“Mother Of All Blow-Offs?”

People who look for easy money invariable pay for the privilege of proving conclusively that it cannot be found on this earth. – Jesse Livermore

Boeing’s stock has gone parabolic. It’s doubled since April 2017:

The stock now trades at a 31x PE ratio, for whatever that’s worse. I’m sure if I went through the numbers closely, I could find numerous accounting manipulations which added a copious amount of non-cash income to BA’s numbers. BA’s revenues on a trailing 12 month basis are flat. From 2015 to 2016, its revenues declined 1.7%. On a trailing twelve month basis vs. 2016, its revenues have dropped 3.2%.

Historically paying a nose-bleed PE ratio for a company with deteriorating revenues and an enormous amount of debt does not produce a good result. Chasing the price-momentum higher and waiting for a bigger idiot to buy shares from you works well until the music stops. Then everyone gets hurt.

The Dow moved up an average of 120 pts per day in the nine trading days since the end of 2017. This includes one day in which the Dow dared to close 12 pts lower. That one day felt like a bear market. Over this entire period the Dow has appreciated 4.4%. Since the election, including the 1,000 pt plunge in the Dow futures that occurred when it was apparent Trump would win, the Dow has soared nearly 50%.

What’s driving this? Since late August, the public has literally thrown money blindly into passively managed ETFs which automatically distribute the cash inflow by market cap weighting into the stocks in the index that underlies the ETF. This means that most of the gains are concentrated in the stocks in the Dow/SPX with the largest market caps, which then drives the Dow/SPX higher. For instance, last Friday, the Dow was up 0.89% but AMZN was up 2.2%, Netflix was up 1.8%, GOOG was up 1.5% etc.

There’s no telling how much longer this can persist without some type of accident. Judging by the data on cash in customer brokerage accounts at the big online brokers , I would have to believe that this last push from the retail investor is nearing its completion. Data from the fund industry has shown a massive migration of investor cash moving out of actively managed mutual funds and into passive index funds. This would include money managed on behalf of individuals by registered investment advisors.

Most investor sentiment indicators are showing extreme levels of bullishness – historically unprecedented levels.  The short interest on the NYSE has melted down nearly to zero.   The Acting Man blog has written an excellent post which details the sentiment indicators flashing bright red warning lights – I recommend a perusal:   Mother Of All Blow-Offs

For now, the raging bulls chasing momentum conveniently ignore  the deterioration in “new orders” and “employment” numbers in deference to the statistically manipulated headline reports that purport to show economic growth. Most of the bullish reports are overweighted with “sentiment” and “hope” metrics that offset declining real economy statistics.  Credit card and auto loan delinquencies – both subprime and “prime” –  continue to increase a double-digit rates (see WFM or COF’s latest quarterlies, for instance).  As for the “prime” credit rating designation of 2017, it’s not your mother’s “prime” credit rating.

At this point I don’t want to speculate on how much longer that Dow/SPX/Naz can go straight up. Historically this is the type of market behavior which has marked the blow-off top of speculative manias and has preceded serious market accidents.

Is this the “Mother Of  All Blow-Offs?” Probably.

Part of the commentary above was excerpted from the last issue of the Short Seller’s Journal. Believe it or not, there’s 100’s of stocks that declining or have set-up short-sell opportunities.  Long term puts are historically cheap and shorting certain companies is a no-brainer.  I had my subscribers short Sears at $12.   Last week I presented homebuilder to short that is down 6.7% on the week, so far.  To learn about about this newsletter, click here:  Short Seller’s Journal information

2018 Should Be Bullish For The Precious Metals Sector

Usually I’m loathe to stick out price targets on the markets, especially gold and silver, because of the undeniable market intervention of the Central Banks – market manipulation which is blatant to the point at which it is now denied only by card-carrying idiots.

Gold and silver had a sharp run-up in the last two weeks of 2017. However, the abrupt move in gold was accompanied by a rapid rise in the gold futures open interest on the Comex. The “commercial” – aka “the banks” – net short position in Comex gold futures has increased by 100,000 contracts (from 120 net short to 220k net short) in just four weeks through the most recent COT report. That’s a net paper gold short of 22 million ozs, or 623 tonnes of paper sold short. As of yesterday (Tues, Jan 16), the open interest in gold futures increased another 27,000 contracts, most of which, based on the trend in the COT positions,  can be attributed to a continued increase in bank short interest.

To put this paper gold short position in perspective, the Comex reports that its warehouses “safekeep” 9.2 million ounces of gold (this number is unaudited). That’s 11 million ounces less than the bank net short position. However, only 586k ozs of gold are reported to be “registered,” or available for delivery. The ratio of the paper gold short to deliverable gold is 37:1. In other words, each ounce of deliverable gold has been “hypothecated” and re-sold 37 times.

I guess if you are a card-carrying idiot, you have every right to deny that these numbers reflect the flagrant disregard of securities laws by the banks. But of course, the very people appointed to enforce these laws are from law firms that make millions defending the banks’ legal rights to ignore Rule of Law.

On the other hand,  offsetting the attempted control of the price of gold using derivatives, the eastern hemisphere demand for physical gold continues to be immense. It looks like, based on SGE gold withdrawals, China as a whole “consumed” over 2,000 tonnes of gold in 2017. India likely imported and smuggled into the country close to or more than 1,000 tonnes. Turkey imported 370 tonnes of gold in 2017. This exceeded the previous record in 2013 by over 22%. I would note that the size of Turkey’s demand was not expected. I don’t have Russia’s import numbers off the top of my head but Russia imported more in 2017 than has been typical.

The point here is that the eastern hemisphere’s demand for gold on an annualized basis is increasing as the price of gold increases. It’s important to know that, on a seasonal basis, imports into China and India tend to slow down in late January through February before picking up again. My hunch is that the paper gold manipulators are looking to hold down the price of gold as much as possible and wait for eastern demand to subside before attacking the price. 

This will serve as a catalyst to launch another surge higher in the price of gold driven by physical demand.  Demand which might get a boost from the ongoing crash of the cyptocurrencies.

Having said all of that, I believe there’s a good chance that gold will move toward and possibly over $1400 during 2018. This Trump tax cut will negatively impact the Government’s spending deficit by a meaningful amount and the U.S. will be forced to issue well over $1 trillion in Treasury debt this year. Moody’s placed the U.S. Government’s rating on watch for a possible downgrade. During the course of the year I expect to see the dollar index drop below 90, which is a key technical support level. If this occurs, gold will quickly move over $1400.

A portion of the commentary above is an excerpt from the latest  Mining Stock Journal.

Who’s Going To Stop The Madness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gold And The Debt Crack-Up Boom

The stock market has entered the “melt-up” phase that characterizes the final stage of a rampant stock bubble – or any bubble for that matter. The stock market is more overvalued than at any point in history using just about any traditional valuation metric. At this point, the stock market has become a function of money managers chasing price momentum. They are doing nothing more than gambling with other people’s money in the hopes that they’ll be able to unload their stock purchases at an even higher level on other gamblers.

Pulling back the cloud of propaganda that surrounds economic news reported by official sources (Government, Fed, industry associations and the financial media) reveals an economy that has been heading into recession and a stunning deterioration in the financial condition of the average household.

A study of U.S. households released by Deutsche Bank showed that the median household net worth is lower than it was in 1989. Despite the rise in home values and stocks, over 30% of all households have a negative net worth. A greater share of Americans have more debt than money in the bank than at any point since 1962. Add on to this the fact that overall systemic debt – a record level of auto, student loan, mortgage, corporate and Treasury debt – has reached a record level outright and as a percentage of the GDP.

Silver Doctor’s Elijah Johnson invited me on to his podcast to discuss why the U.S. economic system is headed for a trainwreck and why gold will surprise to the upside in 2018:

The latest stock featured in the Mining Stock Journal has doubled in six weeks. It has potential to be a 10-bagger from here.  Click on these links if want to learn more about the MINING STOCK JOURNAL or the SHORT SELLER’S JOURNAL

The Blockchain Name-Change Game And Securities Fraud

The rape and pillage of the blockchain name-change game took on a whole new dimension with Kodak (KODK) this week.  KODK was on the way to its second bankruptcy filing this decade (first one was January 2012).  On January 9th it announced that it implement a “major blockchain initiative.  This “initiative” would use digital ledgers to help photographers license and get paid for their work.  The stock soared:

Notwithstanding whether or not this “block chain initiative” will ever generate meaningful profits for KODK, it turns out that insiders at the Company filed S-4’s with the SEC disclosing that they were awarded 10’s of thousands of “restricted stock units.” The problem with this? The RSU’s were awarded on January 8th, the day before the “blockchain” announcement was released on January 9th.  The timing of this filing is quite curious.

The Company released its Q3 10-Q on November 8th.  Revenues plunged 32% yr/yr for the 3rd quarter; operating income swung from $15mm in Q3 2016 to a $54mm loss in Q3 2017. The Company is dying on a vine.  Ordinarily compensation stock in the form of RSU’s is awarded at the end of each quarter. The issuance of RSU’s is disclosed in the 10-Q.  No mention whatsoever of management or employee stock compensation awards.  No mention whatsoever in the MD&A of a plan to incorporate “blockchain” in any part of the business model.

All of the above, in conjunction with the sudden disclosure of large quantities of free stock in the form of RSU’s the day before KODK’s “blockchain initiative” announcement tells me that this was a scheme hatched sometime well after the Q3 10-Q was filed by unscrupulous corporate executives who saw an opportunity to exploit the massive blockchain stock and cryptocurrency bubble.

In all probability, these insiders have likely arranged to hedge the gains on the underlying stock represented by the RSU’s using OTC derivatives underwritten by Wall Street banks. These would be derivatives structured in a way that would escape the requirement to disclose the transaction in an SEC filing.  Instant profits on derivative stock that was awarded the day before news was released by the Company – news that upper management knew would send the stock to the moon.

Based on the black and white letter of the law, KODK upper management technically has not violated a strict interpretation of insider trading laws.  However, 20 years ago it’s highly likely that, if lawsuits were pressed, KODK’s upper management and board of directors would have been prosecuted and convicted of insider trading.

Fast-forward to 2018, near the end of a stock and fraud bubble that is multiples of the one that occurred with dot.com’s in the late 1990’s, and everyone looks the other way including the NYSE, SEC and Justice Department.

It’s a good bet this “blockchain initiative” will never generate any meaningful profits for the Company.  Most likely KODK is headed for a Chapter “22” filing before the end of this decade because bleeding cash profusely and it is mired in large pension and debt liabilities.

This is an example of the blatant fraud and corruption that accompanies the top of stock market bubble and the collapse of a political and economic system.  The blockchain and cryptocurrencies will not revolutionize life as we know it nor will they generate real economic wealth for anyone other than those in a position to exploit the greed and fear of missing out of the idiots who buy into the fairytale.

As expressed by Fred Hickey in his High-Tech Strategist newsletter, {Bitcoin/blockchain} “is the cherry on top of the world’s first truly global market bubble.”

The Household Debt Ticking Time Bomb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fatal Mistake Crypto Investors are Making Now

I find it amusing that the stock market is attributing so much value to the “blockchain” technology.  In reality, blockchain technology is just a piece of software that increases the degree of security for digital transactions.  I fail to see how this will revolutionize our lives the way the roll-out of the internet or the implementation of mass production or the invention of the internal combustion engine or the harnessing of electricity  changed and affected our daily lives.  I believe the technology has been egregiously over-hyped by promoters who make unrealistic claims about the potential for blockchain software.

But for now it sure is a great “buzzword” for unscrupulous operators to make  a lot of money selling blockchain “snake-oil” to suckers.   Just add the word “blockchain” to the name of your company and the stock will triple in a day.  It’s like the dot.com bubble when any stock with “dot.com” in the name of the company soared.  99.9% of those stocks disappeared completely by 2003.

This article was written Josh Brown of The Reformed Broker

Let’s start our discussion with the technology which made Bitcoin possible called “blockchain”. In very simple terms the blockchain technology is a record of all transactions ever done in Bitcoin. Imagine a gigantic piece of paper that lists every transaction ever completed. Then imagine that there are thousands of copies of this paper, and all of them are automatically updated when any two people agree to exchange Bitcoins. Every time a transaction takes place all these copies are checked for consistency to make sure you actually have the Bitcoins you claim to have. If everything checks out the new transaction is added to all the pieces of paper at once.

This is the heart of the truly genius idea that is blockchain, and it is what it makes it possible to have certainty over a Bitcoin balance someone owns, without needing any central party (like a bank) to verify it. If all the pieces of paper agree then the balance is correct, and trying to doctor or fake all the pieces of paper at once is impossible. The best (and worst) thing about this technology is that it has been made available for absolutely FREE to anyone who wants to use it.

You can read the rest of this here:  The Fatal Mistake Crypto Investors are Making Now

Returning to a Gold Standard – Why and How

This article is from Dr. Fraser Murrell via The Daily Coin:

In the 1600s, Sir Isaac Newton presided over a (bi-metal) Gold and Silver Standard, with the flaw being the fix of silver to gold. In the 1900s, John Maynard Keynes “revolutionized” economics, with the result being certain economic collapse. In both cases there was a logical error in the key definition of “price”, which is critical to the stability of the economy. This note examines the problem and then goes on to present a workable Gold Standard, which it is argued, is the most stable frame of reference for our economy.

You can read the rest of this here:   Returning to a Gold Standard

The Four Most Dangerous Words In Investing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toxicity Plus Toxicity Does Not Equal Purification

Paper is a check drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it bounces, marked, ‘Account overdrawn.’ – Francisco’s “Money” Speech – from “Atlas Shrugged”

You have to love it – the City of Houston issues $1.01 billion  “pension obligation” bonds to “ease” the underfunding of the underfunded public pension fund.  “Pension underfunding”  is the politically acceptable euphemism for “debt obligation.”  Underfunding occurs when a pension investment returns PLUS future beneficiary contributions are not enough to cover current beneficiary payments.

Some might say it’s the difference between the NPV of future payouts and the current value of the fund. But that’s horse-hooey. Houston had a cash flow deficit it had to address and it did that by issuing taxpayer obligation debt – $1.01 billion dollars of taxpayer debt.  Furthermore, let’s use a realistic NPV and ROR assumption on any pension fund plus throw-in a real mark to market of illiquid assets like PE fund investments.  Every pension fund in the U.S. is tragically underfunded.

The rational remedy would be to cut beneficiary payments or force larger contributions from current working stakeholder or both.  The problem is that implementing either or both of those remedies might cost elected officials their jobs in the next election.

Instead, the proverbial can is kicked further into the sewage ditch by issuing more debt and using the the proceeds to help the pension fund cover current cash outflows to beneficiaries.  Regardless of what you call it, an underfunded pension liability is simply “debt”.  This bond issue might ensure that Houston’s retired public employees will continue, for now, to receive their expected flow of monthly pension payment, but this bond deal in no way whatsoever “eases” the debt burden of the pension fund.  Rather, it shifts wealth from the taxpayers to the retired public employees.

Similarly, the Trump Tax Cut does nothing more than shift the distribution of wealth from 99.5%’ers to the 0.5%’ers plus big corporations.  In this case, it’s not wealth per se.  Rather, it’s shifting the burden of supporting the Government’s spending deficit from the tax cut beneficiaries (billionaires and big corporations) to the rest of the population.

I could care less what CBO projections show – CBO forecasts are always appallingly inaccurate – the Government’s spending deficit is going to accelerate next year.   Between the cut in tax revenues from Trump’s Tax Cut and the big jump in spending built into the budget for defense and re-paving the roads that were paved during the Obama era, total spending will soar.  The gap between inflows and outflows will be bridged with more Treasury bond issuance.

Remember the narrative about systemic “deleveraging” after the great financial collapse crisis? Turns out that story-line was a fairy-tale.  Treasury debt hits a new all-time everyday  and has more than doubled since the end of 2008.  Non-financial corporate debt hits a new all-time high every and is 71.4% higher than it was at the end of 2008.  Auto debt hits an all-time high every day;  credit card debt is close to an all-time high and student loan debt hits an all-time high every day.  Household debt not including mortgage debt hits an all-time everyday and is 43% higher than at the end of 2008.   The household numbers do not include NYSE margin debt, which is at at all-time high and an all-time high as percent of GDP.

The stock market is impervious to the accelerating level of debt at all levels of the U.S. financial system – at least for now.  At least until enough households and businesses get a message that says “account overdrawn,” like this person received directly from the bank teller last week (from a reader):

Great post Dave, Had a bit of a real world experience on this yesterday. Heading out to make the last biz deposit yesterday and met the mailman end of driveway and got another check. No deposit slip so asked the drive-in teller to just use my account number on the checks to deposit this. He left the intercom on. In rolls one of those massive bubba-mobiles big enough to blot out the sun..it looked like a pretty/very new one but could be wrong. I hate these loud diesel stinking machines. Anyway Bubba was trying to make a withdrawal out of his home equity credit line for $300. The teller came on and told him he was maxed. He fumed how can it be maxed?…”Well” he said “there have been 3 withdrawals in the last 2 weeks for $2200.” He whips out his phone and calls his wife (?) Raises his voice, guns the engine and off he goes…..with no cash. How often is this being repeated around the country every day…