Corporate Governance

Never let a good crisis go to waste

Never let a good crisis go to waste. Democrats have been doing their utmost to show partisanship during coronavirus. Instead of trying to help their fellow citizens, they see it better to throw in some irrelevant nice to haves which will do nothing to help Americans fight the economic impacts of coronavirus as bargaining chips.

Here are 20 examples.

  1. Corporate pay statistics by race and race statistics for all corporate boards at companies receiving assistance.
  2. Corporate board diversity targets
  3. Bailing out all current debt of postal service
  4. Required early voting
  5. Required same-day voter registration
  6. $10,000 bailout for student loans
  7. For companies accepting assistance, 1/3 of board members must be chosen by workers
  8. Provisions on official time for union collective bargaining
  9. Full offset of airline emissions by 2025
  10. Greenhouse gas statistics for individual flights
  11. Retirement plans for community newspaper employees
  12. $15 minimum wage at companies receiving assistance
  13. Permanent paid leave at companies receiving assistance
  14. hiding the citizenship status of College Students from the Census Bureau
  15. expanded wind & solar tax credits
  16. $100,000,000 for NASA’s environmental restoration group

While it is fair game to question the contents of a $1.8 trillion rescue package, none of the above will help Americans combat coronavirus. So the Dems have upped it to $2.5 trillion to include the above, including $1.5k in aid per individual; as much as $7.5k for a family of 5.

We suppose when the central bank has committed to endless QE, what does an extra $700bn on top of $1.8 trillion matter?

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?

MSM relishes trade of economic depression via pandemic over Trump as POTUS w/ no virus

Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) knows no bounds. Yes, the mainstream media (MSM) is celebrating the milestone that the Dow is below the level when Donald Trump was inaugurated.

We have always said that if Trump continued to boast about market gains he would have to wear it on the downside too. Alas, he is being hoisted by his own petard.

Sadly, as much as CNN and others relish the though of Trump out of office, we sincerely doubt the vast majority of Americans would trade a pandemic with catastrophic unemployment over business as usual before the WuFlu with a Trump at the helm.

Markets are forward looking. They anticipate where corporate earnings are likely to be. This market rout has little to do with Trump’s policies in isolation.

We’ve said repeatedly that global central banks have created a debt bomb through reckless monetary policies over the last two decades. They have proved just how little impact cutting rates to zero or throwing $850bn in handouts has on markets. They’re out of ammunition. Confidence is shot. We’re in uncharted territory.

Boeing is the perfect canary in the coal mine. The 737MAX debacle which is imminently due to be on sale again to a market that has effectively vanished. Airlines are cutting routes and it will be up to the zombie lending cycles of aircraft leasing companies to renegotiate rates so they can keep the patient alive. Airlines will push out deliveries.

However before Boeing’s core business troubles, the management embarked on short term incentive chasing buybacks to the tune of $43bn since 2013. The company is trading negative equity and has drawn down ALL of its credit lines ($13.8bn) and now wants a handout.

All of this is the product of two decades of mindless expediency. Governments are just as culpable for allowing greed to override common sense. No lessons have been learnt since 2000 and especially 2008. Blue chips like Boeing and GE are now heading to record lows because of it. Ford Motor is rated junk. How long before Boeing and GE fall foul of the same problem?

We are particularly interested in the next set of results from Parker Hannifin. It is like the global industrial hardware store. All of the major manufacturers use Parker for parts – pumps, hydraulics, pneumatics, valves, hoses etc. When we see Parker’s upcoming report on order flows we can gauge how bad it is at the manufacturing coal face.

This time we are staring at a “global depression” and it would be nice to think the MSM would try to put some context around the ramifications of this virus and the raft of economy killing policies governments around the world are introducing instead of just blaming Trump. Yes, he’s been his normal self during this but is he responsible for the actions of other countries going into shutdowns? Seriously? Do the US Coronavirus stats stack up poorly vs countries like Italy on a relative or absolute basis? No. Moreover COVID-19 cases in the US are a mere fraction of H1N1 swine flu cases which the media made nowhere near the level of hysteria as now. It’s a disgrace how far the media will go for clickbait.

Had the world’s central banks behaved sensibly to stop excessive debt and allowed markets to function freely, this pandemic would have had far less effect than it is now because we would have had the ammunition to fight this war of attrition. Now all our governments and regulators are doing is moving phantom armies across maps trying to stop economic Armageddon.

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.

Should Main St bailout a Wall St that squandered cash on equity buybacks through excessive debt issuance?

Image result for boeing

Boeing was lopped two notches from A- to BBB (two notches above junk) by Standard & Poors overnight.  The diagnosis was:

“Cash flow and credit ratios will likely be much weaker than we had expected for the next two years. We now expect free cash flow to be an outflow of $11 billion-$12 billion in 2020 and an inflow of $13 billion-$14 billion in 2021. This compares to our previous expectation of positive $2 billion in 2020 and $22 billion in 2021.

The significant difference is due to an absence of MAX predelivery payments (PDP) into 2021, higher and more front-loaded cash compensation to airlines, additional cash costs related to the production halt (including supplier support), and lower MAX production rates and deliveries than previously expected.

We are also now expecting weaker cash flow from the rest of the business due to cuts to 787 production (including lower PDPs), delays to the first 777-9 delivery, and lower cash flows at the defense and aftermarket segments.

This results in higher debt levels in 2020 (with balance sheet debt peaking at more than $46 billion, including the debt from the Embraer joint venture) and a weaker improvement in 2021, with funds from operations (FFO) to debt in 2020 now likely to be only about 5% (previous expectation was 29%) and about 30% in 2021 (previous expectation was 75%). This forecast remains highly uncertain with the potential for increased downside from the coronavirus.”

As we pointed out earlier this week, Boeing is trading in a negative equity position. The question is should Main St be responsible for bailing out Wall St for blowing its dough on $10s of billions on buybacks. It appears Boeing is seeking a short term plug from the government after drawing down $9.5bn of committed credit lines from the banks. Of course, it is sold as saving jobs during coronavirus but this is just incompetence.

Oh, don’t get me started on Tesla. A frozen economy against a debt monster that just started to scrape some profits together.

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.

Boeing’s negative equity & prospect of zombie lending

We should have seen this earlier. One sign of trouble in industrial businesses can be seen through the lens of the cash conversion cycle (CCC). A CCC that is positive essentially means that payables are being executed way before receivables are being banked. Rising CCC is never a good thing. Amazon is at the other end of the spectrum with negative CCC which means they receive payment before delivery.

Note Boeing has seen its CCC blow out from around 124 days in Dec-2010 quarter to 344 days in Dec-2019. Effectively Boeing is sucking up a year of net receivables before collecting them. What escaped us is that the company is trading in negative equity at present and it will be a hard balancing act to let such CCC get much larger to a group that is so under the fiscal pump.

We recall the difficulties the supply chain had under the delayed 787 program in the early 2000s. Parts suppliers were bleeding because they’d invested and prepared for an expected ramp-up that ended up arriving 3.5yrs later than anticipated. All that high fixed capital formation and inventory that needed to be paid for by a client that couldn’t take delivery. Boeing tried to muddle through but was ultimately forced to rescue suppliers to keep them alive after some faced the brink. Boeing bought some suppliers in house.

One imagines the 737MAX delays will exacerbate the CCC again although Boeing contends it is in cash conservation mode. Coronavirus can only add to the misery of airlines reluctant to add to fleets where capacity is being slashed aggressively. Just look at the self-isolation bans being put in place in recent days. Who wants to holiday abroad if told they’ll spend two weeks in their hotel room feasting on room service? Airlines get the efficiency of new aircraft helping operating performance but at the same time running any planes at 20% capacity won’t help.

This is only going to get worse. For all of the pain of a much higher unit volume plane yet to be approved for flight, Boeing cash flows are being tortured. It is incredible that the shares had held on so well during the MAX crisis.

It is interesting to note that Boeing is trading in a state of negative equity. Liabilities are greater than assets. Where is the press on reporting this? It is hardly trivial for a business that hasn’t even faced the worst of its struggles.

Just like we wrote two years ago about GE, Boeing went straight down the line of monster share buybacks. $43bn to be exact since 2013. Over half of the buyback has been conducted at share prices above the current level. The goodwill and intangibles on Boeing’s balance sheet total $11.398bn. Equity at minus $8.3bn. So negative $20bn.

bA

We did the following infographic some 3 years ago but the trend has deteriorated further. As we can see AAA-rated (top) stocks in the US have dwindled while BBB+ and below has surged. It is estimated that over 50% of US corporates have a rating below BBB. That is the result of artificially low-interest rates which have lured companies to borrow big and splurge on buybacks. Our biggest worry is if the market starts to reprice corporate debt accordingly, such as what happened to Ford when it was dropped to junk.

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So the question remains how does Boeing manage to get out of this pickle? Even if MAX gets certified, airline cash flow is being crippled. How big will discounts need to be in order for airlines to take on new planes? At the moment one imagines many airlines are deferring deliveries (787, 777 etc) until they get a clearer picture.

Boeing has delivered 30 aircraft in the first two months of 2020. At the same time last year, Boeing had delivered 95 planes. A lot of MAX impact but we imagine March will be even worse.

Airbus delivered 86 aircraft so far in 2020. At the same time last year, Airbus delivered 88 planes.

Think of the major gateway that is Hong Kong International Airport. It’s passenger flow for February 2020 – minus 68%! 6 months of this type of crippling volume would be catastrophic for airlines. 9-11 was a watershed moment for the aviation industry where the confidence to get back on a plane turned quickly after the terror attacks. Now we have a situation where passengers would be more than willing to fly again but governments simply aren’t letting them. The problem is whether they will be in the same financial position to fly if the virus isn’t contained rapidly

One sweet spot for Boeing is that it is a major defence contractor which means that government bailouts are a given. Sadly, shareholders shouldn’t think this current share price collapse has finished. Boeing feels a lot like mimicking GE when it sunk to $6 from over $30.

It is probably worth referencing AerCap Holdings which owns International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC) one of the big two commercial aircraft leasing companies. Its share price has cratered from a high of $64.79 to $24.50. Moody’s affirmed the “Baa3” ILFC this month.


AerCap

The company has 3.1x leverage. $36bn of property (mostly planes) on its books. The shares are trading at 0.35x tangible book value presumably because the market is forecasting the value of the tin is going to fall through the floor if leased planes return from airlines that have been forced to cut costs or go bankrupt.

The only crux is the future appetite of investors to support AerCap in the debt markets. It has $17.5bn in unsecured notes and $9.8bn in secured debt with a further $2.3bn in subordinated, mostly via a 2079 maturity bond issue. The maturity profile is still comfortably beyond 2028. No problems just yet but times are only just starting to get challenging.

Of note, AerCap is paying $1.295bn in interest charges on $29.5bn of debt. Leasing rents from its airline customers total $4.281bn. It all comes down to the assumption that its multiple airline customers can keep honouring those payments or whether the leasing companies are forced to renegotiate their deals in order to keep the customer alive. The last thing a leasing company needs is a flood of aircraft to return because customers go belly up. Fingers crossed there is no zombie lending to avoid having to mark-to-market the value of the fleet (assets) which would flip the ratings and refinancing prospects considerably. The balance sheet would be slammed.

With so many financial excesses built into the global economy, a prolonged spell of coronavirus containment will come at the expense of a crippling economic armageddon which will undo so much of the disastrous can-kicking we’ve become accustomed to. You can’t quarantine the world for 6 months and expect a tiny ripple.

CLies IT

It is not the disease we need to worry about per se. It is government and central bank incompetence over the last 20 years which has created a situation where we are out of ammunition to rescue the situation because expediency is so much easier for voters – comforting lies are easier to take than inconvenient truths.

Be sure to reference our thoughts on

Aussie banks,

Aussie government debt,

central banks and the

pension crisis ahead.

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