Is Bitcoin Demand Hurting The Price Of Gold?

The popular narrative that has gripped the financial media searching for reasons that the price of gold is sluggish for reasons other than overt western Central Bank manipulation, is that Bitcoin interest is diverting cash that would otherwise be going into gold.  However, I would argue that the type of trading funds playing in the cryptocurrency “sandbox” is little more than “action junkies” looking for anything to buy with high upside velocity.  These “investors” never buy gold other than perhaps chasing gold-related securities when the price of gold speeds higher in price (like from early 2016 through August 2016).  In fact, a recent report attributes a large amount of recent volume in Bitcoin trading to  Japanese retail traders / Japanese men dominate Bitcoin trading (Deutshe Bank)

Seeking Alpha has published my analysis explaining just some of the reasons that the idea that cryptocurrencies are diverting capital away from going into physical gold is little more than anti-gold propaganda.  Note: I am not trying to discourage anyone from buying Bitcoin or any other cryptocurrencies.  Over a long enough period of time, assuming the Government stays out of the market – and I firmly believe the Government will eventually interfere with the process – the market will decide the relative legitimacy of cryptocurrencies vs gold as a store of value and as money.

This analysis focuses on the retail investor demand for gold and Bitcoin. Institutional investors, for the most part, do not invest in gold or cryptocurrencies.

I want to dispel a false narrative about Bitcoin and the price of gold. The mainstream and alternative medias have been propagating the idea that the frenzied capital flowing into Bitcoin is affecting the price of gold negatively. The idea is that Bitcoin is an alleged safe haven asset (very unproven, untested) that is diverting capital away from the precious metals. For instance:

“As gold loses steam after rallying to 12-month highs, one market expert says he is seeing bitcoin (sic) take a chunk out of the yellow metal.”  Source: TheStreet.com

This notion has no validity…You can read the rest of this analysis here: Seeking Alpha/Bitcoin/Gold

Retail Sales: When The Government “Goal-Seeks” Economic Reports

The headline retail sales report, released today by the Census Bureau, showed a rather unexpectedly large 0.8% jump from October.  The Wall Street brain trust was expecting a 0.3% increase.   Of course, 99% of stock market investors and 100% of the financial media never looks at the details below the headline reports.   To do this, one has make an effort to scroll down to page four of the report.  There you will find this table (excerpt):

You’ll note that I highlighted this “(*)” in yellow. From the footnotes to the report, this “(*)” means this: “Advance estimates are not available for this kind of business.” For purposes of the advance estimate, the Census Bureau “imputes” the data. In other words, the CB fills in a guesstimate. According to the CB propaganda, over 30% of the data used in the monthly estimate is a guess “imputed.”  The beauty of this is that the CB has leeway to report a fictitious number for the advance estimate and then revise the original estimate when it reworks its numbers in the annual “benchmark revision” of the data,.  By then no one bothers to look or even cares the degree to which the original advance estimated was flawed.  The market only cares about the headline number when it’s reported.  I would bet a roll of American Silver Eagles that CNBC’s Steve Liesman has no clue about this aspect of the retail sales report.

My point here is that the headline report is a fairytale.  Furthermore, the headline report is based on nominal numbers.  In this case, gasoline sales – for which data for the advance estimate is available – were responsible for one-third of the 0.8% headline increase from October.  This increase is largely attributable to gasoline price inflation.  In truth, the actual “unit” volume of sales in November vs. October is largely a mystery.  Yes, online sales have been strong, but online sales represent less than 10% of total retail sales.

Interestingly, the stock market agrees with my analysis of the retail sales situation.  The XRT retail ETF was down nearly 2% today (Thursday).  The RTH retail ETF was down 0.6%.  RTH was down despite the fact that AMZN, which represents 18% of RTH’s assets, was up nearly 0.9%.

Government economic reports are notoriously manipulated and thus a highly unreliable indicator of economic activity. The reports have become little more than propaganda tools used to “goal-seek” the political agenda of both the Government and the economic agenda of the Federal Reserve.

As the publisher of a newsletter that is based on shorting stocks – the Short Seller’s Journal – I have featured several retail stock short ideas this year, some of which have been the best-performing shorts.  As a market bear, I love to see contrarian like this:

The graph shows the jump in investor dollars (largely retail investors) tossed at the retail sector (XRT) in November (top panel). The bottom panel shows the short-interest in XRT, which is at its lowest since mid-2015. Short interest dropped 22% over the last month in XRT and is down to 1% of total shares outstanding. Investors are exceedingly bullish on retail stocks and I believe this exuberance is absent fundamental justification (December 3rd, Short Seller’s Journal).

The next issue will of the Short Seller’s Journal will continue to introduce short ideas from the retail stock sector.  Click here for more information about this unique newsletter:  Short Seller’s Journal subscription information.

For Clues On The Economy, Follow The Money

“There is nothing new on Wall Street or in stock speculation. What has happened in
the past will happen again, and again, and again. This is because human nature does
not change, and it is human emotion, solidly built into human nature, that always
gets in the way of human intelligence. Of this I am sure.” –Jesse Livermore

The profitability of lending/investing money is a function of both the rate of return on the money loaned/invested and the return (payback) of the money. The historically low interest rates are squeezing lenders by driving the rate of return on the loan toward zero (note: “lenders” can be banks or non-bank lenders, like pension funds investing in bonds).

As the margin on lending declines, lenders, begin to take higher risks. Eventually, the degree of risk accepted by lenders is not offset by the expected return on the loan – i.e. the probability of partial to total loss of capital is not offset by a corresponding rate of interest that compensates for the risk of loss. As default rates increase, the loss of capital causes the rate of return from lending to go negative. Lenders then stop lending and the system seizes up. This is what occurred, basically, in 2008.

This graphic shows illustrates this idea of lenders pulling away from lending:

The graph above from the St Louis Fed shows the year over year percentage change in commercial/industrial loans on a monthly basis from commercial banks from 1998 to present. I have maintained that real economic growth since the initial boost provided by QE has been contracting for several years. As you can see, the rate of growth in lending to businesses has been declining since 2012. The data in the chart above is through October and it appears like it might go negative, which would mean that commercial lending is contracting. This is despite all of the blaring media propaganda about how great the economy is performing.

The decline in lending is a function of both lenders pulling back from the market, per reports about credit conditions in the bank loan market tightening, and a decline in the demand for loans from the private sector. Both are indicative of declining economic activity.

This thesis is reinforced with this graphic:

The chart above shows the year over year percentage change in residential construction spending (red line) and total construction (blue line). As you can see, the growth in construction spending has been decelerating since January 2014. Again, with all of the media hype about the housing market, the declining rate of residential construction suggests that the the demand side of the equation is fading.

The promoters of economic propaganda have become sloppy. It’s become quite easy to invalidate Government economic reports using real world data. Using the Government-calculated unemployment rate, the economic shills constantly express concern about a “tight labor market.” Earlier this week, Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi asserted that (after the release of the phony ADP employment data) the “job market feels like it might overheat.” The problem with this storyline is that it is easy to refute:

The graph above is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics productivity and costs report. The blue line shows unit labor costs. As you can see, unit labor costs have been decelerating rapidly since 2012. In fact, labor costs declined the last two months. The last time labor costs declined two months in a row was November 2013.

See the problem? If labor markets were “tight” or in danger of “overheating,” labor costs would be soaring, not falling. This is why I say the shills are getting sloppy with their use of manipulated Government economic reports. It’s too easy to find data that refutes the propaganda. I remember Mark Zandi from my junk bond trading days in New York. He was an “economist” for a fixed income credit analysis service (I can’t remember the name). I thought his analytic work was questionable at best back then. I continue to believe his analysis is highly flawed now. Recall, Moody’s is the rating agency that had Enron rated triple-A until shortly before it collapsed. That says it all…

Speaking of the labor market, I wanted to toss in a few comments about November’s employment report. The BLS headline report on Friday claims that 255k jobs were created in November. However, not reported in any part of the financial media coverage, “seasonal-adjustment gimmicks bloated headline payroll gains, where unadjusted payrolls were revised lower but adjusted levels revised higher” (John Williams’ Shadowstats.com).

The point here is that, in all likelihood, most of the payroll gains in the BLS report were a product of the mysterious “seasonal adjustment” model used. Per the BLS report, another 35k were removed from the labor force as defined. Recall that anyone who has not been looking for a job in the previous four weeks is removed from the labor force statistic. Furthermore, and never mentioned by the media/Wall St., the BLS report shows the number unemployed increased by 90k in November.

I don’t know when the stock market bubble will lose energy and collapse.  What I do know is that each time the U.S. stock market disconnects from reality, there’s a period of “it’s different this time,” followed by the crash that blind-sides all of the so-called “experts” – most of whom like Dennis Gartman do not have their own money in the stock market (it’s well-known that Jeremy Siegel invests only in Treasuries).  The retail lemmings who think they’ll be able to get out before the crash will see their accounts flattened like a Japanese nuclear power plant.

Most of the commentary above is from my Short Seller’s Journal, in which I present stocks  to short every week (along with options suggestions).  You can learn more about this newsletter here:   Short Seller’s Journal subscription info.

I’ve been a subscriber for a good part of the year and really enjoy my Sunday evening read. Thank you – received sent this morning from “William”

The Paper Gold Price Attack Cycle Is Almost Over

As students of the gold market know, the paper gold markets in New York and London function as price manipulation mechanisms used by the western Central Banks in their effort to control the price of gold. As the physical demand from the eastern hemisphere pushes the price higher, the operators of the LBMA and Comex print large quantities of paper gold (gold futures, forwards) in order to satisfy the demand of hedge funds, which use futures to chase price momentum (up and down) in gold and silver.

Gold had been trading in a sideways pattern since mid-September between $1320 and $1260:

The graph above is derived from the Comex “continuous contract” end of day price. The continuous contract is not an actual contract. It is rather a price measure that “splices together” the front-month contracts over time for charting purposes.

As you can see, gold has formed a nice uptrend from late December 2016 that seems to have “stalled” since mid-September.  I watch the Comex gold futures open interest level and the COT “structure,” where COT structure is the big bank net short position vs the hedge fund net long position, in order to form an opinion on where I think the price of gold is headed. When the open interest in gold futures is at an extreme high level, combined with a bank net short position that is also extremely high, it almost always implies a price-takedown is coming.

Since mid-September, however, the gold futures open interest has stubbornly persisted above 500,000 contracts until the last week. Similarly, the big bank net short and the hedge fund net long positions have persisted at extremes over this time period. This is because, contrary to the “fake news” anti-gold propaganda spewing from U.S. financial media (Bloomberg and reuters specifically), physical “consumption” in the eastern hemisphere (India, China, Russia, Turkey, etc) has been unexpectedly strong.   Evidence of this is in direct data that comes from these countries and from the unusually high level of Privately Negotiated and Exchange For Physical transactions occurring on the Comex and the LBMA. These are “off exchange” contract settlement transactions that are intentionally opaque in nature.

Historically, extremes in these metrics tend to correct in much less time than the current period.   We have maintained a hedge on our mining stock portfolio for about 80% of the time between mid-September and now. We pulled it off about two weeks ago on a Friday thinking that maybe the ability of the banks to slam the market had diminished this time because of the strong physical demand from the east. Literally about 30 minutes after we took off the hedge the price of gold was slammed (I’m not kidding).

My thinking has been that, if we abide strictly by the COT and open interest, the Comex o/i needs to decline to the low 400k area before the next move higher takes place. When I “eyeballed” the gold chart in early September in the context of historical price-takedown operations, I figured it would take a move down to the $1230-1240 area to wash out enough open interest to rebalance the net short/net long set-up. But the open interest has persisted above 500k and the attacks on the gold price during the paper trading Comex hours have been short-lived in duration and shallow relative to historical intra-day attacks. The banks couldn’t  seem to get gold below $1260-$1270 until this week.

My best guess is that the unusually high demand for physical gold from the eastern hemisphere has prevented the banks from taking the price down enough to trigger one last hedge fund open interest wash-out. The 34,896 contract plunge in gold futures open interest last Tuesday (November 28) was the third largest one-day decline in o/i since the beginning of 2011 and it is a move in the right direction in order to break the “log-jam” in open interest on the Comex.

That said, the eastern hemisphere will go into temporary hibernation in mid to late December thru early January. I suspect that one last “shock and awe” price attack orchestrated in the paper market will be attempted in order to get the open interest down into the low 400k area. I thus expect the bull trend in gold/silver will resume in mid-January. We put the hedge back on this week, though we’ve been trying to trade in and out of it on price swings. In all likelihood, unless I see something that suggests otherwise, we’ll likely go through the Christmas/New Year’s period with a hedge.

One last thought, it’s going to be interesting to watch the Bitcoin bulls squirm and panic when the CME banks wrap their tentacles around Bitcoin futures.  Contrary to the untested notion that the supply of Bitcoin is capped, the supply of paper Bitcoin (futures contracts) is theoretically infinite…

The commentary above is from IRD’s Mining Stock Journal, which focuses on undiscovered gold and silver junior exploration stock ideas as well as presents relative value trading ideas in mid-cap mining stocks.  You learn more about this newsletter hereMining Stock Journal Information.

I wanted to thank you again for explaining to me how you put a hedge on it has saved me a great deal of money  – subscriber feedback received this morning

Mount Vesuvius Anyone?

“In the face of a shock, investors may be surprised to find themselves jammed running for the exit.” That quote is from Paul Tudor Jones, who was one of the pioneers of the modern hedge fund and is considered a brilliant investor and trader. He went on to say that things are “on the verge of a significant change” and that the current market reminds him of 1999.

The current market reminds me of the demise of Pompeii, which was destroyed by the massive volcanic eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD. Pompeii was a prosperous city of the Roman Empire on the coast of southwest Italy. It sits at the base of Mt. Vesuvius, a volcano that had been dormant for a long time. Earthquakes and seismic activity, scientists believe, began to “warn” the population of Pompeii roughly 17 years before the big eruption, when a massive earthquake largely leveled Pompeii. Shortly before the eruption more signs began occurring, hinting that something wasn’t right. Though some people evacuated the area, most of Pompeii’s populace was not worried. The rest is history.

Though there are many warning signs, similar to the citizens of Pompeii living at the base of an active volcano, the American public does not seem the least worried
about having their money in the stock market.  Retail margin debt, at 100% of market capitalization, is at its highest ever. The percentage of U.S. household wealth (not including home equity) invested in stocks in some form is in its 94th percentile. This is the highest allocation to equities since just before the tech bubble popped in 2000. In other words, despite the numerous warnings for those paying attention, investors have piled most of their savings/wealth into the stock market with complete disregard to the growing probability of a down-side accident.

Last Wednesday the tech stocks were clobbered, with the Nasdaq 100 index down 1.7% and the Nasdaq composite down 1.3%. The SOX semiconductor index was down 4.4%. The famed FANG stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) lost a combined $60 billion in market cap. Interestingly, I could not find any specific event catalyst that triggered the sell-off. As I commented last week, while everyone is looking for a specific “black swan” event to take down the stock market, it’s quite probable that there will not be an specific event that causes the next stock market accident. Perhaps this was a warning “earthquake?”

This graphic shows the degree to which the “smoke” coming from the stock market should not be ignored (click to enlarge):  

Both graphs are from John Hussman, the highly respected contrarian money manager and one of few remaining market bears (along with me and SSJ subscribers). The graph on the left is a monthly plot of SPX futures from 1998 to present. The graph on the right is Hussman’s margin-adjusted Shiller CAPE ratio chart, which shows the SPX PE at an all-time high.  In the absence of meaningful real economic growth to justify the current level of the stock market relative to the two previous bubbles, the only logical conclusion is that the eventual stock crash will be twice as brutal as the last two.

Another plume of smoke billowing from the stock market is the market “breadth.” The number of stocks that are moving higher as the major indices hit new record highs almost daily continues to decline. Currently, 38% of the stocks in the S&P 500 are below their 50 dma and 30% are below their 200 dma. At the beginning of the year, only 20% of the S&P 500 components were below their 50 dma. In the Nasdaq, 40% of the stocks are below their 50 dma and 35% are below their 200 dma. At the beginning of 2017, less than 20% below their 50 and 200 dma’s.

The declining breadth reflects the fact that “investors” continue to chase velocity – i.e. blindly throw money at the fastest moving stocks. This is why the FANGs + AAPL and MSFT represent an absurdly disproportionate percentage of the total move higher in the stock market. Furthermore, the declining breadth of the market is now a function of the “greater fool theory.” This is an economic theory that states that the price of a stock is determined by irrational beliefs and expectations (e.g. “it’s different this time”) rather than fundamental valuation. The price paid for a stock is justified by the believe that someone else will be willing to pay a higher price.

Every week now there are stocks that that “get shot” and fall from the sky.  It’s typically because the company will “miss” earnings estimates.  But frequently a company will “beat” the Street – which is easy because analyst estimates are rigged for the easy “beat” – but warns about future expectations (“guide lower”).   In fact, this week started off with a drive-by-shooting of Toll Brothers (luxury homebuilders):

Toll reported a miss on Monday before the market opened. At the open Toll stock took back nearly the entire rise in its stock price over the trailing 30 days. Clearly no one saw this coming. Anyone who bought the stock on the previous Friday walked into an ambush and was down 10% on their Friday purchase at Monday’s open.

None of this will matter as long as your trusty investment advisor or pension fund manager has your money in an SPX ETF, right?  Unfortunately, at some point, the entire market is going to fall from the sky. Like the citizens of Pompeii, most investors will end up casualties of a great stock market tragedy.  But like Mt. Vesuvius, warning signs abound for anyone willing to look for and accept them. Given the level of propaganda directed at convincing us that everything is great, “looking” for the warnings and “accepting” the warnings are two entirely different propositions.

Some of the commentary above was excerpted from my Short Seller’s Journal. One of the stocks I recommended as a short in the November 12th issue closed today down 20% from its closing price on Friday, November 10th. You can find out more about this weekly newsletter that presents the bearish case here:   Short Seller’s Journal

Overstock.com: A Dumpster Fire Waiting To Happen

Overstock.com stock price has run from $15.95 on August 2nd this year to a 12-year high of $65.70. If closed Monday this week at $46.10. The incredulous run-up in OSTK was ignited when OSTK decided to grab onto the coattails of the cryptocurrency mania. The company announced on August 8th that it would begin to allow shoppers to pay with Bitcoin and other cryptos. Then in October, OSTK announced that its tZero subsidiary would, along with two JV partners, launch an alternative trading system for ICO-issued crypto-coins. The announcement further fueled OSTK’s remarkable stock move since August.

While it’s too early to know if OSTK’s crypto stunt will generate any degree of financial success, its e-commerce business is eroding. From 2013 to 2016, OSTK’s net income plunged from $84 million to $12.5 million. For the company’s first 9 months of 2017, OSTK has generated a net loss of $14 million (10-Q).

Buried in the 10-Q is a disclosure that CEO Patrick Byrne’s mother and brother loaned the Company $40 million at 8%. Interest is payable monthly and is secured by the headquarters building. Proceeds were used to pay off the bank debt. Why would Byrne do this given the bank loan rate was a little over 4%? I would suggest OSTK may have been in violation of covenants and U.S. Bank tried to accelerate the loan. I would also suggest that a market-priced loan would have been at a significantly higher rate. It reflects a high degree of financial stress.

To read the rest of this article, please click here:  OSTK/Dumpster Fire – Seeking Alpha

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE “O”

The War on Gold Intensifies: It Betrays The Elitists’ Panic And Coming Defeat – Part 2

Here is Part 2 of Stewart Dougherty’s “War on Gold” essay.  Here’s Part 1

Magicians use distraction, deflection and misdirection to conduct their tricks. They get their audiences to look to the left while they perform their magic undetected on the right. So do con artists and swindlers.

George H. W. Bush, in a speech delivered to a joint session of Congress on 11 September 1990 entitled “Toward a New World Order,” headlined a geopolitical theme that has garnered a great deal of attention ever since. And while Bush was not the first person to use the term, it struck a global nerve when he invoked it.

Bush’s speech about the New World Order deflected and misdirected the people’s attention to the left, and prevented them from seeing the real action that was taking place to the right: the imposition of a New World Central Banking Order throughout the west. This multi-country, supranational, autonomous, all-powerful, privately-controlled, for profit, non-auditable, monopolized, collusive, monetary leviathan has become what we call the Western Central Banking Dictatorship (WCBD).

This dictatorship, and we are not being pejorative, we are simply applying the standard definition of the word to what central banking actually is, operates throughout the broadly defined “west,” which includes: the United States, Canada, Mexico, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Japan, India, New Zealand and Australia. Certain African, Asian and South American countries also play lesser parts in the regime. Dictatorially ruled by this private monetary system are the hundreds of millions of citizens who must use Euros, Yen, Rupees, and United States, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollars to function in their daily lives, as these fiat currencies are all 100% controlled by the regime, and are subject to whatever actions, no matter how experimental or extreme (such as Quantitative Easing and negative interest rates), the controllers, in their sole discretion, decide to take.

One of the seven core principles of Inferential Analytics, the forecasting method we have developed and use, is that all phenomena represent Life Forces, and that all Life Forces ceaselessly work to expand, evolve, empower themselves, and conquer new terrain.

Some of the most powerful Life Forces on earth are the “isms.” One of today’s most rapidly evolving “isms’ is crony communism, the national operating system now metastasizing throughout western nations to replace its dying predecessor, crony capitalism. In this expanding system of crony communism, the cronies loot the capital that was produced by the dying capitalistic system, while the masses descend into communistic impoverishment, entrapment and despair. Crony communism is a system in which the forces of diabolism, greed and evil usurp and exploit state power for their own enrichment, empowerment and dominance, at the direct expense of the communized masses.

Relentlessly increasing wealth concentration combined with spreading impoverishment and paycheck to paycheck living are two glaring signs among many others that the Life Force of crony communism has entrenched itself throughout the west, and that it is evolving and advancing.

The enabling institution for the spread of crony communism is the WCBD, which is owned and operated by the Deep State crony elite, both of which are Life Forces of plunder and human exploitation.

To those who pay attention to fiscal, monetary, economic and financial realities, it is becoming clear, despite the current frenzy of propaganda to the contrary, that the existing system is failing. In the United States, to focus on one national example, massively underfunded pensions will collapse without equally massive bailouts; every government entitlement program is bankrupt, a fact publicly admitted by the programs’ respective government overseers; structural deficits are uncontrollable under current law and can only be contained if government promises are broken at extreme expense to the economy and people; debt at all levels is exploding and structurally, must continue to explode; mass financial stress is directly observable in such forms as street-level, in one’s face homelessness, fast-spreading tent cities, and teeming under-bridge communities; paycheck to paycheck and government welfare payment to government welfare payment living is now the norm for the vast majority of the population (for example, 78% of full time workers in the United States now live paycheck to paycheck; the financial condition of part time and unemployed persons is even more dire); the savings rate has plunged as people struggle to make ends meet or engage in financially disastrous “Eat, Drink and Be Merry” binge spending programmed into their brains by the MSM, which repeatedly tells them that things have never been better and they should go shopping; overall savings are non-existent or meaningless for the vast majority of the population; among many other signs of fiscal and financial decline.

The WCBD, which includes all western central banks, the World Bank, the IMF, the ESF and their consolidating organization, the intensely secretive, predatory, and frigid BIS, is fully aware that the system is failing. The United States Federal Reserve System alone employs hundreds of Ph. D. economists and statisticians, and it is literally impossible they do not comprehend that trillions more fiat currency units must be created out of nothing to keep the monetary system functioning. Further, it is impossible that these Ph. D.s and their management do not realize that ultimately, the very design of the fiat monetary edifice means that it must erupt into a hyperinflationary bonfire, exactly as it has repeatedly done throughout history. Every “fix” now being implemented, most particularly the new, frenzied fixation on GDP growth, is an urgent attempt deflect attention away from the structural impossibilities of the monetary system, and to buy time.

For years, people have realized that certain vital government statistics, such as employment, inflation, retail sales and GDP are manipulated to tell a comforting narrative that all is well in the land. Confidence is everything in debt-dependent, fiat currency-based, consumer-expenditure-addicted economies. But for some strange reason, very few people question the most important statistic of all: money supply. This is remarkable in light of the fact that long after the emergency measures taken to re-start the system during the Great Financial Crisis (GFC), we learned that the Fed had created, in total secrecy, trillions of dollars’ worth of currency swaps that were extended to foreign central banks in order to bail out the financial system. This was so far outside the Fed’s “Dual Mandate” that it beggared belief they had actually done it, let alone without any public or even intra-governmental disclosure whatsoever.

We believe that such secret GFC money creation is just the tip of the iceberg, and that the revelation of actual, as opposed to deliberately misstated money supply would dumbfound even the most sophisticated of financial observers and require a recalculation of virtually every financial and economic metric. All of which would massively deteriorate. We believe that this is one black swan among dozens that could ignite a broad-based flight into physical gold, as people rushed to monetary high ground for financial and personal safety.

On 27 June 2017, during the British Academy President’s Lecture Q&A Session in London, Janet Yellen made the following, now famous statement in answer to a question:

“Would I say there will never, ever be another financial crisis? You know,
that would probably be going too far, but I do think we are much safer, and
I hope that it will not be in our lifetimes, and I don’t believe it will be.”

Many observers chalked up this comment to central banker self-congratulation and boastfulness. Or, they assumed that Ms. Yellen was making a campaign statement to land a second term as Fed Chair. We viewed it differently.

We do not believe Yellen ever had any intention of serving a second term as Fed Chair, and that her “candidacy” was theater. Yellen, Fischer and Dudley, all of whom have gotten or are getting out, realize that the monetary and financial systems are rigged to the breaking point, and that when they fail, the fallout will be uncontrollable. They know the systems are rigged, because they rigged them, and don’t want to be anywhere near them when they blow apart. This helps explain the documented elitist fascinations with long range Gulfstream jets and New Zealand, among their numerous other escape vehicles.

If Yellen had said she was not interested in serving a second term, this would have indicated that something is seriously wrong, a message central bankers never send beforehand. Having admitted, as she has, that she and many of her colleagues no longer understand inflation, an appreciation of which is absolutely critical to the entire process of central banking, she also admitted that, like Fukushima, the monetary system is melting down and out of control. Therefore, she played the game of running for a second term, even though it was just an act.

In the second to last paragraph of her 20 November 2017 resignation letter, Yellen wrote:

“I am enormously proud to have worked alongside many dedicated and highly able
women and men, particularly my predecessor as Chair, Ben S. Bernanke, whose
leadership during the financial crisis and its aftermath was critical to restoring the
soundness of our financial system and prosperity of our country. I am also gratified
by the substantial improvement in the economy since the crisis. The economy has
produced 17 million jobs, on net, over the past 8 years and, by most metrics, is
close to achieving the Federal Reserve’s statutory objective of maximum employment
and price stability. Of course, sustaining this progress will require continued
monitoring of, and decisive responses to, newly emerging threats to financial and
economic stability.” [Our italics.]

This statement was an Inferential Analytics trigger, because we noted that she did not say, “if” there are “newly emerging threats to financial and economic stability.” [Cryptocurrencies/Bitcoin are seen as threat per Trump’s statement that Homeland Security was monitoring Thursday’s Bitcoin sell-off]

A second IA trigger was pulled when Jerome Powell, during his opening comments to the U.S. Senate Banking Committee reviewing his Fed Chair nomination, said the following on 28 November 2017:

“We must be prepared to respond decisively and with appropriate force to new and
unexpected threats to our nation’s financial stability and economic prosperity.”

Please note two things: 1) Like Yellen, he did not say “if” there are “new and unexpected threats to our nation’s financial stability and economic prosperity;” and, 2) the nearly identical language used by both.

To us, both Yellen and Powell are warning that “newly emerging financial threats to financial and economic stability” and “economic prosperity” are on the horizon. People might comfort themselves by saying, “That is always the case,” which is true. Endogenous and exogenous risks to complicated systems always exist. The problem is that when these threats manifest themselves, what can they do about them at this point, other than print massive quantities of new currency units, a so-called medicine that has become more toxic than the disease it attempts to cure.

Central bankers go to lengths to paint a rosy picture, because belief is everything when people are living in a fantasy, which an economy that is more than $200 trillion in debt all told, is. We therefore find it extraordinary that Yellen, on her way out, and Powell, on his way in are painting a dark picture by talking about “threats to financial and economic stability.” They would not be using these words if they did not know that something serious is on the horizon. They know, because the threats are of the WCBD’s direct making.

Regarding the specific comment Yellen made in London, we believe she was saying that the Fed in particular, and the WCBD in general, have now transferred the mechanisms perfected over the past 40 years to control precious metals prices, to western stock markets, in order to control their prices. The only difference being that while they have used sophisticated, computerized price manipulation techniques to push precious metals prices down, they are using the same techniques to push stock prices up.

Why? For four primary reasons: 1) To prevent the pension system from collapsing, which would bring down the entire economy and banking system with it; 2) To generate badly needed income and capital gains tax revenue; (Please keep in mind that most employee stock option gains are taxed as individual income, and result in top income tax rates being imposed; full, uncapped Medicare taxes being paid by both employee and employer; and, the Obamacare 0.9% Medicare surtax being collected. Therefore, such stock option gains represent a trifecta tax bonanza for the government. Additionally, capital gains over a minor threshold amount, which is not indexed to inflation, are now subject to the Obamacare 3.8% surtax, which the proposed “Repeal and Replace” House and Senate legislation never rescinded, evidence that the government is dependent upon the surtax revenue and will not let it go. As we can see, Republican legislators spoke with a forked tongue; while they said they hated Obamacare, they forgot to mention that they love its tax revenue and have no intention of parting with it); 3) To foster the “Wealth Effect,” and thereby stimulate consumer spending, which is critical to employment, corporate profits, corporate profit taxes and state sales taxes. In deliberately creating a consumer spending, as opposed to a production economy, the government and the citizens have become slaves to a low-to-zero savings, binge spending, consumer impoverishment economy, which is a Castle in the Air and a mirage that will fade; 4) To facilitate a high-intensity, big-dollar insider trading, front running and looting spree, via the dissemination of inside information to the elite regarding upcoming WCBD policy decisions and government economic reports, all of which move markets in predictable, sizable, and enormously profitable ways for those who can exploit them in advance. The surge in wealth inequality is not natural, and not an accident.

In addition to precious metals price controls and the legalization of bail-in banking, numerous other developments, such as the accelerated push to eliminate cash all suggest that the people are being elaborately set up for epic financial slaughter by the Deep State plunderers. The Deep Statists are intent on eliminating financial sanctuaries that are outside their bail-in dragnets. In past situations of this kind, gold has performed admirably in protecting wealth and, far more important, human lives.

We mentioned in Part 1 that there is a clue in the Financial Times article that demonstrates the statists’ fear that they cannot prevent broad scale interest in gold from developing among the people. The FT article argued that due to dealer commissions, physical gold is more expensive than its electronic counterpart. It also stated that physical coin dealers are dangerous because they are “exploitative” and “shady.” The conclusion the author reached for his dear readers to follow was this: “More gold will be traded electronically,” because if one is going to buy gold, electronic products are the better deal.

This is exactly what the increasingly concerned Deep Statists are trying to steer people into doing: buying electronic, not physical gold. They appear to realize that they might not be able to control the gold price for much longer, and that if the price gets away from them, the Cryptocurrency Effect will be activated in gold. If that happens, a price Vesuvius lies ahead. The volcano, they cannot stop. All they can do is misdirect the people’s money into their phony electronic gold products, to sterilize and control those funds. Then, when the price does explode, they will force customers to accept involuntary cash settlements and close out the electronic acounts. The customers will get fiat currency at the precise time when it is plunging in value, and the statists will keep any physical gold they might have purchased with customers’ funds.

As Sun Tzu said, in war, you must know the enemy and yourself if you intend to win. We hope that our article has helped readers know the enemy a bit better. The next task is to know yourself; to ask yourself, “Given what I know, what should I do?” In our opinion, and this is just our personal point of view, not an investment recommendation, which we are not licensed to provide, the fact that the Deep State elitists are stopping at nothing to discourage you from buying physical gold is the precise reason why you should buy it. And if this article has resonated with you, then you probably also believe, as we do, that the time to financially prepare yourself is getting short. The current intensity of price maneuvering and manipulation in a broad variety of markets implies that the center is losing hold, and that something wicked this way comes.

Stewart Dougherty is the creator of Inferential Analytics, a forecasting method that applies to events proprietary, time-tested principles of human instinct, desire and action. In his view, forecasting methods not fundamentally based upon principles of human action are unlikely to be reliable over time. He is a graduate of Tufts University (BA) and Harvard Business School (MBA). He developed expertise in strategic analysis and planning during a 35+ year business career, has traveled to and conducted research in over 25 countries and has refined Inferential Analytics into a reliable predictive instrument over a period of 17+ years

The War on Gold Intensifies: It Betrays The Elitists’ Panic And Coming Defeat – Part 1

IRD is honored to present another guest post from Stewart Dougherty

Dictatorship (noun):  Definition #3:   absolute power or authority (Websters);
Def. #2:   absolute, imperious or overbearing power or control (Random House);
Def. #3:   Absolute or despotic control or power (American Heritage);
Def. #3:  Absolute or supreme power or authority (Collins English Dictionary);
Def. #1:  A type of government where absolute sovereignty is allotted
to an individual or small clique (Wikipedia).

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War

In recent weeks, the War on Gold, which is a subset of the broader War on Human Freedom, has sharply intensified, with massive, multi-billion dollar naked short price raids now being launched on a weekly and even daily basis by the criminal, state-sponsored price manipulators. This escalation proves the supreme importance to the Deep State financial elite of the maintenance of their gold price dictatorship, which is a vital component of their long term, systemic campaign of financial plunder.

The elitists have no problems whatsoever with stratospheric stock and bond prices; 5,000 year low interest rates; $450 million Da Vinci’s; $250 million private homes; $50,000,000 annual salaries for circus masters, whose role in keeping the masses distracted and dumb is vital; $1.9 million Aston Martins; $100,000 Air Jordan sneakers, or any of the other prices that have now gone into outer space.

But there is one thing they will not accept: an honest, free market price for gold. Because while all debauchery under the sun is permitted and encouraged in the Castle of Fraud and Corruption they have constructed and in which they revel, one thing is strictly prohibited: the utterance of truth. Being monetary truth when free to speak, gold is their deadliest enemy. Therefore, it is silenced, in the same way truth tellers are silenced in all dictatorships.

The vast majority of people, aside from a small, enlightened minority who refuse to poison their minds by ingesting mainstream media (MSM) fake news, propaganda and brainwashing, do not yet realize what they are up against in the wars that have been declared against them, and are therefore at serious risk. For those who wish to survive the wars, there has never been a greater need to know the enemy and know yourself.

As the gold price war becomes manic, so has the MSM’s anti-gold propaganda campaign, with their attempts to smear gold now a clinical obsession.

In a prime example of their over-the-top anti-gold propaganda, on 10 November 2017, the Financial Times, a long-time Deep State bullhorn and puppet, ran an article entitled, “Gold is the new cocaine for money launderers.” In this screed, the author beat the dead horse of the NTR Metals gold import scheme. This operation, whose total dollar yield was an infinitesimal fraction of the massive sums stolen by the financial Deep Statists in their forty year gold price manipulation crime, was already the subject of an over-dramatized Bloomberg Businessweek propaganda piece published on 9 March 2017, entitled “How to Become an International Gold Smuggler.” Apparently, the MSM is running so short of new material with which to try to demonize gold, that it is now forced to recycle old, stale non-stories to keep the smear machine going.

In the article, the MSM propagandist states such things as: 2017 has seen, according to his one time Goldman Sachs source, a “dramatic crash in [physical gold coin] demand,” that interest in gold coins is linked to “political conservatism, or anarcho-libertarianism” and “end of the world right wing sentiments,” that gold has been implicated in a “conspiracy to commit money laundering,” that gold is “financed by people in the narcotics trade,” that it comes from “illegal mines and drug dealers in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador,” that “the federal authorities assume the NTR Metals [case] represented only a fraction of illegally sourced and financed gold,” that therefore the US attorney is broadly investigating the gold industry, that gold is “produced by exploited workers,” that “crude [gold] extraction techniques create serious and lasting environmental damage,” that gold plays an important part in “tax evasion,” that it is related to American gun sales, which the author abhors; that “drug dealers [use] gold imports as a way of laundering their proceeds,” and that “they came to realize that illegal gold [is] an intrinsically better business” than drug dealing; to name but a few of the aspersions cast against gold in the short article. As we can see, when it comes to their smear jobs, the MSM flings at the wall all the mud it can fit in its hands, hoping that some of it might stick.

As is always the case with the MSM’s consistently negative, biased and dishonest reporting on gold, no mention was made in the article of the Deep State financial elite’s criminal gold price manipulation fraud that has been perpetrated non-stop for nearly forty years and that has resulted in a massive, $1,000,000,000,000.00+ theft from its victims. This is because the MSM is the Deep State’s in-house public relations agency, whose job is to whitewash the elitists’ crimes, no matter how egregious they are.

But buried in the article was an important clue that the Deep Statists are concerned they are losing the War on Gold, which we will further explore later in the article. It turns out that the Deep Statists’ paranoia about and rage toward gold might be entirely justified, because more than ever in the past 37 years, gold is poised to tell the world what it knows, and this will absolutely annihilate them.

Many people are completely baffled as to why, with so many serious fiscal, financial, monetary, economic, social, and geopolitical problems in the world, the Deep Statists remain so mono-maniacally fixated on demagogically denigrating gold and controlling its price.

The answer is that the Deep Statists cannot, under any circumstances, allow the price of gold to replicate the surging price of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. If the gold price genie were to get out of the bottle, becoming international news in the process no matter how much the MSM might try to suppress it, it would spur a gold buying stampede that would cause a flood of money to pour out of bank accounts and into physical precious metals. $325+ billion worldwide now resides in cryptocurrencies, a highly specialized and complex product class. In the right set of circumstances, many multiples of that amount could incrementally flow into gold, a simple product that has been innately understood for millennia by human beings all over the globe.

Already fragile, the banking system cannot withstand a large scale withdrawal of funds. Being finite and in short supply, incremental demand for physical gold would result in immediate and sustained price gains, creating a positive feedback loop in the market place. As people watched the price go up, more and more of them would want to jump on the band wagon and participate in the gains, which is exactly what has happened in the cryptocurrency market.

If interest in gold goes mainstream, then basic supply fundamentals indicate the price would have to rise by thousands of dollars per ounce to even approach what might be considered overbought and/or bubble territory. Which is exactly what has happened to Bitcoin, whose price has exploded to over $10,500 as of today, 29 November 2017.

In the United States, the latest Federal Reserve Board tally of Household and Non-profit Organization (much of which is private) wealth totals $96.2 trillion. If a miniature, 1% sliver of this amount, $962 billion, attempted to find its way into the physical gold market, it would represent incremental demand, at $1,300 per ounce, of 740 million ounces. Not even a small fraction of this incremental demand would be available in the physical gold market at this time, given that it already operates at a supply / demand equilibrium. The gold price would have to surge in order to flush out supplies from current gold owners, whose hands have proven to be, and are likely to remain strong. We believe it would take years for incremental demand of this magnitude to be filled, even at much higher prices. Please keep in mind that this example relates to the United States, alone; there are additional, vast stores of private wealth all over the world, all of which would almost certainly be activated in unison by a run to gold.

With the right spark, the same viral, Social Media-enhanced demand that has come to cryptocurrencies could come to gold. The Deep Statists know it, and the ghostly whites of their eyes now glow eerily and blinkingly across the dark battlefield of Liberty, in the senseless war they provoked and are going to lose.

While there are now hundreds of cryptocurrencies, physical gold is physical gold, and cannot be replicated or conjured out of nothing. There will be no endless stream of new ICOs for genuine, physical gold, because gold is what it is and always will be. This means that funds flowing into gold will be forced into the one and only physical gold market that already exhibits tight, inflexible supply. This further means that the upward price pressure on gold could become volcanic if a run starts.

A steadily increasing number of people will want to get in on the “new Bitcoin,” a bizarre paradox given that gold is as old as time, and will soon realize that gold possesses virtues Bitcoin does not, given that it is real, not digital and abstract; that owners can personally possess and store it in physical form; that it will survive any kind of electric grid or Internet disruption that might occur; that it cannot ever be hacked; that it is the epitome of private, quiet wealth; that it is actually quite beautiful to behold; and that it was not and cannot be made by man, only by God, who does not appear to have any interest in making any more of it.

To date, in order to prevent a surge in physical gold demand from happening, the Deep Statists have created various forms of transparently fake gold, such as electronic gold futures, options and non-auditable ETFs and EFPs. These fake gold products have siphoned funds away from real, physical gold, which cannot be created out of the nothing the way the imposter electronic gold products can be. Increasingly, people are learning that there are no substitutes for physical gold.

More, we find it interesting that while there have been certain highly publicized condemnations of cryptocurrencies, such as J. P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon’s comment that Bitcoin is a “fraud,” the financial authorities in the west have done little to nothing to shut down the crypto market. They seem to be just fine with $10,500 Bitcoin, but will stop at nothing to prevent $1,300 gold. Today’s (29 November) market action is a case in point.

The reason is that monetary elitists fully approve of cryptocurrencies, because this the new form of fiat currency the western banks intend to issue. Mass adoption of cryptocurrencies is the necessary forerunner to the elimination of cash, a well-known and important agenda for the financial elite. By issuing their own cryptocurrencies, and/or co-opting Bitcoin and other private cryptos via regulation and edict, central bankers can continue their tradition of controlling the money supply. A population that has learned the value of owning and become adept at trading physical gold would prevent central banks from continuing to use fiat currencies as economic, political and societal control mechanisms. It should be no surprise that they loathe gold so much; in its honesty and integrity, it is the exact antithesis of everything they stand for, are, and do.

Some people argue, “Even if people run to gold, their funds will still remain within the banking system, so the bankers aren’t worried about this happening.” In our opinion, this is wrong.

Fiat currency used to buy precious metals will move from personal and business bank accounts, to gold dealer accounts, to gold wholesaler accounts; and then to a variety of sovereign mint, gold precious metals refiner, gold miner and other gold supplier accounts, a large percentage of which are international.

A bank that hosts a deposit account used to purchase physical gold has no assurance whatsoever that the buyer’s funds will transfer into another personal or business account managed by it. In all likelihood, the funds will disappear from the host bank and not return. Ultimately, the likelihood is also high that a portion of the funds, potentially significant, will disappear from the country’s banking system altogether, given the global nature of gold mining, refining, minting and fabrication. Therefore, bankers regard a run to gold as a severe, direct threat to them, which is why they do everything in their power to discredit it and crush its price. They are attempting to prevent a run on their banks.

Over the past several years, the Deep Statists have gone to extraordinary lengths to internationally legalize bank “bail-ins.” They did not do this casually, by accident, or for fun; they did it because they know that when the system fails, a time-bomb guaranteed to detonate given the system’s very design, they will be able to make an unprecedented fortune by expropriating customers’ deposits via the elaborate bail-in mechanism they have engineered. They will use the phony pretext of “rescuing” and “resetting” the financial system for the public good to justify this action. If, before they spring the bail-in trap, depositors have already withdrawn their funds to purchase physical precious metals held outside the banking system, those funds will no longer be available for bail-in looting. The bankers cannot steal bank balances that have disappeared.

The cryptocurrency phenomenon, now an international sensation, has stunned them into the awareness that people all over the world have a deep, abiding, instinctive desire to own honest money of limited supply that will serve as a reliable store of value, and that cannot be hyper-inflated into oblivion for the private gain of plunderers and profiteers, the chief problem with corrupt, endlessly counterfeited fiat currencies controlled by self-interested, opportunistic, predatory central bankers and their controllers, the Deep State financial elite.

Due to the length of this article, we have divided it into two parts. This ends Part 1. In Part 2, which is already written and will be released in a few days, we will share with you important clues indicating the Deep State’s concerns about losing the War on Gold, despite the unprecedented intensification of their attacks. We will also discuss how the United States Federal Reserve is outright warning that new threats to financial and economic stability are on the horizon.

Stewart Dougherty is the creator of Inferential Analytics, a forecasting method that applies to events proprietary, time-tested principles of human instinct, desire and action. In his view, forecasting methods not fundamentally based upon principles of human action are unlikely to be reliable over time. He is a graduate of Tufts University (BA) and Harvard Business School (MBA). He developed expertise in strategic analysis and planning during a 35+ year business career, has traveled to and conducted research in over 25 countries and has refined Inferential Analytics into a reliable predictive instrument over a period of 17+ years

The Truth Behind Amazon’s Reported Earnings

This article below is from my Seeking Alpha post earlier this week.  I’ve studied AMZN’s financials and business model for several years. I’m probably one of the few analysts who bothers to scour the footnotes of AMZN’s financials. I was taught by the best at University of Chicago to start with the footnotes and work “up” when pulling apart GAAP financial statements.  I can say with 100% certainty that the “Free Cash Flow” that Jeff Bezos promotes with ardent zeal is a fictional number, if not fraud.  The SEC looks the other way.  Suffice it to say that AMZN’s true trailing twelve month free cash flow  based on strict GAAP is nearly negative $4 billion. I demonstrate this below.

Amazon Perfects the “Beat the Street” Game – Amazon (AMZN) reported 52 cents per share “earnings” on October 26th vs. the consensus 2 cent estimate after the market closed. The stock soared 7.8% after hours as hedge fund algos and retail daytraders chased the stock higher on the headline report. AMZN “walked” Street analysts’ estimates down to a number that was easy to “beat.” Ninety days ago the consensus estimate for Q3 was $1.09, with one estimate as high as $1.59. cents. By the time AMZN was about to report, the consensus estimate was two cents. This is how the game is played.

The graphic below from Yahoo Finance shows a 3-month timeline of this “walk-down” process for AMZN’s consensus earnings forecast for Q4 2017, Q1 2018 and the full-year 2017. The current estimates were again revised after the Company’s Q3 report (source: Yahoo.com/finance w/my edits):

Make no mistake: the company knowingly “guides” analysts down in order to engineer a “headline” surprise. The “beat the numbers” game is one of the many games connected with corporate earnings reports. That said, AMZN’s actual EPS in Q3 2017 was the same as Q3 2016 – zero EPS growth. Bear in mind that GAAP acquisition accounting is heavily at play here. Acquisition accounting enables a company to boost revenues and hide expenses.

[Note: All numbers are taken directly from AMZN’s Third Quarter 10-Q]

Here’s a fact that Wall Street or Bubblevision won’t report: in Q3 2016, AMZN’s GAAP tax rate was 47% vs 18% in Q3 2017. Anyone who has taken a basic accounting course knows that the GAAP tax rate is highly arbitrary and a major source of EPS manipulation. If AMZN had simply used a constant GAAP tax rate in Q3, its net income in Q3 would have declined to $200 million this year from $252 million in Q3 last year (remember these are GAAP earnings, not actual cash earnings). On this basis, AMZN’s EPS would have shown a drop from 53 cents last year to 41 cents this year. Anyone paying the current price of AMZN at a PE of 290 is likely ignorant of the fact that AMZN’s operating income is declining and its debt outstanding is increasing.

AMZN’s operating income plunged yr/yr for Q3 by $228 million, or nearly 40%. Operating income in its North American e-commerce business plunged $143 million, or 56%. AMZN’s e-commerce business lost $824 million on an operating business in Q3 (see p. 26 from the 10-Q linked above). YTD AMZN’s e-commerce business has lost nearly $1 billion). It likely would have been worse without Whole Foods numbers in mix. This is because, when AMZN acquired WFM, WFM’s operating margin was 4%. AMZN’s has been running near zero – it was 0.7% in Q3. Acquisition accounting, among other things, allows AMZN to present its numbers “as if,” meaning “as if” AMZN owned WFM since AMZN’s inception.

One of the primary reasons that AMZN’s operating margins decline continuously is the cost of fulfillment. “Fulfillment” is the cost of getting a product from the warehouse to the customer’s doorstep. In Q3 2016, AMZN’s fulfillment costs were 19.4% of product sales. By Q3 2017, it had jumped to 22.3%. Fulfillment is a cornerstone of AMZN’s e-commerce model. Offering free shipping to Prime members is a guaranteed money-loser.

In general and on average, AMZN loses money on every e-commerce sale. AMZN’s e-commerce/consumer products operating margin will continue to decline because the Company is implementing an aggressive price-cut program at Whole Foods. This will drive the WFM business margins toward zero.

AMZN’s only source of operating income is the AWS (cloud services) business. The revenue growth rate from 2016 to 2017 for Q3 was 41%. This is down from the 55% growth rate that occurred year over year from Q3 2015 to Q3 2016. Part of this is a function of “scale.” As the business grows in overall size, the growth rate will tend to decline mathematically. But the AWS revenues are just 10% of AMZN’s total revenues.

Furthermore, AMZN’s AWS business is now under heavy attack. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Cisco (CSCO) announced that they are teaming up to go after AWS’ cloud territory. More ominously for Amazon, Microsoft (MSFT) is quickly moving into and taking away AMZN’s market share in the commercial cloud space. Based on its FY Q1 numbers released Thursday, MSFT’s commercial cloud revenue annualized now exceeds AMZN’s AWS revenues annualized. AMZN historically has held the largest market share in cloud computing services. Given the new competition from dedicated tech companies, the profitability and growth of AMZN’s AWS business segment is at risk.

AMZN’s deceptive presentation of free cash flow – Every quarter AMZN presents an earnings slideshow, the first slide of which prominently shows trailing twelve month free cash flow. But this presentation of FCF is highly deceptive. On the first slide, AMZN shows its latest trailing twelve month FCF to be $8.050 billion. But that is a cherry-picked, non-GAAP derivation of actual free cash flow. Here’s AMZN’s actual GAAP FCF as derived from its Q3 10-Q (source: AMZN 10-Q, with my edits):

Free cash flow is technically defined as operating cash flow less capex expenditures and debt payments, the latter of which is negligible for AMZN – for now. Note the difference claimed to be $8.050 billion in “free cash flow” by Jeff Bezos and the negative $3.969 bullion actual GAAP FCF. Here’s the deal. Jeff Bezos conveniently omits the amount of cash AMZN spends to acquire property and equipment using capital leases and build-to-suit leases. To the extent that these expenditures are non-recurring, that presentation of FCF is valid. However, not only are AMZN’s expenditures under capital leases serially recursive, the payments increase every quarter and have been for several years. In 2014 AMZN’s full year cap lease expenditures was $4.9 billion. Thru Q3 2017, AMZN’s trailing twelve-month expenditure was $12 billion.

Furthermore, a “build-to-suit” property is built specifically for AMZN’s purposes. It likely is not easily sold re-leased for a next best use. Because of this, the lease functions as debt used to fund this capex. As such, the payments under build-to-suit leases should be treated as capex and not excluded from the derivation of free cash flow. Again, it’s an accounting sleight-of-hand employed by Bezos for the purposes of deception.

The use of capital leases to manipulate financials is not uncommon. However AMZN intentionally uses this financing techniques as mechanism to manipulate its numbers. Among other superficial accounting “benefits,” using capital leases rather than debt to fund expenditures enables keeps the appearance of debt off the balance sheet. It also allows AMZN to keep the cash used to fund capital leases out of the “Financing Activities” section of AMZN’s Statement of Cash Flows. AMZN is required to disclose the amount spent on cap leases, which it accomplishes in the footnotes. Very few analysts or investors bother to read the footnotes.

AMZN’s debt load – AMZN used $16 billion in near-junk bond rated debt to finance the Whole Foods acquisition. Its long term debt is now $24.7 billion. At the end of 2007, its long term debt was $1.2 billion. AMZN’s debt-load has grown by over 20x. However, at the end of Q3 2017, AMZN also had $18.8 billion in “other long-term liabilities.” This is almost entirely the capitalized leases used to fund property and equipment acquisitions. At the end of 2007, this number was $292 million. Use of cap leases has grown by a factor of 64x. Now, imagine if AMZN were forced by GAAP to include cap leases as part of its long term debt – not an unreasonable standard in this case. AMZN’s debt load would be $43.5 billion – nearly double the current disclosed level of debt.

See how this works? If AMZN were forced to consolidate cap leases into “long term debt,” its recent $16 billion bond deal would have been rated as non-investment grade – aka junk. The average cost of the $16 billion issued is 3.56%. If AMZN had been rated junk, it would have raised the cost of this deal by at least 100 basis points (1%) and likely more. Assuming an added cost of 1%, this would have added $160 million in interest expense. It might look like a smart move for Bezos to exploit GAAP accounting like this but it serves to pull the wool over the eyes of the investors who bought the bonds. This is because the true credit quality and ability to service the debt is significantly lower than that assumed by these investors.

The point here is that every facet of AMZN’s financials is highly misleading. AMZN is not what it appears to be. Yes, the stock has done remarkably well considering the ugly nature of the underlying truths. Note that AMZN did have a brush with insolvency in 2003-2004, but Warren Buffet bailed out AMZN by loading up on junk bonds Amazon had outstanding at the time. This was a temporary stay of execution that was followed up with the rapid inflation of the mid-2000’s credit and stock bubble, which enabled AMZN to refinance the junk bonds Buffet had bought. This gave AMZN plenty of cash to keep spending money to generate sales. AMZN also was bailed out by the bond market a couple years ago, as it issued $3 billion in debt in 2012 and $5 billion of debt in 2014. If AMZN is truly generating free cash flow, why does it continuously have to issue debt to fund its operations?

Amazon has thus been given a free pass by the financial markets for most of its existence. Make no mistake, AMZN can do this only for as long as market bubbles inflate. If the current credit/stock bubble is in the process of deflating or has popped when it comes time for AMZN to start paying down its heavy debt load, including the capital leases, it’s highly likely that the market won’t enable AMZN to continue kicking the can down the road by refinancing the debt payments. AMZN clearly does not generate free cash flow that can be used to make the debt payment obligations. Thus, in this scenario, there’s a strong probability that AMZN would hit the wall, inconceivable as that may seem right now.

AMZN’s stock has had a remarkable run this year in defiance of the true underlying fundamentals (click to enlarge):

Amazon is a difficult stock to short because of its correlation with the overall stock market. However I’ve been able to scalp profits on an intra-day basis using near-money weekly puts. Anyone who is willing to manage a short position on a daily basis will eventually be rewarded. When AMZN surprised the market by missing its Q2 earnings, the stock sold off $140 from top to bottom over 2 months. If AMZN misses Q4 earnings the stock could, minimally, fill the gap in the graph above ($980) – a $160 decline using the closing price on November 21st.

If you are interested in short-sell ideas like AMZN, please visit this link:  Short Seller’s Journal, where I offer a weekly newsletter that focuses on shorting the stock market.

Bitcoin’s Inconvenient Truths: The Silence Is Deafening

Gold is instantly and optically recognizable as money. You don’t have to explain it. Bitcoin and Special Drawing Rights (SDR), like a bad joke, have to be explained. Many “cryptologitsts” from the start gave up trying to explain Bitcoin and just sell it as virtual gold, which is de facto fake gold.  – Dan Popescu, investment consultant

Numerous inconvenient truths are conveniently ignored by Bitcoin/crypto-currency promoters.  Not the least of which is that the fact that the original concept for cryptographic currency was envisioned by the NSA.   I guess it’s convenient to assume the NSA developed this concept and then put it out there for the private sector to develop.  Sure, that makes sense.

A rapid rise in price does not validate an investment concept.  Dozens of dot.com stocks went from simple websites to multi-billion dollar market caps and back to zero in the late 1990’s. Until proven otherwise by the long test of time, Bitcoin could be another product of a fiat money printing bubble that is 100x the size of the money bubble that fueled the dot.com bubble. Gold and silver have withstood the test of 5,000 years. Bitcoin has less than 3,000 days of time-testing.

Be leery of the serial promoters who have dropped their previous advocacy of gold and silver like a hot potato to become religiously zealous salesmen of Bitcoin.  These were often among the most raucously vocal in their protest of the use of Comex gold and silver futures to manipulate the market price.  Yet, their silence on the introduction of Bitcoin futures hurts my ears.

The bulwark promotion of Bitcoin is that it is a de-centralized form of money that exists outside of Government control. But is it really?  I dare say the roll-out of CME Bitcoin futures, as “regulated” by the CFTC, certainly smells like the implementation of official intervention.  Those who previously protested gold/silver futures must not deny this fact. Perhaps more troublesome is the embedded forms of counter-party risk endemic to the system which creates Bitcoin.

Anything that exists in cyberspace is vulnerable to hacking.  This is a fact that has yet to be invalidated.  Circling back to the NSA white paper referenced above, can anyone out there truly claim the expertise required to deny that the NSA, or any other major sovereign intelligence agency, does not have the ability to corrupt the block-chain?  To be sure, cryptocurrencies are subject to network or infrastructure risk during a crisis.  Unequivocally, crypos are subject to government regulation.

Speaking of which, if I were a Bitcoin advocate, it would bother me that western governments go out of their way to hide their interest in gold as a monetary asset, yet they openly embrace cryptocurrencies.   Perhaps when the BIS declares Bitcoin or Ethereum to be a Basel 3 Tier 1 Central Bank asset like gold, I’ll have a change of heart.

The price of Bitcoin has experienced a remarkable run in price this year. Of course, the same could have been said for Dutch tulip bulbs from late 1636 to late 1637.  Most of the traders are chasing the price higher, with little to no understanding of the object they are chasing with their money, in hopes that someone at a later point in time will come along and pay a higher price to them.  Even worse, these price-chasers have placed undying faith in the analysis of Bitcoin coming from the  same con artists with whom they placed religious faith in the analysis of precious metals.

Also, up to this point there’s been  an absence of two-way price discovery for Bitcoin. Once the CME futures are rolled out, it will introduce – albeit in an unwelcome format – a provocative method to sell Bitcoin on margin.  The use of margin is the hallmark of a fiat currency-based fractional banking system – the very nature of which Bitcoin supposedly repudiates. The Bitcoin longs will face the same unlimited supply potential of paper Bitcoin that precious metals investors have endured for decades.

Make no mistake, I’m not trying to derail anyone’s interest in Bitcoin or cryptocurrencies.  And I’ll be the first to admit that it’s likely the price will go a lot higher from here.  But if the issues I raise here are indeed legitimate, how do you know when it will be the right time to sell?  That is to say, while the parabolic rise in Bitcoin has been largely continuous, any number of events could occur that would force the price re-discovery to be a step-function.  It’s all wine and roses on the way up, but at what price will there be a bid for you relieve yourself of your position?