#GM

Political expediency will trump Coronavirus market rout. Await market manipulation

MARKETS YTD

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?

INDEX 5YR

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%.

Car stocks

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.

Industrials

Yet if we look at the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix & Google), we can see that over 5 years, investors have made a bundle.

FAANGAs 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%.

FAANG 1M

Worried?

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!

Colonialism and Comcars

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Senator Mattias Cormann has admitted he was behind the decision to change the colour of our government Comcars – which ferry politicians around – from white to dark grey in order to remove any remnants of our colonial past, which in his words were “a better reflection of a modern, forward-looking Australia.” Forget the fact that most government cars were painted black, including Sir Robert Menzies’ Bentley (above). Might have been better to channel the founder of the Liberal Party as inspiration instead some woke nonsense. Or just let the drivers, who need to clean and maintain the vehicles, choose. 

Seriously though, what % of Australians have ever thought that our white Comcars harked to a colonial past? Best put it to a plebiscite and waste more time. 

Dark Grey? Isn’t that a gloomy hue? Should Aussies prepare for dark days ahead? Truth be told the colour is probably quite representative of where our economy is heading, even without coronavirus.

Interestingly, according to car insurer youi,

Our accident frequency research reveals that dark coloured cars are more likely to be in an accident than lighter coloured cars, likely because they are less visible to other drivers on the road. Grey coloured cars topped the list, followed by black and charcoal.

Who says that politicians don’t make sacrifices for us?

If we study where the proportion of cars coloured in colonial white is highest, perhaps parliament should be spending up big on a reeducation program in Tasmania for their unconscious colonialism. youi claimed,

Tasmania has the highest percentage of white cars at 33.80% versus the national average of 30.45% (silver 19.4%, blue 11.29%)

White cars seem to be connected to toxic masculinity too. Best run a campaign on unconscious sexism if youi is to be believed.

Compared to females, white is more popular for males relative to other colours (34.34% for males, 26.46% for females)

Take it a step further and question how much more Cormann could have done to reduce the racist footprints of colonialism.

Why are we buying cars from a maker that powered the Nazi Luftwaffe, SS and Wehrmacht, based in a nation that at the time was hell-bent on world domination and genocide? If we went for Lexus or Toyota we’d be buying cars built by a country that was also determined to colonize The Pacific. Jaguars or Range Rovers would be off the list, even though the Indians now own the brands. Rolls-Royce & Bentley are German-owned. Italians were colonialists. Maserati, Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo banned. The French? Colonialists. Renault and Peugeot-Citroen are out. The Spanish? Colonialists. No SEATs, although that is owned by the Germans. America? Someone is bound to raise an issue with their CIA operative endorsed post-war military hegemony. So no Caddies, Fords or GM cars, especially after the axing of the Holden brand. China? Buying Haval or Great Wall cars would at the very least cut down on the overall cost of Comcars, especially with the generous 10-yr unlimited kilometre extended warranty.  That is how we cut the budget deficit. 

Maybe we should just buy Volvos. Maybe that way we could appeal to be supporting the home team of climate activist, Greta Thunberg to shore up the youth vote while acknowledging that the Viking hordes of 1000 years ago was far back enough in history to upset anyone today. If we’re lucky, the Swedish Riksbank may consider buying our sovereign debt again

Seriously, haven’t our pollies got anything better to do than conjure up such illogical nonsense like this? Given we’re at this level of discourse, perhaps walking, cycling or public transport would be a better bet for our lawmakers. At the very least it would put them in touch with how commoners live.

Vale Holden

Car maker Holden has been executed. The American parent said the brand dies at the end of 2020. Not a big deal for GM – La Salle, McLaughlin, Oakland, Oldsmobile, Opel, Pontiac, Hummer, Saab, Saturn and Vauxhall no longer exist under her garage.

PM Scott Morrison can complain all he wants about the $2bn in subsidies given to keep the car maker afloat but it was on the nose since the maker closed manufacturing in October 2017. Market share all but evaporated. It was a matter of time.

GM never got Australia. Selling a front wheel drive 4-cylinder Commodore to replace the working class aspirational V8 was a mistake. No matter how brilliant the replacement was, it didn’t resonate. As a result these cars flooded the rent-a-car market and had among the worst resale out there.

There is no surprise that Holden was terminated. Aussie sales were the worst in decades. It was a regular Top 3 maker but in its dying days slumped to 12th. Market share shrunk to 3.1%, the lowest in history. Commodore sales in November 2019 crashed 56%.

Interestingly, the desirability of the last of the HSV models based on the Commodore will jump further with scarcity value. Just like this example. $300,000. Who would have thought?

Mt Panorama won’t be the same.

Tesla worth more than major brands with 1,046 years of combined experience

Wonderful to see Wall St bull at its finest. Trip Chowdhry of Global Equities Research put a 2030 price target of $4,000 on Tesla or around 10x the current price.

Amazing to think that he believes that Tesla would be worth 25% more than Toyota, VW, BMW, Daimler, Ferrari, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Ford, GM & Fiat-Chrysler combined.

Sure, that’s plausible. Who wouldn’t believe that the industrial might of the aforementioned world’s most respected brands – with a combined 1,046 years of production expertise – will be worth less than a company who is led by a dope smoking CEO who cares little for corporate governance?

That isn’t to say innovation and disruption can’t end a millennia of progress. The only problem is the market fails to realize is that Toyota invests 10x what Tesla does in electric vehicle R&D every year and had its research geeks develop solid state lithium ion batteries for fun.

If the Green New Deal bans air travel…

…CM looks forward to catching a train to Hawaii.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also intends to get every fossil fueled powered car off the road in a decade. The US has 270 million registered vehicles, the overwhelming majority being petrol powered. The US sells 16-17mn cars a year (sadly slowing). Therefore in the US, 16 years would be required to achieve that target. That’s before taking into account auto maker EV capacity.

Global EV sales were 2.1mn last year. So her plan would take 128 years. That’s unfair as capacity would grow. Let’s assume auto makers could conceivably increase capacity by 2m every 2 years (plants take 2 years to build and those poor Congolese child slave laborers will be run off their feet digging for cobalt to go in the batteries) then conceivably 30mn.cumulative EV units could be built over 10 years. That’s 11% of her goal. Let’s not forget the fossil fuels required to power auto factories to satiate this plan not to mention the steel that goes into the bodies.

Global auto production is c.80mn units. That assumes that the world’s auto makers will snub the ROW to meet her demands.

Socialist mathematics is never quite up to the task. Is Ocasio-Cortez was a true patriot she’d demand GM, Ford & Tesla be the sole products that consumers are allowed to buy to support domestic jobs. They’ll need them because she’ll be causing the lay offs of a shed load of Boeing line workers if planes are banned.

When she finally gets into the Oval Office we should look forward to her catching Ground Force One from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Station to travel the country and tell Americans how much better things have become.

How many canaries in the coalmine do we need?

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CM has said for ages that President Trump risks being hoisted by his own petard if he continues to attribute the stock market to his leadership. It works both ways. Stock markets are suffering. Suck it up.

GM has announced it is pulling the plug on over 14,000 US workers (8,000 white collar, 3,300 blue-collar workers in Canada and another 2,600 in the US) and potentially closing  5 plants. Is this a surprise? The chart above shows the % year over year change of US car sales. It has been stepping down clearly since GFC. In September this year GM’s sales slumped 19% in before falling 5.5% in October. The brutal storm activity is unlikely to help November either.

This quote will live to haunt in the coming downturn – CEO Mary Barra said the company doesn’t predict an economic downturn any time soon and is making the cuts “to get in front of it while the company is strong and while the economy is strong,

50% of US corporations have a credit rating of BBB or less. We are at the sharp end of massive government sector recapitalization crowding out and companies with dodgy balance sheets (that have levered up to conduct massive buybacks to flatter EPS masking anemic earnings growth) won’t be given the same tight interest rate margin spreads come the next refinancing. Await the implosion.

Rising interest rates don’t help and credit markets wait like vultures over the likes of GE which is having a reality check over its $115bn of debt, negative equity and troubled restructuring. Credit rating downgrade have booted it from some funds so the stock is in the cross hairs. If it had any sense it would file for Chapter 11 to buy breathing space.

If you want to put some perspective on it, GE’s market cap in 2000 was $592bn and now is $65.8bn. Tesla is now worth $56bn.

GM is yet another canary in the coalmine

 

Musk channels the Black Knight?

It has become apparent that the SEC & Musk had a deal which would see him removed from Tesla yet his lawyers have rejected it at the last minute because he’d rather fight the charges. One could argue in favour of his bravery to appeal against what looks to be a very open and shut case about breaching probably the most basic of errors in standard reporting to the exchange to ensure fairness.

Maybe he feels that he is only going to get a slap on the wrist? In the 63 odd charges laid out against individuals by the SEC for reporting violations in 2018, the average fine has been $75,000. Hardly a ripple to Musk’s net worth.

The bigger risk for Tesla shareholders if Musk loses in court against the SEC and is forced out (to be honest his board should demand it) will be losing a figurehead who at the very least has managed to make a company with no profits, monster debts and questionable actions worth more than Ford, FCA & GM combined. Betting against Musk has been a dangerous game. He may well be teflon coated but it remains questionable whether he can strap himself to his reusable rockets and escape the fraud charges.

Is Musk losing it?

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Is Tesla CEO Elon Musk losing it? More senior resignations from accounting and HR this week  reveal more cracks in the automaker. He emailed a journalist, calling him a “mother f*cker”. He went further to say he hoped the cave rescuer he called a “”pedo” sued him because a UK man who is single and spent so much time in Thailand must be a child rapist.

He rattled off he had “secured” funding of $420/share to go private and then all of a sudden he didn’t, prompting the SEC to investigate. He was then on radio with comedian Joe Rogan toking what is reportedly a mixture of tobacco and marijuana. Are these the actions of a man running a $50bn market cap company?

Clearly his board can’t control him.  With the shares collapsing and bond prices falling, refinancing will become problematic. Chief  Accounting Officer Dave Morton quit the company after revealing his concerns about the various obstacles Tesla faces.

Tesla’s Chief People Officer, Gabrielle Toledano, took leave in August and said she wouldn’t be returning to Tesla.

Musk has been a genius and visionary to get Tesla where it is today. Yet he is a direct victim of his own hubris. Sleeping under boxes with Tesla bankrupt written on them to living on the factory roof to rattling off about production hell while accusing families of drivers dead due to over reliance in a system he aggressively promoted.Tesla was technically asking for suppliers to refund a portion of the monies they were paid since 2016 to the EV maker so it could post a profit which is borderline accounting manipulation in an attempt to give the impression of an ongoing concern.

He also complained at the lack of support in the media despite being called out on this nonsense.

Musk’s compensation is also linked to a $650bn market cap, which is effectively saying to the market that his company will be worth more than Daimler, BMW, VW, GM, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Renault, Fiat-Chrysler, Ferrari and Porsche combined. Just read that last sentence again. Do investors honestly believe that Tesla which consistently misses and is going up against companies that have been in the game for decades, seen brutal cycles, invest multiples more in technology and forgotten more than they remembered will somehow all become slaves to a company which has no technological advantages whatsoever?

The Tesla story is on the ropes. Expect more mega-releases on new products to try to keep the dream alive and the disciples faithful. I guess ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds’ worked for The Beatles…

Tale of the gold coin chocolate & a warning for Tesla Disciples

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It hadn’t really hit until going back to read the conditions of Musk’s new executive compensation package but the first thing that struck me was the risk of the old adage of paying too much attention to the share price. The collection of all 12 tranches for CEO Elon Musk only kicks in when his company hits $650bn in market cap. The first thing to pop in the head was that of Japanese mobile phone retailer Hikari Tsushin back during the tech bubble. The rather eccentric CEO Yasumitsu Shigeta had gold coin chocolates made embossed with “Hikari Tsushin: Target Market Cap Y100 trillion.” One could only conclude he believed in his own BS.

It was at that moment where the only thing that crossed the mind was ‘this spells trouble’. There were magazines like Forbes touting how Shigeta was one of the richest men in the world and analysts fell hook, line and sinker for this unrealistic dream forecasting he’d be #1 before long. The only rational conclusion for the Contrarian Marketplace was to tell them that “bet he won’t be in the top 100 next year.”  Low and behold the tech bubble collapsed and Hikari Tsushin – that believed it was worth 2x the market cap of then highest valued corporation in the world, General Electric – fell over 95%.

While Musk may not yet have printed target market cap $650bn gold coin chocolates, what the incentives are saying to the market is that his company needs to be worth more than Daimler, BMW, VW, GM, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Renault, Fiat-Chrysler Ferrari and Porsche combined. Just read that last sentence again. Do investors honestly believe that Tesla which consistently misses and is going up against companies that have been in the game for decades, seen brutal cycles, invest multiples more in technology and forgotten more than they remembered will somehow all become slaves to a company which has no technological advantages whatsoever?

Once again, this compensation package screams of gold coin chocolates in mentality. Instead of running the business and letting the share price do the talking, the mindset is focused on launching convertibles into space and distracting investors from increasingly dreadful financial results which eventually must come full circle if the results continue to miss. Broader Tesla report here.