Tag Archives: retail sales

Make America Great Again: Buy Extremely Overvalued Stocks

Key Economic Data Continues To Show A Recession

The stock market assumed a decidedly bearish tone last week, in the face of apparent domestic political instability, increasing geopolitical tensions and, most important, a continued flow of hard economic data reflecting an economy that is in recession (click image to enlarge).

The SPX declined 3 out of the 4 trading days this last week to close down 1.1% from the previous Friday’s close. It’s down nearly 3% from the all-time high it hit on March 1st. Thursday’s big red bar took the SPX below the 50 dma. On all four days the SPX closed well below its intra-day high. This indicates to me that, at least for now, stock market traders are better sellers. Also of interest, for the first time in seventeen years, the stock market declined the day before the Good Friday market holiday.

The growth in loan origination to the key areas of the economy – real estate, general commercial business and the consumer – is plunging. This is due to lack of demand for new loans, not banks tightening credit. If anything, credit is getting “looser,” especially for mortgages. Since the Fed’s quantitative easing and near-zero interest rate policy took hold of yields, bank interest income – the spread on loans earned by banks (net interest margin) – has been historically low. Loan origination fees have been one of the primary drivers of bank cash flow and income generation. Those four graphs above show that the loan origination “punch bowl” is becoming empty.

HOWEVER, the Fed’s tiny interest rate hikes are not the culprit. Loan origination growth is dropping like rock off a cliff because consumers largely are “tapped out” of their capacity to assume more debt and, with corporate debt at all-time highs, business demand for loans is falling off quickly. The latter issue is being driven by a lack of new business expansion opportunities caused by a fall-off in consumer spending. If loan origination continues to fall off like this, and it likely will, bank earnings will plunge.

But it gets worse. As the economy falls further into a recession, banks will get hit with a double-whammy. Their interest and lending fee income will decline and, as businesses and consumers increasingly default on their loans, they will be forced to write-down the loans they hold on their balance sheet. 2008 all over again.  (The commentary above is an excerpt from the latest Short Seller’s Journal).

Despite the propaganda coming from the media, the housing market is in trouble.  37% of all transactions in 2016 were flips.  A flip double-counts a sale because the house trades twice before it ends up with the end-user.  I would bet that in the $300-$600k price-bucket that close to 50% of all transactions YTD in 2017 have been flips.  This is how the mid-2000’s housing bubble ended.

Today the housing starts report for March registered the biggest drop in four months.  Single family starts plunged 32% in the midwest and 16% in the west.   Both multi-family and single-family starts dropped.  Multi-family is going to be a big problem.  Prices in NYC and Miami are dropping like a rock and vacancies are soaring because of oversupply – just like in 2007.  Apartment rental rates are falling quickly and vacancy rates soaring across all the major MSA’s.   Manufacturing  output plunged in March, likely reflecting bulging car inventories at auto dealers, which are at  a post-2009 high.   OEM auto manufacturers are closing plants and laying off workers.  The latter, no doubt, will miraculously fail to register in the Governments next employment report.

Meanwhile, the stock market continues disconnect from underlying economic reality. Auto, retail and restaurant sales are plunging. The explanation for falling retail sales is simple: real average weekly earnings have dropped two months in a row. The consumer, as I’ve been suggesting, is tapped out on two fronts: disposable income and the capacity to take on more debt.

Despite the obvious intervention in the stock market by the Fed and the Government, via the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund, plenty of stocks are tanking. As an example, I recommended shorting Kate Spade (KATE) to my Short Seller Journal subscribers about a month ago at $23.50. The stock is trading at $18 this morning – 23% gain if you shorted the stock and even more if you used puts. You can get in-depth economic and market analysis plus ideas for taking advantage of the most overvalued stock market in U.S. history via IRD’s Short Seller’s Journal. For more information, click here:  Short Seller’s Journal Subscription Information.

The Market Has Its Head Buried Deep In The Sand

Several “black swans” are looming which could inflict a financial nuclear accident on the U.S. markets and financial system.   I say “black swans” in quotes because a limited audience is aware of these issues – potentially catastrophic problems that are curiously ignored by the mainstream financial media and financial markets.

The most immediate problem is the Treasury debt ceiling.  The Treasury is now projected to run out of cash by mid-summer.  Of course, in the spurious manner in which the markets evaluate the next trade, July may as well be a decade away.  My best guess is that the “market” assumes that, after drawn out staging of DC’s version of Kabuki Theatre, Congress will raise the debt ceiling, probably up to $22 trillion.  Then the Fed will extend its highly secretive “swap” operations to foreign “ally” Central Banks (hint:  Belgium and Switzerland) in order to fund the onslaught of Treasury issuance that will ensue.  Problem solved…or is it?

(Note:  Plan B would be another one of Trump’s bewildering Executive Orders removing the debt ceiling.  Plan B is another form of “fiat” currency issuance)

The second “black swan” seen by some but invisible to most is the ongoing collapse the shopping mall business model, erroneously blamed on the combative growth of online retailing.  But when I look at the actual numbers, that argument smells foul.

Is Online Retailing Actually The Cause Of Brick/Mortar Retail Apocalypse?

More than 3,500 stores are scheduled to be shuttered in the next few months. JC Penny,
Macy’s, Sears, Kmart, Crocs, BCBC, Bebe, Abercrombie & Fitch and Guess are some of the
marquee retailing names that will be closing down mall and strip mall stores. The Limited is going out of business and closing down all 250 of its stores.

The demise of the mall “brick and mortar” retail store is popularly attributed to the growth in online retail sales. To be sure, online retailing is eating into the traditional retail sales
distribution mechanism – but not as much as the spin-meisters would have have you believe. At the beginning of 2015, e-commerice sales were about 7% of total retail sales. By the end of 2016, that metric rose to 8.3%. However, looking at the overall numbers reveals that nominal retail sales have increased for both brick/mortar stores and online. In Q4 2015, total nominal retail sales were $1.186 trillion. Brick/mortar was $1.096 trillion and online was 89.7 billion, which was 7.6% of total retail sales. In Q4 2016, total sales were $1.235 trillion with brick/mortar $1.133 trillion and online $102.6 billion, which was 8.3% of total retail sales.

As you can see, there was nominal growth for both brick/mortar and online retailers. My point here is that the spin-meisters present the narrative that online retailers are eating alive the brick/mortar retailers. That’s simply not true.   Part of the problem that the total retail sales “pie” is shrinking, especially when analyzing the inflation-adjusted numbers.  I created a graph on from the St. Louis Fed’s “FRED” database that surprised even me (click to enlarge):

The graph above shows the year over year percentage change in nominal (not inflation-adjusted) retail sales on a monthly basis from 1993 (as far back as the retail sales data goes) thru February 2017, ex-restaurant sales, vs. outstanding consumer credit. As you can see, since 1994 the growth in nominal retail sales on a year over year basis has been in a downtrend, while the level of consumer credit outstanding as been in a steady uptrend. Since 2014, the rate of growth in debt has exceeded the rate of growth in retail sales. If we were to adjust the retail sales using just the Government-reported CPI measure of “inflation” retail sales would be outright declining.

The problem with the mall business model is debt.  The mall-anchor retailers who are vacating mall space like cockroaches vacate a kitchen when the light is flipped on have been leveraged to the hilt by the financial engineers who control them who in turn have been enabled by the most permissive Federal Reserve in U.S. history.   Too be sure, online retailing is cutting into the margins of Macy’s, JC Pennies, Sears, Dillards, etc.  But these companies would have no problem “fighting back” if they were not over-leveraged to the eyeballs.

Layer on top of that the leverage employed by the mall REITs and the recipe for a financial crisis larger than the 2008 “big short” mortgage/housing crisis has been created.  To compound this problem, mall owners are now starting to mail in the keys to financially troubled malls:   More mall landlords are choosing to walk away from struggling properties, leaving creditors in the lurch and posing a threat to the values of nearby real estate…[as] some of the largest U.S. landlords are calculating it is more advantageous to hand over ownership to lenders than to attempt to restructure debts on properties with darkening outlooks (LINK).

But it gets worse. I referenced the consumer’s ability to borrow in order to spend money. Economic activity in the United States has relied heavily on an increasing amount of debt issuance for several decades. At some point consumer borrowers reach a point at which they can no longer support taking on more debt, whether in the form of mortgages, auto loans/leases or credit cards. The problem for the U.S. financial system is that there will be widespread defaults on the consumer debt that’s already been issued.   The average U.S. household has “hit a wall” on the amount of debt it can absorb.  This is why restaurant and retail sales are dropping and why auto sales have rolled over.  All three will get worse this year.

This Will Crush The Pensions

Finally, the third “invisible” black swam is the looming pension crisis.  A colleague of mine who works at a pension fund did a study last year in which he concluded that, because of the extreme degree of public pension underfunding, a 10% decline in the stock market for a sustained period – i.e. more than 3 or 4 months – would cause every single public pension fund to blow up.  As he has access to better data than most, he also surmised that the degree of underfunding is 2-3x greater than is publicly acknowledged by the mainstream media (see this article for instance:  Bloomberg claims $1.9 trillion underfunding).

Circling back to the mall/REIT ticking time-bomb, while the Fed can keep the stock market propped up as means of preventing an immediate nuclear melt-down in U.S. pensions (all of which are substantially “maxed-out” in their mandated equities allocation), the collapse of commercial mortgage-back securities (CMBS) will have the affect of launching a nuclear sub-missile directly into the side of the U.S. financial system.

The commercial mortgage market is about $3 trillion, of which about $1 trillion has been packaged into asset-backed securities and stuffed into yield-starved pension funds. Without a doubt, the same degree of fraud of has been used to concoct the various tranches in these CMBS trusts that was employed during the mid-2000’s mortgage/housing bubble, with full cooperation of the ratings agencies then and now.   Just like in 2008, with the derivatives that have been layered into the mix, the embedded leverage in the commercial mortgage/CMBS/REIT model is the financial equivalent of the Fukushima nuclear power plant collapse.

It’s a  matter of time before a lit match hits one of the three lethal powder-kegs described above.  This is why the bank stocks were hit particularly hard last week when the Dow was in the middle of its 8-day losing streak.  Of course, all it took to spike the Dow/SPX higher was a couple of immaterial “consumer confidence” reports in order to reflate the stock market with some “hope.”   Don’t forget, the last time consumer confidence high-ticked was in 1999, right before the tech bubble imploded.

Unfortunately, the next financial catastrophe that is going hit the system, and for which the Fed is helpless to prevent, will make everyone yearn for just the tech bubble or “big short” bubble collapses.   Meanwhile, the stock market and its collective universe of “investors” will continue sticking its head deeper into the sand, oblivious to the sling blade that is swings closer to its neck.

Portions of the above analysis were excerpted from the current Short Seller’s Journal. That issue contained more in-depth data and two short ideas, a mall REIT and retailer that has bubbled up beyond comprehension.   You can learn more about the Short Seller Journal here:   SSJ Weekly Subscription.

Retailing Is Bad And About To Get Worse

Americans are filing for bankruptcy at the fastest rate in several years. In January 2017, 55,421 individuals filed bankruptcy. That’s a 5.4% increase over January 2016. In December 2016, 4.5% more individual bankruptcies were filed than in December 2015. It’s the first time in 7 years that personal bankruptcies have risen in successive months on a year over year basis.

Also notable, in 2016 the number of U.S. Corporate bankruptcies jumped by 26% over 2015. U.S. Corporations have issued $9.5 trillion in bonds. That’s 61% more than they borrowed in the eight years leading up to the 2008 de facto financial system collapse (aka “the great financial crisis”).

The Financial Times reported that over 1 million U.S. consumers – prime and subprime – were behind on their car loans and that the overall delinquency rate had reached its highest level since 2009. The FT also stated that “lending to consumers with weak credit scores has been one of the fastest growing parts of the [banking] industry.” It’s starting to smell like early 2008 out there.

This is information and data that you will not hear on any of the “Bubblevision” financial “news” programs or read in the mainstream financial media. It’s also information that is not being factored at all by stock prices.

Americans are bulging from the eyeballs with mortgage, auto, credit card and student loan debt. The amount of outstanding auto debt hits a new record every month. Of the $1.2 trillion in auto loans outstanding, over 30% is considered subprime. In fact, I would bet good money that the number is closer to 40%, as the same type of non-documentation loans that infected the mortgage market in mid-2000’s has invaded the auto loan market. It was recently disclosed that the 61+ day delinquency rate on General Motors’ securitized subprime loans has soared to levels not seen since 2009.

To put the amount of subprime auto debt in context, assume 35% of total auto debt outstanding is now below prime (subprime and “not rated”). This equates to $420 billion of below prime debt. The total amount of below prime mortgage debt during the mid-2000’s housing bubble was about $600 billion. In other words, the subprime auto debt problem could easily precipitate another financial markets catastrophe.

Although the retail sales report for January earlier this month purported to show a 4.9% year/year increase in retail for January, the majority of the “gain” came from the rising price of gasoline during the month (the gasoline sales category showed a 13.9% gain over January 2016, most of which can be explained by higher prices). In fact, the .4% “gain” from December 2016 to January 2017 reported for the overall retail sales number lagged the Government’s measure of inflation. Real, inflation-adjusted sales from December to January declined by 0.20%. (Note also that the retail sales report is derived largely from Census Bureau “guesstimates” due to the supposed unavailability of real-time data. This explains why typically previous reports are revised lower – I detail this in my weekly Short Seller’s Journal).

Debt-squeezed Americans are spending less on discretionary items, especially clothing. This is why Walmart has launched a new price-war agenda aimed at the grocery industry, big-box retailers and Amazon.com.    The retail spending “pie” is shrinking and Walmart intends to do fight hard to maintain the size of its piece.  For all the attention focused on Amazon, Walmart’s annual revenues are nearly 4-times larger than Amazon’s.   And make no mistake, Walmart has plenty of room to fight, as its operating margin is nearly double AMZN’s – and that’s before we adjust AMZN’s highly misleading accounting, which would reduce AMZN’s margins.

Despite the Dow hitting new all-time highs for a record number of days in a row, The S&P retail ETF, XRT, is currently 10.4% below its 52-week high.   It’s 15% below its all-time high, which it hit in mid-July 2015:

Target (TGT) is today’s poster-child for the retail sector, as its Q4 earnings missed expectations badly and it warned for 2017.  Its quarterly revenues dropped 4.3% year over year and its full-year 2016 earnings fell nearly 6% vs. 2015.   Operating earnings were crushed, down 42.2% in Q4 2016 vs. Q4 2015.  The stock is down over 11% right now (mid-morning trading on Tuesday).

I would also suggest that the revised GDP  for Q4, reported to be 1.9%, is derived from Government statisticians’ manipulation because most of the gain is attributed to consumer spending.  Tell that to holders of XRT and RTH.

The economy is sinking further into a recession despite the propaganda coming from Wall Street, financial bubblevision “meat with mouths” and the mainstream media.  Real median household income continues to decline and the Fed/Government intervention in the stock market is helpless to prevent this fact from being reflected in many sub-sectors of the stock market “hiding” beneath the headline-grabbing Dow and S&P 500.

My Short Seller’s Journal presents analysis like this to subscribers every week.  There’s a big difference between what gets reported and what is really going on.  My journal looks “under the hood” of the headline economic reports in order detail what’s really going in in the economy.  Most of the analysis and assertions are backed up with actual data.  I also “de-construct” the game of “beat the earnings” which makes headlines and stocks pop, but also creates short-sell opportunities.  Each issue presents at least two short ideas, along with suggestions for using options and managing positions.  The retail sector has been fertile shorting ground and the housing market is next.  You can subscribe by clicking on this link:  Short Seller’s Journal – plus receive a discount link to my Mining Stock Journal.

Most Overvalued Stock Market In U.S. History – Here’s Why

I find it to be mind-blowing when financial advisors and stock market gurus get in bubblevision or write Seeking Alpha articles and assert that the stock market is good “relative” value right now.   They are either dishonest, unethical or just stupid.  Likely a combination of all three in varying degrees.

Here’s a chart with which everyone is familiar:

Based on that graphic, it looks like the current stock market is only the third most overvalued in history, right? WRONG.

The problem comparing the current p/e ratio of the S&P 500 with that of previous stock bubble tops is that the accounting used to produce the “e” is not comparable. Over time, FASB and the SEC have colluded to make it easier for companies to hide losses and report non-cash income as GAAP cash flow and earnings..

As an example, in 2010 FASB issued a bulletin which changed the way big Wall Street banks were allowed to account for bonds and other forms of debt issued by others that are held as assets. Originally, banks had to market their bond/debt/loan holdings to market and accrue any market to market gains or losses at quarter-end as either income or expense. FASB decided to let banks classify any and all debt as “hold-to-maturity,” and allowed banks to hold this debt at face (maturity) value without ever marking to market. Any debt that was marked below maturity value (par value) could be marked up to par and moved into a “held to maturity” account. By doing this, the banks created non-cash gains in these holdings that was counted as income. Banks hold $100’s of billions in bonds/loans and, starting in 2011, this rule change allowed banks to create billions in phantom, non-cash income. This of course translates into lower p/e ratios.

There’s several areas of accounting over the years that have accomplished a similar feat for all publicly traded companies. The problem is that it has rendered p/e ratios over time incomparable. Of course, NO ONE points out this fact and certainly any Wall Street analyst would be fired if they went on a truth tirade. The bottom line is that, looking at the p/e ratio graph above, we don’t know how the current p/e ratio for the SPX compares with the p/e ratios at the market peaks in 2007 and 2000 and 1929. What we do know is that the current p/e ratio is significantly understated relative to the p/e ratios in 2007 in 2000 because earnings are overstated relative to those years because of the accounting gimmicks that enable companies to boost GAAP non-cash earnings.  It could be that the current p/e ratio is the highest on record if we could make an “apples to apple” comparison of p/e ratios across time.  In fact, I would assert that applying standardized GAAP across time would prove that the current market is more overvalued than at any time in U.S. history.

The above analysis is an excerpt from my latest issue of the Short Seller’s Journal.  In this issue I presented two retail stock ideas for shorting.   One of them was down 3.7% today and the other was down just under 1%.   In the past couple of issues I have explained in detail why the retail sector is short opportunity right now.  But that window will close quickly as more companies do what happened to Macy’s and Kohl’s last week.    You can get more details on the SSJ and subscribe clicking on this link:   Short Seller’s Journal.

Auto Sales: The Fake Economic News Bubble

The headlines are reporting that auto sales in December hit a record, when looked at on a “seasonally adjusted annualized rate” basis.  No one questions the validity of the seasonal adjustments.   The average news consumer sees or hears the headline word-byte/soundbyte and that becomes the truth.   Fake economic news is another form of Establishment propaganda:   seduce the populace into believing what you want them to believe rather than presenting the truth.  It’s Jim Sinclair’s “MOPE:”  Management of Perception Economics.”

Along with the geopolitical and domestic political fake news epidemic is an epidemic in economic fake news.  Collectively it’s a “fake news bubble,”  with one of the highly insidious consequences of this bubble being the messy abortion otherwise known as the “Presidential election.”

Turning to the auto sales fake news, based on the SAAR estimates, automobile sales allegedly hit a selling rate of 18.2 million units in December.  But seasonal adjustments notwithstanding the facts, does the data fit the facts of the related areas of consumer spending?   By this I mean restaurant and retail sales.

Though not reported yet for December, restaurant same store sales declined 1.3% in November from October and dropped 3.3% from November 2015.  It was the ninth consecutive month of negative same-store sales and the worst decline since July.  Perhaps with constrained disposable income, consumers cut out restaurants to buy holiday gifts?

Looking at what we know about retail sales during the holiday period so far, First Data reported that holiday spending is up 2% vs. last year (through Dec 12).  Last year that number was 2.4%.  So there’s a deceleration in retails sales growth spending.   Cowen research reported that foot traffic at malls was down 10% in December through December 17th.  Granted online sales growth of 9% this holiday season is taking some mall spending away, but online spending represents only 8% of total retail sales spending.  I guess maybe consumers cut back on holiday gifts this year to spend $40,000 (average cost of a new GM car according the auto sales report) on a new car?

Finally, I cover two companies that provide subprime auto loans.  Both companies were reporting declining loan application volume in their last financial reports.  Interest rates spiked up 100 basis points during November and December, which means the cost of auto loans spiked up as well.   Even though auto lenders are reporting lowered loan application volumes, we’re to assume that – despite significantly higher interest rates – consumers decided to skip eating out and buying holiday gifts in order to buy a new car during December?

Does any of this make sense?  To make matters less believable and uglier, GM reported that its unsold inventory of cars sitting on dealer lots exploded to 844,942 cars in December, a nearly quarter of a million unit increase over December 2015.  Call me skeptical but I would suggest that a large portion of those cars sitting in dealer lots were counted as sales when the cars left the factory floor.

The likely source of “record” auto sales is in the “seasonal adjustments” that are applied to the data. Moreover, I would suggest that the data itself is suspect.  I would like to see a study that correlates a “sale” with the actual transfer of title to either an auto finance company or to a buyer who paid cash – i.e. tie a “sale” to an actual end-user taking delivery and driving off the lot.  THAT number, based on all of the related supporting evidence as detailed above, is likely a much different (lower) number than what was reported.

It’s A Retail Sales Train Wreck

The Census Bureau reported that its advance estimates of retail sales for November show a .1% gain from October and a 3.8% gain over November 2015. Wall St. was forecasting a .4% gain. Oops. But there’s a bigger problem with that headline report of a .1% increase in retail sales for November:   it’s based on guesstimates by the Census Bureau for the largest retails sales categories.

If you go through the data tables that accompany the headline retails sales report – LINK – you’ll see asterisks in the “not adjusted” data for November in most of the business categories. In a footnote the CB discloses that, “Advance estimates are not available for this kind of business.”  Most people who see the headline news reports, or hear the news “soundbytes” on tv, do not realize that the retail  sales number is an “estimate.”

On an inflation-adjusted basis, the .1% “gain” reported for November is a decline.  Most are not aware of that fact as well.  Also, the .8% gain reported for October was revised down to a .6% gain.  It is highly probable that November’s number will be revised to negative when December’s retail sales report hits in January.  But the revision for November is typically not reported at all.

According to a research piece published by Cowen & Co. on December 14th, mall traffic fell 6.4% in November from October and December month-to-date traffic was down 9.9%. Granted, there’s no question that some portion of that mall traffic has shifted to buying online for its holiday purchases. However, even with the growth in online retail sales, e-commerce accounts for less than 10% of total retail sales (the Census Bureau estimated e-commerce represented 7.7% of total sales in Q3 2016.

I have no doubt that the Government’s Census Bureau is going to put forth its best effort to manipulate the sales data it collects in order to present a positive light on December and holiday sales this year. However, the actual reports coming from the retailers themselves reflects a retail environment in which the stores are fiercely competing for a “shrinking pie” of consumer disposable income.

Restoration Hardware stock did an 18% cliff-dive two weeks ago when it reported its Q3 earnings.   Over the last six trading days, the XRT retail ETF is down 4.2%.  It was down every day last week despite the SPX and Dow hitting new all-time highs.

In the latest Short Seller’s Journal released Sunday evening, I dive into the retail sales numbers in-depth and present a lot more information which should satisfy proof of concept that this year’s holiday retails sales will be a complete disaster.  Note:  I have no doubt the Census Bureau and industry promotion organizations will manipulate the data for the holiday season in order to report positive sales results.  But the reality check will come from the companies themselves, which have a harder time faking the numbers.

I present several retail-related short ideas in the latest SSJ, including options trading suggestions.  On of the ideas is already down 1.3% today.  You can access these ideas plus in-depth data and analysis using this link:  Short Seller’s Journal.   SSJ is a monthly subscription.  New issues are published weekly and there’s no minimum time commitment.

The Consumer Is Broke: “Restaurant Sales Worst Since July”

At -1.3 percent, disappointing restaurant sales growth in November was the ninth consecutive month of negative same-store sales; and the worst sales growth since July…Same-store sales for third and fourth quarters, at the end of November, are both -1.1 percent.Black Box Intelligence

That’s the restaurant industry.  Here’s a retail sales report from Dollar General, which would represent about 40-50% income and spending demographic:

Interestingly, we talk to our consumers each and every quarter through panel data as well as we bring them in and talk to them in general and I can tell you as late as mid third quarter, they were telling us that their sentiment – feeling – is even more dire than it was in previous quarters in early 2016  – Dollar General CEO in response to an analyst question on the quarterly earnings conference call.

Granted, DG’s core customer is low-income. However, as more Americans slide into the “low income” segment, it will affect overall retail sales, especially with regard to disposable income. My point here is that, despite the sense of “hope” signaled by the “Trump rally,” in general the average American is not feeling optimistic about the economy and I believe this will translate into a poor holiday season for both retailers and the overall economy. – Short Seller’s Journal, Dec 4 issue

Retail sales this holiday season are going to be abysmal.  Everyone with whom I’ve chatted who’s been out holiday shopping – I mean everyone – has commented on how eerily quiet the stores are this year.

The Census Bureau and the National Retail Federation will issue phony sales reports that will be contradicted by the actual sales reports from and guidance from retailers.  This report written by NY Post editor, John Crudele, outlines the methodology by which the Census Bureau manipulates the monthly retail sales reports:

Halfway down the page is a listing for Health and Personal Care Stores. It had a 7.6 percent increase in October. But underneath that calculation, there are no data, only an asterisk. That’s explained in the footnote to mean “advance estimates are not available for this kind of business.”

So how did Census determine that there was a 7.6 percent increase in Health and Personal Care Stores when the only category listed doesn’t provide data? “Furniture and home furnishing stores” also had a 3.4 percent sales increase. But, again, Census came up with a calculation despite no data.  – John Crudele on October retail sales report

If you pull up the actual retail sales report issued by the Census Bureau, you’ll see that several categories are “asterisked,” meaning the CB imputed its own estimate for October retails sales for that category.  In other words, about half the reported headline number is made up.

Restoration Hardware’s earnings report yesterday is an example.  The stock is down 18% after missing Wall Street’s earnings estimates – badly – and issuing dismal guidance on holiday sales and its outlook for 2017.

The point here is that the average household real disposable income is declining. As such, the average consumer is choking on debt, Obamacare premium increases, and the spiraling cost of everyday living – especially those households with children.

Despite a stock market that is going parabolic and in the final stages of a blow-off top, several of my stock picks in the weekly Short Seller’s Journal have provided profitable trades since August (some have not, to be fair).   One retailer in particular dropped 20% after I presented it in August and is now back up to the price at which I recommended shorting it.  I will be discussing this stock as a great short idea in this week’s issue.  You can access the SSJ using this link:  Short Seller’s Journal.

Payment terms are monthly and you can cancel at any time.  The SSJ issues are weekly and delve in-depth into economic data and analysis that you will not necessarily find on in the mainstream or alternative media.

Black Friday, Fake News And Gold

Black Friday and “Black Friday” weekend have largely become irrelevant.  Every retailer in the U.S., from auto dealers to furniture stores to online tennis apparel shops have been advertising “Black Friday” sales since November 1st.

We have no doubt that the Census Bureau will concoct phony holiday sales for November (reported December 14) and December (reported in January).   But the truth – the non-Russian influenced truth – is that retail sales spending per capita this holiday on an inflation-adjusted basis is going to be less than in 2015.

Already the National Retail Federation has announced that spending per person over Thanksgiving weekend was $289.19, down 3.4% from $299.60 last year.  Gallup released a survey of shoppers and determined that Americans intend to spend an average of $752 on holiday gifts this year, down from $830 in 2015.   Gallup, looking for a “silver lining” in the survey, stated that this matches the average for the last seven years since 2010.  Of course Gallup fails to note that on an inflation-adjusted basis, the number for 2016 would be significantly below the average.

Turning to the “fake news” witch hunt, Gallup blames the results above on unseasonally warm weather.  This is a perfect example of propagandized fake news.   The average household is spending less money this year because the real median household income is lower now than in 2007.  Consumers faced higher gasoline prices in October and November which cut into disposable spending budgets, as well as facing the prospect of huge increases in their health insurance premiums.

The establishment has implemented a full-court press in the hunt for “fake news” purveyors.  This is the clearest sign that the alternative media bloggers have touched the raw nerve of truth and the elitists do not like it.   The latest attempt is from Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post, which featured an organization called PropOrNot, which purports to use “manual and automated” analysis to determine that several hundred Alternative Media websites were “Russian propaganda outlets.”

If the Washington Post is reporting it, it must be authentic, right?  The truth is that this is nothing more than the rebirth of Joseph McCarthy’s 1950’s communist witch hunt – the Red Scare.   “McCarthyism” is defined as, “the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence.”   It also means “the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.

In truth, the U.S. Government is the biggest purveyor of fake news in an effort to control the flow of information made available to the masses and to coerce their perception of reality.  It’s yet another form and implementation of insidious propaganda in a manner quite similar to the use of propaganda by the Nazi Party.

Finally, there are many indications that the systematic and methodical take-down of the precious metals sector since mid-August has reached its limits.  Today, for example, the mining stocks experienced big rally on huge volume.  The volume in many stocks was triple the 10 and 90-day average volumes.

In today’s episode of the Shadow of Truth, we dissect some of the important events as they unfolded over the long Thanksgiving weekend and explain why we think gold has bottomed:

The Big Retail Sales Lie

There’s a direct correlation between the scale and quantity of lies coming from Hillary Clinton and the Government. Why? It’s election season, of course. It’s easy enough to dismiss Hillary’s plea for debate viewers to go to her campaign website to see “fact” checking.  We know how easy it is for her to hide the truth when she has assistance from the State Department, FBI and Obama.  If you believe Hillary Clinton, you also believe in the Easter Bunny.

But it’s also easy to fact check the Census Bureau’s retail sales reports.   Now, it’s easy enough to believe that the Government would manipulate the statistics in order to help the incumbent party maintain control the White House.  But it’s also easy to fact-check the Census Bureau’s tabulations for monthly retail sales, notwithstanding the fact that the Census Bureau is caught producing fraudulent statistics on a regular basis.

Today, for instance, they released their “advance estimate” for retail sales for September. The Census Bureau would have us believe that retail sales increased .6% from August to September.  But this was based on the Government’s politically expedient “seasonally adjusted” calculation.

Simple math disproves the validity of the “adjustments.”  The report shows “not adjusted” total retail sales as estimated by the Census.  August was $471.3 billion – or $15.2 billion per day.  September was $445.4 billion – or $14.8 billion per day – down 2.6% from August to September on a per day basis .   In retail sales terms, a 2.6% decline month to month is equivalent to a steep plunge.  (click image to enlarge)

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Theoretically, the seasonal “adjustment” offsets the day-count difference between August and September. But what about the 3-day Labor Day holiday weekend?   This year Labor Day fell on September 5.  Presumably that weekend should have compensated for any “seasonal”differences between August (back to school?) and September.  BUT on a sales/day basis, September retail sales plunged from August.

Here’s a definitive “fact check” on the Census Bureau retail sales report.  The retail sales report is showing a 1% increase per the “adjusted” number from August to September. However,  Black Box Intelligence, the best source for both private and public company restaurant industry data, is reporting that restaurant traffic fell 3.5% in September from August.  In fact, traffic counts have dropped at least 3%  in four of the last six months. Same-store-sales dropped .5%.

This private sector source of data is consistent with data that I have been presenting in the Short Seller’s Journal for trucking and freight shipments for August and September and for actual auto sales numbers, which are declining at an increasing rate, along with the rise in auto loan delinquencies.   In fact, according to Fitch the default rate in subprime auto loans is now running at 9% and is expected to be at 10% by year-end.  Fitch is usually conservative in its estimates.  I would bet the real default rate will be well over 10% by the end of 2016.

One final significant datapoint released last week was auto sales for September. The “headline” report showed a 6% SAAR (Seasonally Adjusted Annualized Rate) gain in September over August for domestically produced autos. However, auto sales typically increase from August to September as Labor Day sales drive September car sales. Year over year, domestic car sales plunged 19% and truck sales were down 1%.

Now for the reality-check. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, September sales for GM, Ford and Chrysler declined 0.6%, 8.1% and 0.9% respectively. Toyota and Nissan reported gains while Honda’s sale dropped. Moreover, it took heavy discounting to drive sales. In fact, incentive-spending by OEM’s on a per-unit average basis set a single-month record, topping the previous single-month record set in December 2008. Think about that for moment.  – from the October 9 issue of the Short Seller’s Journal

The bottom line is that most, if not all, data coming from private-sector sources conflicts and undermines the “seasonally adjusted” garbage data reported by the Government. Just like all other news reported by the media that is sourced from the Government, the Government economic reports are yet another insidious form of propaganda tailored for political expedience.  But propaganda does not create real economic activity and the middle class is becoming increasingly aware that it’s being told nothing but lies from the Government.  Today’s Government generated retail sales report for September is a prime example.

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Someone Dumped 70 Tons Of Paper Gold At 8:30 a.m.

At 8:30 a.m. this morning, 10 minutes after the Comex gold pit opens, over 70 tons of gold was dropped into the entire Comex trading system.  If this happened on the NYSE, one of the ECN’s (usually BATS) would have mysteriously “broke” and trading would have been halted – before the damaging effects of the systemic paper overload hit the market.

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From 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. EST, a total of 6,289,900 ozs of paper gold, or 196.5 tons was unloaded on the Comex.   To put this in perspective, the Comex is reporting 2.37 million ounces of gold in its registered account (the gold that can be delivered).  That amount of paper gold that would unloaded was 2.7x the amount of gold available to be delivered.   It represents 58% of the entire amount of gold reported to be in Comex vaults.

It’s hard to find any specific news trigger that would have motivated anyone to sell one ounce of gold, let alone nearly 3x the amount of physical gold available to be delivered.

Perhaps the worst economic news reported was retail sales, which dropped .3% in August vs. the expectation of no change.  This is the 4th month in a row retail sales have dropped on monthly sequential basis.  Retail sales have declined 6 out of 8 months this year.

There’s probably nothing to see in that chart above – just like the allegations of Hillary’s poor health…