Tag Archives: mortgage bubble

Getting Rich On Taxpayer-Backed Subprime Mortgages

A branch manager gets home loans for borrowers with weak credit or low incomes—and taxpayers back him up.Bloomberg.com

Bloomberg News featured a story today that I find to be an outrage. It seems that some punk kid in Houston – Angelo Christian – has recreated the Jordan Belfort story (“The Wolf Wall Street”) using subprime quality, Government-backed mortgage.

The Government now guarantees mortgages which require no money from the buyer’s pocket for a down payment, a 50% DTI (monthly total debt payments = 50% of pre-tax personal income), no income restrictions and will finance down to a 580 credit score. Someone with a 580 score has a track record of debt default, serial delinquency and, quite likely, a recent bankruptcy:

This would-be homeowner has a 596 credit score, putting him in the subprime range. His car has been repossessed, something that would likely disqualify him at the Bank of America branch next door.

“Usually a repo that’s like three years old, we’re not really going to sweat that,” he assures the caller. “We’re pretty lenient here.” He steers his prospect to several $400,000 homes with swimming pools. “Have your wife check that out,” he says, referring to a remodeled kitchen with granite countertops. “She’s going to love it.”

Christian works for American Financial Network, which underwrites, funds and services the entire spectrum of Taxpayer-guaranteed mortgage programs:  Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, VHA and USDA (yes, the USDA guarantees “rural area” zero-percent down mortgages).  AFN receives fees up to 5% – or $15,000 – a on $300,000 mortgage.  This in and of itself is an outrage because it takes zero skill to underwrite a Government-backed mortgage.

“Zero-skill,” that is, unless fraud is involved.  I’m not accusing AFN of fraudulent activity, however, as we witnessed during the Big Short housing bubble, fraud was oozing from every crevice in the U.S. mortgage underwriting industry.   And subprime mortgages pumped and dumped by a character like Angelo Christian are usually the standard breeding ground for unscrupulous behavior.

Even Bloomberg expressed skepticism:  “This kind of lending echoes the subprime mortgage boom that preceded the credit crisis of 2008.”

In civil fraud complaints, the Department of Justice has accused many companies, including Quicken and Freedom Mortgage, of improperly underwriting FHA loans and then filing claims for government insurance after borrowers defaulted. In 2016, Freedom Mortgage settled for $113 million, without admitting liability.

Angelo Christian and American Financial Network use Taxpayer guarantees to underwrite mortgages with an elevated probability of default and yet, they bear zero risk.  They pocket a big fee-skim upfront and face no consequences when the 580 FICO score borrower declares bankruptcy – again.  Just for the record, after accounting for a 0-3% down payment plus all transactions costs – which approximate 10% of the cost of the home – these mortgages are upside-down vs. the value of the “net” value of the house at close.  Not a good business deal for the Taxpayers.  

FHA loans are now experiencing a 30-day or more delinquency rate with nearly 10% of its loans.  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac combined wrote-down over $15 billion worth of loans in Q4 2017.  They required a $4 billion cash infusion from the Government (taxpayer) as a result of both accounting and cash losses.

This is going to get worse.   But until this collapses again – and it will – mortgage brokers like Angelo Christian are proliferating.  They employ a salesmanship resembling that of dirty boulevard used car salesmen (“we finance any credit / bankruptcy o.k.”) as a means of transferring a massive amount of money from the Taxpayer to their own pockets.

I would urge everyone to read this Bloomberg article so you can read about how Angelo uses taxpayer-funded fees to pay for his fancy sports cars in exchange for pushing subprime mortgages destined to blow-up onto people who have no hope of supporting the cost of home ownership on a sustainable basis.

 

The Fed Successfully Destroyed The U.S. Housing Market

What concerns me is when people put their hard-earned money into housing or any other supposed store of value thinking that the sky is the limit. We are living in an age of epic distortions, misinformation and outright fraud. – Aaron Layman, Dallas-based Realtor, member of the Dallas and Houston MLS boards and a housing market analyst

The propaganda about a hot economy, “overheated” housing market and tight labor market is just one of several Big Lies being promoted by politicians and business leaders. The article below references a comment made by a money manager about the housing market “overheating.” But the housing market isn’t overheating. What’s overheating is the amount of “conforming” mortgage debt underwritten by the Federal Government on behalf of taxpayer. I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow.

The transformation of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the FHA and the VHA into the new subprime debt provider has caused a shortage of homes under $500k, or under $600k in “high price” zones. But there’s an oversupply of homes north of $700k in most areas (the Silicon Valley area notwithstanding). But more on this tomorrow.

A colleague and email acquaintance, Aaron Layman, is a realtor in Houston who has been uniquely outspoken about the degree to which the current housing market is unhealthy and dysfunctional. I say “uniquely” because 99.9% of all realtors would sell a roach motel trap to cockroaches if they knew that they could get the cockroach qualified for a Taxpayer-backed mortgage to make that particular purchase (“hey man, this is a good value and prices are only going higher”).

Aaron has written a blog post which details the manner in which the Fed has destroyed the housing market and economy:

If you are out shopping for a home during this summer selling season and you are having a difficult time finding a good property at a reasonable price, be sure to thank the folks at the Fed for their fine work. Destroying a market takes some effort, particularly if you account for all of the PR necessary to cover your tracks. The Federal Reserve and their army of economists have created another fine mess in the U.S. housing market, destroying real price discovery and distorting the real value of a home which is end-user shelter.

Please use this link to read the entire essay – it’s worth your time:  The Fed Has Destroyed The Housing Market

Subprime Mortgages Come Roaring Back…

…Only this time around they are sponsored by the U.S. Government and guaranteed explicitly  by the Taxpayers.  I say “explicitly” because Government agency-issued mortgages are directly guaranteed.  In 2008, the Government bailed out the banks who had issued subprime mortgages and related derivatives, but the Taxpayer never signed up for the multi-trillion dollar bailout, which largely transferred wealth from the middle class taxpayer to the Too Big To Fail bank executives.

In an attempt to off-set the falling velocity in the housing market, taxpayer-backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have reduced their credit standards on guaranteed conventional mortgages several times over the last 3 years. In 2015 they reduced the down payment requirement to 3% from 5%. In addition, they reduced the amount mortgage insurance required on mortgages with less than 10% down. Then they allowed “soft dollar” contributions to count as part of the 3% down payment, like seller concessions or realtor commission concessions. They also allowed homebuyers to use loans from other sources to fund the down payment. In this manner, a homebuyer could prospectively buy a home with a taxpayer-guaranteed mortgage using no cash out pocket.

Then last June (2017) Fannie and Freddie raised the Debt To Income (DTI) ratio from 45% to 50%. DTI is the ratio of monthly debt payments (all forms of household debt payments) to the borrower’s monthly gross income. A borrower with a DTI of 50%, including the new mortgage, is using 50% of monthly net income to make debt payments (mortgage, credit cart, auto, student loans, personal loans).

The chart on the right shows the spike-up in the number of conventional mortgages issued by Fannie and Freddie once the DTI was raised (source: Corelogic w/my edits). As you can see, before the DTI was raised the number of mortgages issued with a DTI over 45% was one in twenty. After the change, the one in five new mortgages backed by the taxpayer were issued to homebuyers with a DTI over 45%. This is, by far, the highest level of high-DTI mortgages since the financial crisis.

But the story gets worse. The Urban Institute conducted a study of high DTI mortgages and discovered that 25% of all Fannie Mae mortgages issued to borrowers with a credit score below 700 had a DTI over 45% in just the first two months of 2018. This is up from 19% a year earlier. This is after Fannie Mae reported a $6.5 billion loss in Q4 2017 that the taxpayers will cover. The Government raised the DTI in order to stimulate home sales by inducing households, who could otherwise not afford the monthly cost of home ownership, into taking on even more debt to purchase a home. The majority of these home “buyers” will ultimately default and the taxpayer will get the privilege of eating the loss.

Zillow Group Is Now Flipping Homes? – Zillow Group stock plunged as much as 11% on Friday after it announced that it would be adding home flipping to its home-listing services. Clearly the market was spooked by this announcement – and for good reason. The plan will significantly raise ZG’s risk profile and will require the assumption of $10’s of millions in debt, depending on the number of homes ZG holds on its balance sheet any given time. It’s plan now forecasts holding up to 1,000 homes by year-end.

ZG stock is extraordinarily overvalued.   The Company released its Q4 and full-year 2017 earnings on February 8th and the numbers had little affect on ZG’s stock. ZG continues to generate operating and net losses. It incurred a $174 million intangibles write-down in Q4 2017 that was related to its 2015 acquisition of Trulia. While the Company and Wall St. analysts will remove this write-down as “non-recurring, non-cash,” it is indeed a write-down that occurred to an asset for which Zillow overpaid by at least $174 million. As the housing market fades, ZG will likely incur bigger write-downs of its “intangibles and goodwill,” which represents 85% of ZG’s book value.

The move into home-flipping signals, at least in my view, that ZG has determined that its current business model will never be profitable. The decision to test  home flipping in Phoenix and Vegas can be seen as desperate attempt to generate income. Ironically, in the last housing bubble, flippers in those two markets were decimated. I don’t see how this will end well for ZG, especially now that Congress is exploring rules changes to Fannie and Freddie that will raise the cost of conventional mortgages. The conventional mortgage user is the prime market for home flippers and now the average conventional mortgage applicant has de facto sub-prime credit.

By the way, just for the record, on average and in general, home prices are coming down quickly in most markets.  Case Shiller is severely lagged data and it emphasizes price gains from flips.  Robert Shiller used to admit to these facts publicly. Now he’s a bubble cheerleader like everyone else who sold out.

Taxpayer:  Get ready to eat more losses on the housing and mortgage market.

The commenetary above is from my latest Short Seller’s Journal. For the past several issues I have been focusing on both short-term and long-term homebuilder short ideas. Several of my subscribers have told me they are making double-digit percentage gains on the ideas presented. You can learn more about this unique newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.

“LEN! Bagged another 30% on April $60 puts.  Of course took some profits and added more to other ideas” – subscriber email last week

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.

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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.

Peak Housing Bubble: 2008 Deja Vu All Over Again

Existing Home Sales were released Wednesday and the NAR’s seasonally adjusted annualized rate metric was down 1.7% from July. July was down 1.3% from June. The NAR’s SAAR metric is at its lowest rate since last August. Naturally the hurricane that hit Houston is being attributed as the primary culprit for the lower sales rate. Interestingly, the “not seasonally adjusted” monthly number for the South region was higher in August than in July. Moreover, I’m sure the NAR’s statistical “wizards” were told to “adjust” for Houston. So I’m not buying the excuse.

As for the NAR’s inventory narrative, that’s a bunch of horse hooey. Recall the chart I’ve posted a couple times in previous issues which shows that sales volume is inversely correlated with inventory – this is 17 years of data:

In other words, sales volume increases as inventory declines and sales volume declines as inventory rises. This is intuitive as prospective buyers will get desperate and rush to secure a purchase when inventory is low. Conversely,when a prospective buyer sees inventory climbing, the tendency will be to wait to see if prices come down.

It’s disingenuous for the NAR to claim that low inventory is affecting sales. Based on its own calculus, there’s 4.2 months of supply right now. This is up from 3.8 months in January. In fact, from December through March, months supply was said to have been well under 4 months. And yet, the monthly SAAR sales for each month December through March averaged 4.5% above the level just reported for August. In other words, the excuse put forth by the NAR’s chief “economist” is undermined by the NAR’s own numbers. However, given that the inventory expressed as “months supply” has been rising since April, it should be no surprise that sales are declining. This is exactly what would have been predicted by the 17 years of data in the sales vs inventory chart above.

The other statistic that undermines the “low inventory is affecting sales” propaganda is housing starts. Housing starts peaked in November 2016 and have been in a downtrend since then. Robert Toll (Toll Brothers – TOL) stated directly in his earnings commentary a couple weeks ago that “supply is not a problem.” Furthermore, DR Horton – the largest homebuilder in the country) is carrying about the same amount of inventory now as 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. Starting in 2008, DHI began writing down its inventory in multi-billion dollar chunks. Sorry Larry (NAR chief “economist” aka “salesman”), there are plenty of newly built homes available for purchase.

The Fannie and Freddie 3% down payment, reduced mortgage insurance fee program that has been in effect since January 2015 has “sucked” in most of the first-time buyers who can qualify for a mortgage under those sub-prime quality terms. If the housing market cheerleaders stated that “there is a shortage of homes for which subprime buyers can qualify to buy,” that’s an entirely different argument.

Housing price affordability has hit an all-time low. Again, this is because of the rampant home price inflation generated by the Fed’s monetary policy and the Government’s mortgage programs. The Government up to this point has done everything except subsidize down payments in order to give subprime quality borrowers the ability to take down a mortgage for which they can make (barely) the monthly mortgage payment. At this stage, anyone with a sub-620 FICO score who is unable to make a 3% down payment and who does not generate enough income to qualify under the 50% DTI parameter should not buy a home. They will default anyway and the taxpayer will be on the hook. As it is now, the Government’s de facto sub-prime mortgage programs are going to end badly.

Speaking of the 50% DTI, that is one of the qualification parameters “loosened” up by Fannie Mae. A 50% DTI means pre-tax income as a percentage of monthly debt payments. Someone with a 50% DTI is thereby using close to 70% or more of their after-tax cash flow to service debt. This is really not much different from the economics of the “exotic” mortgages underwritten in the last housing bubble. As the economy worsens, there will be sudden wave of first-time buyer Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage defaults. I would bet that day of reckoning is not too far off in the future.

The Fed has fueled the greatest housing price inflation in history. In may cities, housing prices have gone parabolic. But to make matters worse, this is not being fueled by demand which exceeds supply.

After all, we know that homebuilders have been cutting back on new home starts for several months now. Price inflation is the predominant characteristic of this housing bubble. The price rise since 2012 has been a function of the Fed’s enormous monetary stimulus and not supply/demand-driven transactions.

The effect of the Fed’s money printing and the Government’s mortgage guarantee programs has been to fill the “void” left by the demise of the private-issuer subprime mortgages in the mid-2000’s housing bubble. The FHA has been underwriting 3.5% down payment mortgages since 2008. In 2008, the FHA’s share of the mortgage market was 2%. Today it’s about 20%. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac allow 3% down payment mortgages for people with credit scores as low as 620. 620 is considered sub-prime. On a case-by-case basis, they’ll approve mortgage applications with sub-620 credit scores. Oh, and about that 3% down payment. The Government will allow “sweat” equity as part of the down payment from “moderate to low income” borrowers. Moreover, the cash portion of the down payment can come from gifts, grants or “community seconds.” A “community second” is a subordinated (second-lien) mortgage that is issued to the buyer to use as a source of cash for the down payment.

Again, I want to emphasize this point because it’s a fact that you’ll never hear discussed by the mainstream media:  The Government mortgage programs resemble and have replaced the reckless “exotic” mortgage programs of the mid-2000’s housing bubble.

To compound the problem, most big cities are being hit with an avalanche of new apartment buildings.  In Denver, the newer “seasoned” buildings are loading up front-end incentives to compete for tenants.  There’s another tidal wave of new inventory that will hit the market over the next six months.  This scene is being replayed in all of the traditional bubble cities.   As supply drives down the cost of rent, the millennials who can barely qualify for a mortgage that sucks up more than 50% of their pre-tax income will revert back to renting .  This will in turn drive down the price of homes.

Flippers who are leveraging up to pay top-dollar will get stuck with their attempted housing “day-trade.”  Studies have shown that it was flippers who were unable to unload their homes who triggered the 2008 collapse, as they “jingle-mailed” the keys back to the greedy bankers who funded the “margin debt” for their failed trade.

It may not look exactly the same as late 2007 right now.   But there’s no question that it will be deja vu all over again by this time next year…

The above commentary and analysis is directly from last week’s Short Seller’s Journal. In the latest issue I presented three ways to take advantage of the coming collapse in the housing and mortgage market, one of which is already down 10%.  If you would like to find out more about this service, please click here:  Short Seller’s Journal subscription info.

I look forward to any and every SSJ. Especially at the moment as I really do think your work and thesis on how this plays out is being more than validated at the moment with the ongoing dismal data coming out, both here in the U.K, and in the U.S.   – James

Peak Housing Bubble: The Big Short Is Back

Wash, rinse, repeat. The American public never gets tired of the destructive abuse it suffers from Wall St. The deep sub-prime mortgage market is roaring back and, with it, the nuclear bomb-laden derivatives that triggered round one of The Big Short de facto financial system collapse:

It’s an astonishing comeback for the roughly $70 billion market for synthetic CDOs, which rose to infamy during the crisis and then faded into obscurity after nearly destroying the financial system. But perhaps the most surprising twist is Citigroup itself. Less than a decade ago, the bank was forced into a taxpayer bailout after suffering huge losses on similar types of securities tied to mortgages.

Citigroup is leading the charge this time around, instead of Bear Stearns and Lehman:   Citi Revives The Trade That Blew Up The System In 2008.   Oh, and do not be mistaken, the financial “safeguards” legislated by Congress and widely heralded by Obama and Elizabeth Warren are completely useless.

The commentary below is a guest post from a reader and Short Seller’s Journal subscriber who is a 25-year subprime lending professional. Below, he shares his wisdom of experience in explaining why the latest deep subprime mortgage products hitting the market is the definitive “bell” that rings when a market bubble is about to pop.

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Before the Lehman crash I was part of the brokering and banking system that built billion dollar pools of commercial cow manure loans we farmed out to Lehman Bros. JPM, CIT, Zion’s Bank, Bank of the West and others did the same.

Lehman was the poster child. They stretched the envelope of mortgage insanity. Their failure was the instant death knell of that terrible scam. Every originator of these pools and brokering conduits failed. Some disappeared in 24 hours. But like the undead, these NINJA warriors are back from the grave just in time to profit from the biggest housing bubble in human history.

While “The Big Short” bubble/bust wiped out the industry, the overseers walked away collectively with billions and no one went to jail other than a few scape-goated underlings. But like the survivors of a 7 year mortgage apocalypse cycle of feast or famine, those who made it are back are more corrupt than ever.

No one learns from these mistakes. Bankers and brokers are like “Chucky” in the “Child’s Play” horror movies. It wasn’t more than a few days after Lehman imploded that the entire fraudulent subprime commercial and residential loan edifice came down. The commercial bank loan system shut down for nearly a year. Banks failed by the hundreds. Thousands more were propped up with TARP and HARP.

What got me going is that the latest product being pimped by Citadel Capital reminds me of a classic bucket shop operation with all the worst elements of gangster loan sharks, knee breakers and “vig” of 5% a week. Perhaps one of the most insidious aspects of the subprime business being originated by Citadel is the manner in which they get around the legislation implemented under Obama via Dodd-Frank that was supposed to protect the public from predatory lending and Wall Street fraud. Citadel specifically has a lending program that is called “Outside Dodd Frank.”

Citadel really caught my eye. There’s a wealth of information on Citadel Servicing Corporation, some from their web page and some from the ‘net itself. While the mainstream media heralds the merits of the Dodd Frank legislation, there are large loopholes in the mortgage broker/banker regulations that circumvent the alleged “safeguards.”

This mortgage origination program, which is disguised as a “business loan program” was sent to me by Citadel Capital, a relatively new and rapidly growing residential and commercial lender. Citadel Capital is part of the Citadel LLC hedge fund empire.

As a commercial loan broker for the last 25 years, I can tell by the rates being charged for these loans that the “professionals” at Citadel hold their nose while they package the junk paper and send them as “mortgage pools” to Wall Street. The Citadel junk is much like the old sub prime NINJA crap that filled portfolios from coast to coast.

Citadel doesn’t want these loans to ripen and turn sour, defaulting while they still sit on Citadel’s balance sheet waiting to be shipped to Wall Street’s financial sausage factory. It’s likely they sit on Citadel’s shelf for no more than a month or so and, like smuggled heroin, peddled to the next middle man in the chain for cutting, diluting and selling to the end user.

Most companies like Citadel borrow on wholesale lines capital provided by yield-starved pension funds. These funds are on the hook for as long as it takes Citadel to churn them like rancid butter, as they aggregate a loan pool big enough to interest Wall Street into securitizing the pooled loans into the infamous CDO’s (collateralized debt obligations). These are the financial nuclear weapons that blew up Wall Street in 2008.

The big fish,TBTF banks bailed out by Obama and Bernanke, take the loan pools and repackage them into risk-return-tiered mortgage-backed trusts. They then piece out the tranches to their clients – yield-starved institutional investors and greedy high net worth sitting ducks. Some of the tranches of these financial sausages are given ratings from Moody’s and S&P which are significantly higher than they merit in return for a small part of the “vig” involved. You are naive if you thought the post-2008 financial “reform” eliminated this important step in the entire process.

The money involved is enormous. The wholesalers – entities like banks and investment funds who provide “warehouse” lines of credit used to fund the loans – get a 3-4% spread as their fee on funds loaned.  When funded, these loans are priced to give the aggregator such as Citadel premiums of 5-9% or more, depending on the various ingredients stirred in to “juice” the yield. These premiums are apportioned to the various parties involved in funding the mortgages and bringing borrowers to the table. The mortgage brokers offer up their clients like lambs to the slaughter, concerned with one thing, collecting the points paid by the borrower plus handsome rebates from Citadel where allowed by state or federal statute.

There’s even bigger “vig” for bringing the borrowers to the party. Citadel brokers and outside mortgage brokers can make up to 8-9% on the amount borrowed depending on both the risk-profile of the borrower and the willingness of the borrower to accept various “bells and whistles” which ultimately increase the cost of the loan. But these hidden fees are not paid up-front by the borrower. Instead, they’re built into the high rate charged to the borrower. The Citadel “group” gets paid when the loan is part of a pool that is marked up in value and sold to Wall Street as material for its financial sausage.

Speaking of those “bells and whistles,” which substantially increase the cost of the mortgage to the borrower, and having seen how these loans were crafted in the past, I know that any one of these “innocuous” terms written into the fine print can increase the cost to the borrower by 1 percent or more. To make matters worse, these are the terms that make it nearly impossible for the borrower to make payments for more than a short period of time.

The borrowers stagger into loan offices like Dead Men Zombies with 500 FICOs and nary a pulse. Many are remnants of the last sub prime crash, walking wounded waiting to be fleeced again. They provide some bank statements, often photo-shopped by the borrower or the broker. They offer up hand-me-down, shop worn camp fire stories of woe that get better with each telling. The greed-driven broker feigns a look of sorrow and understanding. If I’ve heard 1 story I’ve heard 100.

Even if they’ve defaulted on the last 3 loans, filed Chapter 11 or 22 and stiffed every creditor in town, somehow they’ll convince the underwriter they’ve had their St Francis of Assisi debt moment and will never be late again. Listen up. There’s a reason they have a 500 FICO. They’re deadbeats with a real estate deal to lend on. They’ll willingly agree to the high-priced terms in order to get back in the game of buying and flipping.

The end investor buys this tranche and yet still might carve it up like a hog, selling some slices here and there; repriced and re-rated by the rating agencies to cover the stink. They might keep the best parts for themselves while dumping the low cuts and offal to a new tier of overseas zombie, yield-starved investors.

The science behind these mortgage conveyor belts was perfected 35 years ago. The bankers pulling the levers will never be prosecuted; just fines; pittance by the DOJ. The brokers will never look back. They’re unlikely to be prosecuted except for the rare ones; those who get caught because they stayed in the game too long or didn’t cover their tracks.

IRD’s note:  Citadel is not the only purveyor of these financial time-bombs. There’s several “bucket shop” deep sub-prime mortgage generators springing to life across the country. As an example, there’s a company called SCL Mortgage (“SCL” stands for “Special Circumstances Lending”) based out of Castle Rock, Colorado.  Castle Rock is a “poster child” city for the previous and current housing bubble.  The Company was founded and is led by a one of  the deep subprime “NINJA warriors” of the previous  “Big Short” era,  as are several of his employees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Government Is Desperate To Re-Stimulate Housing Sales

The Fed printed $2.5 trillion to prop up the mortgage market and the Government “refurbished” all of the mortgage programs it sponsors (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, VHA, USDA) in a way that positioned the Government/taxpayer as the new subprime lender of choice.  The two programs combined inflated a new housing bubble – one that ended up fueling housing price inflation  more than sales volume.   The FHA program was the first program to replace the collapsed subprime mortgage lenders of the mid-2000’s with a 3.5% down payment program. It’s market share of mortgage underwriting rocketed from 2% in 2008 to around 20% currently.

As home sales began to falter in mid-2014, the Government rolled out a revision to the Fannie and Freddie programs in early 2015 that reduced the down payment requirement from 5% to 3% and reduced the monthly cost of mortgage insurance.  The VHA and, believe it or not, the USDA (U.S. Dept of Agriculture) programs provide low interest rate mortgages with zero down payment.

Fannie and Freddie permit the borrower to “borrow” the down payment or receive down payment assistance from a home seller willing make price/fee concessions in an amount up to the 3% down payment.  In other words, under FNM/FRE, a homebuyer can close a conventional FNM/FRE mortgage with zero down payment.   These alterations to the taxpayer guaranteed mortgage programs provided another short-term bounce in home sales volume and sent home prices soaring.

The housing market is headed south again.  Just in time, the Government is making it even easier for a potential buyer to load up more debt to leverage into the American dream. Fannie Mae is raising the debt-to-income ratio on its 3% down payment product from 43% to 50%.  DTI is the total household monthly debt payments divided by pre-tax income. While the credit standards are not quite as insane as during the last housing bubble, the current mortgage underwriting standards facilitated by the Government do not allow any cushion for household financial instability. This is especially true considering more than 50% of all households can’t write a $500 check to cover an emergency.

The latest iteration from the Government  reeks of desperation.  But wait, it gets even better. Some mortgage companies are now offering a 1% down payment mortgage that includes a 2% “gift” from the mortgage company in order to conform to the 3% FNM/FRE underwriting convention. The mortgage lender pays the 2% portion of the down payment.

However, this is not a free lunch “gift.” The mortgage lender assesses a higher rate of interest to the borrower than would be otherwise available from a standard FNM/FRE 3% down-payment mortgage. The mortgage lender, as the servicer of the mortgage, keeps the difference between the interest rate on the mortgage paid by the borrower and the amount of interest payment “passed-thru” to FNM or FRE. Over the life of the mortgage, assuming the borrower does not default, the mortgage company makes substantially more than was “gifted” to the borrower.

If a homebuyer does not have enough capital to make a 3% down payment, the odds are that the buyer also does not have the financial strength to maintain the cost of home ownership. Home-buyers who are “gifted” 2% of their down-payment do not need down-payment assistance, they need earning assistance.

This is going to end badly, especially for the taxpayer.  Obama promised after his mult-trillion dollar Wall Street bailout that the Government would not bail out the banks again. This “promise” guarantees that it will happen again.  Only this time the source of financial nuclear melt-down will be many:  mortgages, auto loans, unsecured household debt (credit cards) and student loans.   Oh ya, then there’s the derivatives. The sell-off in the banking sector since March 1st reflects the market’s awareness of the rising degree of risk lurking in the financial system from an orgy of reckless debt creation.

I don’t know when the this giant Ponzi bubble will blow, no one does, I just know that it will be worse than 2008 when it does blow.  The balloon latex is stretched so tight at this point that any systemic “vibration” not anticipated by the Fed could impale the thing.

The above commentary was partially excerpted from IRD’s latest issue of the Short Seller’s Journal.  Two financial sector stocks and one auto sector stock, all three of which have been falling and could easily get cut in half from their current level by year-end with or without a market “accident” were presented.  To find about more, click here:  SSJ Subscriber Information. 

I look forward to any and every SSJ. Especially at the moment as I really do think your work and thesis on how this plays out is being more than validated at the moment with the ongoing dismal data coming out, both here in the U.K, and in the U.S – James

 

New Home Sales Plunge 11.4% In April

So much for the jump in the builder’s confidence index reported last week.  The Government reported a literal plunge in new home sales in April.   Not only did the seasonally manipulated adjusted annualized sales rate drop 11.4% from March, it was 6% below Wall Street’s consensus estimate.

Analysts and perma-bulls were scratching their head after the housing starts report showed an unexpected drop last week after a “bullish” builder’s sentiment report the prior day.

The Housing Market index, which used to be called the Builder Sentiment index, registered a 70 reading, 2 points above the prior month’s reading and 2 points above the expected reading (68). The funny thing about this “sentiment” index is that it is often followed the next day by a negative housing starts report.  Always follow the money to get to the truth. The housing starts report released last Tuesday showed an unexpected 2.6% drop in April. This was below the expected increase of 6.7% and follows a 6.6% drop in March. Starts have dropped now in 3 of the last 4 months. So much for the high reading in builder sentiment.

This is the seasonal period of the year when starts should be at their highest. I would suggest that there’s a few factors affecting the declining rate at which builders are starting new single-family and multi-family homes.

First, the 2-month decline in housing starts and permits reflects new homebuilders’ true expectations about the housing market because starts and permits require spending money vs. answering questions on how they feel about the market.  Housing starts are dropping because homebuilders are sensing an underlying weakness in the market for new homes. Let me explain.

Most of the housing sale activity is occurring in the under $500k price segment, where flippers represent a fairly high proportion of the activity. When a flipper completes a successful round-trip trade, the sale shows up twice in statistics even though only one trade occurred to an end-user. The existing home sales number is thus overstated to the extent that a certain percentage of sales are flips. The true “organic” rate of homes sales – “organic” defined as a purchase by an actual end-user (owner/occupant) of the home – is occurring at a much lower rate than is reflected in the NAR’s numbers.

Although the average price of a new construction home is slightly under $400k, the flippers do not generally play with new homes because it’s harder to mark-up the price of a new home when there’s 15 identical homes in a community offered at the builder’s price. Flippers do buy into pre-constructed condominiums but they need the building sell-out in order to flip at a profit. Many of these “investors” are now stuck with condo purchases on Miami and New York that are declining in value by the day. The same dynamic will spread across the country. Because flipper purchases are not part of the new home sales market, homebuilders are feeling the actual underlying structural market weakness in the housing market that is not yet apparent in the existing home sales market, specifically in the under $500k segment. This structure weakness is attributable to the fact that pool of potential homebuyers who can meet the low-bar test of the latest FNM/FRE quasi-subprime taxpayer-backed mortgage programs has largely dried up.

Second, in breaking down the builder sentiment metric, “foot-traffic” was running 25 points below the trailing sales rate metric (51 on the foot-traffic vs. 76 on the “current sales” components of the index) In other words, potential future sales are expected to be lower than the trailing run-rate in sales. This reinforces the analysis above. It also fits my thesis that the available “pool” of potential “end-user” buyers has been largely tapped. This is why builders are starting less home and multi-family units. The only way the Government/Fed can hope to “juice” the demand for homes will be to further interfere in the market and figure out a mortgage program that will enable no down payment, interest-only mortgages to people with poor credit, which is why the Government is looking at allowing millennials to take out 125-130% loan to value mortgages with your money.  We saw how well that worked in 2008.

Finally, starts for both single-family and multi-family units have been dropping. The multi-family start decline is easy to figure out. Most large metropolitan areas have been flooded with new multi-family facilities and even more are being built. I see this all around the metro-Denver area and I’ve been getting subscriber emails describing the same condition around the country. Here’s how the dynamic will play out, again just like in the 2007-2010 period. The extreme oversupply of apartments and condos will force drastic drops in rent and asking prices for new apartments and condos to the point at which it will be much cheaper to rent than to buy. This in turn will reduce rents on single-family homes, which will reduce the amount an investor/flipper is willing to pay for an existing home. Moreover, it will greatly reduce the “organic” demand for single-family homes, as potential buyers opt to rent rather than take on a big mortgage. All of a sudden there’s a big oversupply of existing homes on the market.

The quintessential example of this is NYC. I have been detailing the rabid oversupply of commercial and multi-family properties in NYC in past issues. The dollar-value of property sales in NYC in Q1 2017 plummeted 58% compared to Q1 2016. It was the lowest sales volume in six years in NYC. Nationwide, property sales dropped 18% in Q1 according Real Capital Analytics. According to an article published by Bloomberg News, landlords are cutting rents and condo prices and lenders are pulling back capital. Again, this is just like the 2007-2008 period in NYC and I expect this dynamic to spread across the country over the next 3-6 months.

This is exactly what happened in 2008 as the financial crisis was hitting. I would suggest that we’re on the cusp of this scenario repeating. Mortgage applications (refi and purchase) have declined in 6 out of the last 9 weeks, including a 2.7% drop in purchase mortgages last week. Please note: this is the seasonal portion of the year in which mortgage purchase applications should be rising every week.

The generally misunderstood nature of housing oversupply is that it happens gradually and then all at once. That’s how the market for “illiquid” assets tends to behave (homes, exotic-asset backed securities, low-quality junk bonds, muni bonds, etc). The housing market tends to go from “very easy to sell a home” to “very easy to buy a home.” You do not want to have just signed a contract when homes are “easy to buy” because the next house on your block is going to sell for a lot lower than the amount you just paid. But you do want to be short homebuilders when homes become “very easy to buy.”

The above analysis is an excerpt from the latest Short Seller’s Journal.  My subscribers are making money shorting stocks in selected sectors which have been diverging negatively from the Dow/S&P 500 for quite some time.  One example is Ralph Lauren (RL), recommended as short last August at $108.  It’s trading now at $67.71, down 59.% in less than a year.  You can find out more about subscribing here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.

On The Home-Stretch To Collapse

The warning signs are there but very few look for them or want to see them. But it’s a dynamic in which once you see it you can’t “unsee” it. A teacher I know told me this morning that Colorado school districts are quietly cutting staff across all districts. The only reason this would be occurring is that the State is projecting a decline in tax revenues. The only reason tax revenues would be declining is because economic activity is slowing or contracting. And Colorado supposedly has one of the more “vibrant” State economies.

The soaring level of “hope” that, for some unexplainable reason, accompanied the election of Trump is now crashing. The so-called “hard data” which somewhat measures the level of economic activity never moved higher in order to justify the optimism – an optimism tragically seeded in ignorance. As an example, the Kansas City Fed released its economic survey today. The composite index crashed from 20 to 7. Not surprisingly, Wall Street snake-oil salesmen – otherwise known as “economists” – were expecting a reading of 17 on the index.

As for individual components of the index, the average workweek and number of employees dropped; the production component of the index fell precipitously; and new orders collapsed. In fact, new orders expectations fell below the pre-Trump level. The six-month outlook metric – aka the hope index – plunged to its lowest level since November.

The truth is that all of the regional Fed economic activity surveys were largely driven by “hope,” which registered in the form of new orders for goods that will sit on the shelves of car dealers and non-food retailers and in the form of “expectations” about the level of economic activity in six months.

But there has not been any follow-through in form of actual growth in economic activity to justify the unrealistic level of “hope.” Real disposable income and the real level of retail/auto sales have been declining on the way to a tail-spin plunge. Any pulsations in final retail sales and home purchases have been fueled by the parabolic issuance of sub-prime quality debt. In fact, an increasing percentage of home purchases are from aspiring flippers. We are at the point in the cycle, just like 2007-2008, in which many of these flipper purchases will never end up with end-users and instead will land on bank balance sheets.

Auto sales through the end of March were down 10% since the beginning of 2017, resulting in the steepest decline in auto sales since 2009.  New car inventory at some of the biggest auto dealers around Denver is spilling over into the giant parking lots at vacant malls as OEMs push overproduction onto the dealer network.   Once the debt capacity of those still buying pick-up trucks at record incentive pricing hits the wall, the auto industry will see a spectacular cliff-dive.  The Government is too broke to provide the “cash for clunker” safety-net put in place in 2010.

In addition to trillions in printed (electronically generated) currency, the Fed has been able to fabricate the illusion of economic growth with an enormous amount of credit creation.   Credit is debt-issuance.   The part about debt that is conveniently overlooked by economists is that borrowed money behaves like printed money until it has to be repaid. The problem is that most debt created in the U.S. is never repaid.  For instance, the level of outstanding Government debt has been increasing every day since before Nixon closed the gold window.  This is not “debt” in the traditional sense of a loan that gets repaid.  This is money printing.

Consumer  and corporate debt levels have been rising in parabolic fashion and are at all-time highs.  Given that large chunks of this debt will never be repaid, just like in 2008-2009, the issuance of this debt is the same as printed money.  Amusingly, though not surprisingly, the Fed stopped reporting the total amount of debt outstanding in the system (Government + Corporate + Household) on March 25, 2016.  On that day the total debt outstanding was $63.5 trillion.  It’s likely well over $65 trillion by now.   That debt, until it’s repaid, is no different that printed currency.

This would be great in a pretend world in which debt could be issued to borrowers ad infinitum.  It would be the proverbial money tree on which free lunches blossomed for everyone forever.  Unfortunately, debt can not be issued in increasing amounts to eternity. Currently it would appear as if the non-Government borrower segment of the debt statistic has reached its borrowing capacity.   It happens gradually then all at once.   The United States is getting close to the “all at once” stage.

This is why the Deep State has resorted to the last stage of history’s Empiric life-cycle curve:  when all else fails start a war…