Confidence

Bernie Sanders finally creates value

SPX

Democratic Party hopeful Bernie Sanders announced overnight that he is dropping out of the presidential primaries. For the first time ever, his actions actually led to substantial wealth creation, sending the S&P500 up 3.4% on a $21 trillion market cap index.

All jokes aside, we thought markets have found a (short-term) bottom. S&P has reclaimed almost half of the peak since the corona-crash. We question the sustainability of this rally. At the moment the trend is our friend. We pointed out that the kitchen sink would be thrown and provide one last hurrah before the realities of businesses coping with a return to business played out.

As the lockdown continues, it is very hard to determine what the actual prints will be for large-scale macro-economic data and where that fits into expectations. We know that the Fed has already been out hosing the credit markets with promises of unlimited QE.

The housing market is already giving us hints. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Forbearance and Call Volume Survey, the total number of loans in forbearance grew from 0.25% to 2.66% from March 2 to April 1, 2020, with mortgages backed by Ginnie Mae seeing the largest growth (from 0.19% to 4.25%).

While not strictly an apples for apples comparison, the Delinquency Rate on Single-Family Residential Mortgages, Booked in Domestic Offices, Top 100 Banks Ranked by Assets peaked at 12.89% in 2010.

Plenty of trouble ahead. The market complacency is quite astonishing.

Trump Derangement Syndrome heading to The Hague for crimes against humanity?

Hague

You have to hand it to Democratic lawmakers who get triggered over anything. When collusion and impeachment failed domestically, why not call upon The Hague for charges of crimes against humanity? Hmmm.

Never mind that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was encouraging San Franciscans to “come to Chinatown and join” crowds at a parade in late February. Forget the Democratic NYC Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot downplaying the health warnings by telling the residents to immerse themselves in Lunar New Year festivities because stigmatization is a far bigger threat to people than a pesky virus.

Guess who is now telling people to stay at home? Yep, you guessed it – Oxiris Barbot. Even though she retweeted someone’s praise of her status as the first Latino female to occupy the post after it had all gone pear-shaped! If only one’s abilities were seen as more important than their identity…NYers would have been happier with an old white guy provided his medical advice kept the city from holding the highest infection rates.

Never mind that The Hill had criticized Trump’s travel ban on Feb 7th as unnecessary, parroting none other WHO, to then write on April 5th that he hadn’t done enough to block travel into the US. Which is it? The NY Times was happy to run a story on Feb 24th saying Trump’s travel ban was more an “emotional or political reaction.

Do Democratic House representatives hold such little faith in the domestic judiciary that Trump needs to be tried in an international court over supposed domestic crimes against innocent civilians? It won’t be long before Nancy Pelosi launches another impeachment trial over coronavirus. We encourage her to do it for the sake of revealing just whether she has any ties to America.

Rep Tavia Galonski’s tweet came shortly after Trump’s media briefing in which he once again spoke of hydroxychloroquine sulfate, a drug which he has previously reported has shown promise as a means of treating COVID-19.

How is it that the mainstream media outlets backflipped on their initial criticism on hydroxychloroquine to acknowledging its potential as reported by the medical profession to flip back to “irresponsibility” again. No country has a silver bullet and in such circumstances

Rep Galonski may have a case if the state was force-feeding strapped down patients against their will. The FDA says otherwise.

On March 28, 2020, the FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to allow hydroxychloroquine sulfate and chloroquine phosphate products donated to the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) to be distributed and used for certain hospitalized patients with COVID-19. These drugs will be distributed from the SNS to states for doctors to prescribe to adolescent and adult patients hospitalized with COVID-19, as appropriate, when a clinical trial is not available or feasible. The EUA requires that fact sheets that provide important information about using chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate in treating COVID-19 be made available to health care providers and patients, including the known risks and drug interactions. The SNS, managed by ASPR, will work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ship donated doses to states.

The FDA’s latest fact sheet on hydroxychloroquine is here.

To be honest, who needs the FDA when we can rely on the tweets from a NY Times best-selling author with a law degree, Kurt Eichmann, who proposed 11 questions the White House press corps should ask of Trump with respect to hydroxychloroquine.

1. What dosage should people take?
2. How long should people take it?
3. What studies are you relying on for dosage and time?
3. Are you saying this is prophylactic or post-diagnosis?…(while he won’t know what the last question means if he says anything close to prophylactic)
5. How does hydroxychloroquine prevent viral infection?
6. Since hydroxychloroquine is an immunosuppressant, how isn’t there a risk that it will *increase* the risk of infection?
7. What studies have you reviewed showing it has a preventative effect because I can’t find any. (they don’t exist.)
(If he says for treatment…)
8. At what stage of infection should people take the medicine?
9. What should people with lupus and other autoimmune diseases do to find their medication, since your recommendations have led to a national shortage of hydroxychloroquine?
10. Will the government subsidize lupus & rheumatoid arthritis patients, given the price-gouging happening with these drugs?
11. Are you concerned about lupus and autoimmune patients who can’t find their medication refusing to vote for you because they’re now in pain?

As with any drug, a doctor prescribes medication based on the severity of illness and a whole range of other factors – size, age, gender. Trying to get Trump to answer a series of “gotcha” questions in the hope he bungles some of them just smacks of how little integrity there is in journalism. If Trump told journalists that drinking Drano was great for fixing stomach ulcers, would they believe him? Wouldn’t readers prefer medical opinion?

Let’s deal with the facts.

Hydroxychloroquine sulphate is an FDA approved drug dating back to April 1955. It is best known under the brand name of Plaquenil. There are generic manufacturers such as Teva and Mylan are already making the drug. In the US, it is strictly prescription-only medication. It has been approved to treat malaria

The 65-year-old Plaquenil and its 25-yo generic brothers haven’t been approved for the application of COVID19, which, as we know, in and of itself is a brand new strain of pathogen. So the “drug” has been approved but the application has not.

It is worth noting that it takes on average 12 years and over US$350 million to get a new drug from the laboratory onto the pharmacy shelf. At the company level, it undergoes around three and a half years of laboratory testing, before an application is made to the U.S. FDA to begin the testing on humans. Only 1 in 1000 compounds that enter lab testing will ever make it to the human testing stage.

Which is exactly why the FDA stated in its release late last month that there isn’t enough hard data due to a lack of clinical trials. Stands to reason that a drug we’re trying to find a cure for hasn’t a cure.

The FDA Accelerated Approval pathway was introduced in 1992 so that drugs to treat life-threatening diseases could be brought to market to make a significant impact on the course of diseases. For example, many antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS entered the market via accelerated approval, and subsequently altered the treatment paradigm.

Clearly, there has been no chance to conduct clinical trials on Plaquenil on COVID19 to get official FDA approval. The side effects of Plaquenil, when taken for malaria, are well known with 65 years of data. It is a question of whether the impact of the drug causes other side effects when used to treat COVID19. Hence why the FDA is trying to ensure that people are aware of the risks if they elect to take it.

Yes, the president has a habit of saying unnecessary things. He can be unpresidential at times. We have never hidden that.

However, at what point is Trump deserved of standing trial in The Hague given the timeline of events and an insane liberal media? Perhaps President Xi of China would be a more worthy respondent in the International Criminal Court for the cover-up which led to the outbreak in the first place.

The Fed firemen are also the arsonists

Jim Grant of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer has a great article pointing out the irresponsibility of the US Fed. It criticises the very conditions that made the outcomes of coronavirus way worse than had they administered sensible monetary policies decades ago. FNF Media has been saying this for years. Now we are facing long overdue nemesis. It is true of the overwhelming majority of unimaginative MMT ‘me too’ central banks.

Grant wrote,

It took a viral invasion to unmask the weakness of American finance. Distortion in the cost of credit is the not-so-remote cause of the raging fires at which the Federal Reserve continues to train its gushing liquidity hoses…But the firemen are also the arsonists. It was the Fed’s suppression of borrowing costs, and its predictable willingness to cut short Wall Street’s occasional selling squalls, that compromised the U.S. economy’s financial integrity.

FNF Media keeps on hearing tales about the failure of evil capitalism. When the actions of central banks stifle the free market from achieving price discovery, distorted capitalism will inevitably backfire.

From hereon, sharp pain will be the only effective – and quickest – way to resolve this mess. Governments need to ensure bad companies go bankrupt by rejecting bailout money to zombie companies that will just be a drag on the economy.

Instead of doling out tax dollars, the government should take equity in any business that receives money. Taxpayers deserve a return and by this methodology, it will enforce a mindset that always rejects propping up companies with failed business models. Instead of the government calling the shots, the expertise of commercial lenders should be tapped, a valid point made by Jonathan Rochford.

Unfortunately, this will cause huge short-term disruption and impact large swathes of the community but it will allow markets to clear and provide a platform for risk to be priced appropriately. It is like yanking off a Band-Aid. It stings at first but the recovery becomes far more sound, based on rational economics. Failure to do so will just lead to a protracted Frankenstein economy which will frustrate the majority.

The sad reality will be that Western governments will try to emulate Japan’s lost two decades by crawling on our belly making marginal inches forward. This is somehow seen as superior to hitting the giant “reset” button.

The only major difference being that the Japanese monoculture is experienced and better suited than any other nation to share grief. Western cultures are not remotely close to being able to tolerate such conformity. Japan is not capitalism with warts. It is socialism with beauty spots. It will pay to remember this. In the West, we will demand that others atone for our mistakes. Moral hazard will be the order of the day. This mentality must be stopped dead in its tracks.

Grant reinforced our long-held view on distorting capital markets with this,

The Fed commandeered investment values into the government’s service. It seeded bull markets in the public interest…But investment valuations don’t exist to serve a public-policy agenda. Their purpose is to allocate capital. Distort those values and you waste not only money but also timeLike a shark, credit must keep moving. Loans fall due and must be repaid or rolled over (or, in extremis, defaulted on). When the economy stops, as the world has effectively done, lenders are likely to demand the cash that not every borrower can produce.

We must not forget that post-GFC authorities have been asleep at the wheel even after the introduction of poorly thought out red tape designed to protect us.

Right before the regulators’ eyes, so many blue-chip corporations (e.g. Boeing, GE) binged on ultra-cheap debt to buy back their own shares just to chase short term performance incentives. In recent years, companies like Boeing and GE spent around $45 billion each aggressively buying back their own stock despite being in the midst of severe balance sheet deterioration. Both are trading in a state of negative equity today.

Ford Motor has a junk credit rating. GE & Boeing won’t be far behind them. Over 50% of US corporates are trading one-two notches above junk.

IMG_0523.PNG

The financial community has merely taken advantage of all of this short-termism. Where were the financial analysts doing forensic work on companies? All of this balance sheet deterioration was plain to see.  Why couldn’t they see the obvious long term deterioration in cash conversion cycles? How could they miss that aggregate corporate after-tax profitability has been trending sideways since 2012? Where were the biopsies? We will be witness to plenty of autopsies that were preventable.

Corp Profits After Tax

For Australia’s part, 28 years of unfettered economic growth has bred untold complacency. Only now will we realise the conceited arrogance of government and industry alike. One day we will realise that all of the onerous regulations dripping in ideology (e.g. climate/environment) to confound foreign investment will blow up in our faces. They will not have forgotten that Australia is an unfriendly place to conduct business.

Australia has behaved like a bloated drunk bishop looking down upon his destitute disciples climbing the stairs on hands and knees putting what is left of their pitiful savings into the collection tin. From now, the roles will be reversed at prices that will be highly unfavourable such will be our desperation. Not to mention our currency could well depreciate to a degree which makes us even more vulnerable to foreign predators. Setting our FIRB at $0 will be irrelevant if we fold to the whims of the first suitor that shows interest. The show will be on the other foot.

In press conference after press conference, we continue to be told that hibernating companies will spring back to life and it will all be a case of ‘keep calm and carry on!’We hate to sound negative here.

However, we believe that we are merely being realistic about what is to unfold. The coming depression will force us to become truly appreciative about just how well we have had it while governments have distorted our markets. Had we truly reflected on decades of prosperity instead of wailing about how life has never been worse, things might have turned out differently. We are about to get a true taste of the latter.

On reflection, some positives will come out of this tragedy because we will focus on things that matter rather than getting enmeshed in the theatre of the absurd – identity politics and the cancel culture.

Coronavirus might be a black swan event to the global economy but we have been complicit by allowing our lawmakers and regulators to play slalom with the icebergs. We all knew our overloaded ship was in danger of listing before we left the safe harbour but it was simpler to be suckered into the weather forecasts that predicted endless sunshine and eternal millponds. The engines have now stalled because the tanks are empty. We find ourselves in the middle of a pitch-black, stormy night with howling gale-force winds and a 40-foot swell. Some continue to cling on to the blind hope that the incumbent crew can bail fast enough to avoid the economy capsizing.

It will be all in vain because the ship’s crew left a tape recorder playing on a loop over the tannoy promising passengers to stay in their cabins while they secretly slipped away in the early hours on the only lifeboats available.

Central banks had one mission – create confidence. They have been complicit in the failure. They doubled down on all of the same policies that got them in trouble in the lead up to GFC. They had a simple task of telling governments to embark on structural and tax reform. Instead, they appeased their masters by endlessly cutting rates.

Never again must central banks be allowed to use QE to rescue the economy in a downturn. Central bank balance sheets should be forced to unwind all QE assets. Interest rates must be allowed to set at normalised rates which allow positive returns but avoid reckless borrowing.

While a lot of this piece might sound pessimistic we simply view it as being a realist with experience.

NYC’s know-it-all medical experts focused on social justice before social distancing

Corona

NY now leads the coronavirus tally in the US. Nationwide, more than 190,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed. 47,439 in NY City and 83,712 in NY State. It seems that NYC’s health professionals felt ignoring Trump was the right thing to do because of the need to stop stigmatising certain community members.

NYC’s Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot was out there 10 days after Trump’s China travel ban telling NYers to get out there and mingle because of the misinformation about coronavirus. She said on Feb 2 that there was “no reason not to take the subway, not to take the bus or go to your favourite restaurant and certainly not to miss the parade.

On Feb 10, Barbot tweeted her expertise as a doctor with this. It seems that NY cab drivers, usually the last people to know, didn’t trust the advice.

Cabbies

She had also retweeted there was nothing to worry about as no coronavirus infections were recorded.

No danger

Not to worry though, as infections soared, Barbot was still able to retweet more important self-congratulation on her “expertise, commitment and incredible strength during COVID-19” and being the first Latina to head NYC Health. In hindsight, most New Yorkers would have preferred not to risk contagion over prioritising identity politics.

SJWOxir

Are our attention spans so short as to ignore the advice of Barbot 5 weeks prior? Get out and mingle to “stay home!

Barbot tweeted her concern in a video address urging people to self-isolate.

stayhome

Chair of New York City Council health committee, Mark D. Levine had jumped on the social justice bandwagon around the time of Barbot’s let’s mingle comments tweeting how people staying away were missing out on the festivities.

Lebine

How quickly his tune changed.

sidewalks

At least Levine didn’t resist the temptation to bring in wealth inequality into the debate. Apparently, the virus is classist. Probably racist too.

WOke

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had been back to San Francisco on Feb 25th telling people to get together in Chinatown and “unify with our community” then slam Trump’s early denial as being “deadly. Which is it?

Pelosi

So for all of Trump’s bluster on COVID19, will the media concede that the other supposed “brains” who claim to know better have shown gross misjudgment? Not a chance. How long will it be before Pelosi and the media demands Trump be impeached over his handling of the crisis?

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.

Unlimited QE and a reminder of discontinued series

Just when you thought it couldn’t get crazier, the Fed has announced that it will buy unlimited sizes of treasuries, mortgage-backed securities and corporate bonds. Recall our comments in 2018 when the Fed discontinued its reporting of assets. We noted that the Fed discontinued M3 money stock in 2006, two years before the GFC. Coincidence?

We were always struck by former Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s comments in 2016:

Monetary and fiscal policy is far better prepared for large positive shocks than negative ones

and 2017:

Don’t expect another financial crisis in our lifetime

The only thing left is to buy equities outright which would require an act of Congress. Such moves once again only highlight just how bad the situation has become. The Bank of Japan can hardly be credited with success over its ETF based equity purchases. It has now lost $30bn in this recent market rout. We should mention that the BoJ is a top 10 shareholder in almost 50% of listed stocks, creating an overhang of epic proportions should it ever announce it wants to reduce holdings. It now owns $300bn and due to be $400bn by year-end.

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 8,153 staff or an average of $118,000 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 8,150 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.