Tag Archives: short ideas

Mount Vesuvius Anyone?

“In the face of a shock, investors may be surprised to find themselves jammed running for the exit.” That quote is from Paul Tudor Jones, who was one of the pioneers of the modern hedge fund and is considered a brilliant investor and trader. He went on to say that things are “on the verge of a significant change” and that the current market reminds him of 1999.

The current market reminds me of the demise of Pompeii, which was destroyed by the massive volcanic eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD. Pompeii was a prosperous city of the Roman Empire on the coast of southwest Italy. It sits at the base of Mt. Vesuvius, a volcano that had been dormant for a long time. Earthquakes and seismic activity, scientists believe, began to “warn” the population of Pompeii roughly 17 years before the big eruption, when a massive earthquake largely leveled Pompeii. Shortly before the eruption more signs began occurring, hinting that something wasn’t right. Though some people evacuated the area, most of Pompeii’s populace was not worried. The rest is history.

Though there are many warning signs, similar to the citizens of Pompeii living at the base of an active volcano, the American public does not seem the least worried
about having their money in the stock market.  Retail margin debt, at 100% of market capitalization, is at its highest ever. The percentage of U.S. household wealth (not including home equity) invested in stocks in some form is in its 94th percentile. This is the highest allocation to equities since just before the tech bubble popped in 2000. In other words, despite the numerous warnings for those paying attention, investors have piled most of their savings/wealth into the stock market with complete disregard to the growing probability of a down-side accident.

Last Wednesday the tech stocks were clobbered, with the Nasdaq 100 index down 1.7% and the Nasdaq composite down 1.3%. The SOX semiconductor index was down 4.4%. The famed FANG stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) lost a combined $60 billion in market cap. Interestingly, I could not find any specific event catalyst that triggered the sell-off. As I commented last week, while everyone is looking for a specific “black swan” event to take down the stock market, it’s quite probable that there will not be an specific event that causes the next stock market accident. Perhaps this was a warning “earthquake?”

This graphic shows the degree to which the “smoke” coming from the stock market should not be ignored (click to enlarge):  

Both graphs are from John Hussman, the highly respected contrarian money manager and one of few remaining market bears (along with me and SSJ subscribers). The graph on the left is a monthly plot of SPX futures from 1998 to present. The graph on the right is Hussman’s margin-adjusted Shiller CAPE ratio chart, which shows the SPX PE at an all-time high.  In the absence of meaningful real economic growth to justify the current level of the stock market relative to the two previous bubbles, the only logical conclusion is that the eventual stock crash will be twice as brutal as the last two.

Another plume of smoke billowing from the stock market is the market “breadth.” The number of stocks that are moving higher as the major indices hit new record highs almost daily continues to decline. Currently, 38% of the stocks in the S&P 500 are below their 50 dma and 30% are below their 200 dma. At the beginning of the year, only 20% of the S&P 500 components were below their 50 dma. In the Nasdaq, 40% of the stocks are below their 50 dma and 35% are below their 200 dma. At the beginning of 2017, less than 20% below their 50 and 200 dma’s.

The declining breadth reflects the fact that “investors” continue to chase velocity – i.e. blindly throw money at the fastest moving stocks. This is why the FANGs + AAPL and MSFT represent an absurdly disproportionate percentage of the total move higher in the stock market. Furthermore, the declining breadth of the market is now a function of the “greater fool theory.” This is an economic theory that states that the price of a stock is determined by irrational beliefs and expectations (e.g. “it’s different this time”) rather than fundamental valuation. The price paid for a stock is justified by the believe that someone else will be willing to pay a higher price.

Every week now there are stocks that that “get shot” and fall from the sky.  It’s typically because the company will “miss” earnings estimates.  But frequently a company will “beat” the Street – which is easy because analyst estimates are rigged for the easy “beat” – but warns about future expectations (“guide lower”).   In fact, this week started off with a drive-by-shooting of Toll Brothers (luxury homebuilders):

Toll reported a miss on Monday before the market opened. At the open Toll stock took back nearly the entire rise in its stock price over the trailing 30 days. Clearly no one saw this coming. Anyone who bought the stock on the previous Friday walked into an ambush and was down 10% on their Friday purchase at Monday’s open.

None of this will matter as long as your trusty investment advisor or pension fund manager has your money in an SPX ETF, right?  Unfortunately, at some point, the entire market is going to fall from the sky. Like the citizens of Pompeii, most investors will end up casualties of a great stock market tragedy.  But like Mt. Vesuvius, warning signs abound for anyone willing to look for and accept them. Given the level of propaganda directed at convincing us that everything is great, “looking” for the warnings and “accepting” the warnings are two entirely different propositions.

Some of the commentary above was excerpted from my Short Seller’s Journal. One of the stocks I recommended as a short in the November 12th issue closed today down 20% from its closing price on Friday, November 10th. You can find out more about this weekly newsletter that presents the bearish case here:   Short Seller’s Journal

“Things Have Been Going Up For Too Long”

I have to believe that the Fed injected a large amount of liquidity into the financial system on Sunday evening. The 1.08% jump in the S&P 500, given the fundamental backdrop of economic, financial and geopolitical news should be driving the stock market relentlessly lower. The amount of Treasury debt outstanding spiked up $318 billion to $20.16 trillion. I’m sure the push up in stocks and the smashing of gold were both intentional as a means of leading the public to believe that there’s no problem with the Government’s debt going parabolic.

Blankfein made the above title comment in reference to all of the global markets at a business conference at the Handlesblatt business conference in Frankfurt, Germany on Wednesday. He also said, “When yields on corporate bonds are lower than dividends on stocks – that unnerves me.” In addition to Blankfein warning about stock and bond markets, Deutsche Bank’s CEO, John Cryan, warned that, “We are now seeing signs of bubbles in more and more parts of the capital market where we wouldn’t have expected them.”

It is rare, if not unprecedented, the CEO’s of the some of the largest and most corrupt banks in the world speak frankly about the financial markets. But these subtle expressions of concern are their way of setting up the ability to look back and say, “I told you so.” The analysis below is an excerpt from the latest issue of the Short Seller’s Journal. In that issue I present a retail stock short idea plus include my list of my top-10 short ideas. To learn more, click here: Short Seller’s Journal information.

In truth, it does not take a genius or an inside professional to see that the markets have bubbled up to unsustainable levels. One look at GS’ stock chart tells us why Blankfein is concerned (Deutsche Bank’s stock chart looks similar):

The graph above shows the relative performance of GS vs. the XLF financial ETF and the SPX. Over the last 5 years, GS stock has outperformed both the XLF and the SPX. But, as you can see, over the last 3 months GS stock not only has underperformed its peers and the broader stock market, but it has technically broken down. Since the 2009 market bottom, the financials have been one of the primary drivers of the bull market, especially the Too BIg To Fail banks. That’s because the TBTFs were the primary beneficiaries of the Fed’s QE.

The fact that the big bank stocks like GS and DB are breaking down reflects a breakdown in the financial system at large. DB was on the ropes 2016, when its stock dropped from a high $54 in 2014 to $12 by September. It was apparent to keen observers that Germany’s Central Bank, the Bundesbank, took measures to prevent DB from collapsing. Its stock traded back up to $21 by late January this year and closed Friday at $16, down 24% from its 2017 high-close.

This could well be a signal that the supportive effect of western Central Bank money printing is wearing off. But I also believe it reflects the smart money leaving the big Wall Street stocks ahead of the credit problems percolating, especially in commercial real estate, auto and credit card debt. The amount of derivatives outstanding has surpassed the amount outstanding the last time around in 2008, despite the promise that the Dodd-Frank legislation would prevent that build-up in derivatives from repeating. It’s quite possible that the financial damage inflicted by the two hurricanes will be the final trigger-point of the next crisis/collapse. That’s the possible message I see reflected in the relative performance of the financials, especially the big Wall Street banks.

This would explain why the XLF financials ETF has been lagging the broad stocks indices.  It’s well below its 52-week high and was below its 200 dma until today’s “miracle bounce” in stocks.

Again, I believe the really smart money sniffs a derivatives problem coming. Too be sure, the double catastrophic hurricane hit, an extraordinarily low probability event, could well be the event that triggers a derivatives explosion. Derivatives are notoriously priced too low. This is done by throwing out the probability of extremely rare events from the derivative pricing models. Incorporating the probability of the extremely rare occurrences inflate the cost of derivatives beyond the affordability of most risk “sellers,” like insurance companies.

Let me explain. When an insurance company wants to lay off some of the risk of insuring against an event that would trigger a big pay-out, it buys risk-protection – or “sells” that risk – using derivatives from a counter-party – the “risk buyer” – willing to bet that the event triggering the payout will not occur. If the event does not occur, the counter-party (risk buyer) keeps the money paid to it to take on the risk. If the event is triggered, the counter-party is responsible for making an “insurance payment” to the insurance company in an amount that is pre-defined in the derivatives contract.

Unfortunately it is the extremely low probability events that cause the most financial damage (this is known as “tail risk” if you’ve seen reference to this). Wall Street knows this and, unfortunately, does not incorporate the truth cost – or expected value – of the rare event from occurring into the cost of the derivative. Wall Street plays the game of “let’s pretend this will never happen” because it makes huge fees from brokering these derivatives. When the rare event occurs, it causes the “risk buyer” to default because the cost of making the payout exceeds the “risk buyer’s” ability to honor the contract. This is why Long Term Capital blew up in 1998, it’s why Enron blew up, it’s why the 2008 de facto financial collapse occurred. We are unfortunately watching history repeat. This is the what occurred in the “The Big Short.” The hedge funds that bet against the subprime mortgages knew that the cost of buying those bets was extremely cheap relative the risk being wrong.

If the hurricanes do not trigger a financial crisis, the massive re-inflation of subprime debt – and the derivative bets associated with that – are back to the 2008 levels.

The optimism connected to the stock market is staggering. According to recent survey, 80% of Americans believe that stock prices will not be lower in the next 12 months. This is the highest level of optimism since the fall of 2007. The SPX topped out just as this metric hit its high-point. The only time this level of optimism was higher in the history of the survey was in early 2000.

“Stock Market?” What Stock “Market?”

“There are no markets, only interventions” – Chris Powell, Treasurer and Director of GATA

To refer to the trading of stocks as a “market” is not only an insult to any dictionary in the world that carries the definition of “market,” but it’s an insult the to intelligence of anyone who understands what a market is and the role that a market plays in a free economic system.  By the way, without free markets you can’t have a free democratic political system.

The U.S. stock is rigged beyond definition. By this I mean that interference with the stock market by the Federal Reserve in conjunction with the U.S. Government via the Treasury’s Working Group on Financial Markets – collectively, the “Plunge Protection Team” – via “quantitative easing” and the Exchange Stabilization Fund has destroyed the natural price discovery mechanism that is the hallmark of a free market.  Capitalism does not work without free markets.

Currently a geopolitically belligerent country is launching ICBM missiles over a G-7 country (Japan).   In response to this belligerence, the even more geopolitically belligerent U.S. is testing nuclear bombs in Nevada.  The world has not been closer to the use of nuclear weapons since Truman used them on Japan.  The stock markets globally should be in free-fall if the price discovery mechanism was functioning properly.

To compound the problem domestically in the U.S., the financial system is now staring down a potential financial catastrophe that no one is discussing.  The financial exposure to the tragedy in Houston is conservatively estimated at several hundred billion.  Insurance companies off-load a lot of risk exposure using derivatives.  The potential counter-party default risk connected to this could dwarf the defaults that triggered the AIG and Goldman Sachs de facto collapse in 2008.   The stock “market” should be down at least 20% just from the probability of this occurrence.  Forget the hurricane issue, Blackrock estimates that insurance investment portfolios could lose half a trillion in value in the next big market sell-off.  Toxicity + toxicity does not equal purification.  The two problems combined are the equivalent of financial nuclear melt-down.

Last night after the news had circulated of the missile fired by North Korea, the S&P futures dropped over 20 points and gold shot up $15.  As I write this, the Dow is up 50 points, the SPX is up over 3 points and gold has been taken down $20 from its overnight highs.  Yet the two catastrophic risks above have not changed in potential severity.   Pushing around the markets is another propaganda tool used by the Government in an attempt to control the public’s perception.  In the words of the great Jim Sinclair, “management of perception economics,” or “MOPE.”

The good news is that, while the systemic puppeteers can control the markets in general, they can’t control the individual parts.  There has been a small fortune to be made shorting individual stocks.  Today, for instance, Best Buy reported earnings that predictably “beat” the Street estimates but it warned about future sales and earnings.  The stock has plunged 11% from yesterday’s close.  The Short Seller’s Journal featured Best Buy as a short in the May 28th issue at $59.  The target for this stock is $12.50, where it was in 2013.  I recommended some January 2019 puts as high probability trade to hit a home run on this idea.

Other recent winners include Chipotle, General Electric, Tesla (short at $380), Bed Bath Beyond in December at $47 and may others.  The more the PPT interferes in the markets to keep the major indices propped up, the more we can make from shorting horrendously overvalued stocks that can’t hide from reality. There’s very few investors and traders shorting the market, mostly out of fear and the inability to do fundamental research.  The Short Seller’s Journal focuses on the areas of the stock market that are no-brainer shorts right now.  You learn more about this product here:  Subscription information.

I really truly look forward to every Monday morning when I get to read through your SSJ. Again, last nights one was great. I have added to the BZH short position and I have had a lot of success adding to CCA each time it has tagged its 200 dma from below. I have done it four times now and each time it has sold off hard within the next several days. I plan to do the same again if it tags it again this time as it has bounced again.  – subscriber feedback received earlier this week (James from England)

 

Shorting Stocks Will Outperform The Market

On December 1st, with a short-sell report I wrote on L Brands (LB) and published by Seeking Alpha (note:  that was the last article I submitted to Seeking Alpha – you can now find my work on Simply Wall St.)that I used to launch the Short Seller’s Journal, I explained why L Brands was a great short idea at $96.  Here was my rationale:

L Brands (NYSE:LB) is a specialty retailer that operates the Victoria Secret and Bath & Body Works chains. It also operates La Senza, a Canada-­based intimate apparel retail concept, and Henri Bendel, a high­end accessory products brand. The stock has run from under $7 in March 2009 to its current (November 27) price of $96.68. In that time period, it has outperformed the S&P 500 by over 350%. But, in the context of rapidly slowing revenue growth, declining operating margins, increasing financial leverage and a likely pullback in consumer spending, LB’s stock is extremely overvalued relative to its underlying fundamentals and relative to its peers. In my view, LB represents a compelling opportunity to short the highly overvalued stock of a company operating in a business sector facing significant economic headwinds.

Here’s how the LB short performed from 12/1/15 to present, after reporting an pre-arranged “beat” of Wall St’s earnings estimates (the big game that has developed over the years is for management to “wink wink” walk Wall Street’s robotic analysts’ quarterly estimates down to a level below the actual numbers the company plans to report) but was forced to warn about the rest of the year:

As you can see, shorting LB on December 1, 2015 has significantly outperformed the XRT retailer ETF. It has also outperformed going long the S&P 500 by a factor of nearly 400%. Nothwithstanding what to me was the onset of a consumer spending recession and an obviously overvalued stock market, LB at the time was overvalued relative to both the stock market and the retail stock sector:

The traits specific to LB, and that is based on information that is freely available to anyone who is motivated to do the research, included:   a stock priced for perfection, aggressive debt issuance to finance huge share repurchases, heavy insider dumping of shares into the share repurchases and a stock valuation far in excess of industry peers.

Despite the inexorable grind higher in the Dow, SPX and Nasdaq indices, hundreds of stocks are either at 52-week lows are getting ready to embark on a “price-seeking” mission to find their 52-week lows.  Just ask the Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS) or Advance Autoparts (AAP) bulls.  LB, DKS and AAP are examples of stocks will get cut in half at least two more times in the next 12-18 months.

The Short Seller Journal was launched with the goal to expose the truth about the stock market and the truth about the manipulated economic and earnings reports fabricated with the intent to support the most over-valued stock valuations in history and, more important, to use those truths to find short-sell ideas that will outperform long strategies. LB is an example of the types of ideas uncovered by the Short Seller’s Journal.

You can learn about this newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.  There’s very few, if any, newsletters that focus on shorting the market.  The best time to invest in a market theme is when the rest of the market is doing the opposite.  As a testament the quality of the Short Seller’s Journal, the subscriber turnover rate is remarkably low. There’s no minimum required subscription period and subscribers receive a 50% discount to the Mining Stock Journal.

 

Chipotle ($CMG): Boom Goes The Dynamite – Redux

And once again Chipotle ($CMG) is in the news for business operations negligence.  Where the hell is the local Department of Health?  E-coli, customer credit card hacks, novovirus and now rats falling from ceiling – Are You Sure That’s Pork?.   As the tried and true adage declares, “where there’s smoke…” – Short Seller Journal subscribers have been short CMG since 5/7 at $475 – it’s now down $110 in 10 weeks and still trading at 113 p/e…

I stopped eating at Chipotle the second I heard about the e-coli thing. Used to grab dinner there at least once a week. Have not been back. Along the way I’ve avoided the credit card hack to their payment system that surface a few months ago. Now it looks like there’s another viral outbreak at Chipotle of some sort: Virginia Chipotle Closed.

I presented the idea of shorting CMG in the Short Seller’s Journal in the May 7th issue:

This was my rationale:

“I personally used to eat at Chipotle once a week before the e-coli problem. I have not been back since then. This is probably not he last we’ll hear of issues like at CMG.  After the most recent unjustified bounce in the stock up to $475, CMG still sells at a 147 p/e. This is an insane p/e. With restaurant revenues declining across the industry, extremely overvalued stocks like CMG are vulnerable to big cliff-dives. You can see in the graph above that the stock appears to rolling again for another trip below its moving averages and under $400, at least. This is confirmed by the RSI and MACD indicators.

Wall St. was gushing over CMG’s Q1 2017 performance as it exceeded expectations with revenues up 28% vs. Q1 2016 and net income $46 million vs a loss in 2016. But don’t forget that Chipotle’s Q1 2016 was hammered by the e-coli scare. The more appropriate analysis is to look at Q1 2017 vs. Q1 2015.

It’s an entirely different story if you compare Q1 2017 to Q1 2015, where Q1 2015 was on the books before the e-coli problem. Revenues in Q1 2017 were $1.07 billion vs. $1.09 billion in Q1 2015. Net income in Q1 2017 was $46 million, or $1.60 vs $122 million in Q1 2015, or $3.98/share. If we consider Q1 2017 and Q1 2015 to be more of an “apples to apples” comparison, Q1 2017 was not good. Furthermore, CMG had 2,291 stores open at the end of Q1 2017 vs. 1,831 at the end of Q1 2015. Looked at on a revenues per store basis, Q1 2017 was a total failure vs. Q1 2015. But Wall St and company management will not discuss this type of comparison and the morons buying the stock will not look for it.”

In addition to presenting the idea and the fundamental rationale, I suggested a couple strategies for playing the down-side, including using January 2018 puts.  Than January 2018 $350’s have been a home run.  By the way, CMG is still insanely overvalued.

Several ideas have been working since last August and have been working really well since January.  This is because beneath the marquee indices, many stocks are at 52-week or all-time lows.  You can check more about how this service works here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.  There’s no minimum monthly term requirement but the churn rate to this SSJ is surprisingly low.

A Stock Market Crash: A Matter Of “When,” Not “If”

Given group-think and the determination of policy makers to do ‘whatever it takes’ to prevent the next market ‘crash,’ we think that the low-volatility levitation magic act of stocks and bonds will exist until the disenchanting moment when it does not. And then all hell will break loose, a lamentable scenario that will nevertheless present opportunities that are likely to be both extraordinary and ephemeral.  –  Highly regarded hedge fund manager, Paul Singer, in his latest investor newsletter

Singer has apparently has unloaded $5 billion worth of stock, which is 15% of his funds management.

Anyone happen to notice that several market commentators have argued that Bitcoin is  a bubble but the same stock “experts” look the other way as the U.S. stock market becomes more overvalued by the day vs. the deteriorating underlying fundamentals? Bitcoin going “parabolic” triggers alarm bells but it’s okay if the stock price of AMZN is hurtling toward parity with the price of one ounce of gold. Tesla burns a billion per year in cash. It sold 76,000 cars last year vs. 10 million worldwide for General Motors. Yet Tesla’s market cap is $51.7 billion vs. $48.8 billion for GM.

This insanity is the surest sign that the stock market bubble is getting ready to pop. If you read between the lines of the the comments from certain Wall Street analysts, the only justification for current valuations is “Central Bank liquidity” and “Fed support of asset values.” This is the most dangerous stage of a market top because it draws in retail “mom & pop” investors who can’t stop themselves from missing out on the next “sure thing.” There will be millions of people who are permanently damaged financially when the Fed loses control of this market. Or, as legendary “vulture” investor Asher Edelman stated on CNBC, “I don’t want to be in the market because I don’t know when the plug is going to be pulled.”

A friend/colleague of mine is a point and figure chart aficionado. He sent me an email on Thursday in which he said even with the five horsemen (FANGs + AAPL) and the SPX and Dow up today (and the SPX setting a new all-time high), the bullish percent index (BPI) of the NYSE is negative which means there are more stocks generating a point and figure sell signal than a buy signal. This has been fairly consistent over the past couple of weeks. (Note: the bullish percent index is a breadth indicator based on the number of stocks on point & figure buy signals). When the BPI is negative over an extended period of time, it reflects the fact that a lot more stocks in the NYSE are trending lower than are trending higher. When a declining number of stocks are participating in the move higher of a stock index, it is a bearish signal.

As my friend says, “in reality this will continue until it doesn’t.” He goes on to say: ” what this shows me is that at this time it’s much better to be strategically short than broadly short. This will change too at some point…”

Picking out strategic shorts has been the focus of the Short Seller’s Journal. Not all of the ideas have worked and a couple back-fired – in defiance of the company’s underlying fundamentals – but many ideas are well below the price at which they were presented either the first time or presented again thereafter. One idea that has declined 39% (declined $42) since August 2016 is Ralph Lauren, which was presented on August 14, 2016 at $108.19. It closed Friday at $66.11, down 41 cents on a day when the SPX hit another all-time high. RL has closed lower on 12 of the last 13 days.

One subscriber emailed me earlier this week to let me know he had shorted 200 shares at $108 and covered 100 of it this week. He’s hanging on to the other 100 share short. I mentioned to him that my 12-18 month target was $50 and that he should hold the other 100 short at least until August because it’s only going to get worse for the consumer and retailers.

Currently there’s a a large percentage of stocks trading below their 50 and 200 day moving averages.  Many stocks are close or at 52-week lows.  Some stocks, like Sears Holdings (SHLD) are no-brainer shorts.  Sears is going to file for bankruptcy – it’s down 32% from April 2nd, when it was presented as a short idea in the Short Seller’s Journal.  Similar to the probability of a stock market crash, it’s  a matter of “when,” not “if.”