Sveriges sak är inte vår

Rare post in Swedish: Det här är några utkast från min senaste krönika hos Vontobel. Läs resten där om du antingen hatar makro, älskar makro eller struntar i makro.

Följer du med i makrostatistiken? Varför? Är du en av alla de som noterar när siffror på konsumentpriser, BNP och räntor publiceras, och då funderar i några minuter över vad det kan betyda för börsen? Då är du en av alla makroturister som trampar gata upp och gata ner genom halvbekanta miljöer och tar hundratals fotografier som ingen någonsin kommer titta på.

Är BNP-statistiken något du kan använda i din aktiehandel? Inte direkt, men makroturister tar ändå gärna fram kameran ur magväskan och lägger några bortkastade minuter på att få en perfekt bild som ingen bryr sig om.

Skulder och arbetsmarknad leder oss till inflation och räntor. En sak är att hög sysselsättning ger ökad risk för fallande sysselsättning och BNP, men eftersom kopplingen till börsen inte är särskilt tydlig kan kanske de flesta ignorera statistiken. Men, hög sysselsättning medför ofta stigande löner och övriga priser — konsumentprisinflation.

Det är precis sånt här som kan få en makroanalytiker att tänka efter lite extra. Det var ekonomisk kris 1991-1993, 2001-2003, 2008-2009 och det sammanföll med hög inflation. Det gick 8-10 år mellan kriserna och nu är inflationen på gång igen 8-10 år efter den senaste krisen och perioden med inflation över Riksbankens mål. De flesta BNP-prognoserna för 2018 ligger på omkring 2,5% och för 2019 på strax under 2,0%. Riktningen är rätt, men som vanligt tar prognosmakarna nog i för lite (kul ändå att Ekonomistyrningsverket tror på så lite som 1,4% BNP-tillväxt 2019).

Läs resten här (japp, jag får betalt) och kolla in alla makrobilder på sysselsättning, inflation, skulder mm

Do you think you know better than a central banker? Of course you do.

Topic: trust, policy, facts and lies

Conclusion: big lies are as easy to reveal, as they are to believe

Conclusion 2: Do the math, make the effort, a simple checksum will often do – many lies are easy to catch if you at least try. Trust nobody!


Central banks use sophisticated time-tested methods to set a policy rate that reliably leads to a predictable range of inflation

-NOT!

In theory, central banks control things like economic growth and consumer price inflation, by setting their policy rates (a set of interest rates that banks pay or receive when borrowing or making deposits at the central bank. In practice, their theories, models, and actions are at best worthless but most likely incredibly harmful.

Central banks often publish their forecasts for various macroeconomic variables, including their own policy rate (that they themselves can control to a fundred percent certainty). Amazingly, even though central banks are supposed to understand how the economy works, and how their policy rate is supposed to decide among other things the future rate of inflation – and thus also what the appropriate future policy rate would be – the CB prediction errors for their own policy rate are higher than for any other phenomenon tou can think of.

Not only are the errors wrong in direction (which would be completely out of the question if their models had any relevance for the real world), when they get the direction right they are often an order of magnitude (10 times) wrong in amplitude.

The following picture shows the situation for the Swedish central bank “Riksbanken”


The central bank policy rate hedgehog

(aka the map of lies, more lies, the worst modelling in history, blind academics, power hunger, hubris and stupidity)

On September 6, 2018, the Swedish central bank, known for being the oldest and most retarded central bank in history, publishes its latest stupidity (interest rate decision).  Just 15 years ago, careful modelling and the most thoughtful decision process Riksbanken’s members could muster resulted in a policy rate of 500 per cent. Yes, that’s 50 000 basis points. In a few weeks on September 6, they are expected to stick to their current world record breaking moronic idea of a negative interest rate being prudent, effective, and simply the absolute best the central bank committee members can conceive.

Take a look at the chart below. Yes, they really are that oblivious.

Over the last ten years, Riksbanken has managed to do among other things the following:

  • Predict that they will increase their policy rate to 4.5-5 per cent, but in reality they lowered it to 0.5 per cent, i.e. 1/10 of their prediction level, not to mention the error in direction
  • When the rate was 0.25 per cent, they thought they would soon raise it to 4 per cent, but only briefly reached a peak of 2 per cent before backing down to around zero again (while most of the time holding on to delusions of going to around 3 per cent)
  • In over 25 consecutive predictions, consistently predict increasing the rate (that they control, Nota Bene) by 1.5-2 percentage points over the following few years, but in every single instant actually reducing the policy rate, most often ending up some 2.5 percentage points below their own prediction.

Most of these decisions are so wrong, ignorant and stupid that they defy mathematical description. How wrong actually is going from +1.0 per cent to -.5 per cent while predicting going to +3 per cent?

How can they, or anybody else for that matter, have any confidence whatsoever in what they are doing, when they predict increasing the policy rate by 5x from 0.5 per cent to 2.5 per cent, but actually lowering it to a NEGATIVE 0.5 per cent?

Imagine performing in a similar way at your job, or having employees with that kind of track record. It’s even worse than the performance of professional Tesla profit forecasters (picture below)

It is by now of course patently obvious that the Riksbank members have no clue what they are doing, that their models have no relevance at all for the real economy, that they are perfectly incapable of adapting (25 consecutive predictions that were completely off the mark, remember?), and that they have no concept of the complexities of real life and the dangers of unintended consequences of their retarded experiments — ever heard of phase shifts* for example?

* there is a real possibility that very weird and adverse (unknown) effects** can result from negative interest rates. Just take a moment to ponder Credit Suisse that raised their mortgage rates when the SNB’s policy rate was lowered below zero, to compensate for the cost of keeping funds at the central bank

** but who cares? Let’s ban cash to prevent people from avoiding bank accounts with negative interest rates

Conclusion: trust nobody, do the math

Question: Do you think the authorities have this covered? Do you think they know better than you, or even than most? Think again, their models and myopic thinking combined with greed and hunger for power have made them the least fit of all to do what they are doing. And yet, the more damage they do, the more power they are awarded.

Oh yeah, this will end well.

If you own physical gold that is.

Are you exploiting the power of negativity to its fullest?

As if a hundred short sellers screamed in agony* and suddenly fell silent

-“funding secured”

(*actually not, rather they celebrated, knowing the endgame had finally arrived; since knowing the facts rather than a wishful narrative, they understood the action was the last desperate act of a fraudster at the end of his rope)


Topic: why all the negativity?

Discussion: investors are on balance long biased and thus need an opposing view for balance

Conclusion: more pessimism (almost) always leads to a more balanced view

Bonus: a little tip regarding perspective, productivity and happiness (asking past friends for advice)


With a little help from my (previous) friends

You know the 150 people you actually know? They aren’t the same as they were 10 years ago. If you’re serious in your quest for a fresh perspective on things, write an e-mail and ask for your advice from your old network (I got the idea from the book about networking effectively, that Anna Svahn is writing as we speak).

Tip: start by expressing some appreciation and if possible provide something of value. Givers are more successful than matchers and takers. And appreciative people are happier.


The curious case of the lone genius giga fraudster

Let’s forget for a while that Tesla is burning a billion dollars every three months (e.g., cash flow was -1.3 to -1.4bn in Q2), and that it’s effectively running out of money by the turn of the year, unless it manages to raise new capital by then. Nota Bene, this isn’t controversial; it’s a financial fact.

Tesla has over 10 billion dollars in debt. Tesla holds a billion dollars in client deposits. Tesla has a negative net working capital of 3 billion dollars, giver or take. Tesla has 1 billion in convertible debt maturity effectively coming up by the turn of the year. Tesla has at least half a billion of its cash reserves where it can’t be accessed. Anyway, let’s forget about money running out in just a few months, since that’s not really an issue of cash flow turns positive.

Let’s forget that even though sales have increased at an impressive rate, so have losses and executive compensation. These are indisputable financial facts. If anything, the numbers are artificially positive due to creative accounting, not least by under reserving for service costs.

Let’s also forget about the quality issues with hastily manufactured tent “lemons”. Let’s also forget about Tesla’s failed attempt at disrupting the “stealership” model, consequently leaving clients to deal with maintenance, repair and spare parts themselves.

Let’s forget about the super high death rate of Tesla drivers.

Let’s also forget about all the weird and lofty claims Elon Musk spouts every opportunity he gets. I’m thinking about new car models, trucks, pick-ups, solar house roofs, solar car roofs, bricks, 1 USD/trip super-mach intercity hyperloops etc., without the necessary factory investments.

Let’s also forget about the hundreds of former Tesla fans, witnessing about poor to non-existent service, about cars being paid for but not delivered, about deposits not being returned on demand, about suppliers not getting paid or are asked to pay money back (!)


Before: several years of a monopoly-like situation + subsidies = increasingly unprofitable

Now: serious competition (BMW, Porsche, Volvo, Jaguar, Audi…) + no subsidies => profits?


Chart by Tesla Charts


Build it and the profits will come

At this point let’s just think about one single thing, since profits and cash flows are what ultimately decide the fate of a company:

Some of the bullish analysts and bag holders of Tesla stock are counting on Tesla and Musk finally turning profitable now that its subsidies are ending and a tsunami of competition (with subsidies) is entering their market.

Wait, what? Wut? Hqr sez wut?

Yup, that’s right, that’s what’s coming now according to bulls. Elon Musk has never turned a profit in any of his companies. The last fifteen years, Tesla has only increasing losses to show for its efforts to exploit its supposed first mover advantage and massive subsidies. But, now, finally, with a deluge of formidable competitors, with as deep pockets as experience in building and testing cars, Tesla is supposed to somehow reap the benefits of… scale, competitive position, increased margins?

Not only that, just as the available market is about to fall by 90% in the coming years, Tesla’s subsidies are going away. Tell me again how that is supposed to finally push margins into positive territory.


OK, back to the fraudster

The bigger the lie, the easier to get away with it, and Tesla is about as big as they get, just like Theranos, Enron and Madoff before that. Or Nick Leeson and Jérôme Kerviel.

Many fraudsters start out with good intentions, probably Elon Musk too. However, as reality catches up with dreams, losses and mistakes have to be swept under the rug. “It’s just temporarily“, they think, “for the greater good in the long term“, they reason, and go on to make bigger and bolder bets to cover up their little mishaps.

An idea about luxury roadsters and other premium cars making profits, that finance investments in mass-market car manufacturing that’s supposed to make even greater profits, instead turn into ever increasing losses and thus the necessity for side-shows of acquisitions and unrealistic innovations.

At some point the well-intentioned and benevolent disruptor realizes his predicament and steps over the fraud line. The genius has now become a fraudster; and with increasing vitriol and intensity he attacks everyone who expresses the least bit of skepticism, while coming up with ever more fantastic claims about breakthroughs that are on an “order of magnitude” above and beyond anything previously seen. At this point the smart money knows the game is up and starts pointing it out, but it takes years (Enron, CDOs, Allied Capital), sometimes decades (Madoff), for the Ponzi scheme to collapse into the surprised and devastated hands of the bag holders.


This is not about Tesla, but about balance and perspective

Why all the negativity? Because almost everybody else has a positive bias. It takes effort and guts to find and relay negative information to a herd of stampeding bulls. Very few bother, since everybody seems to hold nothing but contempt for short sellers, including SEC officials (who famously like to interrogate whistle-blowers and short sellers rather than investigate the actual perpetrators).

It’s simply humans being humans when bullish investors turn a blind eye to all the obvious negative facts, and instead pat each others’ backs, repeating their faith based narrative, “obviously corroborated by the stock price (bro)”. It’s not really their fault. The problem actually lies with bears being too silent, passively allowing gullible bulls to be had for a ride. Humans are gullible by nature; we like a good story and we tend to positivity. We want to believe in stories bout heroes. We want to believe in seeing ourselves becoming rich, in particular if it’s by supporting a good cause at the same time. Fraudsters (whether by design or mistake) take advantage if that trait.

That’s why bears armed with facts are so important. They perform an almost invaluable service in their quest of fact finding and creating balance in the otherwise one-sided bullish narrative. Humans are lazy and blind to other stories than their own. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just our nature. But that’s exactly why the bears are needed: to create perspective, to catalyze questioning and to provide facts and arguments that can be directly measured against whatever the bull story is.


It’s currently the most important story there is

But why Tesla all the time? You keep ranting about Tesla; why the negativity?

It’s because it’s the biggest and simultaneously most obvious house of cards out there. It’s the most unbalanced narrative there is in public markets right now, in terms of the bull story being the least factful and the bear story being the most tangible. There’s almost a hundred billion dollars at stake, not to mention bag holders car owners that have or have not received their cars but stand to lose any kind of warranty, pre-payments or access to spare parts or super-chargers.


Quite often, bear stories are more qualitative than financial in nature, i.e., less numbers based and more speculative regarding troubles ahead. Not too rarely, very high valuations feature in bears’ short stories, although most smart bears know that’s nowhere near what’s needed for a successful short.

Not this time though. This time the bulls are the dreamers, and the bears don’t even need to start talking about the valuation, since Tesla’s money is actually running out (and with no plan for raising new).

No matter how much bloggers, podcasters and successful investors try to dig out the true foundations of the bull story in Tesla, they come up empty handed. It’s all narrative and hope that the lone genius, who so far has accomplished nothing, will soon magically wave his cave dildo, display his magic beans, and create actual profits.

Occam’s razor would long ago just have labelled Musk a fraudster rather than a genius, and all his actions would be all that much easier to explain.

A genius wouldn’t manufacture lemons and losses. A fraudster could. A genius wouldn’t fantasize about products he could never afford to build. A fraudster might as a cover-up. A genius wouldn’t put himself at the mercy of markets (no cash, negative flow). A fraudster would claim funding is secured (even if the claim might prove to be securities fraud). Would an environmentalist genius have five large Bel Air mansions and the biggest private jet there is (G650)? He could, but a fraudster fits the bill better. A genius maybe should have produced profits some time in his history. A fraudster wouldn’t see why. Finally, a genius wouldn’t pump up numbers in collaboration with his brother in an unrelated company and push his board into accepting a takeover at the very peak of that company’s business. A fraudster? Hell yeah!

This last bit is admittedly speculative, but the perspective is still important. No matter, the bull-genius narrative has only dreams, hopes and fantasies in its corner; while the bear-fraudster story is based on facts about sales, costs, profits, production numbers, quality reports, traffic statistics and not least a much more likely and coherent overall picture.


Market perspective

By the way, how’s this for perspective: imagine a private investor, an amateur with less than a decade under his market belt, doing all his research after his ordinary job hours, without any real insight in the inner workings of either the financial industry or that of the stocks he invest in. Imagine that same person thinking he understands more than, oh I don’t know, e.g., Mark Spiegel, David Einhorn, Jim Chanos…, and me.

I know, I know, I know… why would decades of profitably navigating several bull and bear markets, including investing on both the long and short side in hundreds if not thousands of individual companies, no less with the help of a solid financial education, actually having investing as full-time profession, supported by many, many competent co-workers and with access to dozens of the top financial research firms, ever stand a chance against a lone amateur? Or, er, wait a minute…

 

That’s not how herds operate

 

Maybe, just maybe, the unquestioning bulls need to be shaken out of their confirmation bias bubble and start listening to the fact-finding minority. Sure, we are guilty of CB too, but I’m sure all experienced bears make a true effort of mapping out the bull case in as much detail as humanly possible. The bulls? I’m not so sure, that’s not how herds typically behave.

How about you? Are you long or short Tesla, and have you queried the other side for their best arguments and pitched your own against them yet?