Sign of the times

Thoughts for the day – Group think, crypto and taxi drivers

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It is important to challenge convention. I have had countless questions from people on bitcoin and crypto lately. Sort of reminded me of the above. Perhaps the golden rule of investing doesn’t lie in complex models and sci-fi scenario analysis but the simple question of whenever an overwhelming majority think something is great, it is time to take the opposing view and vice versa. I haven’t been in a taxi yet to confirm Bitcoin is overdone. As I put it – gold needs to be dug out of the ground with effort. The thing that spooks me about crypto (without trying to sound conspiracy theorist) is that state actors (most top end computer science grads in China end up working in the country’s cyber warfare teams), hackers or criminal minds (did you know 70% of top end computer science grads in Russia end up working for the mob (directly or indirectly) the value of coins in the system could be instantaneously wiped out at the stroke of a key. We’ve had small hiccups ($280m) only last week. So as much as the ‘security’ of these crypto currencies is often sold as bulletproof, none of them are ‘cyberproof’.

Think of why your Norton, Kaspersky or Trend Micro anti-virus software requires constant upgrading to prevent new threats trying to exploit new vulnerabilities in systems. We need only go back to the Stuxnet virus of 2010 which was installed inside computers controlling uranium centrifuges in Iran. The operators had no idea. The software told the brain of the centrifuges to spin at multiples faster than design spec could handle all the while the computer interface of the operators showed everything normal. After a while the machines melted down causing the complete destruction of the centrifuges which were controlled from a remote location.

So much in life is simple. Yet we have lawyers writing confusing sentences that carry on for pages and pages, politicians complicating simple tasks, oil companies trying to convince us their additives are superior to others and so on. The reality is we just have to ask ourselves that one question from Mark Twain,

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

Kathy Griffin’s most hilarious black humour yet because the truth really hurts

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Kathy Griffin has made a video pleading for networks to put her on shows and value her two Emmys. It is perhaps the funniest thing she’s ever done in comedy given she is being serious about how inhumanely the system that she’s made $20mn out of is now treating her – blacklisted as she calls it. Watch her go through the routines of how she is a woman and deserves to be paid as much as men if she gets another go. She should consider herself lucky to get a 30 second snippet on an unknown local network for free such is her poor form and complete lack of understanding of why no one will touch her because networks know audiences won’t bother watching and no advertisers will back her. Perhaps she needn’t have abused Aussie breakfast TV hosts with “you’re full of crap”. She openly admitted she showed no remorse for what she did yet now begs for forgiveness because her brand of apology is unaccepted by the main. Pass me the Kleenex.

EU pushes for 40% female representation on company boards

The EU in its infinite wisdom said that it wishes to mandate that company boards achieve a quota of 40% women. Even Germany considers this an overreach (even though its own goal by 2018 is 30%). This EU’s socialist charter to push for affirmative action was challenged in 1981 by Dr Thomas Sowell who completely debunked the myths put forward about the gender pay gap, discrimination and other stereotypes of minimum wage and income inequality. It is truly worth watching the 50 minutes or so of Sowell dispose of lawyer Mrs Pilpell whose weak liberal agenda gets ripped to shreds because is based on a lack of understanding and being loose with facts.

Don’t mistake the position of CM. If based on merit then have 100% female boards should they outqualify men. So assume that boards hit 40% women then what next? Should we hire a minimum percentage of LGBT, minorities, religious groups or disabled people to run companies? Since when should gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or disability be a bigger factor than capability  in running company boards? Shareholders expect one thing – returns. The Sydney Morning Herald wrote a puff piece on those boards without women on them underperforming. CM proved the hypothesis false.

CM wrote with respect to the SMH’s false assertion, “Note that the twenty companies listed in the article have the following 1yr and 3yr relative performance (i.e. vs. ASX 200). Note on an unweighted average over these 1 & 3 year periods, these chauvinistic men’s clubs outperformed the broader index by 22.7% and 89.9% respectively.”

Once again, gender ought to have nothing to do with it. Every ambitious, hard working female that has become truly successful in a man’s world never complained at any disadvantages they may or may not have had. They never played the woman card and I absolutely admire them to this day. One is a mentor some 18 years after we first met. So shouldn’t it be an insult to industrious women like her to see less hungry females given unfair advantages that weren’t earned through individual merit and effort like she had to endure to get there?

Yet such diversity programs designed to remove inherent biases in the system actually create the very discrimination it is designed to stop. All that matters is diversity of thought and if that happens to be women that provide that wisdom sign me up as a shareholder of every corporation that does so on merit. Listen to Dr Sowell – it is truly intelligent stuff. Poor Mrs Pilpell.

Tesla HK sales in July-Aug just 2 (yes, just two)

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Here we can see the progression of Tesla sales in HK after the subsidies were removed. Of course the 3,697 number is front loaded but the poor Tesla dealer must be twiddling his thumbs dreaming of a sports car that can do 1.9 second 0-100km/h times in heavy HK traffic. 2 sales in the July-August period. Indeed the incentives were generous but just goes to show that the true virtue signaling power of those living in HK is dictated by displaying the wise use of capital than frittering it away trying to save the planet.

Tesla asks for sub 1.9 week deposit to full transfer of $250,000

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While the new Tesla Founders Series Roadster will supposedly be the fastest car in the world (at least in 1.9secs 0-100km/h) if it ever gets built it remains to be seen whether those $250,000 deposits will disappear inside Tesla inside that the acceleration figures. While the company will charge $50,000 deposits for the base model roadster it remains to be seen how many people will line up to part with cash for a car to be delivered after 2020. I’m sure some will line up to part with the cash to be one of the first to buy one but with cash burn and dreadful production issues it remains to be seen whether that money is just on auto pilot straight into the nearest sink hole.

$450m for a painting? Maybe but 5 of the top 10 traded artists are now all Chinese!

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While one of Leonardo DaVinci’s pictures might have gone under the hammer for a record $450m (50% more than the previous record) last week,  the TEFAF Art Market Report 2017 shows that Chinese artists occupied 5 of the top 10 traded artists. Zhang Daqian traded almost as much as Pablo Picasso. Admittedly Picasso sales were down 50%YoY but even still the art market has continued to surge in an asset bubble everywhere world.

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So even since the heady days leading into the GFC art related exports are 100% higher than the post Lehman collapse shock and almost 50% higher than the previous peak. Imports showed a similar trend.

Art is usually unique. One offs. Trading of such pieces is also very sporadic. It is rare that a Monet or Chagall gets flipped inside a few weeks.

Perhaps the art world report’s best picture was this one. The political stage and how it will impact the art world?

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Surely art’s crowing glories often come from tortured minds which sees artists lop off their ears, smear themselves in excrement or provide more excuses to take illicit substances to come out with the next masterpieces. Interesting how a US Presidency can impact US based art dealers. Although the data would show otherwise.

Then again as much as the total value is trading higher in the art world, according to Artnet, the average prices have been trending down since 2015. The overall picture is one of general prices having peaked during July 2015 and by the start of 2016, they were back to the level seen at the beginning of 2014. Over 2016 prices have fallen to the level they were at between 2014 and 2015, roughly 15% higher than the market trough in November 2012, and still 6.25% higher than ve-years ago.

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Recall when the Japanese were snapping up Van Gogh & Monet’s during the bubble period. Has the art world sent a subliminal message?

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A long report but one full of surprising trends.

The beauty of honesty

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The above quote is from quirky fund manager Dr Michael Burry MD towards the end of the movie, The Big Short. It says so much of today. One mate who is a very decent asset manager in Australia wrote to his clients, “I realise such may fly in the face of typical adviser recommendations (show me how someone is paid and I’ll show you how they will behave) however, I would rather lose a client than lose a client’s capital.

We share similar views on the state of the global capital markets. We joked about his long message to his investors sounding like Jerry Maguire burning the midnight oil writing the “fewer clients, less money” manifesto which got him sacked.

Now that our world is moving further and further toward automated everything including pre-emptive responses (which I scoffed out the other day about LinkedIn) it is truly refreshing to see this authentic honesty. The irony is that as much as machines are pushing us into ever tighter time windows, humans instinctively carry long term memory whether trauma or positive life events.

May your honesty be paid back in spades when those you saved a bundle recall your genuine gesture.