#debt

Ding dong the switch is dead

Morgan Stanley has finally lowered its bearish scenario on Tesla from $97 to $10. CM wrote in October 2017 that the shares based on production of 500,000 vehicles was worth no more than $28 (refer to report page 5). That was based on rosy scenarios. Sadly CM thinks Tesla will be bought for a song by the Chinese. Maybe $4.20 a share instead of $420 “funding secured” levels.

The stock breached $200 yesterday for the first time since late 2016.

Morgan Stanley analyst, Adam Jonas, has still kept its base case scenario at $230 per share. His bull case is $391.

Where is the conviction? To drop a bear case target by 90% must surely mean the base case is far lower than presently assumed.

Jonas must assume the bear case is actually the base case. Sell side brokers love to hide behind scenario analysis to cop out having to get off the fence. His compliance department probably prevents him from realizing $10 is his true heart.

Tesla was always playing in a market that it had no prior experience. It is not to say the products didn’t have promise. The problem was the execution. Too much senior management turnover, missed targets, poor quality and too many Tweets from Musk.

The amount of bad press arising from a lack of service centers has driven customers to moan on social media at its amateur approach. The fragile dreams of being an early adopter are being shattered. Cash burn remains high and deliveries remain low. Some pundits think Tesla orders are under real pressure in 2Q 2019.

The recent all share deal with Maxwell Technologies has seen those holders -20% since the transaction a few weeks ago. CM argued how a company with such revolutionary technology could sell itself for all shares in a debt-ridden loss making like Tesla? If the technology was of real value PE funds would have snapped it up or at the very least made a bid in cash. That none was made speaks volumes about what was bought.

All of the arguments hold true in the above link, “Tesla – 30 reasons why Tesla will be a bug on a windshield

Tesla below $200 after a successful cap raise is not a good sign. It’s the faithful slowly tipping out. Await another imaginary Musk-inspired growth engine to be announced shortly to try prop up the stock price. Yet the momentum will continue to sink. The market is losing confidence in Musk. The 1Q results were diabolically bad.

Major holder T Rowe Price has stampeded out the door. The stock is too risky. Musk is a brilliant salesman but he has bitten off more than he can chew.

CM always thought that Toyota selling its Tesla stake was a major sign. Acknowledging that under the hood the company possessed no technology that Toyota didn’t already own.

Watch the free fall. The Tesla stock will be below $100 by the year end.

(CM does not hold Tesla stock)

No, ScoMo!

For a Conservative party to push a subsidy of up to 20% of the value of a property for first time home buyers shows how bereft of policy it is. When Vic Premier Daniel Andrews raised a similar plan in March 2017 CM trashed it.

Think about it. Home prices have started to fall in major capitals because of a lack of demand thanks to astronomical prices and tapped out borrowers. This is before the Royal Commission puts the brakes on lending.

Why provide a subsidy to first home buyers toward the top of a bubble? It is not the role of the taxpayer to subsidize nor insure the downside risk in the event of the owner going into negative equity. What happened to free market economics?

What will this 20% subsidy do? If a couple go house hunting with a budget of $800,000, they will be able to shoot for a $1mn property. It might end up being the same property, pushed up by the desperate buyer thanks to the subsidy creating a false sense of security. So the reality is the taxpayer and the homeowner may end up in the red the day they move in. What a policy!!

Has ScoMo just called the top of the property market?

GE still $15 billion in negative equity

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While GE might have rallied back above $10 on the back of its 1Q results released overnight, the company’s goodwill shrunk $5.5bn but the company remains deeply in negative equity to the tune of $14.7bn. Why do analysts perpetually focus on the revenue and profit, rather than look at the elephant in the room? Especially as we are at the top of an industrial cycle with warning signs that global growth is already slowing faster than originally anticipated. GE is heavily indebted.

Of the $53.2bn in goodwill and $ $17.1bn in intangible assets, GE shareholder’s equity (including non-controlling interests) is at $55.6bn. The gap is c. $14.7bn.

One of the interesting notes in the 10Q regarding the goodwill Oil & Gas accounts for 42% of the total. GE noted in point 8.

While the goodwill in our Grid reporting unit, Hydro reporting unit, and Oil & Gas reporting units is not currently impaired, the power and oil and gas markets continue to be challenging and there can be no assurances that goodwill will not be impaired in future periods as a result of sustained declines in BHGE share price or any future declines in macroeconomic or business conditions affecting these reporting units.

We can celebrate the short term but when an industrial stock, one which was the largest company by market capitalisation almost 20 years ago, has such an awful balance sheet (354% debt: equity) and blew $45bn in buybacks in recent years, one has to wonder how investors can look at GE as a paragon of value? Reminiscing on the halcyon days of a stock is not a method of sensible investing when staring at reality.

Drinking the UnKool-Aid

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It appears President Trump has been bullying the US Federal Reserve to drop rates by 1% and get them to reopen the spigots on QE. What he is failing to grasp is that businesses invest because they see a cycle, not because interest rates fall.

Trump tweeted,

China is adding great stimulus to its economy while at the same time keeping interest rates low. Our Federal Reserve has incessantly lifted interest rates, even though inflation is very low, and instituted a very big dose of quantitative tightening. We have the potential to go…up like a rocket if we did some lowering of rates, like one point, and some quantitative easing. Yes, we are doing very well at 3.2% GDP, but with our wonderfully low inflation, we could be setting major records &, at the same time, make our National Debt start to look small!

This is a frightening proposal. Rates are at 2.25~2.50%. Although it masks a more important reality. Can Trump avoid a market calamity ahead of the next election? The real engine of the economy is slowing.

Despite the headline US GDP print of 3.2%, consumer spending and business investment slumped to the lowest levels under his presidency. Business investment spending was dominated by “intellectual capital” (soft) which is a pretty hard metric to put a reliable number next to. Equipment and structures (hard) contribution to business investment was near as makes no difference zero. Personal consumption of durable goods slumped to their lowest reading since 2011. Wholesale inventories (ex-autos/petroleum) surged ahead of sales.

Trump might argue China is adding stimulus. He is right. China’s Aggregate Financing (approximately system Credit growth less government borrowings) jumped 2.860 billion yuan, or $427 billion – during the 31 days of March ($13.8bn/day or $5.0 Trillion annualised (a Japanese GDP)). This was 55% above estimates and a full 80% ahead of March 2018. This pump priming added 8% to the Chinese stock indices but since then the market has been rolling off.

The world does not need more debt to be inflated away to get us out of the current mess we are in. A recession is inevitable. To put it into context, the world, since GFC, has added $140 trillion in debt for a grand total of $20 trillion in global GDP growth. That is right. $7 of debt only got us $1 of GDP. So if the Fed acquiesces President Trump he will probably get even worse metrics.

Then again perhaps we can take the words of a venture capitalist, Chamath Palihapitiya, who said on CNBC that “central banks have created an environment where major downturns and expansions are almost impossible.” It is statements like this that almost guarantee that central banks have lost control. Central banks have one role – ensure that markets maintain “confidence”. Powell’s latest move to cut rates after such a shallow peak tells us that “confidence” is waning. 

Greatest Corporate Showman on Earth

Tesla’s 1Q 2019 results were dreadful. CM has long held that Tesla is a basket case. The ever charismatic Elon Musk is trying to fan the flames of his company with dying embers. The question is where do we start on this diabolical 1Q report?

1. Musk started off with cash to speak to solvency. Tesla talks to $2.2bn in cash and equivalents. Down $1.5b, partly due to a $920m convertible repayment. Don’t forget Tesla has $6.5bn in recourse debt and $3.5bn in non-recourse debt. It has payables and accrued liabilities of another $5.5bn offset with receivables of just over $1bn.

2. Model S/X deliveries fell from 21,067 in 1Q 2018 to 12,091 in 1Q 2019. That’s -56% at the high margin premium car end. Musk claimed it was due to demand pull forward with a reduction in tax credits. Well he just proved that without credits, demand suffers appreciably.

Model 3 production was 3% higher on the quarter but deliveries were 20% lower. Note customer deposits total $768m, marginally down on the previous quarter. If Tesla starts to implode, customers have a right to get those credits back. Residual values aren’t holding as we discuss in pt.5.

3. Solar deployed -38% year on year

4. (Battery) Storage deployed -39%YoY

5. CM made it clear in point 11 of the 30 reasons why Tesla will be a bug on a windshield report,

The Tesla Residual Value Guarantee, while well intentioned carried risks that crucified the leasing arms of the Big 3. 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…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. Sadly Tesla does not get a say in what the consumer will be willing to pay.”

In the 1Q 2019 result, Musk admits that Tesla suffered $121m impairment on residual value guarantees (RVG). Is it any wonder they stopped this scheme. Now it’s payback time. There are $480mn worth of RVGs still on the balance sheet that are unlikely to have been marked to market values.

6. Level 5 autonomous driving is a pipe dream in the near term. 20+ years away. A fleet of Tesla taxis is an even bigger thought bubble. Regulation will put that on the back burner. The current level 2 systems have already shown significant short comings given the numerous beta testing deaths at the wheel of the Tesla auto pilot.

7. Musk is doing a stealth cash raise by putting a time limit on auto pilot upgrades. The question is when will the next cap raise come. His noise around Tesla taxis, Level 5 autonomous systems, Model Y all speak to the snake oil promises that he needs to distract investors from what is clearly going on.

8. His public spat with his biggest supplier, Panasonic, will not end well. Suppliers have to be on board with production expansion. Panasonic is cooling off its relationship. Musk publicly slapped the Japanese battery maker. It doesn’t augur well for the rest of the supply chain either to see these ructions

Peter DeLorenzo wrote the following with respect to Musk,

That this latest charade from Musk is yet another desperate act in an attempt at saving his floundering company is obvious. Where it differs from other Muskian braggadocio is the fact that he is insisting that his AV technology is safe for mass application and consumption. Sorry to disappoint all of the St. Elon acolytes out there, but this is the insane part…

…Unleashing a fleet of zombie Teslas on the streets of America curated by a notorious nanosecond-attention-span personality such as Musk is the quintessential definition of flat-out crazy. You can’t even squint hard enough to suggest that this is, in some way, shape, or form, rational thought. It’s a case of an intermittently brilliant mind that has wandered over the line into the Abyss of Darkness. A dangerous mind that is so obsessed with pushing his perpetually sinking car company into some sort of elevated stratosphere that he is willing to treat real people as so much collateral damage...

This country is 25 years away – at least – from widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles. Yes, there will be scaled deployment in limited, commercial applications primarily in urban centers over the next two decades, but driverless Teslas careening around less than two years from now? It is a recipe for disaster the likes of which simply defies calculation.”

All the reasons CM has disliked Tesla remain. It is so chronically overvalued. This stock will be lucky to be $100 by year end. Sadly the economy is slowing meaning it will be tougher to compete with more competition launching this year. China may give cause for some future hope but don’t bet on it.

The more Musk talks, the more desperate he is. Don’t forget he is not learning from SEC requests to lay off Twitter. His guidance in 1Q is lower than recent tweets suggesting appreciably higher targets. Tesla is a time bomb.

Debunking Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)

Corp Profit

While the Dow & S&P500 indices grind back higher thanks to the US Fed chickening out on a rate rise in because the economy can’t handle it, many people still overlook the fact that core US profitability has tracked sideways since 2012. 6 years of next to nada. Sure one can boost profits by adding back unrealistic  “inventory adjustments” but the reality is plain and simple. If you search for inventory adjusted earnings they’re still marginally growing but there in lies the point. Real profits aren’t.

Record buybacks fueled by cheap debt is the cause for ‘flattered’ earnings. No growth in E  just falls in S.  EPS growth can look spectacular if you ignore 50% of US corporates have BBB credit ratings or worse.

The latest lexicon is “modern monetary theory” (MMT). The idea that the central banks just manipulate markets in perpetuity. Austerity is no longer needed. Central banks print money and extinguish debts the same way. Seriously why bother with taxation? The question is if it is meant to be a sure winner, why aren’t we all living in 5 bedroom mansions with a Mercedes Benz and a Porsche in the driveway? Why not a helicopter?

Logically if central banks can buy our way out of this debt ridden hellhole, why is growth so anemic? Why is European GDP being cut back? Why is German industrial production at its worst level since 2009? Why does Salvini want to jail the Italian central bankers? Why does the Yellow Vest movement in France carry on for its 15th consecutive week? If MMT works why would the EU care if the UK leaves with No Deal? MMT can solve everything for unelected bureaucrats in theory. Even £39bn can be printed

Last year the US Fed announced it had stopped reporting its balance sheet activity. In 2006 it stopped reporting M3 money supply. Curious timing when inside 2 years the world was flung into the worst recession since 1929. Transparency is now a danger for authorities.

The question boils down to one of basic sanity. All assets are priced relative to others. It’s why an identical house with a view in a nice neighborhood trades at a relatively higher price than one in a outer suburban back lot. The market attributes extra value even if the actual dwelling is a carbon copy. It is why currencies in banana republics trade by appointment and inflation remains astronomical. Investors don’t trust their ability to repay debts unless given extremely favorable terms. Market forces at work.

To put the shoe on the other foot, if all countries adopted MMT why bother buying bonds for retirement? The interest is merely backed by a printing press. Best consume 100% and save zero. The government has moved beyond moral hazard and hopes no one will notice

Take a look at Japan. It has $10 trillion in outstanding debt which is 2x its economy. The Bank of Japan owns 60% of that paper bought through a printing press. The market for JGBs is so manipulated that several Japanese mega banks have handed back their trading licenses because it has become worthless to be on that exchange. The BoJ thinks it can make whatever prices it chooses. The ultimate aim is to convert all of the outstanding debt into a zero coupon perpetual bond with a minor ‘administration’ fee in order to assign some value to it. To the layman, a zero coupon perpetual means you get no interest on the money you lend and the borrower is technically never required to pay the borrowed amount back. Such loans are made by parents to their children, not central banks to politicians (although one could be forgiven to think their behaviour is child like).

Yet the backdrop remains the same. Consumers are tapped out in many countries. Lulled by a low interest rates forever mentality, even minute rises to stem inflation (real is different to reported) hurt. My credit card company constantly sends emails to offer to transfer balances at 9% as opposed to the 20% they can charge if I don’t pay in full.

APRA recently relented on interest only mortgages after demanding it be tightened to prevent a housing bubble getting bigger. Now mortgage holders hope the RBA cuts rates to ease their pain.

Like most new fads, MMT can’t remove the ultimate dilemma that Milton Friedman told us half a century ago. Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. One can’t hope that putting money in the hands of everyone can be sustainable.

The one lesson that we should have learnt from GFC was that living at the expense of the future has rapidly diminishing returns. All we did was double down on that stupidity.

Do we think it normal that Sydney house prices  trade at levels the Japanese property bubble did in the late 1980s? Do we realize that we hold as much mortgage debt than Japanese banks did for a population 5x our size? Do we think that our banks are adequately stress tested? When an economy like ours has avoided recession for a quarter century, it builds complacency.

MMT is nothing more than a figment of the imagination. It preys on the idea that we won’t notice if we can’t see it. Unfortunately behind the scenes, the real economy can’t sustain the distortions. The French make the best modern day example of  a growing number of Main Streeters struggling  to make ends meet.

Central banks monkeying around with MMT smacks of all the same hubris of the past. It is experimental at best and reckless at worst. Markets can be manipulated for as long as confidence can be sustained. Lose the market’s trust and all of a sudden no amount of modern day jargon  can overcome what economists have known for millennia.

If you flood a global economy with cash at 5x the rate the economy can feasibly grow then it will ultimately require bigger and bigger hits to get the same bang before the jig is up. It’s a Ponzi scheme. Bernie Madoff got 120 years jail. Why not the central bankers?

So what is the best asset out there? Gold. It can’t be printed. It requires effort to discover it and dig it out of the ground. Of course the barbouros relic deserves to be consigned to the dustbin of history. If that were so Fort Knox might as well leave the gate open. The more it is hated only makes this contrarian investor want it more.

Musk channels the Black Knight?

It has become apparent that the SEC & Musk had a deal which would see him removed from Tesla yet his lawyers have rejected it at the last minute because he’d rather fight the charges. One could argue in favour of his bravery to appeal against what looks to be a very open and shut case about breaching probably the most basic of errors in standard reporting to the exchange to ensure fairness.

Maybe he feels that he is only going to get a slap on the wrist? In the 63 odd charges laid out against individuals by the SEC for reporting violations in 2018, the average fine has been $75,000. Hardly a ripple to Musk’s net worth.

The bigger risk for Tesla shareholders if Musk loses in court against the SEC and is forced out (to be honest his board should demand it) will be losing a figurehead who at the very least has managed to make a company with no profits, monster debts and questionable actions worth more than Ford, FCA & GM combined. Betting against Musk has been a dangerous game. He may well be teflon coated but it remains questionable whether he can strap himself to his reusable rockets and escape the fraud charges.