Automotive

Six F-1 drivers take a stand against hypocrisy

Before the Austrian F-1 GP, Max Verstappen, Antonio Giovinazzi, Daniil Kvyat, Carlo Sainz, Charles Leclerc and Kimi Raikkonen chose to stand while 14 other drivers took the knee in support of BLM.

Good to see that some sports stars aren’t prepared to be shamed into political stunts especially one driven (no pun intended) by one of the biggest hypocrites in the paddock, who drives for a manufacturer with a history of slavery.

As we pointed out last week, Aussie driver Daniel Ricciardo perfectly summed up the fear of being cancelled for not speaking up.

Here’s betting all 14 kneelers haven’t even read the reprehensible Marxist manifesto of #BLM movement they knelt for.

We can’t wait for the next woke cause. It will probably be surrounding climate change. Just think of how mothers dropping their kids off to soccer practice in a second hand SUVs will be chastised by these F-1 kneelers as they whiz around tracks in 5mpg race cars. Never mind that they came to the circuit in helicopters after landing at a nearby airport on private jets post spending half the season in coronavirus lockdown on 300ft super yachts with bikini clad supermodels.

Nothing to see here

We will get the US Auto sales figures out tonight for March. They will be dreadful. The US has run a 17m seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) for some time now. March will probably be in the 11-12m SAAR category. Post GFC car sales were in the 9-10m SAAR area.

The market will expect a smacking. It is just a case of whether it beats/misses expectations.

Note China’s car sales fell 79%YoY in February. The highest number on record. China’s car sales have been sliding for the last 2 years so the relative fall is meaningful.

Let shareholders burn

We buy shares because we expect to gain a return. We all know there are risks attached. As we wrote yesterday on Boeing, it has embarked on reckless buybacks which have compromised the balance sheet. The company has drawn down all of its $13.8bn in credit lines from banks overnight. It is panic stations. It was completely avoidable.

How ironic that companies which are among those that splurged $4.5 trillion on share buybacks just to chase short term management incentives will be the first lining up for taxpayer support to save them from negligent governance.

We say shareholders should suffer the downside of that investment choice. They had the power to remove officers from the companies they entrusted management to. If a company goes belly up, let other players in the market pick up the spoils for fire sale prices.

The Wolf Street correctly noted,

The Trump administration is putting together a rumored $850-billion stimulus package that will include taxpayer funded bailouts of Corporate America, according to leaks cited widely by the media. Trump in the press conference today singled out $50 billion in bailout funds for US airlines alone. A bailout of this type is designed to bail out shareholders and unsecured creditors. That’s all it is. The alternative would be a US chapter 11 bankruptcy procedure which would allow the company to operate, while it is being handed to the creditors, with shareholders getting wiped out.”

All this Trump package will do is encourage the same bad behaviour. We think this is nothing more than trebling down on the problems that hit us in 2008. But hey, it’s an election year!! Reckless.

As usual, the SEC has been asleep at the wheel. Same as in the lead up to 2008. This is what happens when regulators hire clueless lawyers who don’t have a clue about how markets operate. Therefore they miss crucial events.

As for shareholders – you earned it.

The only upside to this market volatility is that no one has talked about climate change for weeks! Probably because when people are about to lose their livelihoods, all of a sudden virtue signaling is worthless. That goes for diversity and inclusion too. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Political expediency will trump Coronavirus market rout. Await market manipulation

MARKETS YTD

Share markets have been decimated in recent weeks across the globe. This year to date (YTD) chart above shows the extent. It shouldn’t really have taken Coronavirus or plunging oil prices to lead to this. We’ve been living high on the sauce for two decades and even though GFC in 2008 was a rude hangover, our authorities thought doubling down on all those free money excesses would work again.

Let’s not get too carried away. On a 5-yr basis, shares haven’t exactly blitzed with the exception of the S&P500. The ASX has put on just under 7% in 5 years. Germany, Japan and Italy have gone down. So if one is 45% higher than 5-yrs ago with an S&P fund, is that a mass hysteria moment?

INDEX 5YR

Automotive stocks have been dud investments over the last 5 years. It didn’t take Coronavirus to expose the underlying trends. BMW is don 52% on 5 yrs ago. Ford down 60%. Volkswagen -40%.

Car stocks

Industrial bellwethers like Caterpillar and GE have also not escaped stagnation. YTD, all of these stocks have bloody noses. Boeing has held up surprisingly well despite the MAX problems.

Industrials

Yet if we look at the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix & Google), we can see that over 5 years, investors have made a bundle.

FAANGAs these 5 stocks make up 15% of the S&P500 Index by weight, if they fall the impact is greater. With the exception of Netflix, these monsters are down 15~20%.

FAANG 1M

Worried?

Fear not, our heavily indebted incompetent political class and complicit central bankers will concoct a new potion of even lower rates, more QE and further fiscal spending on wind farms, solar panels and roads to nowhere to keep the ship afloat. It may be a hapless task in the long run but just watch the printing presses move to full speed. The ride is about to get interesting.

We’ve been bearish for years based on the underlying tenet that financial market manipulation by authorities has merely distorted the most efficient clearing mechanism -free markets. The invisible hand will eventually win. Just not quite yet.

Italian Senator and former Deputy PM Matteo Salvini has called for a ban on short selling. Why? All he’ll do is exacerbate the sell-off by diverting capital from Milan to London. The politicians just don’t get it. That is why Milan FTSE All-Share index fell by 10.75% overnight. That market is down 23% YTD.

When the pandemic hit the economy, we should have known from last month that it would spread and impact global travel, trade and oil prices. Why did it take so long?

We wrote last week that the explosion in market chasing (especially levered) ETFs would exacerbate distortions on the downside. The main reason being is that options markets that hedge levered products see heavy delta bleed (pricing blowing out) during routs. The reason is in bull markets human nature is more comfortable taking risk. In bear markets, people panic hence needing larger insurance premiums to protect against the madness of crowds.

Essentially what that means is that when ETFs were a far smaller chunk of the market, today’s 7.8% drubbing may only have been -4% in equivalent terms. That is because the ETFs chase, not lead markets because their product design is to replicate the immediate past. Yet our first instincts are to compare these apples with oranges and equate them to 2008. Wrong. Furthermore, a larger part of the market is dominated by a smaller

So the question is, do we liquidate all of our shares into the falling knife or take the view that some wonderful opportunities will present themselves to get exposure to what we hopefully viewed as sensible long term investments.

We take the latter view. We need to separate Coronavirus (the disease) and the hysteria (eg hand sanitizer and toilet paper panic buying).

While the disease is problematic and will hit the economy hard in the coming quarters, the question is market hope pinned to government response will come back. The measures should continue to grow and grow until they have cauterized the wound. After all, we live in a market where financial TV programs are summoning the opinions of NY Mets baseball pitchers for their ideas on stocks.

Of course, it will be all academic, but confidence is the only thing that matters from here. As soon as we get on top of Coronavirus, markets will swing back into action and many will simply fall for the same tricks like Pavlov’s dog and the short squeeze will send stocks powering back.

Governments now have a legitimate excuse to blow out deficits and borrow to save us. In that sense, this pandemic is a blessing in disguise. That isn’t to trivialize Coronavirus but to note that politicians will do almost anything to stay in power, even if the long term consequences will linger long after they’re out of office.

Where will they spend? The automotive sector has been in the doldrums for ages. Expect to see EV related subsidies which will be a boon for the EV battery plays – we’ve bought Jervois Mining (JRV.AX) which is about to start a cobalt mine in Idaho.

Think of support to the aviation industry when the crisis is under control. Boeing and Airbus. Don’t forget that American Airlines renewed 900 aircraft soon after it announced Chapter 11 bankruptcy back in 2011.

Think construction – cement companies and construction machinery companies tend to benefit from public works programs. We continue to hold gold (have done since 2001) as the ultimate insurance policy when the whole system can no longer heal with band-aids.

So get ready to buy some bargain-basement names with cash flow survivability, especially if you have a self-managed super fund.

Yes the underlying economic backdrop is dreadful but there will be one last hurrah!

Know your history

BBC reports that the UK intends to introduce E10 ethanol based fuel. Before going ahead they should reflect on the disaster that befell Germany when it introduced the eco-friendly gasoline.

The German authorities went big for bio-fuels in 2008 forcing gas stands to install E-10 pumps to cut CO2. However as many as 3 million cars at the time weren’t equipped to run on it and as a result consumers abandoned it leaving many gas stands with shortages of the petrol and gluts of E-10 which left the petrol companies liable to huge fines (around $630mn) for not hitting government targets.

Claude Termes, a member of European Parliament from the Green Party in Luxembourg said in 2008 that “legally mandated biofuels were a dead end…the sooner It disappears, the better…my preference is zero…policymakers cannot close their eyes in front of the facts. The European Parliament is increasingly skeptical of biofuels.” Even ADAC told German drivers to avoid using E10 when traveling in other parts of continental Europe.

But governments always know best. Apparently.

Vale Holden

Car maker Holden has been executed. The American parent said the brand dies at the end of 2020. Not a big deal for GM – La Salle, McLaughlin, Oakland, Oldsmobile, Opel, Pontiac, Hummer, Saab, Saturn and Vauxhall no longer exist under her garage.

PM Scott Morrison can complain all he wants about the $2bn in subsidies given to keep the car maker afloat but it was on the nose since the maker closed manufacturing in October 2017. Market share all but evaporated. It was a matter of time.

GM never got Australia. Selling a front wheel drive 4-cylinder Commodore to replace the working class aspirational V8 was a mistake. No matter how brilliant the replacement was, it didn’t resonate. As a result these cars flooded the rent-a-car market and had among the worst resale out there.

There is no surprise that Holden was terminated. Aussie sales were the worst in decades. It was a regular Top 3 maker but in its dying days slumped to 12th. Market share shrunk to 3.1%, the lowest in history. Commodore sales in November 2019 crashed 56%.

Interestingly, the desirability of the last of the HSV models based on the Commodore will jump further with scarcity value. Just like this example. $300,000. Who would have thought?

Mt Panorama won’t be the same.

BoJo’s EV adventure by 2035 is risky

Image result for ev charger nullarbor

There is a lot of irony when studying electric vehicles (EVs) and government policy. The lack of consultation with the very industry it seeks to regulate is mind-boggling. This picture of an EV charging station powered by a diesel generator along the Nullarbor highlights how poor the thought processes are. The problem governments face is that they are starting with a narrative and trying to reverse engineer the data to fit it. Sadly, the market will ultimately decide – that means consumers.

3 years ago we met with an EV parts supplier, Schaeffler AG, which openly admitted the task to meet the government EV demands was being impeded by their own desire to out virtue signal each other.

Schaeffler said, 200 cities across Europe had EV policies as distinct as the other. Therefore carmakers were struggling to meet all of the non-standardised criteria which was driving up production costs and making EVs even further out of reach. Instead of all working for the “same” outcome, the parts suppliers were saying until governments came to a sensible balance, the delays would continue.

The irony is that the broad range of EVs available in the market is too narrow. Of course we can argue in 15 years that will have vastly changed. The question is whether production can keep up.

First of all, governments around the world tend to generate around 5% of total tax revenues from fuel excise. You’d be a fool to think that EVs won’t end up being stung with a similar registration tax to offset it. It is already happening. Cash strapped Illinois has proposed the introduction of a $1,000 annual registration fee (up from $17.50) to account for the fact EVs don’t pay such fuel taxes.

Secondly, the UK government may well have to introduce cash-for-clunkers style subsidies to entice people to ditch their petrol power for an EV. Because, unless someone owns a classic car, the second most expensive household asset will be near worthless meaning many may not bother to switch by 2035. That will put huge pressure on the auto industry and dealers to convert sales.

Third, the infrastructure to be able to charge millions of EVs overnight will need significant upgrades, especially to the power grid. If the UK wants to go down the renewables path good luck in meeting the surges in demand because EV charging will be highly random. People won’t be happy to be sitting at home waiting for a charge and realising that 200,000 others want to do so at the same time on a cloudy day with no wind.

Then there are the automakers. While they are all making politically correct statements about their commitments to go full EV, they do recognise that ultimately customers will decide their fate. A universal truth is that car makers do their best to promote their drivetrains as a performance differentiator to rivals. Moving to full EV removes that unique selling property. Volkswagen went out of its way to cheat the system which not only expressed their true feelings about man-made climate change but hidden within the $80bn investment is the 3 million EVs in 2042 would only be c.30% of VW’s total output today. Even Toyota said it would phase out internal combustion in the 2040s. Dec 31st, 2049 perhaps? Mercedes have vowed to keep diesel and petrol on the menu out to 2050.

Put simply, why is the government trying to dictate the technology to an industry that has made such amazing advancements in safety and technology? By all means, have a zero-emissions target by 2035 but offer the industry complete technological freedom to achieve it. The consumers will ultimately decide and if carmakers are forced to meet a target that was based on ill-advised government policy, we shouldn’t be surprised if dealers are forced to close or car makers requiring bailouts.

Also at 2m vehicles a sold annually in the UK, it won’t get to dictate where car makers allocate their global EV inventory. If easier market conditions – based on the available output and cost per vehicle to meet the standards – are found in the US, China or Germany, the costs to Brits to make the shift will make the 2035 target even more pointless. Pricing themselves out of the market.

However, it won’t much matter because many of the politicians making the move won’t be in government come 2035 to clean up the mess.

The madness of crowds and NY Mets baseball pitchers

As a former stock analyst, the euphoria around Tesla seems insane. Still Mr Market is always right. I’ve been totally wrong on the direction although I still contend it’s way overvalued, especially as the Q4 was down on Q3. Who needs facts?

Now that a new target price of $7,000 has been put on Tesla by one analyst – which would make it worth around $1.3 trillion – we see that social media clickbait is driving the analysts to outdo each other rather than base it on rational fundamentals.

To make the point, even CNBC thinks getting a NY Mets baseball pitcher to give his 10c worth on Tesla makes more sense than inviting a sell-side analyst.

The twist in Tesla’s tale is that with a $130bn market cap, it could raise capital and buy a competitor auto maker to get access to production, multiple platforms and distribution expertise, three skills it sorely lacks.

What would I know? Elon Musk is a salesman extraordinaire. That has never been in doubt. The question is whether the hype built into it can match the euphoria.

Extinction Rebellion trashes Auto Show

These climate activists are unhinged lunatics. This is the justification that Extinction Rebellion (XR) used for trashing the Brussels Autosalon was as follows,

The truth is, no car is green…The private car is no longer compatible with the Climate and Ecological Crisis….Governments must stop pouring billions into roads and instead make mass public transport affordable, accessible, reliable and convenient.

The Brussels Times reported that 187 were arrested and charged €2,000 each. Febiac, the auto show organizer, said XR’s display at the event caused a whopping €367,829 in damages.

There is a difference between protesting and breaking the law by trashing private property.

Febiac, to its credit, gave XR approval to protest under certain guidelines. The organizer’s Joost Kaesemans said, “We sat together with people from Extinction Rebellion for the salon, we told them they could hold a demo, sing songs and hand out brochures...But we also told them that if they bothered visitors and wreaked havoc, we would take measures. They did not stick to that, so there are consequences.”

So even when the organizers play ball, the fools of XR think they have carte blanche to act as they please. Hopefully XR protestors are forced to pay up, serve time and get handed a bill for wasting the time of the police.

If only XR protests were about saving the planet and not seek to control the way others live their lives.

One final question – does XR have a strategy to re-employ the 15mn that work in auto related industries? Of course not.

This is why governments should shut up

FNF Media has always held that the brains that brought ABS, airbags, lane departure warning and so on do not require lectures from politicians about which technology must be adopted.

Did any of the above technologies arrive from the will of a government department? No. So when we heard that governments around the world were trying to ban fossil fuel cars we were disappointed.

All governments needed to do was say that we want zero emissions by 2040 and you have total technological freedom as to how to hit those targets. Necessity is the mother of invention.

F1 has this mindset firmly in its sights. It realizes that the noise is part of the thrill. Listen to Formula-E and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped into a Dyson vacuum cleaner showroom with all the models switched on at once.

According to Motorsport Magazine,

Formula 1 is looking to introduce two-stroke engines that run on eco-fuel by the middle of the decade, as it develops plans to become carbon neutral.

The proposal is said to make the sport greener than electric racing series, such as Formula E, while still using internal combustion engines — with improved sound.

Current F1 hybrid engines will be replaced by a new specification of power unit from 2025 or 2026. It will play a significant role in Formula 1’s project to become carbon neutral in 2030.

The new engines are likely to remain hybrids but powered by synthetic fuel, made by combining hydrogen with carbon captured from the air, using surplus green energy.

As well as the cars, this e-fuel could power the planes that carry the cars and equipment to races, making a big dent in the sport’s carbon footprint.

Research presented at the conference showed that electric racing cars could be responsible for twice the level of carbon emissions as hybrid racing cars, because of the amount produced when building the batteries.”

Just proves that humans have the power to ignite passion into solutions. We don’t need politicians, many who have shorter expiry dates than UHT milk, to push policy prescriptions without the slightest understanding of the very industry they seek to regulate.