Welcome back to QAV, episode 610. Season six, episode 10. We’re recording on the seventh of March 2023. Straight out of the ASA webinar, first one we’ve done for a couple of years. How’re you doing, TK? Back in Sydney today, I see.
Back in Sydney, yeah. Got Ruddy with me, he’s got a few days up here. We’re playing in a charity golf day on Friday, which will be fun. Just a bit tired after a two-day drive back from Cape Schanck.
Yeah, I bet. So, what do you and Ruddy do now that you’re both off the booze when you’re hanging out together? What are you drinking? That’s what I want to know. Is it tea, is a chocolate milk, is it Clayton’s and soda? What do you drink?
It’s generally flavoured mineral water. So, go and buy shares in Kirk’s because my consumption has gone through the roof.
Yeah, we drink I think it’s Schweppes diet tonic water. A lot of diet tonic mixed with a bit of grapefruit juice is our go-to drink these days. It’s very exotic for us.
I’ve been able to buy this diet tonic water with blood orange in it, which is nice.
Yeah, we’ve had that a couple of times, too. That’s nice. Well, let’s get into investing stuff, TK. The buy list yesterday had some commodity updates. We’ve also, you know, we were talking last week about GrainCorp and what its underlying commodity chart was, and I think we were using one of the Stock Doctor ones — W# — but Kane in Sydney, jewellery Kane — gotta come up with a nickname for Kane — Kane suggested that he had another chart, a Trading Economics chart, for USD bushel prices which he said seemed to map a lot more closely to GNC. And I had a look at it, and I think he’s probably right. So, that was the one that I used yesterday. Have you had a chance to compare that with the Stock Doctor one?
Yeah, I actually did it last week as well. So, I’ve got my notes to talk about it today. So, well done Kane. But same thing, I found Trading Economics’ wheat graph was a better match. Something happened with W# a year or two ago where it’s just sort of halved it looks like, so they’ve done an adjustment to the unit there somehow which has buggered up the long-term graph. But yeah, Trading Economics’ wheat is good.
I’m just looking at the comms status. So, some changes we had this week: gold became a buy again, crude oil became a buy, copper became a buy and aluminium became a buy. So, a lot of changes in the comms this week. Wheat is also a buy, by the way.
That affects the buy list a lot too, because there’s a few gold stocks on there now, there’s a few oil stocks on there now. So yeah, have a look people.
You got any macro-economic analysis to say why these all became buys again?
I’d just be guessing. I mean, gold is always said to be the hedge against inflation, and we’re in a high inflation period, so potentially that. And oil, look, there’s a couple of things about oil. It’s obviously the war in Ukraine, but that’s been going on for a while. The relaxation of the COVID policy in China was meant to drive up the price of oil, too, but I’m not sure if either of those are the reasons in and of themselves.
I read some analysis in the financial review this morning about China. Apparently, they just had some sort of Congress and their forecasts for their economy are a little bit softer than people were hoping for, their growth for the next year. Their targets, I think, 5%
I think it’s realistic. That may prove to be ambitious, but it’s more realistic than what they used to use at, like, 9 or 10% in the past. So, China is clearly coming out of the sort of, you know, it’s upgrading its economy; it’s coming out of that sort of third world status where labour’s cheap and it’s now no longer necessarily the manufacturing shop for the rest of the world. So, it’s growth will slow.
Who is now?
It’s spread. I mean, I hear different things: Bangladesh, parts of Africa.
Yeah, it was interesting reading the articles in the Fin this morning about this. They were saying, “well, on one hand we don’t trust China’s numbers anyway. But on the other hand, this is what they say their numbers are gonna be and it’s lower than what analysts were thinking and that’s a bad thing.” I’m like, well, is it? Anyway, they were saying it’s not necessarily going to be the boom time, another boom time for iron ore as had been previously forecast. I guess it doesn’t really matter for us because we don’t listen to forecasts anyway. We just see retrospectively, we don’t forecast. But I want to speak about commodities a little bit further. BRI, Big River Industries, was a stock I was looking at last week, I think I bought some for the light portfolio. It says on Stock Doctor, “Big River Industries manufactures veneer, plywood and form ply and the distributes building supplies.” It’s a typo in Stock Doctor, “then distributes building supplies” I think it should be. And I was trying to figure out what the underlying commodity would be for that. Got any insights?
I think we’ve used lumber in the past, haven’t we, for timber? That would be the one I’d look to. And I guess the general comment about all these things is, if you’re a Stock Doctor subscriber, it’s reasonably easy to call up the five-year monthly share price for the company. And then you can overlay a commodity graph, assuming it’s in Stock Doctor, they’re not all in Stock Doctor, and you can see if there’s a correlation between a commodity and the stock. Which is why we first looked at W# for wheat and found it didn’t quite match, so I went looking on Trading Economics and it matched better there. Even if you’re not using Stock Doctor or you’re using Trading Economics and you can’t overlay, you can still have a look at both graphs side by side and see if the peaks correspond to each other and the troughs correspond to each other. I did that for lumber in Stock Doctor and I wasn’t getting a great match, but I can’t think of much else to use. It’s manly timber or lumber.
Right. I’m in lumber futures in Stock Doctor… Oh, compare? Okay, there you go. There’s a little compare button.
Yeah. Thanks. Hadn’t done this before. Yeah, that doesn’t really map very well at all, does it?
No, it doesn’t really. I think that was the only one available in Stock Doctor, I don’t think they have a timber.
Yeah, not that I can see.
Right? Well, that’s the way I always smooth out my concrete, is with timber. A big piece of timber. And I just, you know, I just drag it across the concrete.
I did see BRI also had a concrete business as well, so perhaps the timber side is smoothed out by concrete.
When did you last concrete?
I watched, I watched my dad lay a back patio in about 1975, Tony. That’s my entire experience laying concrete, comes from that.
That’s the last time I did it, too.
He probably drank about twelve bottles of beer when he was doing it, so I’m not sure it was a good example of how to do it properly. All right. New rate rise coming today, they reckon, Tony. The RBA’s meeting again?
In about an hour’s time, so we may even know it during the recording. But yeah, forecast to go up another 0.25. Inflation is still stubbornly high in Australia, so everyone expects it. Who knows? We’ll see in an hour’s time, there’s no need to speculate. I did have a look, just on that, I did have a look at the mortgage rates of the banks, the big banks, between our last show and this one, and they’ve come back a little bit. There’s a lot of competition going on for mortgages amongst the banks. So, I’m getting a rate now at around 6.48, so around 6.5. So, if people want to update their QAV spreadsheets for the check against dividend yield, it’s now 6.48%. Which is down from I think it was about 6.8 something up until recently. But yeah, it’s interesting. I think the mortgage market is very hot, and not that it affects us, but it may have an impact on bank stocks going forward if they’re having to discount a lot to get market share.
Well, getting back to the RBA. They’re copping a shellacking in the Financial Review. It’s just story after story in the ABC and the Financial Review I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, just complete shellacking echoing, I think, some of your concerns about the RBA you’ve expressed on the show.
Yeah, I think watch this space with the RBA. Well, some of the articles are suggesting that the whole structure of the RBA will change, or the board will change. So, currently the governor usually comes from internally within the RBA; they’ve been around for a long time, they’re an economist. And then they appoint external board members, typically from business. I think there might be a union rep on the board as well. I think some of the noise coming out in the articles I’ve been reading is that they may change that so it’s a board of economists going forward. I’m not sure if that’s going to be an improvement, given the one economist in charge has had a few stumbles in the last twelve months, but we’ll see. I also suspect that given that if, you know, when a government focuses on an institution like this and does a review, there’s usually a reasonably substantial change coming out of it. They’re not gonna just waste a year of reviewing something and then say, “yeah, it’s good. Tick. Move on.” So, I wouldn’t mind betting that some of the powers at the RBA get passed back into the government, probably into the treasury department away from the RBA board. But we’ll see, it’s all speculation on my part.
Makes me think of the government funded history that’s just been written on our involvement in the intervention in East Timor. You read about that?
I heard you talk about it on the podcast last week, yeah.
Incredible, yeah. Spent, what, five years and millions of dollars writing the history, and then get it and go, “oh, geez, that’s bad.”
Not just that, but the whole bugging, you know, scandal of the… And it’s, you know, germane to business because it was Woodside who were pushing the government to give them an inside running on contract negotiations. And yeah, the government said, “okay, sure. We’ll bug the other side.” And then when the whistle blower came out to call the government on it, he was slapped with lawsuits. I can’t remember the story now. Did he go to jail?
Yeah, Witness K. Did he go to jail?
Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery. I think both did some jail time, both have been subsequently released. I think Witness K did a couple of years; I don’t know how long Collaery did. I was having lunch with a mate of mine yesterday, another Brisbane podcaster, Trevor Bell, who does the Iron Fist and the Velvet Glove which is a weekly politics round-up. He was telling me he just read Bernard Collaery’s book which he said is amazing, really amazing insight. And just the way that he, a lawyer, and Witness K were treated by the Australian Government for revealing their dirty laundry. It’s just… But it’s China that we need to worry about: it’s China’s treatment of people we need to worry about, not the Australian Government. We’re getting side tracked here. Let’s talk about ASIC suing Mercer Super in its first green washing case. Saw this in the Financial Review the other day. “The corporate watchdog has accused retail superannuation giant Mercer of misleading members about the sustainability of its investments in a landmark greenwashing case. It is the first time the Australian Securities and Investments Commission has taken the company to court alleging greenwashing after both it and the consumer watchdog pledged to crack down on this sort of misconduct last year. ASIC alleged Mercer superannuation, which oversees $27.5 billion in assets, misled members of its sustainable plus fund by claiming it excluded companies that were involved in carbon intensive fossil fuels, but then heavily invested in fifteen stocks from the sector including AGL Energy, BHP, Glencore and Whitehaven Coal. It also told members it excluded alcohol producers and gambling outfits from the fund, but then invested in thirty-four companies across the two sectors, including Crown Resorts, Tabcorp, Budweiser, Carlsberg and Heineken.”
That’s literally astounding, isn’t it?
Like, what were they thinking? How did they think they would get away with this? It boggles the mind.
It does, doesn’t it? I didn’t see the article, I just skipped through the headline when I was reading the paper, but when you sent me the link I was just absolutely gobsmacked. And then further on, “Market Forces superannuation researcher Brett Morgan added that the case should put funds on notice that their sustainability claims will be tested. He said that ‘eight of eleven major superfunds sustainable investment options analysed by Market Forces, including the Mercer product, were potentially misleading consumers by investing in companies expanding the fossil fuel sector.” Eight out of eleven.
Yeah, and it’s obviously a big enough problem that ASIC have called out that they were going to crack down on it. I mean, calling it greenwashing I think is doing them a favour. I mean, its fraud, basically.
Yeah, they’ve taken fees for something they’re not delivering.
They’re claiming they’re doing one thing, and then hoodwinking investors by doing the opposite of that and marketing it under this greenwashing thing. You know, I don’t want to make any allegations, because I haven’t checked this with my lawyers, but there’s a great book called the Psychopath Epidemic that we should really read. This is the sort of stuff we talked about in the book, right? Businesses just doing stuff that on paper… Reminds me of the whole Robo-debt thing, the commission that’s been going on. When you hear these stories, you just shake your head and go, what were they thinking? How did they think they would get away with this? How did nobody put a stop to this at some point and go, “Hold on. Sorry. We’re doing what now? We’re saying we’re doing this, but we’re really doing the opposite. No, wait, whoa, whoa, whoa, timeout, timeout. Let’s stop and talk about this.” Obviously either it didn’t happen, or if it did happen, that person got told to shut the hell up, and, you know, didn’t make a noise about it for whatever reason, didn’t go to the press, didn’t go to anyone. You just hear these stories all the time. Well, you know, my conclusion writing the book was, this is evidence of psychopathic cultures where they just think they can do whatever the hell they want. And even if they get caught out, so what? They’ll get a slap on the wrist, the profit that they make will pay for the fines. Nobody goes to jail. The media cycle turns, everyone forgets, and we just go about business, right?
Yeah, risk and reward, really. I’ve worked in some big companies and it’s very hard to do anything without it being legal. So, I’m surprised that Mercer has done this. And it’s just, you know, Market Forces who may be, you know, biased in terms of trying to find problems, because they’re trying to get people to invest sustainably. If they can find eight of eleven other funds who are doing the same thing. I mean, this smacks of fund managers going, “oh, but they do it. We’ve got to do it to keep up,” you know, and it’s just incredible. And they’ve got large incentives to do it. And it begs the question, if that industry is doing it on this issue, which is so easy to check, what are they doing with other funds?
What else are they doing?
Yeah, what else are they doing? And I know that, and I won’t allege anything, I know that a number of analysts in the Superfund industry point to the fact that there are a lot of unlisted assets in large industry funds in particular, and that if you look at a comparable, say, a real estate investment trust that might have a large amount of commercial property in it, and then look at its performance over the last twelve months and the way the asset prices are being written down, and then you look to a superfund that claims to have large amounts of commercial property in it and the assets haven’t been written down, you know, what’s going on? So, if they’re doing it on this issue, what are they dealing with all the other things that they tell the public?
So, there’s a couple of other things that came to mind when I read this. Number one is, apart from how did they think they were going to get away with it, is why did they feel the need to do it? Is it because it was too difficult to find enough green funds or green companies to invest in and to still get the kind of returns that they have to get to keep their jobs or to keep their members, and they figured they had to colour outside the lines in order to get the sort of returns that they needed to get? Or if not that, then what’s the motivation for doing the opposite of what you tell your customers you’re going to do, what your mission is? There has to be a motivation in there somewhere, and I’m not clear on what that is but I think it’d be really interesting to know more about it. Hopefully, it comes out as part of some court case. Secondly, we’ve talked about, you know, our attitudes, or your attitudes and I agree with you, on investing in coal companies and mining companies, etc. Even though we may morally and ethically say, yes, we wish we could stop all mining tomorrow, that would be a good thing. And if, you know, there’s a way of supporting that, we will do it. At the same time, as you say, buying shares in a company as long as it’s not part of an issuance isn’t really giving money to the company. So, it’s neither here nor there. And the third thing that really just jumped out at me is, you know, we’ve talked many times on the show about how the financial services industry in this country is just rife with ripping off customers, and this is just another example of that. Like, we just fed the Haynes Royal Commission yesterday and here we have more. Like, you would think the financial services sector after the Royal Commission would go “well, we better lock our shit down for a while here. We better be above board and fly right here for a while, you know. There were big penalties and very embarrassing testimonies and all that kind of stuff, a lot of media coverage,” despite the Liberal government trying to prevent it from happening for many years. And here they are still at it. I just can’t get my head around how you run a company like that after that and then go “yeah, it’s alright. We got out of that okay, let’s go back to the well.” Again, this suggests to me a psychopathic organisational culture, because I can’t figure out any other explanation for it. But anyway, the point I wanted to make is just that you just can’t trust anyone out there. Don’t trust us, even. Honestly, don’t trust us. Don’t trust anyone. Trust no one. Do it yourself. Yeah, don’t trust anyone, right?
Well, yeah, and I think I spoke about this before; sustainable funds have traditionally charged the fee premium, so there’s a real incentive for a fund manager to say their fund is sustainable, they can put their prices up. And as is probably the case in some of these funds, they’re doing nothing different, they’re just charging more for it. So, there’s a great incentive to call yourself sustainable. And it’s either lax behaviour or it’s hyper competitive behaviour. I know if they’re including coal mining companies they’ve had a great run in the last twelve months, so the temptation is always there, because the fund manager is not just judged on their sustainability, they’re judged on their performance. So, there is a great competitive force there forcing them to try and get the best performance. But, gee, I mean, I haven’t done the numbers or the analysis, but I’d be pretty sure if I took the QAV buy list and took out coal stocks or, you know, whatever stocks we want to exclude, we could still put together a decent portfolio and get above market returns from it. So, it could also be laziness on the fund managers part, to just take an existing fund and slap a new label on it to charge a higher fee.
We should point out that these are allegations at this stage. We’re not accusing… Well, ASIC or accusing, we’re not accusing.
Yes. There’s this great quote here from King and Wood Mallesons financial services partner, Sarah Yu. Among other things, she said, “there is an organisational structure piece to ensure that these risks are appropriately managed.”
Well, she said there should be.
Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Well, yes. Isn’t that called the board and the management? Isn’t that the organisational structure base?
Or the legal department?
Oh yeah, maybe we should have somebody who looks over what we’re doing and makes sure that we’re not doing anything illegal. There’s an interesting idea. I don’t know. It just boggles my mind, man. What the hell are they thinking, I always have to ask myself. Speaking of what the hell are they thinking: Gary pointed out that a couple of our old favourites, LAU and IGL, are about to hit the S&P Ordinaries index. I didn’t see a bump, but then Andrew pointed out that it takes effect on March 20th. That’s two weeks away. So, would we expect to see a bump?
Yes, but it can be a ongoing bump. So, both shares are doing well. Once they’re in the index we should see a bump from index funds buying it, but they won’t be obliged to buy it on day one. They’ll try and massage that a little bit. And also, too, some funds will be buying it now that’s been announced to try and get that bump, so the bump may have already occurred. And then there are fund managers out there who try and predict what stock is going to be included in what index, and they’re buying it last month. So, there’s a few bumps along the way. It’s not one clean bump. But certainly, being a part of that larger index will definitely support the share prices of the companies. It’s a bigger pool of people to invest in their companies.
Well, I think we hold those in some of the QAV portfolios and I may hold them in my own portfolios, I can’t really remember.
I hold IGL coincidentally because I was doing a Champion Challenger portfolio a couple of years ago, and it was in there even though it’s much smaller than what I normally invest in.
Yeah, right. Well, good. Let me see, LAU… We’ve got it in the dummy portfolio and have a couple of holdings of it in the light portfolios, and I don’t hold it myself by the looks of it. I don’t hold IGL either, but it’s in the dummy portfolio and the light portfolio. So, hopefully they all do well. It’s up 85%, IGL, in the dummy portfolio. Wow. And LAU is up 89% in the dummy portfolio, so they’ve already been good.
The bump may have bumped already.
May have bumped already. Pre-bump bump. Speaking of people who say crazy things: Jerry Harvey.
Well, no, he said it. It sounds pretty crazy. According to Rear Window in the Financial Review: “there he goes again. Absolutely on cue, the final day of reporting season as always, Jerry Harvey has delivered another bizarre results side show. ‘My advice to you is to sell your house, sell your boat, sell your car, put the lot into Harvey Norman shares and then ring me in three or four years and you won’t need to be a journalist anymore,’ he told this newspaper’s Chanticleer column one Tuesday. Geez, where have we heard that before? Five years earlier to the day Harvey said, ‘if the share price goes down to $4, then sell your house, sell your boat, sell your car, buy Harvey Norman shares.’ Harvey Norman’s shares closed that day at $3.85. On Tuesday, they closed at $3.85. That could have been a long five years in the rental market, and on trains, trams and buses.” So, what do you think about Harvey Norman and Jerry Harvey? I mean, should you be taking investing advice from the CEO of a company, Tony?
Well, again, we invest on the facts and the numbers, not the story that’s spun by the CEO. So, yeah. Take it with a grain of salt.
Great quotes in this.
And not just singling him out, all CEOs. Take them with a grain of salt when they say things like that.
Yeah, I think it was last week or the week before somebody in the Financial Review was complaining about CEOs in denial. But I love some of the quotes in this article. “The miserable old bastard, his words, not ours, went on to whinge that the market is under cooking the value of the company’s property portfolio, which is carried in the accounts at $3.9 billion, and the company’s market cap is just 4.8 billion. The property is more valuable than platinum and gold, but it’s not regarded as that, he says. How nonsensical for Jerry to complain that the market is low balling his real estate assets when the market’s caution is caused entirely by his refusal to provide reasonable transparency on those assets.” Anyway, I thought it was a funny article taking a crack at Jerry.
It is a good article. I enjoy Rear Window. I guess additional background, analysts have complained for a long time about the Harvey Norman accounts. And they’re a bit different to most other similar type companies, retail companies in particular. For a start, they do own a large property portfolio, and most retailers have worked out that that’s a low growth game and they’re better off putting it into a trust on the side. Anybody who wants to invest in the real estate side of things and get a good yield can do that, but the operating company is the main game, and so they split those. Westfield was the classic example on that one. Or they just do a sale and leaseback. They sell Bunnings, for example, transfer their property into a Bunnings Warehouse property trust and then the operating company’s part of Wesfarmers. So, Jerry hasn’t done that, and additionally he has a relationship with his store managers which offers support. So, it’s not clear. There’s a lot of aggregation of the relationship between the stores and the centre office and who’s paying franchise fees and who’s on support. So, it’s very hard to work out, from the accounts anyway, what the bottom-line number is for that company.
Well, just for shits and giggles, I’m looking at Harvey Norman in our checklist this week. It currently has a QAV rating of 0.04 and a quality score of 50%. So, we won’t be buying it, but thanks anyway for the suggestion, Mr Harvey.
Yeah. They’ve popped up on the buy list in the past, but it is very rarely there.
What have you got on your talking list for this week, Tony?
Yeah, so sticking with the news. I did notice that Guy Debelle who used to work at the RBA, I think he was second in charge there and left, went across to Fortescue Future Industries and then sighted family reasons for resigning and leaving that quickly after joining, he’s now popped up in a superfund called the Australian Retirement Trust. So, it seems like the family issues have quite quickly resolved themselves, and so it does lend wait that there’s been some people jumped ship from Fortescue, which is a little bit worrying for me. Anyway, that was Guy Debelle. On Myer, I noticed the share price is down recently. They’re getting close to reporting their results, I think.
And the share price went up 10% as a result, today. Well, as a result of something today. But I would just say more power to you, Solly, don’t do me like you did me last time with Myer. But I think it was Jeff Wilson that did me last time.
Yeah, they’re usually a month after reporting season because they they don’t want to have a December 31 end of year date because that’s their busiest sales period, Christmas and New Year and Boxing Day and all that. Interesting thing was Solly Lew thought they were good enough to buy another 3% off. So, in Australian company law, an existing shareholder who has more than 19.5%, I think it is from memory, if they buy any more shares, they have to launch a takeover for the entire company. However, if they want to continue to buy shares, they are allowed to buy 3% every six months. It’s called the creep provision. And this is a well-worn track for Solly Lew to get bigger and bigger stakes in companies. Did it with DJs, he’s done it with other companies and he’s doing it with Myer now. But he likes what he sees, and he’s bought 3% more of Myer. So, I thought that was interesting.
Jeff Wilson, yeah.
We had a couple of parcels of Myer in our light portfolios, they’re up on average about 60%. So, it’s been good to us.
Don’t screw it up, Solly, is all I’m saying.
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