Tag Archives: FANGS

Gravity Rules: End Of The Bubble Is In Sight

“Even the intelligent investor is likely to need considerable willpower to keep from following the crowd.

The quote above is from Ben Graham, considered to be the father of value investing. Graham followed the crowd in 1929 and lost a small fortune for himself and his investors. Graham collected his learning experience from that disaster and eventually wrote, “The Intelligent Investor,” which is considered to be the one of the best investment books ever written. Warren Buffet enrolled at Columbia to study under Graham. Graham’s teachings formed the foundation of modern money management theories. To this day it is considered the value investor’s “investment bible.”

Wall Street is incentivized to sell the idea that stocks only go up. When I started on the junk bond desk as a salesmen (before switching to trading), I was told my job was to “reach into the portfolio manager’s pocket and take as much money as you can from his pocket and put it into your pocket.”

Wall Street greed has been around as long as stocks have been trading (the NYSE was founded in 1792). But it’s hard to blame stockbrokers for the damaging effects of greed. Stock-peddlers are like well-paid psychologists. They take advantage of human greed. Without investor greed, the stock brokerage business would be considerably smaller than it is today.

A stock bubble can’t exist without investor greed. It starts with greed. It moves into the “bubble” phase when greed is consumed by hysteria. The U.S. stock market has moved into the “hysteria” stage. This would be the point at which the bubble has almost reached maximum inflation. The upward movement in stocks is dominated by a handful of the stocks that, for whatever reason, are moving higher at the fastest rate of levitation. The graphic on the next page shows visually what “bubble to hysteria” looks like.

I reached the conclusion the stock market has moved into the hysteria stage by spending time studying the “Five Horsemen” (AAPL, AMZN, NFLX, FB, MSFT) + TSLA. Even during periods of the trading day when the Dow and SPX are go red, most or all of those six stocks remain green, sometimes moving higher while the broad indices move lower. It’s incredible to watch real-time.

“It’s not to late to catch a ride on the FANG rally” was a headline seen on CNBC last week. This is the type of hysteria that is reflected in the media at bubble peaks.

In the image above (click to enlarge), the graph on the left is the NASDAQ index since the election (from Jesse’s Cafe Americain). The graph on the right is the price-path that occurred during the Dutch Tulip Bulb mania of the 1630’s. You can see that both graphs go vertical. The vertical stage is driven by hysteria in which investors are terrified of missing the next move higher. It also ends with a decline, the rate of which is typically stunning.

The push higher in stocks like AAPL and AMZN is irrational, but TSLA has been infected with outright hysteria.

The worse the news on Tesla gets, the more quickly the stock seems to move up in price. Early in the week last week, Triple-A (the Auto Club group) announced that it was going to raise the its insurance premiums on Tesla cars by as much as 30%. A highway loss data study revealed that Tesla’s vehicles have higher claim numbers and repair costs vs. other vehicles in Tesla’s category. The Tesla S model claims were said to be 46% greater than the average number of claims for similar vehicles. Servicing those claims cost twice as much. The X model car reported a 41% higher crash-rate than similar vehicles and cost 89% more to repair.

In addition, it was reported on Monday that Toyota had unloaded the last of its remaining stake in Tesla before the end of 2016. It marked the end of a collaboration between Tesla and Toyota that began in 2010. Toyota announced that it plans to release its own fleet of long-range mass produced electric vehicles by 2020. Despite this blow of negative news about Tesla, the stock powered up over 8% last week before a late-day sell-off in the 5 Horsemen + Tesla inflicted a $19 reversal in TSLA’s stock price from its high Friday to the close. My puts, the June 30th $317.50-strikes, traded from Friday from a low of $1.06 to close at $2.40 on the bid side.

The graph below shows the price-path of TSLA’s stock since the election. Note that the graph looks very similar to the graphs of the NASDAQ/Tulip Bulb mania. In the 1800’s, writer Charles Mackay wrote a highly acclaimed book called, “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” in which he presented his studies on crowd psychology and how it leads to financial manias, among other destructive events. The chart below reflects “crowd” madness as it applies to TSLA stock (the inset price-box from last Thursday morning) – click to enlarge:

While the NASDAQ has appreciated 22% since the election, TSLA’s stock, on deteriorating fundamentals, has shot up 191%. TSLA’s market cap now stands at nearly $61 billion. It burns over $1 billion per year in cash and its financials are riddled with what would have been considered accounting fraud 20 years ago. It sold 72.6 thousand cars in 2016. Compare this to GM, which has a market cap of $51 billion and sold over 3 million cars in 2016, and Ford, which has a market cap of $44 billion and sold 2.5 million cars in 2016.
To say that the action in TSLA’s stock price and its market cap is “insane” does not do justice to the word in “insane.” TSLA is the “poster child” for the mass hysteria that fuels investment bubbles. The problem with shorting TSLA is that the hedge funds are chasing its momentum higher, as investors as investors embrace the negative news events as a reason to pay more for the stock. As such, it’s hard to see a catalyst that will “correct” the price, like with retailers for instance. TSLA, along with AMZN, is one of the rare stocks which will continue levitating until it doesn’t – like a meteor that eventually burns out falls to earth.

In my opinion, the ride down will be worth the pain and blood-loss of sticking with a short bet on TSLA, which is why I continue to buy small quantities of put options that have been expiring worthless. I know at some point I’m going to catch a $100+ reversal in TSLA stock which will more than make-up for the small losses I’m enduring in the puts while I wait for that occurrence. Using puts protects me from the unknown magnitude of upside risk from shorting the stock. Plus, I don’t have make a “stop-loss” decision because I don’t have the theoretic “infinite upside” loss potential that I would face shorting the stock. With my loss capped, I can hang on to the puts through expiration. With a stock like TSLA, often a stop-loss exit is followed up by reversal to the downside, leaving the short-seller without a short position.

As we saw on Friday, TSLA stock can reverse to the downside quite abruptly and sharply. I can guarantee that some number of shorts covered as TSLA was soaring over $370, leaving them with no position when the stock reversed, closing at $357. I don’t want to recommend specific puts to use but I can recommend giving yourself at least four weeks of time. If I were putting on a new put position today, I would probably buy a very small quantity of the July 7th $340-strikes. If TSLA sells back to the $310 area before expiry, which could easily happen as $310 is where the last 2-week push up in price began, the puts would have an intrinsic value of $30. The current cost is about $10.

TSLA reminds me of Commerce One (CMRC), a B2B internet company that went from $10 to $600 in a very short period of time in late 1999 – 2000. It eventually went to $0. I shorted and covered small quantities of stock starting around $450. I was fortunate to have been short from the high $500’s when it finally topped out a $600. The volatility of this stock was extraordinary but persistence and “thick skin” paid off.

The above analysis and commentary is from the latest <ahref=”http://investmentresearchdynamics.com/short-sellers-journal/”>Short Seller’s Journal, in which I present a “Big Short” mortgage derivative stock that will eventually drop close to zero from it’s current price in the mid-teens.  You can find out more here:  Short Seller Journal info.

Orwell’s Theorem: The Opposite of Truth Is The Truth

All propaganda is lies, even when one is telling the truth. – George Orwell

A reader commented that the number of corporate lay-offs in America is escalating, yet the unemployment rate seems to keep going lower.  Part of the reason for this is that the 2008 collapse “cleansed” corporate america’s payrolls of a large number of workers who are eligible to file for unemployment benefits.

The Labor Force is derived from the number of people employed + the number of people looking for work.  To continue receiving jobless benefits during the defined period in which fired workers can receive them, they have to demonstrate that they are looking for work.  Ergo, they are considered part of the Labor Force.  Once the jobless benefits expire, they are removed from the Labor Force unless an enterprising Census Bureau pollster happens to get one on the phone and they answer “yes” when asked if they are/were actively looking for work.   Those who do not qualify for jobless benefits more often than not are removed from the Labor Force tally.  This is why, last month for example, over 600,000 people were removed from the Labor Force.

Reducing the Labor Force de facto reduces the unemployment rate.  Thus, there’s an inverse relationship between layoffs and the unemployment rate.  It’s an Orwellian utopia for the elitists.

Today’s stock market is a great example of the “opposite of truth is the truth” theorem.   It was reported by Moody’s that credit card charge-offs have risen at to their highest rate since 2009 – LINK.  This means that defaults are rising at an even faster rate, as finance companies use accounting gimmicks to defer actual charge-offs as long as possible.  A debt that is charged-off has probably been in non-pay status for at least 9-12 months.

The same story has been developing in auto loans. The 60+ day delinquency rate for subprime auto loans is at 4.51%, just 0.18% below the peak level hit in 2008. The 60+ day delinquency rate for prime auto loans is 0.54%, just 0.28% below the 2008 peak. In terms of outright defaults, subprime auto debt is just a shade under 12%, which is about 2.5% below its 2008 peak. Prime loans are defaulting at a 1.52% rate, about 200 basis points (2%) below the 2008 peak. However, judging from the rise in the 60+ day delinquency rate, I would expect the rate of default on prime auto loans to rise quickly this year.

Now here’s the kicker: In Q3 2008 there was $800 billion in auto loans outstanding. Currently there’s $1.2 trillion, or 50% more. In other words, we’re not in crisis mode yet and the delinquency/default rates on subprime auto debt is near the levels at which it peaked in 2008. These numbers are going to get a lot worse this year and the amount of debt involved is 50% greater. But the real problem will be, once again, the derivatives connected to this debt. It would be a mistake to expect that this problem will not begin to show up in the mortgage market.

Amusingly, the narrative pitched by Wall Street and the sock-puppet financial media analysts is that the credit underwriting standards have only recently been “skewed” toward sub-prime. This is an outright fairytale that is accepted as truth (see Orwell’s Theorem). The issuance of credit to the general population has been skewed toward sub-prime since 2008. It’s the underwriting standards that were loosened.

The definition of non-sub-prime was broadened considerably after 2008.  Many borrowers considered sub-prime prior to 2008 were considered “prime” after 2008. The FHA was the first to pounce on this band-wagon, as it’s 3% down-payment mortgage program enabled the FHA to go from a 2% market share 2008 to a 20% market share of the mortgage market.

Capital One is a good proxy for lower quality credit card and auto loan issuance. While Experian reports an overall default of 3.3% on credit cards, COF reported a 5.14% charge-off rate for its domestically issued credit cards. COF’s Q1 2017 charge-off rate is up 48 basis points (0.48%) from Q4 2016 and up 100 basis points (1%) from Q1 2016. The charge-off rate alone increased at an increasing rate at Capital One over the last 4 quarters. This means the true delinquency rates are likely surging at even higher rates. This would explain why COF is down 17% since March 1st despite a 2.1% rise in the S&P 500 during the same time-period.

To circle back to Orwell’s Theorem, today the S&P 500 is hitting a new record high. But rather than the FANGs + APPL driving the move, the push higher is attributable to a jump in the financial sector. This is despite the fact that there were several news reports released in the last 24 hours which should have triggered another sell-off in the financial sector. Because  the stock market has become a primary propaganda tool, it’s likely that the Fed/Plunge Protection Team was in the market pushing the financials higher in order to “communicate” the message that the negative news connected to the sector is good news.  Afer all, look at the performance of the financials today!

Days like today are great opportunities to set-up shorts. Most (not all) of the ideas presented in the Short Seller’s Journal this year have been/are winners.  As an example Sears (SHLD) is down 39% since it was presented on April 2nd.   I’ll present two great short ideas in the financial sector plus a retailer in the next issue.  You can learn more about the Short Seller’s Journal here:  SSJ Info.