#nissan

Carlos Ghosn speaks out against 忖度

In what is usually the reserve of Hollywood films, Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn has released a video on the basis he was rearrested. He eloquently puts forward his case on why he wants a fair trial. He said he always wanted to preserve the independence of Nissan as a brand despite wanting to move alliance talks forward to a merger but he was backstabbed along the way.

Japan may wish to crow about how it is dedicating itself to best practice corporate governance but the manner in which Ghosn was thrown under the bus certainly raises many red flags. It wasn’t so long ago that the board of Olympus staged a coup against then CEO Michael Woodford when he discovered all of the shady deals and offshore bank accounts. While the updated corporate governance code is a step in the right direction, far too many companies are unwilling to embrace the spirit of it. Filing documents with the exchange are done in ways to say that “we comply”. If you delve into the relationships, one company had an independent director who received 20% of revenue from the board he now sat. So much for conflict of interest.

Nissan’s performance was suffering. Ghosn said that “autonomy” is not a given for the brand. This is where “le cost killer’s” business style clearly rubbed the local management the wrong way. For a man who helped save the company from bankruptcy how quickly they forget his two decades of a turnaround when they feel the company is in a safe enough position to stall for time.  The reputation is in the mud.

忖度 (sontaku) sums up Ghosn’s problems. Several years ago the fanfare of the Corporate Governance Code was thrust into the faces of the international investment community that Japan Inc was changing. After visiting multiple staff inside the Financial Services Agency and the Tokyo Stock Exchange there was absolutely no pulse of proactively to be seen anywhere. Even CM’s slight nudge to get the FSA to tap the shoulder of the TSE to suggest listed corporates provide English language materials to encourage more transparency for foreign investors was met with the response, “it might help if you spoke directly to the Deputy PM & Minister of Finance Taro Aso.” Not a word of a lie. Knowing CM’s task was impossible, they were satisfied to brush it aside with that level of enthusiasm. i.e. we won’t lift a finger until told to do so.

$14bn shock for Shorten. Not $100m

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Let’s face it, pre-election budget boasting is a beauty contest we can do without. Fanciful promises guarantee we will not end up in surplus. Shorten’s speech was loaded with mistakes. Let’s cut through some numbers.

The Coalition put forward the following on Tuesday.

What escaped many in the Frydenberg budget of Tuesday is that to fund the 16.8% jump in tax receipts on 2018/19, individual taxpayers will still see their pockets hit +18.4% in aggregate even after including the ‘generous’ rebates. Superannuation tax collections will jump 43% in 4 years time.

NDIS spending is targeted to be 92% higher by 2022/23 than last year. Medicare +24%, public hospital assistance to the states +21%, aged care services +27%. For all the celebrations of lowering pharmaceutical rebates for one wonder drug from $120,000 to $6.50, the reality is spending in this segment will fall 18.4% in total. The family tax benefit will squeak 4% higher in the next 4 years.

As written on Tuesday, the revenue projections of the government are unrealistic as we stare at a slowing world economy. German industrial production in March cratered to 44.1 and China’s auto sales continued a 7-month double-digit slump in February.

Analyzing the Labor response

Shorten claimed NDIS was cut A$1.6bn to get a surplus. Under Frydenberg’s budget, NDIS for 2019/20 will rise A$4.5bn. Out to 2022/23, it rises to over A$24bn.

The Opposition Leader also made reference to A$14bn in cuts to public schools. Note the funding to public schools on 2013/14 was A$4.8bn. In 2018/19 it was $7.7bn and projected in 2022/23 to be A$10.4bn. 

$200mn to renovate nursing campuses in Australia won’t achieve much. The John Curtin Medical Research School at the ANU cost $130mn alone.

Shorten made reference to bushfires being caused by climate change. Fire & Rescue NSW notes that 90% of fires are either deliberately or accidentally set. A Royal Commission after the horrible Black Saturday bushfires showed that policies which restricted backburning reduction targets were to blame for the larger spread of fires, not climate change. In 2013, Tasmania learned none of the lessons with similar policy restrictions preventing the Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service to complete more than 4% of all the 2.6m hectares it manages. The reef is not being damaged by climate change and floods and drought are no more frequent or severe than a century ago.

While climate alarmists will relish the prospect of 50% electric vehicles (EV) and cut emissions 45% by 2030 to save the planet, a few truths need to be considered:

1) our own Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, has admitted that no matter what Australia does to mitigate global warming our impact will be zero. Naught. Nada. Putting emotion to one side, is there any point in spending $10s of billions to drive electricity prices?

2) South Australia and Victoria have already beta tested what having a higher percentage of renewable energy does or rather doesn’t do for sustainable and reliable baseload power. Both states have not only the highest energy prices in Australia but the world. These stats are backed up in Europe. The EU member states with a higher percentage of renewables have steeper electricity prices than those with less. These are facts.

3) Consumption patterns matterLast year Aussies bought only 2,200 EVs. In 2008, SUVs made up 19% of the new car sales mix. Today they make up 43%.
In 2008, c.50m total passengers were carried on Australian domestic flights to over 61m today. The IATA expects passengers flown will double over the current level by 2030. These are hardly the actions of people panicked about cataclysmic climate change. Or if they are, they expect others to economize on their behalf.

Qantas boasts having the largest carbon offset program in place yet only 2% of miles are paid for, meaning 98% aren’t. 

4) Global EV production capacity is around 2.1m units. While rising, it is still a minor blip on 79 million cars sold worldwide. Add to that, auto parts suppliers and car makers are reluctant to expand capacity too fast in a global auto market that is slowing rapidly.

Car sales in China have fallen for 7 straight months. In Feb 2019, sales fell 13.8% on the back of January’s -15% print.  Dec 2018 (-13%), Nov 2018 (-13.9%) & Oct 2018 (-11.7%) according to the Chinese Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM). The US and Australian car markets are under pressure too. 

5) So haphazard is the drive for EV legislation that there are over 200 cities in Europe with different regulations. In the rush for cities to outdo one another this problem will only get worse. Getting two city councils to compromise is one thing but 200 or more across country lines?

Without consistent regulations, it is hard for makers to build EVs that can accommodate all the variance in laws without sharply boosting production costs. 

6) Fuel excise tax – at the moment, 5% of our tax revenue comes from the bowser. $25bn! Will Mr. Shorten happily give this up or do we expect when we’ve been forced to buy EVs that we will be stung with an electricity tax on our cars?

7) Norway is a poor example to benchmark against. It is 5% of our land mass, 1/5th our population and new car sales around 12% of Australia. According to BITRE, Australia has 877,561km of road network which is 9x larger than Norway.

Norway has around 8,000 chargers countrywide. Installation of fast chargers runs around A$60,000 per unit on top of the $100,000 preparation of each station for the high load 480V transformer setup to cope with the increased loads.

Norway state enterprise, Enova, said it would install fast chargers every 50km of 7,500km worth of main road/highway.

Australia has 234,820km of highways/main roads. Fast chargers at every 50km like the Norwegians would require a minimum of 4,700 charging stations across Australia. Norway commits to a minimum of 2 fast chargers and 2 standard chargers per station.

The problem is our plan for 570,000 cars per annum is 10x the number of EVs sold in Norway, requiring 10x the infrastructure.

While it is safe to assume that Norway’s stock of electric cars grows, our cumulative sales on Shorten’s plan would require far greater numbers. So let’s do the maths (note this doesn’t take into account the infrastructure issues of rural areas):

14,700 stations x $100,000 per station to = $1,470,000,000

4,700 stations x 20 fast chargers @ A$60,000 = $5,640,000,000 (rural)

4,700 stations x 20 slow chargers @ A$9,000 = $846,000,000 (rural)

10,000 stations x 5 fast chargers @ A$60,000 = $3,000,000,000 (urban)

570,000 home charging stations @ $5,500 per set = $3,135,000,000 (this is just for 2030)

Grand Total: A$14,091,000,000

Note that Shorten pledged $100m to EV charging stations around Australia to meet his goals. Even if he was to skimp on 2 fast and 2 slow chargers per stand, Aussies taxpayers will need to shell out $6.5bn. At least he could technically cover that with repealing $6bn in franking credits.

Norway’s privately run charging companies bill users at NOK2.50 (A$0.42c) per minute for fast charging. Norway’s electricity prices are around NOK 0.55 (A$0.05c) per kWh to households.  In South Australia, that price is 43c/kWh. So will Shorten subsidize an EV owner charging in Adelaide at the mark up a private retailer might charge? 

What about subsidies to EV buyers? If we go off Shorten’s assumptions of $3,400 per EV at 570,000 EVs per annum, the tax payer will fork out $1.94bn a year.

Will there be a cash-for-clunkers scheme?  If the plan is to drive internal combustion powertrains off the road, existing owners may not be emboldened with the decimation in the value of their existing cars. Let’s assume buyers are irrational and accept $3,000 per car (Gillard offered $2,000 back in 2010) trade-in under the scheme. That would amount to $1.73bn.

8) Making our own batteries! While it is true Australia is home to all of the relevant resources, sadly we do not have enough cobalt to make enough of them.

Australia is home to only 4% (5,100t) of the world’s cobalt. 60% of the world’s cobalt comes from DR Congo which has less than satisfactory labour laws surrounding children. If we want cheap EVs, we have to bear that cross of sacrificing children to save the planet. It can’t be done any other way.

Li-ion batteries consume around 42% of the globe’s cobalt supplies. Cars are 40% of that. The rest being computers, mobile phones, etc.

9) Automakers have set up their own battery capacity to supply internal production. Given our terrible history in automotives, we should not expect them to line up to buy our batteries.

Nissan spent around A$770m on a battery plant in Sunderland. Panasonic plowed $2.8bn into the battery plant that supplies Tesla.

10) Australia has no real homegrown industrial scale EV battery technology. If we bought in a technical license, that will only make our production costs prohibitive on a global scale. Our high wage costs would add to the improbability of it being a sensible venture.

All in, Shorten’s EV plans could cost Australians well over $20bn with c.$4bn in subsidies ongoing.

11) Green jobs – according to the ABS, jobs in the renewable sector have fallen from the peak of 19,000 in 2011/12 to 14,920 in 2016/17. The upshot is that green jobs in the renewable sector are not sustainable.

In short, Mr. Shorten’s budget reply was extremely thin on detail. Especially with respect to climate change. The LNP has plenty of ammunition to prosecute the case on his wild costing inaccuracies (as outlined above) yet will they have the gumption to fight on those lines. Saving the planet is one thing.

Loading a stretched grid with EVs and increasing the proportion of less reliable power sources looks like a recipe for disaster. We need only look at consumption patterns to get a true sense of how ‘woke’ people when it comes to global warming. South Australians and Victorians are already living the nightmare of renewables.

This election is about one thing – individual pocketbooks. The electorate needs working solutions, not electric dreams.

Naomi Osaka edition Nissan GT-R sells out

While Carlos Ghosn maybe wasting away in a Tokyo detention centre, Nissan is not wasting the talents of Naomi Osaka. At a puffy ecomentalist launch of the new Nissan Leaf EV, one of the board director’s asked the then just crowned US Open winner what car she’d like and without hesitation it was the GT-R. Why? “Because it is fast.” So despite breaking every politically correct rule as goes a green car launch, Nissan got religion and sold out 50 Naomi Osaka edition GT-Rs in a heartbeat. It looks like Naomi run #2 reservations can be made in Feb. Capitalism wins again. Surely the margins on Naomi GT-Rs will outstrip any margins made on Naomi Leafs.

Watch Japanese companies fumble over getting her to star in their commercials. You know what? Best to buy a basket of Naomi Osaka stocks on the TSE. CM wrote a piece on stocks and Japanese idols – there is correlation! Smaller caps tend to benefit more. Valuations largely irrelevant.

As CM wrote it is any wonder a financial institution hasn’t made a Naomi ETF?

When the supervisor can’t follow the rules

Japan Exchange Group’s (owner of the Tokyo Stock Exchange) CEO Akira Kiyota has agreed to take a 30% pay cut for 3 months after admitting he’d broken internal rules on prohibited investment.

Surely as the supervisor of one of the largest stock exchanges in the world there would be sufficient systems in place to prevent such embarrassing events. A bit hypocritical to come down hard on listed corporates when the headmaster can’t follow his own rules.

As a former stockbroker, it was a sackable offense to make stock and bond investments without sign off from compliance and a manager to mitigate any risk of insider trading. It is a bit rich to suggest the JPX boss wasn’t aware of his internal rules and had he any doubt whatsoever it would have been an easy discussion had with the relevant department.

Corporate governance in Japan remains woefully inadequate. The JPX board has approved the ¥20mn (US$180k) profit made by the CEO on the initial ¥150mn (US$1.3mn) investment be given to the Japanese Red Cross. Will that be pre or post any capital gains tax? Why isn’t the board calling for him to resign? Why isn’t Kiyota resigning on principle to save the organization’s stained reputation as the vanguard of best practice?

Then again we should not be surprised. It took months for the JPX to remove/suspend Toshiba from the best in class corporate governance index (JPX Nikkei 400) after its accounting scandal became outed and there has been no investigation of Kobe Steel when blatant insider trading was visible to a novice. It leaked information about its fraudulent product specifications to customers three weeks before announcing to the market. All the tell-tale signs of heavy short selling positions on many multiples of average daily volume traded on the day of informing clients was evident. Yet nothing was even suspected, investigated or referred to the regulator.

Then take a look at the saga of Nissan. Documents have revealed former CEO Carlos Ghosn supposedly washed his multi-million dollar personal investment losses through the company as well as using Nissan money to buy several private properties in his name. That would still require the board to be willfully blind to sign off on such big ticket items or point to woeful internal controls. What governance structures could be in place when there is no board accountability over Ghosn’s actions? Being bullied by a dominant CEO is no excuse. The board should have tendered their resignations en masse.

Indeed there have been countless corporate governance lapses overseas – Parmalat, GSK, Stanford, Enron, Tyco etc- but in Japan there is little or no punishment for most executives who break laws (internal or external). Throwing the book at Ghosn will be an exception. Most C-level managers in Japan escape with little more than wounded pride.

Cutting salary for misdemeanors is woeful governance too. The biggest way to force compliance is to threaten a Japanese boss’ company car privileges. The highest status for a CEO is to be whisked around in a personal Toyota Century. Stripping it would literally force corporate leaders to do the walk of shame.

Carlos Ghosn facing arrest

The Asahi Shimbun says Nissan group President Carlos Ghosn is expected to face arrest by prosecutors for underreporting salary. Noone should be above the law but to think of the number of jobs at Nissan he saved plus the return to record profitability makes CM think the tax man is well ahead on the trade.

Will financial planners bring out a Naomi Osaka ETF?

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Japanese investors can get star-struck with investments. In 2015, popular pop-idol band AKB-48 saw the stocks of companies it was sponsored by surge 136% relative to the market. Aggregate sales of those companies surged 46% and 30% over the following two years. Such is the ‘hayari‘ (boom) culture in Japan. Corporates know this.

Since the US Open win by tennis star Naomi Osaka, sponsors are lining up to sign her. Prior to the win, Nissin Foods, WOWOW & Yonex were already sponsors. Nissan has just signed her. Since the win, the Topix has risen a tad over 6% while Nissan, Nissan & WOWOW have risen 7.5% in aggregate. Yonex has jumped 12.2% Early days to be sure, but the likelihood is that if she is sponsored by some smaller less liquid stock names these stocks could well fly.

Forget fancy models and esoteric investment strategies. Find whatever Osaka will be sponsored by in Japan and outperform through popularity over underlying earnings performance.

Any financial firm that launched a Naomi Osaka basket would likely see massive inflows and be able to charge higher fees on the back of it. Will the marketing departments wake up?

More love for Naomi Osaka

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20yo Naomi Osaka deserves every success she gets. She is without doubt the hottest marketing prospect globally. There is no media spin or polish with her on any level. She is authentic in the extreme. No prima donna antics or bragging. If anything her press conferences since returning have defined her as ‘what you see is what you get.’ Humility and grace. Pray we get more millennials like her. She shows one doesn’t have to beat their chest in ridiculous ways to get attention.

No wonder Adidas want to throw $11.9m per year to sponsor her. As a Nissan ambassador, despite her media appearance in front of the Leaf electric vehicle, when asked Naomi just let her inner petrol head scream her favorite car – the GT-R. Lucky for her she will get one in white.

The world of tennis couldn’t have a better ambassador for the game. Let’s hope that the media don’t pry too deeply into her private life (good luck with that) and her sports manager doesn’t put her on a multi-year roadshow from hell to please sponsors which would put any star to the test.