Tag Archives: debt bubble

“Never Let A Good Crisis Go To Waste” – And Short AMZN

The “crisis” quote above originated with Winston Churchill. Several U.S. politicians have referenced it since then (most recently Rahm Emanuel when he was Obama’s Chief of Staff). I’m sure the Wall Street snake-oil salesmen and economic propagandists are more than happy to attribute the deteriorating economic numbers to the hurricanes that hit Houston and southwestern Florida.

Retail sales for August were released a week ago Friday and showed a 0.2% decline from July. This is even worse than that headline number implies because July’s nonsensical 0.6% increase was revised lower by 50% to 0.3% (and it’s still an over-estimate).

Before you attribute the drop in August retail sales to Hurricane Harvey, consider two things: 1) Wall St was looking for a 0.1% increase and that consensus estimate would have taken into account any affects on sales in the Houston area in late August; 2) Building materials and supplies should have increased from July as Houston and Florida residents purchased supplies to reinforce residences and businesses. As it turns out, building supplies and material sales declined from July to August, at least according to the Census Bureau’s assessment. Furthermore, online spending dropped 1.1%. Finally, the number vs. July was boosted by gasoline sales, which were said to have risen 2.5%. But this is a nominal number (not adjusted by inflation) and higher gasoline prices, i.e. inflation, caused by Harvey are the reason gasoline sales were 2.5% higher in August than July.

Too be sure, the retail sales overall were slightly affected by Harvey. But the back-to-school spending is said to have been unusually weak this year and AMZN’s Prime Day no doubt pulled some August online sales into July. However, back-to-school spending reflects the deteriorating financial condition of the middle class. I have no doubts in making the assertion that the factors listed in the previous paragraph which would have boosted sales in August because of Harvey offset significantly any drop in retail sales in the Houston area during the hurricane.

Note – John Williams published his analysis of retail sales and it agrees with my analysis above (Shadowstats.com): Net of Hurricane Harvey Effects – Headline Economic Numbers Still Were Miserable, Suggestive of Recession – Hurricane Impact on August Activity: Mixed, Probably Net-Neutral for Retail Sales – August Real [inflation-adjusted] Retail Sales Declined by 0.61% (-0.61%) in the Month, Plunged by 1.24% (-1.24%).

The Fed Continues To Target Stock Prices. The Dow and the SPX continue to hit new all-time highs every week. At this point there’s no explanation for this other than the fact that, according to the latest Fed data, the Fed’s balance sheet increased by $18 billion two weeks ago. This means that the Fed pushed $18 billion into the banking system, which translates into up $180 billion in total leverage (the reserve ratio on high-powered bank reserves is 10:1).

The good news – for Short Seller’s Journal subscribers – is that, despite this overt market intervention, a large portion of the stocks in the SPX are trading below their 200 dma:

The chart above shows the percentage of stocks in the SPX trading above their 200 dma. In March nearly 80% of the stocks were above the 200 dma. By late August the number was down to 54%. Currently 60% are trading above the 200 dma, which means 40% are trading below.

It’s uglier for the entire stock market, as only 43.5% of the stocks in the NYSE are trading above their 200 dma, which means that 56.5% are trading below the 200 dma. This explains why neither the Nasdaq nor the Russell 2000 were able to close at new all-time highs.

Without the Fed’s direct support of the stock market, there’s no question in my mind that the stock market would be crashing. Perhaps more frightening is the increasing amount of debt being added throughout the U.S. financial system. The debt ceiling limit was suspended until December. The amount of Treasury debt outstanding jumped over $300 billion to over $20 trillion the day the ceiling was suspended. John Maynard Keynes’ macro economic model was one in which Governments could stimulate economic growth through debt-financed deficit spending. But once the economy was in growth mode, the Government was supposed to operate at a surplus and pay down the debt. Never did Keynes state that it was acceptable to incur deficit spending and debt to infinity, which is the current course of the U.S. Government.

Trump has suggested removing the debt ceiling. I’m certain it was “trial balloon” to see how vocal the opposition to this idea would be. The Democratic leaders love the idea. I have not heard much resistance from the Republicans. My bet is that by this time next year, or maybe even by the end of the year, there will not be a debt-ceiling on the amount of money the Government can borrow. In truth, this is no different than giving the Government an unlimited printing press.

Corporate high yield debt issuance has exploded globally, as you can see from the chart to the right, which shows the amount of junk bond debt issuance annually on a trailing twelve month basis. Globally the amount outstanding has increased by more than 400%. Close to 60% of this issuance has occurred in the U.S. In conjunction with this, U.S. corporate debt hits an all-time high every month. Most of this debt is being used either to re-purchase stock or over-pay for acquisitions (see the AMZN/Whole Foods deal).

Currently the amount of debt issued to complete acquisitions as a ratio of Debt/EBITDA is at an all-time high, with 80% of all deals incurring a Debt/EBITDA of 5x or higher. The last time this ratio hit an all-time high was, you guess it, in 2007. As an example, let’s look at AMZN’s acquistion of Whole Foods. AMZN issued $16 billion of debt in conjunction with its acquisition of Whole Foods. No one discussed this, but the Debt/EBITDA used in the transaction was 13x. Whole Foods operating income plunged 25% in the first 9 months of 2017 vs the first nine months of 2016.

A 13x multiple outright for a retail food business with rapidly declining operating income is an absurd multiple. That the market let AMZN issue debt in an amount of 13x Whole Food’s EBITDA is outright insane. What happened to all that “free cash flow” that Amazon supposedly generates? According to Bezos, it was $9.6 billion on a trailing twelve month basis at the end of Q2. If so, why did AMZN need to issue $17 billion in debt?  We know that the truth (see previous analysis on AMZN) is that AMZN does not, in fact, generate free cash flow but burns cash on a quarterly basis. Currently AMZN is busy slashing prices at Whole Foods, which will drive WF’s operating margin from 4.5% toward zero. This is the same model that is used in AMZN’s e-commerce business, which incurred an operating loss in Q2.

In my view, AMZN continues to be one of the best short ideas on the board – the graph below is as of last Friday (Sept 15th) when AMZN closed at $986, Short Seller Journal subscribers were given some put option ideas as alternatives to shorting AMZN outright (click to enlarge):

The chart above is a 1-yr daily. Technical analysis adherents would see the head and shoulders formation I’ve highlighted in AMZN’s chart. This is potentially quite bearish. Despite the Dow and SPX hitting a series of all-time highs this month, AMZN has not come within 5% of its all-time high on July 26th ($1052 close). It traded up to $1083 intra-day the next day before closing below the previous day’s close and then dropped its Q2 earnings bombshell when the market closed. Based on its $986 close this past Friday, it’s 9% below its July 27th intra-day high-tick. Some might say that’s “halfway to bear market territory.”

AMZN lost $31 last week despite the SPX hitting a record high on Wednesday. This negative divergence is bearish.  In addition, Walmart has taken off the gloves and is directly attacking AMZN’s e-commerce business model.  WMT offers 2-day free shipping on millions of items without the requirement of spending money upfront to join a “membership.”  WMT is also running television ads during prime time which attack some of AMZN’s marketing gimmicks.

Some other bearish technical indicators, a highlighted above: 1) Since the end of July, the volume on down days in the stock price has been higher than the the volume on up days; 2) The RSI has been declining gradually since early April; 3) the MACD (bottom panel) has been declining steadily since early June. All three of these indicators reflect large institutional and/or hedge funds selling their positions.

The stock is sitting precariously on its 50 dma (yellow line above). I would not be surprised to see it test its 200 dma, currently $904, before it reports Q3 earnings. If you want to speculate on this possibility, the October 6th weekly $920 – $930 puts, depending on how much premium you want to pay, might be a good bet. You might also want to out another week to the October 20th series. One caveat is that AMZN will no doubt manipulate its numbers using merger and acquisition accounting gimmicks, which give the acquiring a window in which to egregiously manipulate GAAP numbers. I don’t know if the market will “see” through this or not. But based on the performance of the stock since AMZN dropped its Q2 earnings bombshell, I’d say the stock on “on a short leash.”

The above commentary and analysis is directly from last week’s Short Seller’s Journal. If you would like to find out more about this service, please click here:  Short Seller’s Journal subscription info.

The West Is Collapsing As The East Ascends

The 24 Mega Green City infrastructure project in India will connect Delhi with Mumbai, creating a commerce corridor incorporating 21st century technologies and amenities. – Interview with ZincOne Resources’ Jim Walchuck, The Daily Coin

It seems absurd that Asia is willing and able to build high-speed “bullet” trains to connect large population centers while the United States struggles with an antiquated Amtrak rail system often beset with service interruptions and lethal accidents.   The truth of the matter is that the major U.S. metropolitan areas are beset with massive loads of debt, including a ticking-time debt-bomb in the form of several trillion dollars in unfunded public pension funds.

The Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor is a major infrastructure project that India is developing with Japan. The project will upgrade nine mega industrial zones as well as the country’s high-speed freight line, three ports, and six airports. A 4,000 MW power plant and a six-lane intersection-free expressway will also be constructed, which will connect the country’s political and financial capitals.  – The Daily Coin

The 24 Mega City project underscores the economic, political and cultural contrast between the eastern and western hemisphere countries, with the sun setting in the west and rising in the east.  The west is mired in a catastrophic web of Government-heavy economies that exist on the life support of trillions in money printing and debt issuance. True, some countries like China have relatively high debt levels but they are offsetting that form of fiat currency debasement with massive gold accumulation.  The heart of the problem is highlighted by the graphic below (click to enlarge):

The budget for the U.S. Government will primarily be spent on social security, defense, medicare/medicaid and interest on the Government’s debt. Those five items will burn more two-thirds of the Government’s budgeted expenditures in Fiscal Year 2017.

But don’t bother asking how the Government plans on paying for that.   The funds will come from oldest forms of currency debasement: money printing and debt issuance.  And Trump’s proposed spending agenda will accelerate the growth rate of both .

It’s amazing that the U.S. Government seems to have unlimited funds available to spend on guns, bullets and surveillance of the citizenry.   Ranked in order of expenditures, The U.S. spends more on its military than the next 14 highest ranked countries.  “On the books,” the U.S. spent $597 billion in 2015.  That was 4x more than China and 9x more than Russia (source:  International Institute for Strategic Studies).

While the west, led by the United States, advances its collapse with rampant currency debasement and unbridled imperialism, the east is investing its resources in the future – in the advancement of its civilization.  Perhaps the hallmark of this contrast is best represented by the flow of physical gold from west to east.  The Shadow of Truth has devoted today’s episode discussing some of the signs pointing to the collapse of the west and the rise of the east:

Trump Will Let The Bankers Continue Destroying The U.S.

About 30 days into Obama’s first term I predicted that, “Obama will eventually go down as a worse President than W, which is hard to do because W might be one of the worst Presidents in U.S. history.”  I am making the same prediction of Trump:  he’ll go down as a worse President than Obama.

I would surmise that a majority of Trump’s voters voted for Trump as a vote against Hillary. Many of them have expressed relief that “Trump is not as bad a Hillary.”   But, au contraire. The decision faced by voters was no different than choosing between liver cancer and pancreas cancer.

Trump promised to “drain the swamp.”  That was nothing more than a clever marketing slogan adopted by Trump’s team to galvanize the majority of Americans who felt betrayed by the Democrats, led by Obama, who beginning on day one back-pedaled and repudiated the policy platform on which he campaigned (anyone besides me recall these promises:  “I’ll close Guantanomo in the first 90 days”  and “I’ll eliminate the use of Executive Orders” and “I’ll repeal all of Bush’s surveillance Executive Orders”).

The Democrats I know have the memory of fruit fly because every one of them seems to have a case of selective memory.  Perhaps Obama’s most memorable promise, aside from universal healthcare (Obama’s version of which is collapsing before he leaves office), was his vow to clean up the corruption on Wall Street.  Of course, his Attorney General appointment for most of his Presidency was Eric Holder, a career Democratic operative who worked at the Covington Burling law firm.  Covington Burling is Wall Street’s “body guard” in Washington, DC.  Most people have never heard of Covington Burling, which is how it is intended to be.  CB is the real life version of Bendini, Lambert and Locke, the infamous mob law firm in John Grisham’s, “The Firm.”

A little trivia:  Holder, as AG for the District of Columbia in the late 1990’s, drafted the pardon letter for Marc Rich, the infamous tax-evader who fled to Switzerland, signed by Bill Clinton as he walked out of the Oval Office for the last time (Clinton’s reward was carnal knowledge of Rich’s wife, Denise).

While the politicians promised that Dodd Frank and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other legislative reforms had made America safe from Wall Street, in fact the opposite is true.  The subprime mortgage bubble has been replaced by a nearly equally as large, if not more insidious, subprime auto debt bubble.  With the help of Obama’s Government-backed mortgage “reforms,” Wall Street banks have spawned another subprime mortgage and housing bubble.   Derivatives “reforms” did nothing other than enable banks to hide their criminal use of these highly profitable weapons of mass financial destruction.

In other words, the only “cleaning” up that was accomplished over the last eight years by Obama was removing the last remnants of transparency from Wall Street’s operations, as all of these so-called “reforms” have enabled the Too Big To Fail Banks to conduct their fraudulent activities further “off balance sheet.”

So Obama has left his successor with 100% more Government debt, a collapsing healthcare system that is unaffordable for most other than corporate fat-cats and the recipients of free medicaid (and of course for the Congressmen who are exempt from Obamacare and have their healthcare paid for by the public anyway) and a financial bubble that dwarfs the bubble that was popping when Obama took office.

The Wall Street problem for this country is going to get worse under Trump.  In some ways it makes sense.  Trump’s casino business was a product of Drexel Burnham Lambert’s junk bond juggernaut.  I know this because I traded all of the old Trump junk bonds which, by the early 1990’s, were trading at distressed levels.  Trump is a real estate guy and real estate guys love debt more than they love their mothers.  And Wall Street loves nothing more than to underwrite that debt loved by guys like Trump.  In other words, in some ways Trump is a slave to Wall Street as much as, if not more than, his predecessor.  Note that among the first words out of Trumps mouth when he claimed victory was a promise to take deficit spending to new levels in order to build out the infrastructure.  There’s only way to finance deficit spending…

Circling back to Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp,” I think most of us assumed it not only meant getting rid of the career politicians like Hillary Clinton who had become completely controlled by corporate/Wall Street interests but also getting rid of the elements that controlled them.  Most notably the Wall Street bankers ensconced throughout all levels of the Obama Government.

But Trump’s appointments, for the most part, suggest that Trump is merely “draining” the swamp of the Blue swamp monsters and is replacing them with Red swamp monsters.  And in reality, Wall Street monsters do not distinguish between Red and Blue. That’s because the god they worship is GREEN.    The latest proposed appointment is a Sullivan & Cromwell lawyer to head the SEC.   Sullivan & Cromwell is Wall Street’s most highly regarded legal operative in NYC.   Need anymore be said?

Blame It On China…

Nothing is ever the fault of the “exceptional” United States.  It’s not our fault that we have to spend trillions containing the evil terrorists in the Middle East while we steal their oil and occupy their countries.

And of course it’s China’s fault that the U.S. stock market is all of a sudden finding the gravitational pull of economic, financial and political fundamentals.

BlameChina

China must be the reason that the U.S. stock market has been bought up the highest p/e ratio in history.  Note:  I’m using a p/e ratio based on the way earnings were calculated using GAAP 20 years ago – not today’s garbage GAAP which enables companies to manipulate their accounting to an extreme degree.

I guess it’s China’s fault that almost every public and private pension fund in the U.S. is extraordinarily underfunded.

It’s probably even China’s fault that U.S investors and pensions gobbled up shale oil industry junk bonds like they were going out of style on the assumption that oil would stay above $100/barrel forever.

It’s China’s fault that student debt and auto loans have hit an all-time high in this country.  When housing prices crash again that will be China’s fault too.

I guess when it comes right down to it, it’s China’s fault that Hilary Clinton is being hounded by problems with her use of her personal email to sell U.S. foreign policy decisions to the highest bidder while she was Secretary of State.  Hell, I guess it was China who took a paper towel and wiped clean the hard drive on her personal server.

The fact of the matter is that there was indeed a series of big asset bubbles that formed in China.  But they are no different or more severe than the same asset bubbles that have formed all over the world, including and especially in the United States.  But at least China is trying to address its bubbles.  It was the first to throw its cards on the table and try to let some air out its asset bubbles.  Meanwhile the U.S. continues to defend and inflate its bubbles.

I mean, c’mon on – triple C-rated junk bonds in this country were trading at 4% at one point.  A triple C rating means that the company which issued that debt has a very high probability of going bust.  Triple C-rated paper in the 1990’s traded at yields in the high teens or higher.  More than likely CCC- rated bonds become the new equity of a company when it files for bankruptcy reorganization.  Or it becomes worth pennies on the dollar if the company liquidates.   Triple C-rated paper trading at 4% implies an extreme bubble in the junk bond asset class.  But that’s China’s fault, I guess.

UntitledThis will not end well for the United States.   The problem with forcing the “blame China” propaganda on the U.S. public is that it inevitably will lead to a scenario in which the U.S.Government’s neocons who run the Department of Defense will justify starting a war with China.  A war with Russia is being started in Syria as I write this.  But that’s China’s fault too…

The Economics Of A Crash – Alasdair Macleod

Bloomberg was out today heralding the “new bull market” in oil.  I herald it as Bloomberg’s new bullmarket in bullshit.  The price of oil is determined in the short run by a lot of factors besides the law of economics.  The spike up today in the price oil was most likely technically driven by hedge funds covering large short positions put on over the past couple of weeks.  The short-cover trigger was likely a big bid put into the market by the Too Big To Fail banks backed by the Fed.

Make no mistake about it, the Federal Reserve in conjunction with the big banks have “blood money” motivation to try and keep the price of oil propped up.  The big banks are exposed both on and off balance sheet to the price of oil.  Many of the big banks are heavily exposed on-balance sheet to the collapsing oil shale/fracking industry in the form of hundreds of millions of asset-based revolvers.  These are shorter term funding facilities, the size of which is determined by the value of the estimated shale reserves of the borrower. However, many of these revolvers were drawn down when the price of oil was much higher.  It is highly probable that the big banks like JP Morgan are sitting on drawn revolver facilities that are worth dimes on the dollar.

Preventing this default has become a growing problem and is the primary task facing central banks. Household, corporate, government and financial sectors are all exposed to debt default, ensuring political and business considerations will allow no alternative outcome.  – Alasdair Macleod (link below)

A former colleague of mine who trades distressed energy debt told me he thought the big banks had these debt facilities marked at par (100 cents on the dollar).  When I asked him if if any of was trading yet in the secondary market he responded:  “no, but all hell will break loose when it does.”

This debt will blow big holes in bank balance sheets.  We only can assess the on-balance-sheet damage.  There is no doubt 10x that amount of exposure in the form of OTC derivatives.  The lower the price of oil goes, the bigger will be the hole that is blown.  This is specifically why the Fed/TBTF banks are working to keep the price of oil aloft and why they are feeding pump and dump outlets like Bloomberg the information that a new bull market in oil has started.

Equity markets are telling us that the debt crisis is now upon us again. The detailed course that events will take from here cannot be predicted, but we can be certain that over the coming months governments will be ready to move heaven and earth to prevent a deepening crisis, by any means at their disposal.  – Alasdair Macleod

The start of an economic crash of unprecedented magnitude began in 2008.  The true severity of this crash was delayed by mark to market accounting, increased debt issuance and money printing.  Many trillions of it.   But ultimately history tells us that the no amount of artificial manipulation and attempted market control can evade the laws of economics. The collapsing price of oil is a rock-solid indication that economies globally, including and especially the U.S. economy, are in a state of collapse.

Alasdair Macleod has written a must-read commentary/analysis of what is now unfolding and why.  You can read his entire article here:   Economics Of A Crash

The Shadow Of Truth will be hosting Alasdair this Thursday.  We will discussing this article as well as his take on what is now unfolding in the precious metals markets and China.