Tag Archives: Housing bubble

The Fed’s “Catch 22”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hidden In Plain View / Eyes Wide Shut

The impending economic collapse is hidden from most. People only see a rising stock market, not the negative underlying factors that will cause the whole system to crash. – Peter Schiff

The average middle class household is getting squeezed by an income that is not keeping up with the cost of living. Unfortunately, a major portion of the cost of living has become debt service. Most car buyers assume an almost insane amount of debt to buy a new car. Credit card debt is being used to make ends meet. Low-to-no down payment mortgages have funded most of the homes sold over the last few years. The problem, however, is that the financial system enables this behavior. One has to wonder if this was not intentional…

The quote above is from a recent Peter Schiff podcast. He goes on to say the it’s unclear how quickly the financial system will unravel but “it is close” to happening. I wanted to use that quote because one of the goals of the Short Seller’s Journal is to present hard evidence that brings to your attention the “negative underlying factors” which contradict the “official” narrative about the economy and financial system.

A subscriber of mine sent an article to me in which the Wall Street economist, Joe LaVorgna, was forecasting today’s GDP report to surprise everyone by coming in at 5%. I literally laughed out loud. LaVorgna is a hack who has spent his career on Wall Street preaching fairytales about the economy as a means of assisting the snakeoil salesmen at his bank in their efforts to stuff as much high-commission junk into investor accounts as possible. People like LaVorgna would sell their mother for a small commission. I know this because everyone who was above me in the food-chain in the securities division of Bankers Trust in the 1990’s was like that.

Ultimately the truth will prevail but by then it will be too late. In the meantime, here’s a tell-tale indicator that criminals on Wall Street and at the Fed can’t hide:

The chart above shows the rate of return comparison between the S&P 500 and junk bonds (HYG). Historically going back at least to the 1990’s, stocks tend to move in the same direction as junk bonds on a lagged basis. That lag when I was trading junk bonds was usually anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months. The massive Central Bank intervention has largely removed the ability of the stock market to perceive fundamental problems developing in the financial and economic system. But the junk bond market is starting to smell problems.

Morgan Stanley’s wealth management division announced right after New Year’s that it was taking its recommended portfolio allocation in junk bonds down to zero. The rationale was that, while tax cut euphoria might inject fresh momentum into “high-flying stocks, the boost may be short-lived and will mask balance sheet weaknesses” – i.e. developing credit problems. The Morgan Stanley report further explained that “credit markets figure this out before equities” and that they are preparing “for a deterioration in lower-quality earnings in the U.S. led by lower operating margins.”

I nearly fell off my chair when I saw this commentary from Morgan Stanley. In my 32 years of active participation in the financial markets I can not recall any brokerage firm ever issuing a stark warning like this about any sector of the financial markets.

At some point the fundamental problems will become too obvious for stocks to ignore and there will be abrupt sell-offs. The 360 point drop from top to bottom last Tuesday was a hint of what’s to come. Eventually the Central Banks will be unable to intervene and manipulate the type of bounce that was engineered at Tuesday’s bottom and that followed-through on Wednesday and beyond.

All of this is going on in plain view. But the sheeple are too worried about whether or not they can take out enough debt to buy the cars and homes required to keep up with everyone else. But “everyone else” is doing the same thing. Default rates are starting to soar on credit card and auto loan debt. This will soon spill over into mortgages. My thesis on the housing market was confirmed by an industry-insider – a point which I will detail for my subscribers this weekend. We’re already seeing signs that the economy hit a wall in December. It will only get worse.

My subscribers who shorted my homebuilder stock idea two weeks ago are now up 17.7%. That’s if they shorted the shares. They are up even more if they used puts. If you are interested in learning how to take advantage of the coming stock market crash, you learn more about the Short Seller’s Journal here:   Short Seller’s Journal information.

Housing Market Supply And Demand: Just The Facts

“Housing – people are insane if they think housing isn’t going to get crushed with rising rates. As you outline often, it’s already happening in ( NY, Den, etc. ) I live in LA and most of my friends/ coworkers are telling me how dumb I am to not jump in. I know to just stay quiet, but I think they are about to walk into a buzz saw (again).” – email from a subscriber

The National Association of Realtors reports that December  existing home sales fell more than the NAR led its Wall Street lap-dogs to believe they would decline.   Larry Yun, the NAR’s market elf, has been blaming phlegmatic housing sales over the last two years on low inventory. There’s only one problem with this assertion: it’s not true based on historical data:

The chart above is drawn from data that the Fed, for some inexplicable reason, purged from its FRED database.  It illustrates the inverse relationship – generally – that exists between inventory and sales.   The bigger factor driving the economics of the housing market right now is the deteriorating financial condition of any household that might want to buy a house.  The Fed and Government have largely exhausted the population of would-be mortgagees that can make a 0-3% down payment on a conventional mortgage plus carry the monthly burden of servicing that mortgage.  The tax advantage from deducting real estate taxes was stripped from the equation.

I suspect the Fed is getting worried about the housing market. The Fed’s QE holdings rose $5 billion last week. The entire increase is attributable to an increase in mortgage holdings. Not only is the Fed not reducing its balance sheet, it felt compelled to inject capital into the mortgage market.

One thing to keep in mind. A large percentage of homes purchased and financed with 0-3% down payment mortgages in the last couple of years are underwater. When a buyer puts almost nothing down on a mortgage-financed home, the transaction costs all-in are about 10% of the value of the home. These homes are underwater at closing. Except in certain bubble areas, homes have not appreciated in value enough to make up for the amount that low down payment buyers are underwater when they closed. When the stock market eventually tanks, it will take home values down at least 30-40%, and possibly more.

Just like any market bubble, I believe the housing market is reaching the point of exhaustion. As households continue to get squeezed financially, there will be a lot of homes put on the market hoping for last year’s price. As I’ve mentioned before, when home prices are rising quickly, there’s an oversupply of buyers. When home prices start to drop, the buyers disappear. When prices are rising continuously, it’s very easy to sell a home. When prices begin to fall, it becomes difficult to sell a home. It’s been very easy to sell a home for the last 5+ years. I believe it’s going to start to become difficult to sell a home at current general price levels. The smartest sellers will price their home to move. This will begin the process of “re-pricing” the market lower, which in turn could trigger a flood of flipper homes to hit the market – just like 2007/2008.

Greenwich, Connecticut housing values are down 20%. Greenwich would be the “poster child” for the high-end housing market. NYC values are starting to get hammered. For taxpayers who itemize, the new tax law limits the deduction for State, local, sales and property taxes to $10,000. This will hammer the high-end market, which in turn will put downward pressure on everything below it.

The commentary above is an excerpt from the latest weekly Short Seller’s Journal.  If you are interested in learning how to make money from the most overvalued stock market in U.S. history, visit this link for more information:  Short Seller’s Journal subscription information.

Who’s Going To Stop The Madness?

Every month consumer debt in aggregate hits a new record. Auto loans and student loans have been hitting monthly record highs for quite some time. In November credit card debt hit a record high in total and increased a record monthly amount for any one month. Mathematically this can’t go on forever. In fact, there are signs – indicators not reported widely by the financial media and, predictably, completely disregarded by Wall Street – that indicate the debt party is coming to an end. Events that follow the end of the party will be less than pleasant for the majority of U.S. households.

Every week in the Short Seller’s Journal I present data which reflects the deteriorating condition of middle class America. For definitional purposes, “middle class” is defined as any household that is unable to afford their own politician, which means 99.5% of all households.

As an example, buried in Wells Fargo’s Q4 earnings presentation was data that showed charge-offs in WFC’s credit card loan portfolio in Q4 soared 21% vs. Q3. The charge-off rate as a percent of average loans outstanding increased to 3.66% in Q4 from 3.08% in Q3. This is a 19% increase in the charge-off rate. While this might seem like a low number outright, not only is it headed in the wrong direction, it’s not too far below the nationwide bank credit card charge-off rate in 2007 of 4.15%. Again, this fits my thesis that the financial condition of the average household is deteriorating.

In addition, the dollar volume of auto loan originations at WFC declined 33% and home mortgage originations fell 26%. in Q4 2017 vs 2016. WFC’s mortgage applications in Q4 dropped 16% in dollar volume from Q4 2016. And its application pipeline (applications submitted and waiting for the purchase to close) declined 23% for the quarter vs Q4 2016.

WFC is the second largest mortgage originator after Quicken Loans. It is also a major player in auto loan underwriting. If auto and mortgage loan origination statistics are declining at a double-digit rate at WFC, it’s a good bet that this is a secular trend across the industry. Simply put, middle America – the 99.5%’ers – are running out of capacity to assume even more debt. This in turn will translate into a unexpectedly precipitous drop in consumer spending, especially on large-ticket items like cars, furniture and homes.

I stumbled on a blog a couple weeks ago called  A Cold War Relic. The proprietor works at an auto dealership and presents valuable insight on the factors that will drive auto sales into the ground and send auto loan defaults soaring. His latest post, “What’s Going To Stop Me,” is well worth reading:

This dark momentum could strangle the industry, but everyone refuses to stop it. Every time a customer accepts a $500 monthly payment on another overpriced compact crossover, they are feeding that momentum. When dealers structure deals for far more than the car is worth, they are feeding that momentum. The problem is: who is going to actually tell anybody “no?” Customers want their cars and refuse [do not have the funds] to put money down to get them. A large number of dealerships are fighting to attain sales numbers the market can’t currently support.

I get cursed out every month when our store misses the targets set for us by the manufacturer, even though I’m fighting against larger stores offering deeper discounts on new cars. On top of that, it’s not just your credit criminal customer that isn’t reading what they’ve signed anymore. When you have consumers with 700+ FICO scores rolling over portions of debt they already couldn’t handle on top of new debt and financing the whole thing over increasingly long terms at interest rates they arguably no longer deserve. The problem is that prime credit customers are slowly becoming credit criminals.

You can read the rest of this here (highly recommended):   Auto Loan Crack-Up Boom Coming

In the latest issue of the Short Seller’s Journal, I present a no-brainer homebuilder short idea plus I illustrate the mechanics of shorting a stock for those who only use put options.  In addition I review the Company’s fundamentals.  This is probably the only homebuilder for which unit sales are dropping – in this case falling at a double-digit percentage rate. I believe shorting this stock is good – at the very least – for a 30% ROR by the end of the year, if not sooner. You can find out more details about the Short Seller’s Journal here: Subscription Information.

The Debt Bubble Is Beginning To Leak Air

“The current state of credit card delinquency flows can be an early indicator of future
trends and we will closely monitor the degree to which this uptick is predictive of
further consumer distress.” – New York Fed official in reference to rising delinquency rate of credit cards.

The recent sell-off in junk bonds likely reflects a growing uneasiness in the market with credit risk, where “credit risk” is defined as the probability that a borrower will be able to make debt payments. This past week SocGen’s macro strategist, Albert Edwards, issued a warning that the falling prices of junk bonds might be “the key area of vulnerability that could bring down the inflated pyramid scheme that the Central Banks have created.”

The New York Fed released its quarterly report on household debt and credit for Q3 last week. The report showed a troubling rise in the delinquency rates for auto debt and mortgages. The graph to the right shows 90-day auto loan delinquencies by credit score. As you can see, the rate of delinquency for subprime borrowers (620 and below) is just under 10%. This rate is nearly as high the peak delinquency rate for subprime auto debt at the peak of the great financial crisis. In fact, you can see in the chart that the rate of delinquency is rising for every credit profile. I find this fact quite troubling considering that we’re being told by the Fed and the White House that economic conditions continue to improve.

While the Fed reports that 20% of the $1.2 trillion in auto loans outstanding has been issued to subprime borrowers, there tends to be a significant time-lag between when an individual’s credit condition deteriorates and when the FICO score reflects that deteriorated financial condition. I would argue that the true percentage of subprime auto debt outstanding is likely over 30%.  Bloomberg reported last week that “delinquent subprime loans are nearing crisis levels at auto finance companies.”Before the 2008 crisis, the outstanding level of auto loans peaked in late 2005 at $825 billion. The current level based on the most recent data is over $1.2 trillion, or nearly 50% higher than the previous peak. More troubling, the average loan balance, at close to $30,000, is substantially higher now.

Revolving credit is now over $1 trillion. At $1.005 trillion, it’s slightly below the previous peak of $1.020 trillion in April 2008. Most of the revolving debt category as tracked by the Fed is credit card debt. The Fed reports that 4.6% of credit card debt is 90-days delinquent, up from 4.2% in Q3. I would note that the Fed relies on reporting from banks and consumer finance for the delinquency data. Accounting regulations give banks a fairly wide window of discretion before a loan is officially declared to be delinquent. Banks and consumer finance companies tend to drag their feet before declaring a loan to be delinquent because it directly affects quarterly earnings. I would bet money that the true delinquency rate is higher than is being reported.

Mortgage delinquencies are now following the trend higher in auto, student and revolving loans:

The data in the graph above is sourced from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA).  MBA data is lagged. again because of reporting methodology and because banks under-report delinquencies.  As such, the true current rate of delinquency is likely higher. I drew the red line to illustrate that, outside of the period from 2009 to 2014, the current rate of delinquency is at the high end of the historical range going back to 1979.

Let’s drill down a little deeper. The delinquency rate for FHA mortgages soared to 9.4% in Q3 2017 from 7.94% in Q2. That jump in the rate of delinquency is the highest quarterly increase in the history of the MBA’s survey. Recall that the FHA began offering 3.5% down-payment mortgages in 2008. Because of the minimal down payment requirement, the FHA’s share of single-family  home purchase mortgage underwriting went from 3.9%  2007 to it current 17%  share.  In effect, FHA replaced the underwriting void left by the bankrupt private-issuer subprime lenders like Countrywide and Wash Mutual.  It’s no surprise that FHA paper is starting to collapse.  Fannie and Freddie started issuing 3% down-payment mortgages in early 2015.  All three agencies (FHA, FNM, FRE) reduced the amount of mortgage insurance required for low down payment loans. Just in time for the FHA complex to start cratering.

The reduction in mortgage qualification standards was implemented by the Government in order to keep the homes sales activity artificially stimulated. Do not overlook the fact that the National Association of Realtors drops more magic money dust on Congress than the Too Big To Fail Wall Street banks combined.

The rising trend in consumer and mortgage debt delinquencies will, for a time, be dismissed as temporary or related to the hurricanes. The MBA applied a thick layer of “hurricane mascara” on the mortgage delinquency numbers. But the massive debt bubble inflated by the Fed and the Government is springing leaks. And the debt delinquency trend is seeded in economic fundamentals. The BLS released its real earnings report this past Wednesday, which showed that real average hourly earnings declined for the third month in a row. It’s no coincidence that debt payment delinquencies are rising given that after-tax income for the average household is getting squeezed. This will get worse when soaring health insurance premiums hit starting in January.

St Louis Fed President, James Bullard, asserted last Wednesday that there’s no need to raise interest rates with inflation low. I have to believe that these folks at the Fed are intelligent enough to understand that the “official” inflation numbers are phony. Given that assumption on my part, the reluctance of the Fed to raise rates – note: I do not consider the 1% hike in Fed funds over the last two years to be material – is from the fear of crashing the system.

Many of you have seen the recent reports of the “flattening” Treasury yield curve. This occurs when short term Treasury rates rise and longer term rates fall.  A flattening yield curve is the market’s signal that the economy is in trouble.  Currently, the yield spread between 2-yr and 10-yr Treasuries is 59 basis points.  The last time the Treasury curve was this “flat”  was  November 2007.

The front-end of the curve is rising for two reasons. First, the Fed let $10 billion in short term T-bills expire without replacing them, which took away the Fed’s bid for short term Treasuries. Second, when short rates rise relative long rates, it’s the market’s way of discounting an uptick in the potential for financial distress.

If the Fed were in a position of “normalized” monetary policy, it would likely be lowering rates in response to the obvious signs of rising financial distress.  But the Fed is backed into a corner.  Rates have been zero to near-zero for so long that the credit market is largely “immune” to taking rates back down to zero from the current 1% – 1.25% “target.”

The Fed inched its way into reducing its balance sheet by letting  SOMA assets fall $10 billion in value since early October.  At that rate it would take 35 years to “normalize” its balance sheet. Yet, the Treasury curve is telling us that the Fed should be easing monetary policy, not tightening.  The Fed has an 80-year track record of removing liquidity from the system at the wrong time.

The commentary above is an excerpt from the latest Short Seller’s Journal.  Two short ideas were presented in connection with the analysis presented.  To learn more about this newsletter, click here:   Short Seller’s Journal info.

The Size Of The Financial Avalanche Coming Grows Larger

Inflation vs deflation. The true economic definition of “inflation” is the rate of increase in the money supply in excess of the rate of increase in wealth output. Inflation is monetary in nature. Rising prices are the manifestation of inflation. Someone I follow on Twitter posted an ingenious example from which to conceptualize the true concept of inflation using the game of Monopoly:

The players all start out with reasonable amounts of money to speculate on real estate. As the game proceeds, players collect $200 by simply passing Go and use this money to speculate on real estate. By the end of the game, only $500 dollar bills are worth anything, the whole thing blows up, and most players end up destitute. In a twist of irony, an original game board sells for about $50,000.

A fixed amount of real estate and continuously increasing money supply, with “passing Go” functioning as the game’s monetary printing press. The monopoly analogy is readily applied to the current real estate market. The Fed tossed roughly $2 trillion into the mortgage market, which in turn has fueled the greatest U.S. housing bubble in history. The most absurd example I saw last week is a 264 sq ft studio in Los Angeles listed on 10/26 for $550,000. The seller bought it a year ago for $335,000. This is the degree to which Fed money printing and easy access Government guaranteed mortgages have distorted the system.

Here is monetary inflation as it is showing up in the stock market and housing markets:

The graphic above shows rampant credit-induced monetary inflation. On the left, home prices nationally are measured by the Case Shiller index going back the 1980’s. On the right is the S&P 500 going back to 1930. According to the Fed, real median household income has increased 5% between 2008 and the present. In contrast, based on Case Shiller, home prices nationally have soared 34% in the same time period.  Expressed as a ratio of average price to average household income, home prices are, at all-time highs in the U.S. This is the manifestation of rampant inflation in credit availability enabled by the mortgage “QE.” This growth rate in money and credit supply has far exceeded the tiny growth rate in average household income since 2008.

The stock market reflects the monetary inflation of the G3 Central Banks, primarily, plus global Central Bank balance sheet expansion. Please note that “balance sheet expansion” is the politically polite term for “money printing.” The meteoric rise in stock prices have never been more disconnected from the negligible rate of growth in nominal GDP since 2008. Real GDP has been, arguably, negative if a realistic inflation rate were used in the Government’s GDP deflator.

Inflation is not showing up in the Government CPI report because the Government does not measure inflation. The Government’s basket of goods is constantly juggled in order to de-emphasize the rising cost of goods and services considered to be necessities. In addition to the increasing cost of necessities like gasoline, health insurance and food, inflation is showing up in monetary assets. This is because a large portion of the money printed remains “inside” the banking system as “excess reserves” held at the Fed by banks. This capital is transmitted as de fact money supply via the creation credit mechanisms in the various forms of debt and derivatives. The eventual asset sale avalanche grows larger by the day.

Do not believe for one split-second that the U.S. has reached some sort of plateau of economic nirvana that will self-perpetuate. To begin with, it would require another round of even more money printing just to sustain the current bubble level. Read the inflation example above if that idea is still not clear. In 1927, John Maynard Keynes stated, “we will not have any more crashes in our time.” In the October 16, 1929 issue of The New York Times, famous economist and investor, Irving Fisher, stated that “stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau. I do not feel there will be soon if ever a 50 or 60 point break from present levels, such as (bears) have predicted. I expect to see the stock market a good deal higher within a few months.” Two weeks later the stock market crashed.

The above commentary is from last week’s Short Seller’s Journal. Speaking of the housing market, admittedly my homebuilder short positions are crawling up my pant-leg with fangs as the housing stocks have entered into the last stage of a parabolic “Roman candle” apex and burn-out. The homebuilders appear to be cheap relative to the SPX on a PE ratio basis – approximately an 18x average PE for homebuilders vs a 32x Case Shiller PE for the SPX.  However,  in relation to their underlying sales rate, earnings and balance sheet, the homebuilder stocks are more overvalued now than at the last peak in 2005.

While the homebuilders are are squeezing higher, I presented two “derivative” ideas in recent issues of the Short Seller’s Journal:  Zillow Group (ZG) at $50 in late June and Redfin (RDFN) at $28 in late September.  ZG just lost $40 today and RDFN is down to $21 (25% gain in 6 weeks). Both ZG and RDFN are “derivatives” to homebuilders because they derive most of their revenues from housing market-related ads, primarily real estate listings. Their revenues as such are “derived” from housing market sales activity. These stocks are overvalued outright. But as home sales volume declines, the revenue/income generating capability of the ZG/RDFN business model will evaporate quickly.  With home sales volume rolling over, the decline in the stock prices of ZG and RDFN relative to the “bubble squeeze” in homebuilder stocks validates my thesis.

If you want to learn more about opportunities to exploit this historically overvalued stock market and access fact-based market analysis, click here: Short Seller’s Journal info.

“Party Like It’s 1999” (or 2008 or 1987 or 1929)

To paraphrase the highly regarded fund manager and notable bear, John Hussman, you can look like an idiot before a Bubble pops or after it’s popped.

I guess I’m squarely in the camp of looking like an idiot before the bubble pops. I might watch “The Big Short Again” for some “moral fortitude.” With history’s stamp of approval on my side, all I can do is shake my head and chuckle. As soon as the Dow crossed over 23,000 on Wednesday, the “experts” on bubblevision began speculating how long it would take for the Dow to hit 24k. I was actively trading and shorting dot.com stocks in late 1999 and the curent environment feels almost exactly like it felt then. Wake up everyday and wait for Maria Bartiromo to breath the name of a dot.com stock you were short and watch it spike up 10-20% on her signal. The Nasdaq ran from 2,966 to 4,698 – 1,700 pts or 58% – in 4 months. It was painful holding shorts but very rewarding after the brief period of “suffocation.”

It feels like the market could go into a final parabolic lift-off to its final peak before the inevitable. The non-commericial (i.e. retail) short-interest in the VIX – meaning retail investors are “selling” volatility – hit another all-time high this past week. This a massive and reckless bet against any possibility of any abrupt downside in the market. It reflects unbridled hubris. Don’t forget, smart money and banks are taking the other side of this bet.

To think that any Trump tax reform bill that might get passed will improve the fundamentals of the economy and lead to higher corporate earnings is absurd. The tax bill proposal is nothing more than a huge windfall for the wealthy (as in, 8-figure net worth and above) and Corporate America. The plan is, on balance neutral to negative for the average middle class household. Although it doubles the standard deduction, it eliminates the deduction for state and local taxes, which means you’ll lose the deduction for property taxes. It also will steer a large portion of middle class homeowners away from itemizing deductions, which means it will marginalize or eliminate the ability to use mortgage interest as a deduction. Corporations of course will benefit the most – as the tax rate would be lowered from 35% to 20% – because they throw the most money at Congress.

It’s estimated that the tax plan would cost the Government $6 trillion in revenues over the next 10 years. At $600 billion per year, this would have doubled the “official” spending deficit for FY 2017 (Note: if you include the debt issuance that was deferred until the debt limit ceiling was suspended – a little more than $300 billion – the amount debt that would have been issued by the Government in FY 2017 would have been about $1 trillion. This number is the actual spending deficit).

In short, even if some sort of “compromise” legislation is passed, the tax “reform” would do little more than shift trillions from revenue going to the Government to cash flow going into the pockets of Corporate America and the upper 1% (and really the upper 0.5%). That said, any notion that the stock market melt-up this past week is connected to the tax reform effort is idiotic. This is because it will add $100’s of billions per year in Government debt issuance requirements and will do little, if anything, to stimulate economic activity.

On the contrary, the stock market behavior is attributable to the last-gasp capitulation that characterized the coup de grace phase of any previous stock market bubble. This includes the re-surfacing of phrases like, “it’s different this time,” “it’s a new economic paradigm,” “stocks have reached a permanent plateau,” etc. CNBC even featured a graphic last week which showed Bitcoin as having a P/E ratio. Sheer madness.

It’s different this time? – As much as I hate to listen to radio ads when I’m driving (I listen to the local sports talk-radio programming and normally switch to music during the 5 min ad breaks), in the past several weeks I’ve been listening to the commercial breaks. The reason for this is that radio ads often reflect the current local trends in demand for services /products. Starting in late summer, frequent ad spots have been occupied by: 1) a service that offers IRS back-tax settlement services; 2) numerous mortgage brokers pitching “use your house as an ATM and take-out home equity loans to pay-down credit card debt and have money for the holidays;” 3) “make fast money” home-flipping seminars.

In terms of middle-class demographic trends, Colorado has always been regarded as a leading indicator for most of the country between the coasts. The IRS tax settlement service ads tell me that the middle class has run out of disposable income: can’t pay taxes owed, credit card debt is too high, and is worried about holidays. I’ve been discussing this development for quite some time. The tax thing is self-explanatory. There’s likely similar companies/law firms all over the country running ads pitching tax settlement services. Wage-earners will under-withhold their paycheck taxes to help cover current spending and hope that year-end bonuses, or whatever luck fate might have in store, will enable them to pay what they owe when they file.

The “use your house as an ATM” ad is disturbing. This was an idea originally proposed by Greenspan in 2002 and put aggressively into action from 2004 to 2008. In 2004 Greenspan advocated using adjustable rate mortgages. How did that end up? The reason it won’t go on for another four years is that households are stretched on their Debt-To-Income profile (pretax income to debt service ratio) relative to the 2004-2008 period. Household debt – auto/credit card/student loan + mortgage – already exceeds the 2008 peak. Back then, home values were rising right up until late 2007/early 2008. Currently, in most markets home prices are starting to drop (this was occurring by late summer, so it’s not just “seasonal,” which is an argument you might hear). I’m starting to get email notices of homes listed in every price segment that are dropping their offer price up to and over 10%. This includes apartments in the under $400k price-segment (according to the NAR, the average price of existing home sales declined 2.7% from August to September – more on existing home sales below).

As enough home sales are closed with price drops greater than 10%, the fun begins. As I’ve detailed in previous issues, an increasing percentage of buyers right now are flippers (those radio ads are occurring for a reason). Enough people have decided that they “don’t want to miss out” on the “easy money” being made flipping homes. Guess what? They’ve missed out. The majority of flippers who have purchased in the last 3-6 months that have not been listed or are listed but just sitting are soon going to be looking for buyer bids to sell into. The problems will start when the flippers who used debt to buy their “day-trade” discover that the current “bid side” for their home is below the amount of debt used to buy the house.

Just like upward momentum in stock and home prices induces daytraders and flippers respectively to chase prices up in anticipation that someone will readily be willing to pay them even more, falling prices in stocks and homes generates motivated selling and scares away buyers. With homes it’s slightly different. Falling stock prices tend to generate selling volume that “forces” the market lower quickly. With stocks, there will be short-sellers who provide some liquidity to sellers as the shorts cover on the way down.

Housing, on the other hand, goes from a “liquid market” in rising markets to an ‘illiquid market” in falling markets. A home is a “chunky, high-ticket” item that takes time to close. In falling markets, the value of a home declines measurably before the buyer closes. Because of this, buyers will disappear until the market appears to have stabilized. Unlike stocks, homes can’t be shorted, which means there are no buyers looking to take a profit on a bet the market would fall. Often price falls in a “step function.” By this I mean there will be price-gaps to downside in the market as buyer “bids” disappear completely (i.e. bid-side volume vanishes).

I’m seeing this dynamic in the over $1,000,000 market in Denver. I have friend who lives in a high-priced neighborhood in south Denver (Heritage Hills). He had his house on the market for close to a year and couldn’t move it at a price that was in-line with comps (he’s a licensed real estate agent). The problem is that homes were not selling in his ‘hood. I told him if he marked it down $100k he could probably move it. He said he would wait for the market to improve and took it off the market. That was in July. It’s too late. Homes over $1mm are being reduced in price in $100,000 “chunks” now. I’ve gotten several “price change alerts” for homes around Denver listed during the summer that are lowering their offer in $100k steps. Some of them have been lowered already 15-20% from their original listing price. It gets worse.

One of the Short Seller Journal subscribers who lives in the south Denver metro area sent me a note about a home he has been watching in Castle Rock, which is about 35 minutes south of downtown Denver in a very pretty area along the foothills. The area ranges from cookie cutter middle class neighborhoods to a high-end, exclusive country club community. It was one of the hottest bubble areas in the mid-2000s bubble. He showed me a home that was listed in May for $1.39 million. Since then it’s been taken down $400k in four price changes. The last price cut was $200k.

This is an example of extreme “step function” price drops. Maybe the house was over-priced to begin with, but not by nearly 30%. The original offer price has to be based loosely on comps or no listing broker would touch it. It’s on its fourth listing agent. Last summer (2016) it’s quite likely this house would have moved somewhere near the offer price. He also told me that he’s seeing more pre-foreclosure and foreclosure activity in the homes around $1,000,000 in that area. This is how it starts and I’m certain this is not the only area around the country where this is starting to occur.

The Big Short 2.0: The NAR Whiffed Badly This Month

Based on the National Association of Realtor’s “Seasonally Adjusted” Annualized Rate (SAAR) metric, home sales were said to have ticked up 0.7% in September from August. On a SAAR basis they declined 1.5% from September 2016.  In his customary effort to glaze the pig’s lips with lipstick, NAR chief “economist” and salesman, Larry Yun, asserted that sales would have been stronger but for the hurricanes that hit Florida and Texas.

This guy should do some better vetting of the data before he tries to spin a story. The Houston Association of Realtors was out a week earlier stating that Houston home sales were up 14% in September from August and up 4.2% from September 2016. Yun’s fairytale is a stunning contrast to what is being reported from Houston. But it illustrates the fact that the data on housing the NAR reports is highly suspect.

As I’ve been detailing for years, the NAR’s existing home sales report is highly manipulated and flawed.  It works well for the industry and the media in rising markets, but the real estate market has rolled over and is preparing to head south.  Likely rather quickly.  As it turns out, the September existing home sales report released Friday reinforces my view that the market is starting to topple over.  I go over the details in the next issue of the Short Seller’s Journal, with a couple examples which foreshadow a collapse in the over $1,000,000 price segment of the market.  This in turn will affect the entire market.  I always suspected that the “Big Short 2.0” would start at the high-end.  An example outside of Colorado can found here:  Greenwich Sales Plunge.

Four weeks ago I presented a housing-related stock as a short good idea.  The stock is down nearly 10% in four weeks.   How can this be?  Isn’t the housing market hot?  It will be going much lower.  This week I’ll be featuring a housing industry supplier stock that went parabolic and will soon go “cliff dive.”  If you want to find out more about this subscription service, click here:  Short Seller’s Journal info.

I love your Short Seller’s Journal. Keep up the great work – recent new subscriber

The Housing Market Has Stalled

The housing market headed for very “rough waters.” The title is from the National Association of Realtor’s Pending Home Sales report for August in reference to NAR chief “economist” Larry Yun’s commentary on the housing market. Pending homes sales in August, which are based on contracts signed, dropped 2.6% from August. They’re also 2.6% below a year ago August. These are SAAR numbers. The “not seasonally adjusted” numbers were worse, down nearly 4% from August and 3.1% lower than last August.

Once again Yun is blaming the problem on supply. I torpedoed that assertion with facts in last week’s Short Seller’s Journal.  Although, there is indeed a “supply” issue in one regard: there’s a shortage of end user buyers who are required to use, and qualify for the use of, the Government’s de facto subprime mortgage program (as I detailed last week). There’s also a shortage of existing home owners in the mid-price range who can afford to move-up. So yes, in that sense there’s a shortage – it’s just not in homes.

DR Horton (the largest homebuilder in the country) is carrying about the same amount of inventory now as it was carrying at the end of 2007 – around $8.5 billion. The average home price is about the same then as now, which means it is carrying about the same number of homes in inventory. It’s unit sales run-rate was slightly higher in 2007. The point here is that there are plenty of newly built homes available for purchase. Per the Census Bureau, the median sales price of a new home in August was $300k, while the average price was $368k. DH Horton is an averaged price homebuilder.

Per DH Horton’s inventory numbers, there is not a shortage of inventory around the average priced newly built home. Again, there’s a shortage buyers available who can qualify for the debt required to buy one of those homes. This is why the Government has significantly loosened mortgage standards every year since 2014 (see the graphic below). Up against the wall again, I don’t know if the Government will again further loosen the Fannie/Freddie mortgage requirements. If it does nothing, which would be the sensible decision, the housing market is going to sustain a rapid downward price “adjustment.”

Housing stocks are in a mini “melt-up” though it’s somewhat subdued relative to the melt-up in semiconductor stocks. This is despite the threat of rising interest rates and rapidly deteriorating demand-side fundamentals. This is the signal that the end is near for these stocks. Ironically, the University of Michigan consumer confidence survey for September released Friday showed that consumers who judge the current home-buying conditions as favorable plunged to a 5-yr low. This is notwithstanding the easiest mortgage approval standards in over two years:

The graphic above shows consumer perception of homebuying conditions on the left and the latest Fannie Mae lender survey on credit standards on the right. As you can see, the credit standards are the easiest in at least 2-years. Note:  The Fannie survey only dates back to Q3 2015. I would bet good money that the current credit conditions are the easiest since right before the previous housing bubble popped in 2008.

I’ve been discussing and detailing, the alleged “supply issue” affecting home sales is, in fact, a demand-driven issue. This graphic illustrates this:

The graph above is also from Fannie Mae’s latest housing market survey. As you can see, the demand for GSE (Fannie/Freddie/FHA) purchase mortgages has plunged since Q3 2016. The demand for non-GSE and Ginnie Mae purchase mortgages has also declined significantly since Q3 2016.

There’s an online MLS home-listing site called REColorado. I’m signed up to get listing and price-change alerts as they occur in several difference zip codes the represent the areas in metro-Denver that have been hottest. Colorado has experienced a massive inflow of people from all over country, especially California, which has made the Denver area one of the hottest housing markets since 2012, when the State fully legalized marijuana. Since mid-summer, I’ve been “price-change” alerts on homes over $700k on a daily basis. As I write this, I just received two more today. One of the homes started at $1.8 million in September and has taken the price down 11% over three price drops. The other house has an asking price of $779k but has been reduced more than 8% in four price reductions since June. If this is happening in metro-Denver, it’s happening in most formerly “hot” areas. Yes, there will be a few areas around the country that remain “hot” for awhile (like SoCal), but those areas will eventually suffer the most just like in 2008.

I want to reiterate that the housing market is a great short here. The only explanation for the move in the homebuilder stocks this past week is that it’s a momentum-driven technical run. The stocks I’ve been presenting in the last several issues will be lower this time next year. Probably a lot lower. Redfin (RDFN), the online real estate brokerage that I presented last week, closed Friday down $2.88 (10.3%) from the previous Friday. It’s going lower. It’s a good bet that this stock will be trading at or below $20 by Christmas. Zillow Group (ZG) is down 20% since a re-recommended shorting it in the June 25th SSJ issue at $50.69. I will say that I did not expect that to be close to ZG’s all-time high it was an obvious short to me at that point. Companies that earn commissions and fees directly from (RDFN) or related to (ZG) home sales volume will be the leading indicators.

The above analysis and commentary is from the latest issue of the Short Seller’s Journal.  You can out more about subscribing to this weekly investment newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal subscription info.  Despite the major indices hitting new all-time highs everyday now, there are many stocks that are declining.  The perfect example is Zillow Group, which I recommended shorting at $50 in June .  It is currently down 18% (an 18% gain if you are short, more if you bought the puts I recommended).  Subscribers also get 50% off the price of subscribing to the Mining Stock Journal.

The US Economy Is Failing – Paul Craig Roberts

IRD Note:    Along with the housing market, the entire economy is beginning to collapse. Unless the Fed implements another round of trillions in money printing, the laws of economics will take control of the system. With the housing market, the point of inflection downward began to occur in late spring/early summer. I have detailed this assertion with copious amounts of data and ways to profit from this insight in recent  Short Seller’s Journals.  Despite the melt-up in homebuilder stocks, one of my ideas from last week was down 10% through Friday.

—————

The commentary below is by Paul Craig Roberts:

Do the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page editors read their own newspaper?

The front page headline story for the Labor Day weekend was “Low Wage Growth Challenges Fed.” Despite an alleged 4.4% unemployment rate, which is full employment, there is no real growth in wages. The front page story pointed out correctly that an economy alleged to be expanding at full employment, but absent any wage growth or inflation, is “a puzzle that complicates Federal Reserve policy decisions.”

On the editorial page itself, under “letters to the editor,” Professor Tony Lima of California State University points out what I have stressed for years: “The labor-force participation rate remains at historic lows. Much of the decrease is in the 18-34 age group, while participation rates have increased for those 55 and older.” Professor Lima points out that more evidence that the American worker is not in good shape comes from the rising number of Americans who can only find part-time work, which leaves them with truncated incomes and no fringe benefits, such as healh care.

Positioned right next to this factual letter is the lead editorial written by someone who read neither the front page story or the professor’s letter. The lead editorial declares: “The biggest labor story this Labor Day is the trouble that employers are having finding workers across the country.” The Journal’s editorial page editors believe the solution to the alleged labor shortage is Senator Ron Johnson’s (R.Wis.) bill to permit the states to give 500,000 work visas to foreigners.

In my day as a Wall Street Journal editor and columnist, questions would have been asked that would have nixed the editorial. For example, how is there a labor shortage when there is no upward pressure on wages? In tight labor markets wages are bid up as employers compete for workers. For example, how is the labor market tight when the labor force participation rate is at historical lows. When jobs are available, the participation rate rises as people enter the work force to take the jobs.

I have reported on a number of occasions that according to Federal Reserve studies, more Americans in the 24-34 age group live at home with parents than independently, and that it is those 55 and older who are taking the part time jobs. Why is this? The answer is that part time jobs do not pay enough to support an independent existence, and the Federal Reserve’s decade long zero interest rate policy forces retirees to enter the work force as their retirement savings produce no income. It is not only the manufacturing jobs of the middle class blue collar workers that have been given to foreigners in order to cut labor costs and thus maximize payouts to executives and shareholders, but also tradable professional skill jobs such as software engineering, design, accounting, and IT—jobs that Americans expected to get in order to pay off their student loans.

The Wall Street Journal editorial asserts that the young are not in the work force because they are on drugs, or on disability, or because of their poor education. However, all over the country there are college graduates with good educations who cannot find jobs because the jobs have been offshored. To worsen the crisis, a Republican Senator from Wisconsin wants to bring in more foreigners on work permits to drive US wages down lower so that no American can survive on the wage, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page editors endorse this travesty!

The foreigners on work visas are paid one-third less than the going US wage. They live together in groups in cramped quarters. They have no employee rights. They are exploited in order to raise executive bonuses and shareholder capital gains. I have exposed this scheme at length in my book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism (Clarity Press, 2013).

When Trump said he was going to bring the jobs home, he resonated, but, of course, he will not be permitted to bring them home, any more than he has been permitted to normalize relations with Russia.

In America Government is not in the hands of its people. Government is in the hands of a ruling oligarchy. Oligarchic rule prevails regardless of electoral outcomes. The American people are entering a world of slavery more severe than anything that previously existed. Without jobs, dependent on their masters for trickle-down benefits that are always subject to being cut, and without voice or representation, Americans, except for the One Percent, are becoming the most enslaved people in history.

Americans carry on by accumulating debt and becoming debt slaves. Many can only make the minimum payment on their credit card and thus accumulate debt. The Federal Reserve’s policy has exploded the prices of financial assets. The result is that the bulk of the population lacks discretionary income, and those with financial assets are wealthy until values adjust to reality.

As an economist I cannot identify in history any economy whose affairs have been so badly managed and prospects so severely damaged as the economy of the United States of America. In the short/intermediate run policies that damage the prospects for the American work force benefit what is called the One Percent as jobs offshoring reduces corporate costs and financialization transfers remaining discretionary income in interest and fees to the financial sector. But as consumer discretionary incomes disappear and debt burdens rise, aggregate demand falters, and there is nothing left to drive the economy.

What we are witnessing in the United States is the first country to reverse the development process and to go backward by giving up industry, manufacturing, and tradable professional skill jobs. The labor force is becoming Third World with lowly paid domestic service jobs taking the place of high-productivity, high-value added jobs.

The initial response was to put wives and mothers into the work force, but now even many two-earner families experience stagnant or falling material living standards. New university graduates are faced with substantial debts without jobs capable of producing sufficient income to pay off the debts.

Now the US is on a course of travelling backward at a faster rate. Robots are to take over more and more jobs, displacing more people. Robots don’t buy houses, furniture, appliances, cars, clothes, food, entertainment, medical services, etc. Unless Robots pay payroll taxes, the financing for Social Security and Medicare will collapse. And it goes on down from there. Consumer spending simply dries up, so who purcheses the goods and services supplied by robots?

To find such important considerations absent in public debate suggests that the United States will continue on the country’s de-industrialization, de-manufacturing trajectory.