Tag Archives: consumer debt

A Massive Bubble In Retail Stocks

Retail, especially the “concept” retailers, are going parabolic. It makes no sense given the declining rate of personal consumption, retail sales, etc. The kinkiest names like RH, RL and W are going up like the dot.com stocks went up in late 1999/early 2000. The move in these stocks reflects either mindless optimism or momentum-rampaging by hedge fund bots – or both. The hedge fund trading flow can turn on a dime and go the other way. I suspect this will happen and, as it does, squeeze even more mindless optimism out of the market.

The cost of gasoline has to be hammering disposable income for most households. On top of this is the rising cost of monthly debt service for the average household.  Non-essential consumerism is dying on a vine.

Fundamentally the retail sector is not recovering. If anything, the economic variables which support retail sales are deteriorating. I think some of the shares caught a bid on better than expected earnings derived from the one-time bump in GAAP non-cash income from the tax law changes reported by numerous companies in Q1. I just don’t see how it’s possible, given the negative wage, consumption, credit and retail sales reports that the sector has “recovered.”

In just the last eight trading days, XRT has outperformed both the Dow and S&P 500 by a significant margin. It has all indications of a blow-off top in process. You can see that, with industry fundamentals deteriorating, XRT’s current level now exceeds the top it hit at the end of January, which is when the stock market drop began. The RSI has run back into “overbought” status.

Some of the “kinkiest” retail concept stocks, like Lululemon (LULU), Five Below (FIVE) and Restoration Hardware (RH), soared after reporting the customary, well-orchestrated GAAP/non-GAAP earnings “beat.”  Of course, RH’s revenues declined year over year for the quarter it just reported.  But it used debt plus cash generated from reducing inventories to buyback $1 billion worth of shares in the last 12 months.  Yes, of course, insiders greedily sold shares into the buybacks. (Note: If insiders were working for shareholders other than themselves, companies would pay large, one-time special dividends to ALL shareholders rather than buyback shares to goose the stock price)

The retail stocks are setting up a great opportunity for bears like me to make a lot of money shorting the most egregiously overvalued shares in the sector.  Timing is always an issue.  But complacency has enveloped the stock market once again, as hedge funds have settled back to aggressively shorting volatility.

It won’t take much to tip the market over again.  Only this time around I expect the low-close of February 8th (2,581 on the SPX) to be exceeded to the downside by a considerable margin.

The above commentary was partially excerpted from the the latest issue of the Short Seller’s Journal.  It’s not easy shorting the market right now – for now – but there have been plenty of short-term opportunities to “scalp” stocks using short term puts. I cover both short term trading ideas and long term positioning ideas.  You can learn more  about this newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.

 

Consumer Spending Contraction: Two Charts That Horrify Keynesians

“While the decline in housing activity has been significant and will probably continue for a while longer, I think the concerns we used to hear about the possibility of a devastating collapse—one that might be big enough to cause a recession in the U.S. economy—have been largely allayed…” – Janet Yellen 1/22/07

The propaganda is always laid on the heaviest just ahead of The Fall.  The employment report showing sub-4%, with nearly 96 million working age people not considered part of the labor Force, is possibly the penultimate fabrication.

Consumer spending is more than 70% of the GDP.  A toxic consequence of the Fed’s money printing and near-zero interest rate policy over the last 10 years is the artificial inflation of economic activity fueled by indiscriminate credit creation.

But now the majority of American households, over 75% of which do not have enough cash in the bank to cover an emergency expense, have become over-bloated from gorging at the Fed’s debt trough.

As credit usage slows down or contracts, the economy will go off Bernank’s Cliff much sooner than Helicopter Ben’s 2020 forecast.

The chart above is the year-over-year percentage change in total consumer credit outstanding. Not only is the growth rate decelerating, credit card debt usage is beginning to contract. This the collective prose from the mainstream media is that households are paying down credit card debt with tax savings. But, again, this is a lie. For most households, the increase in the cost of gasoline more than offsets the $90/month the average taxpayer is saving in taxes.

The second chart shows that the growth rate in auto debt fell off Bernanke’s Cliff in early 2017. While the growth rate in the amount of auto debt has appeared to have stabilized – for now – there’s been  a decline in the underlying growth rate in unit sales. This is because the mix of vehicles sold has shifted toward more trucks, which carry a higher sticker price and thus require a bigger auto loan.  Larger loans per vehicle sold, less total units sold.

The Keynesian economic model – as it is applied in the current era to stimulate consumer spending – requires debt issuance to increase at an increasing rate. But as you can see, the rate of credit usage is decreasing. The affects are already reflected by a rapid slow-down in retail, auto and home sales. Most American households are saturated with debt.

The real fun begins as many of these households begin to default. In fact, the delinquency and default rate, in what is supposed to be a healthy economy, on subprime credit card loans and auto debt already exceeds the delinquency/default rate in 2008. Perhaps Bernanke’s Cliff is just around the next bend in the trail…

Household Debt At Record Level – Bigger Than China’s GDP

The economy continues to grow weaker despite all of the Fed, Wall St. and media propaganda to the contrary. The economy is growing weaker due to the deteriorating financial condition of the consumer, which is by far the biggest driver of GDP in the United States. The only way the policy-makers can avoid a systemic collapse is “helicopter” money printing, in which printed cash or digital currency credits is, in some manner, distributed to the populace.

The Fed reported that non-revolving consumer debt (not including mortgage debt) hit $2.6 trillion at the end of the first quarter. Student loans outstanding hit a record $1.44 trillion. Recall that at least 40% of this debt is in some form of delinquency, default or “approved” non-pay status. Auto loans hit a record $1.2 trillion. Of this, at the very least  30% is subprime. A meaningful portion of the auto debt is of such poor credit quality when it’s issued that it is not even rated. Credit card debt is now over $1 trillion dollars and at a record level. The average outstanding balance per capita is $9600 per card for those who don’t pay in full at the end of the month.  Just counting the households with credit card debt  balances, the average balance per household is $16,000.  The average household auto loan balance for all households with a car loan is over $29,000.

The data shows a consumer that is buried in debt and will likely begin to default at an accelerating rate this year. In fact, I’d call these statistics an impending economic and financial disaster. Credit card companies are already warning about credit charge-offs. Synchrony (which issues credit cards for Amazon and Walmart) reported that its credit card charge-offs would rise at least 5% in 2017. Capital One (Question: “What’s in your wallet?” – Answer: “Not money”) reported that credit card charge-offs soared 28% year over year for Q1.  Synchrony, Capital One and Discover combined increased their Q1 provision for bad loans by 36% over last year’s provisions taken.

The monthly consumer credit report last week showed a $12.4 billion increase over May. A $16 billion increase was expected by Wall St. Keep in mind that every month of credit expansion is another new all-time high in consumer debt. Credit card debt outstanding increased by $4.1 billion, which is troubling for two reasons. First, it’s likely that financial firms are lending to less than qualified borrowers, as evidenced by the rising credit card delinquency and charge-off rates. Second, given the declining household real disposable income and savings rate, it’s likely that households are using credit card debt to pay for non-discretionary expenses. The smaller than expected increase in credit is being attributed primarily to slower growth in auto loans.

Speaking of the auto industry, Bloomberg reported last week that auto dealers, in a desperate bid to increase sales and reduce inventory, cut prices on new cars and trucks in July by the most since March 2009. It also reported that used car prices dropped 4.1%. This graph from Meridian Macro Research captures the rapid deterioration auto sales (click to enlarge):

The chart shows rate of change in motor vehicle freight carload volume on a year over year basis vs. per capita auto sales. As you can see, the last time these two metrics were showing negative growth (a decline) and heading lower was 2008. The entire “boom” in auto sales since the “cash for clunkers” program, which ran from July 2009 to November 2009, has been artificially created by a massive expansion in Government-enabled credit and Fed money printing. The impending crash in the auto industry is unavoidable unless the Government resorts to outright “helicopter” money printing (i.e. giving cash directly to households rather than to the banks).

One of the best barometers of consumer financial health is restaurant sales, which are entirely dependent on the relative level of household disposable income that can be allocated to non-discretionary expenditures. Black Box Intelligence’s monthly restaurant industry snapshot,  released Thursday,  showed another monthly decline in restaurant sales and traffic – this one steeper than the past couple of months. I believe this is the 17th successive monthly year-over-year decline. Comp sales (year over year for July) were down 2.8% and comp traffic dropped 4.7%. The latter is more significant, as it better represents actual sales volume because dollar sales are boosted by price inflation. In contrast to these Real World numbers, the BLS reported in its employment report for July that the restaurant industry created 57,000 new jobs. This is not just flagrant misrepresentation of reality for propaganda purposes, it’s outright fraud.

In terms of specifics with the July restaurant numbers, sales declined in 183 of the 195 markets covered by the Black Box Intelligence survey. The worst region was the midwest, where sales declined 3.6% and traffic dropped 5.2%. The best region was California, with sales down 0.7% (price inflation) and traffic down 3.6%. Not surprisingly, the fine dining category outperformed the other industry segments, as it reflects the growing disparity in income and wealth between the upper 1% and the rest. The quick service segment turned in the worst performance.

The above analysis was excerpted from the Short Seller’s Journal, which is dedicated to digging truth out from the Government, Fed and  financial media propaganda.  Contrary to the message conveyed by the stock market’s inexorable climb higher, the average U.S. household, along with the Government at all levels (Federal to local municipal), is on the ropes financially and economically.  The Short Seller’s Journal exposes this reality.   Hundreds of stocks are plumbing 52-week and all-time lows. The Short Seller’s Journal helps you find these stocks before they plunge and take advantage of the most overvalued and most inefficiently-priced stock market in history.   You can find out more here:   Short Seller’s Journal information.