First just a quick note to confirm that our illustrious founder and Dear Leader, Bill Bonner, will be joining us for drinks and chat on Tuesday, December 9th at the BLVD Bar, located at 6 Queensbridge Square on Southbank in Melbourne from 6:30 p.m. on. Sorry we couldn’t make it to Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Cairns, Darwin or Hobart this year. Maybe next year.
Remember this is nothing fancy. Bill is preparing for world depression by ruthlessly cutting back on discretionary expenses. As far as we know, he is still letting people buy him drinks. We’re also trying to scrounge up a few copies of I.O.U.S.A. from our mates in the States to raffle off.
As for the rest of the affair, canapés will be on offer. But you’re on your own to fill up your stomach after that. Filling up your mind will come from the scintillating conversation to be had with other DR readers. If you haven’t already RSVPd, please do so by sending us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And now to a world full of stuff no one wants. Selling stuff you bought with borrowed money is a process that’s mostly been confined to the financial markets in 2008. But now we see the behaviour migrating into the economy. At the household level, a collective sense of thrift is beginning to set in. People are selling what they don’t need to raise cash.
But let’s start with the financial news first. Macquarie Group (ASX:MQG) told investors yesterday that its profit fell by 43%, thanks to write downs in assets. It was the first time since going public twelve years ago the “Millionaire Factory” has reported an earnings decline. Still, the $604 million profit number was higher than what analysts were expecting ($594 million) and the stock finished up over 16.5% on the day.
In the revenue results and write downs you can see how the decline and fall of the investment banking model has hit Australian shores. MQG reported a 13% decline in fee and commission income (to a paltry $2.2 billion). Trading income fell by 14% to $722 million. The big one was the 43% decline in income from asset and equity investments.
There were some strange assets in the back rooms of the Factory. The company took over a billion dollars in write downs on its Italian mortgages and fund management assets. It did not, however, take any write downs on Macquarie Airports or Macquarie Infrastructure Group. Hmmn.
Picture the good ship Macquarie Group as something like a Noah’s Ark/Pirate Ship full of a menagerie of debt-financed assets. Under Captain Allan Moss as CEO, Australia’s version of Goldman Sachs sailed the high-seas of global finance, buying assets with borrowed money, bundling them into funds, and then charging retail investors fees to invest in the funds. It’s the sort of business those Somali pirates who hijack oil tankers should look into. Far more lucrative.
Twelve years of collective booty and swag gave the Factory quite a collection of eccentric and fee-generating assets. Some of those assets are not ageing so well. But you’ll note the company chose not to mark down the value of its infrastructure or airport funds, the two big ones.
It claims the current market value of those assets isn’t what they are really worth. The book value is more accurate. In the meantime, it is throwing other less attractive assets overboard. Deck chairs…Italian mortgages…extra chickens…everything must go!
There’s no doubt that asset values are likely to fall more next year and that revenues will continue to fall too. Still, the company says it will sell $15 billion in assets and then set sail, on the lookout for more acquisitions again. Garn!
It’s looking to sell its margin lending book. And new CEO Nick Moore said it will securitise its motor vehicle loan book, move it off the balance sheet, and sell it off. Thus the liquidation continues in the financial world. Loss-making assets are written down or thrown overboard at…er…fire sale prices.
What’s really happening, mixed metaphors aside, is that the Millionaire Factory model is giving way to deleveraging reality. In a world with falling asset values and tighter bank credit, it’s harder (and much less profitable) to build a cleverly constructed portfolio of assets and generate fee income from operating them.
In the post-credit crunch world (or post-Deluvian, if you accept the nautical metaphor), you have to focus on cash, not debt. One example would be Cash Converters, a sort of Main Street Macquarie, without the debt, and substituting Italian loafers for Italian mortgages. Cash Converters buys low and sells high. It’s the perfect business for the first world depression.
Cash Converters helps people turn lazy assets (guitars, mobiles, stereos, old harmonicas) into cash. And what is that but the liquidation of the consumer spending boom? Of course, most stuff isn’t worth as much people think it is. When you own something, you tend to think it’s worth more than everyone else.
Then you try and auction it on eBay or take it to a pawn shop or Cash Converters. There, you find that it’s worth a lot less than you believed in your heart. Such is life, as Ben Cousins and Ned Kelly might say. Kris Sayce at the Australian Small Cap Investigator (whom we often call the Ned Kelly of the Old Hat Factory) has been looking at Cash Converters as an example of what he calls “Main Street Stocks.”
We’ll let you know what he’s up to…but we think it has something to do with companies that actually do more business in a recession and increase both revenues and earnings-without relying on debt. If you have your own suggestions for “Main Street Stocks,” let us know at email@example.com
for the Daily Reckoning Australia