Tag Archives: QT

Why Housing Won’t Bounce With Lower Rates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Fed Blinked – Gold And Silver Are Going Higher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gold has outperformed almost every major asset class since 2000:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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