Shipping

Japan defence – change before you have to

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The Japanese Coast Guard (JCG) is scheduled to add two more vessels to the 452 (372 armed patrol) vessels she already has vs the Japan Marine Self Defence Force’s (JMSDF) 145 ships. Although in ultimate tonnage terms the JMSDF is bigger than the JCG (i.e. a Kongo class Aegis destroyer is 5 times the size of the largest JCG vessel),  Still Japan still continues to ramp up its coast guard fleet because it is viewed as less confrontational than deploying naval ships near contested islands such as the Senkaku Islands, where Chinese naval activity continues to increase.

This fiscal year the JCG will get access to a 212 billion yen budget (a 10% hike over last year of which 27% will be committed on surveillance around the Senkaku Islands). The JMSDF is part of the overall defence budget of 5.2 trillion yen.

Two new 1,500-ton JCG vessels with helipads will be deployed between FY2019 and 2020 from the coast guard’s Tsuruga Port in Fukui Prefecture, which is home to several nuclear plants. This is code for more JCG vessels required for duties around the contested waters due to increased China PLA Navy activity. From the 2017 Defence White Paper

“Since December 2015, Chinese government vessels carrying weapons that appear to be cannons have begun to repeatedly intrude into Japan’s territorial waters. Additionally, government vessels deployed to seas near the Senkaku Islands are increasingly larger in size, with at least one of the government vessels intruding into Japan’s territorial waters being a 3,000 t or larger-class vessel since August 2014. Since February 2015, three 3,000 t or larger-class government vessels have been confirmed entering Japan’s territorial waters simultaneously multiple times. China is also building the world’s largest 10,000 t-class patrol vessels, and one vessel was incorporated into the fleet in July 2016.”

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As CM has reported in previous tomes, The Japanese Air Self Defence Force has scrambled almost 900 times in 2016 to interecept Chinese PLAAF fighters, bombers and surveillance aircraft. That compares to 30 in 2008. Many of these intercepts have been over the Senkakus.

The Japanese Ministry of Defence has just turned 10 years old. It used to be an agency reporting to the PM’s office but now has its own minister that fights for budget and policy such has the defence map changed from passive to active deterrence. Japan is well within its rights to be concerned at the status of its changing defence priorities.

It isn’t just Japan. China is conducting live fire drills in the Taiwan Straits again as we write. It’s disdain for Vietnam and The Philippines and contested islands (Spratly & Paracels) mean that at some stage a boil will be lanced as America will be tested on its resolve to back up its allies in the Pacific. A dictator-for-life has time on his side. That doesn’t mean the rest of Asia or the US can be complacent. japan has got the message – change before you have to!

Shipping industry needs to save ITSELF before it has any chance of saving the PLANET

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Yet more eco-mentalism being celebrated by the UN International Maritime Organisation (IMO) with little thought to the very economics that has crippled shipping companies for so long. Shipping companies need to save themselves before bothering to save the planet.  Although the back slapping for the supposed “watershed agreement” (their words) will be achieved by 2050. The most pressing global issue of our times and these metal hulks which burn the ugliest, dirtiest and cheapest fuel (bunker) available have 32 years to get there. Perhaps the irony is that bankruptcy might take half the ships out of service meaning the emissions target could be hit decades earlier. A brief look at history.

It wasn’t so long ago that Korea’s largest container transporter Hanjin Shipping declared bankruptcy.  The above chart shows the daily shipping rates for the industry which remain tepid for the past decade. The problem with the shipping industry is the fleet. Ships are not built overnight. Surging order books and limited capacity meant that as the pre GFC global trade boom was taking place, many shipping companies were paying over the odds without cost ceilings on major raw material inputs (like steel). This meant that ships were arriving at customer docks well after the cycle had peaked at prices that were 3x market prices because of the inflated materials.

The pricing market was looking grim in 2016. CM wrote, “These are the latest prices in 2016 vs the 5 year average by type. New LNG, grain and oil carriers etc are holding up but the used market is being slaughtered. Ships are generally bought with a 25-yr service span at the very least. Global seaborne trade growth has shrunk from 6%+ growth in 2011 to less than 2% now.”

Ship Prixces

According to Weber’s Week 4 report, VLCC rates for the route from the Arabian Gulf to China dropped to $10,925 per day on January 26 from $18,389 per day on January 19, which represents a 40% fall week-over-week. The average rate for all VLCC routes dropped to $13,179 per day from $19,974 per day on January 19. The current rates are 67% lower year-over-year.

Clarkson’s note 2010 build Capesize rates have fallen from $20,000/day 6 months ago to less than $3,900/day as of April 2018. 84K CBM LPG carriers have fallen from over $800,000/mth in April 2016 to $542,000/mth today.

Take a look at the financials of global leader Maersk. It recorded $US27.1bn of revenue in 2012 but only $24bn in 2017. Yet profitability slumped from $2.1bn to a paltry $25mn. Maersk carries around $34 billion in deferred tax loss carry forwards. That is the extent of the ‘financial baggage’ it still carries. The three major Japanese shipping companies have had a hell of a hit to profitability in recent years. See below.

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If the volume of goods transported by sea increases 3% every year, the volume in 40 years will be 3.3 times today’s volume. To cut total CO2 emissions in half by 2050, CO2 emissions per ton-mile need to fall by 85%. NYK is looking at the following ship that will cut emissions by 69% in 2030.

If the shipping industry is not fixed through market forces it will be difficult to repair the profitability and balance sheets that would allow the companies to invest in more eco friendly vessels. Bankruptcies are mergers are needed to streamline the sector.

According to Clarksons, the global fleet of all types of commercial shipping is 50% larger than it was before the GFC despite the World Trade Organization saying growth in global trade has crept up from $14.3 trillion in 2007 to $15.46tn in 2016 (+8%). Scrapping rates have fallen 40% since 2012 but since 2017 have risen moderately, appealing to owners with too much tonnage on their hands.

The International Chamber for Shipping’s secretary general Peter Hinchliffe said, “This is a ground-breaking agreement — a Paris agreement for shipping — that sets a very high level of ambition for the future reduction of carbon dioxide emissions…We are confident this will give the shipping industry the clear signal it needs to get on with the job of developing zero carbon dioxide fuels so that the entire sector will be in a position to decarbonise completely.”

What a wonderfully naive plan. At least the IMO can feel warm and fuzzy despite so many headwinds ahead of an industry still in structural distress.

Motorcycle theft

Motorcycle theft in the UK is becoming an increasingly bad problem. As this video shows, thieves will steal in the middle of the day. Here are some of the stats by one of the local insurers, Bennett’s.

In 2016, powered two wheeler (PTW) theft rose by 16%. 27,217 machines of all kinds were reported stolen (that’s 523 a week!) and only two out of five were recovered. 25 years ago, scooters accounted for less than 1% of all two wheeled theft; today over half of all the bikes stolen are scooters and mopeds. In London alone, where 4776 larger machines were taken, an increase of 620% meant 6165 mopeds and scooter owners lost their transport.”

The explanation for all this is really quite simple; the interest in motorcycling is huge all over the world, and wherever there’s constant demand – in this case for used machines and spare parts – organised crime is never far behind. At the moment, it’s a battle that the government and police have every intention of winning as soon as possible…However, these new gangs aren’t unique to the UK, and are common in most cities of the world at this time. Many of the continental gangs use stolen scooters and motorcycles as the new currency for buying and selling drugs, and the fear is that this may be the case in the UK. Violence as displayed on YouTube and CCTV footage indicates many gang members themselves may be drug users. Because of this, the police caution against heroism, but do appreciate all the information on these gangs that they can get.

Take a look at this shameless attack on a dealer during operating hours. One can see how thieves would need to be “meth’d“ up to do something so brazen. Good to see the dealers win the battle but the police will back down on any chase of motorcycle thieves if they remove their helmets because of fear of causing death or injury to the criminal. Most bike owners who had their pride and joy stolen would most likely relish broken limbs of the perpetrators.

The UK’s 41 ports handle 9000 container movements every day, and are expected to load at least 12 stolen cars and motorcycles bound for Africa, India, South America, Asia and Europe. The police are likely to check one in every 200, whose manifests will often simply state ‘household goods’ or ‘spare parts’. In just one container, on just one day, in just one port, police found 12 stolen machines worth £70,000, its contents listed as ‘spare vehicle parts”

Affordable tracking devices have become hugely successful in recovering many machines this year, the most popular of which are claiming over a 90% recovery rate. Ironically though, thieves are now using their own cheap tracking devices to find their prey that they fix to a machine and track to its home without spooking owners. If they steal the bike they can use the device again.”

Ironic that the criminals are using technology that is meant to deter theft by leading one to the owner’s home to make a cleaner ‘get away’.

Doesn’t look like the battle to lower theft in the UK can be won without the police being able to dish out far harsher penalties to the criminals. Whistling in the wind won’t stop this.

Yemen – Saleh’s death is the dangerous slice in the Iran & Saudi sandwich

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Even before the Arab Spring, CM (in a previous life) wrote that Yemen was a trouble spot. It’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh (Sunni) has died of natural causes – he was assassinated in a spate of tribal violence in the capital Sana’a yesterday. No stranger to being an oppressive tyrant during his rule, after being ousted in the Arab Spring he was in recent years working with the Houthi tribe (Shi’ite) to regain power before switching back to a US backed Saudi-friendly deal maker. He proved that power is more important than religious sect. However the Houthi weren’t prepared to suffer a turncoat who betrayed them so Saleh was duly dealt with.

Why is Saleh’s death important? What it now does is give Saudi Arabia more will to take more decisive action against the Iran backed Houthi. It is no surprise that Saudi Arabia has cleaned house with the arrests of  royal family members to tighten the inner circle. It smells like the early stages of broader tit-for-tat skirmishes before all out conflict ensues. Yemen is often argued as a proxy war between the two.

While many are distracted by the US Embassy to Jerusalem as an unnecessary ‘in-the-face” action, it is a very firm line in the sand to where the US cards already lie. No big surprises. For now most Gulf States want Israel on their side to help them defend against and ultimately defeat Iran.

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At the narrow Bab al-Mandeb Strait separating Yemen and Djibouti/Eritrea, cargo ships make their way up the Red Sea to the Suez Canal, could become a major choke point. This year multiple US, Saudi and Emirati warships have been attacked by Houthi rebel forces. In January 2017 a  Saudi al-Madinah frigate was almost sunk in the strait. An Emirati HSV-2 swift naval craft was also put out of action in late 2015.

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Safe access to the strait is crucial at present because of Egypt’s reliance on imported LNG to maintain stable electricity supply. One LNG tanker heads to Egypt each weeknight through the canal. Just under 10% of global trade goes through it as well. Any blockage or restricted access would force ships to sail the long way around the Horn of Africa adding another 40% to the journey. This would have significant impacts on shipping and trade. Markets aren’t factoring anything at this stage.

The problem with naval conflict is that Yemen is backed by Iran which in turn is one of Russia’s best clients. Iran possesses the SS-N-22 Sunburn missile which is a supersonic anti-ship missile which even the US has no answer for. In recent years this has been upgraded to the Super Sunburn (P-270) which is even more lethal. It is a ramjet which travels at Mach-3 meaning if fired inside a 100km range then the target is likely to be toast (video here). It can be launched from a ship, submarine or land.

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Iran could blame a whole host of tribes (Sunni or Shia) sick of being under the jackboot of effective Saudi control/influence for an attack.

On December 2, Israeli jets bombed an Iranian military weapons base in Syria. Israel has warned Iran it won’t tolerate any military presence on Syrian soil. We shouldn’t forget that China has also deployed its special forces to Syria to help Assad. Clearly the Chinese see a good opportunity to clean up some of the spoils in the region. China is always happy to help out nations that are under sanction. It adds more mess into the geopolitical sphere.

While the GCC has stepped up its air attacks on Yemen post the death of Saleh, he was the only one that has been able to unite the country. Indeed it is possible that the secession of the south becomes an issue. At the time of reunification of North and South Yemen in 1990 many in the south felt their northern neighbors were pillaging too much of their oil reserve wealth. Even their private land was appropriated and spread among the Sana’a elite. Now that Saleh has gone, and Yemen fragmented again, we may see old scores settled. The Southern Movement (loyal to exiled President Hadi) in Yemen wants to take back what was stolen from them. So Saleh’s death may open a vacuum of more instability.

Iran would relish the opportunity of a fractured Yemen to further build its influence. Bab al-Mandeb may become a flashpoint to fight the proxy war. It is extremely messy, creates proper disruption and pushes Saudi Arabia and Iran closer to conflict.

Which ever way you cut it, diplomacy in the Middle East (what little there is) looks set to worsen. In a sense we are dealing with two large clients of Russia (Iran) and America (SA). Now China is siding with Russian interests by using it as a test run of its military muscle. China isn’t committing anything major but it wants to be at the negotiating table when it all goes pear shaped.

It smells very similar to the lead up to the Arab Spring. More turmoil and complacent markets which are not quite absorbing the realities of “local problems” spreading to another neighborhood. Sure we’ve seen many leaders overthrown in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and so on in the last uprising but the pressure on Saudi is mounting hence the recent crackdown internally.

The other dark horse is Erdogan in Turkey. He is facing a corruption probe over money laundering to help Iran evade sanctions and he seems keen to externalise his problems so he can shut down the local threat. He is threatening to cut off ties with Israel if the US relocates the embassy but for a man with clear ambitions to revive the Ottoman Empire that fell less than 100 years ago that is a mere formality in the future.

The flashpoint remains Yemen. It has the perfect storm of a pawn in a global game of chess. While it whiffs of local tribes seeking revenge there are too many willing to help them achieve their aims which only plays to the broader ructions throughout the rest of the Middle East. Last week Houthi rebels launched a missile attack against the UAE nuclear power plant under construction. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely

Tesla is trucking kidding itself

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Tesla has bagged 55 orders for the semi so far. Although it is no surprise that no major truck hauling companies have signed up. Funny that. To expect trucking companies who operate under strict cashflow constraints (afterall they’re businesses not wealthy consumers) to give Musk a $200,000 upfront deposit (aka interest free loan) per ‘founder series’ truck is to put in Tesla lexicon – ludicrous. Truck companies, as CM wrote in its 30 reasons why Tesla is likely to be a bug on a windshield, are conservative. They want to see the technology proven in the field before just forking over $150-200,000 and hoping for the best. Were the technology or charging infrastructure to come up short then the whole economic proposition would come unstuck.

The Tesla trucks are roughly 30% to 70% more expensive than diesel trucks which have up to triple the range on full tanks. Many new 2018 diesel models are available now at $120k vs Tesla’s $150k (300mi range) and $180k (500mi range).

If we used the $60,000 more expensive Tesla Semi can to recoup the difference then it will need to be driven 240,000 miles using the $.25/saving per mile vs diesel Tesla number. Some estimates suggest payback in 3-4 years.

One former trucking company planner wrote,

I was surprised when I saw this “two-year” payback period quoted by Musk last week and repeated on the website. Two years? Really? He had just gotten through showing us an operational cost savings of $.25 per mile over diesel.

Well if I am going to pay back the truck I need those savings to equal the purchase price in two years. Well $180,000 divided by $.25 is 720,000 miles or 360,000 miles per year. That is not even physically possible. A truck would have to drive non-stop for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at an average speed of 41 mph. Subtract out recharging time of 30 minutes every six hours or two hours per day and four hours per day for loading and unloading and the truck must average 54.7 miles per hour for every mile driven. It is impossible to do.

My big trucks ran long trips moving from coast to coast or north to south. I pulled out my records just for the fun of it and my trucks averaged 13,000 miles per month in summer months and under 10,000 in winter months because of weather and tougher loading and unloading conditions. Most trucks ran about 120,000 miles per year maximum even with driver teams. This was due in many cases to operational time limits of over-sized loads (half hour before sunrise until half hour after sunset is mandatory in many states for safety reasons).“

Whether the new Tesla Roadster or Tesla Semi this new deposit scheme is actually more telling than the vehicles themselves. This can be none other than a cash grab interest free loans to keep the thing alive. I salute Musk for his pioneering spirit but playing with the big boys is never easier done than said. Can’t wait to see the cashflow numbers in Q4 reporting early next year. If we get a worsening of this chart beware.

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Perhaps we can also find some amusement in Tesla’s competitor (Nikola) tweets

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Israel & Saudi cooperation a surprise to Bloomberg News

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Bloomberg has written a puff piece wrapped in surprise on how the Saudi’s are likely to seek Israeli approval for a bridge which crosses from a new city Neom to Africa. There is one reason and one alone – Israel has a naval base at the Port of Eilat (in blue) at the southern tip of the country. If the height of the bridge is too low and surface naval ships can’t pass then the navy would be boxed in. Almost like ships in the Black Sea. So of course the Saudis won’t do it single handedly.

As much as people might think the Saudis hate Israel, they acknowledge the security Israel buys them vis-a-vis defending against a mutual enemy in the form of the Iranians who are active on SA’s southern border with Yemen. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been active in Yemen, Syria, Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq in recent decades supplying weapons and training. So sometimes mutual benefits (peace between the two countries) outweighs trying to  pull a fast one on them. It is likely the US State Department might send a friendly reminder of what is at stake geopolitically. In actual fact this discussion has been ongoing for a long time.

Playing with Financial Plutonium

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I am still dumbfounded by the level of complacency in financial markets. How  can there be any confidence in our financial system?  Reality is that confidence continues to wane. I mentioned a while back that the headline stock index in Europe has no financial stocks in it. Never in my history in financial markets have I witnessed this. It isn’t because other stocks have got bigger. Financials in Europe have shrunk to such irrelevant levels that they don’t make the cut. Argue all you want about FinTech revolutionizing banking as we know it however don’t dismiss that the core of financial markets resembles a rotting carcass with so little meat that even vultures are considering vegetarianism so slim are the pickings. If the financial sector is sick and it is what greases the economy beware this signal.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the arrogance of the banks. Deutsche proudly protesting that the DoJ’s $14bn fine is just a “starting point” all the while its shares dwindle at all time lows.  Europe’s most powerful bank 1/3rd the size of Australia’s NAB. I’m working on a report looking at the deterioration of financial profitability and market relevance.

All the while though I keep shouting from the rooftops like the tramp from Blazing Saddles and the bell chimes right as I try to warn of impending  global economic disaster.

“The world economy is dying (clang!)”

“what did he say?”

“I think he said the world economy is flying!”

“No, goddamnit!, I said the world economy is dying (clang!)”

You get the picture. What people still haven’t grasped is the velocity of money continues to slow rapidly. For every dollar pumped into the economy, smaller fractions of GDP are created. In Europe it takes €7 to create €1. In China it takes RMB8 to create RMB1. In the US it takes around $4.5. The more morphine that is pumped into the patient the less efficacy. The debt burden mounts to unsustainable levels. Asset bubbles abound. Central banks keep pushing on sweeping the damage under the carpet. Europe is at stall speed. France and Italy didn’t grow last quarter. The US stumbled into 1% territory while the previous quarter was revised to 0.8% – hardly cracking growth.

The most recent worrying red flag is Greenspan weighing into the central bank policy debate. If there was ever a tail-end Charlie behind the curve he is it. I look at the propaganda pushed by the White House in a self congratulatory tone. This idea that everything is fine. American wealth at all time highs and poverty at 50 year lows. The problem with such fiction is that Main Street is actually living the struggle. They are not theory. They are reality. Whether crushing pensioners with a lack of sensible low risk income products, or celebrating recent inflation through rent rises and healthcare costs is not to pat one’s back over. Real wages are falling, consumption is waning and life is getting tougher. Steeper Obamacare prices and higher rents don’t boost economic growth. This is bad inflation and most other items continue to struggle under the weight of chronic overcapacity. Hanjin Shipping woke us up to that sad fact.

It’s brutal out there but the Democrats talk of prosperity at the same time complaining at the lack of progress on welfare despite having their wise sage Obama at the helm for the past 8 years.

More misguided central bank policy continues in group think like fashion.  It is as if they are enriching financial plutonium to such dangerous levels that imminent detonation could occur. The experiment keeps going but the scale of the collateral damage is growing exponentially. Many central bankers know how bad things have got but pray they can leave their ivory towers and seek shelter before it blows up on their watch so they can evade direct responsibility.

For all of the pump priming, toxic asset buying and NIRP strategies of central bankers, there is one constant in all of this. Pain must eventually be taken to restore equilibrium. The longer we store up the gangrenous irradiated mess that has and is being created for almost two decades the bigger the scale of fall out.

So many are totally unprepared for the coming event. People will still argue that the most experienced and brightest minds work within these banks so we should back their collective wisdom but I’d bet money that most if not all have no idea about how the average Joe and Joanne works. Funny thing is the average Joe and Joanne are feeling the pain everyday as they struggle to get by. They’ve had enough.

I’m surprised the Democrats, the party that is supposed to favour the afflicted, continue to miss the obvious. Trump would never have seen the light of day had the establishment listened to their cries for help.

In closing, I feel the same vibes I did when I called the impending crisis that was GFC1. This time will be much worse.  Financial plutonium is too rich and reaching fissile levels. Discount everything coming from the authorities. Pure common sense tells us the numbers don’t match reality.

There will be no “I told you so!” moment for me. Who would want to bask in misery?