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Ukraine: Special edition of Investment Matters. Tsar Vlad will take whatever he wants. Olympic cow.

Bonus. Ukraine: Special edition of Investment Matters. Click on the link at the bottom, after you have read Wry & Dry.

Whilst pouring your Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque…

Tsar Vlad will take whatever he wants.

O’Bama’s weakness started this.

Bruise-free sanctions.

Emperor Xi is complicit.

Olympic cow: Russian skater’s coach shoots to Legend Status.

Build it, and they will come. Well, maybe.

Retreat from Kabul: Somehow an American lawyer has found a way to make money.

Low-hanging fiscal fruit.

Geography: Sink the Bismarck.

Habits: The wisdom of being beautiful…

Whilst enjoying your Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque…

Like a Jason Bourne movie, the Russia/Ukraine war is fast moving. Suffice for Wry & Dry to make a few preliminary and prescriptive observations. As for what now? “Too early to tell.”

1. Tsar Vlad will take whatever he wants

It was the best of times… it was the age of wisdom… it was the epoch of belief. And that is how Tsar Vlad looked back at his days in the KGB, in East Germany. The Soviet Union epitomised everything in which he believed.

Then it all came down. That epoch of belief was over. The USSR collapsed and fragmented. Ukraine voted for independence from the Russian Federation. Everything in which he believed was now shattered. And so the resentment began. Oh, there were promises, treaties and meetings. But the yearning for the Soviet Union remained, perhaps in a new form.

And now he has the tools and we will finish the job. He will take whatever parts of Ukraine he wants. Nothing the West or Ukrainians can or will do will stop him. The horse bolted many years ago.

His televised speech to the Duma [1] on Tuesday showed a man only slightly deranged. Not unlike General Ripper in Dr Strangelove [2]. His desire to ‘de-nazify’ Ukraine is curious, especially as its President is Jewish. But it’s not about that. Nor about NATO. Or the EU.

It’s about an old man, soon to be 70, the object of whose belief was shattered 21 years ago. Who seeks to rebuild something in which he can again believe. No matter the cost.

[1] Russia’s parliament.

[2] Dr. Strangelove is a 1964 black comedy film that satirises the Cold War fears of a nuclear conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States.

2. It started with O’Bama

It is a truth universally acknowledged that tyrants will push and push until someone pushes back.

Tsar Vlad didn’t wake up one day in 2014 and decide to land his MiGs in Crimea. His decision was made some years earlier. Having decided to rebuild something in which he could believe, there was a quiver of requirements:

  • Get the military into shape
  • Get the economy in reasonable shape
  • Make parts of the economy indispensable to the West
  • Build up foreign currency reserves
  • Assume the West would be docile

As to the latter, he had Angela Merkel in his pocket. The UK political leadership had been bought [3]. And he had seen former US president O’Bama’s Pollyanna approach to leadership.

Yes, O’Bama conducted himself with dignity, humour, grace and intelligence.

But when a tyrant pushed, O’Bama would, with that same dignity, humour, grace and intelligence, act with the same outcome as Sergeant Schultz. Consider Syria (chemical weapons), Iran (nuclear weapons) and South China Sea (island capture).

“The West has no spine,” Tsar Vlad would have decided. And in 2014 he put Crimea in the Petrie Dish of global reaction to invasions. The experiment’s outcome was as he had hoped: the West did nothing effective.

Tsar Vlad then paused; he would have found the Trumpster too unpredictable to confront. And then, mercy of mercies, Sleepy Joe checks into the White House.

And when Sleepy Joe caved in to every domestic pressure, Tsar Vlad’s mind was made up. Black lives may matter to Sleepy Joe, but Ukrainian lives don’t.

Much like Stalin’s view: Ukrainian lives don’t matter to Tsar Vlad. Download Google Maps. Put away the Airfix. Contact Invasions ‘R Us.

[3] A UK 2020 intelligence committee reported that Russian money has become so pervasive in the UK’s political and financial systems that its influence is now “the new normal” for Britain. The report notes how Russian oligarchs have been able to take advantage of “the London laundromat” to launder not only their illicit wealth via the City but their reputations too. Many members of the House of Lords have business links to Russia. Many of the Conservative Party’s top donors are Russians with Kremlin links.

3. Bruise-free sanctions

Some Victorian Readers will be aware of the concept of teams playing “bruise free” football. It is when a team of football wusses is so meek it will play the game, but avoid getting bruised. But lose anyway.

This is the attitude of the West to Russia: bruise free sanctions. I’ll try to hurt Russia, but not my economy or my interests. Consider that:

  • Biden: has mid-term elections upcoming: gotta keep petrol prices down
  • Macron: has Presidential elections upcoming: gotta appear statesmanlike, but protect French interests
  • Johnson: just interviewed by police for breach of covid lockdown restrictions: the polls are bad
  • Scholz: 40% of Germany’s gas comes from Russia: gotta end the war quickly and restart supply
  • Morrison: Russia? Ukraine? I’ll ask Jenny. And then undertake a pub test

Result: Tsar Vlad is not worried by sanctions as the West doesn’t have the cojones to impose anything meaningful. Sanctions are not a deterrent to a kleptocrat. Besides, Tsar Vlad is not affected by sanctions.

4. Emperor Xi is complicit

It’s not a big call to conclude that Emperor Xi would have given his concurrence to Tsar Vlad’s invasion. He has failed to condemn Tsar Vlad’s invasion. In fact, he will be quite happy: his Taiwanese agenda is similar but with massively greater consequences.

Emperor Xi sees Ukraine as a sovereign guinea pig, and would be delighted that the West’s sanctions amount to nothing. And that Sleepy Joe’s very response has been that of a man sleepwalking to a place in history to match a blend of Chamberlain [4], Ismay [5], and Pétain [6].

[4] Former UK PM, Hitler’s appeaser, who acquiesced to Hitler’s demand for the Sudetenland in exchange for his promise not to invade Czechoslovakia. Hitler duly invaded Czechoslovakia.

[5] Managing Director of White Star Lines, he oversaw the construction of the Titanic, sailed with her on her maiden voyage, and deserted her when she struck an iceberg, leaving over 1,500 people (including his secretary) to die.

[6] First World War French general who became PM in 1940. He signed an armistice with Hitler and transformed France to what was called Vichy France. Vichy France was an authoritative regime that collaborated with Hitler and Mussolini. Charles de Gaulle wrote that Pétain’s life was “successively banal, then glorious, then deplorable, but never mediocre”

5. Olympic Cow

There are four types of medals won at an Olympic Games: Gold, Silver, Bronze and Cow.

The Cow medal goes to the person whose behaviour or comments undeservingly demean an athlete.

The winner for the 2022 Beijing Fest goes to Russian figure skating coach, Eteri Tutberidze [7]. And Ms. Tutberidze’s performance instantly propels her in Legend Status in the Cow Hall of Fame.

Readers might have seen the brilliant Kamila Valiena coming off the ice, having finished 4th in the free-skate competition. Kamila is 15 and had been expected to win. She has been under massive pressure from a doping scandal (doubtless, not of her own choosing).

Ms. Tutberidze first words to Kamila were, “Why did you let it go? Explain it to me, why? Why did you stop fighting completely?” Kamila was already in tears.

Ms. Tutberidze can now be seen in videos of Russian soldiers rolling into Ukraine. She’s the one yelling at them, “Get moving. Do you want to end up ice skating in Siberia, with me as your coach?”

[7] She began skating at the age of four but was hampered by injury and financial issues. She switched to ice shows and at the age of 18 moved to the USA, participating in ‘Ice Capades’ entertainment shows. After six years, she returned to Moscow to work in a small ice circus but finally received a position as coach in Zelenograd (Moscow region) in 2003, before joining an Olympic Reserve School in 2008. She coaches only girls, mostly under the age of 18.

Build it and they will come?

In 2003, governments spent $550m on that $1.2 billion nation building project to connect Alice Springs with Darwin by a 1,400 kilometre railway. Of course, it loses money. And it was built cheaply, with Tri-ang Hornby-like light rail used instead of heavy rail [8]. So, the track cannot be used for faster, heavier trains. Such as might be needed to rapidly move defence equipment.

Now Barnaby Joyce (Pork Barrel Infrastructure Minister) wants to go even further. And has announced another nation building project. This time a $678m plan to seal a mostly dirt 2,720 kilometre road between Laverton [9] in the Hermit Kingdom [10] and Winton [11] in Queensland. The road is currently called the Outback Way. But will be renamed Barnaby’s Way Out.

The cost is about a quarter of a million dollars per kilometre. Err, that’s not even close.

Wry & Dry’s research suggests that a new construction of a 2,720km undivided 2 lane 4m rural road with 1.5m paved shoulders is about $2.7 billion. Plus or minus, but mostly plus.

It looks as though the Barnaby’s Way Out will end up either costing 400% of budget. Or the road itself will be one metre wide. Useful.

[8] 47kg/m instead of 60kg/m.

[9] Still 1,000 kilometres from Perth

[10] Western Australia

[11] Original home of Qantas. Still 600 kilometres to Townsville, the nearest coast.

Retreat from Kabul, part 3

Part 1: the British Army’s disastrous retreat from Kabul in 1842. Only two Europeans survived [12].

Part 2: the Russian Army’s disastrous retreat from Kabul in 1989, after 10 years of failed occupation.

Part 3: Sleepy Joe’s retreat from Kabul in 2020, when he abruptly ordered American forces to up sticks and leave, in a hurry.

Enter a lawyer.

  1. In 2012, a group of about 150 families of victims of the 9/11 World Trade Centre crashes persuaded a New York judge to name the Taliban responsible for billions of dollars of damages.
  2. None of the 19 hijackers was Afghan. The mastermind was Pakistani, the ultimate leader a Saudi.
  3. 2020: The Taliban take control of Afghanistan.
  4. Sleepy Joe freezes $7 billion of financial assets of Afghanistan held in the US.
  5. A lawyer sees Taliban = Afghanistan = $7 billion = fees.
  6. Lawyer has cliented-up, acting for the 150 9/11 families, wanting the $7 billion now.
  7. The case: the Taliban = Afghan people. QED?
  8. Sleepy Joe last week came up with a bizarre solution: the 9/11 families will get 50% of the $7 billion, the Afghan government the balance.
  9. The lawyer wins a share of $3.5 billion in fees.
  10. The Afghan people lose $3.5 billion, up to 9 million face starvation.

Over 20 years, the United States built an aid-dependent economy in Afghanistan. When it left, it withdrew the aid on which it depended. Now, Sleepy Joe wants to give $3.5 billion belonging to the people of Afghanistan to voters in the USA.

Go figure.

[12] Assistant Surgeon William Brydon and Lieutenant Harry Flashman (later General Sir Harry Flashman VC).

Low-hanging fiscal fruit

The floor of Chairman Dan’s coffer has become visible, no longer covered by cash. As fast as the dosh pours in, so even more is scooped out to pay for a bloated public sector, bungled infrastructure projects, rash anti-covid measures and undisguised pork barrelling.

Hence the need to pick some low-hanging fiscal fruit. To the general coffers fill. Wry & Dry wishes to draw to Readers’ attention a couple of new taxes.

Firstly, a new ‘social housing contribution’ of 1.75% of the as-complete value of new housing development. It is expected to raise $800m per annum. The funds will, allegedly, be hypothecated to social housing. Don’t be fooled. It’s just like the federal government’s Medicare levy. The funds go into the government coffers.

This is the 10th new property-based tax that Chairman Dan’s government has introduced.[13]

Secondly, social housing will be free of local rates. This means the $54m in rates annually paid by the state government to local councils will disappear. Council rates will have to increase to cover the lost revenue.

Astute Readers will already know that Chairman Dan’s government continues to increase costs to home buyers:

[13] This proposal has struck a submerged log, to Chairman Dan’s embarrassment. Other taxes include: premium stamp duty for property transactions greater than $2m; land tax to increase by 0.25% and 0.30% for different property types; a new windfall capital gains tax; and unconsolidated property adjacent to residential homes to be subject to land tax; etc.

Geography

Tsar Vlad’s private yacht was seen sailing towards Russia from a Hamburg shipyard on Monday.

His 82 metre ‘Graceful’ had been undergoing refurbishment at the Blohm+Voss shipyard since September. The five-deck, steel aluminium yacht has an indoor pool measuring 15 by three metres that can be transformed into a dance floor by having its floor hydraulically lifted. It has a helipad and its two 2,320-kilowatt engines are capable of a speed of up to 18.2 knots.

Blohm+Voss built the battleship Bismarck. And Readers know what eventually happened to that ship [14].

[14] It rests at the bottom of the Atlantic, having been sunk in 1941 by a combination of Royal Navy battleships (Rodney and King George V), aircraft-delivered torpedoes and eventually a desperate scuttling. Along with the Tirpitz, it was the pride of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine. It had only one offensive operation, lasting eight days.

Habits

Once again, the wisdom of being beautiful and marrying a very wealthy man has been proven.

Ms Alvina Collardeau (now aged 46) was a common-or-garden variety French journalist when she met Michael Fuchs (62), a property developer, some 12 years ago. They were married in 2012 and she graciously bore two of his children.

But they separated in 2020. The Family Division of UK High Court has just awarded her £3.64m per annum for expenses until the final financial settlement is reached.

The pre-nup gave her £23.5m of cash plus 18 years of rent-free accommodation in their current home. The ‘home’ has six floors, five bedrooms and an indoor underground swimming pool.

She enjoys the, err, comfortable life. She spent £273,000 in October 2020 on her American Express card.

Wry & Dry is still pondering if she married for love [15].

[15] The pondering didn’t last.

Snippets from all over

1. Energy prices soar

European natural gas prices soared by almost 70% and crude oil exceeded $105 a barrel for the first time since 2014 after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine triggered fresh worries about global energy supplies.

Wry & Dry comments: It was just under two years ago that the oil price was $16.

2. Private school enrolments boom

The ABS advises that between 2019 and 2021 private schools enrolled 6.1% more students, Catholic schools 2.2% more and government schools 1%.

Wry & Dry comments: Beware of statistics.

3. Hong Kong announces mandatory testing

Hong Kong announced that all residents would have to undergo mandatory Covid-19 testing from next month, as the city reels from China’s worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic.

Wry & Dry comments: This is Hong Kong, so don’t expect trucks blocking the roads, or demonstrators facing off against riot police.

4. VW to list Porsche

Volkswagen has taken the first step towards a €20 billion initial public offering of its Porsche brand, in what would be one of Germany’s biggest listings in years.

Wry & Dry comments: The €20 billion would be for about 25% of the value of Porsche. VW doesn’t really need the money, it generates €15 billion plus in free cash flow even after EV investments.

5. Didn’t bend it like Beckham

Cellular Goods, a cannabis company backed by David Beckham, has had its first sales’ forecasts go up in smoke. Its share price dropped by 33%.

Wry & Dry comments: Google and others have banned the sale of cannabis-derived products, “severely” constraining the company’s ability to promote its products.

Data

  • The UK economy grew by 7.5% in 2021, the fastest growth since the Second World War. And inflation of 5.5% was a 30-year high
  • Long-term interest rates in the US (10-year Treasury notes) leapt above 2%, as investors sold government debt on the latest CPI data
  • Australia’s unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.2% in January
  • German GDP fell by 0.7% in the December quarter, meaning a decline in the March quarter would mean a recession

And, to soothe your troubled mind…

Wry & Dry’s Quote

“Oh, that’s wonderful. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace all right. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy.”

Donald Trump, former US President, commenting on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Wry & Dry comments: Where are the men in white coats?

PS A reminder that the opinions in Wry & Dry do not necessarily represent those of First Samuel, its employees, or directors.

Cheers

Anthony

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