#ESG

Cate Faehrmann plays investor for a day

Investment managers have difficult jobs. They have to forecast a whole plethora of variables from global economic growth, currencies, commodity prices and micro level corporate industries. If governments can provide ironclad policy certainty, investment choices become relatively easier. Unfortunately, perfect information detracts from performance because things get priced almost instantaneously.

It might be nice that 415 funds all call for a ratification of Paris Climate Accord (which means nothing in practice as the US isn’t a signatory and its emissions have fallen while China is a signatory and emissions continue to rise) but truth be told,  it sounds what is commonly termed in financial circles as “talking one’s book.” NSW Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann pretends to understand finance in her latest piece.

While these 415 firms might represent $32 trillion in assets under management (AUM), the truth is not all of those funds are spoken for in terms of climate-related investments. Investment advisors by their very nature have very diverse client bases. They cover basic low-risk pension (i.e. stable income) funds all the way to riskier return profiles for clients that want more exposure to certain themes or countries. If clients aren’t interested in buying climate funds, the asset managers don’t gather fees. Pretty simple.

Much of the fund industry has focused on ESG (environment, social responsibility & governance) since its inception in 2005. ESG represents around $20 trillion of global AUM, or 25% of total professionally managed funds. Therefore the other 75% of monies are deployed without this in mind. In reality, this is done because investment managers must hunt for the best returns, not those which sacrifice profitability for virtue. If NAB offered you a 10% 1-yr deposit and no solar panels on the HQ roof and Westpac offered a 1% 1-yr deposit because it did, would you invest in the latter based on its ecomentalism?

Let’s take the world’s largest public pension fund (2 million members), California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) which is a cosignatory to this demand for climate action. Apart from the fact that this $380bn fund has been so poorly managed (marked to market unfunded liabilities are c.US$1 trillion), its portfolio consists of widespread ownership of met coal, petroleum and other mining assets. It owns bonds in fossil-fuel producing nations such as Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi Arabia as well as highly environmentally unfriendly aluminium smelters in the world’s biggest polluter, China. So there goes the rhetoric of “demanding” Paris is ratified, that we shift to a low carbon economy and we force companies to report their carbon commitments.

It is frightening that some members of our political class believe that investment managers which collaborate in groupthink are worthy of listening to. On the contrary, the performance of many must be sub par. It is a sad reality that 80% of large-cap fund managers fail to outperform the index on a regular basis. So praying for governments to backstop investments they deployed capital into shows more desperation than innovation.

Maybe we should think of Adani as a classic example of investment at work. While Annastacia Palaszczuk’s government is backflipping on the Adani Carmichael coal mine after the electoral drubbing handed out to federal colleagues, the voluntary infrastructure tax is a cynical way to try to make the project less financially viable. After 8 years of ridiculous and onerous environmental approvals, Adani probably think it only needs to wait til October 2020 when an election will wipe out Queensland Labor from government and the infrastructure tax will be repealed soon after.

CM has long held that the non-ESG names are the place to invest. Most of the auto-pilot, brain dead, virtue signalling group think money has been poured into ESG. All non-ESG companies care about is profitability, not focusing on all the soft cuddly things they do displayed on the corporate lobby TV screens on a loop. Sadly when markets inevitably implode, investors always seek safe havens to limit the damage. As so much money is collectively invested together, so the bigger the stampede to the relatively attractive values provided by the stocks that have been cast aside by “woke” investors.

Go woke, go broke

Yet another example of why CM has cancelled his FT subscription. Where is the critical reporting? This article by Pilita Clark doesn’t critique the ridiculous movement by corporates to virtue signal but falls in line with the stupidity.

Maybe the best metaphor for the woke corporation is parsley. It often looks nice as a garnish but 99.9% of us push it to the side of the plate and leave it to be thrown away.

Corporate hypocrisy is everywhere.

Take Josh Bayliss, CEO of Virgin Group. He says,

“It’s definitely true that right now every one of us should think hard about whether or not we need to take a flight.”

Why doesn’t he close down the airlines in the portfolio? Instead of waiting for his customers to grow a conscience and do the right thing why not force their choice? The obvious answer is that it’s hypocritical.

Airlines operate on about 70% capacity load factor break even so if Virgin flights end up being half full he’ll only end up spewing more or less the same CO2 per flight and go out of business. British Airways, EasyJet and Ryanair will welcome Virgin’s virtue signaling. Go woke, go broke.

Qantas has the world’s largest carbon offset program yet only 2% of passengers elect to pay. That’s the extent of the belief in global warming.

Blackrock’s chief Larry Fink said his asset manager needs to do more than just make money yet it only backed 10% of the climate related shareholder proposals. Why? Supposedly because they would crush profits. All talk, little walk.

BP surprisingly helped prevent a carbon tax it openly launched support for. A fossil fuel company trying to undermine a carbon tax? Wow. Who’d a thunk?

UK shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said Labour would seek to delist companies from the London Stock Exchange that didn’t meet their climate change commitments. In order to meet that, will that mean a child daycare company will be burnt at the stake for not brainwashing kindergarten kids? Will there be a minimum pot plant to child ratio?

How would regulations impact the myriad of different businesses that would trigger being dumped from the LSE? What standard would be applied? CM is betting corporates jus need to “file” a governance statement on climate change which no one will read. As long as 100% of companies file, nothing will happen.

Pretty easy to avoid too. Companies could list on Nasdaq or the Singapore exchange to avoid the regulations and still raise capital. Did you think of that Mr McDonnell? No because it is all about being woke and there are plenty of alternatives to dodge stupid policy. Capital is global.

Pilita Clark closes her article by saying,

“Yet the climate debate is shifting and I am willing to bet that companies failing to match their green claims with solid action face far greater risks than they ever have before.”

Like much of the climate religion, few hard facts are ever presented except the date we are all supposed to die. Even then that is an ever-shifting goal post. We can be assured that when 2028 arrives all of a sudden we’ll have another 12 years to do something. A bit like the joke where a patient asks his doctor how long he has to live and is given an extension so he can pay his bill.

The ever-growing tide of the “woke” corporation is going to thwart ingenuity and entrepreneurship. It is corporate suicide to pander to this nonsense. It is not for companies to bang on about their wonderful commitments. Customers and shareholders can decide for themselves. Maybe if companies listened to both groups they would find profits go up. People are growing sick and tired of being told what to do. How to think.

The world is littered with corporate wokeness backfiring. The irony is much of it is self-inflicted. By trying to create false images of virtue, the results have been disastrous.

P&G had to write off billions from its Gillette brand for the toxic masculinity campaign. Before the campaign Gillette was ranked 7th out of 45 health and grooming brands. After, rock bottom.

There is almost a wave of corporate fear twisted by a minority of social activists like Sleeping Giants which create false narratives about public perceptions of evil companies. There is a flip side.

Chick-fil-A was established by Southern Baptists. They don’t ram their Christian beliefs at all in the restaurants. Activists tried to boycott the fast food outlet because one of the directors personally didn’t support same-sex marriage. Guess what, store numbers have doubled and revenues tripled over the last decade.

Chick-fil-A states it’s mission is, “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”

Chick-fil-A is notable by its closure on Sundays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. So people are well aware ofthis corporate backing its religious beliefs.

There is a difference between founding a company on certain beliefs and concocting them to ride a wave of hijacking social movements. Customers are aware of the difference.

Virgin Group can wax lyrical about its concerns in trying to save the planet but the only woke thing would be to shut down. Pushing the guilt back on its customers shows how hypocritical the airline is.

To be honest it gets tiring waiting in corporate lobbies watching flat panel TVs advertising all of the wonderful community things they do. 99% of the transaction with any corporate will be driven by the ability to deliver goods and services, not supporting tree planting. It is not to diminish charity or good intentions, rather to cut back on acting as though they’re angels to avoid being put on an imaginary naughty step that doesn’t exist.

Perhaps CM should recommend a portfolio of non-compliant ESG companies. When the market sells off, all the passive money in ESG compliant names should well underperform those that don’t. Perhaps an asset manager should establish an ETF with a basket of companies that just provide product or service rather than garnish it with lashings of corporate virtue. Here is betting it would be a contrarian winner.

Tesla Q2 – Simple Minds

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When Simple Minds wrote the lyrics to Promised you a miracle, never could they have imagined Elon Musk could have used them to present his earnings release:
The original lyrics:
Promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As golden days break wondering
Chance as love takes a train
Summer breeze and brilliant light
Only love she sees
He controls on love
Love sails to a new life
Promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As golden days break wondering
Only love she sees
He controls on love
Life throws a curve
Everything is possible
With promises
Everything is possible
Oh
 
I promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As golden days break wondering
Chance reflects on them a while
Love screams so quietly
Slipping back on golden times
Breathing with sweet memories
I promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As golden days break wondering
Only love she sees

Perhaps Tesla’s Q2 lyrics may have gone:

 

Promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
Model 3 customers left wondering
Ever more cashflow down the drain
Suppliers freeze as they’re $3bn light
Only delayed payables do they see
Yet he controls the bluff
Profitabilty sails to a distant life
Promised you a miracle
Credibility is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As the golden payday keeps wandering
Only trust he pleas
He loses controls on Twitter
Life throws a curve
Sledging Thai rescuers is possible
With promises
Everything is possible
Oh
I promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As warranty provisions must take a hike
Investors reflect profits may take a while
Short sellers scream so quietly
Slipping back on golden times
Breathing with sweet memories
Banks were promised a profit miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As targets keep fumbling
Only wait another quarter he says.
CM has said time again that Musk is a brilliant salesman. How he has managed to build a debt edifice worth more than GM, Ford & Fiat-Chrysler combined is a testament. Musk has continually missed delivery on so many promises that there is little stock in backing anything he says.
He championed $2bn in cash & equivalents but leaves out $5bn in accounts payble and accrued liabilities. The cash isn’t “net”
The company still reported $739mn negative free cash. While the rate may have slowed from Q1 it is shockingly high. Is it any wonder letters were sent to suppliers in an attempt to massage the figures to make the numbers look optically pretty.
Tesla wrote, “We aim to increase production to 10,000 Model 3s per week as fast as we can. We believe that the majority of Tesla’s production lines will be ready to produce at this rate by end of this year, but we will still have to increase capacity in certain places and we will need our suppliers to meet this as well. As a result, we expect to hit this rate sometime next year.
The problem with this statement shows the naivety of Musk’s lack of knowledge on mars production. Profitability isn’t sustained by cranking to 10k/week if demand won’t be there when it hits that milestone. There are already flip-a-Model 3 websites littered with early adopters hoping to cash in on the initial euphoria. Yet if new stock is coming out that fast, many are likely to cancel orders because there is no arbitrage opportunity.
Customer deposits fell $42mn on the quarter. Tesla noted non-reservation orders are outstripping reservation orders. If reservation orders are stagnating because or cancellations or deliveries that is not a bold claim worth much. The company suggests it is no longer taking reservations in US or Canada because current supply can meet it but deposits would still be required to hold a car at a showroom before final payment so the customer deposit line should reflect that.
Even when CM ran the most optimistic of scenarios for Tesla, valuations would be mere fractions of what the stock trades today. Yet investors overlook the tsunami of new product from competitors made by brands who have spent decades perfecting production and have access to far superior distribution networks.
More smoke and mirrors. Simple Minds are all that is needed to read through the lines. Nothing remotely impressive with these numbers.
In closing, when the company talks of the ability to power slide the Model 3 when it has faced so much criticism over deaths related to false beliefs in its autopilot system you wonder whether Musk ever listens to legal advice? Well If he can blame the families of crash death victims it is clear he thinks of customers and investors as nothing more than beta testers. Then again if he can promise them miracles he is ultimately the winner if they buy into golden days.