Tuesday, 05 September 2017 08:02

North Korea and investment markets

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Written by Shane Oliver - Chief Economist AMP
 
Tensions with North Korea have been waxing and waning for decades now but in recent times the risks seem to have ramped up dramatically as its missile and nuclear weapon capabilities have increased. The current leader since 2011, Kim Jong Un, has launched more missiles than Kim Il Sung (leader 1948-1994) and Kim Jong Il (1994-2011) combined.

Source: CNN, AMP Capital
 
The tension has ramped up particularly over the last two weeks with the UN Security Council agreeing more sanctions on North Korea and reports suggesting North Korea may already have the ability to put a nuclear warhead in an intercontinental ballistic missile that is reportedly capable of reaching the US (and Darwin).

US President Trump also threatened North Korea with “fire, fury and, frankly, power” only to add a few days later that that “wasn’t tough enough” and “things will happen to them like they never thought possible” and then that “military solutions…are locked and loaded should North Korea act unwisely”. Meanwhile, North Korea talked up plans to fire missiles at Guam before backing off with Kim Jong Un warning he could change his mind “if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions”. 
 
This is all reminiscent of something out of James Bond (or rather Austin Powers) except that it’s serious and naturally has led to heightened fears of military conflict. As a result, share markets dipped last week and bonds and gold benefitted from safe haven demand, although the moves have been relatively modest and markets have since bounced back.
 
At present there are no signs (in terms of military deployments, evacuation of non-essential personnel, etc) that the US is preparing for military conflict and it could all de-escalate again, but given North Korea’s growing missile and nuclear capability it does seem that the North Korean issue, after years of escalation and de-escalation, may come to a head soon. It’s also arguable that the volatile personalities of Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump and the escalating war of words have added to the risk of a miscalculation – eg where North Korea fires a missile into international waters, the US seeks to shoot it down, which leads to a cycle of escalating actions. This note looks at the implications for investors.

Shares and wars (or threatened wars)

Of course there have been numerous conflicts that don’t even register for global investors beyond a day or so at most if at all. Many have little financial market impact because they are not seen as having much economic impact (eg the war in Afghanistan in contrast to 1991 and 2003 wars with Iraq, which posed risks to the supply of oil). As such, I have only focussed on the major wars/potential wars since World War 2 and only on the US share market (S&P 500) as it sets the direction for others (including European, Asian and Australian shares).
 
  • World War 2 (September 1939-September 1945) – US shares fell 34% from the outbreak of WW2 in September 1939, with 20% of this after the attack on Pearl Harbour, and bottomed in April 1942. This was well before the end of WW2 in 1945. Six months after the low, shares were up 25% and by the time WW2 had risen by 108%.
  • Korean War (June 1950-July 1953) – US shares initially fell 8% when the war started but this was part of a bigger fall associated with recession at the time. Shares bottomed well before the war ended and trended up through most of it.
  • Vietnam War (1955-1975) – For most of this war US shares were in a secular bull market but with periodic bear markets on mostly other developments. Rising inflation and a loss of confidence associated with losing the Vietnam war may have contributed to the end of the secular bull market in the 1970s – but the war arguably played a small role in this.
  • Cuban Missile Crisis (October 1962) – Shares initially fell 7% over eight days as the crisis erupted but this was part of a much bigger bear market at the time. They bottomed five days before it was resolved and then rose sharply. This is said to be the closest the world ever came to nuclear war 
  • Iraq War I (August 1990-January 1991) – Shares fell 11% from when Iraq invaded Kuwait to their low in January 1991 but again this was part of a bigger fall associated with a recession. Shares bottomed 8 days before Operation Desert Storm began and 19 days before it ended and rose sharply.
  • Iraq War II (March-May 2003) – Shares fell 14% as war loomed in early 2003 but bottomed nine days before the first missiles landed and then rose substantially although again this was largely due to the end of a bear market at the time.

Source: AMP Capital
 
The basic messages here are that:
 
  • http://www.ampcapital.com.au/custom/reskin/images/bg-bullet-dot.png); padding-left: 11px; margin-bottom: 5px; background-position: 0px 8px; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat;">Shares tend to fall on the initial uncertainty but bottom out before the crisis is resolved (militarily or diplomatically) when some sort of positive outcome looks likely; 
  • http://www.ampcapital.com.au/custom/reskin/images/bg-bullet-dot.png); padding-left: 11px; margin-bottom: 5px; background-position: 0px 8px; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat;">Six months after the low they are up strongly; and
  • http://www.ampcapital.com.au/custom/reskin/images/bg-bullet-dot.png); padding-left: 11px; margin-bottom: 5px; background-position: 0px 8px; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat;">The severity of the impact of the war/threatened war on shares can also depend on whether they had already declined for other reasons. For example, prior to World War 2, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the two wars with Iraq, shares had already had bear markets. This may have limited the size of the falls around the crisis.

Possible scenarios 

In thinking about the risks around North Korea, it’s useful to think in terms of scenarios as to how it could unfold:
 
  1. Another round of de-escalation – With both sides just backing down and North Korea seemingly stopping its provocations. This is possible, it’s happened lots of times before, but may be less likely this time given the enhanced nature of North Korea’s capabilities.
  2. Diplomacy/no war – Sabre rattling intensifies further before a resolution is reached. This could still take some time and meanwhile share markets could correct maybe 5-10% ahead of a diplomatic solution being reached before rebounding once it becomes clear a peaceful solution is in sight. An historic parallel is the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 that saw US shares fall 7% and bottom just before the crisis was resolved, and then stage a complete recovery. 
  3. A brief and contained military conflict - Perhaps like the 1991 and 2003 Iraq wars proved to be, but without a full ground war or regime change. In both Iraq wars while share markets were adversely affected by nervousness ahead of the conflicts, they started to rebound just before the actual conflicts began. However, a contained Iraq-style military conflict is unlikely given North Korea’s ability to launch attacks against South Korea (notably Seoul) and Japan.
  4. A significant military conflict – If attacked, North Korea would most likely launch attacks against South Korea and Japan causing significant loss of life. This would entail a more significant impact on share markets with, say, 20% or so falls (more in Asia) before it likely becomes clear that the US would prevail. This assumes conventional missiles - a nuclear war would have a more significant impact.
     
Of these, diplomacy remains by far the most likely path. The US is aware of the huge risks in terms of the likely loss of life in South Korea and Japan that would follow if it acted pre-emptively against North Korea and it retaliates, and it has stated that it’s not interested in regime change there. And North Korea appears to only want nuclear power as a deterrent. In this context, Trump’s threats along with the US show of force earlier this year in Syria and Afghanistan are designed to warn North Korea of the consequences of an attack on the US or its allies, not to indicate that an armed conflict is imminent. Rather, comments from US officials it’s still working on a diplomatic solution. As such, our base case is that there is a diplomatic solution, but there could still be an increase in uncertainty and share market volatility in the interim. Key dates to watch are North Korean public holidays on August 25 and September 9, which are often excuses to test missiles, and US-South Korean military exercises starting August 21.

Correction risks

The intensification of the risks around North Korea comes at a time when there is already a risk of a global share market correction: the recent gains in the US share market have been increasingly concentrated in a few stocks; volatility has been low and short-term investor sentiment has been high indicating a degree of investor complacency; political risks in the US may intensify as we come up to the need to avoid a government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling next month, which will likely see the usual brinkmanship ahead of a solution (remember 2013); market expectations for Fed tightening look to be too low; tensions may be returning to the US-China trade relationship; and we are in the weakest months of the year seasonally for shares. While Australian shares have already had a 5% correction from their May high, they are nevertheless vulnerable to any US/global share market pull back. 
 
However, absent a significant and lengthy military conflict with North Korea (which is unlikely), we would see any pullback in the next month or so as just a correction rather than the start of a bear market. Share market valuations are okay – particularly outside of the US, global monetary conditions remain easy, there is no sign of the excesses that normally presage a recession, and profits are improving on the back of stronger global growth. As such, we would expect the broad rising trend in share markets to resume through the December quarter.

Implications for investors

Military conflicts are nothing new and share markets have lived through them with an initial sell-off if the conflict is viewed as material followed by a rebound as a resolution is reached or is seen as probable. The same is likely around conflict with North Korea. The involvement of nuclear weapons – back to weapons of mass destruction! – adds an element of risk but trying to protect a portfolio against nuclear war with North Korea would be the same as trying to protect it against a nuclear war during the Cold War, which ultimately would have cost an investor dearly in terms of lost returns. While there is a case for short-term caution, the best approach for most investors is to look through the noise and look for opportunities that North Korean risks throw up – particularly if there is a correction.
Tuesday, 05 September 2017 07:30

New Magellan listed trust - with a loyalty bonus

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Magellan Financial Group have announced a new listed investment vehicle, the Magellan Global Trust.

This ASX listed trust will commence trading on 18th October 2017, targetting an income yield of 4%pa and will be invested similarly to the Magellan Global Fund which has been established since 2007.

Existing investors in Magellan funds (both listed or unlisted) can apply for units in a priority offer and receive 6.25% worth of bonus units on the first $30,000 applied for.  Bonus value is up to $1,875, and to be eligible the Magellan Global Trust must be held until 11 December 2017.

The Priority Offer is open to any person who has a registered address in Australia or New Zealand and who, as at 5.00pm (Sydney time) on 1 August 2017, was a direct or indirect holder or investor in any one of the following (each an "Eligible Vehicle"):

  1. a)  Magellan Financial Group (ASX: MFG);

  2. b)  Magellan’s Active ETFs: Magellan Global Equities Fund (Managed Fund) (ASX: MGE), Magellan Global Equities Fund (Currency Hedged) (Managed Fund) (ASX: MHG) and Magellan Infrastructure Fund (Currency Hedged) (Managed Fund) (ASX: MICH);

  3. c)  Magellan’s unquoted registered managed investment schemes: Magellan Global Fund (ARSN 126 366 961); Magellan Global Fund (Hedged) (ARSN 164 285 661); Magellan Infrastructure Fund (ARSN 126 367 226); Magellan Infrastructure Fund (Unhedged) (ARSN 164 285 830); and Magellan High Conviction Fund (ARSN 164 285 947); and

  4. d)  at Magellan’s discretion, any fund or investment strategy for which Magellan is the investment manager or adviser.

 

GEM Capital will be flagging this issue to its clients directly, but in the meantime we attach a fact sheet about the offer.

 

Download Magellan Global Trust Fact Sheet

 

Download Magellan Global Trust Product Disclosure Statement

 

Thursday, 31 August 2017 09:44

Company reports can mislead investors

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We tracked how investors read company reports and here's how they're misled

File 20170828 27564 jnov8i The study used an eye-tracking device to ensure that all information included in the management report was read and considered in light of judgment formation. www.shutterstock.com Andreas Hellmann, Macquarie University

Investors would have spent a fair amount of time over the last few weeks poring over financial documents, as listed companies report their earnings and plans for the year to come. But our research shows they could have been misled just by the order of information in these reports.

We found that investors place more emphasis on the last piece of information in the management report included in company documents. Non-professional investors also ranked the performance of the company higher on more occasions, if the last piece of information is positive.

We invited 66 non-professional investors in our laboratory to read a management report of a fictitious mining company containing a short series of complex and mixed information. The positive information contained in the report told of increases in financial profitability and a strong operating cash flow. Negative information included a declining share price and increases in costs.

We randomly assigned the participants to two groups. The first group read the textual information included in the report in a sequence of positive information first and negative last. The second group read exactly the same information, but for them it was presented in the opposite way, negative before positive. We used an eye-tracking device to ensure that all information included in the management report was read and considered in light of judgement formation.

The investors we studied actually used the fictitious information in their investment decisions. Over 60% of participants were less inclined to invest in the fictitious company when negative information was presented last.

Easily mislead

Research into the behaviour of investors shows that the presentation order of financial information influences their judgements on company performance.

Because of the limited attention span and working memory capacity of the human mind, investors give more weight to information received later in a sequence.

So although financial information is often regarded as objective, neutral and value-free, the deliberate presentation ordering of information is able to influence non-professional investors. Companies could use this to try and hide negative information in the middle sections of a narrative and disclose positive information at the end of a sequence for the greatest effect.

Presentation ordering is not the only trick companies may use to influence the perceptions of annual report readers.

Graphs can attract investor’s attention and can be more easily retained in their memory than other narratives. Because of this, companies use significantly more graphs highlighting favourable rather than unfavourable performance.

One concern that arises from our findings is that readers of financial information may be mislead into believing there is more objectivity in practice than actually is the case. With regulatory efforts largely related to quantitative information, companies have much more flexibility in terms of how they present narrative information accompanying the financial statements in their reports.

Perhaps further guidance on the presentation of the management commentary is required by the global regulators to restrict the possibility that companies may influence the impressions conveyed to users of accounting information.

The ConversationMaybe next reporting season investors should take another look at what information companies include in their reports.

Andreas Hellmann, Senior Lecturer in Accounting, Macquarie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, 01 June 2017 07:37

Is Telstra good value after the dip?

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Written by Tim Kelley - Montgomery Investment Management

 

Telstra (TLS) is not high on the list of businesses we would most like to own. Having said that, it is not a terrible business, and at the right price it makes sense to own it, particularly given its steady dividend stream. So, with TLS’s share price down around 20 percent over the past year, we decided to assess its value.

One of the appealing features of TLS is its stability. Over many years, the company has delivered consistent revenues at consistent margins for consistent earnings. On the face of it, this should allow us to value the company fairly readily.

However, for several reasons the future for TLS looks different to the past: Firstly, migration to the NBN will take a large bite out of TLS’s fixed-line business, offset somewhat by a series of one-off and recurring payments it will receive from NBN Co. for handing over its copper and HFC networks. Secondly, there is the matter of TPG Telecom (TPM) planning to become Australia’s fourth mobile network operator.

Given this, we think it makes sense to split the valuation into four components:

A “business-as-usual” valuation of TLS based on historical financial metrics; A valuation of the earnings “hole” left by the migration to NBN; The present value of payments TLS will receive from NBN Co; and An adjustment for the impact of increasing competition in mobile.

We consider each of these in turn.

“Business-as-usual”

As noted above, TLS has historically been a very stable business, and the “business-as-usual” valuation is a relatively straightforward extrapolation of historical financials. Using an 8% cost of capital and a 1.5% p.a. growth rate, we arrive at an estimated value of just under $50 billion for the equity in TLS, or around $4.20 per share.

NBN earnings hole 

We then come to the NBN earnings hole. TLS has provided guidance as to the EBITDA impact it expects when the migration is complete, and our “business-as-usual” valuation gives us an implied EBITDA multiple with which we can capitalise this impact. We estimate that this amounts to a fairly meaningful $17.4 billion of equity value, equivalent to around $1.46 per share.

Payments from NBN Co.

Happily, this earnings hole is largely compensated for by one-off and recurring payments it expects to receive from NBN Co. TLS has provided estimates of the value of these payments, but we believe the discount rate applied to these payments should be lower than the one TLS has used (which is generally 10%). We have evaluated TLS on the basis of an 8% WACC, and we see these payments as having somewhat lower risk than the overall TLS business, and so we apply a 7% discount rate. On this basis, we estimate the value of payments yet to be received from NBN Co at around $16.9 billion after tax – a larger figure than quoted by TLS, and one that substantially makes up for the value lost from TLS’s fixed line business.

Increasing competition

Finally, we consider the impact of TPM’s entry into the mobile market. As a point of reference, we note the impact of the 2012 entry into the French market by low-cost operator, Free mobile. In that example, ARPUs for the leading player, Orange, declined by 10-15% over several years, as the new entrant moved to take market share of 15%.

This sort of outcome would imply a very material loss of value for TLS. However, for a range of reasons, we expect TLS to experience a less dire outcome. These reasons include:

Free benefitted from a roaming agreement with Orange. However, the ACCC has indicated it does not support roaming in Australia. This is an important constraint on TPM which plans to spend relatively little on its network build and will achieve relatively limited population coverage; Approximately 53% of TLS mobile subscribers are outside the major cities, and therefore less vulnerable to competition, as TPM focuses its network spend on the major cities; A large part of TLS’s mobile revenues are derived from business subscribers, who would also be less susceptible to a TPM offering; and Across its entire customer base, TLS maintains a price premium position in the Australian market due to perceptions of coverage and quality. TPM’s low-cost offering will more directly impact Optus and Vodafone (and is thought to potentially be a strategy to pressure Vodafone into a consolidation).

Our valuation of Telstra

Taking these factors into account, we anticipate a couple of percentage points of lost market share for TLS, and perhaps a 5% decline to ARPUs. On this basis, we estimate that the value of TLS falls by around $4.3 billion, or around $0.36 per share – still a material impact.

We then assemble the different valuation components into an overall picture, as follows, to arrive at an estimated value for TLS equity of around $44.8 billion, which equates to around $3.77 per share.

Against today’s share price of $4.42, this makes TLS look around 15% expensive, although it should be noted that we consider large sections of the Australian equity market to be expensive, so this conclusion perhaps comes as no surprise. It is also worth noting that different judgements around discount rates might lead other analysts to a different conclusion.

The Montgomery Alpha Plus Fund – which is fully-invested and uses a machine learning model analysing many different variables to drive investment decisions – holds a modest position in TLS in its long portfolio. For the Montgomery Fund, however, we are particular about valuation and are happy to hold cash when value is scarce. Accordingly, TLS does not find its way into our long-only funds at the current price, regardless of its dividend-yielding appeal.

Written by Richard Watt - Fidelity Investments
 
Political risks subside 
Perceived political risks in Europe have detracted from European equity performance over the past year, with around US$100bn flowing out of European markets in 2016. With the election of Emmanuel Macron as the next French President, much of that risk has been reduced and investors may now focus on the performance of European companies.
 
Here we look at the key benefits that the Macron win may bring to the European economy and its equity markets.
 
Pro-reform, pro-integration 
Macron is a reformist and pro-European. He is in favour of greater integration in Europe, the strengthening of European institutions and a common Eurozone budget that would protect from future economic shocks. He has campaigned on reforms of the labour market in France, reforms of the tax system and tax cuts, and raising the retirement age, which is currently one of the lowest in Europe. 
 
Along with this, he plans to invest EUR50bn into the French economy. This would be funded by reducing the size of the French state - by far the largest of any European country.
 
All of this would be hugely beneficial to what is a relatively uncompetitive French economy, and to the future strength and stability of the Eurozone.
 
Political risks diminishing 
Sentiment towards Europe has been particularly strong since the first round of voting in France two weeks ago, seeing European and French markets up 7-8%. With either the upcoming UK or German elections representing an existential risk to Europe, much of the political risk is behind us. Investors will likely focus on corporate fundamentals and earnings. 
 
Earnings turn
Since the financial crisis, while US companies have seen margins and earnings recover, European earnings are still below their peak. The underperformance of European stocks relative to US stocks has been exclusively driven by the lack of earnings delivery of European companies. 

European earnings revisions turning positive 

Source: Fidelity, Datastream, Morgan Stanley , data as of 6 Apr 2017. N12M ERR (%) = 12-month earnings revision ratio. 3MA = 3-month moving average.

What we are now seeing is a strong recovery in European stocks, with earnings starting to come through. Margins are recovering and the most recent earnings season in Europe has been the strongest in more than 10 years. 

Particularly compelling for European equities is their valuation. As they have been out of favour for much of last year they are trading at a multi-year discount relative to the US on a price-to-book basis. And today, record high numbers of European companies have a dividend yield that exceeds their bond yield.

European P/B vs US P/B

Source: Datastream, GS Research, data as of 31 March 2017. 

Percentage of stocks with dividend yield > bond yield

Source: Datastream, Goldman Sachs Global ECS Research, December 2016. Stoxx Europe 600.  

Conclusion
Europe has been significantly out of favour for some time due to political risk. The French result today puts much of this behind us and European equities are looking attractive compared to the US and other markets and asset classes. We are now starting to see companies deliver strongly on earnings, removing another key detractor from investor sentiment. 
 
This document is issued by FIL Responsible Entity (Australia) Limited ABN 33 148 059 009, AFSL No. 409340 (“Fidelity Australia”).  Fidelity Australia is a member of the FIL Limited group of companies commonly known as Fidelity International.

Investments in overseas markets can be affected by currency exchange and this may affect the value of your investment. Investments in small and emerging markets can be more volatile than investments in developed markets. 


This document is intended for use by advisers and wholesale investors. Retail investors should not rely on any information in this document without first seeking advice from their financial adviser.  You should consider these matters before acting on the information.  You should also consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statements (“PDS”) for any Fidelity Australia product mentioned in this document before making any decision about whether to acquire the product. The PDS can be obtained by contacting Fidelity Australia on 1800 119 270 or by downloading it from our website at www.fidelity.com.au. This document may include general commentary on market activity, sector trends or other broad-based economic or political conditions that should not be taken as investment advice. Information stated herein about specific securities is subject to change. Any reference to specific securities should not be taken as a recommendation to buy, sell or hold these securities. While the information contained in this document has been prepared with reasonable care, no responsibility or liability is accepted for any errors or omissions or misstatements however caused. This document is intended as general information only. The document may not be reproduced or transmitted without prior written permission of Fidelity Australia. The issuer of Fidelity’s managed investment schemes is FIL Responsible Entity (Australia) Limited ABN 33 148 059 009. Reference to ($) are in Australian dollars unless stated otherwise. 

Wednesday, 03 May 2017 08:36

French election in 3 charts

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The final phase of election for President of France comes to a close on May 7th. After the first round of voting, voters are left to choose between Marine Le Pen (hard right) and Emmanuel Macron (Centre). We know that Marine Le Pen stands for France leaving the EU, which would be particularly problematic given France was a founding member of the EU.

The issue of leaving the Euro currency would be complex. In our opinion this is the last of the key elections in Europe this year given that there seems to be high quality candidates from both sides in the German elections later this year. The financial markets were relieved to see the final two candidates of Macron and Le Pen, as it was earlier feared the 'Hard Left' may get through to the final round against the 'Hard Right'. The French share market rose by over 4% the day following the election result.

That said, the final election result is still yet to be decided, so we thought it timely to bring you the latest thinking in this important election. The first round voting was close but Macron was the ultimate winner securing 24% of the vote, with Le Pen in second place.

 

There are some similarities to the Trump election in the composition of voting, where Le Pen is appealing to the 'rust belt' in France, gaining support from those negatively impacted by globalisation.

 

Finally, we finish on the voting intentions of French voters for the Final Round and note that unlike the US election and Brexit, the French polls have been very accurate.  The polls currently suggest a comfortable victory for Macron - but we are likely to be more comfortable once the final result is known.

 

 

Hugh Giddy and Anton Tagliaferro (Investors Mutual senior management) recently wrote about the Trump induced rally in share markets.  The title of their publication is "Trump's election as President - has it changed the world that much?

The article covers their views of the US and China in particular, written in an easy to follow manner, and littered with some amusing quotes.

You can download your copy of this article by clicking on the icon below.

 

download button 1

Monday, 01 May 2017 10:55

Will Amazon destroy retail as we know it?

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Mark Draper (GEM Capital) recently spoke with Clay Smolinski (Platinum Asset Management) about the threat to retailers of Amazon.  Clay talks about how investors should be thinking about Amazon.

 

Mark Draper and Shannon Corcoran (GEM Capital) recently met with Dom Guiliano (Chief Investment Officer - Magellan Financial Group) to talk about Donald Trump's agenda and how investors should be thinking about it.

We also covered the risks with European politics, particularly in France and Germany, with so many elections coming up in 2017.

 

Monday, 03 April 2017 07:58

Why we don't like Telstra

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Telstra is a favoured stock among many retail investors, assumingly for the current high franked dividend.

While Telstra's balance sheet is in pristine condition, which would allow it the flexibility to borrow in order to support this dividend, we remain concerned about Telstra's earnings outlook.  Not only have earnings virtually gone nowhere over the past decade, the NBN is likely to pressure Telstra's future earnings in the absence of a new growth stragegy.

NBN is a game changer for all Australian telecommunications companies as it results in them becoming a reseller of the NBN service, rather than selling their own data networks which attracted a higher margin.  This is likely to leave a 'black hole' in earnings for Telstra in coming years once the NBN is rolled out.  This is clear in the table below.

While the above table is forward looking, there is not much joy in earnings in the rear vision mirror for Telstra share holders.  This graph shows earnings per share, which have virtually 'flat-lined' over the past decade.  Source of this data is Skaffold software.

We conclude this article with a 3 minute video from Michael Glennon (Small Cap Investor) who outlines the reasons he does not wish to invest in Telstra.