Shipping

Lucky Lord Jim O`Neill..Baron of Gately

Yes, I am back…sadly, not by popular demand…So, lucky Lord Jim gets a knighthood for being totally wrong…what do I get for being totally right?

I know I have been away for a long time but I am busy trying to help my constituents in what is the most deprived ward of my London Borough. I do get the time to tweet and quite frankly, if I do say myself, there is some interesting twitshit going down. I will start again at some point when my workload calms down. TO FOLLOW GO #financereaper…

Anyone who has read my blog for a while will know that I have had a downer on Lucky Lord Jim`s BRICs for about two years. I identified the fault with his reasoning and started warning of the BRICs impending doom. Today, Goldman Sachs have affectively closed their once famous BRIC fund. It has lost 88% of its value since 2010. In the last two years, I have warned that all the main winners in the BRIC argument would eventually fall from grace. BHP Billiton, one of my regular posts (bear ideas) of the past, has hit a seven year low. Steel companies are in the depths of despair. Coal was a big subject matter and I even wrote about the history of a little town in the USA called Jim Thorpe. Well, the Coal industry continues to slump and now Chinese mining company Longmay mining is laying off 100,000 employees. In fact, as many as are employed in the entire US coal industry…of course, US employees with their modern machinery investment and methods are 20 times more productive…oh, and they don’t live on a bowl of rice a week…Iron Ore will not rally as many expect. Oil will not rally as many expect. In fact, we could see new lows. Machinery manufacturers have also come into my spot light and I have continually warned of the fragility of their earnings…just look at companies like Joy Global, mentioned here many times…I have been totally right and I will continue to be so. QE is the primary reason. Central Banks have not used this tool wisely. Instead of extracting hard and fast commitments from politicians to cut spending and put in place debt reduction plans, they have worked hand in hand to raise still further the levels of debt to GDP ratios. Since the crash, global government indebtedness has risen 30%…

QE has led to over capacity. Yes, hundreds of millions of Chinese have come from the paddy fields to industrial towns and cities but it was all too quick. The cheap money has allowed huge capital spending of productive industries but at a cost to employment in developed nations. As one million extremely poorly paid manufacturing workers in China start work, jobs of very high equivalent salary workers are lost. The net result is a loss of demand. Whilst the infrastructure explosion, which took over ten years, was in full swing, all well and good…that is now past its peak, the Chinese economy has to focus more on exports than ever before. If it was to keep those hundreds of millions poor people working…they needed to export or die…that is exactly what they are doing. The 2015 trade surplus is up 75% to date. The real worry for the west is that in reality profitability is of little consideration compared to keeping people working . Therefore, the response of other developed and even developing nation’s is fairly limited.

Smoot-Hawley…lets not hope that the only way out it is trade barriers, however, currently there are 30 trade sanctions being drawn up against Chinese Steel dumping. Their are many other areas where dumping is evident. This will not end well.

 

 

 

 

is of little interest.

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Monday, November 9th, 2015 BRICs, China, Consumer Debt, Debt, GDP, Japan, National Debt, QE, Steel No Comments

Yen Has 10% Further To Fall.

OK…This could be the end of me…However, I feel it is worth the effort. Since I posted Nippon soon to Nip Off  and A Yen For Your Faults (Nov 2013) which recommended option trades to short the Yen, the currency has faltered. However, my first recommendation to sell the Yen was in Be Prepared For A Wedgefest  (Oct 2012) when it stood at $77.50…

Following the announcement of a significant increase in money printing (QE) by the Japanese authorities this week, I am now convinced more than ever that the Yen has further to fall. My best guess is for it to retrace to $123.5 which would of course really put the cat among the pigeons. The previous blogs went into detail of the debt burden but lets look at few stats to update. The Central Bank has now cut its growth forecast again, this time by 50% to 0.5%. The QE programme is now increased to Yen80 trillion or 16% of GDP where as the US never exceeded 5.5%. The asset mix being purchased has been altered. Purchases of local bonds will only make up 35% of the enlarged intervention vs 60%. Local equities will rise to 25% vs 12% whilst overseas assets are included at 25% equities and 15% bonds.

Whilst the government continues to spend wildly the consumer is still not convinced. Average household spending fell an annual 5.6% in September which is not surprising when incomes fell 6% year on year. With the nations debt to GDP ratio nearing 250% its once envied savings ratio is falling rapidly. The demographic time bomb has exploded and this can only maintain that decline. The weak Yen has seen food prices rise rapidly along with fuel costs. Remember Japan has little if no natural energy resources. If I am right and the Yen continues lower, their will be two main consequences. Continued consumer weakness due to imported inflation and most importantly GLOBAL DEFLATION EXPORT. Yes…I know, a common theme of mine.

Its worth noting which countries are the winners and losers in this potential move. Winners (Biggest net importers from Japan)…US, HK, Sth Korea, Singapore and Thailand. Losers (ex energy)…China, Australia, Western Europe. These represent the biggest net exporters too Japan. Of course, the winners might not be happy about this surge of additional low priced competition. Given that Japan will likely ramp up heavy industry exports, its more than likely that (import) duties may well become a hot topic. The machinery sector will become very price driven, especially given the downdraft of mining exploration budgets, and big producers in the US (eg Joy Global) and the Swedish/Finnish economies in general, will suffer. I have been very negative about Sweden this year and that has been confirmed by its currency slump to a six year low.

Its difficult to see Japanese bonds being a sort after investment when they yield virtually nothing. This is not helped by the state pension fund reducing its portfolio exposure in domestic bonds from 60% to 35%. I must be the only person to think that  Japanese Government Bonds  are worth not much more than the paper they are printed on. Perhaps they could put them on a roll with perforations every six inches or so…just in case

 

NEXT BLOG…WHY! Since the birth of QE has the number of Billionaires doubled but the disposable income for the majority (developed world) , slipped back to levels not seen since the turn of the century. Indeed, figures out this week highlight the number of people in Italy dependant on food aid has doubled to 4 million…WELL FUNKING DONE CENTRAL BONKERS…

Then I will review companies like BHP and Volvo which I havhttp://www.redbridge.ukipbranch.org/e written extensively about..It might be time to think about Steel stocks…Crazy eh!

DONT MISS MY PICTURE ON THIS SITE…http://www.redbridge.ukipbranch.org/

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Italy Could Beat UKIP To Braking The EU

Finally, the good ship Gravy Train is taking on water below the water line. Comments by Beppe Grillo, leader of the 5 Star political movement, will send a shudder down the necks of the overpaid numties dictating how Europeans should go about their daily lives with little concern for the misery they are causing.

“We must leave the Euro as soon as possible” said the learder of a party that polled 21.5% in the recent European Elections…This will be, if it becomes reality, a hammer blow to the German economy. No self respecting politician in the Mediterranean Countries would be able to stay if it happened and Germany would be uncovered as the worlds biggest exporter hiding in a weak currency. Of course, this is only one voice in the Italian political arena but Beppe has a soild following and the black hole of debt that is facing the government will only force voters into his clutches.

This is what I wrote in February this year in my Article Nothing Sucks Like an Electrolux …I still believe the simple solution is GERPELLED …Germany Expelled

….Germany to be expelled from the Euro. I first hinted at this in The Elephant in the Room (June 2012) and again in Kurzarbeit achieved where Blitzkrieg Failed (January 2013)…basically Germany is hiding in a weak economic zone to conquer the export world with an unfair advantage.

GLOBAL UPDATE…

China.. Sales of excavators fell in September by 33% versus 2012…This is an acceleration of the 15% decline seen during the first nine months. Regular readers will know how important construction in China is to the Economy.,..If the Chinese economy is expanding anywhere near the 7.5% it states…You can call me Waung Kin Phil!!!

Slowing House sales means slowing Excavator sales which means slower Steel sales which means slower Iron Ore/Coal sales which means slower Shipping traffic which means slower ship sales which means slower Steel sales whi…you get the point I guess…

 

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Global Economic Roundup

USA…An interesting development from a barometer (BNSF) that I followed very closely up until early 2013 ,when the data became polluted with Petroleum distortions. This is now largely working out of the system and it once again is worth a look.

BNSF weekly railway stats show that upto the halfway point in the third quarter 2014, the economy seems to have changed down a gear. The series of quarterly volume flows are always fairly consistent with the underlying GDP data. The halfway point so far indicates a decline, which would be odd.

In Q3 and 4 2013, BNSF volume grew around 5% and GDP averaged 4%…In Q1, when a poor winter saw GDP declined 2%, rail volume barely grew and would have fallen had it not been for Coal demand. Q2 saw a 5% rebound in rail volume and the GDP data came in at 4%…So as you can see, there is a strong correlation. So what has happened to 3Q rail volume with BNSF?  currently, total volumes have contracted 1.16%. Without the significant influence of Coal, the numbers would have been unchanged. It is likely that industrial action at some ports may have affected container traffic but this does not explain the sharp reversal from the second quarter recovery. Unless there is a sudden pick up, the GDP outlook for Q3 is at best unchanged. That is certainly below all forecasts of around 2.5 – 3.0 %…hey ho, just saying

 

China…How low can the coal price go?  Currently, around 30% of global coal miners are losing money and 70%, yes,70% of Chinese miners losing money. The interesting thing is, China is slowing imports to support its own production. SOUND FAMILIAL? First half 2014 imports of coaking coal (used for Steel production) were down 12%. Overall coal imports, including thermal for energy production, is down slightly. The China coal authorities have called on domestic producers to cut production by 10% in the second half. The shift to sustainable energy appears to be paying off with the first decline in overall demand this century. Australia, USA and Canada are the biggest shippers and are currently suffering with mine closures on the agenda…If China sticks to the cut, maybe prices can stabilise. I would not hold your breath.

Coal and Steel currently at six year lows.

Sterling…I got a little impatient with my $/£ options and decided to book the 100% profit available late last week. I still feel Sterling is flawed, its just time was running out with a September expiry. The $/Yen has started to move and a break of Y105.30 would see it on its way to the first stop of Y110

 

 

 

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Monday, August 25th, 2014 BNSF, China, GBP, Predictions, Steel, USD, Yen No Comments

Global Dissatisifaction With Governments Can Only Spread

Hi all. I am back with my first blog of 2014. No charts in this one as it is just a thought provoking piece.

The recent turmoil in global asset markets could be just the beginning of a more significant shift in the way the world is run. If a fairer, more just and balanced society is to endure, the immediate road ahead is likely to be bumpy.The unrest in Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela (TTUABV) are all linked to corruption and inequality. People are no longer prepared to stand by and watch the ruling elite grow ever richer and more powerful whilst the majority get little by way of a better life.The peasants have always revolted before so why should this not be just another short term blip? The answer could be debt—

Over the past 50 years governments have been allowed to raise the level of overall debt to astonishing levels. This debt has been used to prop up the world economy, whilst just enough of this money went to the masses ( to quell their rage) the bulk went to the small minority at the top. Well, I feel the show is nearly over and the accumulated debt level is at a stage where it can be raised no more.The USA, Japan, UK and France are a few of the developed economies who have plans to curtail spending further in the coming years. This is the complete opposite to the profligate abuse of public funds previously. This will not be the catalyst for change only another link in the chain of events.

Since 2012 I have written extensively on the subject of China and the other BRIC economies. My concerns about this group of countries which have been the primary drivers of the world economy in the 21st century, have been well founded. I have said it before and I will say it again `China is a cancer on the world economy`. Just ask yourself why we trust a country that tells you what its GDP will be in advance. It then uses one of two means (or a combination) to achieve that goal. Firstly it uses statistics which are doctored to tell investors what they want to hear. Secondly, to make sure growth is achieved they will build a few extra thousand miles of railway or build a few million additional houses. These investments would not be a problem if they were driven by demand and paid homage to a return on investment. Sadly that is not the case. Both railways and housing are so overdeveloped that empty trains and platforms abound and tens of millions of homes are unsold or just uninhabited. As finance becomes less abundant, driven by tapering of QE and concerns on Chinese debt quality, this oversupply will cripple construction, steel, Iron Ore and transportation etc etc. Despite all this, China and the BRICs are once again just further links in the chain. My real concerns for 2014 surround my old favourite Japan and a new one for me, the Middle Eastern Oil producers.

We are on the cusp of Japans big fiscal tightening. Consumer taxes will increase in April from 5% to 8% in the first step towards 10% in 2015. This might not seem too onerous but in an economy that has only seen deflation over the past two decades (coupled with negative wage growth) believe me, this will stifle consumption… I have highlighted a myriad of interesting facts on Japanese debt and society over the past two years. Go to the categories filter to read.

Finally we get to the catalyst of what I believe will bring about the end of borrow and binge politics. Demand…Global demand or consumption and its growth/decline is how governments and central banks keep the world turning. Every economic crisis in the last 50 years has ultimately been resolved with debt and or cheaper borrowing costs. So, back to the unrest in the TTUABV bloc. The resulting currency declines by all will lead to a contraction of overseas demand due to import price inflation. In many cases government finances will have to be re-balanced so past demand becomes future austerity. Taken solely as a group the world economy would only hiccup. But, add in further austerity by developed nations and world demand looks very fragile. China can no longer come to the rescue as it did in 2009 (with a massive investment programme) as it now has debt problems of its own.

So demand could fall globally. What then? Russia and the Middle Eastern Oil producers become the final catalyst. Lower demand will weaken commodity prices and unlike previous economic declines this is where it all unravels. Because commodity rich countries have grown so rapidly on the strength of the commodity revenues their production costs have grown sharply. The production costs are not just the extraction element but the debt and annual deficits required to run  infrastructure, social spending and corruption wastage. Saudi Arabia, I am led to believe, needs $100 per barrel to maintain its budget. A far cry from previous economic crises where producers would simply cut supply and wait for prices to stabilise (maybe spending a little less in the casino’s of London etc). Not any more. This time round they too would be caught up in the financial meltdown and have to cut spending aggressively. This in turn will lead to yet more government dissatisfaction. Iron Ore will fall below all but the cheapest producers causing further pain to the BRIC and other suppliers who have ramped up production and with it costs.Whilst all this sounds dire. It could lead to (further) widespread buying of equities by Central Banks… see Gold and Equities April 2013 and Olympic legacy for the Finance-reaper August 2013 for comments previously…and maybe one last ditch effort by the elite of the banking world which would help the politicians carry on spending for another few years. It would be a simple plan. Just write off the government debt held by central banks. Of course. this would lead a move by every country (other than the EU which has no mandate) to print money buy their own bonds and spend spend spend. Inflation would rocket and unrest would ensue…

HAPPY 2014!!!!!!!!!!

PS I have been pestering Nigel Farage (via his office) to meet me for lunch and discuss a new political approach for the UK. Sadly he is far too busy. I will continue as I would love to change the way politics are done, not only in the UK but globally.

 

 

 

 

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Shanghai to Europe Rate Drop Questions Chinese Export Claim.

Shanghai Containerised Freight Index (SCFI)…(An indication of the shipping cost of a 20ft Container)

It appears all is not what it seems in trade. Over the past six weeks, the SCFI (Shanghai to Northern Europe component) has fallen 36% (10%last week) and is now 21% below the corresponding period in 2012. The Mediterranean Ports have not faired any better with a 33% six week and 19% year on year, decline.

 

The same applies to the USA. Shanghai to the West Coast is 30% below 2012 with the East Coast down 16%.

 

Now of course this is a complex issue. The glut of vessels is nothing new and something I have written about on many occasions. It cannot only be an oversupply of transport, volume must come into the equation somewhere. I get a sneaky feeling that the forth quarter may be an interesting one when it comes to earnings. For now, this decline in demand for transportation has to ring some alarm bells. China is using its financial mussel in order to secure new shipbuilding orders for its vastly oversized industry. Whilst they mutter about merging some yards and maybe shutting others, the plain fact is (just as in the other heavy industries in China. Aluminium, Steel etc) the overwhelming urge to keep the people in work has drowned out any commercial economic considerations.

China raised its capital spending dramatically in June and July with house building and railway lines seeing significant investment. For now, it has reduced the huge industrial material inventory which was building beyond sustainable levels. Steel production was maintained or even increased by some allowing Iron Ore to rally. These investments are reducing the raw material inventory but  increasing the stock of un-sold real estate (most of which is priced at 20 times annual earnings…very rough guide) and in totally under used rail infrastructure. Eventually something will have to give. Wage growth of 20% per annum has underpinned the valuation of real estate. Wages going forward, in my opinion, will start to reflect the weakening profit picture in China. Tens of millions of un-sold overpriced property could spell disaster if they fail to keep all the balls in the air. I cannot help but think this is just another piece in my Global Deflation theory that I started in June.

If the oversupply builds to a point where finally common sense is applied, the consequences would be catastrophic for some industries and countries. Over the last two years I have berated Lucky Jim O`Niell and the BRIC economies. Given the huge decline in their fortunes over that period you might begin to think that the recent emerging markets rally has legs. One of the major consequences of any pullback would be a collapse in the Iron Ore price to around $40…yes $40, below even the cheapest of suppliers production cost. Previous blogs have given the price charts going back many years together with the countries and companies who have gained the most. Briefly though, Austarlia and Brazil would implode. Shipping companies (Maersk is the biggest but Greeks big in Iron Ore) would collapse wholesale and a few Scandi, German and British Banks would need major help not to mention problems for the largest shipping builders China, Sth Korea and Japan. Steel companies are already priced at 20 year lows so some may survive. Global Deflation would follow with Oil at $30-40. The suppliers to the Mining/Drilling Industry, mentioned all too frequently in my blogs, would have to be rescued. Sweden, which has a massive exposure to this field would be in a mess. As for Green Industries, made to look very expensive. British Government, well they have ben making fools of them and us for so long it would probably go un-noticed (Green Policy).

The problems some companies would face will be greatly exaggerated because the Investment Bonkers have encouraged them to shrink their balance sheet (capital) via share buy backs. Great for the Bankers income but when losses for companies start to accrue, the loss per share from such a big business with a shrunken capital base, will be startling. Share prices for all will collapse but more so for the biggest buy back companies. Deflation will be the result…hey ho…Its being so happy that keeps me going.

Below, me and the `Old Duchess` all dressed up to celebrate our 29th Wedding Anniversary

 

 

Tomorrow morning, off to the Olympic White Water course with my old pal Barry…who is not as good as me…he he he he

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Saturday, September 14th, 2013 BRICs, China, Japan, Oil, Predictions, Shipping, Steel, UK, US Economy 1 Comment

Is Stephen King a plagiarist?

No! not that Stephen King… although the book he claims inspired him to write has a very apt title for this blog. It was The Lurker in the Shadows.

I refer to the author of When the Money Runs Out  Stephen King (HSBC Global Economist). Having read an interview with him in last sundays Daily Telegraph, it became clear that many of his fears and ideas have been the central thread running through my blog for a long time. I will not bore you with the content just highlight two comments. Firstly, QE has acted like a regressive tax, punishing the poor and enriching the wealthy see Quantitative Easing and secondly, Stimulus policies have allowed politicians to live in a fantasy world which is financed by excessively high debt.

Recent volatility in the markets has spawned a great deal of commentary questioning the whole concept of such huge monetary intervention. The short term benefits for a specific element of society are without question a nightmare waiting to happen. Bernanke, King and Abe consider themselves the John Coffey (Green Mile) of the worlds fiscal ills. Instead I believe they will more likely resemble Jack Torrance (The Shining). I just prey that one day that politicians will govern with the following proverb in mind

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in”

We must look to the future whilst reflecting on the past, this leads us to remember that the best time to plant a tree (cut debt) was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.

I must at this point issue a warning to Goldman Sachs and all the other investment banks around the world. If you continue to encourage the Central Banks, by not shouting STOP, to printing more money. Then equity holdings (as I mentioned in the last blog) will be raised further. This will continue to impair, or even decline further, equity trading from the current lows. The likelihood is that when purchased, the stock will not see the light of day till hell freezes over.

Two of my big calls in early 2012 were regarding Japan. I said that the Nikkei would be higher than the Dow in 2013…so shoot me for being 5 months late on a seismic shift. I cant remember anybody making that call. What’s more I highlighted almost to the day, the right time to put the trade on see Be Prepared for a Wedgefest! The Dow was at a premium of 4,660 to the Nikkei on the day of publication. The Nikkei did close above the Dow earlier this week. In the same article I said the Dollar/Yen would go above 100, again an out on its own forecast. Yes last week that happened. I have to admit that my 2012 forecasts were all expecting the economic reality to create lower equity markets but I did not foresee open ended QE.

Global Economy Update 

Regular readers will have watched my series of data on the Suez Canal (shipping) and BNSF (USA rail) volumes with interest (or not). I have not published either recently due to irregularities. For BNSF it is just the case that significant changes to the transport of Oil (products) and Coal have rendered the barometer useless for the moment. If I had the time to strip energy out, may be, but I do not. As for the Suez Canal, I believe something very sinister is at work. Ever since time began they have produced monthly stats. This year things have changed and I believe it is a ploy to delay knowledge on the significant slowdown in trade between Europe and Asia, being highlighted. Over the last two months freight rates have collapsed on some important trade routes. This is completely overlooked by the markets. My focus on the importance of shipping activity (Finance, Trade, Building etc) has become boring to most but it will prove to be a correct focus, I am sure.

UK

Recent data on the economy has proved to be a small fillip for Mr Osborne the chancellor. All is not as it seems. Q1 2013 GDP was not revised down as I thought they would be but boy was the component breakdown very negative. Substantial Inventory growth and services (lions share of the economy) held it together. I have written extensively about why I feel services have grown recently and the short term nature of that growth. The April monthly budget numbers saw higher tax paid, what a surprise given the changes to the way companies have to pay income tax at the point of salary payment. The deficit is still out of control and will eventually leads us into full blown depression. Unless of course…Below is an extract from my blog in November 2012 entitled RIP George Osborne

The only way forward is to put our hands up and say we fluffed it. The Gilts held by the BofE (approx 30% of debt) should be cancelled. As this would quite rightly horrify the markets, a few provisos need to be applied with the intention of shrinking government significantly. So much discretionary spending exists that radical changes be forced on government to cut all but essential spending. This will make the first few years of adjustment very painful. It is imperative to point out that during the massive build up of government debt, the only group of society to have made gains are the wealthy who have seen a massive increase in net worth. The poor have by and large remained poor. The middle class have just been saddled with an almighty level of debt. A degree of balance is required in the fortunes of the UK population.

1)  Government debt must never go above the new lower Debt to GDP ratio (following the 30% write off)

2) Budget deficits are never to be above 2% of GDP  whilst ensuring the above is adhered to (excluding War of course)

Several aggressive changes need to be made to fiscal policy. I have a complete array of ideas but below are just a few.

1) Public sector wages to be cut 30%. No bonuses ever to be paid in Public Sector.

2 )Tax free earnings threshold doubled to £16,000

3) A 90% Tax on earnings/compensation above 30x the average employee earnings in a company. This tax is waived if 51% of shareholders vote in favour of an employee receiving such a pay-out. Owners of private companies should have no problems being majority shareholders.

4) No benefits of any kind paid to families with £40,000 income (combined or otherwise)

5) Corporation tax cut to 12%.

Yes, I have some very difficult to swallow ideas but as the proverb in the beginning quite clearly points out. It is our children who really matter. For it is their future that is important. If all generations work on the principal that the actions they take will only enhance the next generation in our society, then we can look forward to a forest of trees to give us shade from the unknown difficulties that may come our way. Borrowing ever larger amounts builds not a sustainable future but a divided one with even greater inequalities.

ps

China and Sweden… I have said in many blogs that China is lying about its economic output and performance. It appears many economists now share that opinion. The build up of productive capacity will end up being a cancer on the world (see my many blogs under China)…I have stated several times how I thought Sweden was one of the best places I had the pleasure in visiting and doing business in. However, I have warned on several occasions recently that they face a grim future. The narrow focus of the very important export segment of the economy will suffer from two very painful headwinds. The mining and energy exploration industries scaling down of investment coupled with the huge devaluation of the Yen, will cause a very chilly wind. The slowdown they have experienced to date is only the beginning. The strength of the Swedish Krona will have to be reversed dramatically.

 

 

 

 

 

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Amazing Performance: Part 1

Nine Year lows for Steel companies!!!

As an update to my big calls in 2012 I am going to start with the subject which has taken up most of my verbiage, STEEL. I am so pleased with the results that you could say I am;

Inebriated with the exuberance of my own verbosity. I first heard this phrase as a child quoted by my amazing aunt Nancy who is still with us today and rapidly approaching 100! Of course, the 19th century British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, is credited with it first.

I digress. Back in May last year I wrote Are Steel Producers a Buy? The share price chart of two steel companies were highlighted. ArcelorMittal and US Steel.  I said then, and still say today, that oversupply in China and a lack of final demand in the world will keep downward pressure on the steel sector. So how have these companies fared since then? ArcelorMittal is 23% lower and US Steel is 34% lower. Lets not forget that the market has risen around 15% since then so the net affect has been very dramatic. Also mentioned negatively in the blog were Joy Global and Caterpillar and they are down 14% and 13% respectively. The truth is I started warning about the Steel sector back in January 2012 with the BRICs and Steel blog. I tied the fortunes of the BRICs to this sector as, in my opinion, it was the demand for the raw material, Iron Ore, that drove the fortunes of the BRIC economies. As I stated then, Jim O`Niell was lucky that when coining this now famous acronym, the Chinese authorities were prepared to spend vast fortunes on infrastructure projects (which are of course steel dominant) and the stupid governments of the west were allowing the finance industry to lend beyond the realms of their normal Avarice. Since January 2012 specialist Iron Ore and Coal producer Cliffs Natural Resources has fallen around 70% but my favourite pick (for a short) in the May blog and since has been BHP. I stated then that I thought it had 30% downside. So far it is down 3% (still not forgetting the market is up 15%). Luckily for me, it has just broken a five year uptrend which points to a decline to the £16.50 triple four year bottom support (-12% from current price).

Chinese inventories of Steel are at an all time high and growing. The authorities, as I have stated many times, are more interested in employing the masses than making a profit. Hence the 98% fall in profit last year. The production capacity is frightening. They are not concerned with the steel companies around the globe. Interestingly, tighter controls by Europe on wider steel pipe imports (from China) were announced and the US Military have just stated that all military supplies must be made from US produced steel. Other countries are doing similar things (Smoot-Hawley anyone).

China is taking a similar of attitude to employment over profit in other industries. Solar panels, Aluminium and more importantly Shipping. In a way it is a grander version of Kurzarbeit see Kurzarbeit achieved where Blitzkrieg failed!.

Amazing Performance: Part 2 Reviews the staggering gains from my recommendations in Be Prepared for a Wedgefest October 2012

MASSIVE Japanese QE. Let me be quite clear. Japan will not, and has no intention of, creating strong domestic demand. With the devaluation of the Yen (Japan has no fossil fuels) and the significant increases in consumer taxes 2014/15, disposable income will be squeezed even further. Yes, I hear you, they have potentially large shale gas reserves but that will take years at those depths. They have only one intention, export and survive. I have written at length about the ills of Japanese government debt and the demographic eruption. If you think this large QE will help global demand, think again. Japan has suffered greatly with the strong Yen. Its traditionally strong heavy industries of Steel and Shipbuilding were decimated. They intend to regain the upper hand. Asian countries are faced with a global exporter (in many fields) which has huge spare capacity and technological know how and they intend to compete.

 

 

 

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Friday, April 5th, 2013 BRICs, China, Debt, Japan, Predictions, QE, Shipping, Steel, Yen No Comments

What have Spanish Villas and Ships got in Common?

We are getting awfully close to a Banking Crisis!  German Banking System in Crisis

This week saw another piece in the jig saw of collapse that I have been warning of for nearly 18 months.  The ClarkSea Index (see below for details) has just registered its lowest level in its 23 year history. Although its weekly decline of $223 (3.04%) to $7,111 per/day charter rate, is a far cry from the record $5,000 (12%) drop in the 2008 crash, it has to be put in perspective that the daily rate fell from $43,000 per/day at that time.

Why is all this so important?

With an estimated 60% of shipping loans now in the `not performing` bracket  it is important to bear in mind the attitude of the lenders. The biggest lenders won’t foreclose even if ships are worth less than the outstanding debt and owners can’t meet repayments. They would much rather restructure with the belief that valuations will rise following an expected pick up in overall shipping activity. This process of protecting ship valuations (by not foreclosing) helps the lenders to make provisions rather than crystallising losses. Perfect sense in normal business cycles and has indeed paid off in previous shipping downturns. I believe this time things are different. (see my many blogs on the subject) This years 20% decline (in the ClarkSea Index) to the all time low, makes the process of restructuring more difficult. We are now close to a point where new restructuring deals will be impossible to stack up economically. The additional debt being laid at the feet of borrowers is futile. Additionally, previously restructured deals must now be looking shaky. All this looks remarkably like the Spanish Banking crisis which I predicted in some of my blogs at the birth of Finance-Reaper. Two/Three years ago Spanish banks refused to sell off foreclosed property which was piling up on their books. Instead they were offering special zero rate mortgages to buyers  (at book price of the asset). The rest is history. This prolonged the process of restructuring and even allowed some developments to carry on adding to the surplus supply. With 2013 seeing a further surge in new ships hurtling off the slipways of Korea, China, Japan et all, supply is growing. Yes, I hear you, older ships are being scrapped at the fastest pace in many a year, still not enough to change my opinion. Meanwhile, I believe world trade is contracting. Yes, I hear you, I am crazy! But I do not believe a word China says. I have written many articles on the Steel industry as a bellwether for China producing at a loss just to maintain employment. This is true of many industries in that country. Chinese steel inventories are mounting, now reaching 9 year highs. The EU is now threatening to impose further trade dumping duties of steep pipes from China. All non- Chinese steel companies share prices are close to 15 year lows with the likelihood of further production closures to come. All this whilst China is hitting all time high production output. IRON ORE will retrace the losses seen late last year when common sense prevails. Problem is, with 20 million farm hands joining the urban sprawl per annum, they need to have jobs. China needs to keep production of basic material like Steel and Aluminium at full tilt as they are such big employers. The longer the excess production goes on the bigger the downturn when it comes. All this is alarming for those bankers who are sitting on shipping loans with the hope of a significant pick up in trade. Confusing!

ClarkSea Index (Compiled by the worlds leading ship broker, Clarkson PLC)

A weighted average index of earnings for the main vessel types where the weighting is based on the number of vessels in each fleet sector.

UK…I will follow up on my many recent warnings about the economy and Sterling. The January Public Sector Accounts were on the face of it better. Believe me, they were not! I will review them next week.

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Sunday, March 3rd, 2013 China, Debt, Shipping, Steel No Comments

German Banking System in Crisis

I have warned repeatedly that exposure to the shipping industry would create a grave crisis for the European Banking System with particular attention to Germany. My initial article on the subject `The Perfect Storm` (Jan 2012) was followed by many updates.

The front page of today’s Lloyd`s List carries the headline `Shipping Crisis Threatens German Banking System` It highlights a warning from the Bundesbank no less. I am sorry to say that most of my forecasts tend to be right in the end even if a timely delay exists.

Below is an extract from The Perfect Storm. Of course some players eg RBS have sold or reduced their exposure. If you look at my most recent article on flow through the suez canal, you can see that shipping volume has dropped significantly. This is highlighted in the Baltic Freight Index which reflects the income levels achieved per voyage. The past three months have done the damage but I must confess that volume in February is currently running at an unchanged level vs Feb 2012. A crisis in Germany would see many ships owners fall into receivership, thus pushing to new depths, pricing of second hand ships. This has been the cornerstone of my concern for the big fleet owners (listed below).

….Greece along with Japan are the largest merchant ship owning nations in the world. For Greece, shipping is second only to Tourism. Thus it is a large employer. That fact has obvious implication given the bleak economic prospects they face. When it comes to financing that fleet the largest player with nearly 20% of the total debt of $66bn is RBS. Way down in % exposure come Commerzbank and Cr. Suisse. The Chinese have used their financial muscle since the financial crash to offer huge financing for new ships built in their yards. The Greek fleet has benefited from the cheap money bonanza pre-crash and has reduced the average fleet age from 23 years in 2005 to 15.9 years in 2011, whilst slightly growing tonnage.

Financing the global fleet is in the hands of only a select band of players (appro.39). Six banks account for around 40% of total debt. HSH Nordbanken (majority owned by 2 German federal states + 11% JC Flowers) $50bn. Commerzbank (via subsid.) $33bn, Dnb $28bn, RBS $23bn, Nordea $18.4bn. BNP $18bn. Interestingly Lloyds and Unicredit are well involved.

The Scandinavian banks have the largest exposure in balance sheet terms and therefore have the most to lose.

The largest corporate owners of ships are AP Moeller Maersk (840) COSCO Group (725), Nippon Yusen 554, Mitsui OSK 509 and China Shipping Group 482. The share prices of the Japanese and Danish companies have reflected weakness in new charter rates up to a point but still trade with an element of optimism that the global economy will grow around 4% this year. If the Index continues to portray significant weakness and pricing does not improve, I can see the like of AP Moeller trading 20% lower to its September 2011 low. Should my worst fears for the global economy be borne out, the 13 year head and shoulder formation would imply something far more unimaginable, so lets not go there.

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Wednesday, February 20th, 2013 Debt, National Debt, Norway, Shipping, Steel 1 Comment

Confusing!

China New Year Calender Change or Just Lies?

China became the worlds biggest trading nation in 2012 taking over from the postwar dominance of the USA. That being said, the USA is still the biggest importer. The markets were given a lift last week when this Goliath of a trader released January Import/Export data. Year on Year Exports were up 25% and Imports were up 28.8%. Wow! That is impressive. Of course, if that were the case, its trading partners would be reflecting this surge in their own trade figures. Lets look at the biggest economies in the world as it is only they who could have enough capacity in production and demand to facilitate this huge surge. The USA December, Year on Year, trade data showed a 1.18%% decline in imports (Oil a factor) and a 4% gain in Exports. January has not shown signs of exploding into activity with Inter modal Freight costs weaker and only a 1.97% increase in BNSF freight traffic. Japan has released data for the first 20 days of January showing a 0.57% decline in Year on Year trade. South Korea did eventually report a stronger January trade picture (contrary to the first 20 days decline) but this was only around 10%. February will see a big contraction as the extra working days in January will be lost in the February holiday this year.

Whilst the USA is still by far the biggest nation economy at nearly twice that of its nearest rival China, the European Union in its entirety is the bigger still. If trade with the worlds biggest nations is at best +1-2% in January, then to reconcile China’s huge surge in activity, Europe must be off to a fly-er in 2013! Well, to confirm my expectations for  Suez Canal trade in China is Ly`ing blog, total cargo (x energy) through the canal was down 10.64% vs January 2012. That’s a very large decline in historic terms as can be seen in Chart 2. Whats more, the fall in Southbound (Mainly to Asia) cargo was more pronounced at 15.7%. How on earth can China have such a huge surge in international economic activity when the largest trading nations say otherwise. One must not forget that the Canal data is volume not value of goods, nether the less I am sure even in value terms trade is weaker.

Chart 1

Chart 2

Chart 3

Shows the volume growth/Decline in Container traffic. The January decline (Southbound) is the fourth in a row, the first time this has happened since the trade collapse of 2008/9. Whats more staggering is the extent of the decline at 12.3%. As I have stated in previous blogs, Containers tend to more indicative of finished good and therefore consumer activity.

Given all this evidence, how on earth can the official Chinese data be correct. Lets not forget the implications on the Transportation sector. Both by Sea and Land, this fall in volume has a significant affect capacity utilisation. Bigger ships are exacerbating the overcapacity of ships with total shipping volume through the canal falling quicker than cargo volume. As for land transportation, I did roughly calculate the decline in truck loads hauled but I have lost the fag packet. I know it was 100,000`s. Regular readers will know I have been negative on the truck industry for all 2012. Given the recent warnings from the two big players Daimler/Man/Scania and Volvo my concerns are bearing fruit. I believe that the industry still has far too much production capacity and further painful cuts will come.

Volvo needs to split itself into two or three global business groups. With Caterpillar (Construction machinery)  diversifying into mining machinery with fresh acquisitions, Volvo`s own construction machinery business looks under resourced and uncompetitive. Volvo needs to merge its construction machinery business with Atlas Copco and perhaps its Marine business with Wartsila of Finland.

Chart 4

I guess its about time I updated the story on AP Moeller-Maersk and the shipping industry as a whole. The Baltic Freight Index is continuing to wallow at historic lows leaving the shipping industry with a revenue shortfall which cannot last much longer. With new build prices being quoted significantly lower it is possible second hand values may themselves plumb new depths. Any further decline in the pricing structure would significantly reduce the valuations of the big fleet owners, unless of course, you believe that the world economy is on the verge of a significant upswing. Almost to a man the big investment banks have recently upgraded APM-Maersk so I guess I am a fool.

 

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Monday, February 11th, 2013 BNSF, BRICs, China, Japan, Predictions, Shipping, US Economy 1 Comment

Global Economy…The Canary in the Coalmine

Goldman Sachs Asset Management… Chairman and Chiel Economist Jim O`Neill

No, this is not about Jim O`Neill it just relates to a report he wrote in May 2012.

The report stated that South Korea is the canary in the coalmine as it not only reports (trade) earliest but has the highest correlation with Asian economies.

In my blog `China is Ly`ing` I highlighted the significant decline in goods transiting the Suez Canal. In fact the decline was somewhat confirmed by the Japanese and South Korean December trade figures which saw exports falls of  5.8% and 5.5% respectively. I mention this because that correlation with Canal traffic is important to establish. South Korean trade for the first 20 days of January 2013 has contracted year on year, significantly. Imports are down 13.2% and Exports are down 9.7%. Meanwhile,vessel  traffic through the Suez Canal is down 16%. A breakdown of the actual net goods transiting will not be available until early February. The vessel decline is far greater than actual goods volume, as I explained in previous blog. Ship volume in December and November declined 11.1% and 9.4% respectively which lead to a corresponding decline of 4.7% and 5.0% in goods transiting. If the January decline continues throughout the month, I expect it to translate into a decline of 7% in goods. These are big numbers but there could be an explanation. Yearly comparisons for Korea and the Suez Canal have come up against last years massive balloon in Chinese imports (in January last year) ahead of the new year ( two week) holidays. Last year this fell on January 23rd. Goods transiting south towards China grew 40% (see chart two in last China blog) in January 2012 vs 2011. Could the significant early January weakness be due to the New Year falling on February 10th this year, pushing that holiday demand back. If so, the next three weeks should see a massive turnround in Korea`s and the Canal`s volume. If that explosion of demand does not occur, we should all be asking what the hell is going on in China final demand. This would be very worrying for the companies that have significant exposure to Chinese consumers.

 

 

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Thursday, January 24th, 2013 China, Japan, Predictions, Shipping No Comments

China is Ly`ing

First of all…Can you trust a country that restricts its citizens to one child per couple. Openly supports oppressive regimes against the wishes of the UN. Suppresses political opposition. Controls the media both web and hard copy. Restricts access to the the World Wide Web. Allows political leaders to amass great wealth whilst claiming no such wealth exists…OK That’s cleared that up.

Having come to the conclusion that it is a corrupt institution, it is right to question anything they say. Hence, I am questioning the December trade figures which they released on the 10th January. The Year on Year growth of 14.1% was substantially above forecast of 4.6%. Such a disparity is very rare. So, why do I think they have cooked the books in order to meet export targets.

Regular readers will know that 90% of goods are transported (or have components) by sea at some stage in their life. Hence I take a big interest in the flow of goods around the world. As I explained in a previous blog, the continents are the worlds organs which require the life blood of trade to survive. The specific maritime trade routes are the arteries which carry that life blood. Just as in a animals, certain pinch point exist which allow us to take a reading of that flow rate (pulse). 

I have  been writing about the Suez Canal for a long time so regular readers will be familiar with the charts below. If we are to believe the Chines data we must look into the data. They claimed that strong exports to the USA (+10.3%) and a rebound into the EU (2.3%) were behind the out performance. I will deal with the EU first. Below are the regular charts showing flow through the Suez Canal. Chart 1 just gives an overview of total trade. As you can see net tonnage flowing through the canal is 5% below December 2011.

More importantly, the trend in trade is negative. Chart two gives the percentage year on year change in volume broken down into the two trade routes, North and South. As you can see the total volume of goods (x energy) going North in December was down 2.8% vs 2011. It was also down 2.13% vs November. Given that the vast majority of the Northbound traffic ends up in Europe (10% to the USA) it  appears that something is afoot.

If you think that a good percentage of that trade from China is finished goods, then you would expect it to be transported by Container. Chart three shows the pure Container element of flow through the canal. As you can see, Northbound flow has been negative for the past six months. December was 4.3% lower vs 2011 and down 2.57% on November. Yet more cause for concern.

Just as a point of interest to my various blogs on the shipping industry and its further downfall. Chart four shows the growth/decline rate of ships transiting on a monthly basis. We are now in a double digit percentage decline (November and December) with 1399 ships in December vs 1574 in December. I will blog about the implications next week, but with so many modern, bigger ships being delivered, the decline in voyages is far outstripping the decline in tonnage. Currently, preliminary data for January is also running 10% below Jan 2012. Volume ahead of the Chinese new year normally expand. So far this year that is not happening!

So lets look at the USA element of these figures. Up 10.3%. I have looked at several factors to help illuminate the situation. Firstly, my weekly BNSF data that was last published in `Am I Right to be Bearish` Chart two breaks down the two primary forms of traffic.  Both of these were on a weakening path at the end of November and that trend was indeed continued through out December  (Update in next blog). The impact of the weak weekly numbers forced the year on year growth rate (black dotted line in chart one) down below 2% for the first time since July. If we look further afield, economies that you would expect to have shared in this bonanza, do not show the same excessive pattern. Yes Taiwan had good December export numbers but Singapore saw an 8% decline and Shanghai throughput was down 0.44%. Chinese order books in the autumn were weak which flies in the face of the December outcome. The USA west coast port strike between the end of November and December 5th will have backed up and delayed imports.

What is abundantly clear is that China, as I stated in  `A Quickie for Christmas` is not investing for profit, it is investing to keep the migrating peasants in jobs. 21 million people moved to cities in 2011 and 2012. If China is to keep all the plates spinning, they need to export. The trade surplus in 2012 grew by 48% to $231bn. Sadly, the global consumption position is not one of growth. The significantly weaker Yen will help Japan compete more aggressively in the export market. Europe is implementing deeper austerity measures and the USA will have to bite the bullet on spending cuts sooner rather than later. If you are making investment decisions based upon China and its fantastic economic growth potential, caution should be your watchword.

Future blogs:

Iron Ore rally is built on sand. How can a steel glut (in China) suddenly disappear, especially during the worst winter in 30 years…more smoke and mirrors

How the world is copying Germany and not making people redundant…the KURZURBEIT system.

Today’s UK Government debt figures reviewed.

 

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Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013 BNSF, BRICs, China, Debt, Japan, Predictions, QE, Shipping, US Economy 2 Comments

A Quickie for Christmas

Xmas makes us all test our Capacity.

I know some of you have been pulling right little crackers while others have been enjoying spending time with a lovely game bird, but Finance-Reaper is always on the look out for interesting stories. Two that caught my eye last week provide fuel for my argument, regularly argued in this blog, that global over capacity in heavy industry will weigh on investment and growth for many years to come.

A Bloomberg story on the 21st…highlighted the growing problem in China of Digger Capacity. Companies involved from overseas include Caterpillar, Volvo and Komatsu.

1) Domestic and overseas players have built enough capacity (600,000) in China to supply nearly double the WORLDS annual demand (300,000). Whats more, inventories are enough to satisfy the entire 2013 domestic demand in China of 100,000 units. November saw the 19th straight decline in monthly sales. It is expected that incredible incentives currently being offered, together with the additional government spending on infrastructure, will halt this slide. Not, I expect, enough to alter the supply/demand dynamics that much. Most of this millennium has seen annual domestic sales growth of 25%. All that has changed this year and is unlikely to be seen again. Whilst it is a vast country and becoming a vast economy, I believe its dynamism is in the past. Wage growth, corruption and demographics, have put paid to that.

2) The Sec. General of the China Iron and Steel Association spoke at a conference last week and stated that the industry is facing an increasingly difficult time and capacity is increasing. No shit Sherlock! He went on the say that sales margins are -0.18% in 2012 and this is not helped by a further $65bn of fresh capital (+3.9% yoy) injected into the mainly state controlled sector this year. Whilst 2012 Steel output is expected to be 723million tonnes (+3% vs 2011) consumption will only be 679million tonnes (+1.8% vs 2012).

I cant help thinking that far from being the main driver of world demand and growth, it could actually become a festering sore. Throwing ever more capital into already over sized industries will only drive the need to export more. Recent statements from global steel companies bear this out. Jobs in the west are going to be cut still further. If China can produce twice the world demand for diggers, what will happen to other countries production facilities and profit margins. It is clear that Chinese investment is not based on return. It is driven by the need to get the peasants off the farms and into industrial production. This is not good in a world saddled with enormous state and private debt. Consumption cannot be driven fast enough to meet that supply. With interest rates at near zero and QE to the the left of me and QE to the right of me, well, here I am, stuck in the middle with you!

One other little indication of how China intends to deal with a glut of domestic production. 2013 will see the scrapping of the 40% export tax on Metallurgical coal (used in Steel making). This should allow them to regain their global dominance (in supply terms) which the tax, implemented in 2008 took away. Other main suppliers are Japan, Russia and the Ukraine.

Hope you are all enjoying the seasons festivities and that this little seasonal quickie has not given you indigestion. Remember, always look on the bright side of life. On that note I would remind you that the shortest daylight hour day is behind us and we are now on our way to a bright sunny spring. YYYEEEHHAAAA

 

 

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Wednesday, December 26th, 2012 BRICs, China, Predictions, QE, Shipping, Steel 1 Comment

The Mayans might be wrong but for George Osborne..Time is up!

The UK has got 3 months. Then time is up!

Back in December last year I started a series of UK blogs explaining why George Osborne will be in a worse financial position by now than he and the overpaid city analysts expected. Yes, sadly to say all the factors I alluded to are coming home to roost. Going forward they are going to get a lot worse, very rapidly. Following data released by Revenue and Customs on Thursday, it is clear that more is less when it comes to employment in this current environment. Tax paid by the highest earners is declining in both total and as a percentage of revenue. With last weeks Government budget data for November, it is clear the deterioration in finances is becoming apparent to all those who have been backing Mr Osborne`s policy of wishy washy austerity.

In the fiscal year to date Government receipts are £339.0bn down 0.1% on November 2011 (£339.3bn) and expenditure is £419bn up 2.7% (£408bn Nov 2011). This growth in expenditure would have been significantly higher if interest rates for Gilts were not so low. The interest bill this year is likely to be the same (£44bn) as in 2010/2011. The difference being, total outstanding Gilts then was £918bn where as it is now £1.113 Trillion. Whilst this is great for the government, it does show that spending excluding interest is way above expectations. Of course, this is a back door tax on pensioners who have been crucified by lower annuity rates as a result of lower bond yields. God forbid should/when interest rates ever go up again.

Chart One shows Government Income

whilst chart two shows expenditure.

More importantly, the third chart shows expenditure excluding interest.

The significance of the obvious but subtle difference between the second and third chart is lower interest spending this year (£31.6bn year to date vs £33.7bn) is masking even greater structural spending which will be all the more difficult to reverse when interest rates go up. Where are tax revenues heading? Well, as I have said on many occasions, total income tax take is not growing despite a higher level of employment. The low quality job growth is reducing higher tax, no income support families, as a percentage of the workforce. This, coupled with higher taxation, both direct and in-direct, have had a downward affect on VAT receipts. Of course, annual salary increases lower than inflation impact still further. Consumption in the UK and wider Europe will fall this year as further tax hikes bite. see previous blogs on Shipping and Trucks…remember 90% all goods have been or have components, that have been, shipped.

The chart below highlights the plight of the consumer. It shows the Total Volume Growth of UK Retail Sales this millennium.

The lack of consumption in volume terms highlights why high street retailers are disappearing. The growing market share of Internet sales explains how the volume being sold on the high street is being funneled into large retailers who can afford rents in high footfall shopping centers. All this will eventually confirm my view that law changes will be put in place to allow vacant Retail/ Industrial/Office space to be converted into residential, thus being the supply element which will lower house prices 20%.

Be aware that the January 2013 Government Borrowing data (released 3rd week in Feb) is likely to be shocking. This is traditionally the biggest revenue month of the year. Advance and Final Income tax Payments swell the months (Income Tax) take to around £25bn with Corporation and Petroleum throwing in another £9bn. It is my belief that the shortfall will be in the region of ten percent. This will put the final nail in the coffin of wishy washy austerity and put the UK in direct conflict with the markets which have been very patient. I believe Sterling will bear the brunt.

see RIP George Osborne for my way out……..plus many previous blogs under the UK section of the menu highlighting my thoughts which have been consistent since the blog started.

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Sunday, December 23rd, 2012 Consumer Debt, GDP, National Debt, Predictions, Shipping, UK 1 Comment

Am I Right to Be Bearish

I have been Bearish since 1999. How do I know that. It was then that I was the only employee of Lehman Brothers to opt out of the generous Direct Benefit Pension into a Direct Contribution pot of money under my control. I still have that pot which has had a positive return every year since. All those who remained were trampled on by the companies collapse. I had taken a negative stance on the management style but more importantly on the global economy which was being increasingly driven by government spending and loose monetary policy. None of that has changed. The four big Economies of the world (USA/Europe/China/Japan) are being held up by massive government spending. The level of spending above tax receipts is shocking and cannot continue. Three of those economies (x China) have existing Debt to GDP ratios which are unsustainable. So, to continue to stimulate consumption by spending more is not an option.

It is becoming clear that the global economy cannot consume at a rate which would help drive tax revenues for those governments to meet their future commitments. Central Banks have been using every trick in the book to help those politicians keep the debt illusion alive. They are all complicit in treating the electorate of those countries like fools. For it is they and their offspring who will have to meet the ever growing burden of this debt. The politicians  have ingratitude themselves with vast riches and on the whole do not live in the real world. This vast state sponsored global economy has to be drastically changed, sadly to do that, great pain will have to be felt by all.

Every time the central banks add to previous QE it is further vindication that being bearish on the economy has been correct. Being bearish on equities is another matter. Each bout of QE adds fresh impetus to the camp that says you must be invested because the bankers and politicians will win, eventually. The  charts below are updates of a regular series of data which I have published. My reasoning is well documented in previous blogs. The first chart is the now familiar BNSF traffic flow of various elements of economic activity. As this is the yearly comparison it is difficult to pick up recent trends. Hence chart two which shows the weekly change in volume growth since July for Containers and Freight Wagons. I think the direction speaks volumes. If you are in the camp that the fiscal cliff will be resolved quickly, what shape do you expect it to take. The $1trillion annual budget deficit that existed throughout the first Obama term must be cut. If it is not cut substantially the Debt to GDP and its growing servicing cost will just be kicked down the road until the next time. Whether it is spending cuts or tax increases, it matters not. The net affect will be to reduce economic activity. That would not be a problem if the other big economic powers were in good financial shape, but they are not. It is only a matter of  time before  Japan implodes in a sea of debt whilst Europe is adjusting to a new norm of significantly lower consumer activity.

 

 

To highlight this shift to lower consumption I have regularly updated my Suez Canal data. The first chart is the simple total volume flowing through the canal.

 

Secondly, the traffic growth in either direction.

Finally, the growth in Container traffic. As I explained in previous blogs on the subject, containers tend to reflect the consumer sentiment as it reflects more on finished goods and blocks out the noise from the vast and volatile commodity sector. As you can see, the flow in the direction of China went negative for the first time since the big fiscal stimulus which created the 2009 updraft.

 

2013 will introduce many new austerity programmes apart from the fiscal cliff. In Europe these are just as negative. France will be pushing the boundaries of reality in its attempts to cut its budget deficit back to 3%. The scale of the spending cuts and tax increases will likely cause significant union and social unrest. The French are in a league of their own when it comes to protesting. Greece and Spain are amateurs when pitched against the cake eating peasants. Heavy industrial companies are coming under strong political pressure to protect jobs but in the end reality will prevail. The UK, SUBJECT OF MY NEXT BLOG, will be plunged into chaos as the budget deficit continues to deteriorate.

In this environment, company profits cannot increase. Despite strong balance sheets, the corporate sector has a chilling few years ahead. Most equity fund managers are overweight strong cash flow companies. Pricing power is about to become far weaker as consumers recoil from yet more austerity. Overcapacity is and will continue to be a major problem.

Shipping and Trucking, my two most frequently blogged subjects, will bear the brunt of this slowdown in global trade volume.

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What is the Fiscal Cliff made of?

Answer. Iron Ore.

A theme has run through my blog this year. It includes Steel, Iron Ore, Transport (Shipping/Trucks), Machinery and Global Economic growth.

I have written many blogs on the worlds second most traded commodity (behind Oil) as I believe it held the key to the BRICs rise onto everyone’s investment radar. My expectation earlier in the year for a significantly weaker price were all too evident yesterday when the largest US miner of the Ore fell significantly following a negative note from Goldman Sachs. The company is mothballing some output and reducing cap-ex. Cliffs Natural Resources have now fallen around 60% since earlier in the year. Other high cost producers have fallen across the board around 30-40%. I say higher cost producers as this is very important. The difference between the low cost producers like BHP (c.$40 per ton.) and the higher cost (c.$80 per ton) producers makes for interesting commentary. Yes, Goldman downgraded Cliffs yesterday helping the stock to fall 13%. However, something more interesting may have been giving a helping hand. China (consumer of 2/3s of the worlds seabourn Iron Ore) are very concerned that when Ore fell 50% to its low point ($85 per ton) a few months ago, its mines had to significantly reduce production and in many cases stop all together. Average Chinese production costs are around $85 per ton. They have now proposed measures to help them compete with the likes of BHP, these include cutting taxation by up to 50%. It is clear that they intend to keep the economy from weakening further in certain areas. To this end, the government is adding to the already high levels of industrial inventories (of raw material and finished goods) by purchasing Steel, Aluminium, Rare Eath, Copper etc. Add to this the significant increase in Oil and Coal reserves (this year) and you can see that although they are not reflating the economy as they did in 2009, they are quietly trying to support some of the high labour intense industries. It will all end in tears.

At some stage, the low cost producers ( Iron Ore) will fall fowl of this policy of holding up what are mainly state run industries. Global trade (consumption) is contracting! I think the next update of my Suez Canal data will give a much clearer confirmation of this. As high and low cost producers reduce output and cap-ex still further, the transport and machinery sectors will have another leg down. Shipping (a regular theme with me) is falling apart with billions of Dollars of losses yet to be taken by the banks. Several more companies have recently filed Chapter 11 (and the like) with several more of the German consortium shippers on the brink. AP Moeller (regularly mentioned here) have shifted their investment programme away from shipping to focus more on Oil production and port handling facilities. Not good (short term) from the worlds biggest shipper who has just sold a small fleet of Gas ships and idled another two VLCC`s. Container volumes to Europe were down around 15% in the third quarter.

BHP and APMoeller being leaders in their fields have yet to perform as the smaller players. I forecast some months ago that they would and I still fell very strongly that significant downside to their share prices will happen. The Swedish economy is very dependant on the industrial transport and mining industries accounting for around 40% of trade. Incoming orders have declined over the last two months and further significant declines may well be on the cards. I have talked about a few of the players before… Volvo, Sandvik and Atlas Copco. We must not forget the likes of Joy Global and Caterpillar, also mentioned several times before.

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Wednesday, November 21st, 2012 BRICs, China, Oil, Predictions, Shipping, Steel No Comments

Economic Seismic Shift.

I am becoming more concerned that economic activity throughout the world is slowing so rapidly that a global meltdown could be around the corner. My worry for equity markets is that the last seismic shift that occurred between 1958 and 1960 is about to be reversed. In 1958, equity dividend yields were around 7.1% and the Price Earnings Ratio (PE) was 5.6. During the next two years the market rose 122% and the first reverse yield gap appeared (Aug 1959 when equity yields @ 4.76%  dropped below gilts,2 1/2% Consols @4.77%) and it stayed with us until 2008 when central banks initiated QE. The inspiration for this seismic shift was a reassessment of the belief that equities were not safe investments for pension funds and should not make up a large part of any portfolio. A speech by George Ross Goobey in 1956 put the cat amongst the pigeons but it was not until the Manchester Corporation lead the charge (into Equities) did the earthquake really hit. It is interesting to note that for the first time since that shift, UK Pension funds have raised the Bond holdings in their porfolios (43%) above that of Equities (38%).

Why has this obsession with Equities been so compelling for the last 60+ years? My answer is very simple. Governments have become increasingly short term in their outlook. Politicians, along with Central Bank Governors, have been increasingly happy to borrow out of trouble, a policy which up until a few tears ago worked remarkably well for them. The problem is at some point the music has to stop. If you take a look at Charts 5 and 6, you will see the rise of the US and UK debt pile. Whilst these charts do not take into account inflation, they do illustrate very graphically, how the stakes have got ever bigger. Chart 7 just shows how each of the most recent US Presidents have raised borrowing. Mr Obama made many pledges when he first came to office. If he had said that he was going to spend $4 Trillion more than tax receipts trying to implement them, he would have been hounded out of town. Chart 8 shows just how sad this whole process has become. It is the simple cost of servicing (interest) the near 230% of Debt to GDP that Japan has accumulated. It indicates that the lion share of tax revenue is being spent on paying for all that previous spending. I have written several blogs on the imminent demise of that country.

If the global planned austerity measures for 2013/14 are implemented, tax take by governments will rise dramatically. Disposable income will be the main looser,NO! Sorry, the main loser will be company profits. One of the most commonly used reasons to buy Equities is that they are cheap according to the current multiple or PE vs the average of the past twenty years or so. What if the economic conditions that lead to the market being cheap in 1958 are no longer applicable to the future. Governments must reduce the level of debt or the cost of servicing will engulf tax revenues and disaster will ensue. Indeed, we may already be close to that point. It is not a fiscal cliff the world faces but a fiscal earthquake. As disposable incomes decline, company earnings will become far more unpredictable. This should demand a far lower PE (higher yield) than the previous 20 or 30 years. Whilst a return to 1958 levels is a bit outrageous, a rebasing to around 8 or 9 appears more apt. This would imply equities 30% lower. Commodity markets will feel the full force of this consumption decline thus putting the BRICs squarely back into lesser developed catergory. Gold will not be the place to put your money but more of that in my next blog

 

Economics in pictures.

I have updated some data which will be familiar to regular readers. First up, the Suez Canal transit data. This shows monthly cargo volumes passing through the canal. I have written about why I feel this is an important gauge on several occasions. Primarily, it is the fact that 90% of goods that you purchase have, or have components that have, travelled by sea. Pinch points like the canal act as a pulse reading. As you can see from the first chart, growth is going nowhere. In fact the total number of ships passing through has fallen each month since March vs 2011 (yes, new ships are bigger). Another note of interest, is the explosive growth  of  Crude transiting southbound. I guess the Arab Spring and the Iranian embargo will have some distorting affect but I am more inclined to believe it is the build up of Chinese strategic reserve. This volume is likely to slow dramatically in 2013 as storage facilities are at capacity. LNG has slowed significantly which is why the gap between the two sets of data has not grown more.

Click on charts to expand

Next up is the direction of traffic through the canal. No prizes for this one. As you can see, Northbound (90% Europe and 8% USA) is contracting. The January 2012 spike (southbound) was caused by an enormous inventory build ahead of the Chinese new year. Products such as Cereal and Coal jumped significantly but it was Iron Ore which had a big impact. I wrote several times in the spring regarding inventory levels and predicted correctly a large fall in the Ore price. The seasonal build will occur as usual prior to the next new year but I fear it will be more reserved than 2012. This will have a distorting negative impact on the year on year data.

Within the traffic data is a breakdown of particular ship cargoes. Containers are always interesting as they drown out the noise of the volatile commodities which transit in huge volume. More finished goods and components travel this way so it can be a good handle on consumer demand or at least confidence in the inventory level of consumer products. The chart starts just after the Chinese injected $586bn to reflate the economy alongside the first US QE (see above chart for full impact of these two measures). As expected, it balloooooned. Of course, this year the authorities have been more concerned with inflation and a housing bubble. Thus, the rate of growth has slowed and in fact turned negative last month. When the new leaders are announced this week, it will be interesting to see if they start with a big bang of reflationary policies. The outgoing regime have recently raised road, rail, sewer and port infrastructure spending, so little scope exists for a big whammy.

USA. I have updated this regular feature. It shows the traffic flows on Warren Buffet`s BNSF railroad. The Total Freight annual growth rate peaked eight weeks ago and has declined each week since. This somewhat confirms the recent picture being painted by corporate America during the current earnings season. As you can see the Housing materials appear to be in fine shape but the rest are starting to slow. In fact the star of the year has been containers which have been up around 7% all year, last week however, the weekly number was negative for the first time in 2012. The lower diesel price may have had an influence as it helps trucking with competitiveness. I will eat my hat if housing continues its uplift in 2013.

Chart 5

Chart 6 

 

 

Borrowing by governments is the drug that fuels Equity performance.

 

Chart 7

Chart 8

My next blog will be an attack on George Osbourne`s inability to make a real difference. The UK is damned by his torpor!

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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
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