My good mate Jonathan Rochford of Narrow Road Capital has compiled a brilliant summary of the recent madness in markets, politics and economics. One could be forgiven for thinking it is a lot like satire. Link here.
A very important piece from our learned friend at Narrow Road Capital, Jonathan Rochford.
“The current conditions in credit markets are bizarre. We’re still in the midst of a global pandemic and economic downturn but credit markets are partying like there’s no tomorrow. Almost every day credit spreads go lower as anecdotes emerge of banks refusing to take term deposits from new clients. The banking system is flooded with liquidity and there’s simply not enough demand to borrow to match the freshly printed central bank cash.
The last time I remember such excessive liquidity was in early 2007. Back then I was managing a cash fund and I remember being rebuffed by several major banks when we called and asked for their rate for our short term cash. When we couldn’t find a home with them we turned to the commercial paper market and found some boring vehicles that would take our cash for a handful of basis points over the bank bill rate. We didn’t get involved with the racier structured investment vehicles (SIVs) that offered a little more yield, with several of those blowing up as the financial crisis kicked off in 2007.
In a credit spread sense it’s not as bad today as it was then with 5 year major bank senior bonds paying around 35 basis points over BBSW today compared to 10-12 basis points then. However, on an all-in (credit spread plus risk free yield) basis it is far worse today as the cash rate in 2007 was over 6%, which was miles above the inflation rate. Today, there’s very little global debt with an investment grade credit rating that offers a positive real (after inflation) return. Whilst it is easy to look back and be critical of those chasing additional yield then, it is harder to criticise the same behaviour today when central banks are deliberately punishing conservative investors with negative real returns.
The inevitable outcome of this excessive liquidity is stupid lending is happening on an ever increasing basis. Despite a large swathe of companies on the brink of default, the US high yield market has never had worse covenants and never had lower all-in yields. Several African countries have defaulted or are on the brink of default but others are easily selling new bonds. Italy and Greece have virtually no prospect of ever paying off their debts but their 10 year bond yields are barely 1% more than Germany. Today’s growing pile of dead wood debt risks becoming tomorrow’s bonfire.
All of this is happening because central banks and politicians are too afraid to tell the truth. An economy built on ever increasing levels of debt isn’t sustainable. Trying to prevent investors from taking losses only causes them to take greater risks which leads to larger losses in the long run. We’ve made a long series of bad decisions to get here and there isn’t a painless way out. The glut of cash isn’t a sign of good health, rather it indicates financial markets are delirious with stimulus and won’t stop partying until there’s a crash so big that central banks can’t affect a bail out.“
Over three decades ago, the Japanese introduced a TV programme titled, ‘Za Gaman‘ which stood for ‘endurance‘. It gathered a whole bunch of male university students who were challenged with barbaric events which tested their ability to endure pain because the producer thought these kids were too soft and self-entitled. Games included being chained to a truck and dragged along a gravel road with only one’s bare buttocks. Another was to be suspended upside down in an Egyptian desert where men with magnifying glasses trained the sun’s beam on their nipples while burning hot sand was tossed on them. The winner was the one who could last the longest.
Since the Japanese bubble collapsed in the early 1990s, a plethora of think tanks and central banks have run scenario analyses on how to avoid the pitfalls of a protracted period of deflation and low growth that plagued Japan’s lost decades. They think they could do far better. We disagree.
There is one absolutely fatal flaw with all arguments made by the West. The Japanese are conditioned in shared suffering. Of course, it comes with a large slice of reluctance but when presented with the alternatives the government knew ‘gaman’ would be accepted by the nation. It was right.
We like to think of Japan, not as capitalism with warts but socialism with beauty spots. Having lived there for twenty years we have to commend such commitment to social adhesion. It is a large part of the fabric of Japanese culture which is steeped in mutual respect. If the West had one lesson to learn from Japan it would be this. Unfortunately, greed, individualism and self-entitlement will be our Achilles’ heels.
It is worth noting that even Japan has its limits. At a grassroots level, we are witnessing the accelerated fraying of that social kimono. Here are 10 facts taken from our ‘Crime in Japan‘ series – ‘Geriatric Jailbirds‘, ‘Breakup of the Nuclear Family‘ and the ‘Fraud, Drugs, Murders, Yakuza and the Police‘ which point to that old adage that ‘all is not what it seems!‘
These pressures were occurring well before the introduction of Abenomics – the three arrow strategy of PM Shinzo Abe – 1) aggressive monetary policy, 2) fiscal consolidation and 3) structural reform.
Since 2013, Abenomics seemed to be working. Economic growth picked up nicely and even inflation seemed like it might hit a sustainable trajectory. Luckily, Japan had the benefit of a debt-fueled global economy to tow it along. This is something the West and Japan will not have the luxury of when the coronavirus economic shutdown ends.
However, Japan’s ageing society is having an impact on the social contract, especially in the regional areas. We wrote a piece in February 2017, titled ‘Make Japan Great Again‘ where we analysed the mass exodus from the regions to the big cities in order to escape the rapidly deteriorating economic prospects in the countryside.
Almost 25 years ago, the Japanese government embarked on a program known as
‘shichosongappei’ （市町村合併）which loosely translates as mergers of cities and towns. The total number of towns halved in that period so local governments could consolidate services, schools and local hospitals. Not dissimilar to a business downsizing during a recession.
While the population growth of some Western economies might look promising versus Japan, we are kidding ourselves to think we can copy and paste what Nippon accomplished when we have relatively little social cohesion. What worked for them won’t necessarily apply with our more mercenary approach to economic systems, financial risk and social values.
Sure, we can embark on a path that racks up huge debts. We can buy up distressed debt and repackage it as investment grade but there is a terminal velocity with this approach.
The Bank of Japan is a canary in the coalmine. It has bought 58% of all ETFs outstanding which makes up 25% of the market. This is unsustainable. The BoJ is now a top 10 shareholder of over half of all listed stocks on the index. At what point will investors be able to adequately price risk when the BoJ sits like a lead balloon on the shareholder registry of Mitsui Bussan or Panasonic?
Will Boeing investors start to question their investment when the US Fed (we think it eventually gets approval to buy stocks) becomes the largest shareholder via the back door? Is the cradle of capitalism prepared to accept quasi state-owned enterprises? Are we to blindly sit back and just accept this fate despite this reduction in liquidity?
This is what 7 years of Abenomics has brought us. The BoJ already has in excess of 100% of GDP in assets on its balance sheet, up from c.20% when the first arrow was fired. We shouldn’t forget that there have been discussions to buy all ¥1,000 trillion of outstanding Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs) and convert them into zero-coupon perpetual bonds with a mild administration fee to legitimise the asset. Will global markets take nicely to erasing 2 years worth of GDP with a printing press?
Who will determine the value of those assets when the BoJ or any other central bank for that matter is both the buyer and seller. If the private sector was caught in this scale of market manipulation they’d be fined billions and the perpetrators would end up serving long jail sentences.
Can we honestly accept continual debt financing of our own budget deficit? Japan has a ¥100 trillion national budget. ¥60 trillion is funded by taxes. The remainder of ¥40 trillion (US$400 billion) is debt-financed every single year. Can we accept the RBA printing off whatever we need every year to close the deficit for decade upon decade?
In a nutshell, we can be assured that central banks and treasuries around the world will be dusting off the old reports of how to escape the malaise we are in. Our view is that they will fail.
What will start off as a promising execution of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), rational economics will dictate that the gap between the haves and the have nots will grow even wider. Someone will miss out. Governments will act like novice plate spinners with all of the expected consequences.
In our opinion, the world will change in ways most are not prepared for. We think the power of populism has only started. National interests will be all that matters. Political correctness will cease. Identity politics will die. All the average punter will care about is whether they can feed their family. Nothing else will matter. Climate change will be a footnote in history as evidenced by the apparition that was Greta Thunberg who had to tell the world she caught COVID19 even though she was never tested.
Moving forward, our political class will no longer be able to duck and weave. Only those that are prepared to tell it like it is will survive going forward. The constituents won’t settle for anything else. Treat them as mugs and face the consequences, just like we saw with Boris Johnson’s landslide to push through Brexit.
The upcoming 2020 presidential election will shake America to its foundations. Do voters want to go back to the safety of a known quantity that didn’t deliver for decades under previous administrations and elect Biden or still chance Project Molotov Cocktail with Trump?
What we know for sure is that Trump would never have seen the light of day had decades of previous administrations competently managed the economy. COVID19 may ultimately work in Trump’s favour because his record, as we fact-checked at the time of SOTU, was making a considerable difference.
Whatever the result, prepare to gaman!
This chart shows how fast he printing presses have been flying to boost the “asset” line of the Bank of Japan (blue), the US Federal Reserve (red) and the ECB (green).
The BoJ has grown its “assets” from ¥100 trillion in 2008 to ¥585 trillion today. Yes, that is right the Japanese central bank has printed so much money that the assets on the book are the equivalent of 100% of GDP, 5x that of 12 years ago.
Does MMT predicate that it is ok to print another 100%? After all the existing Japanese national debt pile is ¥1000 trillion. So who is counting?
We note that the shares in Japan’s biggest currency printing press maker Komori (6349) quadrupled during the boom and only tapered off as the BoJ slowed the rate in early 2018. Maybe coronavirus will get the BoJ back to its wicked ways as it buys up even more of the stock market??? It already owns 58% of outstanding ETFs and by stealth has become a top 10 shareholder in almost 50% of listed stocks. In a sense, we have a trend which threatens to turn Japan’s largest businesses into quasi-state-owned enterprises (SoE) by the back door.
The US Fed has grown “assets” from just shy of US$1 trillion at the time of GFC when the economy was worth US$15.7 trillion or around 6%. There was a nice breathing period between 2014 and 2018 before tapering started.
However, in October 2019 we noted that the Fed was getting a LOT more active in the repo market. Now with coronavirus upon us and the volatility in capital markets at the start of 2020 we can see that another $1.6 trillion has been added to the asset line to a record $5.8 trillion or around 30% of current GDP.
The European Central Bank (ECB) has powered up its balance sheet too from around Eur 1.4 trillion to Eur 4.7 trillion. or 40% of Europe 19’s Eur 10.7 trillion GDP. At the time of the GFC, Europe 19’s combined GDP was Eur 9.3 trillion meaning ECB assets were only 15% of the total. Note the ECB has discontinued reporting its assets.
The point is with the world economy about to hit a brick wall, will markets just face more central bank distortion? Surely no one honestly believes that central banks have got this under control with such an appalling record.
To be honest, if modern monetary theory (MMT) was truly working to date, there should be no unemployment, no poverty, no taxes and we could have easily funded all that renewable energy without even having a debate. Just print and spend.
Therein lies its fatal flaw of MMT. Eventually, conjuring money out of thin air hits terminal velocity. Truth be told the tales above show that each asset that the central banks have bought has created less and less impact in the real economy. Velocity has been sliding for decades.
It is a bit like taking morphine to kill the pain. Take too much and the side effects are:
Not unlike the symptoms being shown by the global economy today.
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?
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%.
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.
Yet if we look at the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix & Google), we can see that over 5 years, investors have made a bundle.
As 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%.
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!
Are these people for real? Does the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) truly believe that world’s central banks will become “climate rescuers of last resort”? Do we really want our central banks to be more proactive in pushing governments toward a greener economy by suggesting a carbon tax as “first-best solution“? The problem with central bankers is that every problem looks like a nail when they only have a hammer in the toolkit.
First, on what level do central banks have a clue about climate change? If they had even the foggiest notion about the science they would never have embarked on a set of reckless monetary policy measures that created the very conditions for excessive debt, mal-investment and over-consumption which they now seek to punish us for via the adoption of a carbon tax.
We should not forget the almost $300 trillion of global debt now racked up thanks to abnormally low interest rates. It is politically expedient to run budget deficits too because central banks are only too happy to keep (near) ZIRP or NIRP which makes servicing ballooning deficits appear almost perpetually affordable with short term focused politicians. It is but a figment of their imagination.
How easy it is to sound the alarm on climate change to mask the policy blunders of the last two decades. It would be nice if we could believe they possessed expertise in their mandated role before embarking into a field they have no sound base to work from. It is a dangerous distraction.
It is worth citing a few examples of the record of central banks around the world since GFC.
In 2018, the US Fed stopped reporting changes in the balance sheet. It did this to prevent spooking the markets over tapering. It reminds FNF Media of the day Bernanke’s Fed announced it would no longer report M3 money supply a year before the financial markets headed into the GFC. Why is there a need for a lack of transparency if it wishes to instill market confidence via its policy settings?
Has the Fed reflected on the fact that over half of listed corporates have a credit rating of BBB or below? Ford Motor Co’s credit rating was downgraded by Moody’s to junk. $84bn worth of debt now no longer investment grade. It will be the first of many Fortune 500s to fall foul to this reality. In 2008, there was around $800bn of BBB status credit. That number exceeds $3.186 trillion today. Brought to you courtesy of low interest rates.
The Bank of Japan (BoJ) is now responsible for 60% of all ETF market ownership. Latest reports confirm the Bank of Japan (BoJ) has now become a top 10 shareholder in almost 50% of listed stocks. In a sense, we have a trend which threatens to turn Japan’s largest businesses into quasi-state-owned enterprises (SoE) by the back door. The BoJ now owns $250bn of listed Japanese equities. It is the top shareholder in household Japanese brands such as Omron, Nidec and Fanuc. At current investment rates, the BoJ is set to own $400bn worth of the market by 2020-end.
The BoJ’s manipulation of the JGB market caused several of the major Japanese banks to hand back their trading licenses because they served no purpose anymore given the central bank’s manipulation.
The ECB has dropped the ball in Europe. Jonathan Rochford of Narrowroad Capital wrote,
“Many European banks have failed to use the last decade to materially de-risk. The most obvious outworking of this is that European banks continue to receive taxpayer funded bailouts, with Germany’s NordLB and Italy’s Banca Popolare di Bari both receiving lifelines this month…One final issue that lurks particularly amongst European banks is their gaming of capital ratios. European banks have become masters of finding assets that require little risk capital but can generate a decent margin. Government debt from Italy is one example, with pressure now being put on the ECB to allow for unlimited purchases of Greek government debt. This would substantially increase the already significant “doom loop” risk. This risk arises from the potential for a default on government debt to bankrupt the banks, and the converse situation where failing banks look for a taxpayer bailout and bankrupt the country.”
The list goes on and on. Central banks are in no position to lecture the rest of us on anything given their command of their core competence remains so flawed.
Global money velocity has been declining for two decades. Every dollar printed creates an ever shrinking fraction of GDP impact. Yet all we did was double down on all the failed measures that led us into the GFC
What we do know is that the BIS has sought the advice of literature professors to come up with the phrase that climate change presented a “colossal and potentially irreversible risk of staggering complexity.”
It is easy for the BIS to shout that a “green swan” event could send us into the financial abyss. However the reality is that dreadful stewardship of monetary conditions has set us up for a huge fall. Not a bushfire, storm or flood. Perhaps we might view a green swan event as wishful thinking by central banks because it would allow them to absolve themselves of all responsibility in getting us into this mess in the first place. They want to see themselves as saviors, not culprits.
Rochford sums up central banks brilliantly with this comment,
“When it comes to central banks, I would prefer to believe it is a combination of groupthink, an unwillingness to take career risk by speaking the truth and a willingness to either ignore or disregard counter evidence that has resulted in the detrimental decisions since the financial crisis. However, the increasing amount of evidence, often produced by central banks themselves, points to central banks being more culpable than gullible.“
So given this condition why on earth are we paying any attention to their prescriptions on saving the planet? When they quit the excuses and fess up that the last two decades of monetary policy has failed to fix the excesses built in the system then we might lend an ear. Until then they join the list of government agencies who don’t want to be caught out not being in line with the settled politics. Truly sick.
As Sweden’s economy slows to the worst economic growth rate in 5 years under a negative interest rate policy, one would think the Swedish Central Bank (Riksbank) would be seeking to prudently manage its asset book on the basis of appropriate risk/reward as opposed to lecturing Australia and Canada on their respective carbon footprints. What we are witnessing is yet another discrete move by authorities to manipulate markets based on fantasy rather than fact. The hypocrisy is extreme as we shall discover.
While the Riksbank should have complete freedom in how it wishes to deploy capital, we should view this is a pathetic sop to the cabal at the European Central Bank (ECB). Since when did central bankers become experts on climate change? The RBA is no better. Deputy Governor, Guy Debelle, gave a speech in March 2019 on the risks posed by climate change which based prophecies on the data accident-prone IPCC and Bureau of Meteorology. Why not seek balance? Easier to fold to group think so as not to be outed as a pariah. Utterly gutless. Our own APRA is also pushing this ridiculous agenda on climate change reporting. It is willful negligence.
While it is true that on a per capita basis, Australia and Canada’s emissions are higher than the global average, why doesn’t the Riksbank give us credit for lowering that amount 11.4% since 2000? Even Canada has reduced its carbon emissions by 7.3% over the last 18 years. Admittedly Sweden’s emissions per capita have fallen 21.9% according to the IEA. Greta will be happy.
Why hasn’t the Riksbank taken China or India to task for their 169.9% or 94.7% growth in CO2 emissions respectively? There are plenty of oil-producing nations – Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Oman that have worse per capita outcomes than Australia or Canada. Do these countries get special dispensation from the wrath of the Riksbank? Clearly.
The US has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. If the US has marginally lower emissions per capita (15.74t/CO2-e) than Australia (16.45t/CO2-e), isn’t a double standard to write,
“The conditions for active climate consideration are slightly better in our work with the foreign exchange reserves. To ensure that the foreign exchange reserves fulfil their purpose, they need to consist of assets that can be rapidly converted to money even when the markets are not functioning properly. Our assessment is that the foreign exchange reserves best correspond to this need if they consist of 75 per cent US government bonds, 20 per cent German and 5 per cent British, Danish and Norwegian government bonds.”
Essentially Riksbank commitment to climate change is conditional. The US which is responsible for 13.8% of global emissions can be 75% of holdings. Australia at 1.3% can’t. No doubt sacrificing Queensland Treasury Corp, WA Treasury Corp and Albertan bonds from a Riksbank balance sheet perspective will have little impact on the total. In short, it looks to be pure tokenism. The Riksbank has invested around 8% of its foreign exchange reserves in Australian and Canadian central and federal government bonds. So perhaps at the moment, it is nothing but substitution from state to federal. Why not punish NSW TCorp for being part of a state that has 85%+ coal-fired power generation?
At the very least the Riksbank admits its own hypocrisy.
“The Riksbank needs to develop its work on how to take climate change into consideration in asset management. For instance, we need a broader and deeper analysis of the issuers’ climate footprint. At the same time, one must remember that the foreign exchange reserves are unavoidably dominated by US and German government bonds. The Riksbank’s contribution to a better development of the climate will, therefore, remain small. This is entirely natural. The important decisions on how climate change should be counteracted in Sweden are political and should be taken by the government and the Riksdag (parliament).”
Still, what hope have we got when Benoît Cœuré, member of the Executive Board of the ECB, lecturing those on “Scaling up Green Finance: The Role of Central Banks.” He noted,
“2018 has seen one of the hottest summers in Europe since weather records began. Increasing weather extremes, rising sea levels and the Arctic melting are now clearly visible consequences of human-induced warming. Climate change is not a theory. It is a fact.”
Reading more of this report only confirms the commitment of the ECB to follow the UN’s lead and deliberately look to misallocate capital based on unfounded claims of falling crop yields and rising prices (the opposite is occurring) and rising hurricane and drought activity (claims that even the IPCC has admitted there is little or no evidence by climate change). Sweden is merely being a well-behaved schoolboy.
Cœuré made the explicit claim, “The ECB, together with other national central banks of the Eurosystem, is actively supporting the European Commission’s sustainable finance agenda.”
CM thinks the biggest problem with this “agenda” is that it risks even further misallocation of capital within global markets already drowning in poorly directed investment. It isn’t hard to see what is going on here. It is nothing short of deliberate market manipulation by trying to increase the cost of funding to conventional energy using farcical concocted “climate risks” to regulate them out of existence.
Cœuré made this clear in his speech,
“once markets and credit risk agencies price climate risks properly, the amount of collateralised borrowing counterparties can obtain from the ECB will be adjusted accordingly.”
What do you know? On cue, Seeking Alpha notes,
“Cutting €2bn of yearly investments, the European Union will stop funding oil, natural gas and coal projects at the end of 2021 as it aims to become the first climate-neutral continent.”
All CM will say is best of luck with this decision. Just watch how this kneeling at the altar of the pagan god of climate change will completely ruin the EU economy. The long term ramifications are already being felt. The EU can’t escape the fact that 118mn of its citizens (up from 78m in 2007) are below the poverty line. That is 22% of the population. So why then does Cœuré mention, in spite of such alarming poverty, that taking actions (that will likely increase unemployment) will be helped by “migration [which] has contributed to dampening wage growth…in recent years, thereby further complicating our efforts to bring inflation back to levels closer to 2%.”
Closer to home, the National Australia Bank (NAB) has joined in the groupthink by looking to phase out lending to thermal coal companies by 2035. The $760 million exposure will be cut in half by 2028. If climate change is such a huge issue why not look to end it ASAP? This is terrible governance.
Why not assess thermal coal companies on the merits of the industry’s future rather than have the acting-CEO Philip Chronican make a limp-wristed excuse that it is merely getting in line with the government commitment to Paris? If lending to thermal coal is good for shareholders in 2036, who cares what our emissions targets are (which continue to fall per capita)? Maybe this is industry and regulator working hand-in-hand?
The market has always been the best weighing mechanism for risk. Unfortunately, for the last two decades, global central bank policy has gone out of its way to prevent the market from clearing. Now it seems that the authorities are taking actions that look like collusion to bully the ratings agencies into marking down legitimate businesses that are being punished for heresy.
This will ironically only make them even better investments down the track when reality dawns, just as CM pointed out with anti-ESG stocks. Just expect the entry points to these stocks to be exceedingly cheap. Buy what the market hates. It looks as though the bureaucrats are set to make fossil fuel companies penny stocks.
I was fortunate enough to attend an LDP function last night where Deputy PM and Minister of Finance Taro Aso spoke. The audience was largely retirees in their 60s-80s in the Yokohama area who in part likely came for the hotel buffet. I was the only foreigner to attend among 1,000 guests. Aso truthfully described the difference between Japan and the West. Talking of how many foreign politicians can’t understand how Japan can have so many vending machines because in their countries they’d be vandalized for their cash. Aso’s bigger point was made around deflation and how Japan is coping far better than most of the West, especially the EU. While there is a sense of celebrating an own goal, the biggest mistake made by the West in its analysis of the ‘lost two decades’ in Japan has been its unique society. Only in Japan could a population withstand two decades of hardship. Shared grief.
In the West, when it all goes to the dogs people will run as far away from the implosion as they can. Moral hazard is the order of the day. Make someone else pay. I recall the tale of a friend who had bought a condo in a ski resort in Yuzawa, Niigata Prefecture for around $20,000 off a family who had paid $800,000 for it during the bubble. They religiously paid off the loan as a form of moral obligation. In Japan, bankruptcy is seen as failure. A bankruptcy record is hung around one’s neck forever. In America, bankruptcy is seen as a badge of honor in some circles for someone pursuing the American Dream and in the next credit cycle, financial institutions will forgive the infraction, albeit at a slightly higher risk premium.
The point Aso was making was on the money. Japan is different. It is a society based on values. While the West may frown on the Japanese taking on a 250% debt: GDP ratio to allow the air to slowly leak out of a balloon, the society demands it. Despite all of the studies I’ve read on financial resurrection from deflation in the West I can safely say ‘society’ is the seemingly most overlooked yet most relevant part of the equation. As the game of convenient lies mount up from the mouths of politicians, a growing number of people are realizing that failure to act will lead to unpleasant truths. Economic cycles can only be toyed with to a point until trust leaves the system. The Japanese are indeed the most capable people on the planet to embrace change. It may take a tragedy, shock or disaster to force true action but one can be rest assured the people will unite in common purpose while the West go out of their way to look after themselves at the expense of all others.
Japan is not capitalism with warts but socialism with beauty spots. With the coming global financial train wreck approaching Japan is the best place to be.
EU Parliament President Martin Schulz has resigned. Just as the EU sinks deeper into the quagmire of its own making Herr Schulz seemingly wants to run against Angela Merkel for Chancellor next year. The triumvirate of Schulz, Juncker & Tusk was supposedly inseparable but one wonders if it has become insufferable this year with the prospect of 2017 becoming even worse. Think about it – Brexit, the ditching of a free pass by the Swiss to join, the mess with Turkey over refugees, the parlous state of Greece, an Austrian presidential election that exposed the lack of respect for member state democracy by the EU, a touch and go referendum in Italy and the growing chances of a Le Pen presidency in France on top of an EU economy at stall speed with limited options.
Italy holds its referendum on Dec 4 this year. Italian politics is rarely devoid of scandal or controversy. The referendum is to do with reforming the constitution with a focus on limiting power in the Senate so laws can be passed quicker. If you believe polls, 42% don’t want change. 37% do. Referendums in 1993 and 1997 failed. PM Renzi has threatened to resign if it fails to carry. In a sense the referendum had been tracking ‘yes’ until he staked his career on it (are you listening David Cameron?) and the mood switched. Renzi thought the threat would work in his favour by alarming voters he’d throw the country into more political gridlock. The idea that Italians are “concerned by instability” is rather humorous. I am trying to work out a period when Italy had stable political leadership. Here is a list of PMs since 1976 (all 24 of them):
1. Aldo Moro – 1974-1976
2. Giulio Andreotti – 1976-1978
3. Francesco Cossiga – 1979-1980
4. Arnaldo Forlani – 1980-1981
5. Giovanni Spadolini – 1981-1982
6. Amintore Fanfani – 1982-1983
7. Bettino Craxi – 1983-1987
8. Amintore Fanfani – 1987-1987
9. Giovanni Goria – 1987-1988
10. Ciriaco De Mita – 1988-1989
11. Giulio Andreotti – 1989-1992
12. Giuliano Amato – 1992-1993
13. Carlo Azeglio Ciampi – 1993-1994
14. Silvio Berlusconi – 1994-1995
15. Lamberto Dini – 1995-1996
16. Romano Prodi – 1996-1998
17. Massimo D’Alema – 1998-2000
18. Giuiliano Amato – 2000-2001
19. Silvio Berlusconi – 2001-2006
20. Romano Prodi – 2006-2008
21. Silvio Berlusconi – 2008-2011
22. Mario Monti – 2011-2013
23. Enrico Letta – 2013-2014
24. Matteo Renzi – 2014~
The stratospheric rise of the Euro-sceptic 5-Star Movement (M5S) could benefit from the electoral rules (Italicum law) which changed in July 2016 which grants a party that wins over 40% of the vote it wins 54% (a minimum of 340 out of 630 seats) of the Camera.
The Economist wrote of the party that aims to #draintheaqueduct “the M5S chooses its electoral candidates in online ballots. Save in municipal elections, it does not accept anyone who has served more than a term as a political representative of any sort. The intention is to guarantee that its lawmakers and office-holders are free of the compromising links that are rife in Italian politics. But one effect is to ensure they are equally untainted by experience and, sometimes, ability.” M5S is polling around 28% vs Renzi’s Democratic Party at 32%.
There in lies the rub for the establishment. Around the world, they are fast learning that political experience and ability are outweighed by the promise of change and the ability to call a spade a spade. Rome’s Mayor Ms. Raggi (M5S) has bounced from one problem to another after being left a city in deep debt and political scandal. Reality is often different to the dream.
Still if Renzi loses and he resigns, Italy maybe thrown into a snap election and if the M5S wins a majority that will have implications for the bond market. A party that looks to exit the euro will potentially raise large scale bank default risk. Holders of Italian euro-denominated debt would be stuck having to receive a devalued lira on top of wholesale dumping of Italian debt proving a double whammy. Banks are not required to hold capital against government bond holdings but such losses could well create insolvency issues. At the start of October this year, Italian 10-yr government bonds traded at 1.2% yield. It is now 2.13%.
So the risk of the Italian referendum is perhaps being viewed by Schulz to take an emergency parachute to pursue a German state political career than his once Utopian ideal of the EU. It is telling. Surely he stood to gain much greater power in the long run if he truly believed in his beloved EU project. Resignation suggests he may believe the writing is on the wall and better to retreat to his homeland to keep what is left of a career alive. A true contender to Merkel? It remains to be seen but do not discount his move as a precursor to the dwindling fortunes of the EU movement.
ECB chief Draghi kept rates unchanged with the much heralded “wait and see” mentality which pervades central banks. He’s blown €1 trillion and expanded the balance sheet toward the €4 trillion Fed BS but lagging the world’s largest, Japan, nudging €4.5 trillion.
As the above table shows clearly-central bank policy DOESN’T work. No business confidence and no inflation is being driven even with negative rates. He should know from his native Italy that no growth for the past two quarters, 50% off store sales continuing well after the traditional period has well and truly ended and Italian banks with 20% NPLs. The lady at Fendi was in despair at how bad turnover is. A group of Italian friends asked did I think Monte Paschi dei Siena, the world’s oldest bank, would survive…I pulled a €20 note and told them that will get you around 100 shares. They got the point . Surely it will be nationalized. Of course the ECB’s policies are preventing failures?!?!!
This group think is lunacy. Even if Draghi commits to buying equities it isn’t solving for growth nor is it solving “confidence”
Whether authorities want to admit it or not, they’ve failed. More people crushed under a rock of debt or living off morsels from a pittance of supposed low risk income assets which are increasingly turning negative. While people might want to have faith in authorities the sad fact is that day-day realities have only widened income equality. The only way to get people out of the fox holes and spend that money they’re shoving in personal safes is to lower taxes and let the real economy reset by putting power back into the hands of the consumer. Stop telling them how to spend it, stop higher taxation, stop useless and ineffective state control and let all incomes benefit rather than just the rich.
The irony of the central bank bunker mentality is that while they feel immune personally to the devastation above ground they still don’t realize is that most shells falling are friendly fire.