Wry & Dry

Quiet out there. Too quiet. Opportunity. Buy Twitter, dump Trump

It's quiet out there.  Too quiet.

Parliament is not sitting.  The High Court won't hear the citizenship cases of possible dual citizenship MPs for another seven weeks.  Kim Yong Un is back to playing in his sand pit, following a blend of muscularity from Tsar Trump and what Wry & Dry imagines was subtle 'guidance' from the Chinese.  Mad Abbott (see footnote on Bedlam) is huffing about marriage equality, but it seems that the result is set.  The stock-markets have recovered what was lost in the fear of a conflict with North Korea.  

It's too quiet out there.

So W&D will bring Readers up to date with a couple of flash points other than Tsar Trump, North Korea (where...

North Korea eskimo

 

...) or Canberra.

But firstly...  

Equal opportunity

W&D was drawn to a chart that showed, empirically, that Australia is one of the world's most opportunistic societies.

Essentially, parental wealth matters less in Australia for the future income of children than any other country, except Denmark, Norway, Finland, Canada and South Korea. 

Intergenerational wealth

W&D encourages Readers to read the report: Economic Mobility.  It makes for very interesting read.  It reviews matters that affect social mobility such as: percentage of children read to every day, charted by parents and parental income. 

But the chart that arrested W&D's attention was:

Teen mother

Plenty of studies have shown that teen motherhood is, these days, a pathway to poverty.  The US may be the 'land of the free and home of the brave...' [1] but it is also the home of the multi-generation poor.  Which might be understandable in Burkino Faso, but not the wealthiest nation on the planet.

Perhaps Tsar Trump is fighting the wrong battle.  

Presidential sounding?

W&D has a theory as to why Tsar Trump sounded 'presidential' in his speech on Afghanistan (and in his foreign affairs comments generally), but 24 hours later sounded like a man just out of Bedlam [2].

Tsar Trump doesn't know where Afghanistan is.  

Or North Korea for that matter.  See below for a map from last week's Miscellany (which shows where a representative group of Americans guessed the location of North Korea).  Guess which dot was Tsar Trump's.

North Korea map

Close.  But no cigar.  He chose the one in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

So, when speaking of places and events of which he knows nothing, Tsar Trump sticks to the script on the autocue.

But when he thinks he knows something about something, well, that's when his tongue goes at X speed and his brain at Y speed.  X/Y is infinite.

Crime but no punishment

In W&D's occasional pieces on the upcoming 10th Anniversary of the GFC, this week the focus is on crime.  And the absence of punishment.

Today, if you ask a young person about a housing crisis, they would speak of their inability to afford a home.

A decade ago, it was the reverse.  Banks and financial institutions were falling over themselves to lend money for housing, especially in the US.  There, you didn't need an income and you didn't need a job.  Hence NINJA (no income no job account) loans.

But the music stopped, as we now know.  The greatest fiscal crisis since 1929 followed the stock market peak of 31-Oct-2007.   Eleven months later, the venerable Wall Street firm Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.  Confirming the corrupt, unethical and often illegal financial activity that had gone on for several years had, Icarus-like, flown too close to the sun.  Not only were investors fiscally burned, but so too were hundreds of thousands of people.  And the economies of the Western world still haven't recovered [3].

In the decade since the GFC, US authorities have collected $150 billion in fines.  Which does suggest to W&D that there was considerable wrong doing.  But, at the top of the food chain, not one Wall Street CEO has been charged with anything.

GFC convictions US

In the US, lower down the food chain, 324 mortgage lenders, loan officers, real estate brokers and developers have been convicted of offences arising from activity that led up to the GFC.

And only one person working on Wall Street has been convicted: a trader at Credit Suisse, who went to jail after pleading guilty to inflating the price of his portfolio of asset-backed securities.

Venezuela - the next failed state?

W&D always thought that Zimbabwe would be the world's next failed state.  But according to the Fragile States Index (published by the Fund for Peace) W&D is a long way off the mark.  Good grief.

Fragile States Index

And so is Venezuela.  Which seems weird.  Work with W&D on this.

The short story is that Venezuela has the world's largest known oil reserves.  The former President Hugo Chavez ran a populist but increasingly socialist and corrupt government.  A measure of Chavez' failure was that he was lauded by Jeremy Corbyn, the far-left leader of the UK Labour Party.  

Chavez' successor, Nicolas Maduro, has his predecessor's socialist instincts overlaid with a Saddam Hussein-type dictatorial power (via a rigged Parliament).  Not a happy combination.  

Venezuela has the world's highest inflation rate (491%).  The government stopped publishing unemployment figures in April 2016, but the figure is believed to exceed 10%.  In 2016 GDP growth was minus 18.6%.

So, what's up?  Well, not surprisingly, the President is somewhat unpopular.   There are riots in the streets, and food, medicine and necessities' shortages.  The country owes $19.8 billion to foreign creditors but has only $10 billion of foreign reserves.  The price of oil is half what it was three years ago.  Hence a country that gets 95% of its export income and 50% of its government revenue from that one source is really in a, err, fiscal mess.

Venezuela SA

Over 120 people have been killed in demonstrations this year.

Things are spiralling out of control.  W&D ponders that Venezuela's ranking in the Fragile States Index should be similar to that of Zimbabwe. 

Speaking of companies in trouble...

Last week W&D gave a glimpse of the woes of Air Berlin.  This week the steely, if somewhat rheumy, eyes of W&D turn to a UK finance company: Provident Financial.

A 68% plunge (now that's a 'plunge') in its share price lit a globe on W&D's desk.  

Three months ago the FTSE100 company (i.e. in the top 100 companies on the London Stock Exchange by market capitalisation) forecast it would make £60m profit in its home credit business.  This week it announced it was giving its CEO the DCM, and it would make losses of between £80m and £120m this calendar year.  The dividend was axed.

Provident was set up in 1880 to provide affordable credit to poor families in Yorkshire, and its home credit business relies on agents to knock on customers' doors and offer them loans or ask for repayments.  W&D would call this a 'sub-prime lender'. 

Provident finance

Even W&D would observe that a 1880s' business model would be unsuited to the 2010s.  And asks Readers to consider the wisdom of the decision to cut the door-to-door sales force to 2,500 from 3,800.  Not so wise, in a door-to-door business.   Not surprisingly, the debt collection rates plunged, to 57% from 90% 12 months ago.  

The UK Financial Conduct Authority is now conducting an investigation.

Oh, dear. 

Idea of the week: buy Twitter, dump Trump

W&D applauds innovation.  And therefore applauds the idea of Valerie Wilson, a former undercover CIA operative, to buy Twitter by raising $1 billion to buy a controlling interest in the company.

With control, the aim is to ban Tsar Trump from using Twitter.  And hence deprive him of his most direct method of communications. 

So far the campaign has raised $29,000.  Good luck with your project, Ms Wilson.

Although the more Tsar Trump tweets, the deeper the hole he is digging.

Most fatuous headline of the week goes to...

...Australian Financial Review, for 'Qantas: Direct to London, NY by 2022.'

Actually, it's not so much the headline, it's the willingness of the AFR (and other papers - The Australian had a similar spread, but, what the heck, let's slam Fairfax) to publish rubbish content spooned to it by media communication departments of large companies.

The corollary is, of course, hats off to the Qantas media communications folk.  Readers will recall the great job they did in making Qantas' upcoming (March 2018) Perth-to-London non-stop flight a newsworthy story.

But is MEL/LHR non-stop a) a possibility, much less b) desirable?  It may be okay for those who turn left on entering the long aluminium tube.  But those turning right would rightly fear a 20-hour-next-seat neighbour whose a) flesh over-flowed across the armrest; b) personal hygiene was questionable or c) bladder-size meant continual sleep-disturbing visits to the toilet cubicle.

W&D would take the stop-over. 

Elsewhere

Two M&M stories from W&D's week.

Medicare: Customer Courtesy 101.  Fail.

W&D went to the local Medicare office to claim expenses recently incurred.  

W&D:            (after waiting for about one minute, to an indifferent receptionist, busy on iPad) "Excuse me, good morning.  Do I see you.  Or take a number.  Or what?"

Receptionist:  (unsmiling) "Wait a minute"

W&D:            (waits for about 90 seconds, and then...)

Receptionist:  "Yes?"

W&D:             "I'd like to make some medical claims."

Receptionist:  "You can do it online."

W&D:             "But I'd like to speak to someone in case there matters that need clarifying."

Receptionist:   "Well, this is a digital office."

W&D:             "Well, I'm an analogue man."

Receptionist:   (Confused.  Pauses.  Then taps into his iPad.  Waits.)

W&D:             "Sooo...?"

Receptionist:   "Wait over there.  Your name will be called." 

Migrants

W&D got an Uber home last night after a solid day in the Collins Street Salt Mine.

When W&D arrived home he reflected on the industry of the driver: a migrant from Bangladesh, married, with two young children, works as a night manager for a major hotel (40 hours per week) and drives for Uber for 20 hours per week.

He and his wife have bought a block of land and are now trying to get a home loan to build.  Wants to see his children succeed in Australia.

Gotta like that.

And...

And in this world of troubles, Miscellany will soothe your troubled mind.     

 

[1]  Words are taken from the US national anthem.  

[2]  Bedlam, also known as Bethlem Royal Hospital, is a psychiatric hospital in London.  It's famous history has inspired several horror books, films and TV series, most notably 'Bedlam', a 1946 film with Boris Karloff.  If Boris were alive today, he could do a splendid interpretation of Tsar Trump at his manic best.  Bedlam's notable patients include William Chester Minor, best known for being the largest contributor to the original Oxford English Dictionary; and Daniel M'Naghten, the catalyst for the creation of the M'Naghten Rules (as Readers will know is the criteria for the defence of insanity in the British legal system).

[3]  Significantly, because governments (a) took on the debt of most non-government financial institutions that were in a state of fiscal collapse, and (b) decided to spend their way out of economic difficulty.  The latter was the case in Australia when the government panicked and spent billions it didn't need to. GFC pink batts 

Australia's economy escaped the GFC not because of government spending (remember pink-batts) but because of the immediate drop of 3% in interest rates and the Chinese economy still powering along.