Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Rudd’

Tip for politicians: how to win voters’ hearts

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

There was this story about two men being chased by a bear. As both of them were running for their lives, one man told the other,

There’s no way we can outrun the bear. Why don’t we play dead instead?

The other man replied,

No, I don’t have to outrun the bear. All I need is to outrun YOU!

Alas! This is the current state of affairs for Australian politics. Political parties don’t have to come up with good policies. All they need is to be less bad than the next viable alternative. Next Saturday, as Australians go to the polls to vote for the next government, they will have to choose between bad alternatives. We find both major political parties have much to be desired. Both of them are almost indistinguishable from each other as they steer their policies to optimise their re-election prospects. As for the minor parties, some of their policies are based on good principles. However, they also have some other wacky (or extreme) ideologies mixed in as well.

So, the winner of this Saturday’s Federal election will go to the party that is least bad in the eyes of voters. Our guess is that the Labor Party will win the election. So far, the punts from betting agencies are agreeing with us.

The important question is, why would Labor be more likely to win?

The answer (as we will reveal later), reminds us of this simple phrase borrowed from Bill Clinton’s campaign:

It’s the economy, stupid.

Back in 1992, George H W Bush’s approval rating fell from 90% in March 1991 to 36% in the space of 15 months. He lost because he was perceived to have failed to address the economy adequately.

In Australia, we think the phrase should be:

It’s the jobs, stupid.

Back in 2007, the NSW Labor Party government won the election despite being one of the most incompetent governments in the world. We have no doubt that the electorate despised the NSW Labor Party. As this Wikipedia article wrote,

The newspaper editorials on the eve of the election held little cheer for either party. The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Daily Telegraph had each endorsed Labor at the 2003 election. Though each newspaper expressed misgivings about Debnam’s campaigning ability and called the result in Labor’s favour, they were unanimous in their attack on Iemma’s record.

If this election campaign has proved anything, it is this: Labor has completely lost its way on policy ? and the Liberals are no good at politics … However, after 12 years, Labor’s sustained policy failures should count for more than five weeks’ incompetent Liberal campaigning. If anything, the fact that spin-driven Labor has shown that it is vastly better at politics is of itself a reason to chuck them out.

So, how did they win the election? Our opinion is that the voters feared that the NSW Liberals would hand industrial relations powers to the Federal Government (under Liberal-National coalition at that time), which was pushing through the highly controversial WorkChoice legislation.

In late 2007, the Australian economy was still doing well and had an uninterrupted economic growth for more than a decade under the Liberal-National coalition. Since the status quo was good enough (or at least not bad enough), why did voters risk with the largely unknown Kevin Rudd and gave the Liberal-National coalition the sack in the 2007 Federal election? Again, the issue was because John Howard pushed his luck too far with the WorkChoice legislation.

Fast forward to early 2010. Why was Kevin Rudd’s mining super-profit tax very unpopular among the mining states of Queensland and Western Australia? Again, the idea was that the mining tax will kill mining investment projects and by implication, threaten jobs.

Today, with less than a week to the election, the Federal Labor had turned the tables against the perception that the Coalition is better at economic management and successfully painted the idea that Tony Abott (as Prime Minister) is a risk to the economy. With the economic crisis still unfolding in the US and Europe, voters could easily see what a bad economy can do to job security. To plunge the nail further into the coffin, some of Labor’s campaign commercials seek to fan suspicion of Tony Abott’s future intention with WorkChoice.

In Australia, it seemed to us that the way to the voters’ heart is through his/her job. If our theory is right, why do you think job security is so sacred for the average Australian voter?

Shhhh! Don’t mention the government debt

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

In the infamous September 11 terrorist attack, everyone, including the authorities, are caught completely by surprise. Who would have thought that even box cutters would be used to hijack airliners? Even the training given to instruct pilots in the event of hijacks were outdated- previously pilots were instructed to submit to hijackers. But on September 11, this piece of instruction proved to be a big fatal mistake.

In view of the lessons learnt from September 11, authorities have changed the procedures, training and instructions to ensure that a repeat will not happen again. But do you know what the problem is? The the next successful terrorist attack is likely to be another left-field event in which the current procedures, training and instructions are not designed to prevent. In other words, the next successful terrorist attack will be a Black Swan event.

Worse still, the absence of successful terrorist attacks is not evidence that the authorities are successful in combating terrorism. As we said before in Mental pitfall: Lazy Induction, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. For all we know, there could be a terrorist plot brewing right now that the authorities could not detect. The only evidence of such lack of detection is a successful terrorist attack. That is, if terrorists are to strike from the left field, it can only mean that the authorities are not successful in detecting their plot in the first place.

Now, back in the world of finance. The Panic of 2008 was indeed a trauma. In response to that, regulatory requirements, risk management techniques and financial processes are overhauled to either prevent or limit the damage of a repeat. Like the authorities after September 11, our guess is that the financial system is probably getting more and more prepared against a repeat of another 2008-style shock. Indeed, many businesses have sprung up to help measure and protect against such risks, post-2008.

But do you know what the problem is? The absence of such shocks does not imply that the authorities are successful in girding the financial system. All we need is another financial shock from the left-field to prove that the authorities are not successful in detecting it when it is brewing in the first place.

You know what is worrying? From this news article, Barnaby Joyce, Australia’s opposition finance spokesman was blasted by the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for suggesting a debate for a contingency plan against the United States government debt default. As this article reported,

Senator Joyce told Fairfax Media he did not mean to alarm the public but there needed to be a debate about Australia’s ”contingency plan” for a sovereign debt default by the US or even by a local state government.

”How would Australia go forward in a position where the dynamics of the global economy are all changed,” he said on ABC Radio today.

We think Barnaby Joyce is right in this instance (note: the word “default” is a loaded word. It does not necessarily mean a literal repudiation of US government against its debt- it can mean repudiation in the metaphorical sense of “printing” money to inflate the debt. The purpose of such a debate is to trash out such subtleties). As we wrote in What will be the next market panic?, our suspicion is that the next financial shock will have something to do with currencies.

Joyce’s idea of contingency planning is the whole point behind what we wrote in Failure to understand Black Swan leads to fallacious thinking,

First, as contrarians, we are not in the business of prediction. Rather, we prepare for Black Swans. To give yourself an idea why such preparation is important, ask yourself this question: Why do parachutists pack a second reserve parachute? Since the statistical probability of a parachute failure is extremely low, does that mean we should completely ignore such a possibility (of the primary parachute not opening)? Therefore, those people who fallaciously believe that preparing for Black Swans is ?predicting? is like believing that the parachutist who packs a reserve parachute is ?predicting? that his/her primary parachute will fail.

So, what is Kevin Rudd’s response to such a suggestion? That’s what was reported in the papers,

Mr Rudd dismissed the senator’s comments, describing them as ”not responsible economic policy”.

He accused Senator Joyce of engaging in a series of thought bubbles that were unbecoming of a senior economics spokesman from either government or opposition.

Barnaby Joyce was labelled as an “extremist” for even suggesting that Australia needs a contingency plan. Is there anything wrong with planning for a contingency? The military always do that because they always have to be prepared. Disaster planning is all about planning for contingency. Hospital emergency departments are in the work of contingency planning.

Our stand is that we need a contingency plan. Having a contingency plan is not predicting that it will happen. Without a contingency plan, we will be like a parachutist jumping without a backup parachute. Kevin Rudd’s response gives us the impression that Australia should be jumping without a backup parachute. That’s because, according to him, entertaining the thought that there is always the slim chance that the primary parachute may fail, is “irresponsible” and “unbecoming.”

If this is real stand of the government, than we can be sure that the government will not “see” a brewing crisis.

Government taking tougher line on debt and bubbles

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

To be a successful investor, one must be be aware of the sea-changes that are happening in the economy and financial markets. One of the sea-changes is in the line of central bank thinking. As we wrote in How are central bankers going to deal with asset bubbles?, central bankers are now more ready to deal with asset price bubbles than before. Previously, central bankers were targeting price inflation rate with their monetary policy while they stood idly by to let house prices form a bubble. As Glenn Stevens, governor of the RBA said today as reported in this mainstream news article,

Not only would it confirm that there are serious supply-side impediments to producing one of the things that previous generations of Australians have taken for granted, namely affordable shelter, it would also pose elevated risks of problems of over-leverage and asset price deflation down the track.

Please note that we are not endorsing the economic literacy level of that news article. Rather, we are quoting Glenn Stevens to show you what is going on inside his mind. The RBA is also hinting repeatedly that the next move in interest rates is up. Basically, the RBA is telling Australians this: you better wake up from your old ways and get serious about repaying your debts because the party is over.

This line of thinking is in sharp contrast to China’s central bankers, who are allowing a debt bubble to grow (see Is China setting itself up for a credit bust?) and spill over into asset prices (e.g. property and stocks).

The next sea-change is the change in the line of thinking from our dear Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. He wrote in his essay published a few days ago,

The roots of the crisis lie in the preceding decade of excess. In it the world enjoyed an extraordinary boom… However, as we later learnt, the global boom was built in large part on a three-layered house of cards.

First, in many Western countries the boom was created on a pile of debt held by consumers, corporations and some governments. As the global financier George Soros put it: ?For 25 years [the West] has been consuming more than we have been producing … living beyond our means.”

Second, these debts were racked up on the back of sky-rocketing asset prices. In several countries, stock prices and house values soared far above their true long-term worth, creating paper wealth that millions of households used as collateral for their growing debts.

This crisis has shown we have reached the limits of a purely debt-fuelled global growth strategy. Not only will the neo-liberal model of the past not provide growth for the future, its after-effects will make recovery more difficult. Mountains of global public and private debt, global imbalances, and a weakened global financial system will drag on global growth for a long time. As the renowned financial columnist Martin Wolf has written: “Those who expect a swift return to the business-as-usual of 2006 are fantasists. A slow and difficult recovery, dominated by de-leveraging and deflationary risks, is the most likely prospect.

This had been what we were arguing for a few years already (see Aussie household debt not as bad as it seems? on January 2008 and The Bubble Economy in October 2006). Kevin Rudd has finally understood the root cause of the GFC- spendthrift ways financed by rising debt using bubbly asset prices as collaterals. Now, he acknowledges that de-leveraging (repayment of debts) will be the fashion for a long time, in contrast to the past few decades of increasing debts. For many Generation Xs and Ys, the change from profligate to more frugal ways will be alien to them.

Unfortunately, as the mainstream always do, both the RBA and government is one-step behind.

The global economy is like a heart-attack patient on a life-support system. He faced a near-death experience in the second half of last year. Today, his condition has stabilised. But it will be a long time before he will fully recover and be fit enough to run again as in 2007. What the government is doing today is to inject more steroids (targeted stimulus spending financed by public debt) in the hope to see the patient running as soon as possible. The result is a walking zombie on life-support system (massive liquidity injections via ‘printing’ money).

As we wrote in Marc Faber vs Steve Keen in inflation/deflation debate- Part 2: Marc Faber?s view, the government is in danger of painting itself into a corner with no exit strategy (even though they’re talking a lot about it). If the exit strategy fails, we know the result is very high inflation (maybe even hyper-inflation).

What should the ‘evil’ savers do?

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

In our previous article, What goes in the mind of the Rudd government as it extends FHOG?, Rebecca asked the following question:

I was wondering, can you guys make any suggestions on what potential first home owners OUGHT to be doing INSTEAD OF leaping upon the FHOG [free cash (of around $14k to $21k) that Australian government gives to first home buyers]? This reader may, uh, be personally invested in the answer to such a question 😉 but I bet a lot of others are in the same boat: people who’ve been saving saving saving only to have the cheese moved $21,000 ahead again (thanks KRudd!), and now face the possibility of having their hard-saved future deposit decimated by inflation because it’s still liquid rather than sunk into bricks and mortar?

Assuming stable employment (easier said than done, but run with me here), isn’t the property market almost a safe bet now just because Kevvie’s obviously bailout-happy and presumably knows he’s not going to be very popular if he lets all the first home owners he made go under, so is likely to keep on bailing?  Does the traditional advice that a person save a good deposit apply any more when the only way to save your money is to have it invested in property or some other format that’s not going to get devalued should inflation occur? What else can one do to escape being a victim in this whole mess simply through being on the poor end of the spectrum and trying to do the right thing and be responsible?

Basically, as Rebecca asked, let’s say these 3 conditions are satisfied:

  1. Assuming you have a guaranteed stable job (if we read Rebecca correctly, other people are not in this envious situation).
  2. The government will succeed in enticing people to go deeper and deeper into debt to bid up property prices higher and higher.
  3. If those who are enticed into debt default, the government will bail them out.

Wouldn’t this result in property price rising further and immune to a price crash? If that’s the case, should savers gouge themselves in debt instead because the government is committed to moral hazard?

[Note: some parts of what follows are a bit of sarcasm and humour- so, don’t take them too literally.]

Sure, it can be very cheap and easy for the government to engineer further property price inflation. The FHOG is an example of that. The government needed to fork out a relatively small outlay to result in a much larger increase in borrowing, which helps to inflate property prices even more. To see why, imagine a borrower has a $1000 deposit. At 90% LVR, he can buy a house that cost $10,000. Let’s say the government give the borrower another $1000. At the same LVR, this borrower can now pay $20,000. Thanks to the powers of leverage, a $1000 outlay from the government result in an increase of $9000 in debt.

Sure, in the event that the sh*t hit the fan for the Australian economy, the government can bail out defaulting sub-prime borrowers willy nilly and prevent a property price crash. They can print copious amount of money (until Australia runs out of paper), invoke emergency powers to prevent repossessions, confiscate the wealth of savers to bail out irresponsible defaulters, nationalise banks, and so on.

The problem is, if the sh*t hit the fan for the Australian economy AND the Australian government engage in such extreme moral hazard, Australia will become a big banana republic and the Australian dollar will have less value than toilet paper. Foreigners lend a lot of money to Australia and they will readily punish any extreme moral hazards. In that case, all Australians will lose big time, especially savers. And also, a property is not recommended in such an environment because:

  1. One cannot carve out a tiny fraction of his property in exchange for food.
  2. There are much better hedge against hyperinflation than property- gold and silver. The reason is because credit will be scarce in a hyperinflationary environment because lending money is a losers’ business. If credit is scarce, what do you think will happen to property prices in real terms?
  3. As lenders raise interest rates to match the rate of hyperinflation AND one loses his job, one is essentially stuffed (unless the government bails him out).

So, if you believe Australia is going towards that route (it may not be as extreme as the scenario that we painted, but you get the idea) and you want to protect your savings, you may want to diversify part of your savings away from Australian dollars (as well as any assets denominated in Australian dollars). Ideally, such diversification should transfer your wealth to foreign countries, where the foreign government is in a position to respond with a “stuff you” to any Australian government’s demands for information about your foreign assets. For example, you may want to consider foreign currencies (preferably in foreign banks out of reach of the Australian government), physical gold and silver (stored overseas or buried in some secret treasure island guarded by dragons), foreign assets and so on. Lastly, if the masses and government persecute the evil savers the same way the Nazis persecute the Jews, be prepared to migrate.

Please note that we are not trying to be unpatriotic here. Our point is that, if politicians resort to extreme stupidity, they can easily turn a nation into a banana republic in record time. Just ask how Robert Mugabe did it by turning the bread basket of Africa into a starving and improvished nation.

Realisation of hard landing ahead for Australia

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

History will look at this week as the turning point in the Australian public’s perception of what is to come for the economy. Before this week, the mainstream assumed that Australia was on track to a soft landing (see Soft landing hope built on faulty framework assumptions). But with the release of much worse than anticipated economic data from China, that perception was changed. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said that (see After 17 years on the way up, a rush back down)

China has been hit much harder than forecasters had predicted, its slowdown will affect Australia.

Last Friday’s The great stall of China in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) made it to the screaming front page headline.

Our readers should not be surprised at this news. 12 months ago, we already warned (based on deductive reasoning) that China was facing a major economic correction in Can China really ?de-couple? from a US recession?,

We may be wrong, but our theory is that this may be an epic boom waiting to be a bust. Note: we are not making a prediction here- we are merely expressing our scepticism on the de-coupling theory.

In reaction to this bad news from China, Treasurer Wayne Swan promised bold action from the government. The Prime Minister warned that the tests for Australians are yet to come. On another issue, the government also announced that they will organise a fund to help businesses roll over AU$75 billion of loans should foreign banks pull out of Australia. Again, we had covered that issue in November last year at Effects of retreating foreign banks in Australia.

You can see that the rhetoric from government are shifting from (1) denial to (2) underplaying the gravity of the situation to finally, (3) warning of hard times ahead. Denial, for whatever reasons, is the typical reactions of governments. In China, the government denied the truth to save face. In South Korea, the government even went as far as arresting a blogger whose forecasts of doom were disturbingly accurate. In the US, Ben Bernanke was forced to confess that he was completely wrong on his assessment of the US economy. The captains of the finance industry (including their armies of economists, analysts and forecasters) were deep in their denials too (e.g. see Aussie household debt not as bad as it seems?).

So, our dear readers, how can we trust ‘them?’

Is it too late to avoid a hard landing? We’re afraid the answer is a categorical “No!” As we said in Aussie household debt not as bad as it seems?,

A severe downturn to the Australian economy may or may not be statistically likely, but given the level of unprecedented leverage, you can be sure the impact will not be small. Be sure to understand the concept of Black Swans (see Failure to understand Black Swan leads to fallacious thinking).

The question is, how long and severe that hard landing will be. Our view is that since this hard landing is unavoidably long and severe, the best thing the government can do is to do nothing and let the bottom of the economic cycle come as soon as possible, clearing out the years of mal-investments and structural damage. Any intervention will drag out the pain for longer and postpone the day of sustainable recovery.

Will Australia’s own pump-priming work?

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

As you have heard in the news by now, Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced a AU$10 billion stimulus plan. This is partially reminiscent to the US stimulus plan sometime at the beginning of this year, when the US government sent free money to American taxpayers and called them tax rebates. Rudd’s plan includes money for families, retirees, homebuyers and jobs training and infrastructure projects.

Will all these work?

Before we answer this question, let us consider the relative scale of the problem. According to Professor Steve Keen, Australians’ increased debt last year added $250 billion in spending into the economy. Currently, Australia’s credit growth is decelerating very rapidly. Should credit growth stagnate (or worse still, contract), this $250 billion (or more) in spending will go up in smoke. Therefore, a $10 billion stimulus is actually very minuscule compared to the potential loss in spending by Australian consumers when they are stretched to their limit in taking in more debt. Since most of the Australian economy is made up of consumer spending, such a severe contraction will have a very acute repercussion for the Australian economy. Recent data suggests that Australia’s total private data to GDP ratio is standing still at 165%.

There is no way the government can take up the slack left by the Australian consumer without turning the budget surplus into a deficit that is ten times its size (i.e. turn $22 billion surplus into a $250 billion deficit). But to keep Australians spending as before, they will have to accrue even more debt. There’s no way this increase in debt relative to income can go on forever without turning the entire nation’s economy into a massive sub-prime economy. When that happens, the inevitable blow up in debt bubble will be far greater.

By now, you should appreciate the magnitude of what the government and RBA are fighting against when you consider the scale of the coming deflationary force.

Unknown unknowns trips up many turkey forecasters

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

As we explained in our previous article, Real economy suffers while financial markets stuff around with prices, the massive deflationary forces from the free market is being (and will continually be) counteracted by government attempts at inflation (see our guide, What is inflation and deflation?). The result will be great volatility in prices, which will undermine business calculations and long-term planning by the free-market.

At the same time, many economic forecasters will have their forecasts and ‘predictions’ completely stuffed up, which will mean that their credibility will be severely undermined. Many of these forecasters simply fail to see that the ground has been shifting as they make their projections. The recent deterioration of the global financial system will cause many of them to back-flip on their views. Those who cling on stubbornly on their previous (and erroneous) positions will have their credibility rubbished by history. Simply put, these forecasters completely failed to see turning points at the economic cycle. We really marvel at the fact that some of these forecasters are paid highly to produce expensive reports that turned out to be wrong. How could they possibly not see such an obvious looming financial disaster? It really takes a special effort to put on the blinkers in order NOT to see it coming. We are so marvelled that we have to write up a guide (Why are the majority so wrong at the same time and in the same ways?) to explain why.

As you will have heard the news by now, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that the Australian government will guarantee all (a change from the $20,000 guarantee last Friday) bank deposits for 3 years. Also, there is other bad news in that announcement as this news report says,

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has warned that economic growth and job security could be in jeopardy as the global financial crisis entered a “new and dangerous” phase.

As he equated the current financial turmoil to a national security crisis, Mr Rudd today signalled the jobless rate for next year was likely to be higher than originally forecast in the May budget.

`So, unemployment is likely to be higher. That’s just levelling with people … It’s likely to be higher than has been projected. We don’t have numbers on that.

Associate Professor Steve Keen believed that the unemployment rate could reach around ten percent range or more. The economic implication for this is very ugly. As we explained back in March last year (2007) at Can Australia?s deflating property bubble deflate even further?,

In Australia?s case, with her towering levels of debt, any external shock can easily tip her over to a recession, which can lead to further asset (e.g. real estates and stocks) deflation.

By now, it should be clear that whatever the external shock is not the issue?the point is that Australia is highly vulnerable.

The global financial crisis is an example of an external shock that we warned back then.

As we further explained in June 2007 at What can tip Australia into a downward property price spiral?,

With the Australian debt levels so high, a recession (with an accompanied increase in unemployment) will result in more distress property sales and further downward pressure on property prices. In such a scenario, what is happening right now in Western and South-Western Sydney can be extended to the rest of Australia.

The Australian economy is very highly leveraged towards the residential property sector. Rising unemployment will exert a downward pressure on property prices (due to the high leverage of the household sector), which along with that will expose the weakness in the Australian banking system (it has been said that mortgages made up of 50% of Australian banks’ loans- you may want to check up on that figure). A major weakening of the banking system will result in a major tightening in credit standards, which can even result in the deflation of credit growth (credit growth is already slowing down significantly in Australia). This will then feedback into the economy as a sharp drop in consumer spending, which along with the ongoing de-leveraging process (see De-leveraging in the real economy- mortgages), will put a major pressure on the retail sector (in addition to the financial sector already under a serious stress). This in turn will feedback into rising unemployment, resulting in another round of vicious cycle.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the economic forecasters and have some humour along the way.

In this news report, Bad day for house sales as jitters spread,

Angie Zigomanis of BIS Shrapnel said people were increasingly worried about their future: “If you don’t think your job is secure then no matter how low mortgage rates go, you are not necessarily going to enter the market.”

Remember BIS Shrapnel? Back then, they were writing forecast reports with erroneous and nonsensical logic (see Can lower interest rates re-inflate the property price bubble? and Another faulty analysis: BIS Shrapnel on house prices). It looks that they are beginning to back-flip on their views.

Let’s take a look at the views of a perennial bull, Craig James senior equities economists of CommSec,

Mr James said the recent report from the International Monetary Fund stressed that the Australian housing market would not experience the same dramatic falls as the US and Britain because of the nation’s strong population growth, fuelled by immigration.

Oh really? Strong immigration will help to keep upward pressure on housing demand in Australian? Well, let us take a read at another news report, Aust rethinks immigration boost as global financial crisis buffets economy,

Australia said on Friday it will re-think a large boost to immigration as the global financial crisis buffets the economy and places a brake against years of strong growth.

Mr James fails to understand that:

  1. Immigration tends to be very cyclical along with the economic cycle.
  2. In the face of rising unemployment and slowing economic growth, new migrants will put additional on the Australian economy. That is the reason for the government re-think on immigration.

It is obvious that extrapolation of current immigration figures into the indefinite future is flawed.


The ruction in the global financial system will put a spanner in the works of many forecasters. In the months and years to come, we will see the rise and fall of many forecasters as reputations are made and destroyed and credibility gained and lost. The first shall be the last and the last shall be the first.