Tag Archives: FOMC

As The Fed Reflates The Stock Bubble The Economy Crumbles

I get a kick out of these billionaires and centimillionaires, like Kyle Bass yesterday, who appear on financial television to look the viewer in the eye and tell them that economy is booming.  Kyle Bass doesn’t expect a mild recession until mid-2020. Hmmm – explain that rationale to the 78%+ households who are living paycheck to paycheck, bloated with a record level of debt and barely enough savings to cover a small emergency.

After dining on a lunch fit for Elizabethan royalty with Trump, Jerome Powell decided it was a good idea to make an attempt at reflating the stock bubble. After going vertical starting December 26th, the Dow had been moving sideways since January 18th, possibly getting ready to tip over. The FOMC took care of that with its policy directive on January 30th, two hours before the stock market closed. Notwithstanding the Fed’s efforts to reflate the stock bubble – or at least an attempt to prevent the stock market from succumbing to the gravity of deteriorating fundamentals – at some point the stock market is going to head south abruptly again. That might be the move that precipitates the renewal of money printing.

Contrary to the official propaganda the economy must be in far worse shape than can be gleaned from the publicly available data if the Fed is willing to stop nudging rates higher a quarter of a point at a time and hint at the possibility of more money printing “if needed.” Remember, the Fed has access to much more detailed and accurate data than is made available to the public, including Wall Street. The Fed sees something in the numbers that sent them retreating abruptly and quickly from any attempt to tighten monetary policy.

For me, this graphic conveys the economic reality as well as any economic report:

The chart above shows the Wall Street analyst consensus earnings growth rate for each quarter in 2019. Over the last three months, the analyst consensus EPS forecast has been reduced 8% to almost no earnings growth expected in Q1 2019. Keep in mind that analyst forecasts are based on management “guidance.” The nearest next quarter always has the sharpest pencil applied to projections because corporate CFO’s have most of the numbers that go into “guidance.” As you can see, earnings growth rate projections have deteriorated precipitously for all four quarters. The little “U” turn in Q4 is the obligatory “hockey stick” of optimism forecast.

Perhaps one of the best “grass roots” fundamental indicators is the mood of small businesses, considered the back-bone of the U.S. economy. After hitting a peak reading of 120 in 2018, the Small Business Confidence Index fell of a cliff in January to 95. The index is compiled by Vistage Worldwide, which compiles a monthly survey of 765 small businesses. Just 14% expect the economy to improve this year and 36% expect it to get worse. For the first time since the 2016 election, small businesses were more pessimistic about their own financial prospects than they were a year earlier, including plans for hiring and investment.

The Vistage measure of small business “confidence” was reinforced by the National Federation of Independent Businesses confidence index which plunged to its lowest level since Trump elected. It seems the “hope” that was infused into the American psyche and which drove the stock market to nose-bleed valuation levels starting in November 2016 has leaked out of the bubble. The Fed will not be able to replace that hot air with money printing.

I would argue that small businesses are a reflection of the sentiment and financial condition of the average household, as these businesses are typically locally-based service and retail businesses. The sharp drop in confidence in small businesses correlates with the sharp drop in the Conference Board’s consumer confidence numbers.

The negative economic data flowing from the private sector thus reflects a much different reality than is represented by the sharp rally in the stock market since Christmas and the general level of the stock market. At some point, the stock market will “catch down” to reality. This move will likely occur just as abruptly and quickly as the rally of the last 6 weeks.

Why Housing Won’t Bounce With Lower Rates

“Our advice is to own as little exposure U.S. equity exposure as your career risk allows.” – Martin Tarlie, member of portfolio allocation at Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo investment management

The following is an excerpt from the latest Short Seller’s Journal:

Economy is worse than policy makers admit publicly – Less than four months ago, the FOMC issued a policy statement that anticipated four rate hikes in 2019 with no mention of altering the balance sheet reduction program that was laid out at the beginning of the QT initiative. It seems incredible then that, after this past week’s FOMC meeting, that the Fed held interest rates unchanged, removed any expectation for any rate hikes in 2019, and stated that it might reduce its QT program if needed. After reducing its balance sheet less than 10%, the Fed left open the possibility of reversing course and increasing the size of the balance sheet – i.e. re-implementing “QE” money printing.

Contrary to the official propaganda the economy must be in far worse shape than can be gleaned from the publicly available data if the Fed is willing to stop nudging rates higher a quarter of a point at a time and hint at the possibility of more money printing “if needed.” Remember, the Fed has access to much more detailed and accurate data than is made available to the public, including Wall Street. The Fed sees something in the numbers that sent them retreating abruptly and quickly from any attempt to tighten monetary policy.

Housing market – As I suggested might happen after a bounce in the first three weeks of January, the weekly purchase mortgage index declined three weeks in a row, including a 5% gap-down in the latest week (data is lagged by 1 week).  This is despite a decline in the 10-yr Treasury rate to the lowest rate for the mortgage benchmark Treasury rate since January 2018.

Not surprisingly, the NAR’s pending home sales index – released last Wednesday mid-morning for December – was down 2.2% vs November and tanked nearly 10% vs. December 2017. Pending sales are for existing home sales are based on contracts signed. This was the 12th straight month of year-over-year declines. Remarkably, the NAR chief “economist” would not attribute the decline to either China or the Government shutdown. He didn’t mention inventory either, which has soared in most major metro areas over the past couple of months.

For me, the explanation is pretty simple: The average household’s cost to service debt has reached a point at which it will become more difficult to find buyers who can qualify for a conventional mortgage (FNM, FRE, FHA):

The chart above shows personal interest payments excluding mortgage debt. As you can see, the current non-mortgage personal interest burden is nearly 20% higher than it was just before the 2008 financial crisis. It’s roughly 75% higher than it was at the turn of the century.  Fannie Mae raised the maximum DTI (debt-to-income ratio – percentage of monthly gross income that can be used for interest payments) to 50% in mid-2017 to qualify for a mortgage. This temporarily boosted home sales. That stimulus has now faded. And despite falling interest rates, the housing market continues to contract.

That said, the Census Bureau finally released new home sales for November. It purports that new homes on a seasonally adjusted, annualized rate basis rose a whopping 16.9% from October. I just laughed when I saw the number. The calculus does not correlate either with home sales data reported by new homebuilders or with mortgage purchase applications during that time period (new home sales are based on contract signings). 90% of all new home buyers use a mortgage.

The November number was a 7.7% decline from the November 2017 SAAR. According to the Census Bureau, the months’ supply of new homes is at 6, down from October’s 7 but up from November 2017’s 4.9. A perusal of homebuilder balance sheets would show inventories near all-time highs (homebuilders do not always list finished homes on MLS right away if a community already has plenty of inventory). The average sales price of a new home dropped to 8.4% from $395,000 in October to $362,000 in November. Anyone who purchased a new home with a less than 9% down payment mortgage during or prior to October is now underwater on the mortgage.

Absent more direct Government subsidy and Fed stimulus, the housing market is going to continue contracting, with prices falling. Anyone who bought a home with less than a 10% down payment mortgage over the last 3-5 years will find themselves underwater on their mortgage.  I expect home equity mortgage delinquencies and default to begin rising rapidly in the 2nd half of 2019.

In the last issue of the Short Seller’s Journal, I presented my favorite homebuilder shorts along with put option and short selling call option ideas. You can learn more about this newsletter here:   Short Seller’s Journal information

 

The Fed Blinked – Gold And Silver Are Going Higher

Price inflation has been badly misrepresented by CPI figures and have been averaging closer to about 8% annually since gold topped in Sept 2011. Since then the purchasing power of the dollar has declined by about 43%, so that in 2011 dollars the gold price is $740. No one seems to have noticed, leaving gold extremely cheap. – Alasdair Macleod, “Ten Factors To Look For In Gold In 2019

The following is an excerpt from the latest issue of the Mining Stock Journal, which included an analysis of a  highly undervalued, relatively new and unknown junior mining company advancing a gold-silver project in Mexico.

As I have suggested in the past (in more detail in the Short Seller’s Journal), the Fed is retreating quickly from rate hikes and balance sheet reduction (QT). The Fed deferred on raising rates at its FOMC meeting this week. What I found somewhat shocking, however, was the removal of reference to “further gradual rate increases.”

Perhaps more shocking was the reference to the possibility of re-starting the money printing press:  “…the Committee would be prepared to use its full range of tools, including altering the size and composition of its balance sheet, if future economic conditions were to warrant a more accommodative monetary policy…” That statement translated means, “we’ll have to print more money eventually.”

This should be extremely bullish for the precious metals sector. The only issue is the timing of the next big move higher. That depends on the degree to which the banks can continue controlling the price with gold and silver derivatives.  No one knows that answer, not even the banks. At some point, as occurred from 2008-2011, the western banks will be unable to suppress the natural price rise of gold/silver. That said, the Chinese and the Russians could pull the rug out from under the western manipulation if and when they want. That will happen eventually as well.

Alasdair Macleod wrote a brief and insightful essay from which I quoted and linked above describing key factors in 2019 that could push the price of gold significantly higher. Most of the factors are familiar, especially for subscribers to my Short Seller’s Journal. First and foremost will be the Fed, along with Central Banks globally,  reverting to easy monetary policy.

Notwithstanding official propaganda to the contrary, the U.S./global economy is rapidly slowing down. Many areas are contracting. Government spending deficits will soar as tax revenues fall behind the rate at which Government spending is increasing.

At some point, the Government will plead with the Fed to help finance Treasury issuance (this will occur in the EU, Japan and China as well), creating another acceleration in monetary inflation/currency devaluation. This will act as a transmission mechanism to inflate the dollar price of gold. Smart investors understanding this dynamic, and who have the financial resources, will move dollars out of financial assets and into gold. See 2008-2011 for an example of this process.

Gold has outperformed almost every major asset class since 2000:

Gold has outperformed most other assets since 2000 because Central Banks globally began to implement extreme monetary policies in response to the global stock market crash in 2000 led by tech stocks. As John Hathaway, manager of the Tocqueville gold fund, describes it, “gold has been a winning strategy since monetary policy became unhinged nearly two decades ago.”

In addition to the fiscal and monetary policies implemented globally in response to deteriorating economic and financial conditions, Alasdair identifies four factors directly affecting the price of gold this year.

One factor not widely perceived or understood by the markets is the gradual and methodical shift away from using the U.S. dollar for trade and as a reserve asset by Russia and China. It’s clear that both countries are swapping dollar reserves for gold and conducting an increasing percentage of bi-lateral trade with their trading partners in each country’s sovereign currency.

As an aside, gold has been soaring in most currencies besides the dollar. At some point, this shift away from using the dollar as a reserve currency will remove the “safe haven asset” status of the dollar, causing a considerable decline in the dollar vs global currencies. Concomitantly, the dollar price of gold will soar.

Another factor identified by Macleod is price inflation: “price inflation has been badly misrepresented by CPI figures and has been averaging closer to about 8% annually since gold topped in Sept 2011. Since then the purchasing power of the dollar has declined by about 43%, so that in 2011 dollars the gold price is $740. No one seems to have noticed, leaving gold extremely cheap.”

In my view, the price inflation factor as it affects investor attitudes toward gold will be a “slowly then suddenly” process. Investors and the population in general tend to move in herds. Currently the headline Government CPI is accepted and discussed as reported. At some point,  a large contingent of mainstream institutional investors will decide the Government’s measurement of inflation is wrong and will begin to buy gold and silver. The masses will soon follow. We saw this dynamic leading up to the parabolic move by gold in 1979-1980.

The third factor is “monetary inflation.” Most people think of price when they see the term “inflation.” But the true economic definition of “inflation” is the rate of growth in the money supply in excess of the rate of growth in economic (wealth) output. This in essence reduces the value of each dollar. Think about it terms of an increasing amount of dollars made available to chase a fixed supply of goods and services. That’s the monetary inflation that causes “price” inflation. Rising prices are the manifestation of monetary inflation.

As discussed at the beginning, at some point the Fed will be forced to re-start the printing press or face the consequences of a rapid economic and financial collapse.  Macleod points out that “these are exactly the conditions faced by the German government between 1918 and 1923, and the likely response by the Fed will be the same. Print money to fund government deficits.”  Recall that the policies used by the Weimar Government eventually led to hyper price inflation. The hyperinflation did not occur until the early 1920’s. But the policies leading to this condition began in 1914, when Germany World War 1 started and Germany’s huge war debt began to pile up. This is strikingly similar to the huge U.S. Government debt outstanding currently.

The final factor mentioned by Macleod is simply, “Gold is massively under-owned in the West.” By 1980, institutional investors on average held 5% of their assets in gold. Currently the percentage allocation to gold (or fake gold like GLD) is well under 1%. All it would take for a massive price reset  in gold and silver is for institutions to allocate 1-2% of their assets to gold. I believe eventually that allocation percentage will move back to 3-5%, which will drive the price of gold well over $2000/oz.

The Stock Market Would Crash Without Central Bank Support

The mis-pricing of money and credit has also driven a terrible misallocation of capital and kept unproductive zombie debtors alive for too long. Saxo Bank, “Beware The Global Policy Panic”

“Mis-pricing of money and credit” refers to the ability of the Fed to control interest rates and money supply.  Humans with character flaws and conflicting motivations performing a role that is best left to a free market.   After the market’s attempt in December to re-introduce two-way price discovery to the stock stock market, the Fed appears ready to fold on its “interest rate and balance sheet normalization” policy, whatever “normalization is supposed to mean.

Tesla is the perfect example of terribly misallocated capital enabling the transitory survival of a defective business model. Access to cheap, easy capital has enabled Elon Musk to defer the eventual fate of the Company for several years. But as the equity and credit markets become considerably less tolerant, companies with extreme financial and operational flaws are exposed, followed by a stock price price that plummets.

The Stock Market Would Crash Without Central Bank Support – A few weeks after Fed head, Jerome Powell, hinted that the Fed may hold off on more rate hikes, an article in the Wall St. Journal suggested that the Fed was considering halting its “Quantitative Tightening” program far sooner than expected, leaving the Fed’s balance sheet significantly a significantly higher level it’s original “normalization” plan.

But “normalization” in the context of leaving the Fed’s balance sheet significantly larger than its size when the financial crisis hit – $800 billion – simply means leaving a substantial amount of the money printed from “QE” in the financial system. This is a subtle acknowledgment by the Einsteins at the Fed that the U.S. economic and financial system would seize up without massive support by the Fed in the form of money printing.

I suggested in the January 13th issue of my Short Seller’s Journal that the Fed would likely halt QT: “The economy is headed toward a severe recession and I’m certain the key officials at the Fed and White House are aware of this (perhaps not Trump but some of his advisors). I suspect that the Fed’s monetary policy will be reversed in 2019. They’ll first announce halting QT. That should be bad news because of the implications about the true condition of the economy. But the hedge fund algos and retail day-trader zombies will buy that announcement. We will sell into that spike. Ultimately the market will sell-off when comes to understand that the last remaining prop in the stock market is the Fed.”

Little did I realize when I wrote that two weeks ago that the Fed would hint at halting QT less than two weeks later.

When this fails to re-stimulate economic activity, the Fed will eventually resume printing money. Assuming the report in the Wall Street Journal on Friday is true, this is a continuation of the “mis-pricing” of money credit alluded to above by Saxo Bank. Moreover, it reflects a Central Bank in panic mode in response to the recent attempt by the stock market to re-price significantly lower to a level that reflected economic reality.

The Fed Panics And Gold Soars

First it was the loudly broadcast convening of the Working Group on Financial Markets – aka “the  Plunge Protection Team” – by the PPT’s el Jefe, Steven Mnuchin.  This was followed the “mouse that roared” speech from Fed head, Jerome Powell, hinting that the Fed would moon-walk away from rate hikes.

Today was trial Hindenburg launched by the Wall St Journal suggesting that the Fed was considering curtailing the the FOMC’s balance sheet Weight Watchers program.  The terminology used to describe the Fed’s actions is Orwellian vernacular. “Reserve levels” – as in, “leaving more reserves on the Fed’s balance sheet” – sounds mundane. In plain-speak, this is simply the amount of money the Fed printed and will leave in the financial system or risk crashing the stock market.

I suggested in the January 13th issue of my Short Seller’s Journal that the Fed would likely halt QT: “The economy is headed toward a severe recession.  I’m certain the key officials at the Fed and White House are aware of this (perhaps not Trump but some of his advisors). I suspect that the Fed’s monetary policy will be reversed in 2019. They’ll first announce halting QT. That should be bad news because of the implications but the hedge fund algos and retail day-trader zombies will buy that announcement. We will sell into that spike.”

Little did I realize when I wrote that two weeks ago that the assertion would be validated just two weeks later. When this fails to re-stimulate economic activity, the Fed will eventually resume printing money.  Ultimately the market will figure out that it’s a very bad thing that the only thing holding up the stock market is the Fed.

The policy reversal by the Fed reflects panic at the Fed. Nothing reflects “Fed Panic” better than the price of gold:

It’s Lose-Lose For The Fed And For Everyone

A friend asked me today what I thought Powell should do.  I said, “the system is screwed. It ultimately doesn’t matter what anyone does.   The money printing, credit creation and artificially low interest rates over the last 10 years has fueled the most egregious misallocation of capital in history of the universe.”

Eventually the Fed/Central Banks will print trillions more – 10x more than the last time around. If they don’t this thing collapses. It won’t matter if interest rates are zero or 10%. You can’t force economic activity if there’s no demand and you’ve devalued the currency by printing it until its worth next to nothing and people are toting around piles of cash in a wheelbarrow worth more than the mountain of $100 bills inside the wheelbarrow.

The price of oil is down another $3.50 today to $46.50. That reflects a global economy that is cratering, including and especially in the U.S. Most people will listen to the perma-bullish Wall Streeters, money managers and meat-with-mouths on bubblevision preach “hope.”

Anyone who can remove their retirement funds from their 401k or IRA and doesn’t is an idiot. Anyone thinking about selling their home but is waiting for the market to “climb out of this small valley in the market” will regret not selling now.

Forget Powell. What can you do? There is no asset that stands on equal footing with gold. You either own it or you do not.

“You have to choose between trusting to the natural stability of gold and the natural stability of the honesty and intelligence of the members of the government. And, with due respect to these gentlemen, I advise you, as long as the capitalist system lasts, to vote for gold.” – George Bernard Shaw

Powell Just Signaled That The Next Crisis Is Here

Housing and auto sales appear to have hit a wall over the last 8-12 weeks.  To be sure, online holiday sales jumped significantly year over year, but brick-n-mortar sales were flat. The problem there:  e-commerce is only about 10% of total retail sales.  We won’t know until January how retail sales fared this holiday season.  I know that, away from Wall Street carnival barkers, the retail industry is braced for disappointing holiday sales this year.

A subscriber asked my opinion on how and when a stock market collapse might play out. Here’s my response: “With the degree to which Central Banks now intervene in the markets, it’s very difficult if not impossible to make timing predictions. I would argue that, on a real inflation-adjusted GDP basis, the economy never recovered from 2008. I’m not alone in that assessment. A global economic decline likely started in 2008 but has been covered up by the extreme amount of money printed and credit created.

It’s really more of a question of when will the markets reflect or catch up to the underlying real fundamentals? We’re seeing the reality reflected in the extreme divergence in wealth and income between the upper 1% and the rest. In fact, the median middle class household has gone backwards economically since 2008. That fact is reflected in the decline of real average wages and the record level of household debt taken on in order for these households to pretend like they are at least been running place.”

The steep drop in housing and auto sales are signaling that the average household is up to its eyeballs in debt. Auto and credit card delinquency rates are starting to climb rapidly. Subprime auto debt delinquencies rates now exceed the delinquency rates in 2008/2009.

The Truth is in the details – Despite the large number of jobs supposedly created in October and YTD, the wage withholding data published by the Treasury does not support the number of new jobs as claimed by the Government. YTD wage-earner tax withholding has increased only 0.1% from 2017. This number is what it is. It would be difficult to manipulate. Despite the Trump tax cut, which really provided just a marginal benefit to wage-earners and thus only a slight negative effect on wage-earner tax withholding, the 0.1% increase is well below what should have been the growth rate in wage withholding given the alleged growth in wages and jobs. Also, most of the alleged jobs created in October were the product of the highly questionable “birth/death model” used to estimate the number of businesses opened and closed during the month. The point here is that true unemployment, notwithstanding the Labor Force Participation Rate, is much higher than the Government would like us to believe.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell signaled today that the well-telegraphed December rate hike is likely the last in this cycle of rate-hikes, though he intimates the possibility of one hike in 2019. More likely, by the time the first FOMC meeting rolls around in 2019, the economy will be in a tail-spin, with debt and derivative bombs detonating. And it’s a good bet Trump will be looking to sign an Executive Order abolishing the Fed and giving the Treasury the authority to print money. The $3.3 billion pension bailout proposal circulating Congress will morph into $30 billion and then $300 billion proposal. 2008 redux. If you’re long the stock market, enjoy this short-squeeze bounce while it lasts…

A Large Decline In Stocks Accompanied By A Huge Move Up In Gold

Elijah Johnson invited me onto the Silver Doctor’s precious metals podcast to discuss why mining stocks are historically cheap and why an expected crash in the stock market will be accompanied by a soaring precious metals sector.   We also discuss why Trump is beating up the Fed over rate hikes:

Note on my Mining Stock Journal. I mentioned a highly undervalued intermediate gold and silver producer in the podcast. I also want to note that occasionally I issue “sell” or “avoid” recommendations. I happened to notice yesterday that Novo Resources was below $2.  A year ago I strongly urged my subscribers who owned Novo  in my October 19, 2017 issue to sell the shares when the stock was above $6. Here’s what I said:

I am following this saga with fascination because it’s a great study in mass crowd psychology and investing. It blows my mind that this stock can have a $1.3 billion market cap with almost no evidence of a mineable resource other than small, pumpkin-size “seeds” of gold samples. I exchanged emails with my junior mining company insider to get some interpretation of the results and affirmation of my view: “These nugget deposits are very difficult to model and drive mining engineers absolutely nutz! This is what happened with Pretium’s first shot at a published resource at the Brucejack project in BC. The gold is coarse and not equally and predictably distributed, so the consultant had a very difficult time modeling the deposit and therefore coming up with an agreeable resource estimate.

You can learn more about the Mining Stock Journal here:  Mining Stock Journal information

The Tragically Flawed Fed Policies And The Eventual Reset Of The Gold Price

With gold showing good resiliency as it has tested the $1200 level successfully after enduring aggressive paper gold attacks during Comex floor trading hours, it’s only a matter of time before gold breaks out above $1220 and heads toward $1300. Gold has been under attack in the futures market this week as the world’s largest physical gold importer, China, has been closed all week for holiday observance. In addition, with financial market conditions stabilizing in India, the world second largest physical gold importer’s peak gold buying season resumed this week. When gold spikes over $1220, it will unleash an avalanche of short-covering by the hedge funds.

What will cause gold to spike up? There’s any number of potential “black swans” that could appear out of nowhere, but the at the root of it is the tragically flawed monetary policies of the Federal Reserve, along with the rest of the Central Banks globally…of course, the eastern hemisphere banks are buying gold hand-over-fist…

Chris Marcus invited me onto this StockPulse podcast to discuss the precious metals market and the factors that will trigger an eventual price-reset:

The Fed: Lies, Propaganda And Motive

The agenda of the Fed is to hold up the system for as long as possible. The biggest stock bubble in U.S. history has been fueled by 10 years of negative real interest rates. The only way to justify that policy is to create phony inflation statistics. Based on historical interest rates and based on the alleged unemployment rate, a “normalized” Fed funds rate should be set at 9%, which reflects a more accurate inflation rate plus a 3% premium. The last time the unemployment rate was measured at 3.7% was October 1969. Guess what? The Fed funds rate was 9%. I guess if you live an a cave and only buy TV’s and laptops, then the inflation rate is probably 2%…

Silver Doctor’s Elijah Johnson invited me to discuss the FOMC policy decision released on Wednesday afternoon:

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If you are interested in ideas for taking advantage of the inevitable systemic reset that  will hit the U.S. financial and economic system, check out either of these newsletters:  Short Seller’s Journal information and more about the Mining Stock Journal here:  Mining Stock Journal information.