Category Archives: U.S. Economy

2008 Redux-Cubed (at least cubed)?

There is plenty of dysfunction in plain sight to suggest that the financial markets can’t bear the strain of unreality anymore. Between the burgeoning trade wars and the adoption in congress this week of a fiscally suicidal spending bill, you’d want to put your fingers in your ears to not be deafened by the roar of markets tumbling – James Kuntsler, “The Unspooling

Many of you have likely seen discussions in the media about the LIBOR-OIS spread. This spread is a measure of banking system health. It was one of Alan Greenspan’s favorite benchmark indicators of systemic liquidity. LIBOR is the London Inter-Bank Offer Rate, which is the benchmark interest rate at which banks lend to other banks. The most common intervals are 1-month and 3-month. LIBOR is the most widely used reference rate globally and is commonly used as the benchmark from which bank loans, bonds and interest rate derivatives are priced. “OIS” is an the “overnight indexed swap” rate. This is an overnight inter-bank lending benchmark index – most simply, it’s the global overnight inter-bank lending rate.

The current 1-month LIBOR-OIS spread has spiked up from 10 basis points at the beginning of 2018 to nearly 60 basis points (0.60%). Many Wall Street Einsteins are rationalizing that the LIBOR-OIS spread blow-out is a result of U.S. companies repatriating off-shore cash back to the U.S. But it doesn’t matter. That particular pool of cash was there only to avoid repatriation taxes. The cash being removed from the European banking system by U.S corporations will not be replaced. The large pool of dollar liquidity being removed was simply masking underlying problems – problems rising to the surface now that the dollar liquidity is drying up.

Keep in mind that the effect of potential financial crisis trigger events as reflected by the LIBOR-OIS spread since 2009 has been hugely muted by trillions in QE, which have kept the banking system liquefied artificially. Think of this massive liquidity as having the effect of acting like a “pain killer” on systemic problems percolating like a cancer beneath the surface. The global banking system is addicted to these financial “opioids” and now these opioids are no longer working.

Before the 2008 crisis, the spread began to rise in August 2007, when it jumped from 10 basis points to 100 basis points by the end of September. From there it bounced around between 50-100 basis points until early September 2008, when it shot straight up to 350 basis points. Note that whatever caused the spread to widen in August 2007 was signaling a systemic financial problem well in advance of the actual trigger events. That also corresponds with the time period in which the stock market peaked in 2007.

What hidden financial bombs are lurking behind the curtain? There’s no way to know the answer to this until the event actually occurs. But the market action in the banks – and in Deutsche Bank specifically – could be an indicator that some ugly event is percolating in the banking system, not that this should surprise anyone.

The likely culprit causing the LIBOR-OIS spread is leveraged lending. Bank loans to companies that are rated by Moody’s/S&P 500 to be mid-investment grade to junk use banks loans that are tied to LIBOR. The rise in LIBOR since May 2017 has imposed increasing financial stress on the ability of leveraged companies to make debt payments.

But also keep in mind that there are derivatives – interest rate swaps and credit default swaps – that based on these leveraged loans. These “weapons of mass financial destruction” (Warren Buffet) are issued in notional amounts that are several multiples of the outstanding amount of underlying debt. It’s a giant casino game in which banks and hedge funds place bets on whether or not leveraged companies eventually default.

I believe this is a key “hidden” factor that is forcing the LIBOR-OIS spread to widen. This theory is manifest in the performance of Deutsche Bank’s stock:

DB’s stock price has plunged 33.8% since the beginning of January 2018. It’s dropped 11.3% in just the last three trading days (thru March 23rd). There’s a big problem behind the “curtain” at Deutsche Bank. I have the advantage of informational tidbits gleaned by a close friend of mine from our Bankers Trust days who keeps in touch with insiders at DB. DB is a mess.

DB, ever since closing its acquisition of Bankers Trust in the spring of 2000, has become the leading and, by far, the most aggressive player in the global derivatives market. During the run-up in the alternative energy mania, DB was aggressively underwriting exotic derivatives based on the massive debt being issued by energy companies. It also has been one of the most aggressive players in underwriting credit default swaps on the catastrophically leveraged EU countries like Italy and Spain.

DB is desperate to raise liquidity. Perhaps its only reliable income-generating asset is its asset management division. In order to raise needed funds, DB was forced to sell 22.3% of it to the public in a stock deal that raised US$8 billion. It was originally trying to price the deal to raise US$10 billion. But the market smells blood and DB is becoming radioactive. The deal was floated Thursday (March 22nd) and DB stock still dropped 7% on Thursday and Friday.

Several U.S. banks are not far behind in the spectrum of financial stress. Citigroup’s stock has declined 15.1% since January 29th, including a 7.5% loss Thursday/Friday. Morgan Stanley has lost 11.8% since March 12th, including an 8.8% dive Thursday/Friday. Goldman Sachs’ stock has dumped 11% since March 12th, including a 6.3% drop on Thursday/Friday. JP Morgan dumped 6.7% the last two trading days this past week (thru March 23rd).

If Deutsche Bank collapses, it will set off a catastrophic chain reaction of counter-party defaults. This would be similar to what occurred in 2008 when AIG defaulted on counter-party derivative liabilities in which Goldman Sachs was the counter-party. While it’s impossible to prove without access to the inside books at DB and at the ECB, I believe the primary driver behind the LIBOR-OIS rate spread reflects a growing reluctance by banks to lend to other banks for a duration longer than overnight. This reluctance is derived from growing fear of DB’s deteriorating financial condition, as reflected by its stock price.

The commentary above is from last week’s issue of the Short Seller’s Journal. In addition to well-researched insight into the financial system, the SSJ presents short-sell ideas each week, including ideas for using options. This week’s issue, just published, discusses why Tesla is going to zero and how to take advantage of that melt-down. You can find out more about this service here: Short Seller’s Journal information.

Tesla’s Irreversible Death Spiral Fait Accompli

The inevitable is finally starting to unfold. The downgrade to triple-C by Moody’s came as a surprise, at least to me. Historically Moody’s has been the last to downgrade collapsing companies. The most famous was its failure to downgrade Enron until about a week before Enron folded. Perhaps this time around it decided to get out in front of the obvious.

Tesla’s continued existence, despite obvious operational and financial problems that were growing in scale by the week, was enabled by the most lascivious monetary policy in U.S. Central Bank history. For me the coup de grace was the $1.5 billion junk bond deal floated last summer. It was emblematic of rookie money managers, unsupervised children in the sandbox, shoveling other people’s money into a cash-burning furnace.

Most managers running retail and pension money have no idea what a triple-hook rating means for any company with massive cash flow deficits operating in a financial environment in which the Fed is not printing trillions of dollars that can be recycled into bad ideas.

Even without the nearly $10 billion in debt on top of several billion in negative free cash flow, TSLA has billions in off-balance-sheet liabilities that don’t seem to exist as long as the Fed is injecting free cash into the financial system for inexperienced money managers to abuse.

All of that changes with a falling stock market and a triple-C credit rating. Now the obvious operational impossibilities and questionably fraudulent projections by Elon Musk will become quite relevant. If those don’t sink the ship, perhaps the SEC investigations, the ones that Musk forgot to disclose, will put an end to Tesla’s Waterloo. Unless the Fed reverses course and re-implements ZIRP and money printing, it will be next impossible for Tesla to raise the several billion it will need to keep its cancer-infested rodent moving its legs on the gerbil-wheel.

If you are invested in TRowe and Fidelity funds with large exposure to Tesla, I highly recommend selling them. At this point the only prayer the managers running those funds have is to throw more of other-people’s-money into Tesla’s furnace and pray for the Second Coming to save them.

Tesla is going to collapse. The collapse will likely occur in the next 12 months unless there’s some form of exogenous intervention. I doubt the Easter Bunny will deliver that sort of help this weekend. Moody’s “bold” downgrade to triple-C has sealed the fate.

It’s Not The Trade Wars That Should Worry You

Trade wars historically have been symptomatic of more profound underlying problems. Primarily economic in nature. Any big war in history can be tied to economic roots. The degree to which the U.S. financial and economic system is self-destructing varies inversely with the amplitude of the propaganda promoting the opposite.

Yet, in 2016 based on the latest annual W-2 numbers available (SSA.Gov), 55% of worker earn less that $34k per year; 80% of all Americans earn less than $63k per year. Based on the BLS’ labor force participation rate, 37% of all working-age Americans were not considered part of the labor force. But wait, you’re not considered part of the “labor force” if you have not actively looked for a job in the past four weeks.

Just based on these attributes, how is it all possible that the U.S. economy is “healthy and growing?” I’ve left out the fact that household debt hits a new record every month. The average car loan outstanding is $31k. How does that compare to the income numbers? This means that, on average, 80% with a car loan have an outstanding balance that is about 50% of their annual salary. What would happen to the economy if the Government were unable to issue more Treasury to fund the accelerating spending deficit? Sorry to break the news but the economy is collapsing…

Trump’s solution to this is to give us the three-headed neo-con monster called Bolton, Pompeo and Haspel. All three are drooling to drop nukes, spy on U.S. citizens and torture anyone who disagrees with U.S. imperialism.

Paul Craig Roberts posted a must-read article by Stephen M. Walt:

[T]he departures of Tillerson and McMaster and the arrivals of Bolton, Pompeo, and Haspel herald the ascendance of a hawkish contingent that will tear up the Iran deal, reinstate the torture regime, and eventually start a war with North Korea that goes way beyond a simple “bloody nose.” And with Bolton in the White House, Trump is going to be advised by a guy who never saw a war he didn’t like (when observed from a safe distance, of course)…Let me be clear: Bolton’s appointment is on par with most of Trump’s personnel choices, which is to say that it’s likely to be a disaster

You can read the rest of this here: Welcome To The Dick Cheney Administration

Upon reading that commmentary, you’ll understand why it’s not the trade wars that keep up at night…

“The Don And Larry Show”

Just when you think it would be impossible for the Trump Presidency to become any more of a tragi-comedy, Trump manages to turn the volume up to eleven by appointing Larry Kudlow as his chief economic hit-man. In 1999, Kudlow predicted that the Dow would hit 50,000 by 2020:

To direct his National Economic Council, meanwhile, Trump has nominated Larry Kudlow, who also proposed a wildly optimistic take on stock prices back then, in his case a prediction that the Dow Jones Industrial Average would go to 50,000 by 2020…Kudlow, the more interesting of Trump’s Dow dreamers, didn’t seem to be chastened by this experience; he went on to a career as a TV business commentator, delivering an amazing series of bum steers as the years rolled by. And now, as if in recognition of his dreadful lifetime achievements, he is to be appointed director of the National Economic Council. He has failed about as far as one can fail…”

The quote above is from an article published in The Guardian today by Thomas Frank: Dow dreamers show Trump’s war on elites is pure fantasy.  Frank goes on to warn:   “The real danger in elevating Kudlow to a position of such great public authority, I think, is not that he will continue to misapprehend the world (though of course he will), but that he will be in a position to put his destructive ideology into effect.”

The person who sent me the article wrote in the subject line of the email: “we are so economically f*cked.”  What’s even more amusing about that preface is that most Americas already are economically f*cked.   They just don’t realize it yet because up until now, the Fed and the Government gave the average American enough rope in the form of easy access to debt to hang himself.   As an example, the average car loan balance outstanding is $31,000.  Yet, according to the Social Security Administration, in 2016 (the most recent annual data available from W2’s) 55% of all wage-earners made less than $34,000.

Good luck with that.  The trade war initiated by Trump is little more than the symptom of a collapsing economic system.  The stock market is warning us that something ugly is on the horizon.  The middle class supporters are screwed. Watching them cheer for Trump is analogous to watching chickens in the barnyard cheer for Colonel Sanders…it is indeed one big tragi-comedy…

Is It The Trade War Threats Or Extreme Overvaluation?

The stock market is is more overvalued now than at any time in U.S. history. Sure, permabulls can cherry pick certain metrics that might make valuations appear to be reasonable. But these metrics rely on historical comparisons using GAAP accounting numbers that simply are not remotely comparable over time. Because of changes which have liberalized accounting standards over the last several decades, current GAAP EPS is not comparable to GAAP EPS at previous market tops. And valuation metrics based on revenue/earnings forecasts use standard Wall Street analyst “hockey stick” projections. Perma-bullishness in Wall Street forecasts has become institutionalized. The trade war threats may be the proverbial “final straw” that triggers a severe market sell-off, but the stock market could be cut in half and still be considered overvalued.

The market action has been fascinating. I noticed an interesting occurrence that did not receive any attention from market commentators. Every day last week the Dow/SPX popped up at the open but closed well below their respective highs of the day. Each day featured a pre-market ramp-up in the Dow/SPX/Naz futures. However, the Dow closed lower 3 out of the 5 days and the SPX closed lower 4 out of 5 days. All three indices, Dow/SPX/Naz, closed the week below the previous week’s close.

My point here is that the stock market is still in a topping process. The 10% decline that occurred in late January/February was followed by a rebound that seems to have sucked all of of hope and bullishness back into the market. This is reflected in some of the latest sentiment readings like the Investors Intelligence percentage of bears index, which is still at an all-time low. I also believe that some hedge fund algos are being programmed to sell rallies and buy dips. We’ll have a better idea if this theory is valid over the next couple of months if the market continues to trend sideways to lower.

Deteriorating real economic fundamentals – The most important economic report out last week was retail sales for February, which showed at 0.1% decline from January. This was a surprise to Wall Street’s brain trust, which was expecting a 0.4% gain. Keep in mind the 0.1% decline is nominal. After subtracting inflation, the “unit” decline in sales is even worse. This was the third straight month retail sales declined. The decline was led by falling sales of autos and other big-ticket items. In addition, a related report was out that showed wholesale inventories rose more than expected in January as wholesale sales dropped 0.2%, the biggest monthly decline since July 2016.

Retail and wholesale sales are contracting. What happened to the tax cut’s boost to consumer spending? Based on the huge jump in credit card debt to an all-time high and the decline in the savings rate to a record low in Q4 2017, it’s most likely that the average consumer “pre-spent” the anticipated gain from Trump’s tax cut. Now, consumers have to spend the $95/month on average they’ll get from lower paycheck withholdings paying down credit card debt. As such, retail sales have tanked 3 months in a row.

In fact, the consumer credit report for January, released the week before last, showed a sharp slow-down in credit card usage. In December, credit card debt jumped $6.1 billion. But the January report showed an increase of $780 million. Yes, this is seasonal to an extent. But this was 16.4% below the January 2017 increase of $934 million.

Further reinforcing my thesis that the average household has largely reached a point of “saturation” on the amount of debt that it can support, the Federal Reserve reported that credit card delinquencies on credit cards issued by small banks have risen sharply over the last year. The charge-off rate (bad debt written off and sold to a collection company) soared to 7.2% in Q4 2017, up from 4.5% in Q4 2016. “Small banks” are defined as those outside of the 100 largest banks measured by assets. The charge-off rate at small banks is at its highest since Q1 2010.

Any strength in retail and auto sales related to the replacement cycle from the hurricanes last year are largely done. If you strip out “inconsistent seasonal adjustments,” the decline in February retail sales was 0.48% (John Williams, Shadowstats.com). Given the degree to which the Government agencies tend to manipulate economic statistics, it’s difficult for me to say that the three-month drop in retail sales will continue. However, I suspect that spending by the average household, strapped with a record level of debt, will continue to contract – especially spending on discretionary items.

A portion of the commentary above is an excerpt from the latest Short Seller’s Journal, a weekly newsletter that provides insight on the latest economic data and provides short-sell ideas, including strategies for using options. You can learn more about this newsletter here: Short Seller’s Journal information.

The Slow Death Of The U.S. Economy

Deteriorating real economic fundamentals – The most important economic report out last week was retail sales for February, which showed at 0.1% decline from January. This was a surprise to Wall Street’s brain trust, which was expecting a 0.4% gain. Keep in mind the 0.1% decline is nominal. After subtracting inflation, the “unit” decline in sales is even worse. This was the third straight month retail sales declined. The decline was led by falling sales of autos and other big-ticket items. In addition, a related report was out that showed wholesale inventories rose more than expected in January as wholesale sales dropped 0.2%, the biggest monthly decline since July 2016.

Retail and wholesale sales are contracting. What happened to the tax cut boost to spending? Based on the huge jump in credit card debt to an all-time high and the decline in the savings rate to a record low in Q4 2017, it’s most likely that the average consumer “pre-spent” the anticipated gain from Trump’s tax cut. Now, consumers have to spend the $95/month on average they’ll get from lower paycheck withholdings paying down credit card debt. As such, retail sales have tanked 3 months in a row.

Paul Craig Roberts published a must-read essay on the slow death of the U.S. economy:

As for the full employment claimed by US government reporting agencies, how does full employment coexist with this reported fact from the Dallas Morning News: 100k Applications For 1000 jobs.

Toyota Motor Company advertised the availability of 1,000 new jobs associated with moving its North American headquarters from southern California to Texas and received 100,000 applications. Where did these applications come from when the US has “full employment?”

Clearly, the US does not have full employment. The US has an extremely low rate of labor force participation, because there are no jobs to be had, and discouraged workers who cannot find jobs are not measured in the unemployment rate. Not measuring the unemployed is the basis of the low reported unemployment rate. The official US unemployment rate is just a hoax.

You can read his full commentary here:    America Is Losing Its Economy

Does Larry Kudlow Fear Gold?

One of the first comments about the economy from Larry Kudlow after his appointment as Trump’s chief “economic” advisor was to advise anyone listening to “sell gold.”   But why?  Gold is irrelevant in the United States.  Very few Americans care about silver and even less care about gold.  So why bring attention headline attention to gold?

The simple, if not obvious, answer is that gold is the number one threat to the U.S. dollar. It’s the antithesis of gold.  For a born again Catholic like Kudlow, gold is the anti-Christ.

Silver Doctors invited me onto its weekly Metals and Market Wrap show to discuss the February employment report, the appointment of Larry Kudlow and, of  course, gold and silver:

Use these links if you are interested in learning more about IRD’s   Short Seller’s Journal or Mining Stock Journal.   Many of my short sell and junior mining stock ideas have been successful despite the lofty stock market and sideways trending precious metals market. I review both short and longer term trading/investment ideas in each issue.

The supply of gold, unlike paper money, is limited. Alchemists have tried for centuries to turn other metals into gold — but have never succeeded. Gold is a beautiful metal on its own and the lust for gold seems to be built into the DNA of mankind. If you own ten thousand ounces of gold, you can say that you will ALWAYS be wealthy. – Richard Russell

Navin R. Johnson Goes To The White House

(Note: with apologies to Carl Reiner and Steve Martin, who directed and co-wrote “The Jerk,” respectively)

Just when you thought Trump’s “leadership” could not get any more insane, he adds a third ring to the circus going on at 1600 Pennsylvania by hiring “economist,” Larry Kudlow to be the head of his economic advisors.

For those of you not familiar with financial market history beyond the last 10 years, which includes the majority of money managers and other sundry financial “professionals,” Kudlow was the chief economist at Bear Stearns from 1987 to 1994.  His tenure at Bear ended infamously when it was revealed that he had developed a nasty cocaine and alcohol addiction at some point in his career.

Prior to Bear, Kudlow began his post-college career as a Democratic political operative.  He parlayed his political connections to get a job as a junior staff “economist” at the Fed.  I use quotations marks around the term “economist” in reference to Kudlow because he does not have a degree beyond undergrad  from the University of Rochester, where he majored in history.

At some point Kudlow, likely for political expedience given the political “winds” of the country in the early 1980’s, became a Republican. He wheeled his political connections into a job in Reagan’s OMB (David Stockman was the Director).  From there, he moved on to Bear Stearns.  The rest is history.

I thought  it would be interesting to peer into the mind of an untrained economist to examine the thought process.  Clearly Kudlow excelled at wheeling and dealing his political connections.  But is he qualified to be the president’s chief economic advisor, especially at a time when the U.S. is systemically collapsing?

In November 2007, Trump’s new Chief Economic Advisor, Larry “Señor Snort” Kudlow wrote an article about the economy titled, “Three More Years of Goldilocks” for which he should receive the Darwin Award (credit goes to @RudyHavenstein for posting the article).  Let’s examine some excerpts – keep in mind Kudlow wrote this about 5 months before Bear Stearns collapsed, triggering a financial crisis that anyone with more than two brain cells could see coming:

“I think the election-year economy will be stronger than the Fed’s estimate — closer to 3 percent. Too much is being made of both the sub-prime credit problem and the housing downturn.” IRD note: Many of us predicted and made big bets on the outcome of “too much being made of the sub-prime credit problem;” a caveman could see what was coming.

“What’s more, the entire market in sub-prime debt is just 1.4 percent of the global equity market.” – IRD note: Maybe 1.4% of a global stock bubble – but that’s like saying a small nuclear bomb in the hands of a madman is just 1.4% of the total stockpile of nuclear weapons. Notice that Kudlow overlooks the $10’s of trillions of OTC derivatives connected to the sub-prime debt, something that was obvious to many.

In issuing a forecast for 2008, Kudlow goes on to say:  “Both consumer spending and business capital investment are advancing…Right now, stocks are in a classic declining-profits correction. This downward trend has so far reduced the Dow by roughly 8 percent. As a rough guess, a 10 percent correction ought to spell the end to the Dow’s slump. And Fed rate cuts should be a big booster for stocks.” IRD note – Where on earth was he getting his data on consumer spending? By November 2007, households that weren’t living in fear of foreclosure were living in fear of losing their job. Between October 2007 and March 2009, the S&P 500 collapsed 58%.

Kudlow’s assertions back in 2007 were a joke.  What happened to Kudlow’s “Goldilocks economy?”  This is the person who is now Trump’s lead economic advisor.   Now Kudlow once again is asserting that, “the profit picture is good. It’s looking real good, and growth is not inflationary just let it rip for heaven’s sakes. The market is going to take care of itself.”

Based on his track record of issuing bullish forecasts right before a collapse,  I’d suggest that the economy and financial system is closer to taking care of itself by  “ripping” off a cliff without a parachute than it is to producing real growth. Retail sales have tanked three months in a row, the housing market appears to be headed south, auto sales plummeting, restaurant sales have dropped 19 out of the last 20 months. Where is this growth you seeing, Larry? Please do tell…

Paul Craig Roberts: Make Believe America

Americans live a never-never-land existance. The politicians and presstitutes make sure of that.

Consider something as simple as the unemployment rate. The US is said to have full employment with a January 2018 unemployment rate of 4.1 percent, down from 9.8 percent in January 2010 – BLS Statistics.

However, the low rate of unemployment is contradicted by the long-term decline in the labor force participation rate. After a long rise during the Reagan 1980s, the labor force participation rate peaked in January 1990 at 66.8 percent, more or less holding to that rate for another decade until 2001 when decline set in accelerating in September 2008.

Today the labor force participation rate is the lowest since February 1978, reversing all of the gains of the Reagan years.

Allegedly, the current unemployment rate of 4.1 percent is the result of the long recovery that allegedly began in June 2009. However, normally, employment opportunities created by economic recovery cause an increase in the labor force participation rate as people join the work force to take advantage of employment opportunities. A fall in the participation rate is associated with recession or stagnation, not with economic recovery.

How can this contradiction be reconciled? The answer lies in the measurement of unemployment. If you have not looked for a job in the last four weeks, you are not counted as being unemployed, because you are not counted as being part of the work force. When there are no jobs to be found, job seekers become discouraged and cease looking for jobs. In other words, the 4.1 percent unemployment rate does not count discouraged workers who cannot find jobs.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has a second measure of unemployment that includes workers who have been discouraged and out of the labor force for less than one year. This rate of unemployment is 8.2 percent, double the 4.1 percent reported rate.

The US government no longer tracks unemployment among discouraged workers who have been out of the work force for more than one year. However, John Williams of shadowstats.com continues to estimate this rate and places it at 22 or 23 percent, a far cry from 4.1 percent.

In other words, the 4.1 percent unemployment rate does not count the unemployed who do show up in the declining labor force participation rate.

If the US had a print and TV media instead of the propaganda ministry that it has, the financial press would not tolerate the deception of the public about employment in America.

Junk economists, of which the US has an over-supply, claim that the decline in the labor force participation rate merely reflects people who prefer to live on welfare than to work for a living and the current generation of young people who prefer life at home with parents paying the bills. This explanation from junk economists does not explain why suddenly Americans discovered welfare and became lazy in 2001 and turned their back on job opportunities. The junk economists also do not explain why, if the economy is at full employment, competition for workers is not driving up wages.

The reason Americans cannot find jobs and have left the labor force is that US corporations have offshored millions of American jobs in order to raise profits, share prices, and executive bonuses by lowering labor costs. Many American industrial and manufacturing cities have been devastated by the relocation abroad of production for the American consumer market, by the movement abroad of IT and software engineering jobs, and by importing lower paid foreign workers on H1-B and other work visas to take the jobs of Americans. In my book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism, I give examples and document the devastating impact jobs offshoring has had on communities, cities, pension funds, and consumer purchasing power.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST:  PCR – MAKE BELIEVE AMERICA

313k Jobs Added? Nice Try But It’s Fake News

The census bureau does the data-gathering and the Bureau of Labor Statistics feeds the questionable data sample through its statistical sausage grinder and spits out some type of grotesque scatological substance.  You know an economic report is pure absurdity when the report exceeds Wall Street’s rose-colored estimate by 53%.  That has to be, by far, an all-time record-high “beat.”

If you sift through some of the foul-smelling data, it turns out 365k of the alleged jobs were part-time, which means the labor market lost 52k full-time jobs.  But alas, I loathe paying any credence to complete fiction by dissecting the “let’s pretend” report.

The numbers make no sense.  Why?  Because the alleged data does not fit the reality of the real economy.  Retail sales, auto sales, home sales and restaurant sales have been declining for the past couple of months.  So who would be doing the hiring?  Someone pointed out that Coinbase has hired 500 people.  But the retail industry has been laying off thousands this year. Given the latest industrial production and auto sales numbers, I highly doubt factories are doing anything with their workforce except reducing it.

And if the job market is “so strong,” how comes wages are flat?  In fact, adjusted for real inflation, real wages are declining.  If the job market was robust, wages would be soaring.  Speaking of which, IF the labor market was what the Government wants us to believe it is, the FOMC would tripping all over itself to hike the Fed Funds rate.  And the rate-hikes would be in chunks of 50-75 basis points – not the occasional 0.25% rise.

The Housing Market Is Starting To Fall Apart

Last week I summarized January existing home sales, which were released on Wednesday, Feb 21st. Existing home sales dropped 3.2% from December and nearly 5% from January 2017. Those statistics are based on the SAAR (Seasonally Adjusted Annualized Rate) calculus. Larry Yun, the National Association of Realtors chief salesman, continues to propagate the “low inventory” propaganda.

But in truth, the economics of buying a home has changed dramatically for the first-time and move-up buyer demographic plus flipper/investors. As I detailed a couple of issues back, based on the fact that most first-time buyers “buy” into the highest possible monthly payment for which they can qualify, the price that a first-time, or even a move-up buyer, can afford to pay has dropped roughly 10% with the rise in mortgage rates that has occurred since September 2017. The game has changed. That 10% decline results from a less than 1% rise in mortgage rates.

That same calculus applies to flipper/investors. Investors looking to buy a rental home pay a higher rate of interest than owner-occupied buyers. Most investors would need the amount of rent they can charge to increase by the amount their mortgage payment increases from higher rates. Or they need to use a much higher down payment to make the investment purchase. The new math thereby removes a significant amount of “demand” from investors.

It also occurred to me that flippers still holding homes purchased just 3-4 months ago are likely underwater on their “largesse.” Most flippers look for homes in the price-range that caters to first-timers (under $500k). This is the most “liquid” segment of the housing market in terms of the supply of buyers. Any flipper that closed on a home purchase in the late summer or early fall that needed to be “spruced up” is likely still holding that home. In addition to the purchase cost, the flipper has also incurred renovation and financing costs. Perhaps in a few markets prices have held up. But in most markets, the price first-time buyers can pay without significantly increasing the amount of the down payment has dropped roughly 10%. Using this math, any flipper holding a home closed prior to October is likely sitting on a losing trade.

Similar to 2007/2008, many of these homes will be sold at a loss or the flipper will “jingle mail” the keys to the bank, in which case the bank will likely dump the home. I know in some areas of metro-Denver, pre-foreclosure listings are rising. Some flippers might turn into rental landlords. This will increase the supply of rental homes which, in turn, will put pressure on rental rates.

New home sales – The plunge in January new home sales was worse than existing homes. New home sales dropped 7.8% from December. This follows December’s 9.3% plunge from November. The December/January sequence was the biggest two-month drop in new home sales since August 2013. Back then, mortgage rates had spiked up from 3.35% in June to 4.5% by the end of August. The Fed at that time was still buying $40 billion worth of mortgages every month. With QE over and an alleged balance sheet reduction program in place, plus the Fed posturing as if it will continue nudging the Fed Funds rate higher, it’s likely that new home sales will not rebound like they did after August 2013, when mortgage rates headed back down starting in early September 2013.

Contrary to the Larry Yun false narrative, the supply of new homes jumped to 6.1 months from 5.5 months in December. How does this fit the Yun propaganda that falling sales is a function of low inventory? The average price of a new home is $382k (the median is $323k). New home prices will have to fall significantly in order for sales to stop trending lower. What happens if the Fed really does continue hiking rates and mortgage rates hit 5%?

January “Pending” Home Sales – The NAR’s “pending home sales index,” which is based on contract signings, was released this past Wednesday. It plunged to its lowest level since October 2014. The index dropped 4.7% vs. an expected 0.5% rise from the optimist zombies on Wall St. It’s the biggest 1-month percentage decline in the index since May 2010. On a year-over-year comparison basis, the index is down 1.7%. December’s pending home sales index was revised down from the original headline report.

The chart below, sourced from Zerohedge with my edits added, illustrates the way in which rising and falling mortgage rates affects home sales. The mortgage rate data is inverted to better illustrate the correlation between mortgage rates and home sales:

Housing sales data is lagged by a month. Per the blue line, current homes sales (i.e. February sales/contract signings) have likely declined again given that mortgage rates continued to rise in during the month of February.

The above commentary on the housing market is from the latest Short Seller’s Journal.  Myself and several subscribers have been making a lot money shorting homebuilders this year.  But it’s not just about homebuilders.  I presented ZAGG as a short in the SSJ in the December 10th issue at $19.  It plunged down to $12 yesterday.  I’ve had several subscribers report gains of up to 40% shorting the stock and 3x that amount using puts.

You can find out more about this unique newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal