Tag Archives: credit bubble

WTF Just Happened? Gold, The Dollar And Interest Rates

What’s going on with gold, the dollar and interest rates – especially gold?  All of the variables that fundamentally support much higher gold prices are lined up perfectly.  Why isn’t gold moving higher?  The popular narrative in the mainstream financial media would leave one to believe that the dollar is soaring.  Eric and Dave put a big dent in that notion.  Additionally, in a long-term historical context, the recent rise in interest rates is tiny, yet marginally higher interest are already wreaking havoc on the economy (retail, auto and home sales).   What’s going to happen to the economy when the 10-yr Treasury hits 4%, which is still well below its long-run historical norm? (click on image to enlarge)

Eric Dubin and Dave Kranzler dig into these topics in the next episode of WTF Just Happened (WTF Just Happened is a produced in association with Wall St. For Main Street – Eric Dubin may be reached at  Facebook.com/EricDubin):

Visit these links to learn more about the Investment Research Dynamic’s Mining Stock Journal and Short Seller’s Journal.  I recommended Almadex Minerals at 28 cents in April 2016 – it closed Friday at $1.13.  I recommended shorting Hovnanian at $2.88 in January  – it closed at $1.89 on Friday and has been as low as $1.70.

Are The Wheels Coming Off The System?

The dollar is said to be “soaring,” though I take issue with that characterization for now (see the chart below);  10-yr Treasury yields are also rising, though the yield on the 10-yr is only up about 67 basis points if you measure from January 1, 2017.  What’s really going on?

Ten years of money printing by the Federal Reserve has removed true price discovery from the markets.  The best evidence is the inexorable rise in the stock market despite the fact that corporate earnings have been driven largely by share buybacks and GAAP accounting gimmicks.  Measuring stock values  on the basis of revenue and revenue growth multiples would reveal the most overvalued stock market in U.S. history.

Now that the Fed has stopped printing money used to buy Treasury issuance and prop up the banks, the system is vulnerable to relatively small increases in interest rates.  20 years ago, when I was trading junk bonds on Wall St, a 60 basis point rise in the 10yr or a 200 basis point rise in the dollar index would have be a non-event.  Now those types of moves permeate the current market and policy narrative.

In fact, the Fed is terrified by the Frankenstein stock market is has created to the extent that, since the sharp decline in August 2015, the Fed steps in to prevent the inevitable crash when a draw-down in the Dow/SPX approaches 10%.

With the dollar moving higher, gold is has been sluggish. Now the price is being attacked aggressively in the paper gold derivatives market.  The propaganda is that a rising dollar and rising rates are negative for gold.  However, gold had one of its best rate or return periods from mid-2005 to mid-2006 while the dollar was spiking higher.  More troubling, the trading pattern in gold and the dollar reminds me of the same pattern in 2008 – just before the de facto financial system collapse hit the hardest (click on image to enlarge):

The economy has been in a recession for most households below the top 1% in wealth and income. This chart is one of many examples showing that most households are not even fortunate enough to be living on the economic gerbil wheel. Instead, they are sliding backwards downhill in their debt/lease-saddled vehicle and the brakes are about to go out:

I would argue that the rising dollar – an concomitantly the obvious official attack on the price of gold – is the signal that the wheels are coming off the system. The Government issued nearly half-a-trillion dollars in Treasuries in Q1, thanks to the soaring defense and entitlement budget  combined with the massive tax cuts. The spending deficit and the flood of Treasury issuance is going to get worse from there and well beyond the CBO’s sanguine projections.

Throw in soaring oil and gasoline prices and rising household debt delinquency/default rates against a backdrop of stagnant wages and an accelerating ratio of household debt service payments to personal income and it’s pretty obvious that the wheels are coming off the system.

The U.S. economic and financial system is an enormously fraudulently Ponzi scheme in which record levels of money printing and credit creation have acted as temporary bandages placed over gaping cancerous economic wounds that are soon going to start hemorrhaging.

The homebuilders are already in a bear market, like the one that started in mid-2005 in the same stocks about 18 months before the stock market started heading south in 2007. My Short Seller’s Journal subscribers and I are raking in a small fortune shorting and buying puts on homebuilder stocks. As an example, I recommended shorting Hovnanian (HOV) at $2.88 in early January. It’s trading at $1.78 as I write this – a 38.2% ROR in 4 months. Anyone get that with AMZN in the last 4 months? You can learn more about the SSJ here: Short Seller’s Journal.

Sparks Fly Toward The Debt Powder Keg

The stock market has gone 74 days without making a new high but that hasn’t stopped the bulls from boasting about how it is up or flat six days in a row. I still say to sell into strength – David Rosenberg, Gluskin-Sheff

The narrative that the economy continues to improve is a myth, if not intentional mendacious propaganda. The economy can’t possibly improve with the average household living from paycheck to paycheck while trying to service hopeless levels of debt. In fact, the economy will continue to deteriorate from the perspective of every household below the top 1% in terms of income and wealth.

Theoretically, the Trump tax cuts will add about $90 per month of extra after-tax income for the average household. However, the average price of gasoline has risen close to 40% over the last year (it cost me $45 to fill my tank last week vs about $32 a year ago) For most households, the tax cut “windfall” will be largely absorbed by the increasing cost to fill the gas tank, which is going to continue rising. The highly promoted economic boost from the tax cuts will, instead, end up as a transfer payment to oil companies.

The Fed reported consumer credit for March last week. Consumer credit is primarily credit card, auto and student loan debt. The 3.6% SAAR (Seasonally Adjusted Annualized Rate) rate of increase over February was the slowest growth rate in consumer debt since September. Credit card debt outstanding actually dropped 3% (SAAR). But the 6% growth in non-revolving debt – auto/student loans – rose 6% (SAAR). Given the double-digit increase in truck sales in March, which offset the double digit decline in sedan sales, it’s safe to speculate that the increase in consumer credit during March was primarily loans to “buy” trucks/SUVs.

Remember, the average light truck/SUV sales ticket is about $13k more than for a sedan, which means that the average size of auto loans in March increased significantly during March. This is a horrifying thought in my opinion. Here’s why (original chart source was Wolfstreet.com):

As you can see, the rate of subprime 60-day-plus delinquencies is nearly 6%, which is substantially higher than during the peak financial crisis years. Why is this not directly affecting the system yet? It is but we’re not seeing it because the banks are still sitting on unused “excess reserves” – pain killers – that were given to them by the Fed’s QE program. The excess reserves act to “buffer” the banks from debt defaults, which in turn enables the banks to defer taking these auto loans into foreclosure and writing them off. But this will only serve to defer the inevitable:  debt defaults in quantities that will far exceed the amount of debt that blew up in the 2008 financial crisis.  Bank excess reserves are down 13% since August 2017.

I knew at the time that the Fed’s QE program was a part of the Fed’s strategy to build a “cushion” into bank balance sheets for the next time around. The only problem is that the size of the debt bomb has grown disproportionately to the size of the “cushion” and it’s only a matter of time before debt defaults blow a big hole in bank balance sheets.

Here’s the other problem with the statistic above. The regulators, along with FICO, lowered the bar on differentiating between prime and subprime. Despite the supposed effort to tighten lending standards since 2008, it’s just as easy to get a loan now as it was in 2007 and the variables that differentiate sub-prime from prime have blurred. I witnessed this first-hand when I accompanied a friend to buy a near-new car from a major Audi dealer in Denver. Based on monthly income, I advised him to buy a less expensive car. But Wells Fargo was more than happy to make the loan with very little money down relative to the cost of the car. No proof of income disclosure was necessary despite being self-employed. The friend’s credit rating is a questionable mid-600’s

This is the type of loan transaction that occurs 1000’s of times each day at car dealers across the country. If we had gone to one of the seedy “finance any credit” used car dealers, getting the loan would have been even easier because those car brokers also use credit unions and other non-bank private capital “pools” like Credit Acceptance Corporation (CACC) and Exeter Finance (private).

Student loans are not worth discussing because no one else does. Someone with a student loan outstanding can easily put the loan into “deferment” or “forbearance,” which makes it difficult to assess the true delinquency/default rate on the $1.53 trillion amount outstanding (as of the end of March). However, I have seen estimates that the real rate of serious delinquency is more like 40%. Most borrowers who defer or request forbearance do so because they can’t make current payments. Again, this is one of the bigger “white elephants” that is visible but not discussed (the $21+ trillion of Treasury debt is another white elephant).

The debt bubble and implosion will push homebuilder stocks off the cliff.   Several of my subscribers plus myself are raking in money shorting and buying puts on homebuilders stocks.  I took 50% profits on the puts I bought late last week.

The commentary above is an excerpt from last Sunday’s Short Seller’s Journal. My Short Seller’s Journal is a unique newsletter that presents the alternative to the “bull” case. It also presents short ideas, along with put strategies, every week. You can learn more about this newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.

 

More Evidence That The Fed And Big Banks Collude?

Should this surprise anyone?

An interesting study by a Phd candidate at the University of Chicago is being released which shows a statistically high incidence in taxi trips between the NY Fed and big NY banks clustered around FOMC meetings:

Mr. Finer writes that “highly statistically significant patterns in New York City yellow taxi rides suggest that opportunities for information flow between individuals present at the New York Fed and individuals present at major commercial banks increase around” meetings of the interest-rate setting FOMC.

“Their geography, timing and passenger counts are consistent with an increase in planned meetings causally linked to the incidence of monetary-policy activities,” he wrote. “I find highly statistically significant evidence of increases in meetings at the New York Fed late at night and in off-site meetings during typical lunch hours,” which is suggestive of “informal or discreet communication.”

“As reported by the Wall St. Journal, but curiously absent from Fox Business reporting – both organizations are owned by Rupert Murdoch – Mr. Finer used government-provided GPS coordinates, vehicle information and other travel data to track taxi traffic between the addresses of the New York Fed and major banks. His research pointed to increased traffic between the destinations around lunch and late evening hours, which suggested informal meetings were taking place, Mr. Finer wrote in his paper. He found elevated numbers of rides around Federal Open Market Committee meetings, with most of them coming after the gathering.” (WSJ)

This should not surprise anyone. It actually makes sense. The Fed is owned by the Too Big Too Fail banks and, without question, have an inordinate amount of influence on Fed policy.

You can read the entire article here: Increase in Fed/NY Bank Meetings Around FOMC Meetings.

 

The Fed’s “Catch 22”

Before diving into the topic, let’s be clear about one thing:  The economic definition of “inflation”  is the increase in money supply relative to the marginal increase of wealth output (GDP) in the economic system for which money supply is created. This is differentiated from “price inflation,” which is “a general rise in prices.”

Money and credit creation in excess of wealth output causes currency devaluation.  It is this currency devaluation that arises from money and credit printing that causes “price inflation.”  More money (and credit) chasing a relatively less amount of “goods.”

Furthermore, the commonly used price inflation reference is the Government’s CPI.  The CPI measurement of inflation has been discredited ad nauseum.  And yet, 99% of analysts, commentators, bloggers, financial media meat-with-mouths, etc uses the CPI as their inflation trophy.   But the CPI has been statistically manipulated to mute price inflation since the early 1970’s, when then-Fed Chairman, Arthur Burns, correctly understood that the currency devaluation that was going to occur after Nixon closed the gold window would have adverse political consequences.  Today, the CPI measurement of price inflation is not even remotely close to the true rise in prices that has occurred over the last 8 years. Over the last 47 years, for that matter.

This notion of rising inflation seems to be the en vogue “economic” discussion now.  But the event that causes the evidence of currency devalution – aka “inflation” – has largely occurred over the past 8 years of global money printing.  If your general basket of expenditures for necessities – like housing, healthcare, food, energy,  and transportation – has risen by a considerable amount more over the last 5-7 years than is reflected in the CPI, ask either the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which publishes the  CPI report – or the moronic analysts who insist erroneously on using the CPI as the cornerstone of their suppositions – why that is the case.

The Fed’s Catch 22 – It’s been estimated that the Treasury will need to sell $1.4 trillion new bonds this year to cover the spending deficit that will result from the tax cuts combined with the record level of Government spending just approved by Congress and Trump. With the dollar declining, foreign Treasury buyers are sitting on significant losses on their Treasury holdings. As an example, since March the dollar has dropped 16% vs. the euro. Add this to falling Treasury bond prices (rising yields), and European holders of Treasuries, especially those who have to sell now for whatever reason, have incurred a large drop in the euro-value of their Treasury bonds. The same math applies to Japanese Treasury bond investors, as the dollar has fallen nearly 9% vs. the yen since March.

One of the primary fundamental factors causing the dollar decline is the continuously deteriorating fiscal condition of the U.S. Government. If the Fed continues hiking interest rates at the same pace – 1.25% in Fed Funds rate hikes over two years – the dollar will continue declining. The pace of the rate hikes is falling drastically behind just the official measurement of inflation (CPI). Imagine the spread between the real rate of inflation (John Williams estimates actual inflation to be at least 6%) and the Fed funds rate, also known as “real interest rates.” Real interest rates using a real measure of inflation are thus quite negative (6% inflation rate minus 1.25% Fed funds = negative 4.75% real rate of interest). As negative real rates widen, it exerts further downward pressure on the value of the dollar.

The Fed could act to halt the falling dollar by hiking rates at a faster pace and actually sticking to its stated balance sheet reduction schedule. But in doing so, the Fed risks sending the economy into a rapid tail-spin. Higher rates and less banking system liquidity will choke-off the demand for the low-cost credit – auto, credit card and mortgage loans – that has been stimulating consumer spending. In fact, I have made the case in recent SSJ issues that the average household is now near its limitations on taking on more debt. Consumer borrowing, and thus consumer spending, will decelerate/decline regardless of the cost of borrowing. We are seeing this show up in retail sales (more on retail sales below) and in stagnating home sales.

As it stands now, based on its reluctance to reduce its balance sheet at the $10 billion per month rate initially set forth by Janet Yellen, it appears that the Fed is fully aware of its Catch 22 predicament. Last week, in response to the nearly 10% plunge in the Dow/SPX, the Fed actually increased its QE holdings by $11 billion. It did this by adding $11 billion in mortgages to its SOMA account (the Fed’s QE balance sheet account). This is an injection of $11 billion in liquidity directly into the banking system. This $11 billion can, theoretically, be leveraged into $99 billion by the banks (based on a 10% reserve ratio). The dollar “saw” this move and dropped over 2.2% in the first four trading days this past week before experiencing a small technical bounce on Friday. The 10-yr Treasury hit 2.93% last week before settling Friday at 2.87%. 2.87% is a four-year high on the 10-yr.

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…

Is Sub-Prime Auto Loan Armageddon Coming?

I experienced a real eye-opener this past week. The lease on my fiance’s Audi A3 terminates soon. I was scanning the “pre-owned” inventory at the two largest Audi dealers in Denver expecting to see some good deals on 2013/2014 Audi A4’s that had come off lease. Instead, I was shocked to see at both dealers a large selection of 2016/2017 A4s with less then 20k miles. Some under 10k miles. I even saw a 2018 with something like 6k miles on it.

Why was I shocked? Because most of these vehicles had to have been repossessed. If there were only a couple almost brand new Audi A4s with very low mileage on them, it’s plausible that the buyers/lessee’s traded them in because they didn’t like them. The bigger dealer of the two had six 2017’s, all of them with 11k or less miles. Most if not all of these cars had to have been repo’d because of lease/loan default. We plan on waiting a couple more months because her lease expires in March and I suspect that the inventory of near-new Audis will be even larger and the prices will be even lower.

My theory was confirmed when I came across a blog post from a blogger (Cold War Relic) who is a car salesman (What’s Going On?): “People are buying cars they can’t afford or shouldn’t even have been able to buy.” He goes on to explain that: “I went to my buddy Paris’ repo lot. He called me to check out a 2016 BMW 435i he jacked for BMW Financial Services…as we walked through [the lot] I noticed all of the cars seemed to be nearly new. Paris confirmed my fears when he told my about nine-out-of-ten vehicles he’s repossessed in the last few months were model year 2016 or newer” (emphasis is mine).

Here’s the coup de grace: “To make matters worse Paris only does work for prime and a few captive lenders, meaning a majority of these cars went out to consumers with good credit.” In a past Short Seller’s Journal issue in which I discussed the rising delinquency and default rates on auto loans, I suggested that, in addition to the already soaring default rates on subprime auto loans, I believed the default rate on “prime” auto loans would soon accelerate. This is in part because a lot of prime-rated borrowers would have been considered subprime a decade ago. But it’s also in part due to the fact that the average household’s disposable income is getting squeezed and what might seem affordable in the present – e.g. an brand new Audi or BMW lease/loan payment – can quickly become unaffordable.

A recent article from Bloomberg discussed “soaring” subprime auto loan defaults in connection with the fact that several Private Equity firms bought out subprime auto lending companies starting about six years ago. The investment rationale was based on expanding the loan portfolios and cashing out the “value” created in the IPO market. One company, Flagship, was bought out by Perella Weinberg in 2010. It took the loan portfolio from $89 million 2011 to nearly $3 billion. Bad loan write-offs have soared. PW tried to IPO the company in 2015. It’s still trying. Based on the two anecdotes of new car repossessions described above, it’s a good bet that the investments in most subprime auto lenders will eventually have to be written-off entirely.

The total amount of subprime auto loans outstanding is nearly $300 billion. This number is from the NY Fed. I would argue that, in reality, it’s well over $300 billion. If you add to that the amount of subprime credit card debt outstanding, the total amount of “consumer” subprime debt is in excess of the amount of subprime mortgage debt ($650 billion) at the peak of the mid-2000’s credit bubble. This is not going to end well. In fact, I suspect the eventual credit implosion will be much worse than what occurred in 2008.

A Collapsing Dollar Will Trigger The Next Big Move In Gold And Silver

When you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you–when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice–you may know that your society is doomed. – from “Atlas Shrugged”

Sorry MAGA-enthusiastics, it’s all a lie.  The tax legislation just passed will lead to higher Government spending deficits, a near-parabolic acceleration in Government debt issuance and a possible collapse of the dollar.  The U.S. is in systemic collapse.  Perhaps the biggest manifestation of this is the grand money-grab by the elitists enabled by blatant political corruption.

Alasdair Macleod published an essay that I highly recommend reading as you gather together your thoughts heading into 2018. 2018 will possibly see the next stage in the collapse of the dollar. I disagree with Alasdair’s attributing the control over the formation and implementation of economic and geopolitical policy to Trump. Notwithstanding this disagreement,  I believe Aladair’s analysis of monetary events unfolding during 2018 deserves careful perusal.  This includes his delineation of the rise in the petro-yuan as a precursor to the demise of the dollar, an acceleration of dollar-derived price inflation and an escalation in the price of gold.

The general public in the West is hardly conscious of these developments, only being vaguely aware that more and more products seem to be imported from China. They are certainly not aware that America has already lost its position as the world’s policeman, the guarantor of economic freedom and democracy, or whatever other clichés are peddled by the media. And only this week, President Trump in releasing his National Security Document, and pledging “America would reassert its great advantages on the world stage”, showed the American establishment is similar to a latter-day Don Quixote, unaware of the extent of change in the world and the loss of its power.

Like a monetary embodiment of Cervantes’ tilter at windmills, the world’s reserve currency is rapidly becoming an anachronism. And for China to realise her true destiny, it must dispense with dollars, and if in the process it crushes them, then so be it.

You can read the rest of Macleod’s brilliant essay here:   2018 Could Be The Year For Gold

Contrary to the views expressed by recent crypto-currency proselytizers, I believe that if gold heads higher in the next year then silver will soar.

For Clues On The Economy, Follow The Money

“There is nothing new on Wall Street or in stock speculation. What has happened in
the past will happen again, and again, and again. This is because human nature does
not change, and it is human emotion, solidly built into human nature, that always
gets in the way of human intelligence. Of this I am sure.” –Jesse Livermore

The profitability of lending/investing money is a function of both the rate of return on the money loaned/invested and the return (payback) of the money. The historically low interest rates are squeezing lenders by driving the rate of return on the loan toward zero (note: “lenders” can be banks or non-bank lenders, like pension funds investing in bonds).

As the margin on lending declines, lenders, begin to take higher risks. Eventually, the degree of risk accepted by lenders is not offset by the expected return on the loan – i.e. the probability of partial to total loss of capital is not offset by a corresponding rate of interest that compensates for the risk of loss. As default rates increase, the loss of capital causes the rate of return from lending to go negative. Lenders then stop lending and the system seizes up. This is what occurred, basically, in 2008.

This graphic shows illustrates this idea of lenders pulling away from lending:

The graph above from the St Louis Fed shows the year over year percentage change in commercial/industrial loans on a monthly basis from commercial banks from 1998 to present. I have maintained that real economic growth since the initial boost provided by QE has been contracting for several years. As you can see, the rate of growth in lending to businesses has been declining since 2012. The data in the chart above is through October and it appears like it might go negative, which would mean that commercial lending is contracting. This is despite all of the blaring media propaganda about how great the economy is performing.

The decline in lending is a function of both lenders pulling back from the market, per reports about credit conditions in the bank loan market tightening, and a decline in the demand for loans from the private sector. Both are indicative of declining economic activity.

This thesis is reinforced with this graphic:

The chart above shows the year over year percentage change in residential construction spending (red line) and total construction (blue line). As you can see, the growth in construction spending has been decelerating since January 2014. Again, with all of the media hype about the housing market, the declining rate of residential construction suggests that the the demand side of the equation is fading.

The promoters of economic propaganda have become sloppy. It’s become quite easy to invalidate Government economic reports using real world data. Using the Government-calculated unemployment rate, the economic shills constantly express concern about a “tight labor market.” Earlier this week, Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi asserted that (after the release of the phony ADP employment data) the “job market feels like it might overheat.” The problem with this storyline is that it is easy to refute:

The graph above is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics productivity and costs report. The blue line shows unit labor costs. As you can see, unit labor costs have been decelerating rapidly since 2012. In fact, labor costs declined the last two months. The last time labor costs declined two months in a row was November 2013.

See the problem? If labor markets were “tight” or in danger of “overheating,” labor costs would be soaring, not falling. This is why I say the shills are getting sloppy with their use of manipulated Government economic reports. It’s too easy to find data that refutes the propaganda. I remember Mark Zandi from my junk bond trading days in New York. He was an “economist” for a fixed income credit analysis service (I can’t remember the name). I thought his analytic work was questionable at best back then. I continue to believe his analysis is highly flawed now. Recall, Moody’s is the rating agency that had Enron rated triple-A until shortly before it collapsed. That says it all…

Speaking of the labor market, I wanted to toss in a few comments about November’s employment report. The BLS headline report on Friday claims that 255k jobs were created in November. However, not reported in any part of the financial media coverage, “seasonal-adjustment gimmicks bloated headline payroll gains, where unadjusted payrolls were revised lower but adjusted levels revised higher” (John Williams’ Shadowstats.com).

The point here is that, in all likelihood, most of the payroll gains in the BLS report were a product of the mysterious “seasonal adjustment” model used. Per the BLS report, another 35k were removed from the labor force as defined. Recall that anyone who has not been looking for a job in the previous four weeks is removed from the labor force statistic. Furthermore, and never mentioned by the media/Wall St., the BLS report shows the number unemployed increased by 90k in November.

I don’t know when the stock market bubble will lose energy and collapse.  What I do know is that each time the U.S. stock market disconnects from reality, there’s a period of “it’s different this time,” followed by the crash that blind-sides all of the so-called “experts” – most of whom like Dennis Gartman do not have their own money in the stock market (it’s well-known that Jeremy Siegel invests only in Treasuries).  The retail lemmings who think they’ll be able to get out before the crash will see their accounts flattened like a Japanese nuclear power plant.

Most of the commentary above is from my Short Seller’s Journal, in which I present stocks  to short every week (along with options suggestions).  You can learn more about this newsletter here:   Short Seller’s Journal subscription info.

I’ve been a subscriber for a good part of the year and really enjoy my Sunday evening read. Thank you – received sent this morning from “William”