Blain: The House Of Cards Is About To Collapse For Two Reasons…

Blain’s Morning Porridge, submitted by Bill Blain of Shard Capital

Have you ever watched a house of cards collapse? Sometimes a corner or a side comes down, and it can be sort of fixed… Sometimes the whole thing just gets blown away.  My Spidey Senses are all a-tingle this morning, triggered by 2 factors:

  1. Telsa: The spike in negative commentary on Tesla suggests THE moment is coming: a downgrade by a previous bull to $10 target price, doubts on the trajectory of sales, the realisation the Solar Tiles project is complete tosh (and a bail out of Musk’s cousins), the crash in its debt and recent convertible price, and loads more, has led to the rather obvious conclusion Tesla will struggle to fund ongoing capital burn. Peak-Musk was some time ago. Many now think the orchestra is about to strike up Gotterdammerung. A loss of confidence in Tesla and Musk triggers all kinds of consequences.
  2. Europe: If you think UK politicians have embarrassed themselves trying to agree on how to exit Europe, wait till next week and ponder how such a disparate, populist hodge-podge of populist well-intentioned Euro-philes and Euro-phobes are going to agree on how to reform and continue European integration. I see two big market threats: i) The bond market, ii) and especially the bond market. (And Brussels!)

Since anyone can read all the Tesla stories and draw their own conclusions as to what happens next, lets stick to the consequences. The obvious one is what does it do to confidence in the Modern Disruptive Tech (“MDT”) price model: “We don’t have to pay dividends or make profits because we are a disruptive company that’s triggered a paradigm in demand and made ourselves a monopoly – therefore it’s all in our stock price” ?

Tesla’s current stock crash shreds that MDT model. (Down 46% since Dec high, 30% from April.)

Why? a) Because Tesla did not have anything like a monopoly. Its failing to deliver. It’s not selling enough cars in China, and others are selling more in Europe. Competitors are eating its lunch – customers are nervous. Other secondary Tesla wins like capacitance, autonomy etc are irrelevant if the main light goes out. b) The MDT Model requires the stock to retain the confidence of the capital markets to keep it capitalised – Tesla has now lost that confidence. c) It needs to demonstrate continued ability to disrupt, deliver and reap the windfall stock gains – but confidence in Musk’s abilities and focus has crashed: witness the failure in solar tiles, his tweeting, the other businesses from tunnels to rockets.

It’s all so embarrassing.

Tesla doesn’t matter. They are simply the DeLorean’s of the modern age. If you own one, stick in a garage and wait. Plenty of other Electric choices… Tesla was good while it lasted. (For disclosure’s sake I still hold a small Tesla position, but sold out most in June last year.)

But the consequences of a collapse in the MDT model will be massive. Consider the pain. Consider firms like Softbank which have funded themselves from everywhere and anywhere on the basis they are oh-so-clever at Tech investing. And suddenly they find they own a whole bunch of stocks that have never paid, and never will pay a dividend or repay debt, and yet they have promised Mrs Watanabe (the archetypal Japanese retail investor) their bonds are great value (Junk as far as Moodys and S&P are concerned, investment grade according to local rating agencies). The Saudi’s might be a little miffed at their equity investments…

If Tech shrugs, the whole US stock market will wobble – and that’s when this will get very interesting: look to buy the tech winners with either real monopolies, real revenues and real funding, and sell those likely to fall as a result of competition, liquidity traps, and ennui. (Great word that… I should use it more often..)

Meanwhile, back in Yoorp…

A number of issues struck me yesterday – wondering about the widening divide between Merkel and Macron, this week’s elections and how its going to work politically. How does Europe agree on growth initiatives when it will be fighting in Brussels about who gets what job, and who can do whatever they want on debt, immigration and policy. It’s going to make Brexit look tidy.

And I then I realised that doesn’t matter anyway. The ECB will sort it out. They always do. Then doubt set in. A question from one client about renewed Italian debt threats, another asking about prospects for European zombie companies. Then an article on Bloomberg pointing out French issuers make up a disproportionate amount of the Euro 177 bln BBB/Junk Corporate bond portfolio held by the ECB, a quick glance at that portfolio of 1200 bonds and concluding it’s a bit risky…. And then a look at the leading European corporate bond ETF – and the volume that’s been piling into a bond fund that yields very little. Asking around the reason for investment holders putting dosh into the fund is that anything is better than paying banks for the privilege of holding your cash.

It struck me all as bit silly. France, that well know bastion of social equality, industrial peace, sensibility, stability, benevolent banks and companies accounts for over 25% of Euro corporate debt issuance. Italy, the problem child, accounts for less than 4%. You could say that’s because France is the home of such great world class large companies, and Italy is a collective of small family firms.

We worry about the Italians’ debt because they want to spend money to rebuild and reform their economy by borrowing more? (Yes, I know the real reason we worry about Italy borrowing more is because we expect them to waste/nick it, while we turn a blind eye to France breaching its sov debt limits, and corporates owing 125% of GDP because we trust them to spend it sagely?)

Or should we worry about the consequences of the ECB holding Euro 177 BN of corporate debt – and won’t like the mark-to-market if European rates were to rise? Or what happens if rising rates trigger a wave of unemployment driving defaults – meaning the ECB would have to trigger lower rates to avoid them. Yet another consequence of QE – Europe trapped in activity-numbing low rates for eternity.. Check out the ECB numbers here.

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