Category Archives: Housing Market

Who’s Going To Stop The Madness?

Every month consumer debt in aggregate hits a new record. Auto loans and student loans have been hitting monthly record highs for quite some time. In November credit card debt hit a record high in total and increased a record monthly amount for any one month. Mathematically this can’t go on forever. In fact, there are signs – indicators not reported widely by the financial media and, predictably, completely disregarded by Wall Street – that indicate the debt party is coming to an end. Events that follow the end of the party will be less than pleasant for the majority of U.S. households.

Every week in the Short Seller’s Journal I present data which reflects the deteriorating condition of middle class America. For definitional purposes, “middle class” is defined as any household that is unable to afford their own politician, which means 99.5% of all households.

As an example, buried in Wells Fargo’s Q4 earnings presentation was data that showed charge-offs in WFC’s credit card loan portfolio in Q4 soared 21% vs. Q3. The charge-off rate as a percent of average loans outstanding increased to 3.66% in Q4 from 3.08% in Q3. This is a 19% increase in the charge-off rate. While this might seem like a low number outright, not only is it headed in the wrong direction, it’s not too far below the nationwide bank credit card charge-off rate in 2007 of 4.15%. Again, this fits my thesis that the financial condition of the average household is deteriorating.

In addition, the dollar volume of auto loan originations at WFC declined 33% and home mortgage originations fell 26%. in Q4 2017 vs 2016. WFC’s mortgage applications in Q4 dropped 16% in dollar volume from Q4 2016. And its application pipeline (applications submitted and waiting for the purchase to close) declined 23% for the quarter vs Q4 2016.

WFC is the second largest mortgage originator after Quicken Loans. It is also a major player in auto loan underwriting. If auto and mortgage loan origination statistics are declining at a double-digit rate at WFC, it’s a good bet that this is a secular trend across the industry. Simply put, middle America – the 99.5%’ers – are running out of capacity to assume even more debt. This in turn will translate into a unexpectedly precipitous drop in consumer spending, especially on large-ticket items like cars, furniture and homes.

I stumbled on a blog a couple weeks ago called  A Cold War Relic. The proprietor works at an auto dealership and presents valuable insight on the factors that will drive auto sales into the ground and send auto loan defaults soaring. His latest post, “What’s Going To Stop Me,” is well worth reading:

This dark momentum could strangle the industry, but everyone refuses to stop it. Every time a customer accepts a $500 monthly payment on another overpriced compact crossover, they are feeding that momentum. When dealers structure deals for far more than the car is worth, they are feeding that momentum. The problem is: who is going to actually tell anybody “no?” Customers want their cars and refuse [do not have the funds] to put money down to get them. A large number of dealerships are fighting to attain sales numbers the market can’t currently support.

I get cursed out every month when our store misses the targets set for us by the manufacturer, even though I’m fighting against larger stores offering deeper discounts on new cars. On top of that, it’s not just your credit criminal customer that isn’t reading what they’ve signed anymore. When you have consumers with 700+ FICO scores rolling over portions of debt they already couldn’t handle on top of new debt and financing the whole thing over increasingly long terms at interest rates they arguably no longer deserve. The problem is that prime credit customers are slowly becoming credit criminals.

You can read the rest of this here (highly recommended):   Auto Loan Crack-Up Boom Coming

In the latest issue of the Short Seller’s Journal, I present a no-brainer homebuilder short idea plus I illustrate the mechanics of shorting a stock for those who only use put options.  In addition I review the Company’s fundamentals.  This is probably the only homebuilder for which unit sales are dropping – in this case falling at a double-digit percentage rate. I believe shorting this stock is good – at the very least – for a 30% ROR by the end of the year, if not sooner. You can find out more details about the Short Seller’s Journal here: Subscription Information.

The Household Debt Ticking Time Bomb

I fully expect the Government’s Census Bureau to post a mind-blowing headline retail sales number for December.  Hyperbolic headline economic statistics derived from mysterious “seasonal adjustments” based on questionable sampling methodology is part of the official propaganda policy mandated by the Executive Branch of Government.

But I also believe that retail sales were likely more robust than saner minds were expecting because it appears that households have become accustomed to the easy credit provided by the banking system to make ends meet. Borrow money to “spend and pretend.”  The Fed reported that consumer credit hit an all-time record in November.  The primary driver was credit card debt, which hit a new all-time high (previous record was in 2008).  Credit debt also increased a record monthly amount in November.

“Speaking of signposts, households have grown increasingly comfortable with leverage to maintain their living standards, which of course economists cheer. That’s worked for 24 straight months as credit card spending growth has outrun that of income growth” – Danielle DiMartino Booth, who was an advisor for nine years to former Dallas Fed President, Richard Fisher.

The graph above shows the year over year monthly percentage change in revolving credit – which is primarily credit card debt – and real disposable personal income. Real disposable personal income is after-tax income adjusted for CPI inflation. As you can see, the growth in the use of credit card debt has indeed outstripped the growth in after-tax household income. The credit metric above would not include home equity lines of credit.  At some point, assuming the relationship between the two variables above continues along the same trend, and we have no reason to believe that it won’t, credit card debt will collide with reality and there will be a horrifying number of credit card defaults. Worse than 2008-2010.

This chart shows household debt service payments as a percent of after-tax income:

“Debt service” is interest + principal payments.  With auto loan and credit card debt, most of the debt service payment is interest.  This metric climbed to a 5-year high during a period of time when interest rates hit all-time record lows.  Currently the average household is unable to make more than the minimum principle payment per the information conveyed by the first graphic.  What happens to the debt service:income ratio metric as households continue to pile on debt to make ends meet while interest rates rise?

Household debt service includes mortgage debt service payments.  Household mortgage debt outstanding is not quite at the all-time high recorded in Q2 2008.   The current number from the Fed is through Q3 2017. At the current quarterly rate of increase, an new all-time high in mortgage debt outstanding should occur during Q2 2018.  However, it should be noted that the number of homes sold per quarter during this current housing bubble is below the number of units sold per quarter at the peak of the previous housing bubble.  This means that the average size of mortgage per home sold is higher now than during the earlier housing bubble.  This is a fact that overlooked by every housing and credit market analyst, either intentionally or from ignorance (I’ll let you decide).

The graph to the right shows that access to credit is about as easy as it gets right now. A financial conditions index (Goldman’s is not the only version), measures financial variables that influence economic behavior. This includes the supply and cost of credit.

A declining index value reflects easier financial conditions. The current index is equal to the low-point of this metric going back to 1992. Unless history does not repeat, this index is set to head higher again. We are already seeing signs of this with higher interest rates, rising CPI/PPI-measured price inflation and accelerating consumer credit default rates.

It has been my argument that, on average and in general, the average U.S. household has reached, or will soon reach, the limit in its ability to support an increasing amount of debt. The use of debt has prevented consumer spending from falling off a cliff. Using debt to consume does not accomplish economic growth. It simply shifts consumption from the future to the present. Unless by some miracle the average household experiences an unforeseen jump in income – enough to enable it pay down debt and continue consuming at the present level, consumer spending will hit a wall.

I have no idea what kind of rigged, statistically manipulated vomit the Government is going to report for December and Q4 2017 retail sales but auto sales are already reflecting a serial decline in sales. Unless the banks open up the credit spigots even more – with reckless disregard to rising delinquency and default rates – consumer spending in general, and retail and auto sales in particular, is going to decline precipitously during 2018.  This will wreak havoc on the economy.  The bigger problem is going to be the rising delinquency and default rates. I suspect that this will begin to accelerate over the next 12 months regardless of Fed monetary policy. Speaking of which, I expect the Fed to begin dragging its feet on hiking rates as we move further in the new year.

A portion of the commentary above is an excerpt from the latest Short Seller’s Journal.  This weekly subscription newsletter provides insight to the economic and financial data not reported by the financial media and Wall Street.  In addition to economic analysis, I present ideas for shorting individual stocks.  Currently the path of least resistance to make money shorting is with retail and retail-related stocks.  I also provide ideas for using options. You can learn more about this unique service here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.

Dave, each week I am reminded of the degree to which you do highly disciplined, fact based, and insightful work. Thank you – subscriber, “Rod”

The Four Most Dangerous Words In Investing…

“This time it’s different.” That quote is from Sir John Templeton, a legendary investor who is considered the father of the modern mutual fund industry. For most of the month of December, I’ve been hearing ads from mortgage brokers who are promoting the idea of refinancing your house in order to take care of holiday bills. It reminded of the early 2000’s when then Fed Chairman, Alan Greenspan, was urging Americans to use their house as “an ATM” by taking on home equity loans as a means of drawing out cash against home equity for consumption spending. Adding more debt against your house to pay off big credit card balances merely shifts household debt from one creditor to another. What’s worse, it frees up room under the credit card accounts to enable the consumer to take on even more debt.

In reference to the mortgage and housing market collapse in 2008, Ben Bernanke wrote, “Clearly, many of us at the Fed, including me, underestimated the extent of the housing bubble and the risks it posed.” It’s hard to know if that statement is genuine or not, given that many of us saw the housing bubble that was developing as early as 2004.

The Federal Government’s low-to-no down payment programs via Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the FHA, VHA and USDA, combined with the hyper-promotion of cash-out refinancings (bigger 1st mortgages and/or second-lien mortgages) tell me that, once again, most people in this country believe – or rather, hope – that the outcome will be different this time.

The graphic just below  is an interesting way to show the affect that Central Bank monetary inflation has on asset valuation vs income. Asset valuation should be theoretically derived from the income levels connected to the assets. Either the asset requires a certain level of income level to purchase and maintain the asset or the asset itself generates income/cash flow.

You’ll note the pattern that developed starting with the tech bubble era. Prior to the Clinton administration the Fed subtly intervened in the financial system by been printing money in excess of marginal wealth creation (GDP growth) once Nixon closed the gold window. But, in conjunction with the Greenspan Fed, the Government’s willingness to print money as an official policy tool took on a whole new dimension during the Clinton administration.  Note:  I’m not making a political judgment per se about the Clinton presidency, because the Fed’s ability to print money to prop up the stock market was established with Reagan’s Executive Order after the 1987 stock crash. You’ll note that the household net worth to income ratio began to rise at a sharp rate starting in mid-1994, which was when the Clinton-Rubin strong dollar policy was implemented. It’s also around the time that Greenspan began regularly printing money to address the series of financial problems that arose in the 1990’s.

The current ratio of household net worth to income is 6.75 – the highest household net worth to income ratio in history. It peaked around 6.5x in 2007 and 6.1x in early 2000. You’ll note that from 1986 to 1995 the ratio averaged just around 5.1x.

A graphic that is correlated to the household net worth/income ratio is the household net worth to GDP.  The pic to the right shows household net worth (assets minus debt) vs. a plot of the U.S. nominal GDP. As you can see, when the growth in household net worth deviates considerably from the growth in nominal GDP, bad things happen to asset values. Note: household assets consist primarily of a house and retirement funds. Currently the level of household net worth – that is, the value of homes and stock portfolios – relative to GDP is at its highest point in history. This will not end with happiness.

I wanted to present the two previous graphics and my accompanying analysis, in conjunction with the theme that “it is not different this time.” The extreme degree of household asset inflation relative to incremental GDP wealth output is yet another data-point indicating the high probability that a nasty stock market accident will occur sooner or later. To compound the severity of the problem, household asset inflation has been achieved primarily through massive credit creation. The amount of debt per home sold in this country currently is at a record level.

During this past week, the bullish sentiment of investors continued to soar.  A record level of investor bullishness never ends well for the stock market. Speaking of which, there has been an interesting development in the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence metrics. The headline-reported index showed an unexpected declined from 129.5 to 122.1 vs 128 expected. This is a big percentage drop and a big drop vs Wall Street’s crystal ball. However, while the “present situation” index hit its highest level since April 2001, the “expectations” – or “hope” – metric plunged from 113.3 to 99.1. It seems the current euphoria connected to the stock and housing markets is not expected to last.

The chart above shows the spread in consumer confidence between “present conditions” and “future conditions” (present conditions minus future conditions). A rising line indicates that future outlook (“hope”) is diverging negatively from present conditions. I’ve marked with red lines the peaks in this divergence which also happen to correlate with stock market tops (1979, 1987/1989, 2000).

The above commentary in an excerpt from the last issue of IRD’s Short Seller’s Journal.  I think retail stocks are going to be hit relentlessly beginning some time this quarter. In fact, one stock I presented as a short in early December was down over 12% yesterday after it released an earnings warning.  Some of the best SSJ short ideas in 2017 were retailers.  You can learn more about this short-seller newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal subscription information.

“Congrats on the [retail stock short] call. What a disaster. You have to love how the chart collapsed with the news. These algos are going to destroy people when they unless selling on stocks eventually. I made a 8X on my puts. Now I need to roll them into something else.” – SSJ subscriber who actively trades

Will The Real Phillips Curve Please Stand Up

No society that depends on money can work for long if nobody knows the true value of things, including the value of money itself. The price of attempting to live in a culture of pervasive dishonesty is that a re-set is inevitable. When it happens, it will be hugely destabilizing. – James Kunstler

Phillips Curve R.I.P. –  Paul Craig Roberts

For a decade central banks have printed enormous quantities of new money. The excuse is to stimulate the economy by reviving inflation. However, the money has, for the most part, driven up the prices of financial assets instead of consumer and producer prices. The result has been a massive increase in the inequality of income, wealth, and opportunity.

The quantitative easing policy followed by central banks is based on belief in an economic relationship between inflation and GDP growth—the Phillips curve—that supply-side economics disproved during the Reagan administration. The belief in the Phillips curve persists, because supply-side economics was misrepresented by the financial media and neoliberal junk economics.

The fact that something as straightforward and well explained as supply-side economics can be misrepresented for 35 years should give us all pause. When successive chairmen of the Federal Reserve and other central banks have no correct idea what supply-side economics is, how can they formulate a workable monetary policy? They cannot.

The Phillips Curve is the modern day version of the Unicorn. People believe in it, but no one can find it. The Fed has been searching for it for a decade and the Bank of Japan for two decades. So has Wall Street.

Central banks’ excuse for their massive injections of liquidity in the 21st century is that they are striving to stimulate the 2% rate of inflation that they think is the requirement for sustained rises in wages and GDP. In a total contradiction of the Phillips Curve, in Japan massive doses of central bank liquidity have resulted in the collapse of both consumer and financial asset prices. In the US the result has been a large increase in stock averages propelled by unrealistic P/E ratios and financial speculation resulting in Tesla’s capitalization at times exceeding that of General Motors.

In effect pursuit of the Phillips Curve has become a policy of ensuring financial stability of over-sized banks by continually injecting massive amounts of liquidity. The result is greater financial instability. The Fed is now confronted with a stock market disconnected from corporate profits and consumer disposable income, and with insurance companies and pension funds that have been unable for a decade to balance equity portfolios with interest bearing debt instruments. Crisis is everywhere in the air. What to do?

The Phillips Curve has been working its mischief for a long time. During the Reagan administration the Philips Curve was responsible for an erroneous budget forecast. In the 21st century the Phillips Curve is responsible for an enormous increase in the money supply. The Reagan administration paid a political price for placing faith in the Phillips Curve. The price for the unwarranted creation of money by central banks in the 21st century is yet to be paid.

You can read the rest of this, which I recommend, here:   PHILLIPS CURVE R.I.P.

How To Go Bankrupt: Slowly Then Suddenly

In Hemingway’s, “The Sun Also Rises,” one of the characters, Bill, asks his friend, “Mike,” how he went bankrupt. Mike replied, “I had a lot of friends. False friends. Then I had creditors…” This passage from the novel comes to mind when I hear ads during the local sports radio programming from mortgage brokers urging listeners to use a cash-out refi or home equity loan to take care of credit card debt that piled up during the holidays.  Beneath the surface is the message, “c’mon in, the water is fine, go ahead and take on even more debt.”

If in fact the retail sales turn out to be as strong as projected, it’s because the average household has tapped into its savings and used an unusually large amount of credit card debt to fund holiday spending this year:

The chart on the left shows the 13-week annualized percentage change in household credit card debt. The data comes from the Fed. As you can see, the use of credit cards to fund spending has soared. Further compounding potential household financial stress, the personal savings rate in November dropped to 2.9% from 3.2% in October. It’s the lowest personal savings rate since November 2007. November 2007 is one month before an official recession was declared back then.

The 18% spike in credit card debt is perhaps more troubling than the plunge in the savings rate. It’s been theorized that consumers may have used credit cards to “pre-spend” an anticipated savings in taxes from the tax legislation. Unfortunately, the changes to the tax code will be neutral at best for the average middle class household.

Furthermore, borrowing to fund current consumption in the absence of future income growth or capital gains received from monetizing assets (stocks, homes, etc) merely shifts future consumption into the present. If retail sales come in “hot” for Q4 because of strong holiday sales fueled by credit card debt, it will be offset by a steep decline in consumer spending in 2018. This is because the rate at which consumer credit is rising at more than double the rate of growth in wages. The “cherry” on top of this scenario is that there will likely be an acceleration in the rate of credit card and auto loan delinquencies and defaults.  This latter development would a continuation of the rising trend in credit delinquencies and defaults that emerged during 2017.  Mortgage payment problems are sure to follow.

The “feel good about the economy” propaganda has been over-the-top this year.  Trump has been the primary cheerleader as he extols the virtues of a soaring stock market that he labeled “a massive bubble” when he was begging for votes on the campaign trail.  Now he points to the stock market as an indicator that the country is better off since he became president.

In truth, the middle class continues to be hollowed-out from an increasing need to assume more debt in order to maintain its lifestyle. More debt is necessitated by an income level that is not keeping up with the ravages of the inflation that the Government can’t seem to find in its CPI report.  “Middle class”  includes everyone who requires a mortgage to claim “ownership” on their home plus anyone not rich enough to pay for self-enriching legislative policy at the State and Federal levels of Government.  If you fit either of those of those or both,  you are strictly speaking “middle class.”

2018 is going to be a difficult year for most Americans.  I have no idea how much longer the stock market can continue transmitting the illusion that every one is becoming more prosperous.  I have a gut feeling that real inflation, resulting from the inexorable devaluation of the dollar since 1971, will rip through the system sometime in the next year or two and drive interest rates to a level that could bankrupt a major portion of the economy.  It really won’t take much of a bump in rates for this to occur…slowly, then suddenly.

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’

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”

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

The Debt Bubble Is Beginning To Leak Air

“The current state of credit card delinquency flows can be an early indicator of future
trends and we will closely monitor the degree to which this uptick is predictive of
further consumer distress.” – New York Fed official in reference to rising delinquency rate of credit cards.

The recent sell-off in junk bonds likely reflects a growing uneasiness in the market with credit risk, where “credit risk” is defined as the probability that a borrower will be able to make debt payments. This past week SocGen’s macro strategist, Albert Edwards, issued a warning that the falling prices of junk bonds might be “the key area of vulnerability that could bring down the inflated pyramid scheme that the Central Banks have created.”

The New York Fed released its quarterly report on household debt and credit for Q3 last week. The report showed a troubling rise in the delinquency rates for auto debt and mortgages. The graph to the right shows 90-day auto loan delinquencies by credit score. As you can see, the rate of delinquency for subprime borrowers (620 and below) is just under 10%. This rate is nearly as high the peak delinquency rate for subprime auto debt at the peak of the great financial crisis. In fact, you can see in the chart that the rate of delinquency is rising for every credit profile. I find this fact quite troubling considering that we’re being told by the Fed and the White House that economic conditions continue to improve.

While the Fed reports that 20% of the $1.2 trillion in auto loans outstanding has been issued to subprime borrowers, there tends to be a significant time-lag between when an individual’s credit condition deteriorates and when the FICO score reflects that deteriorated financial condition. I would argue that the true percentage of subprime auto debt outstanding is likely over 30%.  Bloomberg reported last week that “delinquent subprime loans are nearing crisis levels at auto finance companies.”Before the 2008 crisis, the outstanding level of auto loans peaked in late 2005 at $825 billion. The current level based on the most recent data is over $1.2 trillion, or nearly 50% higher than the previous peak. More troubling, the average loan balance, at close to $30,000, is substantially higher now.

Revolving credit is now over $1 trillion. At $1.005 trillion, it’s slightly below the previous peak of $1.020 trillion in April 2008. Most of the revolving debt category as tracked by the Fed is credit card debt. The Fed reports that 4.6% of credit card debt is 90-days delinquent, up from 4.2% in Q3. I would note that the Fed relies on reporting from banks and consumer finance for the delinquency data. Accounting regulations give banks a fairly wide window of discretion before a loan is officially declared to be delinquent. Banks and consumer finance companies tend to drag their feet before declaring a loan to be delinquent because it directly affects quarterly earnings. I would bet money that the true delinquency rate is higher than is being reported.

Mortgage delinquencies are now following the trend higher in auto, student and revolving loans:

The data in the graph above is sourced from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA).  MBA data is lagged. again because of reporting methodology and because banks under-report delinquencies.  As such, the true current rate of delinquency is likely higher. I drew the red line to illustrate that, outside of the period from 2009 to 2014, the current rate of delinquency is at the high end of the historical range going back to 1979.

Let’s drill down a little deeper. The delinquency rate for FHA mortgages soared to 9.4% in Q3 2017 from 7.94% in Q2. That jump in the rate of delinquency is the highest quarterly increase in the history of the MBA’s survey. Recall that the FHA began offering 3.5% down-payment mortgages in 2008. Because of the minimal down payment requirement, the FHA’s share of single-family  home purchase mortgage underwriting went from 3.9%  2007 to it current 17%  share.  In effect, FHA replaced the underwriting void left by the bankrupt private-issuer subprime lenders like Countrywide and Wash Mutual.  It’s no surprise that FHA paper is starting to collapse.  Fannie and Freddie started issuing 3% down-payment mortgages in early 2015.  All three agencies (FHA, FNM, FRE) reduced the amount of mortgage insurance required for low down payment loans. Just in time for the FHA complex to start cratering.

The reduction in mortgage qualification standards was implemented by the Government in order to keep the homes sales activity artificially stimulated. Do not overlook the fact that the National Association of Realtors drops more magic money dust on Congress than the Too Big To Fail Wall Street banks combined.

The rising trend in consumer and mortgage debt delinquencies will, for a time, be dismissed as temporary or related to the hurricanes. The MBA applied a thick layer of “hurricane mascara” on the mortgage delinquency numbers. But the massive debt bubble inflated by the Fed and the Government is springing leaks. And the debt delinquency trend is seeded in economic fundamentals. The BLS released its real earnings report this past Wednesday, which showed that real average hourly earnings declined for the third month in a row. It’s no coincidence that debt payment delinquencies are rising given that after-tax income for the average household is getting squeezed. This will get worse when soaring health insurance premiums hit starting in January.

St Louis Fed President, James Bullard, asserted last Wednesday that there’s no need to raise interest rates with inflation low. I have to believe that these folks at the Fed are intelligent enough to understand that the “official” inflation numbers are phony. Given that assumption on my part, the reluctance of the Fed to raise rates – note: I do not consider the 1% hike in Fed funds over the last two years to be material – is from the fear of crashing the system.

Many of you have seen the recent reports of the “flattening” Treasury yield curve. This occurs when short term Treasury rates rise and longer term rates fall.  A flattening yield curve is the market’s signal that the economy is in trouble.  Currently, the yield spread between 2-yr and 10-yr Treasuries is 59 basis points.  The last time the Treasury curve was this “flat”  was  November 2007.

The front-end of the curve is rising for two reasons. First, the Fed let $10 billion in short term T-bills expire without replacing them, which took away the Fed’s bid for short term Treasuries. Second, when short rates rise relative long rates, it’s the market’s way of discounting an uptick in the potential for financial distress.

If the Fed were in a position of “normalized” monetary policy, it would likely be lowering rates in response to the obvious signs of rising financial distress.  But the Fed is backed into a corner.  Rates have been zero to near-zero for so long that the credit market is largely “immune” to taking rates back down to zero from the current 1% – 1.25% “target.”

The Fed inched its way into reducing its balance sheet by letting  SOMA assets fall $10 billion in value since early October.  At that rate it would take 35 years to “normalize” its balance sheet. Yet, the Treasury curve is telling us that the Fed should be easing monetary policy, not tightening.  The Fed has an 80-year track record of removing liquidity from the system at the wrong time.

The commentary above is an excerpt from the latest Short Seller’s Journal.  Two short ideas were presented in connection with the analysis presented.  To learn more about this newsletter, click here:   Short Seller’s Journal info.

The Big Money Grab Is “On” As Middle America Collapses

The stock market rejoices the House passage of the tax “reform” Bill as the Dow shot up 187 points and the S&P 500 spiked up 21. The Nasdaq soared 1.3%, retracing its 3-day decline in one day. The tax bill is nothing more than a massive redirect of money flow from the Treasury Department to Corporate America and billionaires. The middle class will not receive any tax relief from the Bill but it will shoulder the burden of the several trillion dollars extra in Treasury debt that will be required to finance the tax cuts for the wealthy. The tax “reform” will have, at best, no effect on GDP.   It will likely be detrimental to real economic output.

The Big Money Grab is “on” at the highest levels of of Wall St., DC, Corporate America, the Judiciary and State/local Govt. These people are grabbing from a dying carcass as fast and greedily as possible.  The elitists are operating free from any fear of the Rule of Law.  That particular nuisance does not apply to “them” – only to “us.” They don’t even try to hide their grand scale theft anymore because the protocol in place to prevent them from doing this is now on their side. This is the section in Atlas Shrugged leading up to the big implosion.

“When you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors–when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you–when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice–you may know that your society is doomed.” – Atlas Shrugged

Speaking of the economy, as with inflation the GDP report does not reflect the true level of real economic activity in the U.S. because the Government report is not designed to measure real economic output. Instead, the GDP is yet another Government economic report constructed with blatant statistical manipulation and outright fraudulent data sampling. How am I so certain of this? The “tell” on the true condition of the economy lies with the fact that Fed is “normalizing” neither interest rates nor its balance sheet. In fact, if the Fed were to “normalize” monetary policy, it would quickly hike the Fed funds rate up closer to 6% and it would be reducing its balance sheet and removing at least the $2.1 trillion in printed cash sitting in the banks’ excess reserve account.  The problem is that this “normalization” would pop the enormous asset bubble created from money printing.  It would also interrupt the ongoing wealth confiscation.

Elijah Johnson at Silver Doctors invited to discuss the above issues as well as the stock, bond and housing bubbles. And of course gold and mining stocks:

I’ll be releasing the latest issue of my Mining Stock Journal this evening. It will have an emerging junior gold exploration company that has been described at “Gold Standard Ventures 2.0.” You can find out more information here:   Mining Stock Journal info.

Gresham’s Law meets its Minsky Moment

There’s a reason that the Fed pursues these actions and it’s not a conspiracy theory. When unlimited cash hits a limited supply of assets, whether paper or hard, this inflationary deluge boosts taxable asset values by 100-1000%, fattening the coffers of the tax collectors. 

While it’s no secret that the Fed, along all global Central Banks, are supporting their respective financial systems by capping interest rates with “QE” (also known as “money printing”), the yield on the 10-yr Treasury has risen 36 basis points in two months from 2.04% in September to 2.40% currently. There have not been any Fed rate hikes during that time period. The yield on the 2-yr Treasury has jumped from 1.26% in early September to 1.66% currently. A 40 basis point jump, 32% increase, in rates in two months.

This is not due to a “reversal” in QE. Why? Because through this past Thursday, the Fed’s balance sheet has increased in size by over $7 billion since the Fed “threatened” to unwind QE starting in October. The bond market is sniffing hints of an acceleration in the general price level of goods and services, aka “inflation.”

I wanted to post this comment from my blog post the other day because this person uses an expressive writing style to convey incisively the uneasy truth about the financial and economic system in the U.S.:

Bankers are moral lepers, the financial equivalent of hookers and blow. You can never get enough of the moral debauchery in that world.

When a shit box tiny house, half the size of my man cave, goes for $50,000 less than my entire home in Reno, the end is nigh. $2,000 a square foot for a studio? What effing moron would pay that. Don’t answer. We know someone did. I pity the fool.

Bitcoin 7000, DOW 23,500, studios for $550,000 are all a result of the Greenspan /Bernanke/Yellen  QEpocalypse.

The flood of faux FIAT creates the same Cantillion effect as the flood of gold and silver from the new world that inflated the values of assets in the old world and decimated those outside the ring of prosperity created by that effect.

And that was when gold and silver were real money. But do you think gold and silver can catch a break today? Nope, not a chance.

There’s a reason that the Fed pursues these actions and it’s not a conspiracy theory. When unlimited cash hits a limited supply of assets, whether paper or hard, this inflationary deluge boosts taxable asset values by 100-1000%, fattening the coffers of the tax collectors. No accident there.

You would think this might solve some fiscal woes at the local and state level by boosting tax receipts by a few hundred percent. Nope, not happening there either.

The states and cities created their own PONZI schemes with underfunded overly generous pension plans. Even a moron could get a better return in those funds but now they are out there with their begging bowls.

The County of Maui just raised it’s property taxes 42% to pay for pension plan deficits. A senator from Ohio wants to use funds from treasury bonds to bail out their public pension deficits.

As we see asset prices sky rocket, the demands from the public sector grow even faster than tax revenues and asset inflation will handle. Gresham’s Law meets its Minsky Moment and none too soon.

And don’t even get me started about Social Security. Just let me get mine before the whole shit show collapses.