Tag Archives: homebuilders

New Home Sales Tank – KBH Claims Its Numbers “Improved”

“We are confident we can produce further improvement in our results in the second half of this year” – KB Homes CEO in reference to its “returns-focused” growth model

“Returns-Focused Growth Model.” Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? KBH’s revenues dropped 7.3% YoY for Q2. It’s operating income plunged a healthy 28%. How’s that growth strategy working out for you, Jay?

Of course it produced a headline EPS “beat.” But this is because it implemented a full-blown deep-tissue body massage to GAAP accounting, including capitalizing costs that should have been expensed (interest expense and homebuilding expenses), it recognized a non-cash “income” in off-balance sheet JV’s (a suspiciously round $2.5 million) and slashed its arbitrarily determined book tax rate to 17% from 28%.

Except in certain areas where markets remain hot due to migration patterns (hundreds moving to Denver weekly – please stop), the housing market is contracting despite the lowest mortgage rates since late 2017. The Government has all but made it possible for a barely breathing corpse to take down a tax-payer guaranteed mortgage (there’s even several no-down-payment programs).

The homebuilder sentiment index (formally called the “Housing Market Index”) was released on Monday morning. It fell to an index level of 64 in June from 66 in May. Wall St’s finest were looking for a consensus 67. All three sub-indices declined: current sales conditions, buyer traffic and expectations for the next six months. Buyer traffic has been below 50 for two months in a row. This is despite more than a 1% decline in the average rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage during the last 7 months.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how homebuilders “feel” about the sales  environment now or in six months, declining foot traffic translates into falling sales volume. The quote above reinforces my theory that the “pool” of potential homebuyers, especially first time buyers, who can qualify for a mortgage and afford the monthly cost of home ownership is drying up. Lower interest expense from lower mortgage rates somewhat offsets high prices relative to income. However, the general cost of home ownership other than debt service is rising beyond the spending budgets of many potential home owners.

A long-time subscriber contacted me and was curious about the divergence between my view of the housing market and Josh Steiner’s at Hedge Eye. Here’s my response: “I tried to follow Hedge Eye several years ago. It didn’t take me long to discard them into the rosecolored glasses/perma-bull bucket. Hope and optimism is easier to sell than doom, gloom and reality.  Housing market perma-bulls don’t understand the extent to which easy credit has fueled the housing market since 2010. You can’t necessarily call it a “housing bull market” because the until sales level is not even remotely close to the previous peak in 2005. New single family home sales peaked at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 1.39 million in July 2005. The current SAAR is 626,000.

Furthermore, the Government “pulled forward” future demand when it began to lower the bar to qualify for a FNM/FRE mortgage. The demand pool Steiner probably thinks is out there for starter homes has mostly already bought OR can’t qualify. This is why that huge drop in the 10yr has not stimulated housing sales. The rate on a 30yr fixed mortgage has dropped over 100 basis points since November, yet housing sales have been declining. It would be interesting to know to what extent home sales would have have declined over the last few months if rates had not fallen over 1% since November.

Mortgage purchase applications dropped 1% this past week after a reported 4% decline the week before. Mortgage purchase applications have declined 8 of the last 10 weeks. This is despite the stunning drop in the 10yr Treasury yield and the related decline in mortgage rates. Furthermore, June is seasonally a peak month for home sales and thus mortgage purchase applications should be soaring.

KBH’s unit sales were flat but the average selling price plunged 8.5%. The Company had to resort to heavy discounting to move homes while it’s inventory continues to soar. The DJUSHB has been rising despite the fact that falling interest rates are not stimulating housing market activity. I’m certain that hedge fund algos have been programmed to buy homebuilders when the 10yr yield falls.However, at some point the fundamentals will take over and hedge fund algos will be reprogrammed to start selling.

The DJUSHB knifed through it’s 50 dma earlier this week. Despite the overall strength in the index this spring, I recommended two shorts in my Short Seller’s Journal that have been home runs. In mid-April, I recommended shorting Realogy (RLGY) at $12. It’s trading at $7 as I write this. I also recommended shorting HOV at $15. It’s trading at $6.94 today. Realogy is the best bellweather stock indicator for the housing sector because its the largest realtor services company. HOV is just a zombie company with far too much debt and will hit the wall eventually. That’s why indsiders dump their shares continuously.

There’s a lot downside profit opportunities in the housing sector. I review many of them in my Short Seller’s Journal. This includes ideas for using options and trading strategies. To learn more about this follow this link:  Short Seller’s Journal information.

The Fed Is Running Out Of Bullets

“The latest University of Michigan consumer confidence report noted that its index tracking those who think it’s a good time to buy a home has fallen by a hefty eight points in the past two months even as mortgage rates have dropped.” – Danielle DiMartino Booth, “The Fed Can’t Help Housing Or Autos At This Point

I’m not the only analyst who has concluded that lower rates likely will not re-stimulate housing market activity. As I’ve argued in my Short Seller’s Journal, the “pool” of potential homebuyers who can qualify for a mortgage has greatly diminished. In fact, mortgage delinquencies are rising because many who stretched to buy a home in the past several years are struggling with the all-in cost of home ownership. Stagnant wages and the rising cost of necessities are largely the culprits.

“Despite lower mortgage rates, home prices remain somewhat high relative to incomes, which is particularly challenging for entry-level buyers.” – NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. That quote accompanied the NAHB’s release of its Housing Market Index, which used to be called the Homebuilder Sentiment Index because it’s a “how do you feel?” survey.

The Housing Market index fell to an index level of 64 in June from 66 in May. Wall St’s finest were looking for a consensus 67. All three sub-indices declined: current sales conditions, buyer traffic and expectations for the next six months. Buyer traffic has been below 50 for two months in a row. This is despite more than a 1% decline in the average rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage during the last 7 months.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how homebuilders “feel” about the sales environment now or in six months, declining foot traffic translates into decline sales volume. The quote above reinforces my theory that the “pool” of potential homebuyers, especially first-time buyers, who can qualify for a mortgage and afford the monthly cost of home ownership is drying up. Lower interest expense somewhat offsets high prices relative to income. However, the general cost of home ownership other than debt service is rising beyond the spending budgets of many potential home owners.

Quant-oriented perma-bulls, like Josh Steiner at Hedge Eye, understand the extent to which easy credit has fueled the housing market since 2010. You can’t necessarily call it a “housing bull market” because the until sales level is not even remotely close to the previous peak in 2005. New single family home sales peaked at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 1.39 million in July 2005. The current SAAR is 673,000.

Furthermore, the Government “pulled forward” future demand when it began to lower the bar to qualify for a FNM/FRE mortgage. The demand pool Steiner probably imagines is out there for starter homes has mostly already bought OR can’t qualify. This is why that huge drop in the 10yr has not stimulated housing sales.

The rate on a 30yr fixed mortgage has dropped over 100 basis points since November, yet housing sales have been declining. It would be interesting to know to what extent home sales would have have declined over the last few months if rates had not fallen over 1% in 7 months.  Just look at the big gap down in mortgage purchase applications reported this week despite a 10yr yield that has fallen relentlessly.

It doesn’t really matter what the Fed does today with the Fed Funds rate policy decision. To be sure, if the FOMC postures toward take rates to zero if necessary it might juice the stock market temporarily.  But it won’t take long for brains to take over from the algos and interpret the message that would be transmitted by the FOMC  as extraordinarily bearish.

Any attempt at holding off the economic catastrophe creeping into view would require massive money printing.  But given that some FOMC members consider a $3 trillion balance sheet to be “normalized,” I’m not sure at the margin to what degree more money printing  will save the economy.  Perhaps a Debt Jubilee for all households…

The above commentary includes excerpts from my Short Seller’s Journal, a weekly newsletter  ideas for those looking to short stocks – including options strategies – based on fundamental analysis. You can learn more or subscribe using this link:  Short Seller’s Journal information.

The Stock Market Is Back In Idiot-Mode Again

I don’t know if it was the intent of the Fed, but Jerome Powell has managed to trigger a rush into stocks more frenzied than the one that engulfed the last days of the dot.com/techbubble. The vertical ascent since Christmas in the Dow/SPX is unprecedented on a percentage basis over an 8-week period of time. All sense of logic, sound analysis and fear of risk has disappeared. I don’t know how much longer this move will last, but it will likely be followed by a spectacular reversal.

What I can say with 100% certainty is that the stock market continues to dislocate from economic reality. This is a situation that will be corrected sooner or later, with the stock market re-pricing significantly lower to a level that better reflects the deterioration in both the global and U.S. economy.

A perfect example of this is housing starts, which were released today for December and showed an 11.2% drop from November. The better comparison is the 11% plunge from December 2017, as “seasonal [statistical] adjustments” are used to obfuscate the real data trends month to month. The year/year comp is somewhat “cleansed” from “seasonal” manipulation adjustments.

The mainstream media is already putting a positive spin the starts number by explaining that permits rose. A permit is not indicative of a future start. Homebuilders have been loading up on land, as tends to happen at the end of housing cycles. A permit is a cheap “option” to initiate a start if the market picks up. In fact, starts should be increasing right now. It takes 3-5 months to build the average priced new home. If homebuilders truly thought that the market was going to improve, housing starts should be increasing in November/December in anticipation of peak selling season in June.

Funny thing about the housing starts commentary.  Most homebuilders are sitting on a record level of inventory.  An example is LGI Homes, which just reported this morning.  LGI’s  year-end inventory soared 34% from year-end 2017.  The Company financed most of this with debt.  Home closings for 2018 were up 11% but decelerated during the year and new orders were down in January 2019 vs 2018.  Given the big jump in existing home inventory during the 2nd half of 2018, it’s safe to say that most homebuilders will likely try to work off existing inventory before starting new homes in excess of what is sold.

The housing market and all the related economic activity connected to building, selling, and financing home sales represents  20-25% of the GDP.  Inflating the money supply and dropping interest rates is not a valid method of stimulating economic activity when most households are over-burdened with debt, living paycheck to paycheck and depleting savings just to remain on the gerbil wheel.

Notwithstanding the propaganda coming from policy makers, Wall Street and the hand-puppet mainstream media, the economy is sinking.  The current spike in the stock market is nothing more than a rabid bear market rally of historic proportions. The stock market is not trading higher on fundamentals or hedge funds plowing investment capital back into the market (away from algo-based momentum trading).

According to data tracked by Goldman Sachs, hedge fund exposure to the stock market is well below levels registered during the last 18 months. As it turns out, corporate stock buybacks and short-covering are driving stocks higher. Buybacks YTD are tracking 91% higher than the same period last year. Short interest in the S&P 500 is now at the lowest level since 2007. The stocks that have performed the best since Christmas are the most heavily shorted stocks.

We’re not hearing anymore whining about the hedge fund computers dictating the direction of the market as was commonplace during the December sell-off. But when this market rolls over and rips in reverse, the Leon Cooperman’s of the world will be spilling tears all over the Wall Street Journal and CNBC complaining about hedge fund algos driving stocks lower. Funny thing, that…

The commentary above is partially excerpted from the latest Short Seller’s Journal. This is a weekly subscription service which analyzes economic data and trends in support of ideas for shorting market sectors and individual stocks, including ideas for using options. You can learn more about this here: Short Seller’s Journal information.

The Housing Market Is Sliding Down The Wall It Hit In Late August

A couple of my subscribers emailed me expressing frustration over the fact that their recent homebuilder puts are either not moving higher or losing value despite the sell-off in the overall stock market. There’s two factors. First, the homebuilder sector has dropped well over 30% since late January. To an extent there may be some seller’s fatigue. At some point there will be short term rally that could generate at 15-25% bounce in the sector. I believe that rally will occur from a lower level on the DJUSHB currently, but it’s always a risk if you are short.

The second factor is the abrupt move in the 10yr Treasury yield from 3.25% down to 2.85%. This move occurred in four weeks. This is a big move in that period of time. Hedge fund algos are programmed to buy homebuilders when interest rates drop on the premise that lower rates stimulate home sales. It’s really that simplistically knee-jerk. That’s why the Dow can fall 400 points and the homebuilders remain flat or even move higher (stocks fall and the money flows into Treasuries which drives yields lower and homebuilders higher). Since the stock market began dropping in late October, the DJUSHB has moved from 595 to as high as 683 intra-day on November 28th. I’m surprised it didn’t bounce over 700. The move from 595 to a high-close of 686 on November 29th. This is nearly a 15% bounce. The DJUSHB closed at 643 this past Friday, down 5.6% from the 686 close.

But lower rates in the current context are not going to be a benefit for home sales. The mini-crash in the 10yr yield, combined with the flat yield curve, reflects a weak economy growing weaker. Potential homebuyers, in conjunction with the tightening credit market discussed above, are going to find it hard to qualify for a mortgage. Many no longer have the ability to make even a 3% down payment. Two weeks ago on Friday, when the stock market began to tank, the DJUSHB was up as much 14 points from Friday’s close. The DJUSHB closed down 8 points (1.2%) for the day. This was with the 10yr yield closing at its lowest yield since August 31st. On that day, the DJUSHB closed at 768. With the DJUSHB at 661, it’s 14% below where it was trading the last time the 10yr hit 2.85%.

Reinforcing my assertions above about the financial condition of prospective middle class homebuyers, The U of Michigan released its December consumer sentiment index on Friday. While the overall index was flat vs November, the future expectations component (the “hope” index) fell to its lowest level since December 2017. However, the homebuying conditions index fell to its lowest in 10 years. Recall that the homebuilders sentiment index for November plunged.

The graph below shows what’s going with builders in terms of actual economics. The chart plots the ratio of homebuilding permits to completions. Permits can be a fluff number because a homebuilder does not have put up much money to file a building permit. But completions reflects both demand and a homebuilder’s willingness to build spec homes (homes without buyer orders). A falling ratio indicates falling demand from buyers, rising order cancellation rates and risk aversion from homebuilders.

Another indication of the air flowing out of the housing bubble is the bidding war indicator. A subscriber sent me an article from the Seattle Times on the stunning drop in multiple bids for the same home across the country in the previously hottest bubble areas. In February 2018 in Seattle, for instance, 81.4% of listed homes had multiple bids. By November that number plunged to 21.5%, the lowest percentage of multiple bids on homes for sale in the history of the metric (Redfin began tracking this data in 2011). Other cities that made the top-10 list by Redfin include Boston, L.A., San Diego, Washington DC, Denver, Portland, Austin – all included in any list of the hottest bubble markets over the last 5 years.

The bottom line: We may have just seen the first real bear market counter-trend rally in the builders when the DJUSHB jumped 15% over three months. If the 10yr continues to drift lower, we might see one more push higher.

The above commentary is an excerpt from a recent Short Seller’s Journal.  The latest issue has a short idea related to new housing starts that has at least 50% downside.  To learn more about this newsletter, click here:   Short Seller’s Journal information

Guest Post: New Home Sales Collapse

Note: New homes sales, based on the seasonally adjusted annualized rate metric, are down over 23% from their peak in November 2017. Pending home sales, which translate into existing home sales less canceled contracts (typically failed financing), are down on a year-over-year basis 11 out of the last 12 months. But it’s not just interest rates, which aren’t up much from their lows in the context of the last 20 years. A bigger factor is “market mortgage fatigue.” The Govt has tapped out the pool of potential mortgagees by continuously lowering the bar for qualifying for a FNM/FRE mortgage. In addition, the Government slashed the cost of PMI insurance. That plus the tax cut have offset the cost effect of slightly higher mortgage rates (up about 1% in the last year – big deal). The remaining pool of first time buyers largely will have trouble qualifying until the Government lowers the bar again…

Aaron Layman, who is one of the few honest realtors, wrote a worthwhile commentary, posted below, on the state of the housing market. You can visit Aarons’s site here: AaronLayman.com

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The Census Bureau numbers for October new home sales posted at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 544,000 units. This was way below expectations of a 575,000 print, and near a three-year low. As I have been detailing for much of the year, much of that “pent-up demand” that you hear real estate industry mouthpieces talking about is a giant work of fiction, a tired marketing ploy that the media, economists and Realtors have been using in attempt to justify grossly inflated home prices across the U.S.

Well, it appears the cat is officially out of the bag with the release of October home sales. While the previous months sales were revised higher, the miserable October print just corroborates my thesis that the Fed’s asset-bubble unwind is just getting started. There are plenty of other consequences in the pipeline. It’s important to remember that the housing market, thanks to the Federal Reserve’s failed policies, is more intricately tied to the financial markets than ever before. This was the Faustian bargain that Obama and the Fed made when they decided to bail out every Wall Street institution under the sun at the expense of American taxpayers, including the ones running obvious accounting control frauds. Of course the millions of homeowners who lost their homes to foreclosures (many of those executed in kangaroo courts with fraudulent robosigned documents) were deemed acceptable collateral damage to save the “system”.

The ultimate con was of course advertised as a salvation of the economy. In reality it just delayed the eventual reset with a new pile of debt that is larger than ever and spread among multiple asset classes rather than just housing. The big problem, one that the Fed’s economists remain willfully ignorant of, is the unfortunate reality that all of this speculative debt is more interest-rate sensitive than they would have you believe. The new home sales market is exposing this unfortunate dilemma very clearly.

According to Census numbers, new home sales in October collapsed 12 percent from the same time last year. Sales were down 8.9 percent from the revised September print. The median price of a new home contracted in October was 309,700, down $9800 or 3 percent. The average price of a new home contracted in October came in at $395,000, up $1,000 from October of last year. The supply of new homes for sale in October rose to 7.4 months, a 32 percent jump from October of last year! So if prices fell three percent and supply jumped higher, why the big collapse in sales? Can you spell “housing market bubble”. Aside from the swoon in the stock market during October, the other key ingredient for deflating an asset bubble was also present, as interest rates hit a multi-year high. We now have a good idea of what the breaking point for the housing market is, and it’s a lower threshold than many in the media were/are willing to admit. This is the result of years of rampant artificial asset price inflation courtesy of the Federal Reserve.

The swoon in new home sales is simply the reflection of moral hazard coming home to roost. While the media, the Fed and its army of economists have continued to tout the amazing bull market “recovery”, the sand (debt) upon which it was built is now shifting. That carefully crafted narrative that we have been spoon-fed for the last several years is looking more tenuous by the day.

The Housing Market Goes Down The Drain

The Denver Post published an article last week titled, “Major cold front slams Denver housing market in September” (note, weather-wise, September was one of the warmest and driest in many years). Single-family home sales in September plunged 30.5% from August and 21.7% from September 2017. Condo sales fell off a cliff, dropping 43% from August and 17.3% from August 2017. Normally inventory drops slightly in September. This year inventory in September soared. The median price of homes sold fell 3.8%. The article said the high-end of the market – homes worth over $1 million – fell 44.4% from August to September.

In terms of economic trends, Denver historically has been representative of the same
economic and demographic trends nationwide. Based on subscriber emails and articles I’ve read from around the country, the activity in the housing market nationwide is similar to Denver’s.

New home sales for August, which were released last week, showed another year-over-year decline on a SAAR basis and missed the Street’s expectations. In addition, the 627,000 SAAR print for July was revised down 3% from 627,000 to 608,000. Revisions for June and July together were taken down by 39,000. The fact that new homebuilders are sitting on a near-record level of inventory (measured both by value and units) contradicts the NAR’s contention that home sales are declining because of a lack of affordable inventory. Recent results from lower-end, lower-priced homes (Beazer, DR Horton and Pulte) show demand for “affordable” homes is waning.

One indicator supporting my view is the response of KBH’s stock after it reported earnings on September 25th . The past several quarters KBH stock staged a multi-day rally after it reported earnings.  Although KBH reported a revenue and net income “beat” and spiked up at the open the next day, the stock closed down 3% from Tuesday’s close.  KBH’s stock closed 5.8% lower on the week.

While KBH’s revenues, operation income and units delivered showed impressive gains over the same quarter last year, its new orders showed very little growth and the value of the new orders declined year-over-year for the quarter. Furthermore, the Company’s order cancellation rate increased to 26% from 25% in the year earlier quarter. While KBH’s income statement looks impressive in the “rear-view” mirror, the operating statistics that give us insight into future quarters are showing a definitive slow-down.

KBH is trading at a 14x P/E ratio. Historically, homebuilders trade with a 5-8x P/E when they actually manage to generate “E.” I believe it’s safe to assume that KBH’s earnings will decline for at least the next several quarters. This means that KBH’s stock price will drop from both lower earnings and P/E ratio compression. In fact, I believe this will occur with all the homebuilder stocks.

KBH stock is down 37% from high in mid-January this year. I believe over the next 12-24 months, the stock price will be at least cut in half.

The commentary above is an excerpt from the latest Short Seller’s Journal. My subscribers and I have made easy money shorting KBH and other homebuilders. This week I feature a little-known homebuilder and explain why its disclosure last week shoots a hole in the National Association of Realtors’ propaganda that the falling home sales is attributable to low inventory. I also feature two other great short ideas – one in retail and one in auto finance. You can learn more about this newsletter here:   Short Seller’s Journal information.

Will The Housing Market Fall This Fall?

“The number of homes on the market surged, the number of sales dropped, and price reductions were abundant last month, all signs that buyers are pulling back in metro Denver” – Denver Post (September 6, 2018) citing the Denver Metro Association of Realtors.

Buy a home now if you must if you manage to qualify for one of the de facto sub-prime mortgages sponsored by the Government Taxpayer. But I guarantee that if you wait 6-12 months, you’ll be able to buy the same home or a better home for a lower price…

Denver has been one of the top-10 hottest housing markets in the past few years, largely driven by an enormous inflow of households moving to Denver from California. However, I started seeing signs developing of a market top that were similar to the indicators I noticed leading up to the popping of the last housing bubble.

As reported by the Denver Metro Association of Realtors (NAR-affiliate) single-family home sales dropped 7.5% in August from July and were down 9.8% from August 2017.Condo sales dropped 5% in August from July and fell 15.6% year over year. At least 30% of the sales were below the original listing price. The inventory of listed homes rose at a record rate for the month of August. Normally inventory from July to August drops a small amount.

Based on articles I encounter in my research or sent to me by subscribers, most if not all of the hottest markets are experiencing a similar development. The spokesman for the Denver affiliate of the National Association of Realtors, like a good salesman, attributes the declining sales to “push-back” from buyers. But, as you might well have expected, I disagree with that assessment.

As I’ve discussed previously, the Government lowered the bar on mortgage qualification requirements for its mortgage programs starting in 2015 in order to counter, what was then, a deteriorating housing market. The Government has lowered the bar on its guaranteed mortgages each successive year since 2015. A growing portion of the home-buyers using Government guaranteed mortgages would have been considered “sub-prime” in the previous mortgage/housing bubble.

In effect, the Government has kept “juicing” the housing market by enabling a larger population of people to buy a home that they otherwise could not afford unless they could get a low-down-payment, rate-subsidized, sub-prime quality Government mortgage. At some point, the limit will be reached on the number of people who can qualify under the current requirements. I would argue that the system is approaching that point.

The second factor in reduced buyer demand is the potential buyers who can qualify for and afford a mortgage from any issuer (Government or private-label) are starting to see a lot more inventory come on the market accompanied by falling prices. Many will hold off on the decision to sell their existing home and “move-up” in order to see if prices come down. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the prices are going to go lower when you drive around desirable neighborhoods and see a lot of “for sale” signs.

Once the buyers are in full-retreat, we’ll start to see sellers get more aggressive on pricing and we’ll see motivated sellers panic. Similar to the last bubble, the motivated sellers will primarily be “investors” who are stuck with a home they can’t rent at a rate that covers their expenses and flippers who can’t sell at a price that covers the costs of buying the home and preparing it to flip. Just like 2008, this is when the “price wars” will start (as opposed to the buyer “bidding wars” in a bull market) and prices spiral south.

This is why the stock chart of the Dow Jones Home Construction Index looks like this:

The homebuilder stocks have been in a bear market since the end of January. Many homebuilders are down over 30% since then. If that fact surprises you, it’s likely because you get your news from CNBC, Bloomberg, Fox Biz or the Wall St Journal, none of which have reported the bear market in home construction stocks. This is just like the mid-2000’s bubble leading up to the financial crisis. The homebuilders peaked in July 2005 and were in a full-fledged bear market before 2007.

The Economy Is Collapsing Under The Unbearable Weight Of Debt

“Those who see no Lehman-like episode on the horizon did not see the last one.” – highly regarded writer, George Will, in a National Review article titled, “America Is Overdue For Another Economic Disaster”

Lost in the largely meaningless political Kabuki theatre being staged on Capitol Hill is the fact that the economy is deteriorating. Real average weekly earnings in July declined for production and non-supervisory workers. It was down 0.01% from June to July and down 0.22% from July 2017. For all employees, real average hourly earnings declined 0.20% from June to July but was flat year over year.

Real earnings is not a statistic discussed in the mainstream financial media, but it reflects the ability of the average household to consume non-discretionary goods and services. It also reflects the ability and willingness of the average household to borrow.

The U.S. economy’s appearance of wealth creation and economic growth has been fully dependent on debt creation since 2009. As the graphic from John Williams’ Shadowstats.com shows, the rate of growth in real consumer credit outstanding is approach zero (no growth):

The chart above shows the year-over-year growth rate of real consumer credit outstanding with and without student loans. As you can see, ex-student loans (blue line) the rate of growth in outstanding consumer debt (not including mortgage debt) is close to zero. The increase in consumer credit reported for June (the latest month for which data is available) was $10.2 billion vs $16 billion expected. It was down from May’s increase of $24.6 billion. The perceived growth in GDP is inextricably tied to the growth rate in the use of debt. The near-zero growth rate in consumer credit is thus consistent with the view that the U.S. economy is weaker than the promotional propaganda flowing from Wall Street and DC.

“Student Loans Are Starting To Bite The Economy” – That was title of a Bloomberg article last week. With $1.4 trillion outstanding, student loans are the second largest category of household debt after mortgages. 22.4% of all households carry student debt. 44.8% of households in the 18-34 age demographic carry student debt – that’s up from 18.6% in 2001. Student debt is carried by a large amount of past college students, but learning how to repay student loans is not as spoken about. There are various repayment plans to suit different needs, student debt carriers could read each of them and see which one suits them if they require help.

Not discussed by the article is the estimated that 40% of borrowers will default on their loans by 2023. The current 90-day “official” delinquency rate is 11.2%. But this number is highly deceptive because 30% of all student loans are in deferment or forbearance. These loans are put into “remission” for many reasons but the most common is that it enables the borrower who can’t make payments to defer the stopwatch on delinquency/default.

While it’s possible that the student loan problem is affecting potential demand from potential homebuyers, most people who have student debt also have credit card and auto debt. There are also schemes such as an employer student loan repayment that help employees pay back their student debt. So it’s not clear that student loan debt alone has affected the ability of first-time buers (18-34 age cohort) to buy a home.

Rather, I would argue that it’s the accumulation of debt since 2012 that is affecting all areas of the economy:

As you can see in the chart above, total household debt through the end of March 2018 – which means the debt level is even higher now – is considerably higher than the previous peak at the end of Q3 2008. Not shown is a graph I constructed on the FRED site that added nominal GDP. The rate of growth in household debt has sharply surpassed the rate of growth in GDP since Q3 2015.

This is why the economy is stalling. This is why the housing and auto markets are now in definitive contraction. It has nothing to do with the trade war or low housing inventory. It has everything to do with an economic system that is losing its ability to support the massive amount of debt that has been issued since the last financial crisis (de facto collapse).

The weekly economic reports – both Government and private sector – continue to reflect a downturn in economic activity. Moreover, the reports almost always are below the hyped-up expectations of Wall Street’s brain trust. The chart below reflects the irrational optimism of anyone chasing stocks higher (primarily hedge fund algos):

As you can see, since the middle of August, the 30-yr Treasury yield has negatively diverged from the S&P 500 after being tightly correlated for the first two weeks of August. The spread between the 2yr and 10yr treasury is at its lowest since August 2007.

The Treasury curve “flattens” when the short end of the curve rises relative to the long end. The curve flattens when the market has decided that the Fed is wrong on its policy of raising the Fed Funds rates because the economy is slowing down. Large Treasury buyers pile into 10yr and 30yr Treasuries on the expectation that a deteriorating economy will force the Fed to reverse course and lower rates again. The chart above reflects the market reacting to the steady flow of negative economic reports.

If the Fed is right, we should see the 30yr yield “catch up” to the SPX. Conversely, if the market is right, the chart above is yet another warning sign of an eventual stock market “accident.” I have no doubt that the Fed is wrong. That said, the Fed has painted itself into a corner on rates. Contrary to the Fed’s public propaganda of “low inflation,” the Fed is well aware of the true rate of inflation – inflation created by the Fed’s monetary policy since 2008. If the Fed does not act to tighten monetary conditions, price inflation will continue to accelerate and inflict serious damage to the U.S. economy.

The commentary above is from the latest issue of the Short Seller’s Journal. I explain why the housing market is heading south quickly, update my homebuilder short ideas and discuss Tesla. You can learn more about this newsletter here: Short Seller’s Journal information

The Real Data Show The Real Economy Hit A Wall

The economy is melting down – the only support for the Propaganda Narrative of a “booming economy” is a rising stock market. Without a doubt Trump has ordered the Working Group on Financial Markets – AKA “the Plunge Protection Team” – to push stocks higher for now so insiders can unload.

The huge jump in credit card debt reported yesterday by the Fed was received as “good news” for consumer spending. However, this is typical  technical color vomit served up through the mainstream financial media by Establishment “economists” and Wall Street. The likely explanation is that the average consumer is now forced to use revolving credit in order to maintain the current lifestyle.  This assertion is reinforced by the fact that the latest data from Transunion show that personal loans hit a record high in Q1 2018.

The homebuilder sector is in trouble. A Colorado-based credit union is now offering 0-percent down payment mortgages. Credit Union of Colorado will underwrite the 3% down payment FNM/FRE mortgage product and it will cover the remaining 3% of a home’s cost by giving the “buyer” an interest-free loan that is repayable at a future date or through a refinancing. The bank is charging 0.375% more for the mortgage than the rate for a 3% down payment conforming mortgage. The bank is betting the value of these homes will rise enough to cover the 3% down payment loan through a refinancing.  This is a de facto zero-down payment mortgage sponsored by the Government. 

I am certain that this product reflects the fact that banks are getting desperate for mortgage fees because the pool of borrowers who can qualify for FNM/FRE/FHA loans has dried up. The economy hit a wall in the last month or two and it’s going to crush the housing market. By the end of the summer it will be impossible for the NAR and the media puppets to blame low sales on low inventory.

In fact, recent reports from around the country show that home listings are soaring. This includes Seattle, where King County reported a 43% jump in single-family home listings in June, and Orange County (SoCal), which saw a 218% jump in home listings YTD. A 10% drop in contracts in Orange Country was also reported (The Orange County Register). In Denver, new rate of new listings exceeds contract signings now by a considerable amount.

The June employment report continues to show a “tight labor market.” This is utter nonsense given that over 95 million working age people are no longer consider part of the “labor force” using the methodology devised to compute unemployment by the Government. Again, “however…”

…the “tight labor market” narrative is not confirmed by help-wanted advertising. Help-wanted advertising is considered an accurate indicator of broad economy. The Conference Board has been tracking help-wanted advertising going back to 1919.  Formal tracking of help-wanted advertising shifted from tracking ads in printed media to tracking help-wanted ads online in 2005.

The Conference Board’s Help-Wanted Online Advertising for June declined 3.7% from May. May was down 2.1% from April. April was down 1.4%. The May and April declines were revised lower in the latest report from the original reports. New ads were down 4.6% in June from June 2017. The total number of ads were down 5.7% year-over-year for June.

The fact that help-wanted ads as tracked by the Conference Board are declining sharply month-to-month and year-over-year reinforces my view (and I’m not alone in this view) that the real economy – as opposed to the “fake news” economy reported in the mainstream media – is contracting.

A portion of the above commentary is an excerpt from the latest Short Seller’s Journal. My subscribers and I are making easy money shorting the home construction sector as well as other select stocks. This includes specific ideas for using put options plus market timing. You can learn more about this newsletter here:   Short Seller’s Journal information

No Virginia: The Falling Housing Market Isn’t About Tight Inventory

The National Association of Realtors released its monthly  “Pending” home sale report for April this morning.  It fell 1.3% from March.  The Wall Street analytic “brain trust” was looking for a 0.4% gain.  The housing data is repetitively coming in well below Wall Street forecasts. This is emblematic of the unrealistic amount of “hope” built into the psychology of the American investor, who wants badly to believe anything he is told by “experts.”  A cynic might say it’s adverse denial of reality…

The NAR’s chief pimp, Larry Yun, once again is blaming the bad numbers on shortages of homes across the country.  This narrative is the pinnacle of mendacity.  Too be sure, in certain “hot” areas, there is a shortage of sub-$500k homes.  Blame the Government, which has made available Taxpayer-backed mortgages to anyone who can fog a mirror – see this article, for instance.  And blame the flippers, who are snapping up low-priced homes on the hope that they can turn it around and sell it to one of the fog-the-mirror buyers using a Government subsidized mortgage.

In truth, a recent survey showed that more than 50% of the inventory nationwide is in the high-priced (over $750k) price segment.  And prices are falling in most markets in this category, led by New York City (all five boroughs), which is starting to get decimated.

XHB is an ETF that tracks the S&P Homebuilders Select Industry Index. Lowes and Home Depot are the largest holdings. Pulte (PHM), NVR Inc (NVR) and DR Horton (DHI) are the next three largest holdings. Like the DJUSBH, it’s a mix of homebuilders and housing market-related stocks (building construction suppliers, etc).

Recently there’s been some extraordinarily large put positions purchased on XHB (XHB closed at $39.11 on Friday). For instance, on Monday and Tuesday last week, someone bought 2,200 and 2,500 June 15th $40-strike puts. There’s 4,551 June 15th $38-strike put open interest as well. These numbers substantially outnumber the open call options for the June 15th expiry. There’s 15,033 of open interest in the September $35’s, with 4,400 of those purchased this past Thursday. The largest September call open interest is 1,393 $42’s.

The point here is that some entities – probably a few hedge funds – are making a rather large bearish bet on the housing sector. It’s hard to know if the puts are being used to speculate or as a hedge. Either way, the sheer volume of puts purchased reflects heavy bearish sentiment toward the sector.

Peak flipping? I also strongly suspect that the NAR skews its data-sample toward the lower-price market segment. In other words, if it included a higher percentage of over $750k homes in its data-collection and sales calculation, the existing home sales number for April would have been lower. It’s the magic of statistics. I would also suggest that there was probably some sales “pulled forward” out of fear of rising interest rates. Typically there’s a surge in homebuying when interest rates begin to rise. Certainly the mortgage brokers are pitching the “buy now before rates go higher” story.

On a seasonal basis, home sales should be rising from March to April, even on a seasonally adjusted annualized rate basis. Furthermore, the prospect for May – assuming the NAR does not pull any statistical chicanery – is not good. How do I know? Because mortgage purchase applications have been down 5 weeks in a row. Four of the past five weeks, purchase apps were down 2% each week and one week was down 0.2%. This is why the XHB is down 15.6% since peaking in late January. Some of the homebuilders I’ve been recommending as shorts are down north of 20%. They still have a long way to drop.

My Short Seller Subscribers and I are raking in easy money shorting and buying puts on individual homebuilders. I discuss timing and options strategies. I also disclose my trades.  I also present data and analysis that you won’t find in the mainstream or alternative media.  You can learn more about this newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.

SSJ provides outstanding practical advice for translating a company’s bottom line fundamentals into $$’s. Whether you’re a buy and hold long term investor or short term trader (or both), you’ll find all kinds of helpful advice on portfolio management, asset allocation and short term/long term options strategies. Really can’t recommend SSJ enough! Thanks Dave for your great service!   – John