recession

Japanese consumer confidence waning as consumption tax hike starts tomorrow

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As the 10% consumption tax rate kicks in from October 1 in Japan from the current 8%, it is worth reflecting on the sorry state of consumer confidence. We are back below 2014 levels. While the sales of Japanese rugby jerseys and huge consumption of beer by gaijin at the Rugby World Cup may provide a brief respite, the trend remains distinctly negative.

Note that consumption tax has been the biggest portion of government revenue since 2014 and is on track to be 37% of the total in 2019, followed by individuals and the lazy corporate sector. Japan’s small-medium enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of employment, comprising 70% of the labour force and 97% of all corporations. Yet 70% of SMEs pay no tax at all.

From an individual level, the top 0.7% of earners in Japan pay 30% of the tax bill, up from 20% in 1974. The bottom 50% have seen their tax contribution fall from 10% to around 2.8%. The top 8% pay around three-quarters of the total.

With Japan running a ¥100 trillion (US$1tn) national budget, the Ministry of Finance needs to sell ¥40 trillion (US$400bn) every year to plug the budget deficit.  The hope is that the consumption tax will lower the dependence on having to debt finance to such extremes.

What are banned but addicted vapers going to smoke now?

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Tobacco companies fall foul of most ESG (environment/social/governance)/CSR (corporate social responsibility) measures. Good. Give that so much money is already loaded into corporations that focus on financial virtue signalling, tobacco companies remain forgotten. They look a great mean reversion trade.

British American Tobacco (BTI) is trading at $36 almost half the level of two years ago. Now at 1.02x book value and a 7.3% yield.

Philip Morris Int’l (PM) is at $72.60, down from $122.90 in 2017. A 6.4% dividend yield.

Imperial Brands (IMBBY) at $26.73 down from $55.55 in 2016. A 9.2% yield.

JT is less than half its 2016 number trading at $21.44. A 6.45% yield.

Philip Morris doesn’t have a vaping business but it appears with all these bans in NY etc that nicotine-addicted vapers will switch back to the old school.

Old habits die hard and cigarette smoking is pretty inelastic. Even in bonkers $40 a packet Australia, the ABS records men continued to be more likely than women to smoke daily (16.5% compared to 11.1%). Rates for both men and women have declined since 1995 when 27.3% of men and 20.3% of women smoked daily. However, these rates have remained similar since 2014-15 (16.9% for men and 12.1% for women). Therefore taxes haven’t killed off the habit.

So start underweighting the rubbish in your portfolio that has a penchant for banning plastic straws in the staff canteen to those corporates that allow yourself the opportunity to kill you!

Let’s not forget that governments aren’t going to terminate the monster taxes from this either, especially that so many national and state budgets around the world are looking seriously sick.

RBA should expect a dead cat bounce from the rate cut

The RBA has cut rates to a record low 1.25%. The irony here is people and businesses invest because they see a cycle, not because interest rates are low. Lowering rates will do little to spur investment, especially as the global economy cools.

Post the Hayne Royal Commission, the banks will likely pass on the full amount which will only impact margins and weaken them given the high reliance on wholesale funding.

The other problem the RBA faces is that banks have become so reluctant to lend post the RC that the net impacts of the rate cut will be negated by the unwillingness to lend at levels we have seen in the past given the penalties associated with it.

CM still contends that the Aussie banks tread a perilous path given their leveraged balance sheets. CM thinks part nationalization or worse is a real prospect if the slowdown is severe enough. The equity buffers are tiny relative to the real estate portfolio. All contained in the above link.

The rate cut is unlikely to boost confidence other than loosen the noose around stretched borrowers’ necks.

Paying someone to quit smoking on your behalf

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Jo Nova has put together an excellent piece on the Labor government’s plan to buy carbon credits overseas to atone for our CO2 sins. Buying air we can’t breathe is essentially like paying someone else to quit smoking on our behalf. How do we benefit?!?

Labor leader Bill Shorten may argue that the cost of doing nothing on climate change is a “charlatan’s argument” but CM costed it yesterday. Our CO2 emissions are equivalent to 0.000016% of the global total. No matter what we do our impact is nothing. What does tokenism get us? Zero. Zip. Nada.

Jo Nova wrote,

The 35 billion dollars we will spend on these useless, fraud-prone certificates is $35 billion we are taking out of the Australian labor market, or not spending on medicine, books or holidays in Bali. Angus Taylor, Minister for Energy, has noticed that this means $10b less tax will be paid too, which means less money for hospitals and schools.

There’s nothing wrong with payments to foreigners for real goods and services. But carbon credits buy us 0.0001C of theoretical cooling we don’t need and won’t be able to measure 100 years from now. It’s the dumbest deal Australia has ever made. Fraudsters and bankers will love it.”

Carbon credit markets have had a sketchy past. Hackers broke into poorly protected government and corporate carbon registries and swindled €3.7mn. So the credits we might buy to virtue signal may end up being fraudulent.

Carbon trading is a complete scam. As Jo Nova added,

“Independent modelling suggests the 45% emissions target of the Labor party will cost at least $264bn and as high as $542bn by 2030. The Liberal Party will “only” waste  $50 – $80b.”

All for absolutely nothing. When the economy tanks our politicians can brag about achieving lower emissions targets quicker because our climate policies will have accelerated the death of industry.

Parker Hannifin order book sets worrying tone

Parker Hannifin is a fantastic barometer to measure the health of global industrials. It is a leader in pneumatics, pumps, hoses, hydraulics, drives, valves, filters, separators, refrigeration, seals etc. It’s products find their way into almost every conceivable part of the manufacturing chain. Think of it as a massive hardware store for corporations. From Caterpillar earthmovers to automation in food factories. When Parker announces orders, we get a good window on how the state of the economy is doing. The Q3 numbers released today showed:

• Orders decreased 4% for total Parker

• Orders decreased 6% in the Diversified Industrial North America businesses

• Orders decreased 4% in the Diversified Industrial International businesses

• Orders increased 2% in the Aerospace Systems Segment on a rolling 12-month average basis

Because aerospace is such a long lead time business, orders can buck trends. Having said that, orders for North America and International were soft.

Forget that Parker beat on EPS print. It’s guidance is the same. The orders are a worry. Q4 hurdles look tough.

To infinity and beyond?

Several days before Enron went belly up, Goldman Sachs released a research report on the company titled, “As good as it gets“. Grandiose statements are often precursors to calamity.

When Barrons publishes articles with “The bull market has no expiration date” start running for the hills. Sounds like Barrons has channeled Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story who said, “to infinity and beyond.”

What happened to Greenspan’s “irrational exuberance“?

Remember his godlike status was such that markets would hang on his every word forcing him to eventually utter,

I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant!”

Maybe Barrons forgot that Buzz also said, “this isn’t flying! It’s falling with style.” Unfortunately there will be no grace when this bubble pops.

Thanks to SM007 for the flag.

$14bn shock for Shorten. Not $100m

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Let’s face it, pre-election budget boasting is a beauty contest we can do without. Fanciful promises guarantee we will not end up in surplus. Shorten’s speech was loaded with mistakes. Let’s cut through some numbers.

The Coalition put forward the following on Tuesday.

What escaped many in the Frydenberg budget of Tuesday is that to fund the 16.8% jump in tax receipts on 2018/19, individual taxpayers will still see their pockets hit +18.4% in aggregate even after including the ‘generous’ rebates. Superannuation tax collections will jump 43% in 4 years time.

NDIS spending is targeted to be 92% higher by 2022/23 than last year. Medicare +24%, public hospital assistance to the states +21%, aged care services +27%. For all the celebrations of lowering pharmaceutical rebates for one wonder drug from $120,000 to $6.50, the reality is spending in this segment will fall 18.4% in total. The family tax benefit will squeak 4% higher in the next 4 years.

As written on Tuesday, the revenue projections of the government are unrealistic as we stare at a slowing world economy. German industrial production in March cratered to 44.1 and China’s auto sales continued a 7-month double-digit slump in February.

Analyzing the Labor response

Shorten claimed NDIS was cut A$1.6bn to get a surplus. Under Frydenberg’s budget, NDIS for 2019/20 will rise A$4.5bn. Out to 2022/23, it rises to over A$24bn.

The Opposition Leader also made reference to A$14bn in cuts to public schools. Note the funding to public schools on 2013/14 was A$4.8bn. In 2018/19 it was $7.7bn and projected in 2022/23 to be A$10.4bn. 

$200mn to renovate nursing campuses in Australia won’t achieve much. The John Curtin Medical Research School at the ANU cost $130mn alone.

Shorten made reference to bushfires being caused by climate change. Fire & Rescue NSW notes that 90% of fires are either deliberately or accidentally set. A Royal Commission after the horrible Black Saturday bushfires showed that policies which restricted backburning reduction targets were to blame for the larger spread of fires, not climate change. In 2013, Tasmania learned none of the lessons with similar policy restrictions preventing the Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service to complete more than 4% of all the 2.6m hectares it manages. The reef is not being damaged by climate change and floods and drought are no more frequent or severe than a century ago.

While climate alarmists will relish the prospect of 50% electric vehicles (EV) and cut emissions 45% by 2030 to save the planet, a few truths need to be considered:

1) our own Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, has admitted that no matter what Australia does to mitigate global warming our impact will be zero. Naught. Nada. Putting emotion to one side, is there any point in spending $10s of billions to drive electricity prices?

2) South Australia and Victoria have already beta tested what having a higher percentage of renewable energy does or rather doesn’t do for sustainable and reliable baseload power. Both states have not only the highest energy prices in Australia but the world. These stats are backed up in Europe. The EU member states with a higher percentage of renewables have steeper electricity prices than those with less. These are facts.

3) Consumption patterns matterLast year Aussies bought only 2,200 EVs. In 2008, SUVs made up 19% of the new car sales mix. Today they make up 43%.
In 2008, c.50m total passengers were carried on Australian domestic flights to over 61m today. The IATA expects passengers flown will double over the current level by 2030. These are hardly the actions of people panicked about cataclysmic climate change. Or if they are, they expect others to economize on their behalf.

Qantas boasts having the largest carbon offset program in place yet only 2% of miles are paid for, meaning 98% aren’t. 

4) Global EV production capacity is around 2.1m units. While rising, it is still a minor blip on 79 million cars sold worldwide. Add to that, auto parts suppliers and car makers are reluctant to expand capacity too fast in a global auto market that is slowing rapidly.

Car sales in China have fallen for 7 straight months. In Feb 2019, sales fell 13.8% on the back of January’s -15% print.  Dec 2018 (-13%), Nov 2018 (-13.9%) & Oct 2018 (-11.7%) according to the Chinese Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM). The US and Australian car markets are under pressure too. 

5) So haphazard is the drive for EV legislation that there are over 200 cities in Europe with different regulations. In the rush for cities to outdo one another this problem will only get worse. Getting two city councils to compromise is one thing but 200 or more across country lines?

Without consistent regulations, it is hard for makers to build EVs that can accommodate all the variance in laws without sharply boosting production costs. 

6) Fuel excise tax – at the moment, 5% of our tax revenue comes from the bowser. $25bn! Will Mr. Shorten happily give this up or do we expect when we’ve been forced to buy EVs that we will be stung with an electricity tax on our cars?

7) Norway is a poor example to benchmark against. It is 5% of our land mass, 1/5th our population and new car sales around 12% of Australia. According to BITRE, Australia has 877,561km of road network which is 9x larger than Norway.

Norway has around 8,000 chargers countrywide. Installation of fast chargers runs around A$60,000 per unit on top of the $100,000 preparation of each station for the high load 480V transformer setup to cope with the increased loads.

Norway state enterprise, Enova, said it would install fast chargers every 50km of 7,500km worth of main road/highway.

Australia has 234,820km of highways/main roads. Fast chargers at every 50km like the Norwegians would require a minimum of 4,700 charging stations across Australia. Norway commits to a minimum of 2 fast chargers and 2 standard chargers per station.

The problem is our plan for 570,000 cars per annum is 10x the number of EVs sold in Norway, requiring 10x the infrastructure.

While it is safe to assume that Norway’s stock of electric cars grows, our cumulative sales on Shorten’s plan would require far greater numbers. So let’s do the maths (note this doesn’t take into account the infrastructure issues of rural areas):

14,700 stations x $100,000 per station to = $1,470,000,000

4,700 stations x 20 fast chargers @ A$60,000 = $5,640,000,000 (rural)

4,700 stations x 20 slow chargers @ A$9,000 = $846,000,000 (rural)

10,000 stations x 5 fast chargers @ A$60,000 = $3,000,000,000 (urban)

570,000 home charging stations @ $5,500 per set = $3,135,000,000 (this is just for 2030)

Grand Total: A$14,091,000,000

Note that Shorten pledged $100m to EV charging stations around Australia to meet his goals. Even if he was to skimp on 2 fast and 2 slow chargers per stand, Aussies taxpayers will need to shell out $6.5bn. At least he could technically cover that with repealing $6bn in franking credits.

Norway’s privately run charging companies bill users at NOK2.50 (A$0.42c) per minute for fast charging. Norway’s electricity prices are around NOK 0.55 (A$0.05c) per kWh to households.  In South Australia, that price is 43c/kWh. So will Shorten subsidize an EV owner charging in Adelaide at the mark up a private retailer might charge? 

What about subsidies to EV buyers? If we go off Shorten’s assumptions of $3,400 per EV at 570,000 EVs per annum, the tax payer will fork out $1.94bn a year.

Will there be a cash-for-clunkers scheme?  If the plan is to drive internal combustion powertrains off the road, existing owners may not be emboldened with the decimation in the value of their existing cars. Let’s assume buyers are irrational and accept $3,000 per car (Gillard offered $2,000 back in 2010) trade-in under the scheme. That would amount to $1.73bn.

8) Making our own batteries! While it is true Australia is home to all of the relevant resources, sadly we do not have enough cobalt to make enough of them.

Australia is home to only 4% (5,100t) of the world’s cobalt. 60% of the world’s cobalt comes from DR Congo which has less than satisfactory labour laws surrounding children. If we want cheap EVs, we have to bear that cross of sacrificing children to save the planet. It can’t be done any other way.

Li-ion batteries consume around 42% of the globe’s cobalt supplies. Cars are 40% of that. The rest being computers, mobile phones, etc.

9) Automakers have set up their own battery capacity to supply internal production. Given our terrible history in automotives, we should not expect them to line up to buy our batteries.

Nissan spent around A$770m on a battery plant in Sunderland. Panasonic plowed $2.8bn into the battery plant that supplies Tesla.

10) Australia has no real homegrown industrial scale EV battery technology. If we bought in a technical license, that will only make our production costs prohibitive on a global scale. Our high wage costs would add to the improbability of it being a sensible venture.

All in, Shorten’s EV plans could cost Australians well over $20bn with c.$4bn in subsidies ongoing.

11) Green jobs – according to the ABS, jobs in the renewable sector have fallen from the peak of 19,000 in 2011/12 to 14,920 in 2016/17. The upshot is that green jobs in the renewable sector are not sustainable.

In short, Mr. Shorten’s budget reply was extremely thin on detail. Especially with respect to climate change. The LNP has plenty of ammunition to prosecute the case on his wild costing inaccuracies (as outlined above) yet will they have the gumption to fight on those lines. Saving the planet is one thing.

Loading a stretched grid with EVs and increasing the proportion of less reliable power sources looks like a recipe for disaster. We need only look at consumption patterns to get a true sense of how ‘woke’ people when it comes to global warming. South Australians and Victorians are already living the nightmare of renewables.

This election is about one thing – individual pocketbooks. The electorate needs working solutions, not electric dreams.