Waste

Time to “put” some eggs in this basket!

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In the everything bubble it is hard to find exposure to ‘relatively’ cheap things. Just a quick glance at the S&P500 index derivatives market one can see that ‘Put’ options (i.e. buying a put option gives the owner the right to sell at a particular strike price) prices are scraping the bottom of the barrel. While the above 2450 strike price (expires on 19 Jan 2018) seems a stretch for an S&P 500 Index showing 2662 (8.7% higher than the above put option) listening to outgoing Fed Chair Janet Yellen in the December FOMC press conference tells us that group think is alive and kicking. At least she admitted that,

The stock market has gone up a great deal this year…asset valuations are elevated….We see ratios in the high end of historical ranges…but Economists are not great at knowing what the right valuations are…we don’t have a terrific track record

Whatever the ultimate timing is of the impending pullback in asset bubbles, the downside will be extra ugly, especially now with so much market behaviour driven by robots with algorithms that have not been thoroughly tested in bear markets.  Time to own some longer dated put options me thinks. #MPGA (Make puts great again)

This can’t wait

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John Mauldin has written an informative piece entitled “this can’t wait” which sums up a lot of pieces I’ve written on the sickening state of public pension unfunded liabilities and the debt super cycle that is facing us. While Mauldin is trying to sell his investment services on the back of this, I wasn’t when I wrote mine. Public service announcement? Maybe but the stats of the black holes we face in pensions and central bank QE which has failed to boost money velocity will bite. Hard. There will be no “I told you so” glory because almost everyone will lose big.

Even if people want to criticize me for being a perma-bear there is no harm in being aware of what is likely coming.

If everything is so great then why is our political scene so broken?

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Queensland’s state election said it all. Both the incumbent parties lost massively even though the incumbent Labor Party looks like holding on to power. While Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party looks like it fared poorly in terms of seats it still got 13.8% of the vote from 1% in 2015. Forget the headline results but think of what the political turmoil In local, state and federal levels is telling us more broadly.

Think logically about it all. If the economy is booming, jobs are abundant and prosperity is on the march then there is little need for governments to be running deep deficits let alone facing hung parliaments and acts of desperation. Surely the incumbent governments of the day can laud their own achievements and their constituents would happily keep returning the status quo. The majority should continue to be happy. More by rights should be winners in such a world of record housing prices, steady wage growth, low unemployment and 25 years of economic growth as experienced in Australia.

Yet PM Turnbull turned on many of the traditional supporters of the conservative wing of his Liberal National Party (LNP) coalition who turned their back on him to hand Labor the victory in Queensland. Not so fast Prime Minister. They didn’t leave the party. The party under your incompetent stewardship left them. At all levels the LNP is divided. There are some quarters suggesting that the Nats may split from the Coalition in the next election in Queensland to leave the stench of the Liberal Party to themselves. This is when personal ambition trumps wish to serve a nation.

While the LNP was handed the most valuable and recent lesson of the disaster that was the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd internal factional knifing during their time in power, it completely buried its judgement and started following a left leaning press, weak poll numbers and copied Labor’s folly. Now we have a hung parliament (not withstanding the dual citizenship fiasco) with chronically weak and misguided leadership. One that tells voters that they have no clue rather than introspection that the party may indeed be the problem.

It used to be said that Australia enjoyed the most stable politics in the Asia Pacific region. That encouraged foreign investment and gave Australia low interest rates, a superior credit rating and a regulatory platform that ensured trust (important for corporations), the envy of many nations. Yet inside a decade we have had 5 (soon to be 6) prime ministers which has thrown that ‘reputation’ in the toilet. In a world where international capital is more mobile than ever and asset prices are peaking, instability in government eventually carries severe financial market penalties.

For Aussie banks, levered up to the gills with inflated mortgage books on their balance sheets, such things have negative implications for the 40% reliance on global wholesale credit markets to fund themselves in the face of a tightening US interest rate cycle. Do not underestimate the negative connotations of a federal government that has lost its way, no matter which major party is in power. Where the average Aussie can’t bear anymore on the mortgage, a third admitting they can’t pay the home loan if they lose their job for 3 months or more. Almost 1,000,000 Aussie households would be in severe mortgage stress if rates moved 150bps(1.5%). Think of the spill-over effects on consumption which would only lead to a recession and lay offs, exacerbating a cycle, all the while bashing the currency making international funding even more biting. If only we had a stable government that had a decent fiscal position to weather that storm. Oh, that is right we squandered that in 2008.

One Nation in Australia, AfD in Germany, Party for Freedom in The Netherlands, Front National in France, 5 -Star Movement in Italy, Fidesz in Hungary, FPO in Austria, the Sweden Democrats, Vlaams Belang in Belgium,  Progress Party in Norway, Trump, Brexit…these patterns aren’t random. It isn’t just populism but protest votes to establishment parties that aren’t delivering. While we are constantly told how great our lot is, sadly the gap between haves and have nots is widening globally. Politicians who are ditching political correctness and making waves on publicly uncomfortable issues are thriving. Why could that be?

Donkey (informal) votes in Australia have seen numbers soar from 2.2% in the 1950s to over 5.0% in the 2016 election. Some electorates in NSW saw as high as 14% informal votes. These are powerful messages in a country that has compulsory voting, which has slid to 90.9%.

The sad reality is that the electorate is making louder noises every election that things are not pointing in the right direction yet the muppets are still being returned to their box seats on a dwindling majority. Why? Because not enough voters are heeding the warning signs that are sounding in front of them. Of course politicians still continue to sell comforting lies backed by ever more unaffordable promises to keep themselves in power for as long as possible when we all need to be facing the unpleasant truths that will happen whether we like it or not.

Indeed those deplorables who voted One Nation might have spurned the LNP but not without good reason. In time, they will be viewed as the wiser ones. Not because they necessarily believe in Pauline Hanson’s platform but because they believe in Turnbull and Shorten’s even less. It all rings like a Premier League football coach making a litany of excuses for his team’s woeful performance that ignores the fact that the collection of individuals have absolutely no cohesion as a team. All the fans can do is bury their heads in their hands until the point they can’t bear to watch another game until the coach is sacked.

When feminism goes too far

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Any “person” who is rightfully comvicted of sexual assault should have the book thrown at them with full force. No arguments. However when Teen Vogue journalist and feminist Emily Lindin wrote that there is no problem throwing innocent men out of jobs and destroying their lives through false allegations that takes some beating. Indeed CM warned that the #METOO campaign might indeed turn into a witch hunt ruining the futures of innocent men forced to defend themselves.

Lindin justified her stance by saying “First, false allegations VERY rarely happen, so even bringing it up borders on a derailment tactic. It’s a microscopic risk in comparison to the issue at hand (worldwide, systemic oppression of half the population),

The benefit of all of us getting to finally tell the truth + the impact on victims FAR outweigh the loss of any one man’s reputation…If some innocent men’s reputations have to take a hit in the process of undoing the patriarchy, that is a price I am absolutely willing to pay.

Indeed “what” price are you actually paying Emily when it is those innocent men who will actually pay it on your behalf? That’s right she is paying zero. In the process perhaps the innocent man ( and sole breadwinner) who is jailed for sexual assault loses the family house, wife and 3 daughters. That’s right Ms Lindin, you’ve scored 4 own goals in the process.

Perhaps Lindin could have written that she will visit these innocent men and thank them personally for doing jail time all the while she celebrates her feminist buddies committing perjury.

Any person that willingly makes a false allegation should equally have the book thrown at them. Indeed perhaps she should read up on sexual violence committed against men (hugely underreported) but that would run against her loony narrative.

We should be glad she has said this though. Free speech is wonderful in that she expresses such a stupid position that the exposure to sunlight becomes the best disinfectant. Way to go Emily. May more people like you expose how stupid victimhood becomes when you go actively searching for it. To that end there can be no doubt you’ve never been a true victim of sexual assault to say something so preposterous. No real victim of such a crime would ever back what you wrote. After all why would any innocent person who had that stolen from them want anyone else to experience what they did?

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.

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.

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.