Australia

Why would anyone celebrate BoJo contracting COVID19?

You have to hand it to a particular bunch of imbeciles who believe that certain people catching COVID 19 is a positive. When UK PM Boris Johnson contracted it one called it poetic justice. Another karma. It is sick.

Social media does amazing things to lure people to write/do ludicrous things in the hope of going viral, presumably to boost their followers, likes, retweets or shares.

Twitter isn’t real life but it exposes the underbelly of how sick society can become.

I’ll never forget an excerpt from my grandfather’s letters while serving in New Guinea in WWII. Amazingly he was able to feel pity for a mortal enemy sworn to kill him. He wrote,

“Well on reading about some of the women you were telling me about I feel a loathing for such hypocritical parasites. Is this what men are laying down their lives to protect? I sometimes wish that they could see how a bloke looks like when he is unburied for a couple of months, a skeleton with boots and clothes on, eaten by ants. A grinning skull and shirt black and stiff with congealed blood. Or a few Japs scattered around a shell hole with leg bones protruding from their boots…

…I wonder and think that these bones were a few months ago living people, with their loves and hates, wives and mothers, and sweethearts, posted as missing, they are frequently seen in the jungle, unburied until found. Then I think of the mongrels safe in Australia and having a great time the bastards – pardon my eloquence but I really get worked up over the mongrels that are not worth the little finger of the boys on the job defending their pseudo honour and their miserable little lives.”

How is it we are able as a society to celebrate the contraction of a potentially deadly disease by anyone?

If a soldier could find empathy at the wrong end of an Arisaka rifle, how is it some can’t find a wafer thin slice of compassion for people who hold a different political opinion that happen to become infected?

One can only imagine what might happen if Trump contracted it? Many are hopeful. Even if they make it out to be a joke.

Even in Australia, some hope PM Scott Morrison contracts the virus.

This is the level of the tolerant left before real economic hardship properly sets in.

From a Gold Bullion dealer in Sydney

Gold

This is the latest update from Australia’s largest gold bullion dealer today:

In the past few days, both Royal Canadian Mint and PAMP have announced temporary closures due to unprecedented demand and Coronavirus. As a result, ABC Bullion will no longer be taking new orders for Royal Canadian Mint and PAMP (Swiss) product and will continue to fulfil existing orders for these products from our existing inventory and incoming deliveries.

ABC Refinery remains open processing gold and silver from our mining clients and manufacturing ABC Bullion brand cast bars.

For the health and safety of our clients and staff, ABC Bullion is prioritising metal collection and buyback transactions at its retail office on 88 Pitt Street and requests clients open new accounts and make purchases via https://www.abcbullion.com.au/, email comms@abcbullion.com.au or telephone 1300 361 261.

Due to unprecedented demand, we are backlogged on making deliveries and we appreciate your patience as we catch up.

WHO’s official 2017 pandemic playbook says it all

WHOTWO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has bungled its response during the coronavirus crisis. Politics always seems to trump principle. This cartoon is particularly blunt.

In mid-January, WHO happily parroted Chinese propaganda which said, “preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in Wuhan, China.” This, instead of independent verification by WHO.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised China’s “transparency” despite whistleblower doctors being silenced by the propaganda machine. Several have sadly ended up dying.

Ghebreyesus even took potshots at governments looking to close borders to quarantine themselves on the basis of “unnecessarily interfering with international travel and trade” and “increasing fear and stigma.”

The interesting thing is that Director-General was reading straight from WHO’s very own 2017 playbook, ‘Pandemic Influenza Risk Management [PIRM]- A WHO guide to inform and harmonize national and international pandemic preparedness and response‘.

On travel, the report noted,

The International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) seeks to limit the public health measures taken in response to disease spread to those “that are commensurate with and restricted to public health risks, and which avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.” This aligned with China’s rhetoric.

On member state cooperation,

Under the Framework, Member States are responsible for (1) ensuring the timely sharing of influenza viruses with human pandemic potential with Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS); (2) contributing to the pandemic influenza benefit-sharing system, including by working with relevant public and private institutions, organizations and entities so they make appropriate contributions to this system; and (3) continuing to support GISRS.” p.16

China covered up the extent of the problem by destroying lab samples taken in December causing the unexplained viral infections in Hubei province. Imagine what might have happened if China had been open and honest at the offset? How lucky to have a WHO that pushed China’s narrative that the spread of COVID-19 was slow?

Indeed it is the chief of WHO that calls the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) and for declaring a pandemic. The PIRM report stated,

The responsibility of determining a PHEIC lies with the WHO Director-General under Article 12 of the IHR (2005). The determination of a PHEIC leads to the communication of temporary recommendations…During the period of spread of human influenza caused by a new subtype, based on risk assessment and appropriate to the situation, the WHO Director-General may make a declaration of a pandemic.”  p.14

Why did it take till March 10 for the Director-General to declare a pandemic? 64 days after the start. 118,000 people had caught COVID-19 by then. Now the number stands at 351,000.

At least there is a get out of jail free clause in WHO’s 2017 PIRM report,

Ethics do not provide a prescribed set of policies; rather, ethical considerations will be shaped by the local context and cultural values.” p.18

We guess it must be ok in WHO’s mind that China’s ethics are shaped by the culture of the Communist Party.

As to the question of the effectiveness of social distancing? WHO concluded with this vague paragraph,

Nevertheless, measures that have been associated with containment such as social distancing, hand/respiratory hygiene and judicious use of antiviral drugs may be effective in mitigating the impact of outbreaks of a new influenza subtype in individual countries. These measures are most likely to be successful and are better supported by data demonstrating effectiveness when implemented in specific local (smaller scale) circumstances, e.g. households and closed or semi-closed institutions. Although there is no evidence of any wider population-level containment effect, these measures may reduce the spread and overall impact of the pandemic and could be considered as part of a country’s national preparedness plan, depending on available resources.” p.62

Has there been an overreaction on social distancing which is likely to produce catastrophic economic side effects? If hygiene and antiviral drugs are effective, does social distancing have any impact at all? If not, aren’t governments submitting companies and employees to unnecessary hardship?

Assuming one self-isolates for 14 days, if one catches COVID-19 the first day out of quarantine was there any point to the first 14?

In Japan, peak hour trains to work remain as crowded as normal yet the country isn’t registering a severe outbreak of the disease. Close quarter drinking parties below the cherry blossoms are in full swing, yet no real signs of mass contagion. Japanese are meticulous with hygiene. Is it a factor? Japan has 1,046 cases and 44 deaths so far.

South Korea’s success would seemingly be driven by the sheer number of tests conducted on its population (270,000) which has made controlling out who needs to be isolated easier, as opposed to social distancing and hoping for the best. South Korea has tested 5,200 people per million population vs America at 74, according to the Centre for Disease Control. We don’t profess to hold any expertise in virus containment, but the data seems to bear out highly inconsistent results.

Yet it doesn’t escape the immutable fact that UN bodies, in general, have terrible track records. Why do so many countries want to entrust sovereign laws to UN groups that can’t keep their own houses in order?

In the last audited set of accounts (Dec 2018), WHO operates on a $2.9bn budget of which $931.22 million is paid in salaries across 5,541 staff or an average of $168,000 each. Although in the FY2018 financial year, expenditures totalled $2.5 billion, leaving a $442 million surplus after financial revenue. 

WHO spent $191.7 million on travel, $178 million on operating expenses and $177 million on medical supplies and materials. Medical supplies and materials are mainly purchased and distributed by WHO including vaccines, medicines, medical supplies, hospital running costs, fuel, as well as related shipping costs.

Contracted services look an interesting line item at $781 million. Medical research activities and security expenses are also included in contractual services. 

Despite Ebola in 2014, MERS in 2012, H1N1 Swine Flu in 2009 and SARS in 2002 it is hard to ignore the fact that with over 5,500 well-paid staff members WHO can’t construct a better policy prescription in limiting the spread other than provide sketchy anecdotal data on what methods seemed effective in containing the spread? Perhaps China can loan some propaganda ministry staff to better shape the responses. That’s right, they already have.

Let’s not forget that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus proposed former Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe as a WHO ambassador in 2017. It is not hard to see where the lack of judgment comes from.

A gem on how to work our way out of the coming economic crisis

Image result for truck nitroglycerin movie

Jonathan Rochford of Narrow Road Capital has written a gem on the role of central banks in spawning this current crisis. An excerpt here:

The rapid and widespread sell-off over the last four weeks is a textbook systemic deleveraging. Whilst the culprits are many; hedge funds, risk parity strategies and investors using margin loans have all been caught out, the underlying cause is excessive leverage across the economy and particularly the financial system. The timing of the unwind and the economic damage from the Coronavirus wasn’t predictable, but such a highly leveraged system was like a truck loaded with nitroglycerin driving down a road dotted with landmines.

Frustratingly, this inevitable deleveraging was clearly predicted. Rather than act to reduce systemic risks central banks encouraged governments, businesses and investors to increase their risk tolerances and debt levels.

Naturally, it fits our own long-held view on central banks.

Jonathan adds some sensible actions which are contained in this link. The question remains whether governments will put principle ahead of expediency in the cleanup?

A reminder of where Aussies are employed

Graph 7: This graph shows the proportions of forms of employment, by industry. Construction has the highest proportion of independent contractors while agriculture has the highest proportion of other business operators

It is worth reflecting on which industries the bulk of Aussie jobs sit. This schematic is from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

We have the heaviest tilt toward healthcare and social assistance at over 1.7 million jobs. Retail trade comes in at a shade over 1.2 million jobs. Construction at 1.15 million. Education 1.1 million. Accommodation/restaurants/bars etc at 900,000. Manufacturing another 900k.

There are 13.1 million Australians employed as of February 2020. Full-time employment amounted to 8,885,600 persons and part-time employment to 4,124,500 persons.

That means in the six aforementioned sectors, 53% of Australians in the workforce are employed.

Note that since 1978, Australia has had a 1.74x increase on Full-Time employment and a 4.6x jump in Part-Time in that time. That means the ratio of FT jobs has fallen from 84.9% to 68.3% and PT rose from 15.1% to 31.7% over the same period.

PT employment for men has surged by 6.9x to 1.31 million and female PT jobs have grown 3.9x to 2.8 million.

FT employment for men has increased 1.5x for men to 5.53 million jobs and for women, it has grown 2.8x to 3.35 million.

There are also 708,000 workers aged 40-64 who have multiple jobs. This is up from 646,000 in 2011/12. Total people working in multiple jobs has increased from 1.85 million in 2011/12 to 2.105 million in 2016/17.

We don’t think that the RBA’s latest 0.25% + QE, nor federal/state spending in the current climate can see off mass unemployment. We have written about this in previous posts. We wrote a larger tome on the dire straits facing central banks here.

Surely lightning can’t strike twice, RBA?

The video posted here is of then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson who steered the US financial system through the GFC. He is speaking to the Financial Services Committee in 2009. Perhaps the most important quote was the one that world central banks failed to heed –

Our next task is to address the problems in the financial system through a reform program that fixes our outdated financial regulatory structure and that provides strong measures to address other flaws and excesses.

Central banks across the globe honestly believe in fairytales to think they have learnt the lessons of 2008 or 2000 for that matter. Sadly they continue to use the only tool they possess – a hammer – which would be great if every problem they encountered was actually a nail.

When will people realise that had central banks practised prudent monetary policy over the past 20 years, they would possess the ammunition to be able to effectively steer the economy through Coronavirus? Everything the RBA and government are deploying is too little and too late. They never ran proper crisis scenarios and are now scrambling to cobble together an ill-contrived strategy wasting $10s of billions in the process all at our expense.

Central banks only have one role – to support markets with consistently sound monetary policy that creates confidence in the marketplace. Not run around like headless chooks and make knee-jerk responses and follow other central banks off a cliff like lemmings to disguise their own incompetency. The willful negligence displayed by our monetary authorities needs to be recognised. The RBA has got the economy trapped in a housing bubble of their own creation.

So when the RBA talks about, “Australia’s financial system is resilient and it is well placed to deal with the effects of the coronavirus” it couldn’t be further from the truth.

While it is true to say that Australia is relatively more healthy than other economies in terms of the percentage of GDP in national debt, the problem is we rely on the health of our foreign neighbours. 37.5% of our exports go to China. What is the first thing that will happen when our trading partners suffer economic weakness at home? Nations that exercise common sense will look to push domestic production and supply so as to boost their local economies. It is a natural process.

Sadly the RBA, APRA and ASIC have been too busy convincing us that climate change was a priority rather than getting businesses to focus on sensible commercially viable shareholder-friendly strategies. Some groups like the AMA have been encouraged to parade their climate alarmist virtues on breakfast TV.

Unfortunately, instead of focusing on fireproofing our establishments from ruthless cutthroat overseas competitors, our businesses and commerce chambers waste time on chasing equality and diversity targets instead of striving to just be the “best in class”.

Sure, we may have certain raw materials (that the lunatic Greens and Extinction Rebellion protestors will do their best to shut down) that China or other nations will rely on, our service sector weighted economy will be crushed. Almost $250bn, a fifth of our GDP, derives from exports.

Just look at Australian business investment as a % of GDP dwindle at 1994 lows. Mining, engineering, machinery and even building investment are nowhere.

That means our ridiculously high level of personal debt will become a problem. It stands at 180% of GDP as recorded by the RBA on p.7 of its Chart Pack. Most of this debt is linked to housing. Housing prices should crater should coronavirus not be solved in short order. Delinquencies will surge. Families that are funding a mortgage with two incomes may end up being forced to do in with one. Then we cut our gym memberships, Foxtel and stop buying coffee from our local cafe. It is the chain reaction we need to be wary of.

That will work wonders for banks with 60-70% mortgage exposure and precious little equity to offset any ructions in housing prices. If you thought Japan was bad after its bubble collapsed – you ain’t seen nothing yet. By the time this is over we could well see Australian banks begging for bailouts. Note that cutting interest rates further kills interest rate spreads and smacks the dollar which hikes the cost of wholesale funding which these banks heavily rely on.

Yet our RBA knows that it must choose the lesser of two evils. It needs to keep the bubble inflated at all costs because the blood that would come from bank failure is just not worth contemplating. Maybe if they had listened to Hank Paulson they might have been able to hold their heads high rather than showing off, the fool’s version of glory.

Milton Friedman once said,

The power to determine the quantity of money… is too important, too pervasive, to be exercised by a few people, however public-spirited, if there is any feasible alternative. There is no need for such arbitrary power… Any system which gives so much power and so much discretion to a few men, [so] that mistakes – excusable or not – can have such far-reaching effects, is a bad system. It is a bad system to believers in freedom just because it gives a few men such power without any effective check by the body politic – this is the key political argument against an independent central bank.

How right he was. When the economy tanks, await the RBA and government pointing fingers at each other when both failed to avert the coming crisis which had been so bleeding obvious for so long.

Batten down your hatches.

Trebling down on failed central bank policy. RBA will copy and start QE soon

So the US Fed has slashed rates 1% just now to 0-0.25%. $700bn in asset purchases has been allowed. Jolts like this have far more short term optical impact than mere drip feed cuts. However the two takeaways are:

1) economic impacts are unsurprisingly crippling the economy, hence the need to cut so hard. While the size of the cut is shock and awe, markets can still panic as to why such bold action was necessary. $700bn in asset purchases will try to contain that. Forget Fed tapering, QE is on its way. This is but the beginning of asset purchases. Congress needs to approve the purchase of equities but that may well come. Has worked wonders for the Bank of Japan – not.

2) cutting interest rates don’t necessarily end up doing much because people/companies invest because they see a cycle and the one ahead looks highly uncertain. So refinancing existing debt or easing the monthly burden will not lead to a powered up plan to consume especially if people are being told to self isolate.

There is little option (because of the poor policies to date) left but to double down again like a drunk at a casino table. Gold is one of the few safe havens left. Silver (poor man’s gold) will play catch up. We own both.

And for those that want to lash out at the failures of capitalism for its evils, note this is not anything remotely representing it. When the government and monetary authorities are blatantly interfering and preventing free and open trade to set market clearing prices, that is what creates the distortions and misallocation of capital that leads to economic disasters.

Take advantage of any pops to reduce exposures. We ain’t seen nothing yet. GFC2 will make the crash of 1929 look like a picnic. It won’t be long before the RBA starts to follow suit with zero rates and the journey of QE.