Inequality

Repossession by remote

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A growing number of car loans in the US are being pushed further down the repayment line as much as 84 months. In the new car market the percentage of 73-84-month loans is 33.8%, triple the level of 2009. Even 10% of 2010 model year bangers are being bought on 84 month term loans. The US ended 2016 with c.$1.2 trillion in outstanding auto loan debt, up 9%YoY and 13% above the pre-crisis peak in 2005.

Why is this happening? Mortgage regulations tightened after 2008 to prevent financial lenders from writing predatory loans, especially sub prime. Auto lending attracts far less scrutiny. Hence the following table looks like it does with respect to outstanding accounts on loans

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Sub Prime auto loans, at all time records, make up 25% of the total. Devices installed in cars let collection agencies repossess vehicles by remote when the borrower falls behind on repayment. This lowers risk and allows these long dated loan products to thrive. Average subprime auto loans carry 10% p.a. interest rates. More than 6 million American consumers are at least 90 days late on their car loan repayments, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

While it is true that $1.2 trillion auto loan book pales into insignificance versus the $10 trillion in mortgage debt at the time of the GFC, a slowdown in auto sales (happening now) isn’t helpful. The auto industry directly and indirectly employs c. 10% of the workforce and slowing new and used car sales will just put more pressure on prices further lifting the risk of repossessions

It is worth reminding ourselves the following.

Last month the Fed published its 2016 update on household financial wellbeing. To sum up:

“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.”

If only this perpetual debt cycle could be stopped via remote. Someone else’s problem one would suggest.

Tesla – when the plug is pulled on subsidies

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It seems that the removal of generous electric vehicle (EV) subsidies in Denmark shows the true colours of those willing to buy a car in order to signal their willingness to save the planet. While Musk has been one of the most effective rent seekers around, it seems that if consumers aren’t given massive tax breaks they aren’t as committed to ostentatious gestures of climate abatement. In Q1 2017 alone it seems that Danish sales of EVs plummeted 60%YoY. In 2015 Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen announced the gradual phasing out of subsidies on electric cars, citing government austerity and evening up the market. Tesla’s sales fell from 2,738 units in 2015 to just 176 in 2016. The irony of the Tesla is that it is priced in luxury car territory meaning that taxes from the less fortunate end up subsidizing the wealthy who can afford it!

Naturally if internal combustion engines (which by the way are becoming more efficient by the years as new standards are introduced) are taxed the same as EVs then it is clear they’d sell many more. Do not be fooled – car makers have not heavily committed to EVs for a very good reason – brand DNA. That is why we see so many ‘hybrids’ which allows the benefits of battery power linked to the drivetrain, which outside of design is the biggest differentiator between brands.

While many automakers missed the luxury EV bus, Tesla has opened their eyes. The three things the major auto makers possess which Tesla doesn’t are

1) Production skill – much of the battle is won on efficiency grounds. Companies like Toyota have had decades to perfect production efficiency and have coined almost every manufacturing technique used today – Just in Time, kanban and kaizen to name three.

2) Distribution – the existing automakers have been well ahead of the curve when it comes to sales points. Of course some argue that there is no real need for dealers anymore, although recalls, services (consumables such as brakes) and showrooms are none-the-less a necessity.

3) Technology – The idea that incumbent auto makers have not been investing in EV is ridiculous. Recall Toyota took a sizable stake in Tesla many years ago. Presumably the Toyota tech boffins were sent in to evaluate the technology at Tesla and returned with a prognosis negative. Toyota sold Tesla because the technology curve was too low. Toyota invests around $8bn in just hybrid technology alone per annum. Tesla spent $830mn last year as a group across all products. A ten fold budget on top of decades of investment in all available avenues of planet saving technology gives a substantial advantage.

Tesla is a wonderful tale of hope but it rings of all the hype that surrounded Ballard Power in fuel cells in the early 2000s. Ballard is worth 1% of its peak. As governments around the world address overbloated budgets, trimming incentives for EVs makes for easy savings. Now we have a good indicator one of the electric shock that happens when the plug is pulled on subsidies.

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Mulligan democracy?

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One disturbing development in politics is the promotion of mulligans. The idea of ‘that is the shot I would have played if I had another chance’. Sadly some people think that is fair game and even worse, democratic. The lead up to the Brexit referendum almost a year ago saw “leave” and “remain” go at it. Months of campaigning, panel discussions and other forums were largely irrelevant. Both sides accused each other of lying and spreading falsehoods but ask yourself in the history of politics – if you believed everything that came out of a politician’s mouth you’d be lying to yourself. To host a second referendum would basically say ignore democracy until you get the result you want. Maybe like a modern day prep school sports event – everyone is a winner at St. Barnabus’.

People were well aware of the issues of Brexit going in. The idea of people being too gullible is frankly condescending in the extreme. Many long standing Labour voters went for “Leave”. They weren’t voting Tory by stealth. They took a view. It wasn’t just about immigration. They were feeling pain in real time, the valid threat of their future economic security. The higher unemployment rates and withering opportunities aren’t scare stories from politicians but here and now. For example the people of the Midlands didn’t need stats, Farage or Boris to sway them. Just like those that voted Trump – they were feeling the pressure of harsh economic realities that weren’t reflected in rosy government stats that were waved in their face as a testament to their superior leadership skills.

While Remainers can whine about ‘fake’ figures of how much the EU takes every week from the UK, immigration or the number of regulations that affected Brits, financial markets proved over the 12 months since the vote that the ‘Leave’ outcome didn’t crash the economy or skewer asset prices. In fact the idea of a potential Corbyn Prime Ministership sent the pound and markets into panic. If he was to get in then Macron will get his wish of a financial center in Paris. Investment money would vanish out of the UK. It isn’t an idle threat but a reality. Capital is global.

Some argue that had the people who thought ‘remain’ would be a foregone conclusion bothered to vote then the UK would have stayed in the EU. Maybe. They were given a democratic opportunity to exercise a choice and they didn’t. Many of the 1,000,000 new voters who signed up since Theresa May called the snap election who didn’t do so before the referendum had a choice a year ago. Do we give them a free hit? How do we truly instill the realities of a true democracy if we have to attach L-plates to beginners? It doesn’t matter one jot if there were enough dormant or eligible voters to defeat the referendum if they don’t show up on game day. Is the Premier League football FA Cup given to the team that won the most games til the final but doesn’t show up because of their for and against stats?

It is an important question because the lesson should always be that people must take their vote seriously every time. Even John Cleese is understanding this. If they can’t be bothered when they have a chance to vote then  that is self inflicted and we should have no sympathy.

Theresa May gave voters a democratic chance to give her a mandate and she got thumped. There were two parts to this. Some young voters were surely lured by the offer of free education and a chance to reject Brexit by the back door. Theresa May was too arrogant to think the population would roll over and give her carte blanche to carry out her plans along with a biting austerity budget for good measure. A refusal to do a debate vs Corbyn, a slapdash manifesto and dreadful performances when she appeared sealed her fate. Corbyn came across as the warmer candidate and simply campaigned better. Still an election and a referendum are two different beasts. Just because more voted for Labour than expected doesn’t mean they want an end to Brexit. They did it to send a message to May.

Still the idea we propose a second referendum is a bad idea for democracy. Unlike elections, referendums are yes or no.

Don’t buy the argument that people were sold a pup. That the elderly are bigots, racists and have no concern for their kids or the youth. That the youth should have twice the vote of the elderly because they’re on the planet for longer or the elderly should have their voting rights cut. Saying people are stupid is not a valid answer. Why not have an IQ test for voters to determine voting rights??  If lessons aren’t learnt through bitter experience then why bother holding elections or referendums at all. If anything this election showed through the higher turnout (68.7%) that the lesson is being learnt and the electorate has told politicians they won’t be taken for mugs.

The referendum was held, Article 50 was passed as an Act of Parliament and our Dear John letter was handed to President Tusk. The UK would be a total laughing stock to divorce and then ask to remarry again. Corbyn will undoubtedly have a much stronger say in negotiations and has a vested interest to ruin what little legitimacy May has left. She is left with a divided party created by her unwillingness to listen. The Tories are toast with her at the helm and the DUP alliance smacks of desperation. A Diet Coke Brexit is pointless. We’re in or we’re out.

The Conservatives won the popular vote despite the shambolic display although Labour took 60% of the votes from UKIP. What we can say is that politics is not like it used to be. The electorate is fickle. Loyalty is no longer a given and abandoning core party principles will see politicians punished at the polls. May must step down for the sake of the Tories. as the HMS Tory takes on water under Captain May, more will seek to abandon ship until she walks the plank.

This miscalculation by May will go down as one of history’s biggest political failures. Do not be surprised if we do get a second referendum but be very worried about the precedent it sets for the future. Democracy is at stake and even arguing that it is in the interest of the people to take a mulligan on this issue is effectively saying their votes don’t matter. That referendums have no meaning. Of course the Remainers will cite opinion polls that give them the answer they want to hear but as we all know polls are useless these days. May had the biggest lead and highest popularity in living memory yet got this result.

NATO Facts and why Macron’s arrogance is no better than Trump’s

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While social media splashes around a US contribution to total NATO spend of 73% it in reality is a third of that. Only the USA and UK spend over and above NATO commitments as outlined in the chart above. Even the Greeks meet half the requirement! Germany is below not only NATO guidelines but the media would never tell you that. Trump has a point. In fact the reason much of the military spending numbers below the requirement stems more from inefficiency than anything else.

What many fail to understand is that salaries and benefits (housing, education and healthcare) for military staff tend to consume 3/4s of the budget. Procurement is a dog’s breakfast and influenced by age of fleets, battalions, interoperability and so forth. While NATO isn’t exactly group buy the us wins by default of having access to the best cost/performance equipment allowing better bang for the buck. Little Estonia can’t get the same economies of scale.

The “contribution” (click here) question is clouded by two things. Under Obama, the US has cut its NATO contribution from 5.29% of GDP when he took office to 3.6%. NATO Europe had met the minimum expected contribution of 2% but this has slumped from the tech bubble collapse of 2000 to 1.47% today which has meant the only thing keeping NATO’s overall budget above target has been Uncle Sam!

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So once again social media muddles a message. It takes 10 seconds to go on NATO’s website and fact check.

Instead the media is more focused on pointless clickbait on whether Trump can hold Melania’s hand without being swatted away or who won the vigorous handshake contest – he or Macron. In fact Macron’s deliberate snub Of Trump when he met all the leaders spoke volumes. He made no conscious effort to shake his hand first. He made a point of sucking up to his EU cronies first and spent needless time making worthless chitchat before even acknowledging the leader of the strongest nation on earth. We shouldn’t be surprised. Best have Trump inside the tent p1ssing out than outside p1ssing in.

Even if they want to delegitimize Trump they play a silly game. Much like business leaders being bullied on social media to leave Trump’s business council (Uber chickened out), the EU plays a dangerous game of isolating Trump. If they want to prevent him from being the “unhinged” orange buffoon they think he is they’d do much better to be welcoming, accommodating and flattering his eminence. That way they can bring balance and find common ground. They show no signs of even beginning to try. By snubbing him they shouldn’t be surprised if he acts independently. Yet Macron acts no better than Trump and the media lavishes praise on the exact same antics they crucify The Donald over. Typical double standards.

Be careful what you wish for! The world needs a healthy US and stunts like this only fray the lines of trust and partnership further. Sure, the America First policy stance is affronting but if the EU want to expedite the process then keep up the Trump bashing. It doesn’t mean Trump bumping (hey Trudeau did it in Canada to a female member of parliament) other dignitaries shows good character but he knows he’s being ridiculed and the media sees it as their only form of attack. The problem is they forget 75% of Republicans STILL approve of his job performance.  He may only be doing a C+ on performance in office but he isn’t anywhere near the F- portrayed by the media.

Rebels too old for a cause

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The average age of motorcyclists in Japan is 53 years old and continuing to climb as younger riders looking to obtain new licenses continues to drift. Between 2010 and 2016 the Japanese National Police Agency (JNPA) noted that large capacity motorcycle license holders (ogata – classified as 400cc+) have fallen by nearly 1,500,000. While mid-size (chugata – classified as below 400cc) have risen around 715,000. Female riders have shown a similar pattern of 178,000 fall in ogata licenses and 147,000 increase in chugata respectively. While there are still 9.175mn men and 625,000 women willing to get out on the highway with large capacity bikes, the trend is alarming. More frighteningly, new graduates aren’t lining up either. 30,000 fewer students lined up to get a mid or large size bike license between 2014 and 2016 representing a 12.3% dip. Latest report found here Motorcycles in Japan – Analogica KK

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

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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.

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

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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.