Category Archives: U.S. Economy

“Low Inflation” In Not “Good” – It’s Pure Propaganda

Analysts who advocate a monetary policy that targets “low inflation” are the equivalent of chickens in the barnyard rooting for Colonel Sanders to succeed.   This idea that a low level of inflation being good for the economy is beyond moronic.

The fiat currency money system era was accompanied by the erroneous notion that a general increase in the price of goods and services is “inflation.”  But technically this definition is wrong.  “Inflation” is the “decline in the purchasing power of currency.”  This decline occurs from actions that devalue a currency.  Rising prices are the visible evidence of ongoing currency devaluation.

Currency devaluation occurs when the rate of growth in a country’s money supply exceeds the rate of growth in real wealth output.   Simply stated, it’s when the amount of money created exceeds the amount of “widgets” created, where “widgets” is the real wealth output of an economic system.

In ancient Rome, the currency devaluation occurred when the Roman Government began to “shave” gold and silver coins which enabled it to increase the amount of coins produced from mined gold and silver in order to finance Government spending.  When spending continued to exceed the amount of currency produced, the Government increased the money supply by diluting gold and silver coins with cheaper and more abundant metallic additives.

In the United States currently, currency devaluation occurs through both money printing, which has been cleverly disguised for propaganda purposes as “quantitative easing,” and by the continuous growth in credit creation.   Debt issued behaves exactly the same as printed currency until that time at which the debt is repaid, not by more debt issued, but from money that has been accumulated by the debtor in order to repay and retire the debt.

The U.S. Government has not reduced the amount of debt issued for decades.  Apologists will look at the Treasuries outstanding chart on the Fed’s website and argue that the debt level declined ever so slightly in the late 1990’s.  But this was achieved through accounting gimmicks, not an outright reduction in Federal debt outstanding.

Notwithstanding this, the total level of debt in the U.S. system has been continuously increasing for many decades.  While it’s argued that this is debt and not money supply, it is a fact that debt issued spends just like printed money until the debt is repaid and retired. Thus, currency devaluation has been occurring in the United States on a continuous basis since at least 1913 (founding of the Fed).

Back to the erroneous idea that “low inflation is desirable.”  I defy anyone to research this and present a rational explanation that has ever been offered.  The best I could come up with is “low inflation is good for the economy.”  That is unadulterated ignorance.  That phrase means that “it is good for the Government to devalue the currency.”  Why is it “good” for a consumer to pay higher prices, i.e. more money for goods and services on an ongoing basis?

Inflation, where “inflation” means the true definition, is a subtle mechanism by which the elitists redistribute wealth.   Printing money  benefits those who are closest to the money faucet to the detriment of those who are “downstream” from the flow of new money supply (or credit created).  The banks are always first in line at the money faucet.  The Federal Reserve was erected for that purpose.  The creators of the Fed were all owners of the biggest banks in the U.S. at the time plus the political puppets of those owners.   Go look up the roster of men who founded the Fed for yourself if you don’t believe me.

After the banks, the Government is next in line.  And after that all of the companies that benefit from Government largess.  Inflation, even “low inflation” is not beneficial to anyone other than those who are in a position to take advantage of the currency devaluation mechanism.  Period.  Anyone who tries to argue that “low inflation is good” and that a low inflation target should be a primary goal of the Fed’s monetary policy is either someone who is in position to benefit from that policy (banks, politicians, big corporations etc) or is tragically stupid.

Existing Home Sales Tank This Summer: Fact vs Fiction

Existing home sales declined nearly 2% in June from May on a SAAR basis (Seasonally Adjusted Annualized Rate).   (SAAR is the statistically manipulated metric used by industry organizations and the Government to spin bad monthly economic data into an annualized metric that hides the ugly truth).

Here is the NAR-spun fiction:  “Closings were down in most of the country last month because interested buyers are being tripped up by supply that remains stuck at a meager level and price growth that’s straining their budget…” – Larry Yun chief “economist” for the National Association of Homebuilders.

This has been Yun’s narrative since home sales volume began to decline last year.  His headline mantra of low inventory is mindlessly regurgitated by Wall Street and the financial media. But here’s what the truth looks like (click to enlarge):

Going back to 1999, this data sourced from the Fed, who sourced it from the NAR, shows an inverse correlation between inventory and sales. In other words, low inventory drives sales higher.  Conversely, as inventory rises, sales drops.  You’ll note that the chart does not go past 2015.  This  is because, for some reason, the Fed purged its database of existing home inventory prior to June 2016.  There’s a gap in inventory between mid-2015 and mid-2016.  However, there is this (click to enlarge):

I hate to call Larry Yun a “liar” because it sounds unprofessional. But what else am I supposed to call him when the data completely contradicts the narrative he shovels from his propaganda port-o-let into the public domain? I have no choice.

AS you can see, from 1999 to mid-2015 and from mid-2016 to present, inventory and sales are inversely correlated.

This has been the worst selling season for the housing market’s peak sales months since 2011.  In 2011 the Fed was dumping trillions into the housing market and mortgage finance system.   To make this morning’s report worse, mortgage rates have been declining at a steep rate since the end of December.  Near-record low rates, combined with near-zero percent down payment Government-guaranteed mortgages combined with the lowest credit-approval standards since 2007 combined with the peak selling months should have catapulted home sales much higher this year.

Here’s the problem:  the factors listed above have tapped out the available pool of homebuyers who qualify for a near-zero downpayment, low-credit rating Government-backed mortgage:

The graphic above shows the average household mortgage payment as a percentage of disposable personal income (after-tax income). The graphic above is for those households with 20% down payment mortgages. As you can see, that ratio is at an all-time high. It’s far worse for households with 3% down payment mortgages.  Either the Government will have to roll-out a program that directly subsidizes the households who still want to over-pay for a home but can’t afford the mortgage payment let alone the cost of home ownership – i.e. helicopter money – or the housing the market is getting ready to head south.  This won’t end well either way.

As for the inventory narrative.  New homebuilders are bulging with inventory.  How do I know? Because I look at the actual balance sheet numbers of most of the publicly traded homebuilders every quarter.  Newly built homes sitting in various stages of completion or sitting complete but completely empty often are not listed in the MLS system.  There’s a rather large “shadow inventory” of new homes gathering dust.  This fact is reflected in the fact that the rate of housing starts has been declining for most of the past 8 months.   There’s plenty of new home inventory and homebuilders are open to price negotiation. This is evident from the declining gross margins at almost every homebuilder.

This is the type of analysis that is presented in the Short Seller’s Journal.  I research and dig up data and present facts that will never be reported by Wall Street, industry associations and the financial media.  This is why my subscribers were short Beazer (BZH) at $14.99 on May 21st.  It’s currently at $13.39 but has been as low as $12.  It’s headed much lower.  Despite the Dow et al hitting new highs, there’s a large universe of stocks that are plumbing 52-week and all-time lows.  You can find out details about the SSJ here: Short Seller’s Journal information.   In the latest issue I present an in-depth analysis of Netflix’s accounting and show why it’s a Ponzi scheme.

Bonds Are Currencies – A Derivative Of Currencies

I saw a thought-provoking retweet on Mark Yusko’s twitter feed and I wanted to clarify the idea conveyed:  “When bonds yields nothing, they aren’t much different than currencies.”

This comment is somewhat misleading because bonds are indeed a derivative of currencies. It’s basic financial economics that Mark Yusko learned in the same Robert Leftwich finance course at U of Chicago that I took.

The tweet references sovereign-issued bonds. Sovereign bonds are simply a sovereign’s currency issued to investors who are willing to bear the “time value” risk connected to the sovereign, where “time value risk” is the sum of “credit risk” – the risk of getting repaid – and “opportunity cost” – the foregone cost of spending that capital now or investing it in an alternative asset that might yield more.

Together, in a free market, those two costs equal the interest rate of a sovereign bond. From there, all bonds that are priced off the sovereign bond curve are 2nd order derivatives of a sovereign currency. In that sense all bonds are a derivative of currencies.

Quantitative easing – when a Central Bank prints money and uses that money to buy sovereign bonds for the purpose of controlling interest rates – removes the market’s ability to price “time value risk.” Western sovereign bonds have been driven down to zero – below zero on a real interest rate basis. Western sovereign bonds arethereby simply interchangeable with a country’s currency. There’s almost no difference between holding cash or holding a 30-day T-bill , or even a 2-yr Note, other than the inconvenience and transaction cost of buying and selling the bond.

The point of this is to reflect on the fact that bonds are indeed currencies – currencies with the added feature of time value risk. An investor buying the bond is willing to exchange current spending/consumption in order to lend money to the sovereign issuer.  The interest rate is the amount paid to bear the time value risk. The interest earned is paid in more of the sovereign currency.

QE has destroyed the market’s natural function of pricing time value risk into the capital markets which in turn has reduced most bond investments to the equivalent of holding currency in the pocket sans the benefit of compensation for bearing time value risk. This has in turn forced a flood of money of Biblical proportions into the the non-currency assets that are moving higher at the greatest velocity – primarily stocks. Right now primarily tech stocks.

Eventually the QE intervention will fail – it always fails and history has confirmed this fact ad nauseum. When that failure occurs, and I believe that point of failure is closer than most are willing to accept, there will be an asset crash of Biblical proportions.

Is more difficult to see the truth or accept the truth?…

Chipotle ($CMG): Boom Goes The Dynamite – Redux

And once again Chipotle ($CMG) is in the news for business operations negligence.  Where the hell is the local Department of Health?  E-coli, customer credit card hacks, novovirus and now rats falling from ceiling – Are You Sure That’s Pork?.   As the tried and true adage declares, “where there’s smoke…” – Short Seller Journal subscribers have been short CMG since 5/7 at $475 – it’s now down $110 in 10 weeks and still trading at 113 p/e…

I stopped eating at Chipotle the second I heard about the e-coli thing. Used to grab dinner there at least once a week. Have not been back. Along the way I’ve avoided the credit card hack to their payment system that surface a few months ago. Now it looks like there’s another viral outbreak at Chipotle of some sort: Virginia Chipotle Closed.

I presented the idea of shorting CMG in the Short Seller’s Journal in the May 7th issue:

This was my rationale:

“I personally used to eat at Chipotle once a week before the e-coli problem. I have not been back since then. This is probably not he last we’ll hear of issues like at CMG.  After the most recent unjustified bounce in the stock up to $475, CMG still sells at a 147 p/e. This is an insane p/e. With restaurant revenues declining across the industry, extremely overvalued stocks like CMG are vulnerable to big cliff-dives. You can see in the graph above that the stock appears to rolling again for another trip below its moving averages and under $400, at least. This is confirmed by the RSI and MACD indicators.

Wall St. was gushing over CMG’s Q1 2017 performance as it exceeded expectations with revenues up 28% vs. Q1 2016 and net income $46 million vs a loss in 2016. But don’t forget that Chipotle’s Q1 2016 was hammered by the e-coli scare. The more appropriate analysis is to look at Q1 2017 vs. Q1 2015.

It’s an entirely different story if you compare Q1 2017 to Q1 2015, where Q1 2015 was on the books before the e-coli problem. Revenues in Q1 2017 were $1.07 billion vs. $1.09 billion in Q1 2015. Net income in Q1 2017 was $46 million, or $1.60 vs $122 million in Q1 2015, or $3.98/share. If we consider Q1 2017 and Q1 2015 to be more of an “apples to apples” comparison, Q1 2017 was not good. Furthermore, CMG had 2,291 stores open at the end of Q1 2017 vs. 1,831 at the end of Q1 2015. Looked at on a revenues per store basis, Q1 2017 was a total failure vs. Q1 2015. But Wall St and company management will not discuss this type of comparison and the morons buying the stock will not look for it.”

In addition to presenting the idea and the fundamental rationale, I suggested a couple strategies for playing the down-side, including using January 2018 puts.  Than January 2018 $350’s have been a home run.  By the way, CMG is still insanely overvalued.

Several ideas have been working since last August and have been working really well since January.  This is because beneath the marquee indices, many stocks are at 52-week or all-time lows.  You can check more about how this service works here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.  There’s no minimum monthly term requirement but the churn rate to this SSJ is surprisingly low.

This Feels Like the Action in 2008 Right Before the Collapse

Doc asked me last minute to fill-in for Eric Dubin, who’s M.I.A. somewhere on the shoreline of southern France, on Silver Doctor’s Metals and Markets weekly podcast. Among other topics we discussed why the current trading action in the precious metals paper market feels very similar to trading in the spring/summer of 2008 – ahead of the great financial collapse crisis and why the Fed/bullion banks are making it obvious that they seek  to scare investors away from buying precious metals with their “shock and awe” price-takedowns.

But one big difference between now and 2008 is that these “zip-line” vertical drops in the paper are being met with aggressive buying from the eastern hemisphere physical buyers, thereby limiting the size, intensity and duration of the price-hits.

As of the latest COT report release Friday which details the constituent trader positions through last Tuesday, the trader positions are moving toward a highly bullish set-up for gold and silver. In silver, the hedge funds are now net short silver futures and the swap-dealer segment of the bullion bank positioning is net long. In gold, the hedge funds have aggressively reduced their net long position and the swap dealers are long to a relatively large degree. Historically, this position shift has preceded major bottoms.

In the latest Mining Stock Journal, I present a silver producer who’s stock that was ruthlessly taken recently. I review the details in-depth, including my conversation with the CEO, and discuss why this is an opportunity to buy into a major producing company at irrationally low price level based on the facts of the situation. I also lay-out the call options I put into the fund I manage in large quantities to bet that my assessment has good probability of being correct. You can find out more about subscribing here:   Mining Stock Journal info.

After subscribing to Brent Cook for 3 months, I was underwhelmed.  Resubscribed to you a few weeks back and sure am glad I did so. You are one the few straight shooters still out there. Keep up the great work. I think we are right on the cusp of a serious market break, thus the war drums.  – subscriber “Chris

The First Horse Out Of A Burning Barn Gets Scorched The Least

From a Short Seller’s Journal Subscriber:   I just read the piece on Denver homes and the idea of taking a lower price.   $100,000 less jumped out.   We are selling our overpriced turkey in the clouds in a posh area of Nevada where stupid money goes to die.

Our contract price is $115,000 less than an appraisal done 4 months ago. All the realtors think that prices in the hills will continue upwards. I know better and locales like this are primed for a very ugly drop. That’s our reason for taking $115,000 less than appraisal value

The first horse out of a burning barn gets scortched the least .  Thank you for that tip Worth the price of the newsletter times 10 or 20…

[Note:   He’s referencing the July 9th issue of Short Seller’s Journal, in which discussed the high-end housing areas in Denver with respect to nothing moving but that a $100k price drop by the first seller will move that house and then re-price the entire market.  Homes are like junk bonds – they go from being “illiquid” on the offered side to being “illiquid” on the bid side until someone initiates “step-function” pricing to force the first real trade and define where the bid side cares]

FYI:  $CMG closed at $395 today.  I recommended shorting it in the May 2nd issue at $475. That’s a 17.8% unannualized ROR  in about 10 weeks.  The subscribers who bought puts did even better…

Illinois On The Brink? The Whole Country Is On The Brink

The biggest problem facing Illinois is the public pension fund problem.  I don’t care what the “official” number is for the degree to which it is underfunded.  I can guarantee that even without marking-to-real-market the illiquid investments like private equity funds, derivatives, commercial real estate trusts and other assets that do not have truly visible markets, collectively the public pension system in Illinois is at least 60-70% underfunded.   Then apply a realistic assumed actuarial rate of return on assets, which would be lower than the current assumption (likely 7.5% ad infinitum) and the underfunding goes to 80%. The problem is unsolvable without a complete and drastic restructuring.

I was in a Lyft ride today and the driver happened to be from the northwest suburban area of Chicago.  There’s a lot bad things happening in that State that are not reported in the mainstream media.  All road public road work has been halted except toll roads.  The gun violence has worked its way from the South Side up through downtown into the Gold Coast neighborhood and is winding its way north.

He said that his old house at peak prices in northwest burbs was worth over $500k.   The current resident has it offered for $250k.   Housing and real estate prices are plunging.   He has a good friend who consults with Sears and the expectation is that SHLD could file bankruptcy any day (Short Seller Journal subscribers were shown this idea on April 2, 2017 at $11.49 – it’s been as low as $6.20 since then).

It’s not just Illinois.  The entire system is crumbling beneath the surface.  As long as the mainstream media isn’t reporting the truth, the “truth” can’t be that bad, can it?  The truth is worse than any of us can possibly know.

There’s a 1%/99% in this country that’s different than the assumed meaning for that term. For 99% of the population, economic reality and systemic truth has been covered up and kicked down the road for so long that this segment of the populace is willing to believe there may well be a such thing as a “free lunch.”  To 99%’ers, it’s inconceivable that the grim-reaper could or ever would show up to collect.  Of the 1%, a small percentage not part of the insider elite can see most of the truth and can imagine that the whole truth is far worse than what can be perceived from publicly available information.  The balance of the 1% are the insiders.

I stated in 2003, after watching the tech bubble collapse and the housing bubble inflate, that the inside elitists were going to keep the system propped up with printed money and easy credit until they had swept every last crumb of middle class wealth off the table and into their own pockets.  I also said that nation’s retirement assets would be last crumbs remaining.  Enabling pension underfunding is another form of debt used to confiscate wealth.  That’s why the catastrophic underfunding of pensions was allowed to persist.

For purposes of my analysis, anyone who does not have enough money in the form of cash in hand to buy a Federal politician or buy the direct phone number to the Oval Office is “middle class.”  There’s plenty of douche-bags running around with assets worth 8-figures but they don’t have enough spare change to buy their way in to the elitists’ card game.

We are at the point where the last crumbs are being swept off the table.  It looks like Illinois will be the first to fall but there will be several others that follow.  Part of the motivation by the Fed/Government to hold up the stock market like it has been doing is to keep the big State pension funds propped up for proper looting – like a prize-fighter being held up under the shoulders after passing out in order to deliver more punches to the face.

I suspect the time at which the system will be allowed to collapse is not too far off.  The only question for me is whether or not the “Mad Max” scenario engulfs the country before the outbreak of World War 3…

Amazon Prime Day! What Does This Mean?

Amazon stock is up $6 in pre-market trading because it’s…”Prime Day!”  But what does this really mean?  It means AMZN will burn more cash selling and fulfilling commodity products with free 2-day shipping. But it will likely get another $20 pop in its stock because “Prime Day” revenues today will grow X% over 2016’s “Prime Day.”

Am I the only person in the world who has figured out that AMZN’s e-commerce operating income margin is nearly zero?  Does anyone besides me know that AMZN’s non-North American e-commerce business loses money on an operating basis?  The numbers are posted in its 10-Q every quarter.   North America and ROW combined last quarter AMZN’s e-commerce business did a whopping 0.3% operating margin.  At least that’s 0.3 higher than Blutarsky’s grade point average in “Animal House.”  Short Seller’s Journal subscribers know this because I show them the numbers –  Wall Street’s institutional investor clients do not know this because these market “professionals” can’t be bothered with doing actual research).

AMZN has already been crowned as the new “grocery killer” by the Jim Cramers of the world.  It’s amazing that he can make this assertion without having ever looked at AMZN’s real numbers.  In fitting irony, the opposite of Cramer’s assertion is the truth based on real world numbers.  Walmart, Target, Bed Bath etc have 3-5% operating margins that they can “play” with to attack AMZN’s e-commerce model.

Is AMZN “killing” brick-n-mortar or are the healthy brick-n-mortars going after AMZN’s e-commerce business?

Go onto Walmart’s website.  It’s now offering 2-day free shipping on millions of SKU’s without any requirement to pay money up front to join a “club.”  I was wondering by Bezos decided to offer low-income people a big discount on Prime memberships.  He knew Walmart was going to offer 2-day free shipping to that retail demographic without a “club membership” requirement.  Guess what Jeff?  WMT can afford to ship for free.  Your company cannot.  It doesn’t cost much extra for WMT to offer 2-day shipping because it can fulfill most orders from store inventory in the same county or city or neighborhood from which the order was placed.  AMZN can not do that.

Walmart is more than 3x the size of AMZN and it is many times more profitable.  BBBY’s e-commerce business last quarter grew 20% year over year.   I got news for  Cramer and all the robotic Wall St. analysts, and the lemmings who slavishly worship both:   Walmart, Best Buy,  BBBY and TGT have room to subsidize sales even more and still operate profitably.  AMZN does not.  If you don’t believe me then look at the SEC-filed number yourself.

Stay tuned…there’s more…two major category-killer discount grocery chains from Europe are expanding aggressively in the United States and Microsoft is cutting back on certain of its operations to focus on its cloud enterprise business.  AMZN’s AWS business will be attacked aggressively by MSFT, ORCL, GOOG and IBM.  The price of cloud computing will eventually approach zero.  Did anyone out there realize that AMZN’s cloud margins decline every quarter?

Happy Amazon Prime Day!  AMZN will lose money on just about every item sold today.  I guess that’s a great reason to celebrate…

Non-Farm Payroll Propaganda – Aka Fake News

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Joseph Goebbels

I dislike giving the employment report any acknowledgment because the report is constructed for the purposes of political expedience. But I can’t help posting a few comments because, once again, the non-farm payroll report for June showed significant growth in sectors of the economy for which real world business economic reports showed economic contraction. The headline number purports that the 222k new jobs were created in June. This wailed on the consensus estimate of 170k.

The Government attributes 16k in new jobs to the construction industry. How can this possibly have been the case when construction spending declined 4.4% on a quarterly basis for April and May? Moreover, housing starts have been declining for the past few months, including June. Unless there’s a new model for running a business, contracting economic activity is accompanied by payroll cost-cutting. The number is just not credible. Same with retail, for which the Government wants us to believe that 8100 jobs miraculously were created despite the fact that retail stores are being closed at one of the fast rates in history.

Then there’s the nefarious “birth/death” model, which guesstimates the number of jobs created by new companies started in June net of jobs lost from new businesses closed in June. I have news for the Bureau of Labor Statistics: new business formation, according to Gallop, is at a 40-yr low. Furthermore, potential business owners are less likely to risk borrowing money for a new business when the cost of borrowing is increasing. Maybe the BLS statisticians forgot about the Fed interest rate hikes and forgot to plug the higher cost of capital in to their new business formations blender. The B/D model attributes 102k new jobs from new businesses net of business deaths. To convolute their reporting Hmmm…23k of those came from construction…need I say more?

The above commentary is a preview of this week’s Short Seller’s Journal.

TSLA Down 19% – $72 – In Eight Days

In my opinion, the ride down will be worth the pain and blood-loss of sticking with a short bet on TSLA, which is why I continue to buy small quantities of put options that have been expiring worthless. I know at some point I’m going to catch a $100+ reversal in TSLA stock which will more than make-up for the small losses I’m enduring in the puts while I wait for that occurrence. Using puts protects me from the unknown magnitude of upside risk from shorting the stock. Plus, I don’t have make a “stop-loss” decision because I don’t have the theoretic “infinite upside” loss potential that I would face shorting the stock. With my loss capped, I can hang on to the puts through expiration. With a stock like TSLA, often a stop-loss exit is followed up by reversal to the downside, leaving the short-seller without a short position.

As we saw on Friday, TSLA stock can reverse to the downside quite abruptly and sharply. I can guarantee that some number of shorts covered as TSLA was soaring over $370, leaving them with no position when the stock reversed, closing at $357. I don’t want to recommend specific puts to use but I can recommend giving yourself at least four weeks of time. If I were putting on a new put position today, I would probably buy a very small quantity of the July 7th $340-strikes. If TSLA sells back to the $310 area before expiry, which could easily happen as $310 is where the last 2-week push up in price began, the puts would have an intrinsic value of $30. The current cost is about $10.

TSLA reminds me of Commerce One (CMRC), a B2B internet company that went from $10 to $600 in a very short period of time in late 1999 – 2000. It eventually went to $0. I shorted and covered small quantities of stock starting around $450. I was fortunate to have been short from the high $500’s when it finally topped out a $600. The volatility of this stock was extraordinary but persistence and “thick skin” paid off.

The above commentary is from the Short Seller’s Journal. Subscribers who liked the idea have been short TSLA June June 12th, when the stock opened at $359. You can’t time the top or bottom with a stock like TSLA, but you can make a lot of money if you get 2/3’s of the ride down. You can learn more about the Short Seller’s Journal here:  LINK

YTD General Electric has been one of the 3 worst performing Dow stocks.  I presented GE as a short idea In the January 29th issue.  I said it would be a boring but no-brainer short.  So far it’s down 17.5% from that issue.  This has more than doubled the return on an SPX long position in the same time period.  Maybe it’s not so boring…