Crash! The Fat Lady opens Down Under!

The Southern lands' Property Bubble Bursts

As Australia and New Zealand this week took the last step out on the precipice of fiscal self immolation it is clear that the strands of property and financial engineering mania I have been describing for you in the "Yarns from Down Under" series (see FSO archives) are now fully entwined. The funeral pyre for our property and credit markets has been lit. As usual the executioner, always seeking anonymity behind the traditional executioner's mask is the Four Pillars, the oligarchic federally protected banks of Australia and New Zealand.

For this evening's performance folks, we bring you live from the Opera House Down Under the fabled Fat Ladies playing Brunhilde in this long running economic cycle's "Ride of the Valkyries", Act III from Wagner's Die Walkure.

Ride of the Valkyries is probably best known to you as the music used by the 1979 movie "Apocalypse Now". In real life it is one of the world's great operas. In Valkyries, Brunhilde is traditionally represented as a large lady wearing a Viking winged or horned helmet, an especially appropriate metaphor. Before this performance is over, many will feel those horns. In the opera-house, the "Ride", which takes around eight minutes, begins when the curtain rises to reveal a mountain peak where four of the eight Valkyrie sisters of Brunhilde have gathered in preparation for the transportation of fallen heroes to Valhalla. This too is part of our story as some heroes of the great property bubble in Australia and New Zealand are already fallen and merely await disposal. Others are queuing to get to the mountain, still blissfully unaware of the purpose of the Valkyrie sisters. Many more will be coming.

You don't have to worry about missing this show. Unlike its 8 minute pop in Die Walkure, our story of the conflagration of the Down Under property bubble is booked solid for 8 years and will likely have several encores!

Our operatic stars are now making their long overdue debut appearances, headlining sellout performances in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, and in an international simulcast taking to the stage across the ditch in New Zealand where they are appearing not by any means exclusively in Auckland, Wellington and that redoubt of fiscal rectitude in New Zealand's Deep South, Christchurch.

I don't think the release of this news is exactly against our national constitutions (New Zealand doesn't have one) but the conspiracy of silence from our national media is deafening and suggests a moral (or is it merely a monetary?) imperative not to talk about this dirty little secret. The property bubble has been an unparalleled cash cow for print media and online search alike. A search of the major newspapers in both countries this week has failed to find reference to the mortgage crisis that is now upon us although the serial crashes as the 15th major NZ Finance company imploded did at least make the sidebar of NZ Herald business section. The trigger for this news has not been reported in public media and is only being whispered by the leaders of the business community. As nearly all housing transactions in NZ are free of capital gains tax, as are many in Australia, (legislative induced misallocation of capital again) the psyche of Kiwis is more attuned to property as the preferred investment choice than anywhere else in the world. It is an article of faith with Kiwis and I suggest Aussies that property values are a one way bet.

The mighty Australian racehorse Ajax is remembered for being beaten by Spear Chief in the 1939 Rawson Stakes when sent out by the punters as 40/1 on; (your bet stands to win ) proving that not all "good things" get home! "What a stupid bet"you say; yet homeowners in their millions have been taking worse odds than this for years. If you were a late cycle buyer in this frantic bubble your chances of finding a bigger fool (mug in the colloquial) to relieve you of your overpriced burden are perhaps 1000/1 or worse.

Recent Business failures

National business papers have reported the failure in NZ and Australia of a series of Finance companies. These are second and third tier lenders who are funding their business with a mixture of bank credit and public debt offerings usually called "debentures". The debenture deeds have independent trustees and are a preferred call on the company's assets but as we are once again finding out, when the cupboard is bare there remains only dust. In Australia there have been a few high profile failures but these have largely been of the Christopher Skase variety (Mirage Hotels at Gold Coast and Port Douglas) for those with long enough memories. My favourite this week is straight out of the Skase business plan. Skase and Co provided such a good laugh perhaps 20 years ago that I didn't think to see it again but here is the modern version!

The business plan goes like this. Part 1: An ex milkman buys every business in sight at whatever silly price the vendor asks (in this case 1100 child care centers), funds it with debt from willing bankers of various shades whom he has convinced that his is a recession proof business which it probably is, siphon the cash flow to yourself and your wife under the guise of extravagant fees for your marvelous promotional and business expertise which has made this corporate miracle possible and must be handsomely rewarded as the "vision" drives the business; buy a few Ferraris, the obligatory Gold Coast waterfront mansion (in this case three of them side by side), private jets and helicopters; add a renowned sports team, basketball I think, to hasten the cash drain; float this monster on the Australian Stock Exchange to satisfy the punter's insatiable demand for any old piece of paper, have your photo in every magazine always looking young and cool in black tee shirts etc and get plenty of media exposure as the inflated stock price carries you to a place in the Australian rich list. This is fun as the compilers of these "lists" which always seem to earn public acclaim are, on my observation apparently able to calculate assets but not liabilities.

Part 2 of the Plan: Sell off your private assets quietly, presumably because you no longer want to live in these million mansions or your wife who actually owns these assets thinks now would be a good time to sell (you must have a good reason for this as otherwise people might suspect insider trading, perish the thought), keep milking the company (he's a milkman after all) until the inevitable happens. Insiders find out the cash flow is looking skinny and the share price crashes. At this stage as those previously friendly bankers sell out your shares in this fabulous business (margin call old chap), you blame a number of un-named but "foreign hedge funds" who allegedly engineered your downfall so they, the dreaded hedgies, could seize control of this breathtakingly important and strategic asset which is after all caring for the milkmen, bankers and entrepreneurs of the future and the financial media are relatively sympathetic! What a laugh. Even Skase at his best couldn't dream up the hedge fund conspiracy and Skase as an ex journo had a serious capacity for dreaming as his financiers eventually found out.

This episode like most making the business pages at the moment have been accidents waiting to happen. Like the characters in NN Taleb's book "Fooled by Randomness" they have mistaken opportunity and fearlessness (it is not their money after all) for ability. It tells us little apart from the generational gullibility of financiers and investors.

The Secret Trigger

The secret trigger came to me this week through a series of non reported events. The big four banks have been raising credit card rates for months but last week rates on "Gold" cards from at least two of the Pillars were lifted to 23%. I had mistakenly believed that Gold cards were reserved for the banks' best customers and hence the best credit risks but apparently they have been handed out in Corn Flakes packets for some time.

The next event was the unexpected failure of a highly reputable property developer who has pioneered the development and growth of a major NZ resort town for 40 years. I know the gentleman involved and he is an old hand who has been operating successfully through many economic cycles. Not for him the showy cars and extravagant lifestyle although he did have a private helicopter that crashed last month unhappily uninsured.

The final piece of the trigger came through a colleague who is a director of a long established and highly regarded property development group based in Christchurch, the center of NZ's South Island. This is the source of much of the country's export wealth generated on the famous Canterbury Plains, some of the best agricultural land you will ever see. Despite old Gold rushes and modern exploitation by tourist businesses, the South Island is famous for its conservative character. All the dour almost pilgrim like attributes of the pioneering farming families have, and still do shape the characters of a Southerner. They are the equivalent of the US Quakers. Practical, down to earth, reliable and trustworthy. Men of the land. Ad agencies love South Island businesses as clients. They inevitably wheel out a grizzled old farmer who was once a famous Rugby international. Since only sportsmen are honored and held in esteem in the Down Under lands (and Rugby is rightly the national pastime in NZ which is one of the main reasons I spend so much time there), this is powerful stuff. When financiers advertise for funds from the public, an issue of ultimate credibility, the South Island firms promote their very nature as Southerners as the main plank of their credibility. "It's a South Island (or Canterbury) business" the gruff old Rugby legend intones, thereby linking his own renowned stoicism and endurance on the sporting field with the perceived attributes of the "Southern Man". By implication they are all that is contrary to those skitterish, flippant, untrustworthy and far too sharp city folk from "Up North".

So when something unusual happens in Christchurch you pay attention. This is an "event" as almost nothing apart from the passing of the seasons usually happens in Christchurch.

This particular property group fits right into the Christchurch character. Long established, stolid, well regarded with conservative, smart and experienced management and board of directors. Their marquis project at the moment is the redevelopment of a strategically placed shopping mall in the capital of the south, Christchurch. This is blue chip territory. Perhaps six months ago as a number of third tier financiers (medium property and auto financiers) were having difficulties, the mortgages on this property were rolled over at normal commercial rates. Their financier who promoted themselves and undoubtedly are, the leading name in the industry then began to cherry pick the best property deals from those under pressure. This group is a household name in NZ and has a significant presence in UK and Australia. They are acknowledged as an industry leader in this part of the world and are an international name. At this time they undertook a major trans-national marketing campaign to stress their fiscal strength and connections and their view that all was well with the Down Under property markets apart perhaps from some marginal players who had overextended themselves in the seemingly never ending bubble. Our Christchurch developer was pleased to have such a powerful player as their banker and I think relieved that this player at least was unconcerned with global headlines and overseas market turmoil. They felt privileged that their business would not be affected by overseas events.

Local markets too accepted this posture and given the corporate reach and global connections of this player it made sense. For strong financiers it was business as normal in fact this shakeout presented opportunities for the strong to extend their market reach. This attitude has persisted through the strange twilight of denial that has gripped us. While the signs of impending doom have been clear to me at least for eighteen months the certainty by others that Australia and NZ would be immune from global events and would continue in a sea of prosperity has been and still is unshakeable.

This week the other shoe dropped. 20% interest is the new Prime

Our blue chip developer, along I am told with all other AA rated clients of the powerful financier received most unexpected news that the interest rate on their mortgage had been increased to 20%. We are not talking here about some marginal resort development in Fiji or an outlying suburban subdivision. Not even another nauseating apartment complex in Auckland's already oversupplied space. This development is as good as it gets in the retail space as are its connections. These interest rates have not been seen for 35 years. Much of the present generation of businessmen was in school the last time this happened. My colleague reminded me of a speech by a leading economist and strategist of one of the four pillars (now there's a non sequiter), one of those talking heads that seem to appear on every TV and radio show to the effect that the integration of global markets and the sophistication of modern financial instruments meant that the old days of cyclic boom to credit crunch were things of the past. Because of the extraordinary length of the now finished expansionary cycle, our business and economic leaders have confused fact with faith. Taleb's thesis of Fooled by Randomness has struck again. Nothing is changed in underlying cycles. Human nature ensures that greed, rapacity and overindulgence masquerading in the guise of new technology, ever more complex systems, theoretical oversight and man's unshakeable but mistaken belief that he is in control will inevitably be followed by the other part of the cycle. Pain, suffering and ultimately despair will be the lot of many for years. Those who built the funeral pyre and prepared the kindling will not suffer. As usual the culprits will be well insulated at whatever cost to mere mortals.

For our developer friends the writing is on the wall. It is as clear now as in 660BC when Belshazzar the king of Babylon made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. Then the moving finger writ "MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN". The Prophet Daniel was called to interpret this message and told Belshazzar "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting". Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans was dead before daybreak.

Whilst our developer friends not having rise to the exalted state of kingship will undoubtedly escape Belshazzar's fate, the message is clear. The biggest, most powerful non bank financier in the country wants its money back NOW and considerations of client relationships ongoing business opportunities and goodwill have been thrown out the door in less than six months. This is a clear signal that it doesn't care about the future because businessmen tend to have long memories of these cowboy antics; the imperative is get the money in and get it NOW! What do you suppose could have caused a once great company at least in NZ terms to sacrifice its future prospects so blatantly? The pressure from its own bankers is obviously overwhelming.

If industry leaders with sound cash flow type projects are being shown the door the ramifications for lesser players are even more ominous. You read about it here at Financial Sense for whom I write exclusively but it will be making the papers next week sport!

The next time an institution talks about "relationships" or their commitment to service, do what I do and vomit quietly in the gutter. I don't mind them being tough and I understand that circumstances can change, in these times violently, but it is the sheer nauseating spin that they are there as your friend and advisor that gets me. Two months ago you couldn't turn on the TV or open a paper without some ex media hack praising the integrity, strength and stability of this financier and inviting your deposits and business. 60 days later and suddenly, without warning the party is over.

Banker thy name be Janus

Janus, in Roman mythology the two-faced god of gates, beginnings, and endings

I simply can't let the barefaced hypocrisy of the big banks pass without comment. This week the National bank in NZ, actually the National Australia Bank in drag came up with this beauty as reported in NZ Herald:

Business confidence weakest in two years - survey
5:00AM Thursday February 28, 2008
Business confidence has hit the skids with firms taking a darker view of their prospects than at any time in the past two years. The National Bank survey found 54 per cent of firms expected business conditions to get worse over the next 12 months while only 10 per cent expected them to improve.
The net 44 per cent pessimistic compares with a net 25 per cent in the previous survey in December.
Their view of their own outlook, a more reliable indicator, has also dropped sharply with only a net 2 per cent expecting activity to increase, the weakest reading for two years.
If it stayed at those levels it would be indicative of economic momentum stalling outright, the bank's chief economist said. He attributes the fall in confidence to falling sharemarkets, a weak housing market and a dollar that is squeezing the life out of the export sector. The rising cost of necessities like food and petrol was eroding discretionary income and the retailing sector had been flat for nine months.

Notice the speed with which sentiment changed. Notice that nothing is said about usurious credit card rates and a few more stiffies into the mortgage belt!

The release of the latest Australian Fed minutes which finally acknowledged that inflation was out of control elicited this response from ABN Amro:

ABN Amro bank economists argued the Reserve could deliver another three interest rate rises. They also predicted that banks would lift their interest margins again – putting rates up independently of any action by the Reserve - following big write-offs of bad loans by ANZ (bank) and others.
Dr Edey yesterday cited national accounts figures as evidence that wage growth has accelerated to a trend level of more than 5%.

The banks blow it; we pay. Great how this system works ain't it?

The Governors of the Reserve Bank don't have to worry. The commercial banks and the market will beat them to the punch. This is the present epitaph for the "Lucky" country:"Australia's interest rates are already the highest in any developed country other than Iceland and New Zealand." And they just got a whole lot higher.

The final word for this week on the banking sector came also from NAB. I'll have to intersperse the banker's comments so you can see the real meaning. Bankers love to speak to us ignorant non bankers in code. This offering was reported by Aussie Rupert Murdoch's Australian Newspaper on 02/28/08 so it must be true if slightly unbelievable:

National Australia Bank chief John Stewart has warned of a credit crunch if Australian banks are not allowed to raise capital. "For the banking sector, if more and more comes on to the balance sheet of banks and they can't raise more capital, then there will be a credit crunch," he said.

What is coming onto the balance sheet are the SIVs and CDOs that have gone bad. Having taken a hammering from the big boys when we tried to play overseas and having been forced by RBA to take our secret SIVs and CDOs back where they always belonged as a direct bank liability, things are a bit thin mate. That really was a shame as we liked the idea of having the assets in a separate entity without disclosing that we really had the liability as well. If those guys who make up the "Rich" list can count the assets and not the liabilities why can't we? Having squirted that lot down the drain we think we should have some more toys to play with so we can do it all again. It was fun wasn't it? Oh raising capital to replace losses dilutes shareholder equity? Shareholders? What are they?

"What I think banks should be raising capital for is ... corporate Australia," he said. "So when the other markets close, the banks can keep lending and they can lend profitably."

OK. Corporate Australia... I understand. Banks have got to have funds to keep their corporate buddies going when "the other markets close". We understand that. Someone has to pay for all those board room lunches, limos and corporate jets.

Mr Stewart said that corporate Australia was in "good shape" and that struggling companies such as Allco Finance Group and Centro were "more exceptions than the rule".

Hang on mate. In the last para you said that you had to be a lender of last resort "when other markets close" How is this compatible with corporate Australia being in good shape?

He did not expect the US sub-prime fallout to lead to a global meltdown. In Australia the effect would be minor, he said.

Ah...I see at last. China will save us, housing prices will stay up, banks won't raise interest rates on mortgages, business overdrafts will still be plentiful and if those bully financiers in NZ won't honour their deal with honest developers and stick them with 20% interest rates overnight, NAB will save them. They are a NZ bank as well so it must be as he says. We don't care about global events. After all with one of the largest current account deficits in the world, the most overvalued housing in the world according to OECD and a complete reliance on overseas capital why would we worry. If you believe this I have a nice little bridge in Sydney that I can sell you. Cheap! On terms! Honest!

Mr Stewart said one of his worries was the terms of trade changing sometime in the future. If it happened, resource prices would fall and ..."A lot of the small to medium enterprises living off the resource boom (would be) doing less business and we will then wake up one morning to find corporate Australia, together with consumer Australia, mortgaged up to the eyeballs."

NO! Get out. Two whiskies ago you said corporate Australia was in good shape and the effect of overseas events would be minor. Now you tell us we are mortgaged to the eyeballs. This is a bit like a drug dealer complaining about his client's habit. Aren't you the guys who have been pushing these mortgages at every poor sucker out there for the whole bubble? In fact you guys are the bubble so it's a bit rich claiming to worry now.

This from a leader of the four pillars. I know you think I make this nonsense up to entertain you but this really happened this week in Australia during an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce lunch. Incredibly grown men pay to hear this drivel. You can go down to Sydney's Domain at lunchtime for free and hear drunks on soapboxes making more sense.

The Beautiful World of Trading

Blessedly immune to the frivolities and fecklessness of bankers, debenture covenants, mortgage rates and the other flotsam of life, trading in the world's financial markets goes on around the clock. If you are in an industry related even parenthetically to the property markets I suggest you get in touch and I will teach you to trade safely and profitably. You are unlikely to have a job much longer unless you are a senior executive so if you are going to be run out of town you might as well get to the front and make it look like you are leading the parade. Trading is a great business and has been going on since Munehisa Homma discovered the use of candlesticks to corner the Osaka rice markets in the 1600s (see my Financial Sense ASIA archives for "Samurai Trader").

Forex markets trade around the clock and most RTH markets now have out of hours electronic markets. There are plenty of market makers and huge liquidity so unlike the property markets where sellers will soon be scouring the horizon for just a sniff of a willing buyer, your orders in almost all trading markets are filled instantly. The tools of traders are charts and you can see plenty of those at my website . I cover forex pairs, CME currency contracts, Gold, equity markets, US T Bonds and some commodities. I create monthly, weekly, daily and 4 hour charts, about 80 a week all with the fabled Daniel numbers engrossed.

Charting around ASIA

More important Daniel number charts will be published by Financial Sense on their ASIA page (2nd tab from right at the top of their home page) on Monday in my bi-monthly Asian market roundup "Charting around Asia" which for this purpose includes Australia. New Zealand doesn't really have tradeable markets since it sold (gifted?) its tiny futures market to the Sydney Futures Exchange years ago. You will want to see these charts. They are so accurate that I have readers trading from them in Australia and Asia. As these are weekly charts their technique is interesting. And to me costly! I have an Australian client who was booked to attend one of my two day trading tutorials next month. He called to say that he wouldn't be attending the tutorial as he was too busy trading, a pastime that had previously been fruitless (that's why he wanted to learn to trade properly) but had somehow become fascinating and presumably profitable. "What has changed" I asked him. "I've got new charts" he blithely replied "I am trading the SPI (Australian SPI 200) from your "Charting around Asia" articles in Financial Sense and they are fabulous!"

My loss is another's gain so don't miss the new Daniel charts on the SPI, Nikkei, Hang Seng and more in Monday's edition of "Charting around Asia".

This is the weekly SPI chart from the last "Charting around Asia" article. If you trade weekly charts you will see why my client is not leaving home!

This chart together with other major Asian indices was published on my website in the free section on 12 February 2008, in conjunction with the Financial Sense article 3 days later. Having identified the 5172 January low and the 6029 February high both almost exactly at their respective Daniel numbers, my client traded the SPI down to its 5387 low which came on 21 February, then got much of the 400 point bounce that followed.

Adam, are we really giving these numbers away to your readers for free? Guess so. And it is our pleasure.

Forex this week

The dominant story this week for forex players has been the continued demise of the US Dollar. With DX (NYBOT Dollar Index) breaking to historic lows some months ago, this market is searching for the next level. The major Daniel monthly number sequence has picked 4 of the 5 trading levels in this market since its top in 2001 with other support levels being made at intermediate Daniel sequence numbers. The numbers suggest a continued long term decline until at least the next Daniel support at 70.40.

Both the February and December 2004 lows came from an intermediate Daniel sequence with DC price levels at 84.93 and 80.61 turning the market for 3 months and 11 months respectively. Those lows were within our expected forex variation from target of 40 ticks (pips). The market is currently near the next intermediate Daniel number at 73.33. If this doesn't cause a multi month rally, 70.37 is next on the charts where you can see there are two degrees of DC support from different price structures.

Many shorter term forex traders were caught off guard as the acceleration of USD's plunge transformed normally cyclic currency pairs into one way traffic. As the old trader's saying goes, just when you think you have found the key, they change the lock.

Noticeable strength in Euro propelled this cross relentlessly higher. The Europeans are not going to fancy these exchange rates for too long. The chart below shows this week's acceleration as EUR-USD completes its vertical climb from 1.4437 right into its next Daniel number at 1.5230.

Patient traders had a great trade from 1.4437. Short term traders who were not aware of the larger trend got run over. I teach a number of techniques on how to handle high momentum moves and this one was especially generous.

The Aussie too went vertical against USD. This trade and the Kiwi have been high momentum trades for a while. This market is at daily Daniel sequence resistance.

For our shorter term traders the 4 hour charts continued to define these markets. Here is one that you will enjoy together with my comment as posted:

This can't be real. You're making this up...right?


Daniel sequence traders continue the extraordinary sequence of trades in this market. Since the Danielcode website started posting the Daniel numbers for Comex Gold in early January, every turn through the 8 swings that are apparent since then has been made at a DC number. The biggest variance from target is 1.7 points and most of the turns have been accurate to about 60 ticks or less. Quite an achievement. Presently interest in Gold trading is high possibly because of the results the Danielcode has achieved and clients are now asking for Silver charts. I am considering a new Gold and Silver section. Let me know if you are interested. Future price targets have been removed.


I rarely trade commodities these days but when I do I trade from longer term charts. Here are some of them showing their symbiotic relationship with their Daniel sequence numbers:

There are 3 degrees of Daniel number resistance at 531^4!

Like an arrow going to its target!

Seminars and Training

If you have a group of 10 or more and would like to do my 2 day seminar which is hopefully scandalous, topical and more importantly will teach you how to trade all markets safely and profitably, let me know. My course covers basic and intermediate trading techniques in forex and equity futures mainly the S&P, and Gold with an introduction to advanced trading techniques. I will take you as far as you are capable of going at the present time. I will teach you all the worthwhile trading techniques. I will teach you how to benefit from trading the Danielcode, where to put your stops and how to manage risk on a micro and macro level. You will learn about currency hedging and might even get a peek inside my famous S&P Binomial charts. You will learn some things that I don't write or talk about publicly. Your approach to trading will be forever changed and you will never be the same again! You will just need a convener to handle logistics and I will come to you wherever you are. Warmth and cold beer are the preferred options but anywhere with an airport will do!

For those who would like to visit me at lovely Lake Taupo in New Zealand's volcanic North Island I am doing some 2 day trading tutorials covering forex, commodities and equity markets. Clients are desperate to get an integrated and complete understanding of a structured approach to trading financial markets. Many of them have done courses and seminars and still can't trade. These are good people with a real passion to learn. These are my sort of people. I have been at this game for over 20 years and have seen it all. In these tutorials I cover the same material that I use in my seminars but they are more personal. I find that 3 clients at a time are enough to handle. I have 1 place left for the tutorial in mid March and the possibility of a cancellation in late March (my weekly chart SPI trader). I have a few places available in the April list. Get in touch if you want to change your life.

S&P Binomials

For my clients Fiona and Andrew who so enjoyed last week's chart of the Danielcode binomials in the S&P here is this week's chart. Unusually we got 2 consecutive "Buy on Open" signals on Wednesday and Thursday. There were 13 points on offer Wednesday and 7 on Thursday. Not bad for two days (in my case nights) work. Daniel retracement sequences have been deleted as have future targets. Friday is setting up as another beauty.

The wavy lines are not Bollinger bands or Keltner Channels. They are the Daniel sequence Binomials which are the linear Daniel numbers calculated as fractals of an arc. They are not available at the Danielcode website. Binomials are an advanced trading technique that I show merely to stimulate your interest and make you think about new and alternate trading methods.

For those with an interest in trading financial markets I invite you to visit the Danielcode Online website. There is much to learn

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Hamlet Act 1. Scene V

Copyright © 2008 John Needham

About the Author

Lawyer and Financial Consultant
jneedham [at] thedanielcode [dot] com ()