“APRA

APRA priorities are frightening

We wrote a while back that the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) had taken its finger OFF the pulse when assessing the risks facing our financial institutions. That was before COVID19. We think our banks are heavily leveraged and have little equity to offset a collapse in the property bubble.

Despite being faced with the prospect of a property meltdown thanks to an employment destroying pandemic, APRA thinks hiring a “Head of Climate Risk” is the way forward.

Why does APRA bother pursuing a field it has no expertise in much less look to create new green tape to extend its oversight?

It is not alone. The Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) is now seeking more oversight on corporates reporting on climate change.

ASIC’s own study found that fewer and fewer companies were reporting on climate change over the past decade. Shouldn’t we take that as corporates having a better pulse on the impact that climate change will have on their industries than a bunch of bureaucrats wanting to legislate an ideology?

With the COVID19 driven seismic economic shifts to come, it is frightening to see our government departments pursuing irrelevant regulation that companies are even less concerned about.

APRA should be focused on ensuring the coming property market implosion doesn’t cripple our banks. Instead of using the time to fine tune a wide variety of scenarios and stress tests to combat the troubling future, it is only proving it should have power taken away not granted.

Sheepishly downloading the COVIDSafe app is a warning for all of us

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We have no problem with people individually choosing to sign up to the COVIDSafe application launched yesterday. After all, it is voluntary and we believe in personal freedom. However, we are perplexed why so many people feel compelled to post their newfound compliance on social media feeds. It is this blind obedience that worries us.

It is hard to see such self-promotion on social media as anything more than the same virtue-signalling mindset of those who drape their social media avatars with the flag of the country where innocent people were slain by terrorists. Comments such as “I’m doing my bit” reign supreme. Why do people so sheepishly comply to sign up to this when the data is seriously unconvincing to warrant its introduction? Should we report our friends who haven’t publicly declared their status? Admitting one has signed up to COVIDSafe is borderline accepting to become a slave.

The most important point people need to consider is that there is absolutely zero downside for the government during and after this crisis. Remember that number – ZERO. If the economy goes into a prolonged recession or depression, our politicians can simply play the “we did it to save lives” card and tell us it was all for our own good. They can claim they couldn’t have done anything else. Unfortunately, we bear all the risk no matter what the outcome. That is a bad equation in any language. Why would anyone willingly sign up to it?

Indeed, saving lives should be congratulated, not censured. Still, at what point will we realise that the draconian measures put in place are leaving a disproportionate drag on the economy? As we wrote yesterday, if we take the JobKeeper support package alone, it presently costs $1.5 billion per death. Or $19.5 million per infection. The $130bn JobKeeper program is almost as much as the annual federal expenditure on education, healthcare and defence spend combined, three of the four largest budget items. Is this sustainable? If we stay in lockdown beyond the date of the package, this universal income will undoubtedly be extended.

There is a snowball’s chance in hell that we will have a V-shaped recovery. Our central bank might send us comforting lies to maintain the illusion that they are competent but it simply won’t happen.

Our authorities have suggested that the domestic economy comprises 75% of GDP which will provide a great cushion but on what planet do they believe that a crushed export sector which employs so many can be airbrushed to give us a V? Double-digit unemployment, at levels double or treble the present figures will all but guarantee a slower recovery. With household debt exceeding 180% of GDP, any future spending will be directed at rebuilding the balance sheet, not consumption. We’ll be lucky to get an L!!

There will be no normality after COVID19 abates. So much of our domestic future will be driven by the rest of the world’s approach to their own economies. Our neighbours will undoubtedly pursue more nationalist policies which prioritise domestic production. They will also need to contend with the likely aggressive reset of their own relative risk weighting, currency and fiscal positions. For anyone to believe that the magic pixie dust sprinkled by Canberra will avoid any calamity is dangerously naive.

Australia faces a $1 trillion deficit. Await the raft of new taxes on housing, inheritance and income to pay for it. We will absolutely hate what is coming. The sad thing is that we could have taken the pain over a decade ago yet we put short term expediency ahead of rational principle and now await the consequences. We are reaping what we sowed.

Much of the reasoning given by Aussies to sign up has been this belief that it will accelerate the government’s ability to reopen the economy sooner. If the government requires this sort of overlaying safeguard on top of the 99.98% of Australians that don’t knowingly carry the coronavirus or the 99.9997% who haven’t died from it, we should worry about our lawmakers’ ability to manage risk. Seriously.

Why are governments using future hard dates to consider reopening the economy? If today is the best day to do so, why wait till May 30th? Our own experience is that people are broadly respecting the social distancing guidelines. Sure, some might hang out in a park to break the monotony of staying indoors, but we are falling for the taglines from the government to #StayHome a bit too literally. The government should be rebuilding confidence. It isn’t. This app is unlikely to do much given the law of already minuscule numbers. It is all a feel-good measure.

With more than one million COVIDSafe app downloads in the first hour, many have proven that we are willing to conform to guidelines at a moments notice without considering the underlying facts. We saw this during the bushfire season. People blindly donated millions to the rural fire services when we proved their administrative skills were so severely lacking that these monies would unlikely be spent wisely.

In closing, many citizens have sent a wonderful signal to the government that they can easily strip more freedoms away by using panic as a tool to achieve it. The longer the economy is left to rot, the easier it will be to drown obedient plebs in even more regulations and restrictions because we failed to stand up and question the methodology. We will continue to do so. After all, former US President Ronald Reagan once said,

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”

Trillion Dollar Baby?

What will it take to wake the media up to the fact that the way our government is spending it won’t be long before we are a $1 trillion net debt baby?.

Our current federal liabilities (p.121) stand at $1.002 trillion (which is pre COVID19). Have the media bothered to look at the state of the budget accounts? Or are they too busy lavishing praise on rescue packages which have a finite lifespan.

We pointed out yesterday that the “revenue” line could be decimated by the disruption – huge cuts should be anticipated in the collection of GST, income, company and excise taxes. Not to mention huge rebates to be paid to now unemployed workers. On an annualized basis the revenue line could get thumped 30-40% if this continues for 6 months.

So on the back of an envelope, it is not very hard to work out that with a current $511 billion revenue line looking to fall towards the early to mid $300 billion mark against a projected expense bill of $503 billion a deficit of $150bn will open up. Throw on c$150bn of COVID19 stimuli arriving by June 30th and we get a $300 billion budget deficit. Our net financial worth would grow from minus $518 billion to negative $818 billion.

Rolling into next year, it is ludicrous to think that hibernated businesses will have resumed as normal. This means that the following year’s tax revenue line will look as sick as the previous period. The government will be torn shredding the expense line as unemployment shoots higher so assuming minimal budget cuts, it could face another $200 billion deficit taking it north of $1 trillion net liabilities in a jiffy.

Let’s not forget what the states may face. Severely lower handouts from the federal government via GST receipts which will balloon deficits, a trend we’re already seeing.

The states currently rely on around 37-62% of their revenue from the federal government by way of grants. The balance comes through land/property taxes, motor vehicle registration, gambling and betting fees as well as insurance and environmental levies.

All of those revenues lines can dry up pretty quickly. 40% of state budgets are usually spent on staff. Take a look at these eye watering numbers.

NSW spends $34 billion on salaries across 327,000 employees.

Victoria spends $27 billion across 239,000 public servants.

Queensland uses 224,000 staff which costs $25 billion per annum.

WA’s state workforce is 143,000, costing $12.6 billion.

SA has 90,000 FT employees costing $8.5 billion.

Tasmania 27,000 setting taxpayers back $2.7 billion.

Just the states alone employ over 1.05 million people at a cost of $110 billion pa!! The territories will be relative rounding errors.

A lot of the states have healthy asset lines which are usually full of schools, hospitals, roads and land). These are highly illiquid.

Unfortunately, one of the golden rules often forgotten in accounting is that liabilities often remain immovable objects when asset values get crucified in economic downturns. When markets become illiquid, the value of government assets won’t come at prices marked in the books.

How well will flogging a few public hospitals go down politically to financially stressed constituents?? This is why gross debt is important.

The states have a combined $202 billion outstanding gross debt including leases.

Throw on another $150 billion for unfunded superannuation liabilities. Good luck hitting the “zero by 2035” targets some state have amidst imploding asset markets. It simply won’t happen. If only these liabilities were marked to market rather than suppressed by actuarial accounting. The WA budget paper (p.42) notes the 0.4% bump to the discount rate to lower the pension deficit figure. To be fair, they are far less outrageous than US state pension deficits.

How must the State Gov’t of Queensland be praying that Adani keeps plowing ahead? How Greyhound must regret terminating a contract to ferry construction workers to the mine? We doubt the incumbent government will have a climate change bent in the upcoming Oct 31 state election. See ya.

The trillion dollar federal debt ceiling seems like a formality especially as the chain reaction created by the states puts on more pressure for the federal government to inject rescue packages to prop up their reversal of fortune budgets. It is that trillion with a T headline that will get people’s attention.

In short, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Only one you can’t stop crashing at your place during COVID19 is the economy

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Brace yourself.

COVID19 will be defeated but the cure is turning out to be way worse than the disease.

Unfortunately, the sad reality is that at the rate governments are tightening legislation to keep us in shut down mode, we are day-by-day staring at a great depression.

While some will praise governments for throwing the kitchen sink at the economy with all manner of stimulus packages, the relief will be temporary because all of the ammunition for a sustainable recovery had been depleted years earlier. It is like supplying an alcoholic on rehab with an all-you-can-drink open bar.

Our feckless RBA has just embarked on QE, a mission that has failed every other central bank that has tried it. The velocity of money has been falling for decades. Who will be given access to borrowing at zero interest rates when the economy is in freefall? Which banks will lend against properties that will likely implode in value? 50% down? To think of all the reckless “first home buyer” schemes that loaded young people at the top of the property market. The RBA has been complicit. Not wanting to put pressure on the government to reform, it just kept cutting rates to keep housing afloat. It was totally negligent in its duty even though it will signal its role as a rescuer of last resort.

When will banks be forced to mark to book the value of mortgages on their balance sheet? Equity is thin as it is. 15-20% equity buffer to mortgages is pretty wafer-thin. They need to do this immediately so we can properly assess risk. Forget stress tests by APRA. They’re meaningless. Our housing market will collapse with higher unemployment. 50% falls from here are possible. Remember there will be hardly any buyers. Prices fell up to 90% in Japan after its property bubble popped.

Worse our regulators have been asleep at the wheel chasing financial institutions on their commitment to climate change, the absolute least relevant metric to save them from here. It shows how complacent they became.

Australia has made some interesting crisis policy choices. For instance, PM Scott Morrison is trying to pass rent moratoriums where landlords suspend payments from tenants until things return to normalcy. It is not enshrined in law yet. In principle that is a nice gesture even if the government is subsidizing the banks for forgone interest due to short term loan repayment moratoriums. Let’s assume this continues for 6 months. Apart from the astronomical size of the subsidy, who will ultimately end up sacrificing the 6 months? Landlords? It won’t be the tenants.

Shouldn’t landlords be free to choose whether they are prepared to forgo rent or not as a purely rational business proposition? Shouldn’t a landlord be free to enforce a rental agreement? Will contracts matter anymore?

At some stage, the free market must be allowed to function and the government will hit a tipping point of weighing stopping economic armageddon by allowing businesses to function and the marginal risk of infections. The people will be crying for this if shutdowns remain.

Landlords may be labelled un-Australian or worse but in 6 months time, if unemployment has surged to nose bleed levels well above the 6% we saw during GFC at what point will disposable income be able to support a daily coffee at a cafe?

A cafe might soldier on for a further 3 months on skeleton staff before realising that they can’t cover costs. A landlord would be well within reason to demand that early cancellation clauses and fees are enforced.

Then what of all the invoices to coffee suppliers, bakeries who provide muffins and croissants and utilities? Who misses out? What about the invoices of the coffee supplier? Will the bakery get called on by its flour supplier to pay upfront for future deliveries when it has no operating cash flow, instead of the long-standing 60-90 day terms? That happens overnight. It isn’t a managed outcome. Cash is king.

The question is why hasn’t the government taken advice from the banks on business lending so it can better assess the risks involved from those that deal every day with small companies?

We can’t just shut an economy down for 6 months and expect a return to normal when it is all over. Unemployment rates are likely to surge well above 10%.

As we wrote in an earlier piece, there are 13.1 million Australians employed as of February 2020. Full-time employment amounted to 8,885,600 persons and part-time employment to 4,124,500 persons. Retail trade jobs come in at a shade over 1.2 million jobs. Construction at 1.15 million. Education 1.1 million. Accommodation/restaurants /bars etc at 900,000. Manufacturing another 900,000. Noticing a trend in our employment gearing?

We can fudge the unemployment figures however we like. We can pay $1,500 a fortnight for 6,000,000 workers to pretend they still have a job. That is $18bn a month. The PM can talk about how this will help us bounce on the other side. If it continues for just over 6-months can the budgeted $130 billion will be spent. This is separate to NewStart payments too.

Yet, will people lavishly spend or pay down debt and economise as best they can? We think the latter unless moral hazard has truly sunk in.

What people need to understand is that our Treasury expects to raise $472.8 billion in taxes for FY2019-20. Throw in sales of services, interest and dividend income and that climbs to a total of $511 billion. Expenses are forecast at $503 billion. In the following three years Treasury anticipates $490.0 billion,  $514.4 billion and $528.9 billion in taxes. Expect those totals to be cut significantly.

So if ScoMo’s JobKeeper rescue package for workers goes beyond 6 months, that is equivalent to 27% of annual tax revenues. That doesn’t take into account the slug to tax collections of lower GST and vastly lower income tax for individuals and corporates. That is just at the federal level.

Note, states such as NSW have recently waived payroll taxes for small businesses in a  $2.3bn stimulus package. We shouldn’t forget that the NSW Government is the largest employer in the Southern Hemisphere at 327,000 staff.

We remind readers that according to the RBA small businesses employ 47% of the workforce. Medium enterprises employ 23%. That is 70% of the entire workforce who are most at risk from a slowdown.

In 2019-20 income tax collections will make up $220 billion. Company tax was forecast to generate $99.8 billion. GST $67.2 billion. Excise taxes (petrol, diesel, tobacco etc) $44.7 billion. This data can be found on page 21 here.

Local cafes are reporting a 60~80% fall in revenue. Pretty much all casuals have been let go. It is a bit hard to survive on coffee when a lot of stores aren’t stocking pastries for fear of spoilage.

It is not hard to assume a scenario where government income taxes fall to $160 billion (-28%) due to mass layoffs. One assumes many people will be able to get a tax rebate come June 30th. So this number may end up being conservative on an annualised basis.

Company tax could plunge to $40 billion annualised due to the drastic fall in revenues as customers change the manner of contracts and reign in their own spending. Anyone that thinks that business will resume as normal is crazy. The ripple effects will be huge.

Excise taxes may drift to $35 billion as people cut back on drink (currently $7bn in tax revenue), are limited in places to drive negating the need to fill up (currently $18bn in total tax take). The $17 billion in tobacco excise may weather the storm better than most.

GST could fall to $50 billion. People just aren’t spending much outside of food. Massive retail discounts will not make much difference. GST will be the best indicator of how much the economy has slowed. Even if we start to see a massaging of the GDP numbers, GST won’t lie. It will be the safest indicator.

If our assumed tax revenue sums to $285 billion annualised from the budgeted $472 billion that equates to a 40% haircut.

Trim the ‘other revenue’ column to $30 billion from $39 billion and we have $315bn. Will the government then chop away at the $503 billion in expenses? All of the stimuli doesn’t arrive at once but a lot of it in relatively short order. Surely a $300~400 billion deficit is a fait accompli?

We should also anticipate forward year tax revenues be cut c.30% for several years after. The question is when does the government realise that it must cut the public service and scrap wasteful projects like French submarines and other nice-to-have quangos? We won’t see a budget surplus for decades.

We must careful not to fall into the trap Japan finds itself in. It has a US$1 trillion budget funded by US$600bn in taxes and US$400bn in JGB issuance. Every. Single. Year.

Nothing short of drastic tax and structural reform will do. Instead of behaving more prudently by cutting budgets when we had the chance, instant gratification created by governments desperate to stay in power has only weakened our relative position. Since 2013, the Coalition has been responsible for 46% of the total amount of all debt issued since 1854.

States should quickly realise that the $118 billion in federal grants going forward will also be curtailed. NSW will likely fare the worst because its financial position is by far the best.

If the government had a proper plan, it would be looking to what essential industries have been given up to the likes of China that we need to onshore. Medical equipment, masks or sanitiser. For cricketer Shane Warne to be converting his Seven Zero Eight gin factory to produce hand sanitiser shows how much of a joke our local manufacturing has become.

We must never forget that a Chinese government-owned company displayed the Communist Party’s mercenary credentials by (legally) buying 3,000,000 surgical masks, 500,000 pairs of gloves and bulk supplies of sanitiser and wipes. So not only was it responsible for covering up the truth surrounding the virus in the early stages of the pandemic, we openly let it compromise our ability to combat the virus when it hit our shores.

China has shown it doesn’t give a hoot for ordinary Australians. So why should we continue to fold to its whims and cowardly surrender our industries for fear it’ll stop dealing with us? It is nonsense. We have some of the highest quality mineral resources which it depends on. We can bargain. We have chosen to appease a bully.

Our Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) needs to be far more vigilant to prevent takeovers by Chinese businesses. We should openly accept the way China conducts business practices and recognise that it is often incompatible with ours when national security is at stake. Surely this crisis has highlighted the true colours of the political system in Beijing.

That leads us to Japanese companies. Many are seriously cashed up, have a favourable exchange rate and have a long-standing history of partnering with local businesses. We should be prioritising our relationship with Japan and look to have them invest in our inevitable capital works programs – specifically high-speed rail. It is the type of project that has meaning for the future and a long enough timeline to turn an economy around.

People need to be prepared for the reckoning. There is no point softening the blow. The brutal truth will eventually arrive and we will have only put ourselves in an even weaker position with the policy suite enacted so far. Time to be rational about risk/reward. Whether we like it or not, the minimum wage will need to be cut substantially in order to get the jobs market alive again. Don’t worry, unemployment will be so high that people will demand minimum wages are cut because it is far superior to the alternative!

(Time to ditch your industry super and start shovelling your superannuation into gold)

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.

When climate alarmists start trusting bankers

If global warming alarmists ever wanted to pick an industry as steeped in unreliable forecasts as climate scientists, one would find it hard to beat investment banking. Having been in that industry for two decades, the list of woefully misguided and poorly researched puff pieces is endless. There is a reason global banks are trading at fractions of their former peaks. They don’t add much value and most never picked the GFC of 2008. If they were smarter, greed wouldn’t require recessions.

Never mind. When JP Morgan economists are portending climate doom, why not hitch them to your global warming wagon? There is a kind of conflict of interest. Evil, greedy fat bonus paying tax avoiding corporates preaching virtue on climate.

By the way, you won’t find a research analyst who believes they don’t deserve air travel at the pointy end and luxury limousine transfers to and from the airport.

Yet they are aligned with the hypocrites at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) which told us at the 1500 private jet junket at Davos that it’s central bank members are “climate rescuers of last resort.” This despite their monetary policies having played a major part in fueling overconsumption via the debt bubble. Ultra low interest rates will ultimately have a profound effect on carbon emissions – a global economic crisis of epic proportions which won’t require one wind turbine or solar farm to achieve. They’ll save the climate by destroying the wellbeing of so many in the process.

On the one hand, JP Morgan can now claim some kudos for allowing such free thinking which isn’t at the behest of the investment banking team.

Maybe it’s worth pointing out that most banks keep meticulous (but useless) data on the readership of such reports. Much like the media chasing advertising dollars through clickbait, research analysts strive for internal point scoring to boost their year end review chances to push for bigger bonuses to their excel spreadsheet obsessed line managers who look at quantity, not quality. So if a warmest piece can create noise, irrespective of the quality of the content, then that serves a purpose for internal bosses.

Such has been the hollowing out of investment banking research teams, the last remaining life jackets are in short supply. It was only last year that Deutsche Bank closed its entire global equity platform. While regulation is part of the problem, there is simply very little value add to convince clients to pay for.

While the report supposedly chastised the bank’s lending of $75bn to the fossil fuel industry, in a world of ESG, which puts ideology ahead of risk assessment, JP Morgan can now claim it has seen the light so it can hopefully fool green tech companies in need of cash that they are worthy environmentally friendly financiers. This will also give the public relations team a welcome talking piece to the media and ESG retirement fund managers that they practice social responsibility.

Back to the report. On what pretense do the JP Morgan analysts have for the climate crisis threatening the human race? Citing the IPCC (where scientists have slammed the processes which prioritize gender and ethnicity over ability and qualification) and the IMF (which couldn’t pick economic growth it it tried) are hardly the sort of data one would gladly source as gospel to compile a report.

It seems everyone is an expert on climate change nowadays. Central banks, ASIC, APRA, RBA, the Australian Medical Association and now investment banks. As we pointed out earlier in the week, where were the scientists who made a b-line to speak at the National Climate Emergency summit in Melbourne? That’s right 2/3rds were activists, lobbyists, left-wing media and academics with no scientific background.

You know when alarmists are channeling bankers, that they are running out of credible evidence. Even worse, most banks have an uncanny ability to act as contrarian indicators.

We can be sure that a whole lot of malinvestment will continue thanks to governments trying to declare emergencies to justify infrastructure spending to replace sensible business friendly structural reforms that would have a far better chance of keeping them in power for longer.

In closing, it seems even the media has lost faith in investment bank research, choosing to channel NY Mets baseball pitchers for commentary on stocks instead.

ASIC climate change amateurs dictating terms to professionals

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The Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) is now seeking more oversight on corporates reporting on climate change. Since when did ASIC hold any sufficient expertise in climate science? Wouldn’t it be nice if ASIC placed more faith in capital markets to self-determine those risks instead of forcing ideologies into boardrooms via new regulations?

Don’t laugh. It is already happening. The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and ASIC  are “getting closer” to the action in boardrooms and the workplace. Already, boards have had visits from an organisational psychologist and company employees have received random calls from ASIC officers for “off-the-record” chats seeking “inside information” on the behaviour of their colleagues. APRA even want to sit in on board meetings to ensure governance oversight!

Climate change reporting is the next big thing ASIC is going after. Despite having no expertise in the field, ASIC wants to dictate terms. By its own admission, it has conducted studies with simplistic approaches which probably accurately assesses its amateur credentials.

Back in September 2018, ASIC released a report where it stated the following,

We undertook a high-level review of the prevalence of climate risk and climate-change-related content in annual reports for all listed companies for the calendar years 2011 to 2017 (inclusive). We searched approximately 15,000 reports and analysed the aggregated results across listed companies over time and by market capitalisation. We defined ‘climate change content’ as a reference to any of the following key terms: climate change, global warming, carbon emission, greenhouse gas, climate risk or carbon riskThis is a relatively simplistic approach which did not involve assessing the context within which our key terms were used. Our analysis was not designed to produce qualitative conclusions but rather to provide high-level insight into the prevalence of express disclosure on climate-change related topics in listed company annual reports.”

The unfortunate result for ASIC was the chart above. It fell from 22% to 14% over 5 years, during a time alarmists warned things were getting worse. Non-ASX300 companies reporting climate change fell from 18% to 10% of the total. How could that be? Maybe 90% of the ASX knows better than ASIC about the effects of climate change on their businesses?

Easier for ASIC to lean on a KPMG study that said 48% of CEOs surveyed saw climate change as a risk despite 58% being more worried about technological disruption and 54% concerned about territorialism. Or in other words, 52% of CEOs don’t see climate change is an issue and a whole band in the 48% that did probably felt pressured by their internal PR departments to comply with ESG malarkey, save getting caught out straying from the corporate realpolitik.

Will we see companies feel pressured to hire Chief Climate Change Officers (CCCOs) approved by the Climate Council run by Tim Flannery to appease ASIC? Will they determine the strategic direction of Harvey Norman? Or will shareholders prefer Gerry Harvey and Katie Page to lead that charge?

What constitutes compliance? How will ASIC aggregate the corporate climate change related information it garners in a way that produces qualitative results? Will the positioning of three new potplants in the boardroom be counted as sufficient reporting in climate abatement disclosure as affixing solar panels to the factory roof or switching the CEO’s car to an electric vehicle? Will the mere mentioning of the word “climate change” in an annual report suffice? Will ASIC get a warm fuzzy feeling if it conducts another 15,000 ‘CTRL F’ searches for words where 100% of corporates measure it? Job done? Will “name & shame” tables be produced to bash a mining company for having higher emissions than a tech start up?

It was only last week we were told that banks, insurers and super funds would be put through tough new climate change “stress tests” to be run by the  (APRA). We weren’t aware that APRA’s expertise extended to climate change either.

APRA should look at the 29% growth in assets within the 600,000 self-managed super funds (SMSF) which invest as much money as the very industry funds who lobby it to change the rules to force such disclosures as a guide. It probably says that more Aussies want to manage their own affairs instead of having nanny state rules that limit the scope of what they can invest in. Shouldn’t investors have a right to invest in tobacco, mining or gambling stocks if they see compelling value which assists the ultimate aim of putting more savings into retirement?

We pointed out that the industry funds collect the highest fees from those socially responsible (SRI) portfolios, even though they chronically underperform the market. If we look at YTD, 1 or 10-year performance all of the SRI portfolios as indicated by published performance (listed on their websites) of local Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) members, they have “underperformed” the benchmark index.

ACSI is behind this push for SRI. It even extends to pushing companies to have gender quotas, despite over half the members of ACSI failing to meet their own requirements. You can’t make this stuff up.

ASIC should promote free markets. It should rightly punish those companies that break laws. However, it should be up to shareholders to correctly assess risks. If climate change is a big deal then they can ask for their monies to be deposited into ACSI members’ SRI funds. The future growth of SMSFs will be a telling factor.  It will reveal those individuals looking to escape the grasp of limited investment options provided by rent-seeking industry funds looking to push their members into higher fee-paying products on the notion of saving the planet. Isn’t that just the type of red-flag the regulators should be looking to crack down on? Or does climate change grant get out of jail free cards? We all know the answer to that.

It is a disgrace. Amateurs dictating terms to professionals!

In order to be called a think tank, critical thinking would help

The problem with think tanks nowadays is that many are giving the rest a bad name. It would seem that not enough are actually doing the thing they are supposed to be doing – critical thinking.

It was only yesterday that the World Economic Forum’s 2020 report on gender justified a superior “health & survivability” gender gap score to Syrian women even though they live on average 15 years less than Australian women. Why? Because the WEF put more emphasis on the age gap between the sexes rather than longevity, poor Syrian males whose average life expectancies struggle to make 52-yo get back-handed applause for doing their bit for gender equality.

Closer to home, the think tank, The Australia Institute (TAI), has proposed the idea of a $1/ton carbon tax on fossil fuel companies to put into an independently administered climate disaster fund.

As ever with left-wing think tanks, taxation is the only viable cure to all ills. On page 37, TAI doesn’t miss the chance to write a few lines about our poor Pacific neighbours at risk of being inundating by rising sea levels despite a study showing 88.6% of Pacific islands and atolls being stable or growing in size. Who needs evidence when we want a narrative?

Don’t forget the one important takeaway. TAI was named as one of the four supposed “experts” prepared to put its name in a Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) report which scored Australia dead last on international and domestic climate policy. Remember this was the mob that handed Australia a 0.0 (zero point zero) score.

Only foaming at the mouth alarmists could derive such a ridiculous total and only a research body with little interest in objectivity would allow it to be included. If you are hunting for credibility, you won’t find it in the CCPI report.

Therefore if this is the standard at the TAI, why should we pay the slightest attention to them in terms of policy options to mitigate disasters?

TAI wrote in the heavily media, BoM & Deloitte sourced National Climate Disaster Fund report,

It is now clear that global warming increases both the frequency and intensity of many types of natural disasters including floods, bushfires, droughts and other extreme weather events. This is borne out by the science and experienced in unprecedented extreme events in Australia and globally.

Then why did the UNIPCC, the carbon cathedral of climate alarmism, state in its March 2018 report on weather extremes the following with respect to anthropogenic induced global warming?

“…There is low confidence in observed trends in small-scale phenomena such as tornadoes and hail because of data inhomogeneities and inadequacies in monitoring systemsin some regions droughts have become less frequent, less intense, or shorter, for example, in central North America and northwestern Australia. There is limited to medium evidence available to assess climate-driven observed changes in the magnitude and frequency of floodslow confidence for the attribution of any detectable changes in tropical cyclone activity to anthropogenic influences..low confidence in projections of changes in extreme winds.. low confidence in projections of changes in monsoonslow confidence in wave height projections…overall low confidence because of inconsistent projections of drought changes…low confidence in projected future changes in dust storms…low confidence in projections of an anthropogenic effect on phenomena such as shallow landslides.”

Low confidence” is mentioned 230 times in the above report. “High confidence” gets talked about 169 times. “Cold” is mentioned 82x. “Hot” 44x. “Cold extreme” 11x and “Hot extreme” 8x. Is this a coincidence?

Backed by such “low confidence”, why would we lend time to TAI to give us solutions which only raise taxes on fossil fuel industries? Why hasn’t TAI consulted with the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) to learn that 85% of Aussie bushfires are either deliberately, suspiciously or accidentally lit? Why not consult the WA Government’s Bushfire Front site which debunks the myth of climate change causing megafires?

Never mind such trivialities, TAI quotes the head of the Australian Defence Force, General Angus Campbell, who noted that Australia is in “the most natural disaster-prone region in the world” and thatclimate change is predicted to make disasters more extreme and more common.Since when did Australian military personnel become climate experts? Given our Navy uses pink nail varnish to promote recruitment is it any wonder he makes such activist statements?

For FNF Media, who does not profess to be a climate scientist, there is no escaping the list of activists straying out of their lane to push their non-existent credentials on the environment.

Take the Australian Medical Association (AMA). How is it that the AMA is being regarded as an expert on climate change? Does getting a degree in medicine bestow one insights on the impacts of hurricane or drought activity?

The Doctors for Environment Australia have jumped on the activist bandwagon too saying, “three medical colleges, the RACP, ACEM and ACRRM representing tens of thousands of doctors recently declared climate change a health emergency.

Yet do the AMA, RACP, ACEM or ACRRM speak for the each and everyone of their members? The stats say otherwise. In 1962, more than 95% of doctors belonged to the AMA. By 1987 it was 50%. AHPRA reports that in 2016 there were 107,179 registered medical practitioners. The 2016 AMA annual report notes a membership of 29,425. That is 27% of doctors. Shouldn’t the AMA board raise the alarm and focus on the hollowing of its base?

Or should we just follow the money? The non-warmist RACGP has more than doubled its revenues since 2012, while AMA has trickled up 10%. Not surprising AMA revenues have stalled when it has sought to get medical students, which now represent over 1/3rd of members to sign up for free in order to pad the numbers in the hope they’ll join the save the planet cabal.

Even the financial sector is blowing the alarmist trumpet. The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) stated earlier this year, “there is no excuse for inaction on climate change, warning there is a high degree of certainty that financial risks will materialize as a result of a warming climate.”

Why isn’t anyone asking what APRA is doing by shaming companies that do not meet voluntary climate risk disclosure targets which are set out by the Task Force in Climate-related Financial Disclosures, a private sector body chaired by none other than global warming alarmist Michael Bloomberg? Where is the independent thought? Talk about taking one’s eyes off the ball.

Our own central bank is burning witches too. In a speech given by the Deputy Governor, the RBA is basing its assertions on the prophecies of the IPCC and BOM, two of countless organisations which have been caught red handed manipulating climate data. Why doesn’t data malfeasance constitute a red flag in the RBA’s internal analysis? Do they apply the same rigour to interest rate policy?

Or our mega banks that refuse to lend money to the Adani project, not based on any valid financial risk assessment but ideological moral preening. Shouldn’t shareholders be concerned that banks are making such irrational investment policy when they need to offset the alarming imbalance in their mortgage loan books? Never mind.

Or the revelation that a band of 29 former fire chiefs, who are proclaiming global warming expertise, are backed by the even more alarmist Climate Council, who we called out on their own “colossal bullshit.” Yes, the Climate Council’s Chief Councillor is none other than Tim Flannery, a man with an absolutely terrible record of dud predictions about our climate.

FNF Media couldn’t hold a flame to these gentlemen in understanding fire behaviour and how to extinguish them, but feels justified questioning the extent of their expertise in climate science.

Because therein lies the problem. The list of supposed experts keeps growing. Yet the ever compliant media falls into line and joins the cheerleading squad. Throw a Cate Blanchett into the mix and get celebrities to espouse their superior intellect to the rest of us.

Perhaps we might ask our click bait journalists whether they consult their bank manager for climate change wisdom anymore than they do the Bob Jane T-Mart tyre fitter for relationship advice?

There is a sad truth that more and more think tank tomes are succumbing to ideological clickbait group think rather than pushing rigid processes to come up with meaningful outcomes. TAI just adds to the growing list of those reverse engineering a narrative. Perhaps the TAI carbon tax solution should also include the manufacture of the raw materials that go to making solar cells, wind towers and battery backups (all derived in part from fossil fuels).

Oh and yes, there is no doubt Syrian men and women would trade a trimming of the health and survivability gender gap to add 15-20 years to their lives.

This can only end in tears

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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.

CM on Sky

https://www.skynews.com.au/details/_6102427118001

CM appeared on Sky News to discuss the situation with our banks, the potential risks from the recommendations of the Hayne Royal Commission and the issue of mortgage stress.