Japan

Fukushima update

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Japan’s Ministry of Environment plans an interim storage site of approximately 16sqkm to temporarily house contaminated soil and other waste. Some 22 million cubic metres of soil is likely to be collected. Scattered throughout Fukushima prefecture are some 5.5mn black bags containing soil contaminated by the crippled reactors. The government intends to find a final disposal site outside Fukushima Prefecture to permanently store the contaminated soil by 2045.

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One million tonnes of contaminated radioactive water is being stored in 850 5-storey tanks. The amount of contaminated water is growing by 150 tonnes a day. Capacity is 1.1mn tonnes. The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) is encouraging Tepco to dump water that has diluted to levels below that of national standards into the sea claiming it will have little or no impact on local fisheries. The NRA has said that these tanks can’t be used indefinitely, planning to store it until January 2021.

Tepco aims to remove to remove melted fuel debris inside the damaged reactors around 2021 and remove spent  and unused fuel rods from the storage pools inside reactor 3 in the middle of this year. The other two reactors will see their rods removed around 2023.

Unsurprisingly information is scant leading to public mistrust of foodstuffs emanating from the region. Taxpayers have funded around $120bn so far in the clean up. To think much of this damage could have been avoided had then PM Kan listened to his nuclear experts to release the pressure from the reactors 10 hours before they exploded.

 

85-yo shoe shiner endorses RM Williams

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85yo Kin-chan has been shining shoes at the Imperial Hotel Tokyo for over 50 years. He first started out in his trade polishing GI boots after the war in Fukuoka as an 18yo. He forgets how many pairs he’s polished but noticed my 18 year old  pair of RM Williams, the boots almost every Aussie has.  He says the quality of the leather is superior to pretty much every other shoe brand out there which is a pretty decent endorsement. No plans to retire. Talk about dedication to a job.

Xi and Trump summit In Singapore

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On May 25th, CM wrote after the spat between Trump & Kim, “It will be China sending Kim back to the meeting table with Trump because it will ultimately be managing the protectorate after any peace is signed for its own geopolitical aims. China does NOT want US friendly forces on its border. Best keep the buffer by getting Kim to accept a lesser deal where he gets to keep his life. For a man in his early 30s he can either choose to go down fighting or see out his days with the embezzled billions and bevy of beauties in his concubine.

Shouldn’t the fact that China provided Kim Jong Un with a “private” jet to get to the summit speak volumes about who his interests represent? While the US State Dept might quibble over minibar expenses at his hotel in Singapore, President Xi is showing he’s truly behind the outcomes from North Korea’s side. The Chairman is but a puppet.

China only wants reunification if that means US Forces leave the South. That is unlikely to be on the cards so Kim can de-nuclearise and clutch to the bosom of Xi.

As CM wrote back in August 2017, China will turn North Korea into a puppet state. Kim knows it is best to hitch his wagon to the world’s most ruthless regional power in coming decades. He only needs to bear 6.5 years of Trump. President Xi will be around for decades.

The repeated folly of the 外人 boss in Japan

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Several weeks back a foreign private equity firm asked what was CM’s opinion on gaijin (foreign) bosses in Japan. The answer was along the lines that an overwhelming majority end up failing for two main reasons:

1) failure to speak the language/understand the culture to a sufficient level and

2) thinking what has worked overseas will automatically apply in the domestic market.

Carlos Ghosn of Nissan-Renault fame could probably go down as one of the few that got it right. In his case Nissan was out of ideas, options and was prepared to listen to its new masters. Michael Woodford of Olympus fame was the other stand out gaijin CEO whose fate was cut short by a board coup after the Englishman uncovered massive fraud.

Sony under Sir Howard Stringer was different. Sony was not a cash strapped basket case on life support like Nissan was so the internal feudal structures could comfortably survive. The urgency to implement drastic change was not deemed an imperative. Stringer had no real command of culture or language and as such the machine below him functioned more or less as it wished. It is no surprise to see the man under Stringer is now the CEO and one can be sure almost all of the staff hitched their trailers to Hirai.

A chat with one of the Japanese dealers of a European auto marque last week highlighted the problems of gaijin bosses without sufficient cultural cut through. The company is struggling to compete with rivals who are simply leaving it for dust. The OEM has had 4 sales heads in the space of 2 years, For a country that prides itself on long term service, promotions based on tenure and stability, it was not a surprise to see the local staff keep their heads down. Why bother engaging with the new boss on what problems exist. Best stay silent. With any luck he’ll be gone and the next person will arrive and we can restart the game.

Yet these foreign bosses ask, “why don’t the local staff engage?” To the locals it is a simple matter of surviving til the next gaijin boss lands. Many gaijin bosses wonder why the Japanese staff spend a lot of time in glass rooms without them. They’re formulating the group responses which they think the boss wants to hear. Many seek to buy time. It is collective rationing on a life-raft.

The Japanese staff invariably prefer security over risk taking, So there is little incentive to be risk takers, even if some staff are bilingual. It isn’t a criticism but an acknowledgment that they don’t trust gaijin bosses. It isn’t even a reflection on the gaijin boss per se. Culture matters. If a gaijin boss can’t converse in a tongue that shows a commitment to understand cultural norms the likelihood of the message being conveyed (not withstanding another layer of translation) is almost pointless.

Another dealer mentioned that it has had the dealer margins recently slashed in favour of volumetric targets before bigger incentives kick in. While such strategies may excite the hungry salespeople outside Japan, the local sales teams here openly admitted the strategy change has had the opposite impact in terms of motivation. One sales member said, “dame, dame, dame!” (Dame = bad). He said it will more than likely mean that they push for selling cheap, low-end, low-margin product just to eat.

The irony is that if the OEM raised the initial margins for the dealers they would feel a margin of safety which would be seen as a way to sell even more bikes because they like the idea of predictability. The added pressure sedates not seduces. The dealer will likely struggle to the point of bankruptcy before trying radical maneuvers. The problem for the OEM is that reversing the strategy will create even less trust between dealer and OEM because it will highlight the lack of understanding. Gaijin strategies don’t apply.

The CEO of one American auto brand here has been crushing it for almost a decade. A gaijin with a mastery of language, culture and an understanding of the marketplace. In a decade, sales have quintupled and likely go up another 20% this year. Why? The dealer relationships are rock solid. They are treated as family. There is dialogue and communication and there is a shared sense of responsibility. If times get a little tight, the HQ makes accommodations so both end up in a win-win situation. In short – Trust!

The aforementioned European make effectively says that “you better make space for all the new cars coming your way next month” The dealers feel there is no relationship. The OEM seems totally dismissive of dealer issues. No matter how tough the market the OEM has no sense of loyalty to the dealers. That makes them feel uncomfortable about leveraging up or taking risk. They balk at buying too much stock because there is little to no flexibility.

Many gaijin CEOs need to know that when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Yet too many foreign bosses come in with the mentality they can swing the locals to their way of thinking. Usually that learning process occurs after realizing that hiring natives who speak their language doesn’t necessarily buy the skills they thought would help ram home the strategies that have worked in other countries.

While all the efficiency, profitability and success metrics make sense from a shareholders perspective, the local staff want security, longevity and shared accountability. The gaijin bosses that try to force Western norms before addressing the concerns of staff will find that both parties will have less of both desired outcomes.

A wise fund manager once said about Japan – “it isn’t capitalism with warts, but communism with beauty spots!” The sooner gaijin bosses understand that they will benefit from the collective strengths of the land of the rising sun.

Japan’s Defense White Paper 2017 – Chinese military jet incursions up 30-fold in 10 years

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Should Japan just close its eyes? The Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) has had to scramble jets almost 3x a day to intercept Chinese PLAAN aircraft flirting with Japan’s sovereign borders according to the 2017 Defense White Paper. Since 2007, the JSADF has seen an almost 30-fold jump in activity. With respect to the disputed Senkaku Islands, the PLAAN and PLAAF have been operating drones “inside” Japanese sovereign territory. While Japan can take some comfort with the US Forces stationed throughout the country, China’s increasing belligerence in the region is obvious.

With respect to China, the JMoD wrote,

China is believed to be making efforts to strengthen its asymmetrical military capabilities to prevent military activities by other countries in the region, denying access and deployment of foreign militaries to its surrounding areas (“Anti-Access/Area-Denial” [“A2/AD”] capabilities), and recently, pursuing large-scale military reforms designed to build its joint operations structure with actual combat in mind. In addition, China is rapidly expanding and intensifying its activities both in quality and quantity in the maritime and aerial domains in the region, including in the East and South China Seas.

In particular, China has continued to take assertive actions with regard to issues of conflicts of interest in the maritime domain, as exemplified by its attempts to change the status quo by coercion, and has signaled its position to realize its unilateral assertions without making any compromises. As for the seas and airspace around Japan, Chinese government ships have routinely and repeatedly intruded into Japan’s territorial waters, and China has engaged in dangerous activities that could cause unintended consequences, such as its naval vessel’s direction of fire control radar at a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) destroyer, the flight of fighters abnormally close to SDF aircraft, and its announcement of establishing the “East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ)” based on its own assertion, thereby infringing the freedom of overflight.

In the South China Sea, China has continued to take unilateral actions that change the status quo and heighten tension, including large-scale and rapid reclamation of multiple features, establishment of outposts there, and their use for military purposes, based on China’s unique assertions which are incompatible with the existing international order, and has made steady efforts to create a fait accompli. In addition, a Chinese fighter is alleged to have flown abnormally close to and conducted an intercept of a U.S. Forces aircraft. These Chinese activities represent serious security concerns of the region encompassing Japan, and of the international community.

For this reason, China is urged to further increase transparency regarding its military and enhance its compliance with international norms. It is a key task to further strengthen mutual understanding and trust by promoting dialogue and exchanges with China, and make further progress on measures to build trust, such as measures to avoid and prevent unintended consequences in the maritime domain.”

Sadly Japan is unlikely to get the answers it wants to hear. So as trivial as submitting to Chinese pressure to change an in flight magazine map might seem to many, the bigger picture is what is happening on the security front. As Churchill once said, “you cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!

 

Checking privilege or checking presumptions?

CM has lost count of the times the white privilege moniker has been thrown about as a way to shut down debate. There is an almost uncanny wish for liberal whites to white-shame other whites these days. It seems that 99.9% of those who throw the white privilege word are white themselves. The tacit argument is that they feel they gain acceptance with non-whites by denying their own identity. Have non-whites come out en-masse demanding this? Virtually none that CM has met.

The left is obsessed with this idea that all minorities are distinct groups who share identical thoughts and beliefs. Take the radically leftist inspired C-16 compelled speech laws in Canada where the trans community took what was supposed to be a compassionate piece of legislation as one where they felt betrayed by the lack of consultation and presumption of shared voice. There is a fantastic scene from Freedom Writers to this very point. Do these supposedly justice for all human rights crusading cultural Marxists assume all minorities are facsimilies within their clusters? Why do these activists become self appointed spokespeople for these groups? It is exactly this type of condescending action which creates the very division they are trying to stop. Diversity of thought among individuals, anyone?

Take these posters from the University of San Francisco (uSF). Karl Marx may have recently turned 200 but his legacy lives and breathes in California. So much for universities being the cradle of free and open thinking. The University of Texas has the MasculinUT program which is equally obtuse. Men must not feel obliged to express unrestricted masculinity. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200 – why not castrate male UT students or force inject female hormones instead? Let’s not start with the mind-bending educational programs forced on pre-schoolers across the world. The designers don’t even hide the agenda. Not to mention Bill 89 in Ontario which allows the state to remove children from parents who don’t accept their gender identity in time. Or a Massachusetts kindergarten that has banned the use of the word ‘best friend’ for the sake of inclusivity. We’re even being told to ask for an infant’s consent to change their diaper. It is a slippery slope that the left wants considered mainstream when it is patently empirically extreme.

Apart from the deeply condescending nature of the uSF posters, are Christians the only religion that should feel privilege? Why not Buddhists, Jews, Hindus or Muslims? Do those groups not observe religious holidays? Do the majority of Muslims protest Christians celebrating Christmas? No. Do Christians take to the streets when Muslims celebrate Ramadan? No. When you’re busting to go to the bathroom do you consciously check cisgender privilege? Most likely not. It is surprising more cisgender women don’t cross the border to use male bathrooms when their line in long. Probably because of a group assumption that men are less hygienic and might leave the toilet seat up.

Let’s look at some of the leftist thinking about ranking ‘privilege’.

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Take the quick test above. According to this table you will need to become an other, intersex, gay, trans, Middle Eastern, homeless, blind, disfigured, short, Muslim scientist (presumably climate professors get extra negative scores) to maximize all potential disadvantages. There is no worse combination for future victimhood in the liberal identikit than a tall, white, straight, cis male who works in finance. Although thankfully Australians are regarded at the lowest spectrum of whites. Still, how unfair to the Japanese who have gone through two decades of virtually no economic growth and untold natural disasters to be compared to Aussies that have had 25 years of unfettered economic expansion and face some dangerous snakes and spiders. Or is that a function of the Japanese being required to check their colonial past throughout Asia in the early 20th Century?

White privilege is just another tenet of group categorization. Should whites pay a tax to offset their level of privilege, presumably relative to their position on the chart above?

Going back to the white privilege shamers, many of those CM knows have backgrounds in finance. In an industry that is often tagged for having a penchant for deregulation, free spirits and mugging Main St. is anything but, when so many scream to the world at their virtuous moral code. How many of them support so many ideologies around equality of outcome despite most of these ‘white’ investment bankers being the first in line to cry foul if their ‘supposedly’ superior skill sets have not been rewarded accordingly. So while on the outside they protest so much injustice and inequality, they scream like libertarians internally. They can’t have it both ways. CM has always been a libertarian and believes in equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome.

CM appreciates there are injustices throughout the world but the worst way to achieve it is by compelling it, even under the veil of affirmative action. The case studies of doing so are overwhelmingly conclusive of producing the opposite outcomes. If everyone is assured the same result, why bother studying or striving for the extra mile? It is counter intuitive. It is also downright demeaning to assume that ALL ambitious minorities are crying to be given a leg up.

The most recentwhite privilege jab was over a discussion of the freedom of speech of NFL kneelers. Because many of the players happen to be black, CM needed to check white privilege. The only argument CM made was that these NFL players were employees who have a boss. How dare CM silence these people fighting for a cause! CM argued that no one is claiming they do not have a right to protest but if their bosses are witnessing customers (aka fans) deserting the games, hence impacting revenues which ultimately impedes the ability to throw multi millions to the same players something has to give. Put simply they have a business call to make. Make it all about police brutality but when harsh economics ends up seeing players sacked, don’t cry to CM. Is your boss unfair to sack or demote you if you are not prepared to please customers in order for the business to stay afloat? Just take a knee and see how far you get. CM bets none of you will. You know full well the boss is entitled to expect a return on the money he or she pays you. The boss isn’t doing it solely out of generous spirit. The NFL bosses aren’t questioning free speech but forecasting the net present value of the franchise.

The irony is that most of the kneelers (although CM read that Colin Kaepernick does invest into some of the causes he is protesting) do not invest their own spare time to fight those injustices. Many are trying to stay out of the courts given their all too frequent misdemeanors off the field – rape, DUI, resisting arrest, dog-fighting etc. Yet the white privilege shamers come forward with the argument that fans should put up with it. The liberal creed is that ‘social justice’ must be beaten into viewers. Do these SJWs get that the more they hammer these messages home the further they drive the people they’re trying to convince away? If we can white shame these spectators enough they’ll cave, right? Wrong. Little do they realize that these same fans might have financial, marital or employment stresses that the game is supposed to take them from? Is it just white fans seeking remediation? Most certainly not.

White privilege was hurled at the US education system for unconscious racial bias. What The NY Times article failed to document was that 99.6% of ALL kids stay out of big trouble which would result in serious disciplinary action, including arrest. All too easy to dumb it down to colour alone, yet when looking at liberal (Brookings Institute) or libertarian (Heritage Foundation) think tanks, both point to broken homes as a major cause of problems in graduation rates and disciplinary action. This has been documented over decades. Yet the liberal view is that all this division can only be attributed to white privilege. Torn asunder if black libertarians like Thomas Sowell, Larry Elder or Candice Owens don’t tow the line.

Skin colour seems to be a single-variable regression to white shamers. Does CM tell his half-Japanese kids to moan and complain that they are mixed race? Or does he try to impart to them the value of hard work, diligence and making their way through application and effort? They hopefully get the message that their father has tried to impart to them many times that the ‘taste of victory’ is umpteenths times greater the harder the challenge. Did Oprah become the world’s highest paid entertainer for hard work or just because she is black? Should we gut the NFL and put in less competent white players to ensure that ethnic balance is restored along the lines of population weights? Would fans want to pay a premium to see inferior performance? White shamers would suggest they would. Common sense would say not.

Yet, white privilege is the problem that if fixed will supposedly solve everything. Australian nurses and midwives are being told in the latest code of conduct to check white privilege and admit their colonial past to expectant mothers of other backgrounds. No seriously, instead of focusing on ensuring safe deliveries they are being asked to bow down to this ridiculous indoctrination. Will mothers giving birth feel empowered that the midwife grovels or marvel in the miracle of bringing life into the world?

Little by little, freedoms are being forcibly removed from society under the guise of political correctness. Reasoned debate is ignored. Outcomes are engineered in a way that ensures the data fits the legislation. Canada is one of the worst examples of this in action and the latest polls against PM Justin Trudeau reflect the backlash. Instead of debating sensibly through democratic means, the left wants to channel their doctrine through education and compelled speech. The left shouldn’t be surprised when a growing list of countries throughout Europe are becoming fed up with centralized control and voting at a sovereign level to disassociate themselves. Even if Brussels still tries to influence those constituents as to how they democratically choose to sustain their cultures, as evidenced this week in Italy.

Take the UK stance over Islam. British authorities seem so afraid of their own shadow that they have introduced a two-tiered approach to the control of citizens that would even make Lenin blush. Not initially by design but by avoidable mistakes. The dithering non-confrontational nature of the Brits means that they muddle through issues which end up making them more uncomfortable and put the population in a worse position, period. There are undoubtedly swathes of Muslims who detest the way they are tarred with the same brush as the more radical among them that are behind terrorist activity or grooming under-age girls for rape and sex trafficking. Rightly so. Any group of Christians would feel equally appalled to have their faith associated with sexually deviant priests molesting young boys. Therein lies the danger of generalizing groups rather than correctly targeting individual perpetrators, regardless of whether religion has been taken out of context to commit crimes.

Radio presenter and founder of Quilliam, Maajid Nawaz, has openly critized the UK authorities for pandering to political correctness.

For too long in this country, we have ignored the issue of grooming gangs. Of young vulnerable teenage girls who have been victimised, drugged, raped and abused…Whether it’s the Rotherham case or all the other cases that were replicated across the country, it is both the conclusion of the prosecutor in the Rotherham case…or indeed the official inquiry into why it took so long for these young vulnerable under-age girls to get justice – both of those concluded that fears of racism prevented us from coming to the defence of vulnerable under-age girls…Fears of racism meaning that the state was scared that it would be accused of being racist if it rightly arrested and prosecuted largely British Pakistani Muslim men in their abuse of under-age white teenage girls…If we hadn’t all been silent, if we had all addressed this issue head on when it needed to be addressed, when it was time to address it, then the void would not have emerged for the populist agitators to fill that gap…

Nawaz holds no punches. The British government has presumed the majority of Muslims may get offended so 1,000s of innocent under-age (white) girls became sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. One Labor politician claimed that these rape victims should shut up for the sake of diversity. Should that be categorized as a white privilege offset? Presumption is a dangerous game. Are people surprised when the cover up is finally exposed that Britons become enraged? It is hardly a win-win for the Muslim community at large to have this fester beyond the squalid state it already has become.

Yet examining the state of UK prisons, inmates identifying as Muslims number 15% of the population despite being 7% of the UK population. Is that a sign the judiciary is being biased against the Tommy Robinsons of the world? No. While the drive-thru jailing of him last week apears overly biased, the explosive growth in the Muslim prison population would not exist were the courts targeting non-Muslims. If only the courts were able to expedite justice for these poor girls as quickly as Mr Yaxley-Lennon.

Examining the huge surge of violence (against fellow inmates and guards), an 800% leap in unexplained deaths (aka murder) and the 6 fold jump in call outs of the tactical riot squad within UK prisons over the last decade coincide with the doubling of jailed radicals. It must worry the law makers no end to how they solve for this disturbing rise in crime and stick to politically correct narratives.

The simple solution is to engage a broader section of all communities beyond those that have clearly produced no tangible results. When will they realize it is not working and DO something about it, rather than presuming the several speak for the whole?

If liberals desperately covet diversity and identity politics for the good of peoplekind, they are going the wrong way about it. Shaming others has proven to be a recruiter for the right. To put this in chess parlance –

The best chess move is the one which your opponent least wants you to make

Instead of ostracism and presumption, try engaging individuals rather than expect them to accept accusations of association to groups that they may abhor.

GEzus Priced super far?

US Corp prof.pngIt is not rocket science. Generally higher interest rates lead to lower profitability. The chart above shows that quarterly pre-tax US profitability is struggling. We took the liberty of comparing the 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.

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With the Fed moving toward a tightening cycle, we note that the spreads of Baa 10yrs to the FFR has yet to climb out of its hole. During GFC it peaked at 8.82%. It is now around 3%.

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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.

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Corporate America binged on cheap credit over the last decade and given the spreads to Aaa ranked corporate bonds were relatively small, it was a no brainer. In 2015, GE’s then-CEO Jeff Immelt said he was willing to add as much as $20 billion of additional debt to grow, even if it meant lower bond grades. We can see that the spread today is a measly 0.77%. Way off the 3.38% differential at the time of GFC. Still nearly 50% of corporate debt is rated at the nasty end.

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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 its balance sheet. So as an investor, would you prefer the safety of government debt or take a punt on paper next to junk heading into a tightening cycle?

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In any event, the 4.64% 10yr Baa corporate bond effective yield is half what it was at the time of GFC. Yet, what will profitability look like when the relative attractiveness of US Treasuries competes with a deteriorating corporate sector in terms of profitability or balance sheet?

Take GE as an example. Apart from all of the horror news of potential dividend cuts, bargain basement divestments and a CEO giving vague timelines on a turnaround in its energy business things do not bode well. Furthermore many overlook the fact that GE has $18.7bn of negative equity. Selling that dog of an insurance business will need to go for pennies in the dollar. There is no premium likely. GE had a AAA rating but lost it in March 2009. Even at AA- the risk is likely to the downside.

Take GE’s interest cover. This supposed financial juggernaut which was at the time of GFC the world’s largest market cap company now trades with a -0.17x interest coverage ratio. In FY2013 it was 13.8x. The ratio of debt to earnings, has surged from 1.5 in 2013 to 3.7 today. It has $42bn in debt due in 2020 for refinancing.

By 2020, what will the interest rate differentials be? There seems to be some blind faith in GE’s new CEO John Flannery’s ability to turn around the company. Yet he is staring at the peak of the aerospace cycle where any slowdown could hurt the spares business not to mention the high fixed cost nature of new engines under development. In a weird way, GE is suffering these terrible ratios at the top of the cycle rather than the bottom. Asset fire sales to patch that gaping hole in the balance sheet. Looks like a $4 stock not a $14 one.