Investment

Do as we say, not as we do

Take that. Despite living with the irony that half of the members of the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) fail to meet the very diversity quotas they expect ASX200 companies to hit, what a complete laughing stock to publicly tell conference organisers it won’t join unless there is a guarantee of gender balanced speaker participation. How about try to get the best diversity of thought for a speaking panel regardless of their identity? There won’t be a man in the audience who complains at a panel of superstar women speakers.

The ACSI demands are listed here. A default letter the ACSI uses is as follows.

“SAMPLE RESPONSE TO EVENT INVITATIONS

Thank you for your invitation to speak at [name of event]. ACSI has taken the Panel Pledge and will only participate in events which are gender diverse and inclusive. Before accepting your invitation, I’ll need some additional information to determine whether this event is consistent with our commitment.

Can you please confirm the following:

– Will there be a gender balance among speakers at this event?
– Will speaking roles be allocated equitably among genders?

If I agree to participate in this event, I reserve the right to withdraw later should I become aware there will not be a gender balance among speakers.

Thanks in advance for your support of our efforts to promote gender diversity.”

What if the ACSI was offered a chance to speak next to Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk for the third and final slot at an investor conference? Would ACSI turn it down to stick to its principlesb or be the first in line to take selfies to upload to Instagram?

Get woke, go broke.

This can only end in tears

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As Sweden’s economy slows to the worst economic growth rate in 5 years under a negative interest rate policy, one would think the Swedish Central Bank (Riksbank) would be seeking to prudently manage its asset book on the basis of appropriate risk/reward as opposed to lecturing Australia and Canada on their respective carbon footprints. What we are witnessing is yet another discrete move by authorities to manipulate markets based on fantasy rather than fact.  The hypocrisy is extreme as we shall discover.

While the Riksbank should have complete freedom in how it wishes to deploy capital, we should view this is a pathetic sop to the cabal at the European Central Bank (ECB). Since when did central bankers become experts on climate change? The RBA is no better. Deputy Governor, Guy Debelle, gave a speech in March 2019 on the risks posed by climate change which based prophecies on the data accident-prone IPCC and Bureau of Meteorology. Why not seek balance? Easier to fold to group think so as not to be outed as a pariah. Utterly gutless. Our own APRA is also pushing this ridiculous agenda on climate change reporting. It is willful negligence.

While it is true that on a per capita basis, Australia and Canada’s emissions are higher than the global average, why doesn’t the Riksbank give us credit for lowering that amount 11.4% since 2000? Even Canada has reduced its carbon emissions by 7.3% over the last 18 years. Admittedly Sweden’s emissions per capita have fallen 21.9% according to the IEA. Greta will be happy.

Why hasn’t the Riksbank taken China or India to task for their 169.9% or 94.7% growth in CO2 emissions respectively? There are plenty of oil-producing nations – Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Oman that have worse per capita outcomes than Australia or Canada. Do these countries get special dispensation from the wrath of the Riksbank? Clearly.

The US has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. If the US has marginally lower emissions per capita (15.74t/CO2-e) than Australia (16.45t/CO2-e), isn’t a double standard to write,

The conditions for active climate consideration are slightly better in our work with the foreign exchange reserves. To ensure that the foreign exchange reserves fulfil
their purpose, they need to consist of assets that can be rapidly converted to money even when the markets are not functioning properly. Our assessment is that the foreign exchange reserves best correspond to this need if they consist of
75 per cent US government bonds, 20 per cent German and 5 per cent British, Danish and Norwegian government bonds.

Essentially Riksbank commitment to climate change is conditional. The US which is responsible for 13.8% of global emissions can be 75% of holdings. Australia at 1.3% can’t. No doubt sacrificing Queensland Treasury Corp, WA Treasury Corp and Albertan bonds from a Riksbank balance sheet perspective will have little impact on the total. In short, it looks to be pure tokenism. The Riksbank has invested around 8% of its foreign exchange reserves in Australian and Canadian central and federal government bonds. So perhaps at the moment, it is nothing but substitution from state to federal. Why not punish NSW TCorp for being part of a state that has 85%+ coal-fired power generation?

At the very least the Riksbank admits its own hypocrisy.

The Riksbank needs to develop its work on how to take climate change into consideration in asset management. For instance, we need a broader and deeper analysis of the issuers’ climate footprint. At the same time, one must remember that the foreign exchange reserves are unavoidably dominated by US and German government bonds. The Riksbank’s contribution to a better development of the climate will, therefore, remain small. This is entirely natural. The important decisions on how climate change should be counteracted in Sweden are political and should be taken by the government and the Riksdag (parliament).

Still, what hope have we got when Benoît Cœuré, member of the Executive Board of the ECB, lecturing those on “Scaling up Green Finance: The Role of Central Banks.” He noted,

2018 has seen one of the hottest summers in Europe since weather records began. Increasing weather extremes, rising sea levels and the Arctic melting are now clearly visible consequences of human-induced warming. Climate change is not a theory. It is a fact.

Reading more of this report only confirms the commitment of the ECB to follow the UN’s lead and deliberately look to misallocate capital based on unfounded claims of falling crop yields and rising prices (the opposite is occurring) and rising hurricane and drought activity (claims that even the IPCC has admitted there is little or no evidence by climate change). Sweden is merely being a well-behaved schoolboy.

Cœuré made the explicit claim, “The ECB, together with other national central banks of the Eurosystem, is actively supporting the European Commission’s sustainable finance agenda.

CM thinks the biggest problem with this “agenda” is that it risks even further misallocation of capital within global markets already drowning in poorly directed investment. It isn’t hard to see what is going on here. It is nothing short of deliberate market manipulation by trying to increase the cost of funding to conventional energy using farcical concocted “climate risks” to regulate them out of existence.

Cœuré made this clear in his speech,

once markets and credit risk agencies price climate risks properly, the amount of collateralised borrowing counterparties can obtain from the ECB will be adjusted accordingly.

What do you know? On cue, Seeking Alpha notes,

Cutting €2bn of yearly investments, the European Union will stop funding oil, natural gas and coal projects at the end of 2021 as it aims to become the first climate-neutral continent.

All CM will say is best of luck with this decision. Just watch how this kneeling at the altar of the pagan god of climate change will completely ruin the EU economy. The long term ramifications are already being felt. The EU can’t escape the fact that 118mn of its citizens (up from 78m in 2007) are below the poverty line. That is 22% of the population. So why then does Cœuré mention, in spite of such alarming poverty, that taking actions (that will likely increase unemployment) will be helped by “migration [which] has contributed to dampening wage growth…in recent years, thereby further complicating our efforts to bring inflation back to levels closer to 2%.

Closer to home, the National Australia Bank (NAB) has joined in the groupthink by looking to phase out lending to thermal coal companies by 2035. The $760 million exposure will be cut in half by 2028. If climate change is such a huge issue why not look to end it ASAP? This is terrible governance.

Why not assess thermal coal companies on the merits of the industry’s future rather than have the acting-CEO Philip Chronican make a limp-wristed excuse that it is merely getting in line with the government commitment to Paris? If lending to thermal coal is good for shareholders in 2036, who cares what our emissions targets are (which continue to fall per capita)? Maybe this is industry and regulator working hand-in-hand?

The market has always been the best weighing mechanism for risk. Unfortunately, for the last two decades, global central bank policy has gone out of its way to prevent the market from clearing. Now it seems that the authorities are taking actions that look like collusion to bully the ratings agencies into marking down legitimate businesses that are being punished for heresy.

This will ironically only make them even better investments down the track when reality dawns, just as CM pointed out with anti-ESG stocks. Just expect the entry points to these stocks to be exceedingly cheap. Buy what the market hates. It looks as though the bureaucrats are set to make fossil fuel companies penny stocks.

Former Fire Chief inflames the climate debate

Greg Mullins, the former chief of NSW Fire and Rescue said today, “Just a 1 degree C temperature rise has meant the extremes are far more extreme, and it is placing lives at risk, including firefighters…Climate change has supercharged the bushfire problem.”

CM could not hope to hold a flame (no pun intended) to his knowledge of fire behavior but why does the WA Government’s own fire service website, Bushfire Front (BFF) contradict him,

Compared to slope, wind strength, fuel quantity and dryness, temperature is an insignificant driver of fire behaviour. Experienced firefighters do not fear a 40-degree day per se. This is because even on a hot day, a fire in one or two-year old fuel can be controlled; on the same day a fire in 20-year old fuels with high winds would usually be unstoppable.”

One of them must be right. Could it be that Mullin’s personal beliefs about climate change are a factor? After all he serves as an author for the Climate Council.

Mullins also said that ” We saw it coming. We tried to warn the government.”

Indeed BFF notes clearly,

““Large wildfires are inevitable”

This statement is, to put it politely, bosh. Large wildfires can only occur when there is a combination, at the same time, of three things:

• an ignition source,

• severe fire weather and,

• a large contiguous accumulation of fuel.

Remove any of these three and you cannot have a large wildfire (= megafire).

We obviously can’t control the weather, nor can we hope to eliminate all possible avenues of ignition. The only factor we can control is the large contiguous accumulations of fuel. Therefore, broadscale fuel reduction burning is the only defence we have against large wildfires. This will not prevent fires occurring, but it will ensure fires are less intense, are easier and safer to control and will do less damage.

Does it work? Yes it does, as has been shown many times, over many years, by the experience of Western Australian forest managers. The “proof of the pudding” is the incidence of large wildfires in Western Australian forests over the last 50 years. There were a number of very large fires in Western Australian forests from 1900 to 1960, but after the 1961 Dwellingup fire disaster, the wide-scale fuel reduction program carried out by the then Forests Department, ensured that the fuel accumulation was well controlled. The graph below demonstrates this very clearly. It was only after the burning program gradually fell away following a diversion of resources away from forest areas, that the area of wildfires began to climb again after about 1990.

How is it that so many of these fires have been started by arsonists? A 16-yo has been alleged to have started fires in central Queensland. Johannes Leak’s cartoon was absolutely on the money.

Even assuming Australia pandered to Mullins and went zero carbon emissions tomorrow, could he guarantee that the bushfires would slow or end? Even though Australia is such a tiny contributor to global CO2 emissions? Could he show the science behind his beliefs on fires and the link to climate change even though 85% are deliberately, suspiciously or accidentally lit?

Of course the climate alarmists immediately endorse his words because he is a firefighter. Although are his words on climate change anymore relevant than those of the AMA?

Maybe we should reflect on the politics within the upper echelons of the fire services? Not so much the rank and file front line fire fighters but the bureaucrats who make daft decisions such as buying a Boeing 737 fire-bomber which can only be used at 4 airports rendering it highly inflexible (as much as it’s a great political sales point) or a military helicopter which spends 5hrs in maintenance for every hour it is in the field working. Or replacing 1yo trucks with brand new ones because records are poorly kept?

Nope, just blame climate change for it. Get out of jail free card for everything.

The irresponsibility of socially responsible investing

United Nations Sustainable Development Logo

Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) has been heavily pushed by members of the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) for a while now. Apart from cynically cashing in on the generally higher fees generated by these “woke” funds, the returns have been nothing much to write home about. As Milton Friedman once said, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.

If we look at YTD, 1 or 10-year performance all of the SRI portfolios as indicated by published performance (listed on their websites) of local ACSI members, they have “underperformed” the benchmark index. One outperformed in the 5-year category. Hardly anything to crow about. So as much as they might feel warm and fuzzy for turning these funds into virtue-signalling investment vehicles, the outcomes for the monies entrusted to them is far from ideal. While investors should bear ultimate responsibility for where they deploy retirement funds, do they realise how much money they are torching by believing in this nonsense?

So why do these funds try to bully top-performing companies to conform to their irrelevant ideals which on the face of it do not appear to be working? If one reads through the fine print, many superannuation administrators pat themselves on the back that they are aligning portfolios to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). If one wants to champion best in class ethics, the UN is the last place anyone should look. Just look at the unethical scandal that occurred at UNAIDS. 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what these SDGs are – eliminating hunger, wiping out poverty, promoting gender equality, good health, clean water and sanitation, affordable clean energy etc. All wonderful things in and of themselves, but surely if the market agrees with them,  shouldn’t share prices reflect that?

Friedman spoke of free-market economics, “Well, first of all, tell me: Is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed? Of course, none of us are greedy, it’s only the other fellow who’s greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus [including the UN]. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty you’re talking about, the only cases in recorded history, are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worse off, worst off, it’s exactly in the kinds of societies that depart from that. So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear, that there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by the free-enterprise system.

In Australia,  it would seem that many high performing companies, that aren’t ‘compliant as they should be‘, are being pressured to increase diversity, women on boards and all manner of meaningless benchmarks preached by the ACSI and its members.

Take the 30% Club which pushes to have 30% women on boards. While this started in the UK in 2010, it has spread across multiple jurisdictions including Australia. The 30% Club emphatically quotes from a McKinsey study,  “Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.” What this study doesn’t say is that the bottom quartile of companies maybe just poorly run, in spite of the genitalia of the board.

Don’t mistake the most important point to be made. If a board is best served by all women, you won’t hear a peep from investors if they can produce the best results. As soon as we start to try to enforce gender quotas, performance becomes predicated on chromosomes rather than capability. What next? Ensure fair representation of LGBT on boards? Religions? Races? Disabilities? Where does it stop when all that matters is ability that produces performance?

Take a look at the disaster that has befallen PG&E in recent times. In the interests of pandering to all these irrelevant SDGs, it can tell you the exact breakdown of the diversity of its workforce but can’t tell you the status of much of its infrastructure, some which have been directly responsible for the devastating wildfires in California. The company was forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Did diversity help shareholders? If one’s house is on fire, do we worry about identity? Or who has the skillsets to put out the blaze the fastest? QED.

Yet our woke investors keep pushing these trends. IFM Investors waxes lyrical about its climate change, 30% Club and carbon disclosure project. Good for it. It has a choice. It should live by the sword and die by it. If that is what it wishes to focus on why not allow the free market to; a) decide whether superannuation holders want to deploy funds in such a manner and b) let corporates decide if SRI is good for their businesses.

Yet, the latest push by these socialist fund administrators is to ensure that companies conform to the ‘Modern Slavery Act.’ Are these people for real? Who are they to try to enforce federal law? Talk about self-imposed authority. It is a safe bet that 99%+ corporates listed on the ASX behave are compliant in this regard because if not the punitive outcomes will be severe.

Moreover, if some of these funds own stocks like Tesla in their international portfolios, perhaps they might consider such a hip and trendy investment has an indirect connection to child-slave labour in DR Congo where 70% of the world’s cobalt is mined to go into the Li-ion batteries.

There is one absolute truth in finance. In good times, any mug CEO can be successful. It is only when markets turn sour that the “quality” of decent management is truly appreciated in how they successfully manage to mitigate risk in an ugly downturn. In a difficult market climate, only the fittest survive and if companies have strayed off the reservation to appeal to investors, it will soon become self-evident in the results.

As we stare at the precipice of a potentially deep global recession, the previous paragraph will be all that matters. Because those corporates too busy hitting diversity targets, installing genderless bathrooms and ensuring they have double-checked all employees have complied with Earth Hour will be slaughtered when markets take a pounding.

These SDG focused funds will soon see that they are part of one giant herd and as performance starts to suffer in this crowded trade, the stampede toward the exit will reveal just how irresponsible the push to ram through such irrelevant metrics at the very companies who caved in was.

As a contrarian investor, the best investments will be in exactly those companies that shun(ned) this foolhardy exercise and forged a path in the spirit of Milton Friedman. Afterall they understood what it really means to be “free to choose.” So back up the truck in tobacco, mining and fossil fuel stocks on any pullback. After all, mean reversion will see these stocks outperform if nothing else.

Don’t forget Harvey Norman (HVN). How could it be that the company is worth 4x the combined value of Myer and David Jones, the latter two businesses focused on pleasing the United Nations rather than customers?  Hmmm.

Isn’t that the ultimate ready reckoner for these SDG funds? The market is always right. If the performance of the funds deployed isn’t making the grade, don’t attempt to force the best of breed to comply to your self imposed standards. Embrace companies that follow their lead. Not the other way around. It begs the question, what on earth are people who should believe in free markets doing to thwart it functioning efficiently?

Perhaps investors have the clearest indication of socialist activism by the very requirement to join the club. “ACSI drives strong ESG performance in companies in which our members invest because ESG creates long-term value…We use our collective impact to influence companies and financial markets in the interests of our members as long-term investors…Commitment to these beliefs is a pre-requisite for membership of ACSI.

Never has it been a more sound decision to set up an SMSF.

CM on Sky

https://www.skynews.com.au/details/_6102427118001

CM appeared on Sky News to discuss the situation with our banks, the potential risks from the recommendations of the Hayne Royal Commission and the issue of mortgage stress.

Qantas’ 2050 zero-emissions nonsense

Woke? The only way Qantas can cut net CO2 emissions to zero by 2050 is to cease operations. In what world does CEO Alan Joyce AC think he is somehow ahead of the aerospace technology curve? In any event, it’s highly unlikely he’ll be CEO in 2050.

Joyce said the Qantas and Jetstar will cap net emissions at their current level from next year, cutting it gradually over the next 30 years. A big pronouncement but by sheer virtue of upgrading an ageing fleet (phasing out 747 Jumbos) the efficiency targets are a walk in the park, not some tremendous virtuous milestone. Burning less fuel is good for the airline’s bottom line. Lower fuel burn means fewer emissions.

The ultimate irony is that aircraft manufacturers are doing their utmost to “carbonize” the fuselage and wings in order to save weight (Boeing 787, 777X, A350, A330). Even the next generation engines are featuring extensive use of carbon derivatives because of the fuel efficiency benefits that are created by them. Put simply, even in 2050 carbon and fossil fuel derivatives will be major source materials for future planes. Maybe in Joyce’s mind, that won’t count.

Aerospace technology is utterly amazing. To think that a 650t Airbus A380 can take off, fly 12 hours and land in complete comfort. Or that one fan blade on a 777 jet engine can theoretically suspend a locomotive from it without snapping such is the tensile strength. Now we can fly 19 hours nonstop. 30 years ago, half that distance was achievable.

Bio-fuels exist. However, if the airports across the globe don’t provide bio-fuels then his zero emissions pledge is shot. According to the IEA, aviation biofuel (aka sustainable aviation fuel (SAF)) is forecast to be 20% of all aviation fuel by 2040, from 5% in 2025.

The IEA stated,

SAF are currently more expensive than jet fuel, and this cost premium is a key barrier to their wider use. Fuel cost is the single largest overhead expense for airlines, accounting for 22% of direct costs on average, and covering a significant cost premium to utilise aviation biofuels is challenging…Subsidising the consumption of SAF envisaged in the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) in 2025, around 5% of total aviation jet fuel demand, would require about $6.5 billion of subsidy (based on closing a cost premium of USD 0.35 litre between HEFA-SPK and fossil jet kerosene at USD 70/bbl oil prices).

For commercial aviation to be a success, cost is always a factor. Great advancements like the Concorde died because of sustainable economics, not because of the accident. The vaunted Boeing Sonic Cruiser died at the concept stage because airlines couldn’t accept the commercial economics afforded by those higher speeds. So we have been stuck at 900km/h for decades and for decades to come.

Yes, there have been talks of electrically-powered planes (several developmental prototypes exist) but the technology to make them fly 10,000km at 900km/h with 300+ passengers on board won’t be met by 2050. Airbus intends to

make the technology available to fly a 100-passenger aircraft based on electric and hybrid-electric technology within the 2030s timeframe.”

Don’t buy into the malarkey that 10% of Qantas passengers carbon offset their travel. If one does the math, less than 3% of miles are actually covered by such virtue signalling. Either way, more than 90% don’t care to pay for their carbon offsets.

Nothing to see here

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Chinese regional bank, Guangdong Nanyue Bank Co said it won’t exercise an early redemption on its 1.5 bn yuan (US$215 million) 6% tier-two bond in December.

According to Bloomberg,

Chinese banks reported 2.2 trillion yuan (US$315bn) of non-performing loans at the end of June, which, according to the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) is the highest level in over 15 years…Troubles facing Guangdong Nanyue’s biggest shareholders may also add to its woes. Neoglory Holding Group Co., which is going through a court-led bankruptcy restructuring after defaulting on its bonds, is the largest shareholder of Guangdong Nanyue with a 16.52% stake, followed by Gionee Communication Equipment Co., which is in liquidation, according to a report published by China Lianhe Credit Rating in June. The two hold a combined 25.4% stake in the lender.

Note in recent times, Baoshang Bank was taken over by the government in May and the Bank of Jinzhou was rescued in July.

We shouldn’t forget “special mention” loans which are not classified as NPLs but potentially at risk of becoming so (equivalent to being 90+ days in arrears), rose to 3.63 trillion yuan (US$521bn), accounting for 3.3% of the total loan volume for commercial banks according to the CBIRC.