Poverty

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.

Now Kathy Griffin is the helpless victim

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What a blithering idiot. If she couldn’t see that her stunt was potentially career ending then it is hard to have sympathy. Did she not weigh up her decision in the days and weeks it would have taken to prepare the prop? Did she not seek third party advice? Now she’s playing the victim card. How pathetic. She even hired a lawyer to defend her from attacks from the Trump family. I would imagine most sane families would hound you if you held a mock decapitation of the head of the family. Let’s see if she is crowd funded to keep her out of self inflicted poverty.

The likes of Jim Carey came out to say that comedy is all about crossing lines. To a point he is right but Griffin’s stunt at no point had a comic element to it. This was a venomous, targeted and mal-intended event to make a point of her dislike for her democratically elected leader. Amazing how she can go on TV as a victim. The reason she has been fired is that the networks is they don’t think she’ll be a drawcard. Given the low cost of online platforms maybe she can set up her own pay-per-view comedy channel and see how popular she really is. Sorry Kathy, you own this.

Dick Turpin Turnbull will chase away foreign capital

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I was asked by a client this week on what I thought of Australia’s political climate. I said to him, “if you asked me 15-20 years ago I’d safely argue that it was the only country in the region which could boast incredibly stable government, sensible economic policy and a safe place to park your money. Today I can’t say with hand on heart that this is the Australia you are investing in today. What I will say is that you should keep your powder dry because it will become a ‘pound shop’ in the not too distant future with a weaker currency, higher rates and fire sale asset prices.”

He asked if I could elaborate. I replied “we have had 5 prime  ministers in almost as many years. Before that we never saw anything like that. Our political climate is vile and volatile. We now have a government that is seeking to put in place knowingly unsound policies to arrest poll declines rather than try to fix an out of control deficit. What they are failing to see is that bashing big banks (especially for a conservative Coalition government) out of the blue chases off investment (Alan Joyce and Don Argua are right about that). Foreign investors must wonder whether they may fall foul of knee-jerk regulations and decide the risk is not worth it. So in answer to your question the current climate is going to offer some fantastic opportunities down the line because all of the political turmoil will eventually force change and buying into the market leading into that will be your best bet.”

So with our Dick Turpin highwayman robber at the helm we invite unwelcome flight of capital. If you want to create jobs, growth, stability and invite foreign investment you do so by providing a platform that supports it. It isn’t won by bashing industry, cranking up public spending and hiking taxes. It is done by making yourself the safest place to invest and all the while that happens the risk falls meaning capital is not only cheaper but more abundant. This isn’t trickle down economics but sound policy. Sadly talking of net debt isn’t going to save this government and what is worse Opposition leader Bill Shorten wants to outspend a budget that makes the Sultan of Brunei’s giveaways look like Venezuelan austerity measures.

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.

The French voted for their interests, not yours!

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One of the persistent memes, posts and social media commentaries I’ve read in the last few days on Macron’s win feature ‘thank you France’,  ‘you’ve spared another Trump’ or similar prose. The fact that some feel compelled to write in such ways speaks volumes to their self-assessed sense of shared intellectual superiority despite not being citizens. The French democratically elected Macron. Not the foreigner. The end. It is not our moral duty to tell the French or any other country’s citizens how to vote. You can be assured those that voted for him had their own interests in mind, not yours when they cast their ballot. Do you think the Brits thought for a second they might upset the Americans if they didn’t follow Obama’s wise words of ‘Remain‘ leading into Brexit? Not a chance in hell. In fact his comments saw ‘Leave’ polling surge. Do you think the 10.6mn French that voted for Le Pen were thinking of those in Athens, Madrid or Brussels as the ticked her name? Even those French that voted for Macron would roll their eyes in frustration if you butchered their language in your polite attempt to communicate in pidgin-French. So thanking them would be viewed as a VTFF moment.

We shouldn’t forget that 25% of French voters didn’t bother showing up, probably because neither choice fitted their bill.  So Macron’s 66% could actually be less than 50% of total voters. Maybe Le Pen’s 34% was much higher if those non-voters were held at gunpoint? Perhaps lower? We won’t know but only the French get to decide. Our pontifications mean little to the French. If I decide to vote for One Nation or cast a donkey vote in the next Aussie federal election I would not care a jot what anyone else thought. I wouldn’t care for threats of defriending which was a common occurrence during the lead up to the US election. My vote is for me, not you. Your vote is yours not mine. I have no obligation to give you my vote. You have no obligation to vote for my choice.

Listen to the recent protests about rescinding the voting rights of the elderly because they supposedly sold out their grandkids. Name one time your grandparents deliberately acted against your well being? Ice cream and chocolates are excluded. Although that is evidence of blind love so intentionally in your favour. We can take it to the bank that the elderly were acting and will always act, using their multiple decades of experience, in the best interests of their family’s economic and financial future. They haven’t suffered a bout of Alzheimer’s and sought to elect someone that will punish them.

To suggest the French result is a defeat for populism and the far-right couldn’t be more wishful thinking if it tried.  As written several days back I argued it was a massive win for Le Pen, in fact so much so that if Macron is just Hollande-lite that 2022 could be a Le Pen victory. Doubling her father’s achievement is no mean feat. 10.6mn rejecting the EU should be a massive red flag. However in 2022 the French will line up at the ballot box and vote with the party or candidate that will best represent them. They’ll care not for your posturing and posts telling them how to vote.

For a man that plays the EU anthem over La Marseillaise should tell us something about the next 5 years. The 34% will likely be ignored. Potentially a slug of the 25% that didn’t vote may be neglected as well. I won’t be surprised when you write ‘WTF France?’, ‘how could you be so stupid France?‘ If Macron doesn’t look after enough of his citizens they’ll eventually gang up and fire him. Perhaps there is the folly in your tidings of praise – sitting in your comfortable study tapping away salutations missing the plight of the have nots continuing unabated. Thanks for nothing!

Macron has boarded a modern day Titanic but Le Pen has stolen over a third of the life boats

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The Titanic was most infamous for being an unsinkable ship. We all know the tragedy of its maiden voyage. Folklore tells us that to calm the passengers, the band played as the ship went down. The cautionary tale is one that fits the EU almost too perfectly. Macron’s win is akin to the EU playing the band (well Macron did play the EU anthem for his victory speech rather than La Marseillaise) all the while the Hard Brexit iceberg has ripped a huge hole below the waterline of SS Titanic II. The problem is the EU continues to behave as if the SS Titanic II is indeed unsinkable. Le Pen’s loss is much like believing the water tight compartments will keep the ship afloat. They couldn’t be more wrong as chief designer Thomas Andrews told White Star Line boss J. Bruce Ismay – who protested she was unsinkable- “She’s made of iron, sir! I assure you, she can… and she will. It is a mathematical certainty.”

The SS Titanic II’s crew treats its customers with varying levels of service. It entertains Lady Merkel and Lord Macron in proper first class fashion but for steerage passengers like the Greeks, Spanish and Portuguese they are kept locked below deck. The Greeks were willingly given passage on the SS Titanic II in full knowledge they possessed forged promissory notes as they boarded. The belief was that when they landed on the other side of the Atlantic they’d be able to work it off. Sadly the crew has finally realized it is futile and are now demanding they hand over whatever they have left before handing out life jackets. Moreover they must promise if they’re let out of steerage they must stay chained to the Master at Arms.

In all seriousness the treatment of the Greeks is despicable beyond words. 36% of Greeks live below the poverty line. 58% youth unemployment. That means many can’t access affordable healthcare because it is generally provided by corporates and when you lose a job you lose the healthcare. This means many are forced to use A&E of major hospitals which are now overcrowded and understaffed as more doctors are leaving to seek better fortune for their services elsewhere.

If that wasn’t enough, mothers who had given birth were being restricted from taking their new-borns home if they couldn’t pay the fees. While the government has banned this practice they have introduced new laws to allow the seizure of assets (e.g. homes) if debts are not settled.

Naturally the EU wishes to keep control over the way Greece handles its economic affairs but using the nation’s defiance of autocratic rule from Brussels as a weapon against it shows how little the federal state truly cares for its members. Deeds, not words. It promised to punish steerage countries, Spain and Portugal, for breaching debt covenants. This is the real EU. It is a supranational. A federation through the back door.

The Brexit vote is without a doubt the most damaging iceberg for the EU. The gaping hole it exposes is far more serious than any perceived phyrric victory through Macron’s win.

The issue here is that if Hard Brexit (May is likely to get the majority she needs on June 8th to push for it) is shown to work for the UK (likely) and the idea of extortionate exit penalties are legally unenforceable (confirmed last week) then the risks of jumping ship are sharply lowered. The problem for the EU is that there won’t be enough life boats to save all the crewreaucrats when more member states realize self preservation is the only viable option.

Le Pen’s 1/3rd of the vote, Hofer’s 46% in Austria, Wilders’ 25% increase in seats in The Netherlands, the Sweden Democrats jump to the top of the polls, Italy’s ousting of Renzi, Brexit, the Swiss handing back a 30yr standing free ticket to join…these don’t look like promising trends for an EU which is already badly listing. Despite ample warnings the EU refused (and still refuses) to change its course or exercise due care.

Will Captain Juncker go down with his unsinkable ship or follow Seamen Martin Schulz off before it is too late?

How the other half is doing in America

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A few years back the US Federal Reserve did a survey which revealed 47% of Americans couldn’t raise $400 cash in an emergency without selling something. Do you recall Marco Rubio in the GOP primaries harping about knowing families who live “paycheck to paycheck”  Well the bad news keeps rolling in.  Northwestern Mutual has pointed out that 45% of Americans spend up to half of their monthly take home pay on (mostly credit card) debt service alone….which, again, excludes mortgage debt.

The study went on to show that 40% of that credit card debt was frivolous discretionary spending (which they claimed was the biggest source of their problems) but only 20% were able to make minimum monthly payments.  In short don’t be surprised to see defaults, bankruptcies and moral hazard rear its ugly head. Now we see a run on a Canadian mortgage lender. Does the poverty rate of 25% across EU vs 20% pre Lehman collapse raise red flags? Does sharply growing public sector employment across the majority of OECD  countries since GFC not strike you as failed economic policy? Does 1/3rd of Aussies saying 3mths of continuous unemployment would lead to an inability to repay their debts? How the 65yo+ demographic is the largest prisoner cohort in Japan because poverty levels are climbing. Yes pensioners are breaking Into jail.

If anyone thinks record high asset prices is a reflection on our collective wealth think again. The worst thing about this bubble is that it is the accumulation of three massive bubbles that never cleared. Sadly this one will pop like one of those game shows with a balloon full of  stinky slime.