#financialmarkets

That sinking feeling?

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We are often told how robust the world economy is. Global trade tends to be a good indicator. Looking at the latest Clarkson’s December 2018 annual review, we can see that the number of shipyards that make the vessels (20,000dwt+) that look after global trade has slid from a peak of 306 in 2009 to 127. Newbuild orders have slid from 2,909 vessels to 708. Wärtsilä is anticipating a gradual recovery in contract new builds as high as 1,200 ships by 2022. Wishful thinking?

According to Clarksons, the global fleet of all types of commercial shipping is 50% larger than it was before the GFC despite the World Trade Organization saying growth in global trade for 2019 is expected to fall 2.9%. The WTO has fingers crossed for 2020. The charts in this WTO report show the sharp slowdown in freight in Q4 2018 and Jan 2019.

Germany’s five leading ship financiers reported outstanding ship-related loans of 59 billion euros at the end of 2016 with an average problem loan ratio of 37%. In recent years they have been busy reducing or selling off shipping portfolios. HSH Nordbank required a 10 billion euro bailout by its 85% owners, federal states Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein. It ended up being swallowed by private equity and renamed Hamburg Commercial Bank. Nord LB was looking to bail in Bremer LB beyond the 54.8% it already owns. Bremer LB had to write off  €400m of its shipping portfolio.

China has been aggressive, filling the void left by the Germans with high leverage financing to support the longer-term objectives of the Belt & Road Initiative. One wonders whether China plans to spoil the market by squeezing a damaged sector further. It wasn’t so long ago that South Korea’s  Hanjin Shipping went bust.

BTIG reported that ship scrapping in Q1 2019 was up 35% to 107,000dwt. Ship owners tend to scrap ships if the cost of idling or operating them exceeds this. Note Capesize shipping rates have fallen to around $9,000/day well below the $25,000 breakeven rate. The bellwether Baltic Dry Index is 27% down year on year and 85% below the peak levels seen in 2009.

The shipping industry has been sick for a decade. The majors have been busy merging, cutting debt and right sizing. Unfortunately it is  still in a pickle. A global slowdown will only exacerbate the issues in the industry.

The one area that looks interesting is the scrubber makers (eg Alfa Laval, Valmet, Fuji Electric). There has been a sharp uptick in growth for retro-fitting pollution equipment to existing ships instead of buying new equipment. Sometimes the best investments come when industries that require massive consolidation hit breaking point.

Perspective

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What have both these stocks have in common? Apple & GE have both held the title for world’s largest stock by market capitalisation at one point in time. GE was worth $594bn at its peak during the tech bubble. Apple has been valued at over $1 trillion this year but is at $921bn as of today. The irony of over the last 7 days Apple has lost more market cap than GE is worth, two times over. How the mighty have fallen.

Musk to recover $1.2bn based on pre-market

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Musk stands to recover $1.25bn in wealth if the pre-market indications of Tesla prove correct. A $20mn fine from the SEC which effectively wiped $1.3bn of wealth will all but be restored. Is it just that investors think that nothing will change even if he isn’t chairman? Did the SEC fold to his star power or did they receive a free flame thrower to lighten the charge? While $20mn looked like a proper slap on the wrist he can shrug off the incident like it didn’t happen. All in all pretty impressive. He lives to fight another day.

Will financial planners bring out a Naomi Osaka ETF?

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Japanese investors can get star-struck with investments. In 2015, popular pop-idol band AKB-48 saw the stocks of companies it was sponsored by surge 136% relative to the market. Aggregate sales of those companies surged 46% and 30% over the following two years. Such is the ‘hayari‘ (boom) culture in Japan. Corporates know this.

Since the US Open win by tennis star Naomi Osaka, sponsors are lining up to sign her. Prior to the win, Nissin Foods, WOWOW & Yonex were already sponsors. Nissan has just signed her. Since the win, the Topix has risen a tad over 6% while Nissan, Nissan & WOWOW have risen 7.5% in aggregate. Yonex has jumped 12.2% Early days to be sure, but the likelihood is that if she is sponsored by some smaller less liquid stock names these stocks could well fly.

Forget fancy models and esoteric investment strategies. Find whatever Osaka will be sponsored by in Japan and outperform through popularity over underlying earnings performance.

Any financial firm that launched a Naomi Osaka basket would likely see massive inflows and be able to charge higher fees on the back of it. Will the marketing departments wake up?

Tesla Q2 – Simple Minds

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When Simple Minds wrote the lyrics to Promised you a miracle, never could they have imagined Elon Musk could have used them to present his earnings release:
The original lyrics:
Promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As golden days break wondering
Chance as love takes a train
Summer breeze and brilliant light
Only love she sees
He controls on love
Love sails to a new life
Promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As golden days break wondering
Only love she sees
He controls on love
Life throws a curve
Everything is possible
With promises
Everything is possible
Oh
 
I promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As golden days break wondering
Chance reflects on them a while
Love screams so quietly
Slipping back on golden times
Breathing with sweet memories
I promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As golden days break wondering
Only love she sees

Perhaps Tesla’s Q2 lyrics may have gone:

 

Promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
Model 3 customers left wondering
Ever more cashflow down the drain
Suppliers freeze as they’re $3bn light
Only delayed payables do they see
Yet he controls the bluff
Profitabilty sails to a distant life
Promised you a miracle
Credibility is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As the golden payday keeps wandering
Only trust he pleas
He loses controls on Twitter
Life throws a curve
Sledging Thai rescuers is possible
With promises
Everything is possible
Oh
I promised you a miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As warranty provisions must take a hike
Investors reflect profits may take a while
Short sellers scream so quietly
Slipping back on golden times
Breathing with sweet memories
Banks were promised a profit miracle
Belief is a beauty thing
Promises promises
As targets keep fumbling
Only wait another quarter he says.
CM has said time again that Musk is a brilliant salesman. How he has managed to build a debt edifice worth more than GM, Ford & Fiat-Chrysler combined is a testament. Musk has continually missed delivery on so many promises that there is little stock in backing anything he says.
He championed $2bn in cash & equivalents but leaves out $5bn in accounts payble and accrued liabilities. The cash isn’t “net”
The company still reported $739mn negative free cash. While the rate may have slowed from Q1 it is shockingly high. Is it any wonder letters were sent to suppliers in an attempt to massage the figures to make the numbers look optically pretty.
Tesla wrote, “We aim to increase production to 10,000 Model 3s per week as fast as we can. We believe that the majority of Tesla’s production lines will be ready to produce at this rate by end of this year, but we will still have to increase capacity in certain places and we will need our suppliers to meet this as well. As a result, we expect to hit this rate sometime next year.
The problem with this statement shows the naivety of Musk’s lack of knowledge on mars production. Profitability isn’t sustained by cranking to 10k/week if demand won’t be there when it hits that milestone. There are already flip-a-Model 3 websites littered with early adopters hoping to cash in on the initial euphoria. Yet if new stock is coming out that fast, many are likely to cancel orders because there is no arbitrage opportunity.
Customer deposits fell $42mn on the quarter. Tesla noted non-reservation orders are outstripping reservation orders. If reservation orders are stagnating because or cancellations or deliveries that is not a bold claim worth much. The company suggests it is no longer taking reservations in US or Canada because current supply can meet it but deposits would still be required to hold a car at a showroom before final payment so the customer deposit line should reflect that.
Even when CM ran the most optimistic of scenarios for Tesla, valuations would be mere fractions of what the stock trades today. Yet investors overlook the tsunami of new product from competitors made by brands who have spent decades perfecting production and have access to far superior distribution networks.
More smoke and mirrors. Simple Minds are all that is needed to read through the lines. Nothing remotely impressive with these numbers.
In closing, when the company talks of the ability to power slide the Model 3 when it has faced so much criticism over deaths related to false beliefs in its autopilot system you wonder whether Musk ever listens to legal advice? Well If he can blame the families of crash death victims it is clear he thinks of customers and investors as nothing more than beta testers. Then again if he can promise them miracles he is ultimately the winner if they buy into golden days.

Indian Motorcycles upbeat on 2018 outlook at 2Q stage

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Indian Motorcycles – owned by Polaris Industries –  saw a mid single digit bump in unit sales in 2Q18. Gross profit was up 17% in the m/cycles segment although some funnies in the like for likes with the wind down of the Victory brand. Slingshot soft. Polaris Off Road Vehicles strong. Group 2Q ahead of market expectations, even factoring in the buyback and retirement of around 2.2% of outstanding shares in 2Q.

Exciting new launches like the Indian FTR1200 flat tracker next year will keep the registers ticking over. Scout series continues to do well. Heavier Indians finding it tougher going which is in line with market trends. Doing well with limited editions.

Polaris see the Indian brand performing strongly in international markets and expect momentum to improve over the year. Indian market share growing in domestic (at the expense of H-D) and international markets including Europe. Expect a $40mn impact from tariffs across all Polaris lines.

Share Buyback Activity: During the second quarter of 2018, Polaris repurchased and retired 1,429,000 shares of its common stock for $177 million. Year-to-date through June 30, 2018, it has repurchased and retired 1,562,000 shares of its common stock for $192 million. As of June 30, 2018, the company has authorization from its Board of Directors to repurchase up to an additional 4.9 million shares of Polaris common stock equivalent to c.10% of outstanding.

Indian had a contrasting set of results vs Harley. Both complaining of sluggish domestic market in big bikes but Indian remaining the more agile of the two with innovation. FTR1200 will hit it out of the park.

GEzus Priced super far?

US Corp prof.pngIt is not rocket science. Generally higher interest rates lead to lower profitability. The chart above shows that quarterly pre-tax US profitability is struggling. We took the liberty of comparing the profitability since 1980 and correlating it to what Moody’s Baa rated corporate bond effective 10yr yields. An R-squared of almost 90% was returned.

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With the Fed moving toward a tightening cycle, we note that the spreads of Baa 10yrs to the FFR has yet to climb out of its hole. During GFC it peaked at 8.82%. It is now around 3%.

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Why not use the Aaa spread instead? Well we could do that but looking over the last decade the average corporate debt rating profile looks like this. We have seen a massive deterioration in credit ratings. If we look at the corporate profitability with Baa interest rates over the past decade, correlation climbs even higher.

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Corporate America binged on cheap credit over the last decade and given the spreads to Aaa ranked corporate bonds were relatively small, it was a no brainer. In 2015, GE’s then-CEO Jeff Immelt said he was willing to add as much as $20 billion of additional debt to grow, even if it meant lower bond grades. We can see that the spread today is a measly 0.77%. Way off the 3.38% differential at the time of GFC. Still nearly 50% of corporate debt is rated at the nasty end.

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We shouldn’t forget that the US Government is also drunk on debt, much of it arriving at a store near you. $1.5 trillion in US Treasuries needs refinancing this year and $8.4tn over the next 3.5 years. Couple that with a Japan & China pulling back on UST purchases and the Fed itself promising to taper its balance sheet. So as an investor, would you prefer the safety of government debt or take a punt on paper next to junk heading into a tightening cycle?

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In any event, the 4.64% 10yr Baa corporate bond effective yield is half what it was at the time of GFC. Yet, what will profitability look like when the relative attractiveness of US Treasuries competes with a deteriorating corporate sector in terms of profitability or balance sheet?

Take GE as an example. Apart from all of the horror news of potential dividend cuts, bargain basement divestments and a CEO giving vague timelines on a turnaround in its energy business things do not bode well. Furthermore many overlook the fact that GE has $18.7bn of negative equity. Selling that dog of an insurance business will need to go for pennies in the dollar. There is no premium likely. GE had a AAA rating but lost it in March 2009. Even at AA- the risk is likely to the downside.

Take GE’s interest cover. This supposed financial juggernaut which was at the time of GFC the world’s largest market cap company now trades with a -0.17x interest coverage ratio. In FY2013 it was 13.8x. The ratio of debt to earnings, has surged from 1.5 in 2013 to 3.7 today. It has $42bn in debt due in 2020 for refinancing.

By 2020, what will the interest rate differentials be? There seems to be some blind faith in GE’s new CEO John Flannery’s ability to turn around the company. Yet he is staring at the peak of the aerospace cycle where any slowdown could hurt the spares business not to mention the high fixed cost nature of new engines under development. In a weird way, GE is suffering these terrible ratios at the top of the cycle rather than the bottom. Asset fire sales to patch that gaping hole in the balance sheet. Looks like a $4 stock not a $14 one.

Meth, Purity, Price & Financial Markets

Meth

CM – Meth, Purity and Drug Prices

When drug pushers become leading indicators of economic conditions.

The US Justice Department (DoJ) and the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) latest report on the trends of methamphetamine prices and purity on the samples they buy from dealers shows some strong correlation. In the last 20 years, methamphetamine prices (US$/gram) have shown a 91% R-squared correlation (i.e. very high) to purity. See link above for fuller details.

Tesla – what is fair value? Not $320

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How do you value an auto company that has no earnings? Tesla still bleeds chips badly. Of course the $54bn market cap share price ($320/share) is forecasting a very bright future. High hopes for the Tesla Model 3 (despite the production disaster) remain. In the endeavour to find another way to cut the data, when one divides market capitalization by production rates some glaringly BIG differences emerge. So for each unit of production the weighted average of Mercedes & BMW Group would get an investor $31,000 worth of market cap. Tesla on the same measure is $637,500. If Tesla hits its 2020 target of 1,000,000 units production, even if we generously gave it the same margins as the German luxury makers, the shares would have a fair value of around $185 (or 42% lower than today). If put against the volume makers (Toyota, Honda, Nissan, GM, FCA etc) the fair value at 1,000,000 units ceteris paribus is (you’ll need to wait for that!)

CMR is mid way through a 30 point reason why Tesla is massively overrated after spending a full day yesterday with engineers (a very honest bunch) of the parts suppliers at the Tokyo Motor Show. Like I always thought – all the auto makers are pulling out all the stops with their PR departments to virtue signal. The parts suppliers do not have anywhere near the expectations of the OEMs which tells us all we need to know. How I see all the de ja vu of the time that governments were chucking cash on renewables and created such a disaster of misallocated capital that sent many to the wall.

Bon chance! Macron aims to hollow out The City (of London)

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According to the French Consulate in London, there are around 400,000 French nationals living in Great Britain. ONS reports that there are 157,000 Brits living in France. A fair assessment would be because the working opportunities in the UK are more abundant than those in France. Indeed London is the 6th largest French city. Bigger than Nantes, Bordeaux or Strasbourg. London has always been the financial hub of Europe and Macron is promising to shift that to Paris. There are plenty of reasons why that won’t happen.

First, the latest survey on financial sector relevance puts London at #1. Financial sector relevance really revolves around one crucial thing – liquidity and sensible regulation that isn’t overly onerous.

President-elect Macron is discussing the idea of stealing up to 20,000 brains from London into Paris. The surest fire way to ensure that won’t happen is that the UK can easily nip this in the bud. If the EU looks to slap certain financial restrictions on banks that don’t comply then they’ll happily conduct business in places where they can. Macron should know that ‘liquidity attracts liquidity’. Put in roadblocks that inhibit it and capital will seek freer climes to operate in. UK can cover that put option simply and easily. Nothing tickles a banker’s appetite more than the ability to operate in a less restrictive environment. There is no reason a multinational company listed in Frankfurt would try to raise capital in Europe if the UK was half the cost. Goldman Sachs employs some of the best legal brains to get around any problem.

Money is more global than ever. Singapore is a good example of that. More and more robots are trading currencies, equities and commodities. ETFs abound. The financial services industry is shrinking in absolute number of employed. By way of example the number of registered securities professionals in Japan has more than halved in a decade.  So Macron can make all the half-baked knee jerk promises he likes but social media has a way of making everyone remember when it suits least.

I’m betting on Britain. National currency, national central bank and soon to be fully flexible policy setting. Speaking of currencies. Did you know that none of the bridges depicted on euro notes actually exist? They decided against on the basis that certain nations might get rubbed the wrong way if say Germany was on the 500 euro note and Rome was on the 5 euro note…that ought to tell us something.

Bon chance mon ami!