Avoiding the hubris trap

Great example of how even the most professional management teams can fall into the hubris trap.

Michael Chaney describes to The Age how Wesfarmers burnt a billion dollars on the highly successful Bunnings hardware chain’s expansion into the UK market:

S&P 500

Bunnings Warehouse by Bidgee – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Chaney was the chairman that signed off and despite everything contends he had never seen a more thorough investment analysis than had been undertaken on Bunnings UK.

They had a base case set of projections and a downside case and it all looked very positive at the time according to Chaney.

But a couple of fundamental mistakes were made subsequently after acquisition of Homebase home improvement network of stores including the removal of 150 senior managers.

“One was moving out the senior management and replacing it with our Australian experts and the second was getting rid of a lot of the products and the franchises because they didn’t suit the Bunnings model,” says Chaney.

By way of example the Australian interlopers jettisoned Laura Ashley from the home decorator product line up – and British women voted with their purses.

It was the success of the Australian model and its management that blinded the higher ups inside Wesfarmers to the fact that these guys didn’t know better what the UK customers wanted. Wesfarmers got caught in the hubris trap.

Some years earlier hardware giant Lowes fell into a similar trap in the US. Number-crunchers at head office worked out that they could save a bundle by replacing senior salespeople with more junior, inexperienced staff. The knowledge base of experienced floor staff was decimated. Customer service and sales plummeted. As one manager described it: “we became find-it-yourself instead of do-it-yourself.” Fortunately Lowes were able to correct their mistake and should have learned a valuable lesson but it seems they did not.

Investors should always be on the lookout for the hubris trap. The more successful the company, the more vulnerable they are. Expanding operations away from the home country or state is often a high risk venture, where management may be blind to cultural differences, regulatory pitfalls and an array of new competitors. Expanding into new product lines or services that are outside management’s traditional core expertise may also present traps for the unwary.

Ask Woolworths (Australia) about their Masters hardware venture, Commonwealth Bank about their expansion into financial advice, NAB about their expansion into UK markets, Centro Properties (now Vicinity) and Westfield about their foray into US shopping centers,….. I could go on. It’s a long list.

East to West: Headed for war?

Followers of international relations can take their pick of wars at present. There is a trade war brewing between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, which could descend into a currency war with competing devaluations. We have a Russia waging a cyber war on the West, a Cold War in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, a proxy war in Yemen between Saudia Arabia and Iran, a frozen war in Georgia and Ukraine, and a hot war in Syria that threatens to escalate into a major confrontation between Russia and the West. On top of that we have Kim Jong-un trying to break into the big leagues by test-firing ICBMs over Japan. It’s a tough neighborhood.

The “peace dividend” that was supposed to follow the collapse of Communism is well and truly over. The next major ideological conflict is upon us. Democracy versus the Dictators. For the West to prevail it will have to engage in a coordinated muscular diplomacy over the next few decades. A good start would be Margaret Thatcher’s Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World (2002):

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the oval office, 1988

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the oval office, 1988

“For my part, I favour an approach to statecraft that embraces principles, as long as it is not stifled by them; and I prefer such principles to be accompanied by steel along with good intentions.

…The habit of ubiquitous interventionism, combining pinprick strikes by precision weapons with pious invocations of high principle, would lead us into endless difficulties. Interventions must be limited in number and overwhelming in their impact.

….I should therefore prefer to restrict my guidelines to the following:

Don’t believe that military interventions, no matter how morally justified, can succeed without clear military goals.

Don’t fall into the trap of imagining that the West can remake societies.

Don’t take public opinion for granted — but don’t either underrate the degree to which good people will endure sacrifices for a worthwhile cause.

Don’t allow tyrants and aggressors to get away with it

And when you fight — fight to win.’

But the West also needs to clean up its own house and correct many of the abuses to which Capitalism has been subjected over the last few decades. Martin Wolf sums up the challenges in US-China rivalry will shape the 21st century:

‘The threat is the decadence of the west, very much including the US — the prevalence of rent extraction as a way of economic life, the indifference to the fate of much of its citizenry, the corrupting role of money in politics, the indifference to the truth, and the sacrifice of long-term investment to private and public consumption….’

Bold leadership is required. To fight the wars we have to but, more importantly, to resolve conflicts by other means wherever possible. That doesn’t mean avoiding conflict by retreating from red lines. It means establishing and vigorously enforcing new rules that benefit everyone. No one wins in a war. Whether it is a trade war, a cold war or a hot war. Everyone pays a price.

‘It must be thoroughly understood that war is a necessity, and that the more readily we accept it, the less will be the ardor of our opponents….’

~ Thucydides (circa 400 BC)

Around the markets: Hong Kong & India bullish

Canada’s TSX 60 continues to test resistance at the former primary support level of 900. Bearish divergence on Twiggs Money Flow warns of strong selling pressure. Decline below 880 would confirm a primary down-trend, with an initial target of 865*.

TSX 60 Index

* Target calculation: 900 – ( 935 – 900 ) = 865

The Footsie recovered above 7400 but bearish divergence on Twiggs Money Flow warns of long-term selling pressure. Another test of primary support at 7100 remains likely.

FTSE 100 Index

European stocks are taking a beating, with the Dow Jones Euro Stoxx 50 Index testing support at 3400. Sharp decline on Twiggs Money Flow warns of selling pressure. Breach of 3400 would warn of a test of 3200.

DJ Euro Stoxx 50 Index

* Target calculation: 3650 – ( 3650 – 3450 ) = 3850

India’s Sensex remains in a bull market.

BSE Sensex

* Target calculation: 29000 + ( 29000 – 26000 ) = 32000

As does Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index.

Hang Seng Index

* Target calculation: 24000 – ( 24000 – 21500 ) = 26500

While China’s Shanghai Composite index ranges between 3000 and 3300. Government interference remains a concern.

Shanghai Composite Index

Round the world: India & Hong Kong advance, Canada falters

Canada’s TSX 60 retraced to test resistance at the former primary support level of 900. Respect is likely and would signal a bear market. Decline of Twiggs Money Flow/Trend Index below zero would strengthen the bear signal. Medium-term target for the decline is 865*.

TSX 60 Index

* Target calculation: 900 – ( 935 – 900 ) = 865

The Footsie is losing momentum, with penetration of successive trendlines and declining Twiggs Trend Index. A test of primary support at 7100 is likely.

FTSE 100 Index

Dow Jones Euro Stoxx 50 Index, representing the 50 largest stocks in the Euro Zone, found support above 3400. Penetration of the declining trendline would indicate the correction is over and suggest the start of another advance — confirmed if the index breaks its recent (May 2017) high.

DJ Euro Stoxx 50 Index

* Target calculation: 3650 – ( 3650 – 3450 ) = 3850

It’s full steam ahead for India’s Sensex. Trend Index troughs above zero indicate strong buying pressure. Expect some profit-taking at the target of 32000* but any correction is likely to be shallow as the bull market gathers momentum.

BSE Sensex

* Target calculation: 29000 + ( 29000 – 26000 ) = 32000

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index has also reached its target of 26500. Again Trend Index troughs above zero indicate solid buying pressure.

Hang Seng Index

* Target calculation: 24000 – ( 24000 – 21500 ) = 26500

China’s Shanghai Composite index is also rallying but I remain wary of government intervention.

Shanghai Composite Index

Europe: DJ Stoxx 50 correction

Dow Jones Euro Stoxx 50 is undergoing a correction. Breach of medium-term support at 3500 indicates hesitancy but the primary trend remains upward. Twiggs Trend Index and Twiggs Money Flow both look similar, with a sharp decline in the last two weeks. Respect of support at 3400 remains likely and recovery above 3500 would suggest an advance to the 2015 high at 3800*.

DJ Euro Stoxx 50

* Target calculation: 3650 + ( 3650 – 3500 ) = 3800

The Footsie and DJ Euro Stoxx 50 display a similar correction. My bearishness for the former primarily stems from the Pound weakening against the Euro.

Footsie falters

Sterling continues to test primary support at 1.13 against the Euro. Twiggs Trend Index peaking below zero warns of selling pressure. Breach of support is likely and would signal a test of the 2016 low at €1.10.

GBPEUR

The FTSE 100 breached medium-term support at 7400 and the long-term rising trendline, warning that momentum is slowing. Bearish divergence on Twiggs Trend Index warns of rising selling pressure. Test of primary support at 7100 is likely.

FTSE 100

* Target: 7400 + ( 7400 – 7100 ) = 7700

Warsaw: Trump unequivocally commits to Article V | CNN

….As long as we know our history, we will know how to build our future. Americans know that a strong alliance of free, sovereign and independent nations is the best defense for our freedoms and for our interests. That is why my administration has demanded that all members of NATO finally meet their full and fair financial obligation.

As a result of this insistence, billions of dollars more have begun to pour into NATO. In fact, people are shocked. But billions and billions of dollars more are coming in from countries that, in my opinion, would not have been paying so quickly.To those who would criticize our tough stance, I would point out that the United States has demonstrated not merely with words but with its actions that we stand firmly behind Article 5, the mutual defense commitment. (Applause.)

Words are easy, but actions are what matters. And for its own protection — and you know this, everybody knows this, everybody has to know this — Europe must do more. Europe must demonstrate that it believes in its future by investing its money to secure that future.

That is why we applaud Poland for its decision to move forward this week on acquiring from the United States the battle-tested Patriot air and missile defense system — the best anywhere in the world. (Applause.) That is also why we salute the Polish people for being one of the NATO countries that has actually achieved the benchmark for investment in our common defense. Thank you. Thank you, Poland. I must tell you, the example you set is truly magnificent, and we applaud Poland. Thank you. (Applause.)

We have to remember that our defense is not just a commitment of money, it is a commitment of will. Because as the Polish experience reminds us, the defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have. The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it? (Applause.)

We can have the largest economies and the most lethal weapons anywhere on Earth, but if we do not have strong families and strong values, then we will be weak and we will not survive. (Applause.) If anyone forgets the critical importance of these things, let them come to one country that never has. Let them come to Poland. (Applause.) And let them come here, to Warsaw, and learn the story of the Warsaw Uprising….

Source: Trump’s speech in Warsaw (full transcript, video)

Europe: Mild correction

Dow Jones Euro Stoxx 50 is undergoing a correction to test medium-term support at 3500. Declining Twiggs Money Flow indicates moderate selling pressure but long-term troughs above zero suggest a bull market. Respect of support is likely and would signal an advance to the 2015 high at 3800*.

DJ Euro Stoxx 50

* Target calculation: 3650 + ( 3650 – 3500 ) = 3800

Footsie hesitates as Sterling tests support

Brexit uncertainty is likely to continue for an extended period, with Sterling testing primary support at 1.13 against the Euro. Breach would signal a test of the 2016 low at 1.10.

GBPEUR

The FTSE 100 retraced to test support at 7400, with bearish divergence on Twiggs Money Flow indicating medium-term selling pressure. Respect would confirm the target of 7700*. But breach of the rising trendline is as likely, and would warn of a test of primary support at 7100.

FTSE 100

* Target: 7400 + ( 7400 – 7100 ) = 7700

Footsie stalls, Sterling weakens

Political uncertainty, with a hung parliament, increased downward pressure on Sterling which is testing primary support at 1.13/1.14 against the Euro. Breach would signal a test of the 2016 low at 1.10.

GBPEUR

The FTSE 100 stalled at 7600, with bearish divergence on Twiggs Money Flow indicating medium-term selling pressure. Retracement that respects support at 7400 would re-affirm the target of 7700*. But breach of the rising trendline is as likely, which would warn of a test of primary support at 7100.

FTSE 100

* Target: 7400 + ( 7400 – 7100 ) = 7700