Traffic Accident

You want Aussie Banks in your retirement fund far less than their advisory services

This is while things are still supposedly good for our banks. CM has written on the pickle Aussie banks find themselves for a year or so. Their relative value compared to banks such as Deutsche, Commerz or RBS is astonishing. So many global banks are worth 90% less than in 2007 while ours keep whistling Dixie. Mean reversion will hit hard and the complacency still baked into these supertankers is immense. Aussie banks could well be worth 90% less by the time this is all over. Forget the stress tests – meaningless – as they need pretty much all stars to align to be remotely accurate and markets in times of panic seldom play to script. Don’t be surprised if these banks require a taxpayer bailout in time.

With more interest rate cuts planned and inevitable QE down the line from the RBA, think of it more as a time banks must make considerable efforts to deleverage. Should banks consider a benign central bank as a virtue, they should seriously think again. People and businesses invest because they see a cycle, not because interest rates are low. Further cuts won’t make a difference.

In short, sell the Aussie banks. The impacts from the Hayne RC will only have adverse outcomes for the banks at a time they need maximum flexibility in order to be able to right the ship. Sadly, such outcomes are highly unlikely. Governments tend to be the most accurate contrarian indicators when it comes to introducing business stifling policy measures at a time, the industry can least afford it.

Maybe former President Reagan had it right when he said, “If it moves tax it. If it keeps moving regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it.” The government has already completed the first phase and in the midst of finishing up on the second…

Sell your Aussie banks. Headlines, like the above, will be regarded as extremely positive in the next 12 months.

Forget the return “ON” your money. Just look to the return “OF” it

CM knew a lot of passive indices existed but not to this crazy extent. Probably explains why there is so much stupid money tied up in me too commoditised investment products. 4 years ago CM wrote a piece on the dangers of ETFs (especially leveraged)  and passive products in a downturn. These products predominantly follow the market, not lead it. So if these products end up stampeding toward the exits in a market meltdown, the extent will be amplified, especially those levered funds potentially making market panic look worse than it really might otherwise be. Don’t be surprised to see the mainstream media sensationalise the size of any falls in the market.

According to Bloomberg, 770,000 benchmark indexes were scrapped globally in 2019…however  2.96 million indexes remain around the world, according to a new report from the Index Industry Association…There are an estimated 630,000 stocks that trade globally, including c.2,800 stocks on the NYSE and c. 3,330 on NASDAQ or 5x as many indices as there are securities globally.

CM wrote back in October 2015,

ETFs are hitting the market faster than the dim-sum trolley can circle the banquet hall. Charles Schwab, in the 12 months to July 2015, saw a 130-fold preference of ETF over mutual funds given their relative simplicity, cost and transparency….

…ETFs, despite increasing levels of sophistication, have brought about higher levels of market volatility. Studies have shown that a one standard deviation move of S&P500 ETF ownership as a percentage of total outstanding shares carries 21% excess intraday volatility. Regulators are also realising that limit up/down rules are exacerbating risk pricing and are seeking to revise as early as October 2015. In less liquid markets excess volatility has proved to be 54% higher with ETFs than the actual underlying indices. As more bearish market activity has arrived since August 2015 we investigate how ETFs may impact given a large part of recent existence has been under more favourable conditions…

CEO Larry Fink of Blackrock, the world’s largest ETF creator, has made it clear that
leveraged ETFs (at present 1.2% of total ETF AUM) have the potential to “blow up the whole industry one day.” The argument is that the underlying assets that provide the leverage (which tend to have less liquidity) could cause losses very quickly in volatile markets. To put this in perspective we looked at the Direxion Daily Fin Bull 3x (FAS) 3x leverage of the Russell 1000 Financial Services Index. As illustrated in the following chart FAS in volatile markets tends to overshoot aggressively

…The point Mr Fink is driving at is more obvious with the following chart which shows in volatile markets, the average daily return is closer to 10x (in both directions) than the 3x it is seeking to offer. This is post any market meltdown. On a daily basis, the minimum and maximum has ended up being -1756x to 1483x of the index return, albeit those extremes driven by the law of small numbers of the return of the underlying index. Which suggests that in a nasty downturn the ETF performance of the leveraged plays could be well outside the expectations of the holders.”

CM has said for many years, where CDOs and CDSs required the intelligence of a mystical hermit atop a mountain in the Himalayas to understand the complexities, ETFs are the complete opposite. Super easy to understand which inadvertently causes complacency. Unfortunately, as much as they might try to do as written on the tin, the reality could well turn out to be the exact opposite.

Hence CM continues to believe that stocks with low levels of corporate social responsibility (CSR) scores like tobacco companies such s Philip Morris, JT and Imperial Tobacco, as well as gold/silver bullion,  look the places to be invested. Cash won’t necessarily be king because the banks are already in a world of pain that hasn’t even truly started yet. Aussie banks look like screaming shorts at these levels. The easiest way for the plebs – without access to a prime broker – to do this is to buy put options on individual bank names. Out of the money options are dirt cheap.

Banks

Forget the return ONyour money. Just look to the returnOFit.

NB, none of this constitutes investment advice. It is a reflection of where CM is invested only. 

 

A deadly problem: should we ban SUVs from our cities?

Activists, including one wearing a Angela Merkel mask, outside the Frankfurt International Auto, holding signs reading ‘gas guzzling vehicles off the road’ and ‘Stop petrol and diesel’.

More junk journalism from The Guardian. Why can’t the paper make sensible commentary on the auto industry? Essentially it pushes a narrative that we should ban SUVs, a long term growth market for automakers because they advertise the segment too much. Shame on trying to act in the interests of shareholders. The article encourages the movement to push for a ban of SUVs in cities. Why? The socialisation of transport!

The article makes the early assertion that passengers are 11% more likely to die in an SUV accident than a regular passenger car. Unfortunately, it cited an article written 15 years ago. In that time, SUVs have evolved leaps and bounds. A far greater proportion of SUVs are made using a monocoque chassis as opposed to the old ladder frames. Even those SUVs with ladder chassis hold 5-star safety NHTSA ratings in 2019:

2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee – 5 star (ladder) vs 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee – 3 star

2019 Ford Expedition – 5 star (ladder) – 2004 Ford Expedition – 5 star

2019 GMC Acadia – 5 star (ladder) – 2007 GMC Acadia – 4 star

2019 Toyota RAV4 – 5 star (monocoque) – 2004 Toyota RAV4 – 4 star

2019 Mazda CX-9 – 5 star (monocoque) – 2007 Mazda CX-9 – 4 star.

Some may recall in the early 2000s when the Ford Explorer/Firestone tyre rollover incident killed 261 people. Since then, carmakers have installed so many safety items – passive and active. Automatic braking, lane departure detection, forward collision warning, electronic brakeforce distribution (which prevents rollovers). SUVs are safer than ever, including pedestrian facing features.

Never mind the huge leap in safety. Let’s shame the automakers and buyers instead.

The Guardian noted, “In Germany, in 2018 they spent more on marketing SUVs than on any other segment; they actually spent as much as they spent on other segments together” says Stephan von Dassel, the district mayor of Berlin-Mitte. “This is not some accident that people suddenly are really into these cars, they are heavily pushed into the market.”

Wow, so carmakers actually made a sensible advertising budget allocations and convinced new buyers to voluntarily select their SUVs. Those wicked capitalists. They should be burnt at the stake for being in touch with their customers. Perhaps politicians could learn from the carmakers about being in touch with their constituents?

The Guardian then noted the following,

In Europe, sales of SUVs leapt from 7% of the market in 2009 to 36% in 2018. They are forecast to reach nearly 40% by 2021. While pedestrian deaths are falling across Europe, they are not falling as fast as deaths of those using other modes of transport.

So even though the sales of these vehicles have skyrocketed, pedestrian deaths are falling. Reading the paper published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, stated

“A total of 5,987 pedestrians were killed in crashes in 2016, accounting for 16 percent of all crash fatalities. The number of pedestrians killed each year has declined 20 percent since 1975…”

Surprisingly, The Guardian waits till the end to point the finger at the pet issue facing SUVs – emissions.

“Transport, primarily road transport, is responsible for 27% of Europe’s carbon emissions. A decade ago the EU passed a law with a target to reduce carbon emissions to 95g/km by 2021 but a recent report by campaign organisation Transport and Environment highlights what is calls it “pitiful progress”. “Sixteen months from before the target comes into force carmakers are less than halfway towards their goals,” the report adds. The car industry faces hefty fines in Europe of €34bn in a few months for failing to meet emissions targets.”

Related image

How is it that diesel engines, the increasingly preferred powerplant in SUVs, have had emissions cut 97% over the last 25 years? That is monumental progress.

Yet why have legislators tried to ban petrol and diesel cars and looking to force adoption of dirtier EVs which have done 150,000km equivalent CO2 emissions before leaving the showroom? Because ideology distorts reality. Even Schaeffler AG, an auto supplier, admitted it is almost impossible for automakers to comply with the different demands of over 200 cities in Europe with EV rules. No common standards and the quest of woke city councils trying to outdo each other on being climate-friendly. Then governments need to consider the 5% of total tax revenue that fill the coffers they would be giving up, although already in the US, Illinois is looking to impose a $1,000 a year EV tax.

Shouldn’t the EU and other countries face the realities that consumers (taxpayers) like the utility these SUVs provide for their individual needs over and above saving the planet? Shouldn’t politicians realise that consumers make conscious decisions when making the second largest purchase for the household?

One can absolutely bet that if some maker came out with a Hummer sized EV, these cities that want to ban SUVs from driving in them would grant the monster truck an exemption and special parking zones.

Julia Poliscanova, director of clean vehicles and e-mobility at Transport and Environment, says regulators must step in to force car manufacturers to produce and sell zero-emission and suitably sized vehicles, for example, small and light cars in urban areas.”

What if consumers don’t want to buy small and light cars? Force car makers to produce cars their customers don’t want? That is a winning strategy. If carmakers must sell zero-emission vehicles, why on God’s earth are politicians with absolutely no engineering pedigree dictating technology to the experts? Why not let necessity be the mother of invention? If carmakers can get fossil fuel-powered vehicles to be zero-emission and keep their brand DNA at the same time, imagine the billions that could be saved on reckless waste rolling out often unreliable charging infrastructure? Maybe then carmakers could build cars its customers wanted and make money to literally fuel the economy. Politicians would still be able to virtue signal! Win-win.

Maybe the modus operandi is to socialise transport. Poliscanova said, “Smart urban policies are also key to drive consumers towards clean and safe modes…Mayors should reduce space and parking spots for private cars and reallocate it to people and shared clean mobility services.

That is the ticket – force everyone off the road. That is a sure vote winner!

Seen this all before

What is it with the US auto market that throws up so many canaries in the coal mine? Several years back CM wrote about the growth in sub-prime auto loans. What triggered this boom? Easier access to finance? That was one reason. As it happens the largest factor was driven by the ability for finance companies to shut down a vehicle by remote and repossess the vehicle should the buyer be unable to afford the monthly payments. This lowered 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.

About a 1/3rd of all US auto loans issued today are stretched out to seven years and beyond, according to the WSJ. A decade ago, the seven-year loan only made up about 10% of all loans. Even 10% of 2010 model year bangers are being bought on 84-month term loans.

After the tech bubble collapsed at the turn of the century do you remember the ‘Keep America Rolling’ programme, which was all about free financing for five years? While sales were helped along nicely, the reality was it stored up pain. As new car sales became harder to achieve, new financial products offered sweeter upfront incentives and buyback guarantees (because cheap finance was everywhere and not a differentiator) helped keep the fire stoked.

However, as front end incentives kept getting juicier, the cars on guaranteed buybacks were starting to return to the market at prices well below the ‘guarantee’ leaving automotive finance arms in a whole world of hurt and huge losses. Goldberg & Hegde’s Residual Value Risk and Insurance study in 2009 suggested on average 92% of cars returned to leasing companies recorded losses on return of up to 12%. Any company can guarantee the price of its used product, in theory, the question is whether used car buyers will be willing to pay for it.

In the last decade, auto loans have ballooned from $740bn to $1.3 trillion. Auto dealers are now making a majority of their money on the finance deal as opposed to the sale of the actual car. Even worse, the US car market is experiencing a third of trade-ins in negative equity meaning the gap is being added to the price of the new car, hence the push out of the loan period to keep a lid on the size of monthly payments. This was 17% in 2008.

CM is sure there is nothing to worry about. It is consistent with nearly everything else that has occurred in finance since the GFC. Just double down, spend more, close your eyes and hope nothing bad happens. Ultimately it will be someone else’s problem.

Serious auto-loan delinquencies – 90 days or more past due – in 2Q 2019, jumped 47 basis points year-over-year to 4.64% of all outstanding auto loans and leases, according to New York Fed. This is equivalent to the delinquency rate in Q3 2009, just months after GM and Chrysler had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The 47-basis-point jump in the delinquency rate was the largest year-over-year jump since Q1 2010. Actual outstanding delinquent 90 day + delinquencies stand at $60bn in 2Q 2019, almost double the amount of 4Q 2010.

Did CM mention gold?

More public pension roadkill ahead

CM has been writing about the public pensions crisis in the US for years. This chart only serves to highlight that the problem doesn’t seem to be getting any better. It seems in Illinois, 200 of the 650 public pension funds out there have more beneficiaries than active workers contributing to the fund. By 2021 this is expected to be half of all public pension funds in Illinois.

ZeroHedge noted,

The value of all future pension promises to be paid out to public safety workers totalled just $320 million in 2005. By 2017, that number had jumped to nearly $600 million. That’s a jump of over 80% or more than three times the pace of inflation.

It’s the main reason why taxpayer contributions can’t keep up with pension costs. Pols are doing nothing to control the growth of promises to be paid, sticking taxpayers with ever-increasing costs and ratcheting up the likelihood the pension plans will fail…

… In 1987, municipalities owed a total of $2.6 billion in benefits earned to active and retired public safety workers across the state. Today, that number has jumped to more than $23 billion. That’s a jump of nearly nine times.”

Don’t forget what the Illinois Police Dept did several years back. IN June 2017 CM wrote,

“Sadly the Illinois Police Pension is rapidly approaching the point of being unable to service its pension members and a taxpayer bailout looks unlikely given the State of Illinois’ mulling bankruptcy. Local Government Information Services (LGIS) wroteAt the end of 2020, LGIS estimates that the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago will have less than $150 million in assets to pay $928 million promised to 14,133 retirees the following year…Fund assets will fall from $3.2 billion at the end of 2015 to $1.4 billion at the end of 2018, $751 million at the end of 2019, and $143 million at the end of 2020, according to LGIS…LGIS analyzed 12 years of the fund’s mandated financial filings with the Illinois Department of Insurance (DOI), which regulates public pension funds. It found that– without taxpayer subsidies and the ability to use active employee contributions to pay current retirees, a practice that is illegal in the private sector– the fund would have already run completely dry, in 2015…The Chicago police pension fund held $3.2 billion in assets in 2003. It shelled out $3.8 billion more in benefits to retired police officers than it generated in investment returns between 2003 and 2015…Over that span, the fund paid out $6.9 billion and earned $3.0 billion, paying an additional $134 million in fees to investment managers.”

What have the police been doing? Retiring early and cashing in their pensions to avoid the inevitable.

The problem for Illinois is that a taxpayer-funded bailout is all but impossible. The State of Illinois ranked worst in the Fed study on unfunded liabilities.  The unfunded pension liability is around 24% of state GDP. In 2000 the unfunded gap to state revenue was 30% and in 2013 was 124% in 2013. Chicago City Wire adds that the police fund isn’t the only one in trouble.

“Chicago’s Teachers Union Pension Fund is $10.1 billion in debt. Its two municipal worker funds owe $11.2 billion and its fire department fund owes $3.5 billion…All will require taxpayer bailouts if they are going to pay retirees going into the next decade…Put in perspective, the City of Chicago’s property tax levy was $1.36 billion in 2017…Paying for retirees “as we go,” which will prove the only option once funds run dry, will require almost quadrupling city property tax bills…Last year, it would have required more than $4 billion in revenue– including $1 billion for City of Chicago workers, $1.5 billion for teachers, and $1.5 billion for retired police officers and firefighters.”

This problem is going to get catastrophically worse with the state of bloated asset markets with puny returns. Looking at how it has been handled in the past Detroit, Michigan gives some flavour. It declared bankruptcy around this time three years ago. Its pension and healthcare obligations total north of US$10bn or 4x its annual budget. Accumulated deficits are 7x larger than collections. Dr. Wayne Winegarden of George Mason University wrote that in 2011 half of those occupying the city’s 305,000 properties didn’t pay tax. Almost 80,000 were unoccupied meaning no revenue in the door. Over the three years post the GFC Detroit’s population plunged from 1.8mn to 700,000 putting even more pressure on the shrinking tax base.

In order for states and local municipalities to overcome such gaps, they must reorganise the terms. It could be a simple task of telling retiree John Smith that his $75,000 annuity promised decades ago is now $25,000 as the alternative could be even worse if the terms are not accepted. Think of all the consumption knock-on effects of this. I doubt many Americans will accept that hands down, leading to class actions and even more turmoil.

Did CM mention gold?

Joe Nation’s Pension Tracker is a really good website to look at the actuarial setting of pensions against the marked-to-market unfunded liabilities. Have a stiff drink handy before you open up.

In an impeachment mud wrestle, the safest bet is on Trump

Image result for mud wrestling stripes

The Democrats currently have 6 congressional committees investigating Trump. Six. They are looking like a complete laughing stock, once again trying to find a smoking gun where seemingly none exists. The mainstream media was as ever compliant, fuelling their blood lust set off by chronic Trump Derangement Syndrome. Releasing the unredacted phone transcript with Ukrainian PM Volodymyr Zelensky shows once again how Trump always ends up the favourite in a mud-wrestling contest. One would have thought the Democrats would get this by now. Yet they fall for it every time.

If one reads the transcript, it seems that Trump asked about having Zelensky look into the possible shenanigans surrounding the 2016 election and Joe Biden’s son’s alleged corruption with Ukrainian oligarchs in 2015. There are no quid pro quos made, something even the left-leaning NYT admits.

Pelosi seems to have buckled to her party to flip-flop on impeachment. Instead of waiting for the telephone conversation to be released, which Trump promised he’d do, she seems to have acted in haste. Unless she thinks retired Vice Admiral Joseph Maguire’s testimony opens a whole can of worms which could lead to their ultimate wish, as it seems they realise 2020 is sunk by conventional methods.

There is a touch of irony that it is only Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat presidential nominee who seems to favour the American people deciding rather than a bunch of politicians who haven’t got over the fact that Clinton’s coronation never came to be. Gabbard said,

“I believe that impeachment at this juncture would be terribly divisive for the country at a time when we are already extremely divided. The hyperpartisanship is one of the main things driving our country apart…I think it’s important to beat Donald Trump, that’s why I’m running for president…But I think it’s the American people who need to make their voices heard making that decision.

Impeachment still requires a 2/3rds vote in the Senate which is highly unlikely in the Republican-dominated upper house. That will require at least 20 Republicans to side with the Democrats to remove Trump. What the call for impeachment will do is likely finish off ol’ Joe Biden from the race. He is far too centrist for the left of the party in any event given it has been hijacked by the hard-left.

Ultimately Trump may relish the thought of a protracted impeachment battle that ends up showing no evidence yet exposing that Democrats as being more intent on pursuing vendettas than helping the very people they’re elected to serve.

One thing is for sure, Americans are growing tired of these antics and impeachment hearings will only make the chance of turfing Trump in 2020 that much harder, despite several Democrat-held states introducing legislation to bar Trump from the ballot paper should he refuse to release his taxes.

As Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “never disturb your enemy when he is making a mistake.

Thank the progressive left for this

Image may contain: one or more people

Top marks to the progressive left for generating so much horsesh*t that allows this type of behaviour. If you need an emotional support anything outside of a blanket, you probably shouldn’t be flying. What if CM wanted to bring an emotional support elephant? Why are my rights not equally respected? Supporting mental health is one thing. Caving to the preposterous is another.

One has to wonder whether this violates FAA rules as regards airline safety in an emergency. Will airlines have to retrofit all fleets with horse-sized life jackets?