put the shoe on the other foot, if all countries adopted MMT why bother buying bonds for retirement? The interest is merely backed by a printing press. Best consume 100% and save zero. The government has moved beyond moral hazard and hopes no one will notice

Take a look at Japan. It has $10 trillion in outstanding debt which is 2x its economy. The Bank of Japan owns 60% of that paper bought through a printing press. The market for JGBs is so manipulated that several Japanese mega banks have handed back their trading licenses because it has become worthless to be on that exchange. The BoJ thinks it can make whatever prices it chooses. The ultimate aim is to convert all of the outstanding debt into a zero coupon perpetual bond with a minor ‘administration’ fee in order to assign some value to it. To the layman, a zero coupon perpetual means you get no interest on the money you lend and the borrower is technically never required to pay the borrowed amount back. Such loans are made by parents to their children, not central banks to politicians (although one could be forgiven to think their behaviour is child like).

Yet the backdrop remains the same. Consumers are tapped out in many countries. Lulled by a low interest rates forever mentality, even minute rises to stem inflation (real is different to reported) hurt. My credit card company constantly sends emails to offer to transfer balances at 9% as opposed to the 20% they can charge if I don’t pay in full.

APRA recently relented on interest only mortgages after demanding it be tightened to prevent a housing bubble getting bigger. Now mortgage holders hope the RBA cuts rates to ease their pain.

Like most new fads, MMT can’t remove the ultimate dilemma that Milton Friedman told us half a century ago. Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. One can’t hope that putting money in the hands of everyone can be sustainable.

The one lesson that we should have learnt from GFC was that living at the expense of the future has rapidly diminishing returns. All we did was double down on that stupidity.

Do we think it normal that Sydney house prices  trade at levels the Japanese property bubble did in the late 1980s? Do we realize that we hold as much mortgage debt than Japanese banks did for a population 5x our size? Do we think that our banks are adequately stress tested? When an economy like ours has avoided recession for a quarter century, it builds complacency.

MMT is nothing more than a figment of the imagination. It preys on the idea that we won’t notice if we can’t see it. Unfortunately behind the scenes, the real economy can’t sustain the distortions. The French make the best modern day example of  a growing number of Main Streeters struggling  to make ends meet.

Central banks monkeying around with MMT smacks of all the same hubris of the past. It is experimental at best and reckless at worst. Markets can be manipulated for as long as confidence can be sustained. Lose the market’s trust and all of a sudden no amount of modern day jargon  can overcome what economists have known for millennia.

If you flood a global economy with cash at 5x the rate the economy can feasibly grow then it will ultimately require bigger and bigger hits to get the same bang before the jig is up. It’s a Ponzi scheme. Bernie Madoff got 120 years jail. Why not the central bankers?

So what is the best asset out there? Gold. It can’t be printed. It requires effort to discover it and dig it out of the ground. Of course the barbouros relic deserves to be consigned to the dustbin of history. If that were so Fort Knox might as well leave the gate open. The more it is hated only makes this contrarian investor want it more.

Down and out in Davos

Davos is likely to be unlike any gone before it. Lucky for the globalist elitists who like to rug up in mink collar lined Moncler down jackets, Trump won’t be there to verbal them over their blatant double standards. Ironically the fact he isn’t going is more evidence of their inability to self reflect rather than the other way around. Trump is hardly an eloquent mouthpiece at the best of times but his words and stance around nationalism resonate far wider than the €200 Chateau Briande chewing wealthy will be prepared to admit at Davos.

France. As the Gilets Jaune (Yellow Vest) movement rolls into week 9, where has the media been reporting it? Macron would normally attend the Davos mob as “the poster child” but he can’t because of the domestic situation. Should he show up to hug his globalist chums, the chaos at home would exacerbate. This is no small matter for the proponents of world government. We shouldn’t forget Marine LePen is polling higher than Macron. Nor should we overlook the fact she won 35% of the 2nd round vote, twice the level ever seen in the anti-EU Front National’s history.

Germany isn’t much better. Although Frau Merkel will be in Davos. Despite stepping down from the rotting carcass her policies have turned her party into, she’ll be fawned over at the matriarch. Deutschland, the paragon of the EU’s economic chest beating, saw industrial production plunge 4.7% in November, its worst showing since the GFC. The fastest rising party in Germany, the anti-immigrant AfD, whose chairman was bashed to within an inch of his life, plans to be far more open about jettisoning the EU going forward. Yet more anti-globalist forces at the gate.

Italy has felt the wrath of EU meddling in ratifying its latest budget. Despite 60% of the country voting in eurosceptic parties last year, the EU is still pushing its weight around via the ECB. Italians are far from pleased with Brussels. Many of her banks in the south are carrying nose bleed territory bad debts which make them technically insolvent. Italians want out.

Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have openly rejected globalism and any shaming from the Bullies from Brussels has only led to bigger majorities handed to them by their citizens.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has made it clear that illegal immigration is not for them, no matter how much UN global compacts or EU directives want to encourage it. Why else would he appoint a member of the anti-immigrant FPO as the minister for that portfolio?

PM Rutte of The Netherlands lost seats in the last election, mainly to Geert Wilders’ anti immigrant PVV. The socialist parties were all but annihilated.

UK PM Theresa May is looking on shaky ground to pass her version of Brexit through the Commons. Even Jaguar’s woes in China are supposedly the fault of Brexit. Even the iconic brand’s UK sales are up 76% since 2013. Surely it’s macroeconomic headwinds not leaving the EU that is driving this. Despite all the scare stories from the BoE, the people aren’t buying it. The UK has its highest ever petition signed to get parliament to vote for “No Deal”. So much for the expert’s advice!?

There is a groundswell movement the establishment continues to ignore. Famous economists giving fire side chats to out of touch journalists don’t convince the people who aren’t living these utopian dreams espoused from Davos.

Davos seems a bit like an Oscars gathering. The audience they are appealing to are increasingly looking the other way and tuning out. It matters not whether some believe we need to show more compassion and embrace global cooperation. The people in charge of selling it could not muck up the messaging and execution of said plans if they had a mandate to do so.

Davos 2019 may well see its proclamations become little more than rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We’ve been so overdue an economic correction and the little bigoted people increasingly trying to protect their own interests are already telling us they’re knee deep in recession already. At the same time they’re sick of their leaders legislating against them for supposed intolerance.

Maybe France is the globalist canary in the coal mine. Macron’s police force is already being asked to step it up a notch against the protestors. He need be wary of the police switching sides which would be a cataclysmic blow for globalism. Bring it on.

Poverty, poverty on the wall, the French aren’t even the worst of all

PovEU

Why are we surprised at the yellow vest uprising across France? Poverty/risk of social exclusion across Europe has continued to spiral upwards since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). There were 78mn living below the poverty line in 2007. At last count, Eurostat notes that number was 118mn  (23.5% of the European population). In the Europe 2020 strategy, the plan is to reduce that by 20 million.  37.5mn (7.5%) are living in severe material deprivation (SMD) , up from 32mn in 2007.

The SMD rate represents the proportion of people who cannot afford at least four of the nine following items:

  • having arrears on mortgage or rent payments, utility bills, hire purchase installments or other loan payments;
  • being able to afford one week’s annual holiday away from home;
  • being able to afford a meal with meat, chicken, fish (or vegetarian equivalent) every second day;
  • being able to face unexpected financial expenses;
  • being able to buy a telephone (including mobile phone);
  • being able to buy a colour television;
  • being able to buy a washing machine;
  • being able to buy a car;
  • being able to afford heating to keep the house warm.

The French are merely venting what is happening across the EU. The EU could argue that at 18% poverty, the French should be happy compared to other nation states. Europeans aren’t racist to want a halt to mass economic migration when they are the ones financially struggling as it is. Making economic or compassionate arguments aren’t resonating as they feel the problems first hand.

Is it a surprise that the UK, at 22.2% poverty, wanted out of the EU project to take back sovereign control? Project Fear might be forecasting Armageddon for a No Deal Brexit but being inside the EU has hardly helped lift Brits from under a rock. Why would anyone wish to push for a worse deal that turns the UK into a colony?

Why is anyone surprised that there has been a sustainable shift toward populist political parties across Europe? Austria, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Germany…the list goes on. Even France should not forget that Front National’s Marine LePen got 35% of the vote, twice the level ever achieved. Is is a shock to see her polling above Macron?

The success and growth of EU-skeptic parties across Europe will only get bigger. The mob is unhappy. Macron may have won on a wave of euphoria as a fresh face but he has failed to deliver. He may have suspended the fuel tax hikes, but the people are still on the street in greater numbers. He has merely stirred the hornet’s nest. Perhaps UK PM Theresa May should take a look at the table above and realise that her deal will only cause the UK to rise up. At the moment sanity prevails, and when it comes in the shape of Jeremy Corbyn that is perhaps a sign in itself.

Maybe the teachers need to sit outside the headmaster’s office

If kids want to strike and learn to protest, shouldn’t we the public be able to see whether the children are being constructively taught both sides of the argument in class before they paint placards? CM has a strong feeling that only “one” side of the climate story is being pushed – the alarmist one. Skeptical kids should live in fear of detention.

Perhaps that should be the litmus test – if teachers are proud of getting kids to form such demonstrations, they should not be afraid to allow open access to what they’re teaching. Something tells me they wouldn’t dare because it would prove their own bias beyond doubt.

Here are three things CM would do:

Make the kids debate both sides of the argument in detail. Make them think. Research. Investigate.

Conduct an ethics class to show the countless lies, scandals and whistleblowers outing even government agencies on fabricating data. Kids know what happens when they lie. Perhaps they would grow up to be questioning about what bias they’re fed.

Do an economic feasibility study on renewables vs fossil fuels. Let students decide on whether investing their futures in renewables for zero outcome by 2100 makes sense. Teach them that renewables aren’t cheaper than fossil fuels for two reasons – first, fossil fuel prices are plummeting and second renewable calculations are based on 100% operating capacity which is unrealistic in the extreme. Put them at 20% and renewables are 5x more expensive relatively speaking.

If after thorough and rigorous debate the kids still believed they’re doomed then they can protest their little hearts out.

What it proves is that school faculties are pushing political agendas rather than education. We teach kids that lying is bad and there are consequences for doing so. Shouldn’t teachers be put on the naughty step for doing the same?

CM worries about their future indeed. Oh and it won’t be global warming that kills them. Their dreams have a far higher risk of being killed off through the activism peddled by their teachers. Say, have the teachers told the kids about those alarmists warning childbirth as a cause for future warming?

Karl Marx would be proud.

EU – 1.3m abortions, 5m births p.a.

DivMarr

Eurostat statistics on abortion reveal that Germany, France, UK, Spain and Italy alone terminate a combined 760,000 fetuses per annum. Across the EU-28 there are 1.25mn terminations. Without getting into a debate on abortion rights, the pure statistical number points to 20.4% of fetuses never make it out of the womb alive. Every. Single. Year. At that rate over 10 years that is 12.5 mn children that could have added to EU population sustainability do not occur but the EU seems to think embarking on mass migration is the only solution to plug the gap. Is it? Ironically child support is one area the EU is happy to cede control to individual Member States.

The fertility rate across the EU-28 is now 1.58 children per woman, flat for the last decade and down from 2.9 in 1964. Demographers suggest that a fertility rate of 2.1 is required in developed world economies to maintain a constant population (in the absence of any migration). The number of live births in the EU-28 peaked in 1964 at 7.8 million. In 2017 this had fallen to 5 million. There was a brief period (2003-2008) when live births in the EU-28 started to rise again, returning to 5.5 million by 2008 but the GFC sent it down again – as economic hardship tends to cause a decrease in births. So are economic incentives too low to cause a rebound?

France has the best incentives for children and the highest birth rate inside the EU at 2.0 up from 1.7 in the 1990s. Germany is around 1.4 drifting from 1.6 in the 1990s. The lives for child rearing French are eased by cheap health care, inexpensive preschools – for infants as young as 6 months old – subsidized at-home care and generous maternity leave. Mothers with three children can take a year off of work – and receive a monthly paycheck of up to €1,000 from the government to stay home. Families get subsidized public transportation and rail travel and holiday vouchers.

In order to stop the declining working population over time, imagine if Europe hypothetically put the onus back on consenting couples to take responsibility for their actions and makes abortions harder to access without compulsory consultation over options? Why not graphically show the entire process to get some sense of reality for both parties? You can gross yourself on this link.

Perhaps, in today’s electronic world, automatically deducting child support from fathers that run from responsibility might make sense? Why should the state pay for others’ lack of accountability? Even if the child is placed in foster care, why not wire child support to foster parents indirectly via the Ministry in charge of its administration? The population crisis is not going away in Europe. Why not provide more incentives to married/same-household couples?

Mathematically speaking the numbers are huge. Imagine if the million-plus fetuses every year had a vote to be raised with foster parents as opposed to being terminated, what they would choose? Consider the €23bn Merkel has spent on mainly economic migrants in the last 2 years being put toward preventing 200,000 abortions in Germany over that period? €115,000 to avert each one might have been better spent. That is a huge sum of money period.

CM is not advocating control over the womb but surely transparency in policy over individual responsibility is not a bad thing with respect to many issues, not just abortion. What level of economic incentives are required to prevent some couples/women choosing to terminate? Surely that plays a part in deciding to terminate. Consultation services with respect to the subject don’t seem too commonplace or at least structured in such a way as to prevent them.

According to Eurostat, since 1964 the divorce rate in EU-28 equivalents has doubled and the marriage rate has halved. For every eight marriages in 1964 there was one divorce, now there is one divorce for every two marriages.

The proportion of births outside of marriage now stands at 40%, from 27% in 2000 to less than 7% in 1964. 8.8 % of the EU-28 population aged 20+ lived in a consensual union (de-facto). In Japan the number of births out of wedlock is 25% according to the MHLW. The dynamics of the traditional nuclear family are fading.

51% of the Swedish population is now single household. 51%! While some is attributed to an aging population, 19 of the EU-28 members has a single household ratio of over 30%. 12 over 35%. By way of comparison, Japan’s single household ratio stands at 34.6% from 27.6% in 2000.

9E454726-9076-4241-8F2C-268C04B01FEC.jpeg

To further analyse the new ways of living together and to complement the legal aspect, statistics on consensual unions, which take into account those with a ‘marriage-like’ relationship with each other, and are not married to or in a registered partnership with each other, can also be analysed.  Sweden (18.3 %) has the highest rate followed by Estonia (16.4 %), France (14.3 %) and the lowest in Greece (1.7 %), Poland (2.1 %), Malta (2.5 %) and Croatia (2.9 %).

Is employment a factor?  It is mixed. Eurostat reported in Germany, the fertility of non-employed women has increased and that of employed women decreased, while in Spain, the opposite occurred; in Greece, the total fertility rate (TFR) of non employed women fell below that of employed women, changing from a positive differential of about 0.2 average live births.

Is education a factor? Apart from Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland and Norway), Portugal and Malta, in general, women with lower education had higher TFR between 2007 and 2011. Eurostat state the fertility of women across the EU over the same period with a medium level of education dropped by about 9%, while the decrease for women with high or low education was less significant.

Eurostat argues that economic recessions have correlation to falling child birth rates. Apart from the direct impact of economic crises at an individual level, the economic uncertainty that spreads during periods of hardship seem to influence fertility. From this point of view Eurostat believes the duration of a crisis may play an important role and, the duration and the depth of the current recession are unprecedented in some countries. The agency states,

The expected relationship is that negative changes in GDP correspond to negative changes in the TFR, possibly with some delay, thus showing a high positive correlation at particular lags. The correlation with the TFR is relevant in Spain and Latvia without any lag; in Bulgaria, Poland and Romania with one year of lag; and in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Norway and Croatia with two years of lag. Taking the overall average across countries, a change in GDP is mostly positively correlated with a change in the TFR within about 19 months.”

Do we cynically argue that stagnant child birth rates aren’t just a factor of societal changes? Perhaps a truer reflection on the higher levels of poverty in the EU since GFC and the harsh realities for a growing number of people behind the growing levels of populism who are suffering greater economic hardship than statisticians are presenting to the political class? Hard decisions must be made before they are made by external factors.

Why discontinue?

USFEDBS

This is a chart of the change in the US Fed balance sheet, a series that has just been discontinued. Is this because the Fed is about to step up its activity and offering wider disclosure on tapering activity might spook markets? Given that 72% of the growth in S&P earnings has been driven by buybacks since 2012, it stands to reason the market is not exactly providing the type of confidence inducing organic lift the index reflects. Bank of America revealed that “net buying of Tech sector in the 1H was entirely buyback-driven.” 

Kind of reminds CM of the day Bernanke’s Fed announced it would no longer report M3 money supply a year before the financial markets headed into the GFC. CM estimated on p.4 of a report several years ago that M3 money supply by 2018 on constant long-term growth rates would turn into around $35 trillion from the $10 trillion at the time it was discontinued.

M3Disc.png

Nothing to see here? Throw a deteriorating fixed income market with fewer buyers and corporates that have binged on cheap credit to fuel buybacks, it doesn’t look like the stuff dreams are made of. The chart below shows that quarterly pre-tax US profitability is struggling since 2011. Earnings (E) are not doing so well. It is by the grace of falling number of traded shares (S) that makes the EPS look flattering.

US Corp prof.png

We took the liberty of comparing corporate profitability since 1980 and correlating it to what Moody’s Baa rated corporate bond effective 10yr yields. An R-squared of almost 90% was returned.

US Moodys corp

Why not use the Aaa spread instead? Well we could do that but looking over the last decade the average corporate debt rating profile looks like this. We have seen a massive deterioration in credit ratings. If we look at the corporate profitability with Baa interest rates over the past decade, correlation climbs even higher.

D42A75BB-58A4-49A5-B084-32343877CFFF

We shouldn’t forget that the US Government is also drunk on debt, much of it arriving at a store near you. $1.5 trillion in US Treasuries needs refinancing this year and $8.4tn over the next 3.5 years. Couple that with a Japan & China pulling back on UST purchases and the Fed itself promising to taper (but now hide the results of) its balance sheet. So as an investor, would you prefer the relative safety of government debt or take a punt on paper next to junk heading into a tightening cycle?

E0F20948-4A5A-48F1-B8AF-06FA92EBAC7A

Discontinuation of series always carries a sense of deep cynicism for its true intention. It is not an onerous data set to cull. Sure we can fossick around and try to find it hidden in the archives of the Fed website but the idea is that they probably don’t want to publicise how much more they intend to flog.