Category Archives: Housing Market

Orwell’s Theorem: The Opposite of Truth Is The Truth

All propaganda is lies, even when one is telling the truth. – George Orwell

A reader commented that the number of corporate lay-offs in America is escalating, yet the unemployment rate seems to keep going lower.  Part of the reason for this is that the 2008 collapse “cleansed” corporate america’s payrolls of a large number of workers who are eligible to file for unemployment benefits.

The Labor Force is derived from the number of people employed + the number of people looking for work.  To continue receiving jobless benefits during the defined period in which fired workers can receive them, they have to demonstrate that they are looking for work.  Ergo, they are considered part of the Labor Force.  Once the jobless benefits expire, they are removed from the Labor Force unless an enterprising Census Bureau pollster happens to get one on the phone and they answer “yes” when asked if they are/were actively looking for work.   Those who do not qualify for jobless benefits more often than not are removed from the Labor Force tally.  This is why, last month for example, over 600,000 people were removed from the Labor Force.

Reducing the Labor Force de facto reduces the unemployment rate.  Thus, there’s an inverse relationship between layoffs and the unemployment rate.  It’s an Orwellian utopia for the elitists.

Today’s stock market is a great example of the “opposite of truth is the truth” theorem.   It was reported by Moody’s that credit card charge-offs have risen at to their highest rate since 2009 – LINK.  This means that defaults are rising at an even faster rate, as finance companies use accounting gimmicks to defer actual charge-offs as long as possible.  A debt that is charged-off has probably been in non-pay status for at least 9-12 months.

The same story has been developing in auto loans. The 60+ day delinquency rate for subprime auto loans is at 4.51%, just 0.18% below the peak level hit in 2008. The 60+ day delinquency rate for prime auto loans is 0.54%, just 0.28% below the 2008 peak. In terms of outright defaults, subprime auto debt is just a shade under 12%, which is about 2.5% below its 2008 peak. Prime loans are defaulting at a 1.52% rate, about 200 basis points (2%) below the 2008 peak. However, judging from the rise in the 60+ day delinquency rate, I would expect the rate of default on prime auto loans to rise quickly this year.

Now here’s the kicker: In Q3 2008 there was $800 billion in auto loans outstanding. Currently there’s $1.2 trillion, or 50% more. In other words, we’re not in crisis mode yet and the delinquency/default rates on subprime auto debt is near the levels at which it peaked in 2008. These numbers are going to get a lot worse this year and the amount of debt involved is 50% greater. But the real problem will be, once again, the derivatives connected to this debt. It would be a mistake to expect that this problem will not begin to show up in the mortgage market.

Amusingly, the narrative pitched by Wall Street and the sock-puppet financial media analysts is that the credit underwriting standards have only recently been “skewed” toward sub-prime. This is an outright fairytale that is accepted as truth (see Orwell’s Theorem). The issuance of credit to the general population has been skewed toward sub-prime since 2008. It’s the underwriting standards that were loosened.

The definition of non-sub-prime was broadened considerably after 2008.  Many borrowers considered sub-prime prior to 2008 were considered “prime” after 2008. The FHA was the first to pounce on this band-wagon, as it’s 3% down-payment mortgage program enabled the FHA to go from a 2% market share 2008 to a 20% market share of the mortgage market.

Capital One is a good proxy for lower quality credit card and auto loan issuance. While Experian reports an overall default of 3.3% on credit cards, COF reported a 5.14% charge-off rate for its domestically issued credit cards. COF’s Q1 2017 charge-off rate is up 48 basis points (0.48%) from Q4 2016 and up 100 basis points (1%) from Q1 2016. The charge-off rate alone increased at an increasing rate at Capital One over the last 4 quarters. This means the true delinquency rates are likely surging at even higher rates. This would explain why COF is down 17% since March 1st despite a 2.1% rise in the S&P 500 during the same time-period.

To circle back to Orwell’s Theorem, today the S&P 500 is hitting a new record high. But rather than the FANGs + APPL driving the move, the push higher is attributable to a jump in the financial sector. This is despite the fact that there were several news reports released in the last 24 hours which should have triggered another sell-off in the financial sector. Because  the stock market has become a primary propaganda tool, it’s likely that the Fed/Plunge Protection Team was in the market pushing the financials higher in order to “communicate” the message that the negative news connected to the sector is good news.  Afer all, look at the performance of the financials today!

Days like today are great opportunities to set-up shorts. Most (not all) of the ideas presented in the Short Seller’s Journal this year have been/are winners.  As an example Sears (SHLD) is down 39% since it was presented on April 2nd.   I’ll present two great short ideas in the financial sector plus a retailer in the next issue.  You can learn more about the Short Seller’s Journal here:  SSJ Info.

Portrait Of A Stock Bubble

Just like the Dutch Tulip Bulb bubble, internet stock bubble, and the  mid-2000’s financial asset bubble, the current stock market is no longer  a price-discovery mechanism.   It has deteriorated into a venue in which Central Bank-manufctured liquidity – in the form of printed currency and credit creation – has flooded into the system, enabling investors to chase the few stocks rising in price at the highest velocity (click to enlarge, graph on the left sourced from Jesse’s Cafe Americain).

The drivers of this modern day Dutch Tulip phenomenon are the so-called “Five Horsemen” stocks – AAPL, AMZN, FB, GOOG,MSFT. To that grouping I toss in TSLA.  Among all of those bubble stocks, TSLA has become, by far, the most disconnected from any remote intrinsic, fundamental value.  AAPL alone is responsible for 25% of the YTD gain in the Dow and 13% of the YTD gain in the S&P 500. AAPL’s revenues and operating income have declined over the last three years (2014 to 2016).  More often than not, even on days when the S&P/Dow are red, most if not all of the Five Horsemen + TSLA  seem to close green.

Eventually, the music will stop and this “no-price-discovery-possible” market will become a “can’t find a seat” market.  The abruptness and rate of decline will be breathtaking. Perhaps only matched by the outflow of capital from the cryptos by “investors” who leveraged up their cryptocurrency holdings to throw more “money” at TSLA.

The good news is that a lot of money can be made shorting stocks.  Since April, stocks like IBM, GS, SHLD, BZH and GE presented in the Short Seller’s Journal as shorts have outperformed the SPX/Dow.  SHLD is down 47% in 7 weeks – a home run.  BZH is down 18% in three weeks.  In the next issue, a “funky” financial stock will be featured that has the potential to drop at least 50% over the next 12 months if not sooner.

No one knows what event will trigger the stock bubble collapse.  One possibility is the ongoing financial implosion of the State of Illinois.  In stock bubble periods, all news is imbued with “the glass is half full.”  As an example, Illinois’ credit rating was reduced recently to BB+/Baa3.  That is a junk rating. But the media characterizes it as a “the lowest investment grade” rating – i.e. the “glass is half full.”

Both rating agencies never downgraded Enron to junk until it was weeks from Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  Illinois is on the brink of financial disaster.   See this article as an example:  Illinois Owes Billions.  This problem is absolutely dwarfed by Illinios’ public pension problem, which Illinois underfunded by a couple hundred billion (officially about $130 billion but that’s not on a true mark-to-market basis).

When the music finally stops, the perma-bubble bulls will be looking for that proverbial “seat” in all the wrong places.  But the next stampede of capital will be out of stocks, bonds, cryptos and “investment” homes and into physical gold, silver and mining stocks.

The Government Is Desperate To Re-Stimulate Housing Sales

The Fed printed $2.5 trillion to prop up the mortgage market and the Government “refurbished” all of the mortgage programs it sponsors (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, VHA, USDA) in a way that positioned the Government/taxpayer as the new subprime lender of choice.  The two programs combined inflated a new housing bubble – one that ended up fueling housing price inflation  more than sales volume.   The FHA program was the first program to replace the collapsed subprime mortgage lenders of the mid-2000’s with a 3.5% down payment program. It’s market share of mortgage underwriting rocketed from 2% in 2008 to around 20% currently.

As home sales began to falter in mid-2014, the Government rolled out a revision to the Fannie and Freddie programs in early 2015 that reduced the down payment requirement from 5% to 3% and reduced the monthly cost of mortgage insurance.  The VHA and, believe it or not, the USDA (U.S. Dept of Agriculture) programs provide low interest rate mortgages with zero down payment.

Fannie and Freddie permit the borrower to “borrow” the down payment or receive down payment assistance from a home seller willing make price/fee concessions in an amount up to the 3% down payment.  In other words, under FNM/FRE, a homebuyer can close a conventional FNM/FRE mortgage with zero down payment.   These alterations to the taxpayer guaranteed mortgage programs provided another short-term bounce in home sales volume and sent home prices soaring.

The housing market is headed south again.  Just in time, the Government is making it even easier for a potential buyer to load up more debt to leverage into the American dream. Fannie Mae is raising the debt-to-income ratio on its 3% down payment product from 43% to 50%.  DTI is the total household monthly debt payments divided by pre-tax income. While the credit standards are not quite as insane as during the last housing bubble, the current mortgage underwriting standards facilitated by the Government do not allow any cushion for household financial instability. This is especially true considering more than 50% of all households can’t write a $500 check to cover an emergency.

The latest iteration from the Government  reeks of desperation.  But wait, it gets even better. Some mortgage companies are now offering a 1% down payment mortgage that includes a 2% “gift” from the mortgage company in order to conform to the 3% FNM/FRE underwriting convention. The mortgage lender pays the 2% portion of the down payment.

However, this is not a free lunch “gift.” The mortgage lender assesses a higher rate of interest to the borrower than would be otherwise available from a standard FNM/FRE 3% down-payment mortgage. The mortgage lender, as the servicer of the mortgage, keeps the difference between the interest rate on the mortgage paid by the borrower and the amount of interest payment “passed-thru” to FNM or FRE. Over the life of the mortgage, assuming the borrower does not default, the mortgage company makes substantially more than was “gifted” to the borrower.

If a homebuyer does not have enough capital to make a 3% down payment, the odds are that the buyer also does not have the financial strength to maintain the cost of home ownership. Home-buyers who are “gifted” 2% of their down-payment do not need down-payment assistance, they need earning assistance.

This is going to end badly, especially for the taxpayer.  Obama promised after his mult-trillion dollar Wall Street bailout that the Government would not bail out the banks again. This “promise” guarantees that it will happen again.  Only this time the source of financial nuclear melt-down will be many:  mortgages, auto loans, unsecured household debt (credit cards) and student loans.   Oh ya, then there’s the derivatives. The sell-off in the banking sector since March 1st reflects the market’s awareness of the rising degree of risk lurking in the financial system from an orgy of reckless debt creation.

I don’t know when the this giant Ponzi bubble will blow, no one does, I just know that it will be worse than 2008 when it does blow.  The balloon latex is stretched so tight at this point that any systemic “vibration” not anticipated by the Fed could impale the thing.

The above commentary was partially excerpted from IRD’s latest issue of the Short Seller’s Journal.  Two financial sector stocks and one auto sector stock, all three of which have been falling and could easily get cut in half from their current level by year-end with or without a market “accident” were presented.  To find about more, click here:  SSJ Subscriber Information. 

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

 

There IS No B.S. Like The BLS

Bureau of Labor Statistics. It has an Orwellian ring to it. I guess it should stand for “Bureau of Lying Statistics.” A quick glance at today’s non-farm payroll report suggests that the economy likely lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in May. The headline 138k number was well below Wall St’s consensus estimate and below even the lowest estimate (140k).

The highly deceitful “Birth/Death” model gave the BLS 238k “newly created” jobs from alleged new business formation in excess of jobs lost from failed businesses in May. This number is shown before it’s sent through the BLS’ “X‑13ARIMA‑SEATS software developed by the U.S. Census Bureau.” No one knows exactly how that statistical sausage grinder produces the alleged jobs added and lost by new business formation – not even the Census Bureau. Then that number is blended into the overall headline number.

In truth, it’s quite likely that the U.S. economy lost jobs in May. A report showing less working age people employed would be a better fit with the state of the economy as reflected by private-sector reports, such as retail sales and construction/capital formation spending. The BLS covers up this fact by “finding” a large number of “new” part-time jobs to offset the loss of 367,000 full-time jobs.

And for its coup de grace, the BLS reports that 608,000 people in the working age population decide to stop looking for a job, for whatever reason, and quit working. They are no longer considered to be part of the labor force. This concept makes absolutely no sense when privately-generated surveys show that less than 50% of all households do not have the ability to write a check for $500 in the event of an emergency. Perhaps 608,000 people just decided that they were tired of buying food and paying bills and quit working altogether.

Regardless of how you want to slice and dice the phony numbers, the “labor force participation rate” fell to 62.7% of the working age population. This means that 37.3% of the entire U.S. population between the ages of 15 and 64 decided that they couldn’t be bothered with working or looking for a job. That metric alone completely invalidates anything the BLS reports about the U.S. “employment situation.” Perhaps a better title for the monthly report would be “The Government’s Interpretation of U.S. Employment.”

A Stock Market Crash: A Matter Of “When,” Not “If”

Given group-think and the determination of policy makers to do ‘whatever it takes’ to prevent the next market ‘crash,’ we think that the low-volatility levitation magic act of stocks and bonds will exist until the disenchanting moment when it does not. And then all hell will break loose, a lamentable scenario that will nevertheless present opportunities that are likely to be both extraordinary and ephemeral.  –  Highly regarded hedge fund manager, Paul Singer, in his latest investor newsletter

Singer has apparently has unloaded $5 billion worth of stock, which is 15% of his funds management.

Anyone happen to notice that several market commentators have argued that Bitcoin is  a bubble but the same stock “experts” look the other way as the U.S. stock market becomes more overvalued by the day vs. the deteriorating underlying fundamentals? Bitcoin going “parabolic” triggers alarm bells but it’s okay if the stock price of AMZN is hurtling toward parity with the price of one ounce of gold. Tesla burns a billion per year in cash. It sold 76,000 cars last year vs. 10 million worldwide for General Motors. Yet Tesla’s market cap is $51.7 billion vs. $48.8 billion for GM.

This insanity is the surest sign that the stock market bubble is getting ready to pop. If you read between the lines of the the comments from certain Wall Street analysts, the only justification for current valuations is “Central Bank liquidity” and “Fed support of asset values.” This is the most dangerous stage of a market top because it draws in retail “mom & pop” investors who can’t stop themselves from missing out on the next “sure thing.” There will be millions of people who are permanently damaged financially when the Fed loses control of this market. Or, as legendary “vulture” investor Asher Edelman stated on CNBC, “I don’t want to be in the market because I don’t know when the plug is going to be pulled.”

A friend/colleague of mine is a point and figure chart aficionado. He sent me an email on Thursday in which he said even with the five horsemen (FANGs + AAPL) and the SPX and Dow up today (and the SPX setting a new all-time high), the bullish percent index (BPI) of the NYSE is negative which means there are more stocks generating a point and figure sell signal than a buy signal. This has been fairly consistent over the past couple of weeks. (Note: the bullish percent index is a breadth indicator based on the number of stocks on point & figure buy signals). When the BPI is negative over an extended period of time, it reflects the fact that a lot more stocks in the NYSE are trending lower than are trending higher. When a declining number of stocks are participating in the move higher of a stock index, it is a bearish signal.

As my friend says, “in reality this will continue until it doesn’t.” He goes on to say: ” what this shows me is that at this time it’s much better to be strategically short than broadly short. This will change too at some point…”

Picking out strategic shorts has been the focus of the Short Seller’s Journal. Not all of the ideas have worked and a couple back-fired – in defiance of the company’s underlying fundamentals – but many ideas are well below the price at which they were presented either the first time or presented again thereafter. One idea that has declined 39% (declined $42) since August 2016 is Ralph Lauren, which was presented on August 14, 2016 at $108.19. It closed Friday at $66.11, down 41 cents on a day when the SPX hit another all-time high. RL has closed lower on 12 of the last 13 days.

One subscriber emailed me earlier this week to let me know he had shorted 200 shares at $108 and covered 100 of it this week. He’s hanging on to the other 100 share short. I mentioned to him that my 12-18 month target was $50 and that he should hold the other 100 short at least until August because it’s only going to get worse for the consumer and retailers.

Currently there’s a a large percentage of stocks trading below their 50 and 200 day moving averages.  Many stocks are close or at 52-week lows.  Some stocks, like Sears Holdings (SHLD) are no-brainer shorts.  Sears is going to file for bankruptcy – it’s down 32% from April 2nd, when it was presented as a short idea in the Short Seller’s Journal.  Similar to the probability of a stock market crash, it’s  a matter of “when,” not “if.”

Bitcoin, Propaganda, Fake News And Unmitigated Idiocy

I want to show two quotes from commentators in related areas of financial analysis because they illustrate the difference between truthful commentary and unmitigated idiocy.

Yesterday, James “Mc” wrote in Bill Murphy’s nightly “Midas” report:

“The sexiness of Bitcoin, Tesla, Netflix, and hundreds of other techie things will become FAR less sexy in a good old fashion economic crash. Reality will quickly set in, and real stuff, made by real people will prevail. As history has shown everything else becomes superfluous. Millennials, or even Gen-Xer’s for that matter have never experienced truly hard times. Many will be shocked to learn when TSHTF a plumber is far more marketable than an IT guy. Bartering with Bitcoin might prove problematic.”

I doubt there’s anything with that statement with which anyone could dispute. Murphy prior to that made the valid points that Central Banks and sovereign nations will never incorporate Bitcoin into their currency reserves like they do with gold. The point being that, while Bitcoin is accepted as a form of currency by its users, it is not considered a wealth storage asset.

It would be tough to classify James’ comment as propaganda or fake news. Gold is the world’s second oldest form of money (silver is the oldest). Bitcoin may or may not become a passing fad but it certainly has not stood the test of time. Its use can be eliminated by shutting down the global power grid.

Here’s an example of propaganda, fake news and unmitigated idiocy from Citicorp’s “respected” strategist, Tom Fitzpatrick:

“…markets ultimately will be driven by the economic backdrop rather than by headlines. US labor and housing markets remain robust and should continue to drive growth. European growth is picking up. China remains stable in our view despite recent volatility.” LINK

China remains “stable?” I doubt anyone would disagree that China has fomented the second biggest debt and asset bubble in the world, with the U.S. bubble the largest, and its financial system rests on the precipice of systemic collapse resting on a pyramid of debt and derivatives that requires a flood of printed money and credit creation in order to defer the inevitable financial and economic implosion. That’s the truth, in contrast to Fitzpatrick’s moronic assertion.

As for the remark that the U.S. labor market is “robust.” My guess is that a majority of the 95 million working age people (37% of the working age population) in the U.S. who are no longer considered part of the “labor force” would have a different set of adjectives to describe the labor market here (they would also have a set of adjectives to describe Fitzpatrick that would make some blush).

A “robust” housing market? Total home sales are running two-thirds of the long run average and about 50% the last peak in sales. This is despite a steady long term growth in the population. Furthermore, in order to for a home to sell, in general buyers have to resort to using a 0-3% down payment mortgage and use at least 50% of their monthly income to service the mortgage. An oversupply of housing in New York City and Miami is beginning to crush those two housing markets, a dynamic that will soon spread to most major metro areas across the country. Flippers and “investors” were about 35% of all home sales in 2016.

These are unequivocally NOT the attributes of a “robust” housing market, not to mention the fact that the even the monthly manipulated home sales data series published by the Government and the National Association of Realtors have been trending lower this year. Tom Fitzpatrick’s remarks embody the attributes of Wall Street propaganda,  outright fake news and total unmitigated idiocy.  I hope you get rich selling lies and feel good about it, Tom.

There’s been a lot of debate over the meaning and significance of the parabolic move in Bitcoin.  Allhambra Investments’ Jeffrey Snider has come the closest to the truth by equating the Bitcoin move as the manifestation of Gresham’s law.

While this encapsulates the Bitcoin frenzy, beneath the surface represented by Bitcoin is an even bigger movement  of bad money (fiat currencies) piling into physical gold that is occurring in the eastern hemisphere, specifically in India and China.  The evidence of this movement in the form of a higher price expressed in dollars is being hidden by the continuous intervention in the western gold market implemented by the western Central Banks using paper gold derivatives.

The point of this is that the price of Bitcoin is behaving the way price of gold would be behaving in the absence of manipulation.   The rush into both is a rejection by the market of  the continuous devaluation of fiat currencies that is occurring from the trillions of paper currencies that have been created since 2008.

At some point, and there’s not anyone who can predict when, Tom Fitzpatrick’s fake news and unmitigated idiocy will be exposed for what it is as global financial markets and economies crash and money that is pulled out of bubble assets floods into the safety of physical gold and silver.   At that point the Central Bank effort to suppress the price of gold and silver will fail.

It’s been occurring slowly since 1971 (and really since 1913) and will at some point happen all at once.  Have a great Memorial Day weekend and try to enjoy what you can, as much you can, while you still can.

New Home Sales Plunge 11.4% In April

So much for the jump in the builder’s confidence index reported last week.  The Government reported a literal plunge in new home sales in April.   Not only did the seasonally manipulated adjusted annualized sales rate drop 11.4% from March, it was 6% below Wall Street’s consensus estimate.

Analysts and perma-bulls were scratching their head after the housing starts report showed an unexpected drop last week after a “bullish” builder’s sentiment report the prior day.

The Housing Market index, which used to be called the Builder Sentiment index, registered a 70 reading, 2 points above the prior month’s reading and 2 points above the expected reading (68). The funny thing about this “sentiment” index is that it is often followed the next day by a negative housing starts report.  Always follow the money to get to the truth. The housing starts report released last Tuesday showed an unexpected 2.6% drop in April. This was below the expected increase of 6.7% and follows a 6.6% drop in March. Starts have dropped now in 3 of the last 4 months. So much for the high reading in builder sentiment.

This is the seasonal period of the year when starts should be at their highest. I would suggest that there’s a few factors affecting the declining rate at which builders are starting new single-family and multi-family homes.

First, the 2-month decline in housing starts and permits reflects new homebuilders’ true expectations about the housing market because starts and permits require spending money vs. answering questions on how they feel about the market.  Housing starts are dropping because homebuilders are sensing an underlying weakness in the market for new homes. Let me explain.

Most of the housing sale activity is occurring in the under $500k price segment, where flippers represent a fairly high proportion of the activity. When a flipper completes a successful round-trip trade, the sale shows up twice in statistics even though only one trade occurred to an end-user. The existing home sales number is thus overstated to the extent that a certain percentage of sales are flips. The true “organic” rate of homes sales – “organic” defined as a purchase by an actual end-user (owner/occupant) of the home – is occurring at a much lower rate than is reflected in the NAR’s numbers.

Although the average price of a new construction home is slightly under $400k, the flippers do not generally play with new homes because it’s harder to mark-up the price of a new home when there’s 15 identical homes in a community offered at the builder’s price. Flippers do buy into pre-constructed condominiums but they need the building sell-out in order to flip at a profit. Many of these “investors” are now stuck with condo purchases on Miami and New York that are declining in value by the day. The same dynamic will spread across the country. Because flipper purchases are not part of the new home sales market, homebuilders are feeling the actual underlying structural market weakness in the housing market that is not yet apparent in the existing home sales market, specifically in the under $500k segment. This structure weakness is attributable to the fact that pool of potential homebuyers who can meet the low-bar test of the latest FNM/FRE quasi-subprime taxpayer-backed mortgage programs has largely dried up.

Second, in breaking down the builder sentiment metric, “foot-traffic” was running 25 points below the trailing sales rate metric (51 on the foot-traffic vs. 76 on the “current sales” components of the index) In other words, potential future sales are expected to be lower than the trailing run-rate in sales. This reinforces the analysis above. It also fits my thesis that the available “pool” of potential “end-user” buyers has been largely tapped. This is why builders are starting less home and multi-family units. The only way the Government/Fed can hope to “juice” the demand for homes will be to further interfere in the market and figure out a mortgage program that will enable no down payment, interest-only mortgages to people with poor credit, which is why the Government is looking at allowing millennials to take out 125-130% loan to value mortgages with your money.  We saw how well that worked in 2008.

Finally, starts for both single-family and multi-family units have been dropping. The multi-family start decline is easy to figure out. Most large metropolitan areas have been flooded with new multi-family facilities and even more are being built. I see this all around the metro-Denver area and I’ve been getting subscriber emails describing the same condition around the country. Here’s how the dynamic will play out, again just like in the 2007-2010 period. The extreme oversupply of apartments and condos will force drastic drops in rent and asking prices for new apartments and condos to the point at which it will be much cheaper to rent than to buy. This in turn will reduce rents on single-family homes, which will reduce the amount an investor/flipper is willing to pay for an existing home. Moreover, it will greatly reduce the “organic” demand for single-family homes, as potential buyers opt to rent rather than take on a big mortgage. All of a sudden there’s a big oversupply of existing homes on the market.

The quintessential example of this is NYC. I have been detailing the rabid oversupply of commercial and multi-family properties in NYC in past issues. The dollar-value of property sales in NYC in Q1 2017 plummeted 58% compared to Q1 2016. It was the lowest sales volume in six years in NYC. Nationwide, property sales dropped 18% in Q1 according Real Capital Analytics. According to an article published by Bloomberg News, landlords are cutting rents and condo prices and lenders are pulling back capital. Again, this is just like the 2007-2008 period in NYC and I expect this dynamic to spread across the country over the next 3-6 months.

This is exactly what happened in 2008 as the financial crisis was hitting. I would suggest that we’re on the cusp of this scenario repeating. Mortgage applications (refi and purchase) have declined in 6 out of the last 9 weeks, including a 2.7% drop in purchase mortgages last week. Please note: this is the seasonal portion of the year in which mortgage purchase applications should be rising every week.

The generally misunderstood nature of housing oversupply is that it happens gradually and then all at once. That’s how the market for “illiquid” assets tends to behave (homes, exotic-asset backed securities, low-quality junk bonds, muni bonds, etc). The housing market tends to go from “very easy to sell a home” to “very easy to buy a home.” You do not want to have just signed a contract when homes are “easy to buy” because the next house on your block is going to sell for a lot lower than the amount you just paid. But you do want to be short homebuilders when homes become “very easy to buy.”

The above analysis is an excerpt from the latest Short Seller’s Journal.  My subscribers are making money shorting stocks in selected sectors which have been diverging negatively from the Dow/S&P 500 for quite some time.  One example is Ralph Lauren (RL), recommended as short last August at $108.  It’s trading now at $67.71, down 59.% in less than a year.  You can find out more about subscribing here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.

The Foundation Of The Stock Market Is Crumbling

The S&P 500 and Dow have gone nowhere since March 1st. The SPX had been bumping its head on 2400 until Wednesday. The Dow and the SPX have been levitating on the backs of five tech stocks: AAPL, AMZN, FB, GOOG and MSFT. AAPL alone is responsible for 25% of the Dow’s YTD gain and 13% of the SPX’s.  Connected to this, the tech sector in general has bubbled up like Dutch Tulips in the mid-1630’s. The Nasdaq hit an all-time high (6,169) on Tuesday.

But, as this next chart shows, despite a handful of stocks trying to rain on the bears’ parade, there’s plenty of stocks that have been selling off:

The chart above shows the S&P 500 vs the SOX (semiconductor index), XRT (retail index), IBM and Ford since the election. The SOX index was used to represent the tech sector. You can see that, similar to the culmination of the 1999-early 2000 stock bubble, the tech stocks are bubbling up like a geyser. IBM is a tech company but its operations are diversified enough to reflect the general business activity occurring across corporate America and in the overall economy. The retail sector has been getting hit hard, reflecting the general decay in financials of the average middle class household. And Ford’s stock reflects the general deterioration in U.S. manufacturing and profitability. Anyone who believes that the unemployment rate is truly 4.4% and that the economy is doing well needs to explain the relative stock performance of the retail sector, IBM and F.

Despite the levitation of the SPX and Dow, the “hope helium” that has inflated the stock bubble since the election has been leaking out since January 1st. While many stocks in NYSE are either below their 200 dma or testing 52 week lows, the price action of the U.S. dollar index best reflects the inflation and deflation of the Trump “hope bubble:”

I’ve always looked at the U.S. dollar as a “stock” that represents the U.S. political, financial and economic system. As you can see, U.S.A.’s stock went parabolic after the election until December 31st. Since that time, it’s deflated back down to below its trading level on election day. This has also been the fate of the average stock that trades on the NYSE. In fact, as of Friday’s close, 55% of the stocks on NYSE are below their 200 day moving average. Nearly 62% of all NYSE stocks are below their 50 dma. Just 4.37% of S&P 500 stocks are at 52-wk highs despite the fact that the SPX hit a new all-time high of 2402 on Tuesday. These statistics give you an idea of how narrow the move higher in the stock market has been, as the average stock in the NYSE/SPX/Dow indices is diverging negatively from the respective indices. The foundation of the stock market is crumbling.

The above analysis was a portion of the latest Short Seller’s Journal released last night. SSJ recommended shorting IBM in the April 23rd issue at $160.  It’s down 4.6% since then. The primary short idea presented in the latest issue was down 2.3% today despite the .5% rise in the SPX.  This idea is a stock trading in the mid-teens that will likely be under $5 within a year.  You can find out more about the Short Seller’s Journal here:  LINK

An Impending Economic And Financial Disaster


You’ve probably heard/read a lot lately about the VIX index. The VIX index is a measure of the implied volatility of S&P 500 index options. The VIX is popularly known as a market “fear” index. The concept underlying the VIX is that it measures the theoretical expected annualized change in the S&P 500 over the next year. It’s measured in percentage terms. A VIX reading of 10 would imply an expectation that the S&P 500 could move up or down 10% or less over the next year with a 68% degree of probability. The calculation for the VIX is complicated but it basically “extracts” the implied volatility from all out of the money current-month and next month put and call options on the SPX.

The graph above plots the S&P 500 (candles) vs. the VIX (blue line) on a monthly basis going back to 2001. As you can see, the last time the VIX trended sideways around the 11 level was from 2005 to early 2007. On Monday (May 8) the VIX traded below 10. The last time it closed below 10 was February 2007. The VIX often functions as a contrarian indicator. As for the predictive value of a low VIX reading, there is a high correlation between an extremely low VIX level and large market declines. However, the VIX does not give us any information about the timing of a big sell-off other than indicate that one will likely (not definitely) occur.

In my opinion, an extremely low VIX level, like the current one, is signaling an eventual sell-off that I believe will be quite extreme.

The true fundamentals underlying the U.S. economy – as opposed the “fake news” propaganda that emanates from uncovered manholes at the Fed, Wall Street and Capitol Hill – are beginning to slide rapidly.   The primary reason for this is that the illusion of wealth creation was facilitated by the inflation of a massive systemic debt and derivatives bubble.  Government and corporate debt is at all-time highs.  The rate of debt issuance by these two entities accelerated in 2010.  Household debt not including mortgages is at an all-time high.  Total household debt including mortgages was near an all-time high as of the latest quarter (Q4 2016) for which the all-inclusive data is available.  I would be shocked if total household was not at an all-time high as I write this.

The fall-out from this record level of U.S. systemic debt is beginning to hit and it will accelerate in 2017.  In 2016 corporate bankruptcies were up 25% from from 2015.   So far in 2017, 10 big retailers have filed for bankruptcy, with a couple of them completely shutting down and liquidating.    Currently there’s at least 9 more large retailers expected to file this year.   In addition to big corporate bankruptcies, the State of Connecticut is said to be preparing a bankruptcy filing.

The household debt statistics show a consumer that is buried in debt and will likely begin to default on this debt – credit card, auto, personal, student loan and mortgage – at an accelerated rate this year.  The delinquency and charge-off statistics from credit card and auto finance companies are already confirming this supposition.

In the latest issue of the Short Seller’s Journal, I review the VIX and the deteriorating consumer debt statistics in detail and explain why the brewing financial crisis will be much worse than the one that hit in 2008.  I also present a finance company stock and a housing-related stock as ways to take advantage of the crumbling consumer.   You can find out more about subscribing to the Short Seller’s Journal here:  Subscription information.   There’s no monthly minimum require and subscribers have an opportunity to subscribe to my Mining Stock Journal for half-price.

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.  – U.K. subscriber, James

 

Silver Demand Shows A Consumer In Trouble

Global demand for silver declined from 2015 to 2016 by 123 million ozs per numbers from the Silver Institute presented in an article on The Daily Coin yesterday.   In fact, for the demand categories primarily driven by the consumer, demand plummeted 125 million ozs, or 15.3%.   Industrial demand for silver increased slightly but this was because of the global expansion in the solar panel industry, primarily in India and China.

The consumer portion of global silver demand is derived from jewelry, coins and bars (investment), silverware and electronics.  The 15.3% plunge in demand reflects the fact that consumer disposable income is drying up.   After making required monthly expenditures – food, mortgage/rent, debt service, healthcare – consumers, especially in the United States, are out of money.

Disappearing disposable income explains only part of the equation.  The illusion of economic improvement in the U.S. was created by debt issuance.   Between Q3 2012 and now, total household debt expanded by $1.38 trillion dollars.  In fact, total household debt is now at an all-time high, driven by auto, student, credit card and personal loans.  The truth is that “discretionary” consumption was fueled by the Fed enabling the average U.S. household to accumulate a record level of debt.

The economy likely hit a wall in late 2016 and is now contracting.   Today’s retail sales report – to the extent that the numbers have any credibility – showed a .4% gain in retail sales for April vs. March.  But these are nominal numbers.   On an inflation-adjusted basis, retail sales declined.

While demand for silver products reflects the fact that the average consumer is out of money, restaurant sales confirm this.   April restaurant sales declined 1% in April and foot traffic into restaurants dropped 3.3%.  This was the 12th month out of the last 13 that restaurant sales fell.  Restaurant sales have dropped five quarters in a row.  The last time a streak like this occurred was 2009-2010.   Sound familiar?

Regardless of what the Fed says in public, the U.S. economy is in trouble.  The illusion of economic growth post-2009 was a product of debt issuance.  Now the consumer – 70% of the economy – has hit a wall with regard to its ability to take on more debt – look out below. In today’s episode of the Shadow of Truth, we review the silver demand numbers and discuss the implications for U.S. and global economy: