Category Archives: Housing Market

Largest Asset Bubble In History – It’s Not Different This Time

The current asset bubble has been created by a record level of money printing and debt creation globally. Unfortunately, the upward velocity of rising asset prices has seduced investors to recklessly abandon all notion of risk. One would have to be brain-dead to not acknowledge that global Central Bank money-printing has caused the current “everything” asset bubble. Current data that tracks the cash and investment allocation levels shows that investors – and this includes hedge funds and pensions, not just retail/high net worth – are “all in.” IF the Central Banks simply stop printing money and do not shrink their balance sheets who will be left to buy stocks when the selling begins?

Silver Doctors invited me onto their weekly money/metals podcast to discuss why the catalysts driving fiat-currency-based paper assets to historical valuations will unwind and will ultimately drive gold to a valuation level higher by several multiples than the current price. Eventually gold will not be measured in terms of dollars and possibly not in terms of any fiat currency:

If you want to find out more about my investment newsletters, click on either of these links:    Mining Stock JournalShort Seller’s Journal.

The Housing Market Has Stalled

The housing market headed for very “rough waters.” The title is from the National Association of Realtor’s Pending Home Sales report for August in reference to NAR chief “economist” Larry Yun’s commentary on the housing market. Pending homes sales in August, which are based on contracts signed, dropped 2.6% from August. They’re also 2.6% below a year ago August. These are SAAR numbers. The “not seasonally adjusted” numbers were worse, down nearly 4% from August and 3.1% lower than last August.

Once again Yun is blaming the problem on supply. I torpedoed that assertion with facts in last week’s Short Seller’s Journal.  Although, there is indeed a “supply” issue in one regard: there’s a shortage of end user buyers who are required to use, and qualify for the use of, the Government’s de facto subprime mortgage program (as I detailed last week). There’s also a shortage of existing home owners in the mid-price range who can afford to move-up. So yes, in that sense there’s a shortage – it’s just not in homes.

DR Horton (the largest homebuilder in the country) is carrying about the same amount of inventory now as it was carrying at the end of 2007 – around $8.5 billion. The average home price is about the same then as now, which means it is carrying about the same number of homes in inventory. It’s unit sales run-rate was slightly higher in 2007. The point here is that there are plenty of newly built homes available for purchase. Per the Census Bureau, the median sales price of a new home in August was $300k, while the average price was $368k. DH Horton is an averaged price homebuilder.

Per DH Horton’s inventory numbers, there is not a shortage of inventory around the average priced newly built home. Again, there’s a shortage buyers available who can qualify for the debt required to buy one of those homes. This is why the Government has significantly loosened mortgage standards every year since 2014 (see the graphic below). Up against the wall again, I don’t know if the Government will again further loosen the Fannie/Freddie mortgage requirements. If it does nothing, which would be the sensible decision, the housing market is going to sustain a rapid downward price “adjustment.”

Housing stocks are in a mini “melt-up” though it’s somewhat subdued relative to the melt-up in semiconductor stocks. This is despite the threat of rising interest rates and rapidly deteriorating demand-side fundamentals. This is the signal that the end is near for these stocks. Ironically, the University of Michigan consumer confidence survey for September released Friday showed that consumers who judge the current home-buying conditions as favorable plunged to a 5-yr low. This is notwithstanding the easiest mortgage approval standards in over two years:

The graphic above shows consumer perception of homebuying conditions on the left and the latest Fannie Mae lender survey on credit standards on the right. As you can see, the credit standards are the easiest in at least 2-years. Note:  The Fannie survey only dates back to Q3 2015. I would bet good money that the current credit conditions are the easiest since right before the previous housing bubble popped in 2008.

I’ve been discussing and detailing, the alleged “supply issue” affecting home sales is, in fact, a demand-driven issue. This graphic illustrates this:

The graph above is also from Fannie Mae’s latest housing market survey. As you can see, the demand for GSE (Fannie/Freddie/FHA) purchase mortgages has plunged since Q3 2016. The demand for non-GSE and Ginnie Mae purchase mortgages has also declined significantly since Q3 2016.

There’s an online MLS home-listing site called REColorado. I’m signed up to get listing and price-change alerts as they occur in several difference zip codes the represent the areas in metro-Denver that have been hottest. Colorado has experienced a massive inflow of people from all over country, especially California, which has made the Denver area one of the hottest housing markets since 2012, when the State fully legalized marijuana. Since mid-summer, I’ve been “price-change” alerts on homes over $700k on a daily basis. As I write this, I just received two more today. One of the homes started at $1.8 million in September and has taken the price down 11% over three price drops. The other house has an asking price of $779k but has been reduced more than 8% in four price reductions since June. If this is happening in metro-Denver, it’s happening in most formerly “hot” areas. Yes, there will be a few areas around the country that remain “hot” for awhile (like SoCal), but those areas will eventually suffer the most just like in 2008.

I want to reiterate that the housing market is a great short here. The only explanation for the move in the homebuilder stocks this past week is that it’s a momentum-driven technical run. The stocks I’ve been presenting in the last several issues will be lower this time next year. Probably a lot lower. Redfin (RDFN), the online real estate brokerage that I presented last week, closed Friday down $2.88 (10.3%) from the previous Friday. It’s going lower. It’s a good bet that this stock will be trading at or below $20 by Christmas. Zillow Group (ZG) is down 20% since a re-recommended shorting it in the June 25th SSJ issue at $50.69. I will say that I did not expect that to be close to ZG’s all-time high it was an obvious short to me at that point. Companies that earn commissions and fees directly from (RDFN) or related to (ZG) home sales volume will be the leading indicators.

The above analysis and commentary is from the latest issue of the Short Seller’s Journal.  You can out more about subscribing to this weekly investment newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal subscription info.  Despite the major indices hitting new all-time highs everyday now, there are many stocks that are declining.  The perfect example is Zillow Group, which I recommended shorting at $50 in June .  It is currently down 18% (an 18% gain if you are short, more if you bought the puts I recommended).  Subscribers also get 50% off the price of subscribing to the Mining Stock Journal.

The US Economy Is Failing – Paul Craig Roberts

IRD Note:    Along with the housing market, the entire economy is beginning to collapse. Unless the Fed implements another round of trillions in money printing, the laws of economics will take control of the system. With the housing market, the point of inflection downward began to occur in late spring/early summer. I have detailed this assertion with copious amounts of data and ways to profit from this insight in recent  Short Seller’s Journals.  Despite the melt-up in homebuilder stocks, one of my ideas from last week was down 10% through Friday.

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The commentary below is by Paul Craig Roberts:

Do the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page editors read their own newspaper?

The front page headline story for the Labor Day weekend was “Low Wage Growth Challenges Fed.” Despite an alleged 4.4% unemployment rate, which is full employment, there is no real growth in wages. The front page story pointed out correctly that an economy alleged to be expanding at full employment, but absent any wage growth or inflation, is “a puzzle that complicates Federal Reserve policy decisions.”

On the editorial page itself, under “letters to the editor,” Professor Tony Lima of California State University points out what I have stressed for years: “The labor-force participation rate remains at historic lows. Much of the decrease is in the 18-34 age group, while participation rates have increased for those 55 and older.” Professor Lima points out that more evidence that the American worker is not in good shape comes from the rising number of Americans who can only find part-time work, which leaves them with truncated incomes and no fringe benefits, such as healh care.

Positioned right next to this factual letter is the lead editorial written by someone who read neither the front page story or the professor’s letter. The lead editorial declares: “The biggest labor story this Labor Day is the trouble that employers are having finding workers across the country.” The Journal’s editorial page editors believe the solution to the alleged labor shortage is Senator Ron Johnson’s (R.Wis.) bill to permit the states to give 500,000 work visas to foreigners.

In my day as a Wall Street Journal editor and columnist, questions would have been asked that would have nixed the editorial. For example, how is there a labor shortage when there is no upward pressure on wages? In tight labor markets wages are bid up as employers compete for workers. For example, how is the labor market tight when the labor force participation rate is at historical lows. When jobs are available, the participation rate rises as people enter the work force to take the jobs.

I have reported on a number of occasions that according to Federal Reserve studies, more Americans in the 24-34 age group live at home with parents than independently, and that it is those 55 and older who are taking the part time jobs. Why is this? The answer is that part time jobs do not pay enough to support an independent existence, and the Federal Reserve’s decade long zero interest rate policy forces retirees to enter the work force as their retirement savings produce no income. It is not only the manufacturing jobs of the middle class blue collar workers that have been given to foreigners in order to cut labor costs and thus maximize payouts to executives and shareholders, but also tradable professional skill jobs such as software engineering, design, accounting, and IT—jobs that Americans expected to get in order to pay off their student loans.

The Wall Street Journal editorial asserts that the young are not in the work force because they are on drugs, or on disability, or because of their poor education. However, all over the country there are college graduates with good educations who cannot find jobs because the jobs have been offshored. To worsen the crisis, a Republican Senator from Wisconsin wants to bring in more foreigners on work permits to drive US wages down lower so that no American can survive on the wage, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page editors endorse this travesty!

The foreigners on work visas are paid one-third less than the going US wage. They live together in groups in cramped quarters. They have no employee rights. They are exploited in order to raise executive bonuses and shareholder capital gains. I have exposed this scheme at length in my book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism (Clarity Press, 2013).

When Trump said he was going to bring the jobs home, he resonated, but, of course, he will not be permitted to bring them home, any more than he has been permitted to normalize relations with Russia.

In America Government is not in the hands of its people. Government is in the hands of a ruling oligarchy. Oligarchic rule prevails regardless of electoral outcomes. The American people are entering a world of slavery more severe than anything that previously existed. Without jobs, dependent on their masters for trickle-down benefits that are always subject to being cut, and without voice or representation, Americans, except for the One Percent, are becoming the most enslaved people in history.

Americans carry on by accumulating debt and becoming debt slaves. Many can only make the minimum payment on their credit card and thus accumulate debt. The Federal Reserve’s policy has exploded the prices of financial assets. The result is that the bulk of the population lacks discretionary income, and those with financial assets are wealthy until values adjust to reality.

As an economist I cannot identify in history any economy whose affairs have been so badly managed and prospects so severely damaged as the economy of the United States of America. In the short/intermediate run policies that damage the prospects for the American work force benefit what is called the One Percent as jobs offshoring reduces corporate costs and financialization transfers remaining discretionary income in interest and fees to the financial sector. But as consumer discretionary incomes disappear and debt burdens rise, aggregate demand falters, and there is nothing left to drive the economy.

What we are witnessing in the United States is the first country to reverse the development process and to go backward by giving up industry, manufacturing, and tradable professional skill jobs. The labor force is becoming Third World with lowly paid domestic service jobs taking the place of high-productivity, high-value added jobs.

The initial response was to put wives and mothers into the work force, but now even many two-earner families experience stagnant or falling material living standards. New university graduates are faced with substantial debts without jobs capable of producing sufficient income to pay off the debts.

Now the US is on a course of travelling backward at a faster rate. Robots are to take over more and more jobs, displacing more people. Robots don’t buy houses, furniture, appliances, cars, clothes, food, entertainment, medical services, etc. Unless Robots pay payroll taxes, the financing for Social Security and Medicare will collapse. And it goes on down from there. Consumer spending simply dries up, so who purcheses the goods and services supplied by robots?

To find such important considerations absent in public debate suggests that the United States will continue on the country’s de-industrialization, de-manufacturing trajectory.

Peak Housing Bubble: 2008 Deja Vu All Over Again

Existing Home Sales were released Wednesday and the NAR’s seasonally adjusted annualized rate metric was down 1.7% from July. July was down 1.3% from June. The NAR’s SAAR metric is at its lowest rate since last August. Naturally the hurricane that hit Houston is being attributed as the primary culprit for the lower sales rate. Interestingly, the “not seasonally adjusted” monthly number for the South region was higher in August than in July. Moreover, I’m sure the NAR’s statistical “wizards” were told to “adjust” for Houston. So I’m not buying the excuse.

As for the NAR’s inventory narrative, that’s a bunch of horse hooey. Recall the chart I’ve posted a couple times in previous issues which shows that sales volume is inversely correlated with inventory – this is 17 years of data:

In other words, sales volume increases as inventory declines and sales volume declines as inventory rises. This is intuitive as prospective buyers will get desperate and rush to secure a purchase when inventory is low. Conversely,when a prospective buyer sees inventory climbing, the tendency will be to wait to see if prices come down.

It’s disingenuous for the NAR to claim that low inventory is affecting sales. Based on its own calculus, there’s 4.2 months of supply right now. This is up from 3.8 months in January. In fact, from December through March, months supply was said to have been well under 4 months. And yet, the monthly SAAR sales for each month December through March averaged 4.5% above the level just reported for August. In other words, the excuse put forth by the NAR’s chief “economist” is undermined by the NAR’s own numbers. However, given that the inventory expressed as “months supply” has been rising since April, it should be no surprise that sales are declining. This is exactly what would have been predicted by the 17 years of data in the sales vs inventory chart above.

The other statistic that undermines the “low inventory is affecting sales” propaganda is housing starts. Housing starts peaked in November 2016 and have been in a downtrend since then. Robert Toll (Toll Brothers – TOL) stated directly in his earnings commentary a couple weeks ago that “supply is not a problem.” Furthermore, DR Horton – the largest homebuilder in the country) is carrying about the same amount of inventory now as was carrying at the end of 2007 – around $8.5 billion. The average home price is about the same then as now, which means it is carrying about the same number of homes in inventory. It’s unit sales run-rate was slightly higher in 2007. Starting in 2008, DHI began writing down its inventory in multi-billion dollar chunks. Sorry Larry (NAR chief “economist” aka “salesman”), there are plenty of newly built homes available for purchase.

The Fannie and Freddie 3% down payment, reduced mortgage insurance fee program that has been in effect since January 2015 has “sucked” in most of the first-time buyers who can qualify for a mortgage under those sub-prime quality terms. If the housing market cheerleaders stated that “there is a shortage of homes for which subprime buyers can qualify to buy,” that’s an entirely different argument.

Housing price affordability has hit an all-time low. Again, this is because of the rampant home price inflation generated by the Fed’s monetary policy and the Government’s mortgage programs. The Government up to this point has done everything except subsidize down payments in order to give subprime quality borrowers the ability to take down a mortgage for which they can make (barely) the monthly mortgage payment. At this stage, anyone with a sub-620 FICO score who is unable to make a 3% down payment and who does not generate enough income to qualify under the 50% DTI parameter should not buy a home. They will default anyway and the taxpayer will be on the hook. As it is now, the Government’s de facto sub-prime mortgage programs are going to end badly.

Speaking of the 50% DTI, that is one of the qualification parameters “loosened” up by Fannie Mae. A 50% DTI means pre-tax income as a percentage of monthly debt payments. Someone with a 50% DTI is thereby using close to 70% or more of their after-tax cash flow to service debt. This is really not much different from the economics of the “exotic” mortgages underwritten in the last housing bubble. As the economy worsens, there will be sudden wave of first-time buyer Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage defaults. I would bet that day of reckoning is not too far off in the future.

The Fed has fueled the greatest housing price inflation in history. In may cities, housing prices have gone parabolic. But to make matters worse, this is not being fueled by demand which exceeds supply.

After all, we know that homebuilders have been cutting back on new home starts for several months now. Price inflation is the predominant characteristic of this housing bubble. The price rise since 2012 has been a function of the Fed’s enormous monetary stimulus and not supply/demand-driven transactions.

The effect of the Fed’s money printing and the Government’s mortgage guarantee programs has been to fill the “void” left by the demise of the private-issuer subprime mortgages in the mid-2000’s housing bubble. The FHA has been underwriting 3.5% down payment mortgages since 2008. In 2008, the FHA’s share of the mortgage market was 2%. Today it’s about 20%. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac allow 3% down payment mortgages for people with credit scores as low as 620. 620 is considered sub-prime. On a case-by-case basis, they’ll approve mortgage applications with sub-620 credit scores. Oh, and about that 3% down payment. The Government will allow “sweat” equity as part of the down payment from “moderate to low income” borrowers. Moreover, the cash portion of the down payment can come from gifts, grants or “community seconds.” A “community second” is a subordinated (second-lien) mortgage that is issued to the buyer to use as a source of cash for the down payment.

Again, I want to emphasize this point because it’s a fact that you’ll never hear discussed by the mainstream media:  The Government mortgage programs resemble and have replaced the reckless “exotic” mortgage programs of the mid-2000’s housing bubble.

To compound the problem, most big cities are being hit with an avalanche of new apartment buildings.  In Denver, the newer “seasoned” buildings are loading up front-end incentives to compete for tenants.  There’s another tidal wave of new inventory that will hit the market over the next six months.  This scene is being replayed in all of the traditional bubble cities.   As supply drives down the cost of rent, the millennials who can barely qualify for a mortgage that sucks up more than 50% of their pre-tax income will revert back to renting .  This will in turn drive down the price of homes.

Flippers who are leveraging up to pay top-dollar will get stuck with their attempted housing “day-trade.”  Studies have shown that it was flippers who were unable to unload their homes who triggered the 2008 collapse, as they “jingle-mailed” the keys back to the greedy bankers who funded the “margin debt” for their failed trade.

It may not look exactly the same as late 2007 right now.   But there’s no question that it will be deja vu all over again by this time next year…

The above commentary and analysis is directly from last week’s Short Seller’s Journal. In the latest issue I presented three ways to take advantage of the coming collapse in the housing and mortgage market, one of which is already down 10%.  If you would like to find out more about this service, please click here:  Short Seller’s Journal subscription info.

I look forward to any and every SSJ. Especially at the moment as I really do think your work and thesis on how this plays out is being more than validated at the moment with the ongoing dismal data coming out, both here in the U.K, and in the U.S.   – James

Peak Housing Bubble: The Big Short Is Back

Wash, rinse, repeat. The American public never gets tired of the destructive abuse it suffers from Wall St. The deep sub-prime mortgage market is roaring back and, with it, the nuclear bomb-laden derivatives that triggered round one of The Big Short de facto financial system collapse:

It’s an astonishing comeback for the roughly $70 billion market for synthetic CDOs, which rose to infamy during the crisis and then faded into obscurity after nearly destroying the financial system. But perhaps the most surprising twist is Citigroup itself. Less than a decade ago, the bank was forced into a taxpayer bailout after suffering huge losses on similar types of securities tied to mortgages.

Citigroup is leading the charge this time around, instead of Bear Stearns and Lehman:   Citi Revives The Trade That Blew Up The System In 2008.   Oh, and do not be mistaken, the financial “safeguards” legislated by Congress and widely heralded by Obama and Elizabeth Warren are completely useless.

The commentary below is a guest post from a reader and Short Seller’s Journal subscriber who is a 25-year subprime lending professional. Below, he shares his wisdom of experience in explaining why the latest deep subprime mortgage products hitting the market is the definitive “bell” that rings when a market bubble is about to pop.

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Before the Lehman crash I was part of the brokering and banking system that built billion dollar pools of commercial cow manure loans we farmed out to Lehman Bros. JPM, CIT, Zion’s Bank, Bank of the West and others did the same.

Lehman was the poster child. They stretched the envelope of mortgage insanity. Their failure was the instant death knell of that terrible scam. Every originator of these pools and brokering conduits failed. Some disappeared in 24 hours. But like the undead, these NINJA warriors are back from the grave just in time to profit from the biggest housing bubble in human history.

While “The Big Short” bubble/bust wiped out the industry, the overseers walked away collectively with billions and no one went to jail other than a few scape-goated underlings. But like the survivors of a 7 year mortgage apocalypse cycle of feast or famine, those who made it are back are more corrupt than ever.

No one learns from these mistakes. Bankers and brokers are like “Chucky” in the “Child’s Play” horror movies. It wasn’t more than a few days after Lehman imploded that the entire fraudulent subprime commercial and residential loan edifice came down. The commercial bank loan system shut down for nearly a year. Banks failed by the hundreds. Thousands more were propped up with TARP and HARP.

What got me going is that the latest product being pimped by Citadel Capital reminds me of a classic bucket shop operation with all the worst elements of gangster loan sharks, knee breakers and “vig” of 5% a week. Perhaps one of the most insidious aspects of the subprime business being originated by Citadel is the manner in which they get around the legislation implemented under Obama via Dodd-Frank that was supposed to protect the public from predatory lending and Wall Street fraud. Citadel specifically has a lending program that is called “Outside Dodd Frank.”

Citadel really caught my eye. There’s a wealth of information on Citadel Servicing Corporation, some from their web page and some from the ‘net itself. While the mainstream media heralds the merits of the Dodd Frank legislation, there are large loopholes in the mortgage broker/banker regulations that circumvent the alleged “safeguards.”

This mortgage origination program, which is disguised as a “business loan program” was sent to me by Citadel Capital, a relatively new and rapidly growing residential and commercial lender. Citadel Capital is part of the Citadel LLC hedge fund empire.

As a commercial loan broker for the last 25 years, I can tell by the rates being charged for these loans that the “professionals” at Citadel hold their nose while they package the junk paper and send them as “mortgage pools” to Wall Street. The Citadel junk is much like the old sub prime NINJA crap that filled portfolios from coast to coast.

Citadel doesn’t want these loans to ripen and turn sour, defaulting while they still sit on Citadel’s balance sheet waiting to be shipped to Wall Street’s financial sausage factory. It’s likely they sit on Citadel’s shelf for no more than a month or so and, like smuggled heroin, peddled to the next middle man in the chain for cutting, diluting and selling to the end user.

Most companies like Citadel borrow on wholesale lines capital provided by yield-starved pension funds. These funds are on the hook for as long as it takes Citadel to churn them like rancid butter, as they aggregate a loan pool big enough to interest Wall Street into securitizing the pooled loans into the infamous CDO’s (collateralized debt obligations). These are the financial nuclear weapons that blew up Wall Street in 2008.

The big fish,TBTF banks bailed out by Obama and Bernanke, take the loan pools and repackage them into risk-return-tiered mortgage-backed trusts. They then piece out the tranches to their clients – yield-starved institutional investors and greedy high net worth sitting ducks. Some of the tranches of these financial sausages are given ratings from Moody’s and S&P which are significantly higher than they merit in return for a small part of the “vig” involved. You are naive if you thought the post-2008 financial “reform” eliminated this important step in the entire process.

The money involved is enormous. The wholesalers – entities like banks and investment funds who provide “warehouse” lines of credit used to fund the loans – get a 3-4% spread as their fee on funds loaned.  When funded, these loans are priced to give the aggregator such as Citadel premiums of 5-9% or more, depending on the various ingredients stirred in to “juice” the yield. These premiums are apportioned to the various parties involved in funding the mortgages and bringing borrowers to the table. The mortgage brokers offer up their clients like lambs to the slaughter, concerned with one thing, collecting the points paid by the borrower plus handsome rebates from Citadel where allowed by state or federal statute.

There’s even bigger “vig” for bringing the borrowers to the party. Citadel brokers and outside mortgage brokers can make up to 8-9% on the amount borrowed depending on both the risk-profile of the borrower and the willingness of the borrower to accept various “bells and whistles” which ultimately increase the cost of the loan. But these hidden fees are not paid up-front by the borrower. Instead, they’re built into the high rate charged to the borrower. The Citadel “group” gets paid when the loan is part of a pool that is marked up in value and sold to Wall Street as material for its financial sausage.

Speaking of those “bells and whistles,” which substantially increase the cost of the mortgage to the borrower, and having seen how these loans were crafted in the past, I know that any one of these “innocuous” terms written into the fine print can increase the cost to the borrower by 1 percent or more. To make matters worse, these are the terms that make it nearly impossible for the borrower to make payments for more than a short period of time.

The borrowers stagger into loan offices like Dead Men Zombies with 500 FICOs and nary a pulse. Many are remnants of the last sub prime crash, walking wounded waiting to be fleeced again. They provide some bank statements, often photo-shopped by the borrower or the broker. They offer up hand-me-down, shop worn camp fire stories of woe that get better with each telling. The greed-driven broker feigns a look of sorrow and understanding. If I’ve heard 1 story I’ve heard 100.

Even if they’ve defaulted on the last 3 loans, filed Chapter 11 or 22 and stiffed every creditor in town, somehow they’ll convince the underwriter they’ve had their St Francis of Assisi debt moment and will never be late again. Listen up. There’s a reason they have a 500 FICO. They’re deadbeats with a real estate deal to lend on. They’ll willingly agree to the high-priced terms in order to get back in the game of buying and flipping.

The end investor buys this tranche and yet still might carve it up like a hog, selling some slices here and there; repriced and re-rated by the rating agencies to cover the stink. They might keep the best parts for themselves while dumping the low cuts and offal to a new tier of overseas zombie, yield-starved investors.

The science behind these mortgage conveyor belts was perfected 35 years ago. The bankers pulling the levers will never be prosecuted; just fines; pittance by the DOJ. The brokers will never look back. They’re unlikely to be prosecuted except for the rare ones; those who get caught because they stayed in the game too long or didn’t cover their tracks.

IRD’s note:  Citadel is not the only purveyor of these financial time-bombs. There’s several “bucket shop” deep sub-prime mortgage generators springing to life across the country. As an example, there’s a company called SCL Mortgage (“SCL” stands for “Special Circumstances Lending”) based out of Castle Rock, Colorado.  Castle Rock is a “poster child” city for the previous and current housing bubble.  The Company was founded and is led by a one of  the deep subprime “NINJA warriors” of the previous  “Big Short” era,  as are several of his employees.

“Things Have Been Going Up For Too Long”

I have to believe that the Fed injected a large amount of liquidity into the financial system on Sunday evening. The 1.08% jump in the S&P 500, given the fundamental backdrop of economic, financial and geopolitical news should be driving the stock market relentlessly lower. The amount of Treasury debt outstanding spiked up $318 billion to $20.16 trillion. I’m sure the push up in stocks and the smashing of gold were both intentional as a means of leading the public to believe that there’s no problem with the Government’s debt going parabolic.

Blankfein made the above title comment in reference to all of the global markets at a business conference at the Handlesblatt business conference in Frankfurt, Germany on Wednesday. He also said, “When yields on corporate bonds are lower than dividends on stocks – that unnerves me.” In addition to Blankfein warning about stock and bond markets, Deutsche Bank’s CEO, John Cryan, warned that, “We are now seeing signs of bubbles in more and more parts of the capital market where we wouldn’t have expected them.”

It is rare, if not unprecedented, the CEO’s of the some of the largest and most corrupt banks in the world speak frankly about the financial markets. But these subtle expressions of concern are their way of setting up the ability to look back and say, “I told you so.” The analysis below is an excerpt from the latest issue of the Short Seller’s Journal. In that issue I present a retail stock short idea plus include my list of my top-10 short ideas. To learn more, click here: Short Seller’s Journal information.

In truth, it does not take a genius or an inside professional to see that the markets have bubbled up to unsustainable levels. One look at GS’ stock chart tells us why Blankfein is concerned (Deutsche Bank’s stock chart looks similar):

The graph above shows the relative performance of GS vs. the XLF financial ETF and the SPX. Over the last 5 years, GS stock has outperformed both the XLF and the SPX. But, as you can see, over the last 3 months GS stock not only has underperformed its peers and the broader stock market, but it has technically broken down. Since the 2009 market bottom, the financials have been one of the primary drivers of the bull market, especially the Too BIg To Fail banks. That’s because the TBTFs were the primary beneficiaries of the Fed’s QE.

The fact that the big bank stocks like GS and DB are breaking down reflects a breakdown in the financial system at large. DB was on the ropes 2016, when its stock dropped from a high $54 in 2014 to $12 by September. It was apparent to keen observers that Germany’s Central Bank, the Bundesbank, took measures to prevent DB from collapsing. Its stock traded back up to $21 by late January this year and closed Friday at $16, down 24% from its 2017 high-close.

This could well be a signal that the supportive effect of western Central Bank money printing is wearing off. But I also believe it reflects the smart money leaving the big Wall Street stocks ahead of the credit problems percolating, especially in commercial real estate, auto and credit card debt. The amount of derivatives outstanding has surpassed the amount outstanding the last time around in 2008, despite the promise that the Dodd-Frank legislation would prevent that build-up in derivatives from repeating. It’s quite possible that the financial damage inflicted by the two hurricanes will be the final trigger-point of the next crisis/collapse. That’s the possible message I see reflected in the relative performance of the financials, especially the big Wall Street banks.

This would explain why the XLF financials ETF has been lagging the broad stocks indices.  It’s well below its 52-week high and was below its 200 dma until today’s “miracle bounce” in stocks.

Again, I believe the really smart money sniffs a derivatives problem coming. Too be sure, the double catastrophic hurricane hit, an extraordinarily low probability event, could well be the event that triggers a derivatives explosion. Derivatives are notoriously priced too low. This is done by throwing out the probability of extremely rare events from the derivative pricing models. Incorporating the probability of the extremely rare occurrences inflate the cost of derivatives beyond the affordability of most risk “sellers,” like insurance companies.

Let me explain. When an insurance company wants to lay off some of the risk of insuring against an event that would trigger a big pay-out, it buys risk-protection – or “sells” that risk – using derivatives from a counter-party – the “risk buyer” – willing to bet that the event triggering the payout will not occur. If the event does not occur, the counter-party (risk buyer) keeps the money paid to it to take on the risk. If the event is triggered, the counter-party is responsible for making an “insurance payment” to the insurance company in an amount that is pre-defined in the derivatives contract.

Unfortunately it is the extremely low probability events that cause the most financial damage (this is known as “tail risk” if you’ve seen reference to this). Wall Street knows this and, unfortunately, does not incorporate the truth cost – or expected value – of the rare event from occurring into the cost of the derivative. Wall Street plays the game of “let’s pretend this will never happen” because it makes huge fees from brokering these derivatives. When the rare event occurs, it causes the “risk buyer” to default because the cost of making the payout exceeds the “risk buyer’s” ability to honor the contract. This is why Long Term Capital blew up in 1998, it’s why Enron blew up, it’s why the 2008 de facto financial collapse occurred. We are unfortunately watching history repeat. This is the what occurred in the “The Big Short.” The hedge funds that bet against the subprime mortgages knew that the cost of buying those bets was extremely cheap relative the risk being wrong.

If the hurricanes do not trigger a financial crisis, the massive re-inflation of subprime debt – and the derivative bets associated with that – are back to the 2008 levels.

The optimism connected to the stock market is staggering. According to recent survey, 80% of Americans believe that stock prices will not be lower in the next 12 months. This is the highest level of optimism since the fall of 2007. The SPX topped out just as this metric hit its high-point. The only time this level of optimism was higher in the history of the survey was in early 2000.

Wave Good-Bye To The Dollar’s Reserve Status

“Paper Money Eventually Returns To Its Intrinsic Value – Zero” – Voltaire

Set aside all other financial, economic and political concerns continuously shoved in our collective faces by the mainstream media.  It’s a distraction – to a large degree intentional.

These are the ONLY events that matter right now:    this, “China Begins To Reset The World’s Currency System,” and this,   “Venezuela Is About to Ditch the Dollar in Major Blow to US: Here’s Why It Matters.”

Once the dollar is no longer regarded or used as the reserve currency, third-world poverty will engulf everyone in this country below the upper half percent wealth stratum…except those who possess a fair amount of physical bullion.  I just bought more gold and silver coins from a friend yesterday who had an uncontrollable urge to get their house painted and needed to sell some to me to fund it.  It won’t matter what the house looks like in a couple years but they would never take my word on that.

The level of assumed entitlement in this country by the middle class is absurd…

All the money and all the banks in Christendom cannot control credit…Money is gold and nothing else – JP Morgan’s 1912 Congressional testimony on “the justification of Wall Street

Trump has suggested permanently removing the Treasury debt-ceiling. The Treasury debt-ceiling is the last remaining barrier to the ability of the Fed and the Government to create an infinite amount of fiat currency.  Debt that is issued behaves exactly like printed currency until that debt is repaid.  The non-repayment and continued issuance of the amount of debt outstanding is the critical point to understanding this concept.  Since the early 1970’s, the Treasury debt outstanding has grown continuously.

Printed Treasury certificates created in this manner behave no differently than printed currency. This is a reality that economists completely ignore.  Most analysts who think they understand monetary economics look upon this concept with disdain. The continuous issuance of an increasing amount of credit of any type is no different that outright currency printing (until the amount of outstanding credit is paid off, which it never has been since the demise of Bretton Woods in 1971).

Removing the debt-ceiling gives the U.S. Government, in conjunction with the Fed, the power to print an unlimited amount of Treasury notes. Historically, a large portion of these notes have been funded with recycled petro-dollars. The “QE” implemented by the Fed funded $2.5 trillion of the Treasury issuance.  I don’t know where the funding for the next round will come from unless the Fed prints a lot more money.  I suspect it will. The price of gold (and silver) spiked-up on Friday in correlation with the announcement of Trump’s proposal.  That’s your warning shot

The Coming Run On Banks And Pensions

“There are folks that are saying you know what, I don’t care, I’m going to lock in my retirement now and get out while I can and fight it as a retiree if they go and change the retiree benefits,” he said.  – Executive Director for the Kentucky Association of State Employees,  Proposed Pension Changes Bring Fears Of State Worker Exodus

The public awareness of the degree to which State pension funds are underfunded has risen considerably over the past year.  It’s a problem that’s easy to hide as long as the economy is growing and State tax receipts grow.  It’s a catastrophe when the economic conditions deteriorate and tax revenue flattens or declines, as is occurring now.

The quote above references a report of a 20% jump in Kentucky State worker retirements in August after it was reported that a consulting group recommended that the State restructure its State pension system.   I personally know a teacher who left her job in order to cash completely out of her State employee pension account in Colorado (Colorado PERA).  She knows the truth.

But the problem with under-funding is significantly worse than reported.  Pensions are run like Ponzi schemes.  As long as the amount of cash coming in to the fund is equal to or exceeds beneficiary payouts, the scheme can continue.   But for years, due to poor investment decisions and Fed monetary policies, beneficiary payouts have been swamping investment returns and fund contributions.

Pension funds have notoriously over-marked their illiquid risky investments and understated their projected actuarial investment returns in order to hide the degree to which they are under-funded.  Most funds currently assume 7% to 8% future rates of return. Unfortunately, the ability to generate returns like that have been impossible with interest rates near zero.

In the quest to compensate for low fixed income returns, pension funds have plowed money into stocks, private equity funds and illiquid and very risky investments,  like subprime auto loan securities and commercial real estate.   Some pension funds have as much as 20% of their assets in private equity.  When the stock market inevitably cracks, it will wipe pensions out.

As an example of pensions over-estimating their future return calculations, the State of Minnesota adjusted the net present value of its future liabilities from 8% down to 4.6% (note:  this is the same as lowering its projected ROR from 8% to 4.6%).   The rate of under-funding went from 20% to 47%.

I can guarantee you with my life that if an independent auditor spent the time required to implement a bona fide market value mark-to-market on that fund’s illiquid assets, the amount of under-funding would likely jump up to at least 70%.  “Bona fide mark-to-market” means, “at what price will you buy this from me now with cash upfront?”

For instance, what is the true market price at which the fund could sell its private equity fund investments?   Harvard is trying to sell $2.5 billion in real estate and private equity investments.   The move was announced in May and there have not been any material updates since then other than a quick press release in early July that an investment fund was looking at the assets offered.  I would suggest that the bid for these assets is either lower than expected or non-existent other than a pennies on the dollar  “option value” bid.

At some point current pension fund beneficiaries are going to seek an upfront cash-out. If enough beneficiaries begin to inquire about this, it could trigger a run on pensions and drastic measures will be implemented to prevent this.

Similarly, per the sleuthing of Wolf Richter, ECB is seeking from the European Commission the authority to implement a moratorium on cash withdrawals from banks at its discretion. The only reason for this is concern over the precarious financial condition of the European banking system.  And it’s not just some cavalier Italian and Spanish banks.  I would suggest that Deutsche Bank, at any given moment, is on the ropes.

But make no mistake. The U.S. banks are in no better condition than their European counter-parts.  If Europe is moving toward enabling the ECB to close the bank windows ahead of an impending financial crisis, the Fed is likely already working on a similar proposal.

All it will take is an extended 10-20% draw-down in the stock market to trigger a massive run on custodial assets – pensions, banks and brokerages.  This includes the IRA’s.  I would suggest that one of the primary motivations behind the Fed/PPT’s  no-longer-invisible hand propping up the stock and fixed income markets is the knowledge of the pandemonium that will ensue if the stock market were allowed to embark on a true price discovery mission.

Like every other attempt throughout history to control the laws of economics and perpetuate Ponzi schemes, the current attempt by Central Banks globally will end with a spectacular collapse.   I would suggest that this is one of the driving forces underlying the repeated failure by the western Central Banks to drive the price of gold lower since mid-December 2015.   I would also suggest that it would be a good idea to keep as little of your wealth as possible tied up in banks and other financial “custodians.” The financial system is one giant “Roach Motel” – you check your money in but eventually you’ll never get it out.

Gold Breakout Signals A Financial Hurricane Coming Onshore

I found it amusing that Mohamed El-Erian wrote an opinion piece for Bloomberg which asserted that gold is not much of a “safe haven these days.”  His thesis was entirely devoid of material facts.  His underlying rationale was that safe haven capital was flowing into cryptocurrencies rather than gold.  I guess if one has a western-centric view of the markets, that argument is a modicum of validity.  However the scope of the analysis omits that fact that the entire eastern hemisphere is converting fiat currency at a record pace into physical gold that requires bona fide delivery outside of western custodial roach motels.

Elijah Johnson invited me onto his podcast sponsored by Silver Doctors to discuss why the financial upheaval beginning to engulf the United States will be much worse than the 2008 “Big Short” crisis.  We also discussed by the precious market has always been and will continue be the best place to seek shelter from coming financial hurricane:

If you are looking for ways to take advantage of the next move higher in the precious metals bull market, you can find out more information about the Mining Stock Journal using this link:  Mining Stock Journal subscription information.

“Stock Market?” What Stock “Market?”

“There are no markets, only interventions” – Chris Powell, Treasurer and Director of GATA

To refer to the trading of stocks as a “market” is not only an insult to any dictionary in the world that carries the definition of “market,” but it’s an insult the to intelligence of anyone who understands what a market is and the role that a market plays in a free economic system.  By the way, without free markets you can’t have a free democratic political system.

The U.S. stock is rigged beyond definition. By this I mean that interference with the stock market by the Federal Reserve in conjunction with the U.S. Government via the Treasury’s Working Group on Financial Markets – collectively, the “Plunge Protection Team” – via “quantitative easing” and the Exchange Stabilization Fund has destroyed the natural price discovery mechanism that is the hallmark of a free market.  Capitalism does not work without free markets.

Currently a geopolitically belligerent country is launching ICBM missiles over a G-7 country (Japan).   In response to this belligerence, the even more geopolitically belligerent U.S. is testing nuclear bombs in Nevada.  The world has not been closer to the use of nuclear weapons since Truman used them on Japan.  The stock markets globally should be in free-fall if the price discovery mechanism was functioning properly.

To compound the problem domestically in the U.S., the financial system is now staring down a potential financial catastrophe that no one is discussing.  The financial exposure to the tragedy in Houston is conservatively estimated at several hundred billion.  Insurance companies off-load a lot of risk exposure using derivatives.  The potential counter-party default risk connected to this could dwarf the defaults that triggered the AIG and Goldman Sachs de facto collapse in 2008.   The stock “market” should be down at least 20% just from the probability of this occurrence.  Forget the hurricane issue, Blackrock estimates that insurance investment portfolios could lose half a trillion in value in the next big market sell-off.  Toxicity + toxicity does not equal purification.  The two problems combined are the equivalent of financial nuclear melt-down.

Last night after the news had circulated of the missile fired by North Korea, the S&P futures dropped over 20 points and gold shot up $15.  As I write this, the Dow is up 50 points, the SPX is up over 3 points and gold has been taken down $20 from its overnight highs.  Yet the two catastrophic risks above have not changed in potential severity.   Pushing around the markets is another propaganda tool used by the Government in an attempt to control the public’s perception.  In the words of the great Jim Sinclair, “management of perception economics,” or “MOPE.”

The good news is that, while the systemic puppeteers can control the markets in general, they can’t control the individual parts.  There has been a small fortune to be made shorting individual stocks.  Today, for instance, Best Buy reported earnings that predictably “beat” the Street estimates but it warned about future sales and earnings.  The stock has plunged 11% from yesterday’s close.  The Short Seller’s Journal featured Best Buy as a short in the May 28th issue at $59.  The target for this stock is $12.50, where it was in 2013.  I recommended some January 2019 puts as high probability trade to hit a home run on this idea.

Other recent winners include Chipotle, General Electric, Tesla (short at $380), Bed Bath Beyond in December at $47 and may others.  The more the PPT interferes in the markets to keep the major indices propped up, the more we can make from shorting horrendously overvalued stocks that can’t hide from reality. There’s very few investors and traders shorting the market, mostly out of fear and the inability to do fundamental research.  The Short Seller’s Journal focuses on the areas of the stock market that are no-brainer shorts right now.  You learn more about this product here:  Subscription information.

I really truly look forward to every Monday morning when I get to read through your SSJ. Again, last nights one was great. I have added to the BZH short position and I have had a lot of success adding to CCA each time it has tagged its 200 dma from below. I have done it four times now and each time it has sold off hard within the next several days. I plan to do the same again if it tags it again this time as it has bounced again.  – subscriber feedback received earlier this week (James from England)