TAKING STOCK 24 APRIL 2019

 

INVESTORS and business leaders might want to read the work of environmental analysts, released by Forest and Birds last week.

The analysis warns that all New Zealanders will need to make a conscious lifestyle change to stabilise our environment and to retain balance in our ecology.

In short, the message is we must live sustainably, preserving our land, water, soil and air, and we must revert to the era when our resources were regarded as precious, rather than as an infinite supplier of materials that would meet exponential demand.

My father, who died in 1991, might have been responsible for the thunder claps that sat over some of New Zealand over Easter Sunday. His clapping of this ‘’new’’ initiative would have been deafening.

It was in the 1950s that he had invented a transformer to enable low voltage electric blankets to become safe, whether wet or whether the wire circuits were broken. He was the first exporter of low voltage electric blankets, the late Jack Marshall overseeing the first shipments.

Dad’s brand, Safasleep, used imported copper wiring in its construction (imports in those days subject to licensing) and NZ wool as its fabric.

He built the blanket to last a lifetime, guaranteeing it for, I think, twenty years, basing this on its ability to be repaired cheaply.

He believed that no responsible manufacturer created a product with in-built obsolescence.

The world’s resources were finite.

Build an electric blanket once, repair it if need be, but never throw it away. Package it in a cardboard box, not polystyrene foam or plastic.

At our family bach at Lake Taupo, on frosty winter nights, the Safasleep still does the job, fifty years later.

His product was expensive, perhaps thirty pounds for a double blanket with twin controls.

Of course it was the new paradigm of buy cheap, throw away and buy again that arrived from overseas and destroyed his market.

By the 1980s, one could make an electric blanket with throwaway innards that retailed for twenty dollars, and, of course, that was embraced by retailers and consumers.

Providing those cheap blankets lasted two years (and did not burn your house down), they were a cheaper option.

The throw away generations had taken over.

Safasleep was sold to a Christchurch business, Argus Heating, Dad’s staff received redundancy and Dad retired, muttering about how he would probably not live long enough to observe the wake-up call that would convert consumers back to responsible, resource-conscious, habits.

Forest and Bird reported last week that scores of animal and plant life species are facing extinction because of the last decades of brainless consumption.

No doubt the prognosis is that we need to detach ourselves from a reliance on plastic; we need to restore our waterways by regarding them as sacred; we need to plant trees, to lessen erosion and to store carbon. We need, at the simplest level, to recycle, fastidiously.

The old man would have loved to hear this! It was obvious to him, sixty years ago.

 _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

ONE cannot have Canadian guests at the Taupo bach over Easter without being stirred by what they see in New Zealand, and are too polite to mention.

Canada is a great country, so different from the rest of the American continent that it is almost laughable.

Just a few observations from my experience there might explain:

1. Pedestrians have right-a-way, on any road, with or without crossings or lights. Any accident is the driver’s fault.

2. To help their bears, moose, elk and other animals they built animal bridges over motorways that run through animal habitats, and build fences to stop animals from crossing highways.

3. Their highways are separated by barriers and even have run-off areas off downhill roads, in case trucks lose their brakes. They simply build an uphill run off so trucks can steer off their highway, avoiding disaster.

4. In Vancouver City, often rated the best city in the world, they break up their rubbish into five different bins, including one for food scraps only.

Take it as read that I admire Canada, one of those rare countries that have socialised health and education, rather than offer the best services only to those who can pay for it, or bribe the universities to take on their teenage kids.

Our Canadian guests graciously do not observe our high-cost living, simply noting our housing prices are not quite as high as their own, and wondering why our exports are cheaper in Canada than they are here.

They are silent about the stupidity of our current attitude to tourism.

We celebrate the revenue from our rapidly growing tourism numbers without making effort to ensure their safety, for example by building barriers down our 100kph highways.

We avoid the cost of a barrier, or even secured batons, by using white or yellow paint, asking foreign drivers to drive on the ‘’wrong’’ side, at 100kph, through the Devils’ Elbow near Queenstown, just ten minutes from Queenstown’s Airport, en route to Te Anau or Milford Sounds.

We allow slow-moving vehicles to hold up kilometres of traffic, without ever moving off the main lane, rather than fine drivers who bumble along with lines of frustrated people trundling along behind.

Surely our technology could sort this, cameras nabbing the selfish offenders and debiting their bank accounts.

Tourism has been a huge contributor to our loudly acclaimed fiscal surpluses in recent times.

If we have a million more tourists than we planned and if each tourist spends $5,000 during their stay, then the gross revenue is $5 billion, of which some $600 million (nett) is captured by our tax collectors, a bonus sum created by the growing number of tourists, not through our brilliance in creating products and services, or increasing our animal numbers.

Are we using that revenue for toilets, road barriers, camping grounds, tourist information centres, conservation land walking tracks and multi-language signage? Do we provide more police, to stop the scoundrels from ruining their holidays with car break-ins?

Or do we just take the money and let the tourists politely overlook our lack of infrastructure?

Does the ‘’take the cash’’ strategy lead to sustainability?

Are we really wanting the money trading attitudes, focussed on the next quarter’s results (and bonuses) to be our hallmark?

 _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

OUR attitude towards who gets the benefit of our surpluses has often baffled me.

In the corporate world investors ought to share the benefit of surpluses, at least some of the margins being used to reduce risk by building sustainable support.

A bank should retain profits, perhaps reducing its gearing, perhaps investing in better technology, or in staff upskilling, to ensure survival in a future storm.

Logically the directors are properly paid to govern the company to ensure it is sustainable and presumably the executives are all properly paid to reward them for their effort.

The principle of bonuses is not a complete mystery to me but I have always figured that bonuses ought to be awarded by the owners of the company, the people whose money is at risk.

When and where did our mentality change, providing ‘’incentives’’ to directors and managers to do their tasks well, the quantum of their rewards decided by them, not by shareholder vote?

Am I to believe that as an owner I should allow my executive to go through a process that begins with my (or my representatives) agreeing to take the risk of an acquisition or a new programme, yet in doing so allow them, the executive, to capture some of the success? My risk, their reward?

Should I do this, paying for what might be short-term success? Should I offer the same incentives to highly-paid fund managers, wrapped up in their high-rise offices?

Should they keep their bonus, if the short-term rewards being granted to fund managers, is earned by risk-taking with my money?

I take all of the risk but they want some of any reward? Truly?

A fund manager paid hundreds of thousands a year believes he needs to be incentivised to do his job well? Furthermore, he wants his bonus before his investment gains have been calculated by the market, rather than by a perhaps tame valuer.

Are you kidding?

At the very least, the concept of a performance bonus based on unrealised, valuer-assessed gain should be placed in escrow, tucked away, to offset any reversal of a previous illusory short-term success.

Some readers may recall my reported experience many years ago when I listened to an American senior executive at a major US bank, who was visiting NZ.

At a cocktail function in Wellington, during a brief public relations visit, he was asked how long he had worked for the US bank.

‘’Eighteen quarters’’ he replied.

Bonuses at that bank are based on quarterly results.

Does that mentality lead to sustainable practices?

TRAVEL

 

Edward will be in Tauranga on 29 April.

Kevin will be in Ashburton on 9 May.

I will be in Timaru on May 7, and invite clients and the public to a 45 minute seminar entitled ‘’The New Norm For Investors’’. After a break I will then talk for a similar period about what I learned while researching The Billion Dollar Bonfire. I remain gobsmacked by what was uncovered.

My speaking tour dates, venues and times are:

 

Tuesday 7 May, Sopheze on the Bay, Caroline Bay Tea Rooms, Virtue Ave, Timaru

Investors’ seminar: 2:00pm, Billion Dollar Bonfire: 3:30pm

Wednesday 8 May, Burnside Bowling Club, Christchurch

Investors’ seminar: 1:30pm, Billion Dollar Bonfire: 3:00pm

 

Thursday, May 9, Ellerslie Race Club Remuera Room

Investors’ seminar: 12:30pm, Billion Dollar Bonfire: 2:00pm

Friday, May 10, Milford Bowling Club, North Shore

Investors’ seminar: 11:00am, Billion Dollar Bonfire: 12:30pm

 

Tuesday 14 May, Edgewater Events Centre, 54 Sargood Drive, Wanaka

Investors’ seminar: 2:00pm, Billion Dollar Bonfire: 3:30pm

 

Friday 17 May, Edgar Centre, Andersons Bay, Dunedin

Investors’ seminar: 11am, Billion Dollar Bonfire: 12.30pm

 

Monday 20 May, Southwards Car Museum, Otaihanga, Paraparaumu

Investors’ seminar: 11.30am, Billion Dollar Bonfire: 1pm

Tuesday 21 May, Petone Workingmen’s Club, Udy Street, Petone

Investors’ seminar: 11.30am, Billion Dollar Bonfire: 1pm

Thursday 23 May, The Chateau Marlborough, cnr High and Henry Street, Blenheim

Investors’ seminar: 2pm, Billion Dollar Bonfire: 3.30pm

 

Friday, 24 May, Beachcomber Hotel, Tahunanui, Nelson

Investors’ seminar: 1pm, Billion Dollar Bonfire: 2.30pm

 

Tuesday 4 June, Napier Sailing Club

Investors’ seminar: 12.30pm, Billion Dollar Bonfire: 2pm

Please email info@chrislee.co.nz regarding any planned attendance.

Chris Lee

Managing Director

Chris Lee & Partners Limited

 


Johnny Lee writes:

Capital gains tax appears to be off the table, for now.

The shelving of the proposed capital gains tax has matched our expectations. The group which by the majority recommended the tax did not offer the sort of analysis that might have swayed the electorate.

Following an announcement on Wednesday afternoon, the Labour-led Coalition Government have stated they will not implement a capital gains tax while the current Prime Minister remains in that position.

While property owners and shareholders will be pleased to have certainty in this area, it is difficult to isolate a winner from this process, other than the tax working group members themselves, whose expertise has largely been disregarded. It has been suggested that some of their work could form the basis of another working group, sometime in the future. One lesson such a working group could take from this saga, is that needless politicking from members of the group create unnecessary and unhelpful distractions to the process of politicians presenting important ideas to the public.

Overall, the process feels like a waste of both time and money. One would hope that the data collected and research conducted is put to use in some capacity, if perhaps only to serve as a reminder that democracy usually favours the majority view of the public.

Without wanting to delve too far in to the politics of the decision, I suspect that their inability to implement the recommendations made, suggests the tax treatment of capital that is currently enforced is unlikely to change. Both sides of the political spectrum seem to believe the current approach is right for New Zealand.

Investors can have confidence that the current tax regime for capital is here to stay.

 _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Any doubt that interest rates will be cut this year appear to have been put to bed, as inflation data released this week suggests the expectation of a cut in the next few months, likely followed by a second cut later in the year, is justified.

Quarterly inflation was up only +0.1% for the quarter ending March, and would have been -0.1% had the tax on tobacco products not increased its price. A number of factors led to this, including falls in the petrol price and in the cost of international travel. Petrol prices have rebounded somewhat, but with inflation well outside the Reserve Bank’s band, it seems likely that savers will be subjected to further cuts in interest rate returns in the months ahead. The New Zealand dollar also fell, as markets further priced in the likelihood of lower interest rates.

The Reserve Bank’s inflation mandate targets a medium-term target inflation rate of 1-3%. Using the small number of tools at their disposal, they are tasked with manipulating consumer expenditure to drive towards this outcome. As Mike has previously touched on in Market News, these small number of tools appear to be seeing a reduction in their efficacy, which may prompt the Government to either introduce new tools for influencing inflation, or to directly affect it by changing levels of Government expenditure or taxation.

With the budget only a month or so away, the Government will have the opportunity to reflect on its current trajectory and evaluate whether a change in approach is warranted. One outcome they will want to avoid, is for inflation to continue to fall.

Sustained deflation, or falling prices, can be destructive to economies, though not as damaging as the hyperinflation currently being experienced in some of the worst economies in the world. Deflation causes people to reduce their expenditure (with the expectation that the same item will be cheaper the next day). This causes producers to supply less, which reduces employment, further reducing consumption. Deflation also causes the fixed value of debt to increase, making it more difficult to service.

New Zealand is not yet at a point where deflation is an issue that necessitates a response, and it seems doubtful that lowering interest rates would dramatically impact that regardless. Once interest rates reach ultra-low levels, you encounter additional problems, such as savers withdrawing money from banks. Today, Term Deposits continue to offer rates in excess (barely) of 3%, leaving the retail banks with room to manoeuvre if interest rate cuts are made later this year.

These interest rate cuts come at a time when more funds continue to pour in to companies listed on the stock exchange, causing its index to challenge the 10,000 level that has been threatened several times this year already.

 _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

It is important to remember that our index is a gross index, a term that allows it to include dividends. A gross index assumes that all dividends are reinvested back in to the stock, so as to provide a better reflection of how the constituents of an index are actually performing from the point of view of the investor. As New Zealand companies tend to pay a higher proportion of their profits out in the form of dividends, a gross index was judged to be a more appropriate method of comparing the performance of our listed companies.

Other common indices, such as the S&P 500 in the US, tend to use the capital values excluding dividends.

New Zealand’s history with this methodology has produced incremental rises, year by year, with the inclusion of dividends boosting the index, similar to the effect of compounding interest.

Prior to 2003, New Zealand used a capital index, measuring simply the performance of each share price regardless of dividends. This meant that if the share price of ABC Limited was $1, and paid an 8 cent dividend to return to a share price of 92 cents, the methodology deemed that the index had fallen. New Zealand shares tend to pay higher rates of dividends than their international peers, meaning such a method would be an ineffective tool for comparing itself internationally.

In 2003, the New Zealand Stock Exchange decided to changes its methodology to using a gross index, so as to better reflect the return investors received when purchasing shares on the NZX. Commentators at the time believed that the leadership team within the NZX were inspired to make this change to rebut criticism of the New Zealand markets performance under the capital index methodology. Certain investor groups at the time argued that these changes made it a less useful benchmark when comparing their own performance to the index. Cynics even pondered the impact of index changes on capital market bonuses!

There is no one perfect approach when using these tools, but it is important to remember that when comparing our market performance to our international peers, that the apples and oranges are sorted correctly.

 _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Edward Lee writes:

Last week, I attended the Infratil investor day presentation to hear how the Infratil portfolio has evolved over the past 12 months. As usual, I was impressed with the Infratil management team, who articulated themselves well, proved extremely knowledgeable about the sectors that they had invested in, and were excited about the future prospects of the various businesses held within the

Infratil portfolio.

Over the past year, Infratil has sold a number of its income producing assets to simplify its portfolio, which has led Infratil to becoming more concentrated on a small number of growth companies. Assets that have been conditionally sold include NZ Bus, Snapper and ANU (Australian student accommodation). Perth Energy is also up for sale. Reading between the lines, I got the impression that the retirement business in Australia (Retire Australia) may also be up for sale at some point in the future. Additionally, Infratil made it clear that it would like to invest in the renewable energy sector in Europe.

So out with the old, and in with the new. Cash generating assets have been reduced from four companies down to two (Trustpower and Wellington Airport) and will likely stay at two for some time.

With the recent purchase of 65% of Tilt Renewables (and the investment in Longroad) the portfolio is now heavily concentrated towards the renewable energy sector (48% of the portfolio). New Zealand based investments have fallen from 61% to 50% of the portfolio, and this shift may put the imputation credits at risk.

Infratil has previously been viewed as an income producing company, with an excellent retail bond programme, and a share that has paid reasonable dividends. Its shares have always traded at a discount to Net Tangible Assets and will likely always trade at a discount. However, it became clear to me that Infratil was preparing investors for the inevitable. As the income producing assets are sold, and the number of growth companies within the portfolio increase, dividends may not be as strong, and imputation credits may reduce. Growth companies often find themselves in need of capital, especially during their formative years.

Infratil made it clear throughout the meeting that it would prefer its business to be viewed as a growth company, rather than an income producing company. With the transition of the assets into more growth type assets, and with Wellington Airport likely to hold back some capital/retained earnings for its own growth plan, there will not be as much cash available to continue the trend of rising imputed dividends.

As the portfolio of assets shift towards this approach, one item that will clearly need to be addressed is the now inappropriate management contract with Morrison and Co. Currently, Morrison and Co receive at least three different management fees for the international portfolio. These include initial incentive fees, annual incentive fees and realised incentive fees. There is a high hurdle of achieving a minimum of 12% per annum after tax return, however the 20% “outperformance” fee is enormous and has led to an extra fee for the year of $100m off paper valuations rather than actual realised profits. I will let that number sink in for a bit. One Hundred Million Dollars, a life changing amount of money.

One cannot argue that Infratil hasn’t performed well over the past 12 months. Its share price has performed well, mainly due to the ‘Canberra Data Centres’ which Infratil hopes will likely continue its growth trajectory, and through the realisation of the assets at values above book value. However, with this transition towards more international assets, along with the transition from income producing assets in to growth assets, the incentive fee of 20% should be reviewed.

TRAVEL

 

 

Edward will be in Tauranga 29 April.

Kevin will be in Ashburton on 9 May.

 

 

Johnny Lee

Edward Lee


Taking Stock 11 April, 2019

WHAT a difference a week can make.

In the week following the RBNZ's relatively blunt hint that ‘’the more likely direction of our next OCR move is down’’, we have seen mortgage rates slashed, share prices rally and dire predictions of the OCR reaching 0.75% within a year.

Owners of dividend-paying shares, who have already enjoyed handsome returns, will be largely insulated from such chatter.  Owners of bonds and term deposits, especially those maturing soon, will be bracing for what may be an abrupt change in income.

Borrowers will be musing the consequences of lower rates.  Some may be considering using the savings to pay down their debt.  Others may be considering the logic of reducing debt whatsoever. When debt costs approach zero, the financial incentive to reduce it becomes weaker.

Shareholders will be pondering whether to take profits from the year’s rally.  The index, now approaching 10,000, has risen more than 10% this year already, after falling sharply in the first weeks of 2019.  Ultimately, sellers would need to consider where to invest the proceeds of such sales.  Selling shares, to hold cash or term deposits, makes sense only if the objective is to de-risk or if the expectation is that shares are likely to fall in the short-term.  At the moment, the signals from the market seem to be suggesting the reverse.

The market’s view, that interest rates will continue to fall this year and stay low for the foreseeable future, is one that we share.

Fighting the market is usually a losing battle.  While Adrian Orr has yet to change the OCR since assuming his role (and indeed, we have not had a change in almost three years) failing to cut rates this year would now represent a major surprise to markets.  Banks are already acting, changing their mortgage and deposit rates with the assumption that these cuts are coming.

Falling interest rates will normally impact our dollar, which may mean certain goods, such as petrol, will become more costly.  Exporters, conversely, will be pleased.  Companies that export their product may see a benefit to their bottom line, and their share price.

Compounding these issues is the fact that next month will see the return of several hundred million dollars from the ASB Preference Share repayments, most of it looking for a new home.  The rates on offer are unlikely to be comparable, with most fixed interest securities listed on the NZDX issued by banks to be in the realms of 3.00-4.00%, some even below this range.

Overall, the environment we are now in seems ideal for borrowers, of both the corporate and the retail variety.

Investors should continue to monitor their upcoming maturities and develop plans for those funds, with an expectation that rates may continue southwards, to the obvious benefit of companies which fund their assets and projects with some debt.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

THIS month also saw a fairly large increase to our minimum wage, which currently stands as the third highest (in gross, USD terms) in the world, behind Australia and Luxembourg.

Such changes are best made at times of low unemployment and will have an inflationary impact across the economy.  They also encourage employers to create more value from their employees by moving them into more specialised roles.

A good example of this is in the horticultural space, where an apple orchard in the Hawke's Bay is developing robotic technology to assist in fruit picking, by analysing fruit for ripeness and plucking them from the trees.  Once purchased, the machines do not need to be paid and, if operated autonomously, could work for longer hours than the fruit pickers beside them.  These same people could be moved to more permanent roles around the orchard.

Technological change, through smarter use of analytics, is inevitable, especially in industries where wages are determined by Government decree.  The use of touch screens in fast food restaurants are becoming more common, and last month McDonalds reported the purchase of a start-up which had designed Artificial Intelligence, using data such as the weather and sales numbers, combined with number plate recognition, to better recognise its customers and predict their needs. 

While this may seem a touch Orwellian to some, the changes approaching will be largely invisible to consumers, and offer part of a solution to the issue of how a workforce adapts to the demographic changes that are underway.

I suspect we will see more on this front as the cost of labour increases and the cost of capital to invest in technology continues to fall.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

THE FMA has shown its teeth as it tackled its second major public Insider Trading case as reported this week, against a former ‘Virtual CFO’ of tiny digital-solutions company VMob (now known as Plexure).

Investors may recall the first case, against a former E-Road employee, who was found not guilty after successfully arguing that the tip he received did not influence his decision to sell the shares, and that he had intended to sell the shares regardless of the insider information he had received.  The man who gave that tip was sentenced to six months of home detention.

In this instance, Mark Talbot, a former partner at Deloitte New Zealand, paid $150,000 to the FMA in lieu of a penalty.  The maximum penalty for insider trading is $300,000 or five years in prison.  The offending trade conducted by Mr Talbot was for $10,000 worth of VMob.

This should serve as a warning to investors and traders alike, especially those who receive ‘tips’ from friends and family: the size of the trade is irrelevant when breaking the law.  It should also put to rest any argument that by purchasing shares on behalf of another you are somehow no longer subject to the law.

The FMA correctly pointed out that the damage to the integrity of the market, caused by actions like this, creates a need for a strong deterrent.

The engagement between the public and capital markets, outside of KiwiSaver, is already poor. While this is due to a wide range of factors, the idea that the share market is unevenly tilted against mum and dad investors, exacerbated by the unequal flow of information, is one that is pervasive and, in my view, not without basis.  Investors who were active during the 1980s, when insider trading was prevalent, not illegal, and barely frowned upon, need clear illustrations by our regulators that this behaviour will be stamped out.

There are two particular points from this case that require highlighting.

Firstly, the parties involved chose not to escalate the case to the courts, instead agreeing to an ‘enforceable undertaking’. The FMA clearly thought that a settlement outside court would be more cost-effective than leaving their fate to jurors, as they did last time.

Secondly, the trades occurred in July 2014, almost five years prior to the settlement.

In New Zealand, the NZX surveillance team are diligent in their policing of the New Zealand market, using sophisticated software called SMARTS to analyse trading patterns and client behaviour to spot anomalies that occur.  More often than not, these anomalies can be explained as harmless, such as a person inheriting a large sum of money, fortuitous timing, or a broker releasing a recommendation based on research.  These anomalies are often easy to spot, especially in the illiquid securities.

When they are not satisfied with an explanation, the data is sent to the FMA to investigate.  Clearly, this can take a significant amount of time.  Insider traders should never assume their cheating has escaped notice.

Broking houses themselves use the same technology, and have the ‘Know Your Client’ obligations that help police this.  Ultimately, there is only so much a sharebroking firm can deduce from the information provided.  Other than voluntary disclosure, a broking firm would have no idea if your cousin’s wife was a director of a publicly listed company.

The firms themselves offer another line of defence.  Listed companies have procedures that dictate the flow of information, and when an employee can trade.  As seen in this case, these rely heavily on staff understanding the processes, and a willingness of staff to follow the process.

The conclusion is clear – if you possess information not known to the market which may materially affect its share price, you cannot act on it or induce others to do so, either for yourself, your friends or family.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Chris Lee writes:

The Billion Dollar Bonfire book that has preoccupied me for the past 15 months now approaches distribution date, its text finalised, the extensive referencing notes completed, and indexing being resolved now that the book is with the type-setter.

The book should be in bookshops by May 6.  I hope so, as my travel around various cities and towns to discuss the book begins on May 7!

Those who ordered the book through my office will have it couriered to the nominated address as soon as the book is printed.

I will be addressing meetings as detailed below, often accompanied by my wife, Giovanna, the co-producer of this book who must have typed a million words before it reached its final edition of maybe 90,000 words (perhaps 350 pages).

My son and business colleague Edward will also attend some meetings.

Each meeting will have two quite separate sessions, one entitled “The New Norm For Investors”, a financial presentation open to clients, investors or the public. This will be held 90 minutes before the book meetings and will be of approximately 40 minutes duration.

The book meeting may involve a different audience, perhaps with some carry over and will discuss why the book was written, the roadblocks to compensation, and the law changes required to avoid any repetition of the unnecessary and costly failure of a non-bank deposit taker like SCF.

Clients or anyone interested in attending are asked to email us at info@chrislee.co.nz to help us with planning and set-up.

Any interest in buying the discount book must be emailed to us now. We have a supply remaining and may be able to increase it, if required.

Each meeting will be attended by a representative from a local bookshop.

Details:

Tuesday May 7, Timaru, Sopheze on the Bay   2:00pm and 3:30pm

Wednesday May 8, Christchurch, Burnside Bowling Club   1:30pm and 3:00pm

Thursday May 9, Auckland, Ellerslie Event Centre-Remuera Room   12:30pm and 2:00pm

Friday May 10, North Shore, Milford Bowling Club   11:00am and 12:30pm

Tuesday May 14, Wanaka, To be advised   To be advised

Friday May 17, Dunedin, Edgar Centre   11:00am and 12:30pm

Monday May 20, Kapiti, Southwards-Bugatti Room   11:30am and 1:00pm

Tuesday May 21, Wellington, Petone Workingmen’s Club   11:30am and 1:00pm

Thursday May 23, Blenheim, Chateau Marlborough   2:00pm and 3:30pm

Friday May 24, Nelson, Beachcomber Hotel   1:00pm and 2:30pm

Tuesday June 4, Napier, Napier Sailing Club   12:30pm and 2:00pm

TRAVEL

 

Edward will be in Tauranga 29 April.

Kevin will be in Christchurch on 17 April and Ashburton on 9 May.

Michael will be in Wellington on 15 April.

By the end of May, Chris will be asleep, cellphone deactivated, perhaps for a couple of days.

Chris Lee

Johnny Lee

Chris Lee & Partners Ltd


Taking Stock 4 April 2019

 

THE jailing of the finance company director Paul Bublitz comes after probably the last of the court cases relating to the poor behaviour of many dozens of finance company owners in the period 2007-2010.

Bublitz was one of the original directors of the apparently reputable Strategic Finance Company, led for some time by a man I admired, the late Jock Hobbs, a great contributor to NZ Rugby and in my judgement, a well-meaning man.

The baby-faced Bublitz never looked comfortable in the Strategic ranks but he was not alone, Hobbs having an eclectic bunch of people to oversee, one or two much better than others.  Bublitz moved on, seeking to fund his troubled property projects through Viaduct Capital and Mutual Funds Ltd, two E-rated finance companies so small that they survived long enough to qualify for the Crown retail deposit guarantee.

Bublitz sought to use the Crown guarantee to raise money to fund his own property problems, effectively seeking to transfer the cost of failed deals to the Crown.

He was not the only one to try this strategy.  At that time there were a few failed finance companies approached by those with the Crown guarantee, the objective being to transfer the failed company into the ownership of a company with the guarantee, thus rorting the taxpayers.

As Justice Venning noted, this did not fix a failed project, it simply shifted the cost of failure to the taxpayers.

Frankly, this strategy was puerile.  No sound thinker could have seen the strategy as moral, let alone legal, or sustainable.

I would compare it to the plan of a dairy to solve its lack of stock by stealing stock from a dairy down the road.

Only an idiot thinks he can solve a problem by committing a crime.

The Judge noted it was a crime to shift the problem to the taxpayers.  I agree with him.

However he may have given hope to some other victims of finance company chicanery.

Imagine if the Crown itself made an error, concealed it, and as a result a finance company loss was transferred to investors, the reverse of what Bublitz was trying to do?

Might this be comparable to Bublitz’s error?

The taxpayers took a hiding as a result of the finance company sector’s dreadful behaviour.

Though Bublitz and his fellow directors may be the last of the 2008 class to face retribution, it would be premature to assume that investors have no further hope of compensation.

I retain hope that there will be further discussion on that subject in the future.

 _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

THE admired Massey University teacher Claire Matthews is the latest to put fear into the minds of those planning to retire.

She has published research suggesting that city dwellers wanting to enjoy all options in retirement will need $750,000 of savings.

As far as I know I have not met Matthews but I have often enjoyed observing that, as a teacher, she has found a wavelength with retail investors, a rare achievement for any academic.  Sadly, this time around, her research is not helpful.

The big issue she misses is that investors and retirees today have two obvious options that the research ignores.

Firstly, the city retiree can consume his capital, and secondly he can eat his house, via a reverse mortgage.

It is obviously true that the small minority of retirees who do not own a home, but pay rent, will need income for shelter, but around 80 percent of retirees still own their home without debt, a figure that on an international scale is high.

Imagine a retiree with $350,000 of KiwiSaver and other savings, owning a city house worth $600,000.

That person will have many options for at least two decades after retiring.

The $350,000, along with its investment returns, would last 15 years if consumed judiciously, at around $25,000 per year. Add the NZ pension to that and the tax-paid money available to the city dweller would easily fund a budgeted overseas trip each year.

Now imagine that after 15 years the $350,000 has gone.  The retired person’s house might be then worth a bit more, say $700,000.

Any home equity lender would allow the person, by now aged 80, to draw $30,000 a year.

Life expectancy by then might be longer, perhaps 87.

Seven years drawing $30,000 at an interest cost of 7% would allow the couple to live most satisfactorily on the pension, supplemented by the home equity annuity.

There is no convention that stipulates that people must go without income to generate a greater-valued estate.

The universities generally are an improbable source of insight into retirement living, and especially unlikely to have useful knowledge of retired investors.

A small financial markets business like ours, with just a few thousand clients, learns every day, because of our multi contacts each day with real investors, most of whom are retired. Our database is real, the people talking to us, not to a telephone survey spokesperson. Politely but firmly, I suggest our data is real, its authenticity virtually guaranteed.

Surveys rarely would make this claim.

Unless our clients are living in a different universe, those living in academia are still using deeply flawed data, which does little other than to undermine credibility.  Their contact with the real world is artificial.

Perhaps the university research is representative of those who through poor health, bad luck, or broken relationships, reach retirement with little hope of enjoying much overseas travel in retirement but, as far as I know, this outcome does not exactly confine one to abject misery.

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AS an occasional critic of the business pages served up by our country’s two major newspaper chains, I was elated last week to observe the latest trend, drawing out the views of our business leaders by inviting them to contribute unedited articles on serious subjects.

Over the years, as the major papers have endured advertising revenue falls and circulation losses, the newspaper barons have responded by employing fewer people and offering careers that would tempt only the most dedicated reporters.

That there is any serious news in the papers and any discussion of complex issues is somewhat of a miracle, and a tribute to the personal motivations of those reporters who are driven by personal ambition.

Business leaders have responded to lightweight coverage, or clickbait guff, by withdrawing their availability to discuss issues that require deep thought.  They fear that stressed reporters and sub-editors do not always present their views accurately.

So as readers, with the daily newspaper reading an ingrained habit, we have become used to reading the views of lightweight salesmen seeking to sell their wares, rather than having access to the deep thinkers and the real leaders whose business networks are based on intellect rather than social media detritus.

Last week I read an article in the NZ Herald carefully discussing the Capital Gains Tax and a much heavier requirement of banks to shore up capital.

The writer, now a CEO of a market-dominating investment bank, noted that these two issues had their origin in the years when the Auckland housing market was racing ahead, potentially creating multiple problems.

1. The price rises were generating excessive gains, untaxed, distorting investment decisions.

2. The banks were lending more than ever to an unproductive sector.

3. The banks’ balance sheets were growing excessively.

4. The banks’ ability to survive was being at least mildly threatened by their dependence on the value of Auckland houses.

These issues led to more pressure for a new look at a tax largely targeting property investors.

Further, there was an obvious fear that banking capital would be damaged if the house price gains fell as rapidly as they had risen, and fell as far as their start point in, say 2010.

The logical response from vote-seeking politicians was to investigate a capital gains tax on investment property.

The logical response of the Reserve Bank charged with trading bank stability was to look at the capital ratio requirements of banks.

The article went on to explain that the rise of housing prices had now eased, less so than in Australia, but still significantly, and that the pressure on bank stability was therefore easing.

The problems had been dealt with by market forces.

New Zealand’s economic growth has eased and does not need to shrink further.

If a government introduced a capital gains tax in today’s more sober environment that tax would increase the cost of equity, discouraging investment.

If at the same time the central bank imposed significant new costs on banks, this most certainly would lead to more expensive debt, the banks forced to restrict lending supply, inevitably raising the cost.

Do we want to lift the cost of equity and the cost of debt at a time when we have fallen from our peaks and are facing slower economic growth?

The contributed article represented a viewpoint that was expressed logically, its argument well developed, its conclusion well justified.

My point is that the pool of reporters in today’s newspapers has been depleted, probably leaving many reporters over-worked, possibly resulting in a talent pool unable to articulate the views of business leaders.

The concept of inviting our best business leaders to provide their views in their own words is an excellent compromise, providing the newspapers have the experienced people who can differentiate between issue-driven executive contribution and self-promoting guff, written by those aspiring to sell.

If the NZ Herald three times a week sought articles from our smartest chief executives, then the value of newspaper content might attract back those who have given up the media as a source of intelligent analysis or discussion.

Of course this assumes that I am correct in observing that our best business leaders will rarely engage with reporters, preferring to say nothing rather than risk being misunderstood or sensationalised.

Even more, the leaders may fear the five-second television time slots which select, seemingly at random, what a stressed editor thinks is most attention-grabbing, rather than what the business leader thought was his key point.

I think the NZ Herald is onto an idea that might be a game changer.

And, yes, as a matter of disclosure, the article conflating the issues of capital gains tax and the new bank capital proposals was written by a business leader (and son) of whom I am rather fond!

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Travel

In May I will be holding investment seminars entitled ‘’The New Norm For Investors’’, addressing the challenges to investors that seem to be embedded in global and local markets.

Any client, and indeed any investor, is welcome. The talk will be less than one hour and after a 30-minute break, will be followed by a one-hour discussion about my SCF book.

My proposal, to be confirmed, is to address in May, any interested investors in Timaru, Christchurch, Auckland, North Shore, Wanaka, Dunedin, Wellington, Kapiti, Blenheim, Nelson and Napier.

Please email us if you are interested in attending. Dates and venues will be supplied, and will be confirmed shortly.

Edward will be in Wairarapa on 9 April, Auckland (Albany) 11 April and in Tauranga 29 April.

Kevin will be in Christchurch on 17 April and Ashburton on 9 May.

Chris Lee

Managing Director

Chris Lee & Partners Limited


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