Archive for August, 2012

Consumption vs Transportation.

Where is the global economy going?

I refer to previous blogs which were negative on Truck Makers, Shipping and Commercial Property

Today’s release by Markit Economics on August Eurozone retail activity helps paint a picture of global activity. A statement from the research company sums up Europe ` The current ten months of declines in Eurozone sales (to August) is the second longest in the surveys history behind that of the 2008/9 crisis`. I urge you to think of the world as a whole and gauge where total demand is heading. Lets start with Europe, retail activity is falling for now but where is it heading? Well, it is not difficult to understand that the austerity measures having and due to be implemented, will drain demand still further. Sadly, inflation is not helping anyone. It is constantly just above the anemic wage growth leading to a contraction in disposable income. Interest rates are at rock bottom so no matter how they try, central bankers cant get money into consumers pockets. Banks are all but defunct with untold losses in real estate and shipping, to name but a few areas. Now the second biggest global economy, China. Who knows where consumption is heading but yesterdays article in the Telegraph of business collapse and bad debts really only starts to open the can of worms of bad debts. With real estate (and other asset) profits having driven a tsunami of consumer growth over the last ten years, it is difficult to see how they can repeat the massive boost to the world economy they achieved in 2009. With house price to wages (ratio) the highest in the world can they really afford to re-ignite that inflationary spiral. They will continue to ease monetary policy at a pace which suits them not the rest of the world as in 2009. Now the third biggest economy Japan. Having written several blogs on their impending doom, today’s weak retail sales data were no surprise to me and  I feel herald a consumption contraction which will last for many years. The 230% of debt to GDP the government carries will make it very difficult to stimulate growth. The shift in the workforce over the last ten years tells me thay have the western disease. Manufacturing jobs have declined by around 1,500,000 to the lowest percentage of the workforce since 1953 whilst their has been an explosion of around 2,000,000 people in social services and healthcare. This is not a recipe for long term growth as these new jobs carry a greater likely hood of lower earning potential. Now the big daddy, USA. Ask yourself a question `Do you trust politicians?`OK thats was a resounding answer. In which case the fiscal cliff is a real danger. With an annual budget deficit of over $1 Trillion for the whole of the  Obama presidency, it is little wonder that the economy has managed some growth. Of course it needed extra help from the Federal Reserve. All that has to stop and at the end of 2012 the Bush/Obama tax cuts are due to expire. Where do you think consumption will be when they finally bite the bullet?

So that’s the biggest economies of the world taken care of. I think we should look at the BRICs. I have written many blogs on the subject mainly due to my concerns (dating back to January) for Iron Ore. The dynamic growth of these countries was centred around the explosive growth in commodity prices and hence the unbelievable investment that followed. Just bear in mind, Iron Ore, started the millenium below $20 per tonne and reached $200 two years ago. I believe they have a chill wind of reality blowing there way which will see a dramatic reversal in inward investment resulting in lower consumption.

Can you imagine what it is like living with me? A bundle of fun for Mrs H!

ps The landscaping business is very poor so would love to hear from anyone who wants to employ a crazy bear with 28 years experience in the City.

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Thursday, August 30th, 2012 BRICs, China, Debt, GDP, Japan, Shipping, UK, US Economy No Comments

Warning Signs

BHP Billiton and Iron Ore Price.

In a previous blog `Are Steel Producers a Buy? I highlighted my concern for a potential significant decline in Iron Ore prices. Well, last Friday this key ingredient of Steel making, fell below $100 for the first time since its significant climb towards $200 started in early 2009. As you can see from the chart in that earlier blog, this price rise started just above production costs of around $40. So why am I highlighting this fall from grace? Iron Ore is, to me, like a litmus test of how big supply and demand in one of the most important construction materials is heading. This recent slide, from $145 in May, is not good. It has been driven by the significant fall in Steel prices to around $550 per ton. China is the key to all this price movement, firstly to the upside in the big push following the massive stimulus spending in 2009, and secondly, by overproduction now. The total production targets for China (in 2012) is another record at around 720 million tonnes. The problem is, no one seems to care where all this production ends up. Inventory is high in all elements of the production process and finished goods are stacked high around the country. A few drivers of the economy over the past decade are now suffering and they just happen to use a great deal of steel. Ship building (see numerous previous blogs) is imploding and will lose many yards to closure this and next year. Mining is starting to suffer as the raw material (Iron Ore) is of poor quality and cannot compete with overseas quality at this price. Coal is piled to the moon and back. Aluminium (see previous blog). Car inventories are very high at the forecourt with sales incentives getting bigger. The Iron Ore price is telling you that production cuts are around the corner. Interestingly, the lower steel price could have a big impact on countries that do not produce steel. Pakistan and Bangladesh for instance are two of the worlds big 5 players (India,Turkey,China) in ship demolition. The price they pay for an old ship is quoted in $`s per ton for the ships weight. The only reason they have become large players is the cost of labour. Instead of high technology, they use muscle. This is a very slow process. So when you buy a second hand ship and the steel price is stable or rising, all well and good. When it falls however, you are left holding a very expensive piece of rusting junk. As the price for scrapping ships falls with the steel price, more and more shipping companies will go under. The new price for ships is coming down so a vast inventory of ships will need to be revalued on company balance sheets which will frighten the hell out of the banks.

Despite the expectations of further money being thrown around by the global Central Banks, I believe that little things like higher VAT in Spain from September, the end of the Japanese government car scrappage scheme and the Greek pharmacist insisting on cash payments from the government to issue prescription`s from next week will all keep pressure on the bad news. With volume in the equity markets imploding over the summer, investment banking bonus`s will be non-existent. The big loser in that is of course that old whipping boy of my angst. the British government. The large chunk of income tax it receives early each calender year helps pay for some EU contributions or a new mansion for an African dictator. Not next year! The UK as I have said in many blogs, is on the verge of financial collapse. Just like Japan, it is all smoke and mirrors with huge liabilities not being accounted for with a budget shortfall which will grow in this fiscal, not decline as predicted. The government in Japan is expected to announce a reduction in economic expectations tomorrow, which is no surprise to several investment banks which have recently released research indicating they believe Q3 will be the start of another recession there.

So what about BHP? If you take a look at the charts on the blog first mentioned above. You will see the performance of BHP and the Iron Ore price. Whilst BHP mines an array of minerals, Iron Ore is the key to its success. Maybe the Chinese government will come to the rescue with a massive spending package  (driving steel consumption). In the meantime, I believe its share price is ripe for a 30% decline. To be fair I have warned of this before as I felt it would perform more in line with the commodity. The reality now is, it is exposed to a global slowdown. It has invested massive amounts in moving vast quantities of materials and they have to keep that machine running at full pelt. Unlike OPEC they cannot afford to turn the taps off until things settle down.

Is China causing global warming and seismic activity? As a side issue, a very rough estimate of Australia’s exports of commodities in the last decade must be around 10 billion tonnes.  A great deal of which, ended up in China. How much do you have to move from one side of the globe to the other, or from one tectonic plate to another to affect the earths rotation or plate movement?? Just a thought.

BRICs (see numerous previous blogs) of course have been given a big lift by the Iron Ore price in the past. If this current price fall is maintained for some time or weakens again, their economies will be hit very hard as will the mining machinery producers eg Joy Global and Caterpillar, both of whom I have highlighted in the past. I am sorry Jim O`neill but your theory could all be about to be exposed as a short term blip.

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Monday, August 27th, 2012 China, GDP, Japan, National Debt, Predictions, Shipping, Steel, UK No Comments

Japan is all Smoke and Mirrors

From Swan to an Ugly Duckling!

I am spellbound by Japan`s ability to create an aura of stability whilst the economic picture deteriorates so rapidly. It reminds me of a swan gliding serenely over the water. Look below and the old `plates of meat` are going two to the dozen. Having read an article by `Yariko Koike` the former Minister of Defence and National Security adviser, I just want to highlight some facts.

  • Japan has $9 Trillion of debt vs $10.5 Tr for the entire 17 Euro-zone nations whilst having only a THIRD of the population.
  • Japan population is ageing rapidly with 23% over 65 vs 13% USA and 16% Europe
  • Japan total taxes accounts for only half of government spending, with tax revenues 30% below 1989 level.
  • Japan government debt is 230% of debt to GDP
  • MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL The newly passed legislation raising the consumer tax by 100% (in two stages) starting in 2014, has been hijacked by a provision that Nominal GDP has to be growing by (or forecast to grow by) 3% in 2015 for the tax to be implemented. They have not managed this in two decades!

I have written several blogs about Japan`s ageing population so I will not revisit. I also know that around 90% of the debt is owned by domestic investors (public and Institutional).

I do believe that the rating agencies will have to act soon to downgrade the debt profile of this beautiful swan to an ugly duckling! Therefore, today, I have sold the Yen and believe it will have to weaken significantly.  SEE `Update on Recent Blogs and Fantasy Finace Prediction` my January blog with a 40 year chart of $/¥ which I believe puts a floor under the short Yen trade with an upside 5 times your risk.

Plates of Meat= Cockney for `Feet`

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Wednesday, August 15th, 2012 Debt, Japan, National Debt, Predictions, Yen No Comments

The Medicine is Not Working.

Finance-Reaper returns..with a warning!

It has been a couple of months since my last blog (holidays and a large landscaping project to occupy me) so I think a refresher as to where we are in the global economy. During my absence the equity market has rallied strongly on the perceived wisdom that the Central Banks of USA, Europe (inc UK), China and Japan will breath new life into a flagging world with yet more monetary stimulus. The problem is, they have done this so many times over the past 30 years that it reminds me of Brazil 20 years ago. They took anti-biotics as a cure for all ills so became immune and many people died when a common illness struck. The repeated intervention of the primary banking authorities has given governments and investors alike, a laisse faire attitude to debt and risk. I believe the time has come, just as it did for the Brazilians, when the world needs to take a different medicine and it wont taste very nice.

Since my last postings several important developments have occurred in the areas I have had great concern about.

Steel and Iron Ore are of particular interest. Both have fallen around 25% in the last month and are now at 2 and 2 1/2 year lows respectively. Over production of Steel in China is becoming a real problem which will have repercussions around the world. Inventory of finished material is getting to a point where serious cuts in production will be required. As the main raw material (Iron Ore) is also stockpiled to the roof, it will not take long for further setbacks in the Shipping industry that supplies China (see my numerous blogs on the subject for more info). The main barometer of how this is affecting the shipping industry is the Baltic Freight Index. This has fallen 9% in the last week, 30% since early July and more importantly, is 40% below this time last year. Shipbuilding orders have fallen off a cliff, shipping companies are going broke and mining companies are cutting back on capital expenditure. All things I have warned about. China is now relaxing some high quality steel export duties in order to help the vast production machine from backing up. This, together with encouragement for a weaker Yuan, makes the outlook for the other global players very grim.

As you can see from the chart below, a regular feature, global trade is not growing. If anything it has started to decline. Last months tonnage was down on 2011 and lower than the corresponding period in 2008!

Of course, the primary driver of this weaker picture is Europe as the chart below highlights perfectly. What you have to worry about though, is when will the first and third biggest economies of the world grow up and realise they cannot continue growing the debt pile and calling it economic growth. IT IS NOT!!! USA will register its forth in a row $1 trillion annual budget deficit this year. It has to stop and the fiscal cliff of 2013 is rapidly approaching.   Japan has agreed this week to double VAT to 10% but in two stages and not starting till 2014. I believe Japan is only months away from economic disaster (see previous blogs).

 Europe.

Finished! The recent cuts (to the public sector and spending ) announced by the Italian government were shocking but necessary. They reflect the bloated system of the easy money life encouraged within the Euro arena by the non elected bureaucrats in Brussels. It applies to all the lying, cheating Mediterranean countries. I still believe Germany should be out of the Euro The Elephant in the Room.

UK

Finished! How on earth can the markets not see what is right under their nose. The UK budget deficit is not shrinking! It is getting bigger. Just like the USA and Japan, we are borrowing growth from a future generation with our continual debt build up. You can see from my numerous blogs on the UK that I have warned about Sterling strong vs the Euro and Weak vs the Dollar. As I predicted our trade deficit posted a record deficit in the second quarter. STERLING is doomed. I have predicted a fall vs the $ to the all time low of $1.08 and stand by that. The chart formation from the last blog is still in tact. Should Sterling fall as I have predicted, interest rates will go higher and the stupid banks who are rushing headlong into lending on Buy-to-Let (BTL) mortgages will come a cropper yet again. Just last week saw the release of data showing an alarming growth in repossessions of BTL properties. Property prices are still 10-20% too high.

 

Another issue that worries me is the estimate of UK car sales that are pre-registered. In fact I wrote about this issue in a recent China blog. According to reports, 30% of recent UK car sales are not actually ordered by an end buyer (the same as Germany). They are pre-reg by a dealer in order to secure large volume bonuses. This practice is not new but the scale of this practice is now alarming me. Why? Residual Value. Do any of you remember one of the largest and best known corporate collapses of the 1980`s. British and Commonwealth Holdings was the birth place of such companies as Gartmore and Oppenheimer fund management, Furness Withy and P& O shipping…plus many other big names. It was the biggest financial institution in the UK outside the four banks and was in the FTSE 100. It made one fatal error in the acquisition of Atlantic Computers. The problem of residual value was to be the undoing of B & C. I wont go into the story but if dealers are buying far too many vehicles than they have customers for, they have to sell at a whopping discount in other ways. This tends to be via a lease. Normally, to price a lease you have to make an assumption of residual value. The creation of demand via this process normally creates a wave of second hand cars which will depress prices further. If demand slows as I believe it will, second hand values and therefore residual values will not meet the estimated level when these cars come to an end. A worrying future bill bill for someone.

 USA

Below is my regular chart showing the growth/decline of transported goods on Warren Buffett`s railway BNSF. The Total Freight picture is running at around 2% the highest since the first quarter. Still very anemic and not strong enough to indicate employment growth. The various sectors of interest are Motor Vehicles which have started to decline and the four week moving average (not shown) indicates a rapid fall from current levels. Lumber/Sand/Gravel are positive and reflect optimism in the real estate sector. Coal has rebounded from its winter blues and helped move Freight Wagons into a slight positive. Overall not much to conclude. Steady as she goes for now but wait till we get to the Fiscal Cliff.  I have written about the US sales to inventory ratio and recently it started to rise. This is not a good sign, as I have talked about in March. I have to admit to being wrong about the growth in US car sales. It has turned out to be much stronger that I anticipated. I feel very strongly that this growth is temporary and is driven (excuse the pun) by a desperate urge to cut motoring costs via fuel consumption and is therefore not going to last beyond this year. Last month saw an 89% rise in alternative fuel vehicles. The big US car companies may well be heading back to the doldrums in the second half.

One of my other pet subjects has been in the news lately. The US Postal Service. Its ever growing problems and huge loss profile show just how inept the government are about dealing with real problems. Anyone can spend public money and be triumphant at its impact but no one seems to be able to grasp a nettle. The longer the authorities go on kicking the can the deeper the eventual depression will be.

Stay happy and start making plans for the new world. Hopefully, when we get to the other side of all this we will remember the mistakes of the past. There again why did they repeal the Glass-Steagall Act. Fear and Greed will always rule the world. And we mere mortals will always allow Greedy and Corrupt people to rule us, Why?

BNSF Weekly railway data.

Blogs to follow.

UK Money Supply is still falling, I have reviewed this problem in depth before. UK and US Govt. debt growth. Chart updates of BHP, AP Moeller-Maersk, £/$ rate. Maybe a look at the safest haven for savings in the world, Norway. It has Oil, Fresh Water, Fish and a sensible government policy of saving a portion of its oil wealth for future generations. It may become the lender of last resort should the world go belly up. I have championed this safe haven for a couple of years and I cannot see any reason why that should change. They do have a problem however, of where to put their money. I would offer this once customer of mine some timely advice. In times of trouble IT IS NOT THE RETURN ON YOUR MONEY THAT COUNTS, IT IS THE RETURN OF YOUR MONEY! So do not worry about interest income in this environment. Keep it under your mattress and cuddle up to the nearest blonde. It may be lumpy but it will give you a warm feeling, the mattress that is.

 

 

 

 

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