The Friday Avalanche In Vail Resorts Stock

I recommended shorting MTN to my Short Seller’s Journal subscribers in my December 2nd issue.  While I expect MTN to lose at least $200 over time, I did not expect nearly 25% of that price-decline expectation to occur in 5 trading days after I presented the idea.

After I sent out my newsletter last Sunday, a subscriber sent me a link to a Motley Fool article titled, “Why You’re Smart To Buy Vail Resorts Now.” I had to laugh. I certainly hope that report didn’t deter any of my subscribers from shorting MTN or buying puts. I booked a 4-bagger on the puts I bought last Friday. I had several subscribers email me with thanks, most reporting gains anywhere from 2x to 5x (I always advise that shorting shares gives you the best probability of success shorting but I use put options and present put option ideas with every short idea). Here’s an excerpt from this idea presentation last week:

Shorting MTN was an idea I had been thinking about for a few months. About two weeks ago I heard a radio ad from a Denver-based, national mortgage firm (American Financing) which pitched the idea of using a home equity loan to raise money for a down payment to purchase a ski resort condominium or house. At that instant I knew the top was in for both the mortgage underwriting business and mountain real estate. Shorting Vail Resorts is pretty much the only avenue for expressing a bearish view on mountain resort real estate.

The insiders at MTN must agree with my view. Over the last three months there have been 23 open market stock sale transactions and zero purchases. Over the last 12 months, there have been 38 open market stock sales and 1 purchase. The purchase was for just 225 shares in December 2017.

With the help of Fed money printing and highly accommodative bank commercial real estate lending policies, MTN went on a large resort acquisition spree. The highly accommodative Government mortgage programs helped MTN capitalize on 2nd home resort home sales. The stock ran from $16 in early 2009 to an all-time high of $301 on September 4, 2018.

The stock trades at a 30 p/e, which is absurd for a business with a top line that grew just 5% year over year for its fiscal year 2018, which ended at the end of September. As the falling economy begins to take a wrecking-ball to the resort industry, Vail Resorts revenues will tank and the Company will begin to take big asset write-downs (real estate and building values). This will send the stock mercilessly lower.

Having studied, researched and traded the real estate industry for the better part of 25 years, including trading this sector as a junk bond trader on Wall Street in the 1990’s, I know that mountain resort real estate has a beta of at least 2 vs metropolitan real estate.

When the sector goes bad, mountain properties go bad times at least 2. Vail Resorts is not immune to this just because Vail and Beaver Creek cater to the wealthier demographic. Many of MTN’s resorts host the middle class. This is the middle class that uses home equity loans to buy vacation properties. We saw the downside effect of mountain resort real estate leverage on Friday when MTN lost $48 – or 17.8% of its value – on one day on one earnngs “miss.”

I have not had a chance to dig elbow-deep into MTN’s earnings report yet.  But by the time I release this Sunday’s next issue to my  subscribers, I’ll have a good a idea about what happened and why last quarter and where my next bet will placed based on what will likely happen over the next 12 months with Vail Resorts’ fundamentals and stock price.  That said, I have mentioned to colleagues that I expect, based on a rapidly deteriorating economy, that this coming ski season – though likely a banner year for snow quality – will fall well short of analyst expectations in terms of skier visits and money spent.

You can learn more about my stock shorting newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal.

Trump’s Trade War Dilemma And Gold

If the “risk on/risk off” stock market meme was absurd, its derivative – the “trade war on/trade war off” meme – is idiotic.  Over the last several weeks, the stock market has gyrated around media sound bytes, typically dropped by Trump,  Larry Kudlow or China,  which are suggestive of the degree to which Trump and China are willing to negotiate a trade war settlement.

Please do not make the mistake of believing that the fate the of the stock market hinges on whether or not Trump and China reach some type of trade deal.  The “trade war” is a “symptom” of an insanely overvalued stock market resting on a foundation of collapsing economic and financial fundamentals.  The trade war is the stock market’s “assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.”

Trump’s Dilemma – The dollar index has been rising since Trump began his war on trade. But right now it’s at the same 97 index level as when Trump was elected. Recall that Trump’s administration pushed down the dollar from 97 to 88 to stimulate exports. After Trump was elected, gold was pushed down to $1160. It then ran to as high as $1360 – a key technical breakout level – by late April. In the meantime, since Trump’s trade war began, the U.S. trade deficit has soared to a record level.

If Trump wants to “win” the trade war, he needs to push the dollar a lot lower. This in turn will send the price of gold soaring. This means that the western Central Banks/BIS will have to live with a rising price gold, something I’m not sure they’re prepared accept – especially considering the massive paper derivative short position in gold held by the large bullion banks.  This could set up an interesting behind-the-scenes clash between Trump and the western banking elitists.

I’ve labeled this, “Trump’s Dilemma.” As anyone who has ever taken a basic college level economics course knows, the Law of Economics imposes trade-offs on the decision-making process (remember the “guns and butter” example?). The dilemma here is either a rising trade deficit for the foreseeable future or a much higher price of gold. Ultimately, the U.S. debt problem will unavoidably pull the plug on the dollar.  Ray Dalio believes it’s a “within 2 years” issue. I believe it’s a “within 12 months” issue.

Irrespective of the trade war, the dollar index level, interest rates and the price of gold,  the stock market is headed much lower.   This is because, notwithstanding the incessant propaganda which purports a “booming economy,” the economy is starting to collapse. The housing stocks foreshadow this, just like they did in 2005-2006:

The symmetry in the homebuilder stocks between mid-2005 to mid-2006 and now is stunning as is the symmetry in the nature of the underlying systemic economic and financial problems percolating – only this time it’s worse…

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The commentary above is a “derivative” of the type of analysis that precedes the presentation of investment and trade ideas in the Mining Stock and Short Seller’s Journals. To find out more about these newsletters, follow these links:  Short Seller’s Journal  information and more about the Mining Stock Journal here:   Mining Stock Journal information.

The Trade War Shuffle And The Fukushima Stock Market

The market is already fading quickly  from the turbo-boost it was given by the announcement that China and Trump reached a “truce” on Trump’s Trade War – whatever “truce” means.   Last week the stock market opened red or deeply red on several days, only to be saved by a combination of the repetitious good cop/bad bad cop routine between Trump and Kudlow with regard to the potential for a trade war settlement with China and what has been dubbed the introduction of the “Powell Put,” in reference to the speech on monetary policy given by Fed Chair, Jerome Powell, at the Economic Club of New York on Wednesday.

It’s become obvious to many that Trump predicates the “success” of his Presidency on the fate of the stock market. This despite the fact that he referred to the stock market as a “big fat ugly bubble” when he was campaigning.  The Dow was at 17,000 then. If it was a big fat ugly bubble back then, what is it now with the Dow at 25,700? If you ask me, it’s the stock market equivalent of Fukushima just before the nuclear facility’s melt-down.

Last week and today are a continuation of a violent short-squeeze, short-covering move as well as momentum chasing and a temporary infusion of optimism. I believe the market misinterpreted Powell’s speech. While he said the Fed would raise rates to “just below a neutral rate level,” he never specified the actual level of Fed Funds that the Fed would consider to be neutral (neither inflationary or too tight).

I believe the trade negotiations with China have an ice cube’s chance in hell of succeeding. The ability to artificially stimulate economic activity with a flood of debt has lost traction. The global economy, including and especially the U.S. economy (note: the DJ Home Construction index quickly went red after an opening gap up), is contracting. Trump and China will never reach an agreement on how to share the shrinking global economic pie.

While Trump might be able to temporarily bounce the stock market with misguided tweets reflecting trade war optimism, even he can’t successfully fight the Laws of Economics. His other war, the war on the Fed, will be his Waterloo. The Fed has no choice but to continue feigning a serious rate-hike policy. Otherwise the dollar will fall quickly and foreigners will balk at buying new Treasury issuance.

For now, Trump seems to think he can cut taxes and hike Government spending without limitation. But wait and see what happens to the long-end of the Treasury curve as it tries to absorb the next trillion in new Treasury issuance if the dollar falls off a cliff.  Currently, the U.S. Treasury is on a trajectory to issue somewhere between $1.7 trillion and $2 trillion in new bonds this year.

Despite the big move higher in the major stock indices, the underlying technicals of the stock market further deteriorated. For instance, every day last week many more stocks hit new 52-week lows than hit new 52-week highs on the NYSE. As an example, on Wednesday when the Dow jumped 618 points, there were 15 news 52-week lows vs just 1 new 52-week high. The Smart Money Flow index continues to head south, quickly.

For now it looks like the Dow is going to do another “turtle head” above its 50 dma (see the chart above) like the one in early November. The Dow was up as much as 442 points right after the open today, as amateur traders pumped up on the adrenaline of false hopes couldn’t buy stocks fast enough. As I write this, the Dow is up just 140 points. I suspect the smart money will once again come in the last hour and unload more shares onto poor day-traders doing their best impression of Oliver Twist groveling for porridge.

Guest Post: New Home Sales Collapse

Note: New homes sales, based on the seasonally adjusted annualized rate metric, are down over 23% from their peak in November 2017. Pending home sales, which translate into existing home sales less canceled contracts (typically failed financing), are down on a year-over-year basis 11 out of the last 12 months. But it’s not just interest rates, which aren’t up much from their lows in the context of the last 20 years. A bigger factor is “market mortgage fatigue.” The Govt has tapped out the pool of potential mortgagees by continuously lowering the bar for qualifying for a FNM/FRE mortgage. In addition, the Government slashed the cost of PMI insurance. That plus the tax cut have offset the cost effect of slightly higher mortgage rates (up about 1% in the last year – big deal). The remaining pool of first time buyers largely will have trouble qualifying until the Government lowers the bar again…

Aaron Layman, who is one of the few honest realtors, wrote a worthwhile commentary, posted below, on the state of the housing market. You can visit Aarons’s site here: AaronLayman.com

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The Census Bureau numbers for October new home sales posted at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 544,000 units. This was way below expectations of a 575,000 print, and near a three-year low. As I have been detailing for much of the year, much of that “pent-up demand” that you hear real estate industry mouthpieces talking about is a giant work of fiction, a tired marketing ploy that the media, economists and Realtors have been using in attempt to justify grossly inflated home prices across the U.S.

Well, it appears the cat is officially out of the bag with the release of October home sales. While the previous months sales were revised higher, the miserable October print just corroborates my thesis that the Fed’s asset-bubble unwind is just getting started. There are plenty of other consequences in the pipeline. It’s important to remember that the housing market, thanks to the Federal Reserve’s failed policies, is more intricately tied to the financial markets than ever before. This was the Faustian bargain that Obama and the Fed made when they decided to bail out every Wall Street institution under the sun at the expense of American taxpayers, including the ones running obvious accounting control frauds. Of course the millions of homeowners who lost their homes to foreclosures (many of those executed in kangaroo courts with fraudulent robosigned documents) were deemed acceptable collateral damage to save the “system”.

The ultimate con was of course advertised as a salvation of the economy. In reality it just delayed the eventual reset with a new pile of debt that is larger than ever and spread among multiple asset classes rather than just housing. The big problem, one that the Fed’s economists remain willfully ignorant of, is the unfortunate reality that all of this speculative debt is more interest-rate sensitive than they would have you believe. The new home sales market is exposing this unfortunate dilemma very clearly.

According to Census numbers, new home sales in October collapsed 12 percent from the same time last year. Sales were down 8.9 percent from the revised September print. The median price of a new home contracted in October was 309,700, down $9800 or 3 percent. The average price of a new home contracted in October came in at $395,000, up $1,000 from October of last year. The supply of new homes for sale in October rose to 7.4 months, a 32 percent jump from October of last year! So if prices fell three percent and supply jumped higher, why the big collapse in sales? Can you spell “housing market bubble”. Aside from the swoon in the stock market during October, the other key ingredient for deflating an asset bubble was also present, as interest rates hit a multi-year high. We now have a good idea of what the breaking point for the housing market is, and it’s a lower threshold than many in the media were/are willing to admit. This is the result of years of rampant artificial asset price inflation courtesy of the Federal Reserve.

The swoon in new home sales is simply the reflection of moral hazard coming home to roost. While the media, the Fed and its army of economists have continued to tout the amazing bull market “recovery”, the sand (debt) upon which it was built is now shifting. That carefully crafted narrative that we have been spoon-fed for the last several years is looking more tenuous by the day.

Powell Just Signaled That The Next Crisis Is Here

Housing and auto sales appear to have hit a wall over the last 8-12 weeks.  To be sure, online holiday sales jumped significantly year over year, but brick-n-mortar sales were flat. The problem there:  e-commerce is only about 10% of total retail sales.  We won’t know until January how retail sales fared this holiday season.  I know that, away from Wall Street carnival barkers, the retail industry is braced for disappointing holiday sales this year.

A subscriber asked my opinion on how and when a stock market collapse might play out. Here’s my response: “With the degree to which Central Banks now intervene in the markets, it’s very difficult if not impossible to make timing predictions. I would argue that, on a real inflation-adjusted GDP basis, the economy never recovered from 2008. I’m not alone in that assessment. A global economic decline likely started in 2008 but has been covered up by the extreme amount of money printed and credit created.

It’s really more of a question of when will the markets reflect or catch up to the underlying real fundamentals? We’re seeing the reality reflected in the extreme divergence in wealth and income between the upper 1% and the rest. In fact, the median middle class household has gone backwards economically since 2008. That fact is reflected in the decline of real average wages and the record level of household debt taken on in order for these households to pretend like they are at least been running place.”

The steep drop in housing and auto sales are signaling that the average household is up to its eyeballs in debt. Auto and credit card delinquency rates are starting to climb rapidly. Subprime auto debt delinquencies rates now exceed the delinquency rates in 2008/2009.

The Truth is in the details – Despite the large number of jobs supposedly created in October and YTD, the wage withholding data published by the Treasury does not support the number of new jobs as claimed by the Government. YTD wage-earner tax withholding has increased only 0.1% from 2017. This number is what it is. It would be difficult to manipulate. Despite the Trump tax cut, which really provided just a marginal benefit to wage-earners and thus only a slight negative effect on wage-earner tax withholding, the 0.1% increase is well below what should have been the growth rate in wage withholding given the alleged growth in wages and jobs. Also, most of the alleged jobs created in October were the product of the highly questionable “birth/death model” used to estimate the number of businesses opened and closed during the month. The point here is that true unemployment, notwithstanding the Labor Force Participation Rate, is much higher than the Government would like us to believe.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell signaled today that the well-telegraphed December rate hike is likely the last in this cycle of rate-hikes, though he intimates the possibility of one hike in 2019. More likely, by the time the first FOMC meeting rolls around in 2019, the economy will be in a tail-spin, with debt and derivative bombs detonating. And it’s a good bet Trump will be looking to sign an Executive Order abolishing the Fed and giving the Treasury the authority to print money. The $3.3 billion pension bailout proposal circulating Congress will morph into $30 billion and then $300 billion proposal. 2008 redux. If you’re long the stock market, enjoy this short-squeeze bounce while it lasts…

Could GE’s Slow Collapse Ignite A Financial Crisis?

Will GE be the proverbial “black swan?” – It had come to my attention that General Electric was locked out of the commercial paper market three weeks ago after Moody’s downgraded GE’s short term credit rating to a ratings level (P-2) that prevents prime money market funds from investing in commercial paper. Commercial paper (CP) is an important source of short term, low-cost, liquid funding for large companies. At one point, GE was one of the largest users of CP funding. As recently as Q2 this year, 14.3% of GE’s debt consisted of CP. Now GE will have to resort to using its bank revolving credit to fund its short term liquidity needs, which is considerably more expensive than using CP.

Moody’s rationale for the downgrade was that, “the adverse impact on GE’s cash flows from the deteriorating performance of the Power business will be considerable and could last some time.” Keep in mind that the ratings agencies, especially Moody’s, are typically reluctant to downgrade highly regarded companies and almost always understate or underestimate the severity of problems faced by a company whose fundamentals are rapidly deteriorating.

As an example, Moody’s had Enron rated as investment grade until just a few days before Enron filed bankruptcy. At the beginning of November 2001, Moody’s had Enron rated at Baa1. This is three notices above a non-investment grade rating (Ba1 for Moody’s and BB+ for S&P). Currently Moody’s and S&P have GE’s long term debt rated Baa1/BBB+. In the bond market, however, GE bonds are trading almost at junk bond yields.

Once a company that relies on cheap short-term funding is locked out of the commercial paper market, it more often than not precedes the rapid financial demise of that company. Because GE is GE, it may not be rapid, but I would bet GE is on the ropes financially and could go down eventually. GE’s CEO was on CNBC two weeks ago on a Monday proclaiming that the Company’s number one priority is to bring “leverage levels down” using asset sales. One asset GE is said to be considering selling is its aviation unit, which is considered its crown jewel. This is the classic signal that a company is struggling to stay solvent – i.e. burning furniture to keep the lights on and heat the house. It’s not a bad bet that GE might file chapter 11 – or even Chapter 7 liquidation – in the next 18-24 months (maybe sooner).

I wanted to discuss this situation because I opined on Twitter recently that a sell-off in GE’s stock below $5 could trigger an avalanche of selling in the stock market. Just as significant, an event in which a company like GE is shut off from commercial paper funding is the type of “pebble” that is tossed onto an unstable financial system and starts a credit market crisis. The downgrade of GE’s short term funding rating is a reflection of rising and widespread systemic instability and the general financial deterioration of corporate America. I predict that we’ll start to hear more about GE’s collapsing operational and financial condition and we’ll start to see a lot more companies head down the same path as GE.

Note:  The above commentary is an excerpt from the November 18th Short Seller’s Journal.  Since then, GE’s stock price has dropped another 5.5%.  I had recommended shorting GE at $30 in the January 29, 2017 issue of SSJ.  GE’s tangible net worth (book value minus goodwill + intangibles) is negative $31.3 billion.

GE also has a $28.7 billion+ underfunded pension obligation. It is by far the largest underfunded pension in corporate America.  I say “$28.7 billion+” because I’m certain that if an independent auditor plowed through the pension fund assets and liabilities, it would discover that the assets are overstated and the liabilities (future beneficiary payouts) are understated.

In other words, GE’s balance sheet is the equivalent of financial Fukushima.  The previous CEO borrowed $6 billion to cover pension payments through 2020. This is like throwing napalm on a gasoline fire.

Stock, Bond, and Real Estate Bubbles Are Popping – Got Gold?

“I don’t know how this whole thing is going unwind – I just think it’s not going to be pleasant for any of us, even if you own gold and silver.  I think owning gold and silver gives you a chance to survive financially and see what it’s going to look like on the other side of what is coming…”

My good friend and colleague, Chris Marcus, invited me on to his Stockpulse podcast to discuss the financial markets, economy and precious metals.  In the course of the discussion, I offer my view of the Bank of England’s refusal to send back to Venezuela the gold the BoE is  “safekeeping” for Venezuela.

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If you are interested in ideas for taking advantage of the inevitable systemic reset that  will hit the U.S. financial and economic system, check out either of these newsletters:   Short Seller’s Journal  information and more about the Mining Stock Journal here:   Mining Stock Journal information.

Mining Stock Daily: Western Copper & Gold Is Undervalued

The Mining Stock Daily, a collaboration between ClearCreekDigital and Investment Research Dynamics, interviewed the CEO, Paul West-Sells, to learn more about Western Copper & Gold (WRN on both the NYSE and TSX). But first, here’s background on WRN:

Western Copper & Gold is advancing the Casino Project, a world-class copper-gold porphyry deposit, in the Yukon. The deposit contains 4.5 billion lbs of copper and 8.9 million ounces of gold reserve and 5.4 billion lbs and 9 million ozs of inferred resource.

Western Copper was a spin-off from Western Silver after Glamis Gold acquired Western Silver in May 2006 (three months later Goldcorp acquired Glamis). WRN acquired the old Lumina Resources in September 2006 for Lumina’s three copper properties, one of which was Casino. WRN spun-off the other two properties.

WRN only has 106.4 million fully-diluted shares outstanding (including options/warrants), which is remarkable for company that has been developing a massive copper-gold project for 11 years. Insiders own 8% of the stock. A small group of high net worth private investors who have made a lot of money on companies run by WRN Executive Chairman, Dale Corman, own 48% of the stock and institutional/retail own the remaining 44%.

WRN raised $32 million in 2012 selling a Net Smelter Return royalty to Orion Capital. That NSR was sold to Osisko in June 2017 when Osisko acquired a portfolio of royalty assets from Orion.

With a market cap of US$70 million (fully-diluted basis), WRN is extraordinarily undervalued on a risk-return basis. This is especially true considering the recent wave of copper-gold porphyry project M&A activity. Recall that Newcrest invested approximately US$14 million for a 19.9% stake in Azucar’s El Cobre, which valued that early-stage copper-gold project at US$74 million. In 2017, Goldcorp paid US$185 million for Exeter’s Caspice copper-gold project high up in the Chilean Andes.

There have been several other transactions in the copper-gold space, including Zijin’s (Chinese company) acquisition of Nevsun for $1.41 billion (September 2018) for the Timok copper-gold project in Serbia and the recently closed sale of the Malmyzh copper-gold project (Freeport, EMX Royalty) to Russian Copper Company for US$200 million.

WRN’s project is not as large or as high-quality as Malmyzh, but it’s several years closer to being converted into an operating mine. At this juncture, with the current price of copper and gold, the “asset value” of WRN, based on the roster of comparable transactions, is at least US$140 million. I would not be surprised to see one of the companies with projects near Casino make bid a for WRN at some point in next 6-12 months. There’s also a list of other potential acquirers, including RioTinto, BHP and Freeport.

Click on the graphic below to hear Trevor Hall’s interview with WRN’s Paul West-Sells (you can also download the interview on your favorite app by clicking here: MSD platforms):

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The analysis above on WRN is from the November 8th issue of the Mining Stock Journal. To learn more about this newsletter, click here: Mining Stock Journal information

Treasury Debt And Gold Will Soar As The Economy Tanks

“People have to remember, mining stocks are like tech stocks where everybody and their car or Uber driver piles into them when they’re moving higher. It’s not a well-followed, well-understood sector which is what I like about it because it means there’s plenty of opportunities to make a lot money in stocks that don’t end up featured on CNBC or everybody’s favorite newsletter.”

Elijah Johnson of Silver Doctor’s (silverdoctors.com) invited me on his podcast to discuss the fast-approaching economic crisis and my outlook for the precious metals sector:

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I’ll be presenting a detailed analysis of the COT report plus a larger cap silver stock that has had the crap beat out of it but has tremendous upside potential in my next issue of the Mining Stock Journal. You can learn more about the Mining Stock Journal here:  Mining Stock Journal information

Tesla’s Q3 GAAP “Net Income:” Manipulation If Not Outright Fraud

I perused Tesla’s Q3 10-Q and scrutinized the footnotes to figure out, to the extent possible, where Tesla manipulated GAAP accounting standards and outright “cooked” its numbers. Before I had a chance to analyze the 10-Q, others had already posted their findings on Twitter or in Seeking Alpha articles. In the analysis below, I’ve double-checked and confirmed the findings presented by others. In addition, where appropriate, I’ve added my findings to the previous work of others and explained how and why Tesla’s numbers are highly misleading, if not outright fraudulent.

Net income – Tesla reported GAAP income of $311.5 million. But what it did not disclose when it released its earnings report was that $189 million of that income was generated from selling regulatory credits – Greenhouse Gas (GHG) credits and ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) credits. Automakers in 10 States are required to sell a specified number of electric or hybrid vehicles within the State. Credits are earned for the number of emission-friendly vehicles sold. Automakers are required to maintain a level of credits based on each automaker’s overall vehicle sales volume within the State. GHG credits function in a similar way at the Federal level.

Some companies, like Tesla, generate more GHG and ZEV credits than required to be in compliance with the law. Companies with excess credits are allowed to sell their excess credits to car manufactures and other companies that manufacture carbon-emission equipment and do not generate enough credits to be in compliance with the regulation. Selling excess credits over the past few years has been a significant source of cash flow generation for Tesla. The money raised by selling these credits is accounted for as income under GAAP.

The problem is that, in its presentation of its Q3 earnings, Elon Musk and the CFO did not disclose that nearly 61% of its GAAP net income was derived from selling these credits. While Tesla referenced that $52 million was generated from ZEV credit sales in Q3, they did not disclose the $137 million GHG credit sales in the earnings press release or the analyst conference call. Rather, they postured as if the net income was generated thru cost-efficiencies and sales volume. The $137 million in GHG credit sales was buried in the 10-Q.

In the chart above, you can see that TSLA’s use of GHG credit sales has been inconsistent over time. In all probability, Musk chooses the timing and quantity of the credit sales based on when he needs to generate cash. It’s pretty obvious that he decided to unload a massive quantity in Q3 in order to help generate the GAAP net income and positive cash flow he had been promising for months.

Technically, the manner in which Musk utilized,and disclosed the use of, ZEV/GHG credits to manufacture income, is highly deceptive. Selling regulatory-derived environmental credits is a low-quality, unreliable source of income. As Tesla’s competition ramps up production and sales of EV’s, the supply of credits will escalate rapidly. This will drive down the resale value of these credits toward zero. And there’s always the possibility that regulatory requirements will be rolled back. Over time, this source of income and cash will disappear.

Warranty Provision – Every quarter companies that issue warranties have to take a warranty expense provision, which is an estimate of the quarterly expense that will be incurred under warranties on products sold by the company. The warranty provision hits the income statement as an expense. The idea is to match estimated quarterly warranty costs that will be incurred from selling products covered by the warranty each quarter. Warranty expense is part of the cost of goods sold. The information on warranty expenses is found in the footnotes (this is standard).

In Q3 this year, Tesla expensed $187.8 million, or $2,249 per car delivered, vs $118.6 million, or $2,913 per car delivered in Q3 2017. If Tesla had kept the cost per vehicle delivered constant, the provision for warranty expense in Q3 would have been $243.2 million, or $55.4 million higher than was expensed in Q3. In this case, Tesla’s cost of goods sold would have been $55.4 million higher and the gross profit would have been $55.4 million lower. This is part of the reason Tesla’s gross profit margin was much higher than anyone expected. It also translates into a $55.4 million net income benefit.

In Q3 2108, Tesla sold a little more than double the number of vehicles sold in Q3 2017. At the very least, and to be prudent, in Q3 this year Tesla should have at used at least double the warranty provision it used in Q3 2017. This is especially true since the Model 3 is in its debut model year and will likely require higher than expected warranty-based repairs. The probability of greater than expected warranty repairs for cars sold during Q3 is even higher when taking into account the high number of production difficulties the Company encountered – and about which Musk whined publicly.

Using a warranty expense estimation method simply based on doubling the warranty provision taken in Q3 2017 – given that Tesla sold more than double number vehicles, Tesla’s warranty provision expense would have been $237.2 million in Q3 rather than the $187.8 million recorded, which would have reduced net income by $49.4 million.

To be sure, the warranty expense provision can be adjusted based on using the actual amount of warranty costs incurred over time. But given the limited history of Tesla, and given that the Model 3 is a 1st-year production automobile with noted production and quality control issues, Tesla probably should have used a warranty provision that was higher on a per car delivered basis than the number used in Q3 2017. But, then again, Musk and his CFO were goal-seeking positive net income and thus likely decided to reduce the provision per vehicle delivered by nearly 23% and pray that they figure out a way to bury an increase in the actual amount spent on warranty repairs in future quarters.

Inventory Write-Down – An inventory write-down is recorded as an expense in the quarter in which it is taken. For a company like TSLA, an inventory write-down occurs for excess or obsolete inventories (unsalable cars, worthless parts and supplies) or when the carrying value of certain cars held in inventory is greater than the realizable value. The latter would primarily apply to cars taken back by Tesla under lease guarantees (keep this tidbit in mind for reference below) or cars held in inventory deemed unsalable because the cost of fixing manufacturing defects is greater than the gross margin generated from selling the car.

Over the last six quarters, Tesla’s inventory write-down as a percentage of total inventory has averaged 1.4%. In Q3 2017, the write-down was 1.1% of inventory; in Q2 2018 it was 0.9%). However, in Q3 Tesla’s inventory write-down was 0.4% of inventory. In terms of numbers, Tesla’s inventory expense in Q3 was $12.4 million vs $26.2 million in Q3 2017 and $24.6 million in Q2 2018. This chart shows the degree to which it appears as if Tesla purposely minimized the inventory write-down expense in Q3 2018:

(Kudos to @TeslaCharts for the charts he created illustrating the extreme inconsistencies in Tesla’s Q3 financial statements)

The effect of taking an inventory write-down that is far lower than the historical average reduces the cost of sales and thereby increases the gross, operating and net profits. If TSLA had used the historical average of 1.4%, the expense taken for the Q3 inventory write-down would have been $46.2 million, or $33.8 million more than the $12.4 million used. The reduced write-down had the effect of reducing cost of sales by $33.8 million and increasing gross profit and net income by $33.8. This also contributed to the large increase in the gross profit margin in Q3 vs historical quarters.

The inventory write-down charge was clearly an extreme outlier in relation to the historical application of this write-down over the previous six quarters. Make no mistake, the minimization of the inventory write-down expense in Q3 was a blatant effort to exploit accounting standards for the purpose of reducing GAAP expenses and thereby increasing GAAP income. The discrepancy between the Q3 charge vs historicals predictably was not addressed by the CFO or by analysts in the Q3 earnings conference call.

Tesla’s Actual Net Income? Telsa reported $311 million of GAAP net income. Of this, $83.2 million represents the highly questionable reduction in costs attributable to lower than usual warranty and inventory write-down expenses. Tesla also sold an unusually high amount of GHG/ZEV credits, which boosted net income by $189 million. While this is a source of actual cash income, it’s not a long-term sustainable source of income. Combined, these items accounted for $272 million – or 87.5% – Tesla’s GAAP net income in Q3.

In addition to the items presented above, Tesla “achieved” significant and highly questionable reductions in the expenses taken for R&D and SG&A. In Q3 Tesla recorded $350 million for R&D and $729 million for SG&A – $1.079 billion combined. In Q2 Tesla recorded $386 million for R&D and $750 million for SG&A – $1.36 billion combined. Tesla wants the market to believe that R&D and SG&A expense declined by $290 million from Q2 to Q3, despite the fact that Tesla’s overall operations were expanded to accommodate a large increase in vehicles sold in Q3 vs Q2. On average, over the last six quarters, R&D plus SG&A has been running at 39.5% of revenues. In Q2 2018, these charges were 33.84% of revenues. But in Q3 2018, R&D and SG&A dropped to 17.7% of revenues.

To be sure, there are “economies of scale” with respect to R&D and SG&A expenditures as revenues grow. But for R&D and SG&A to decline nearly 50% as a percentage of revenues from Q2 is simply not credible, unless Tesla intentionally drastically cut back on R&D and administrative/sales functions in Q3. Without question, Musk and his CFO played games with the R&D and SG&A expense accounts in order to reduce the charges expensed for these categories in Q3 vs the previous six quarters and especially vs Q2 2018.

It’s quite possible that Tesla loaded R&D and SG&A expenses into Q2 that technically belonged in Q3 knowing that it was going to report a big loss in Q2 ($717 million loss in Q2) anyway and had promised profitability in Q3. But it’s impossible to know if this occurred without having access to the inside books and bank statements. The stunning plunge as a percentage of revenues for these items in Q3 vs Q2 is the equivalent of asking us to believe in the existence of Santa Clause.

If we give the Company the highly doubtful benefit of synergies which reduced R&D and SG&A to just 20% of revenues – despite the fact that it has been running nearly double 20% over the last six quarters – the combined charge for these accounts would have been $1.219 billion rather than the $1.079 billion used by Tesla (note, at the very least it would have been reasonable to assume that the expense level at a minimum stayed flat vs Q2, meaning I’m being overly generous in my assumption). Under this scenario, Tesla’s operating expenses would have been higher by $140 million.

Adding this $140 million in incremental expense to the $49.4 million warranty expense manipulation and $33.8 million inventory write-down manipulation implies that Tesla’s GAAP net income was overstated by $223 million. Using the historical experience for these expense accounts, including an overly generous benefit in the assumption I use for “normalized” R&D/SG&A, Tesla’s GAAP income as reported would have been $88 million instead of $311 million. Tesla’s $88 of net income as adjusted less the $189 million in income attributable to GHG/ZEV sales turns the $311 net income reported as net income into a $101 million loss.

In addition to the questionable accounting used by Tesla to generate $311 million of GAAP “net income,” Tesla engaged in questionable, if not problematic, balance sheet maneuvers to boost the level of cash presented at the end of Q3. The purpose of this was to create the illusion of solvency. In the Q3 10-Q, Tesla shows a cash balance of $2.96 billion. At the end of Q2 Tesla had $3.11 billion.

Tesla’s accounts payable jumped jumped by $566 million from Q2 to Q3. Companies will stretch out their bills in order to conserve cash. Tesla has made a habit out of dragging its feet on paying vendors, suppliers and service providers as evidenced by the large number of court filings from smaller vendors who are forced to get a court order for payment. The same dynamic applies to “other accrued liabilities,” which contains other short term liabilities for which payment has not been made (payroll, taxes, interest and smallish items).

While accounts payable and other accrued liablities will naturally rise with the organic growth of a company, the rise in Tesla’s payables year over year is nothing short of extraordinary. Through the first nine months of 2018, per the statement of cash flows, Tesla generated $1.6 billion in cash “financing” from “stretching out” its payables vs $170 million in the first nine months of 2017. While Tesla’s revenues nearly doubled over the same period, this amount of unpaid bills has a reason behind it.  The net effect of withholding payment of its bills longer than necessary is that it makes the cash on Tesla’s balance sheet appear larger than otherwise. Accrued payables and other short term liabilities are the equivalent of a short term loan to a company. These liabilities should be treated as a form of short term debt.

Subtracting current liabilities ($9.78 billion) from current assets ($7.92 billion) shows that Tesla has negative working capital of $1.86 billion. Technically Tesla is insolvent, which explains the games the Company plays with its supplier/vendors.

Another curiosity on Tesla’s balance sheet was accounts receivable, which more than doubled, from $569 billon to $1.155 billion. In the footnotes under “credit risk,” Tesla disclosed that “one entity represented 10% or more of our total accounts receivable balance” at the end of Q3, whereas previously no entity represented 10% of receivables. In other words, one entity owed Tesla at least $115 million.

When asked about the big jump in A/R during the earnings conference call, the CFO dismissed it by claiming that the quarter ended on a Sunday. It’s beyond absurd that the analysts on the call accepted this answer without further interrogation. Subsequent to the release of the 10Q, a company spokesman told a reporter from the L.A. Times who had inquired about the 10% disclosure that the receivable was attributable to a large partner bank for car loans issued to U.S. customers. The spokesman said that “all of this receivable was cleared in the first few days of Q4.”

The inference was that Tesla sold $115 million or more worth of cars after 5 p.m. on Friday and over the last weekend of its quarter financed by one bank that could not be processed by the banking system. If this were truly the case, why not just state this as fact openly rather than leaving the market guessing what might have happened? 10% of $1.155 billion is considered “meaningful” under strict GAAP, which means this issue requires more detailed disclosure. The CFO’s vague response to the question about the issue reflects intentional obfuscation of the matter.

Unfortunately, we may or may not be able to figure out exactly what happened when the 10-K is released. I’m not optimistic that the Company will come clean. However, an analyst posted an assessment on Twitter (@4xRevenue) which seems to be a very reasonable explanation to this mystery. This analyst believes that the 10% receivable is from a lease partner (a bank) who has underwritten leases that contain Residual Value Guarantees from Tesla.

Tesla had been offering Residual Value Guarantees (RVG) on leases as an incentive to generate sales. The RVG is a guarantee from Tesla on the value of the car at the end of a lease. In order to stimulate lease-based sales, auto companies will guarantee the lease-end value of car at a level that is typically above the market value for that car at the end of the lease. It’s a “back-door” mechanism used to lower the monthly cost of a lease to the lessee.

If the receivable in question is from a bank that financed Model S&X leases, it means that a large number of vehicles came off lease at the end of Q3 and the bank was returning these cars to Tesla. The “receivable” is the guaranteed residualy value of these vehicles. It also means that Tesla likely will have a large cash payment (at least $115 million) to make to the bank that would be connected to the RVG. Based on actual market data, that the resale value of used Tesla’s has been declining rapidly. This being the case, Tesla has a large make-whole payment to make to the bank who represents at least 10% of the receivable. Tesla will then look to unload these used Teslas and recoup as much as possible, though it will be substantially less than the guaranteed make-whole made by Tesla.

This analysis would explain why Tesla’s payables and receivables were unusually high at the end of Q3. If this transaction had been processed before the end of Q3, Tesla’s accounts receivable would have been lower by the value of the cars being returned to Tesla under the RVG. The accounts payable would have lower by the amount Tesla owes to the bank. Tesla’s cash balance would have been lower by the amount that Tesla paid to the bank under RVG.

Recall that the Tesla spokesman said that this specific A/R was “cleared” in the first few days of Q4. Holding off on processing this transaction until after the quarter ended enabled Tesla to show a higher cash balance than it would have otherwise. It also kept the used Teslas out of Tesla’s inventory, which further enabled Tesla to manipulate the inventory write-down by taking a much lower write-down than historical write-downs. This is because the market value of the used  Teslas received is lower than the amount Tesla paid under the RVG. This would have required Tesla to write-down the value of the used Teslas, thereby increasing the inventory write-down charge, increasing cost of goods sold, lowering the gross margin and lowering the amount GAAP “net income” reported.

This also explains why Tesla moved $73 million worth of cars out of finished inventory and into the PP&E account on the balance sheet. Tesla accounts for vehicles used as service loaners as part of PP&E. I don’t have a problem with that. But moving $73 million of these vehicles allowed Tesla to avoid including those vehicles as part of its inventory write-down expense. It also allowed Tesla to move the cars taken back under the RVG transaction described above without causing an unusual change in inventory that required explanation. In other words, it’s entirely possible, if not probable, that Tesla wanted to “make room” for the used Teslas.

The bottom line – Tesla pulled out every accounting manipulation available to it in order to produce the promised positive GAAP net income, positive cash flow, extraordinarily high gross profit margins and a higher quarter-end cash balance. It was accounting deception, and in some areas probable fraud, at its finest. The Wall Street ass-kissing analysts did nothing other than cheer the results and lob easy questions at management on the conference call. Many of them are likely clueless about the degree to which Tesla manipulated reality.

It will be very interesting to see how Q4 turns out for Tesla. Based on reports from China and Europe, car sales have fallen off a cliff in October. Norway reported the first week of EV sales, which showed that Jaguar i-Pace deliveries, new to the market, were 44 vehicles vs. just 11 for the Tesla models S&X combined (the Model 3 has not been approved for sale yet in the EU). In October the i-Pace sold 441 units vs 201 for the Tesla S&X. This gives us a valuable glimpse at the effect competition will have on Tesla’s sales. Soon the Audi e-Tron will be available. It will likely smother any demand for Teslas.

Tesla had to make a $230 million convertible bond maturity payment in a couple weeks. It then has to start figuring out how to generate enough cash to make another $930 billion convertible bond maturity payment in March. On the assumption that Tesla’s sales are highly negatively affected by competition and the economy, Tesla will have a hard time raising the money needed to refinance the March convertible bond payment. Accounts payable will also become a problem, especially if Tesla is unable to raise more cash selling ZEV and GHG credits. On top of this, the tax-credit that Tesla car buyers receive from buying a Tesla EV will soon run out. This will make buying a Tesla more expensive.

The above analysis is from my Short Seller’s Journal from November 11th.  I also provided some ideas for shorting Tesla using short term and long term puts.  You can learn more about this newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.  Note:  one of my subscribers emailed me this morning that he just took $3500 in profits on January KB Home (KBH) puts that I recommended a few months ago.