Investment

Tesla – zero emissions and zero registrations

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An eagle eyed reader spotted this article in the South China Morning Post today showing that private EV registrations in Hong Kong fell to ZERO in April 2017 from 2,964 in March. The SCMP noted; “Since the April 1 introduction of the first registration tax on EVs, vehicle prices have shot up by 50 to 80 per cent, depending on the model, with tax relief now capped at HK$97,500. A Tesla S was HK$570,000 (under the new tax regime, the price is more than HK$900,000)…the domination of Tesla means zero-emissions motoring in Hong Kong has been largely an elitist activity.” HK is 6% of Tesla’s global volume yet the share price is pricing in blue sky.

Yet more evidence that Tesla product can’t stand on its own without massive subsidies. In previous Tesla dispatches the argument has been the car is an ostentatious fashion accessory to show the world one’s commitment to climate change but only if the price is right.

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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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.

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.

Are the Aussie major banks as greedy as made out?

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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!’

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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.