Tag Archives: stock bubble

SNAP Stock Just SNAPPED: Down 29% From Its March IPO

SNAP just reported earnings and plunged after hours after missing everything.  It burned through $288 million in cash.  The more it spends, the more it loses.  An operational Ponzi scheme of sorts.

The SNAP IPO was led by Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, Credit Suisse and Allen & Company. All the usual criminal cartel banks aside from Allen & Company.  Allen & Company is a financial “advisor” – i.e. sleazy stock broker – driven firm based in Florida. I don’t know how Allen & Co. was put on as an underwriting manager other than it’s likely that one of SNAP’s co-founders is buddies with one of the owners at Allen & Co.

Speaking of SNAP’s two co-founders, each sold $272 million worth of stock into the IPO. It would be impossible to know if they sold knowing that anyone who bought the IPO, or has bought share since the IPO, is going to end up holding an empty bag. But I provided an in-depth analysis of SNAP to subscribers of the Short Seller’s Journal in which I concluded that SNAP would eventually go below $2.

I have to believe that the Einsteins at Morgan Stanley, Goldman et al had to know this. That being the case, I don’t know how the public issuance of SNAP shares is not fraud. The venture capital and private equity funds who invested in the early rounds were given an out by the public – a public that was lied to about SNAP’s future prospects.

As I finish this, SNAP is now below $12/share ($11.85).  It’s still a great short here.  If I have time to pour through the numbers, I’ll be updating the subscribers of the Short Seller’s Journal and lay out a course of action to short the stock from here.  You can learn more about this newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.  There’s no minimum subscription period and subscribers get a 50% discount on the Mining Stock Journal.

Why Is The Dow Outperforming The SPX And Naz?

“The combination of central banker-applied brute force (buying everything in sight) and deitylike central banker pronouncements has dampened market volatility and frisky free-lancing, but at the same time it has encouraged risk taking (in market positioning, not it business formation). We have thought, and still think, that confidence in central banks and policymakers has been unjustified and thus could erode or collapse at any time. Since the major financial institutions which comprise the financial system are still way overleveraged and opaque (in fact with record amounts of debt and derivatives at present), such a break in confidence could happen abruptly and without warning.” – from Paul Singer’s Q2 investor letter (note: Paul Singer is the founder of Elliot Management, one of the most successful hedge fund management firms since its inception in 1977).

Singer is considered one of the most shrewd and accomplished investors in the modern era. The quote above embodies two of the concepts I’ve been discussing for quite some time in the weekly Short Seller’s Journals:  Central Bank intervention will ultimately fail in spectacular fashion; the Too Big To Fail Banks (TBTFs) currently have more leverage and OTC derivatives – the latter well hidden off-balance-sheet – than just before the 2008 financial crisis/de facto collapse.

Singer has been quite vocal recently about the inevitability of an eventual market/systemic collapse. It’s not a question of “if,” but of “when.” I read an analysis last week from Graham Summers of Phoenix Capital in which he suggests that the Fed would lose control of the VIX – lose control of its ability to keep the VIX suppressed – and a large spike up in the VIX would trigger an avalanche of selling from the $10’s of billions in Risk Parity Funds. These funds buy stocks when the VIX falls and unload stocks when it rises – all based on algorithms which are automatically executed by “black box” computerized trading systems.

I have to believe that the Fed (not the FOMC figure-heads but the Phd “rocket scientist” personnel who work behind the scenes at the Fed) is well aware of this possibility and has
taken the necessary steps to ensure the readiness of a “safety net” that will buffer the selling deluge that would accompany an uncontrollable spike in the VIX.

Upon further reflection, I believe that the eventual “black swan” event will be an unanticipated derivatives explosion that occurs from an out-of-control OTC derivatives position buried deep off-balance-sheet on one of the TBTFs. This is what occurred in 2008. The Lehman bankruptcy/liquidation triggered a massive counter-party failure by AIG on OTC derivatives underwritten by Goldman Sachs. This was the event that prompted then-Treasury Secretary and ex-Goldman CEO, Henry Paulson, to scramble furiously to arrange a Fed/taxpayer bailout of AIG and Goldman. The bailout was extended to dozens of banks, domestic and foreign. But the Goldman/AIG implosion was the nexus.

Circling back to the relevancy of Paul Singer’s quote, the degree of risk embedded in TBTF bank OTC off-balance-sheet derivatives can not be properly assessed because, not only did changes to accounting regulations enable banks to hide derivatives more easily and thereby lie to the institutional investor universe, but bank officials (including CEO’s) lie about their risk exposure to the Fed and to Government regulators. Some bank CEO’s do not even know the full extent of risk hidden on their bank’s balance sheet. Jamie Dimon admitted this when the JP Morgan London derivatives “whale” catastrophe occurred (2012). Having been on a risky bond trading desk in the 1990’s, I can attest first-hand that trading desks have the ability to hide risky or bad positions from a bank’s upper management. We did this every year before our books were marked to market and squared for bonus pool assessment by the risk control and accounting people.

At this point, I thus think that stock market crash event-trigger will be the detonation of a derivatives bomb (Warren Buffet’s weapon of mass financial destruction). Likely a credit, interest rate or currency based derivatives position and related counter-party default. The Fed will not see it coming because it was covered up and never disclosed to the Fed. Is this the flight-to-quality that marks the beginning of the end for the stock market
run?

The Fed heads dating back to at least Alan Greenspan always remark that it’s impossible to know whether or not an asset bubble is occurring until after it pops. Yellen went as far as to suggest there would not be another financial market crisis in our lifetime. These assertions are so absurd that I don’t think a response is necessary. But I ran some varying duration index comparisons and discovered this (click to enlarge):

You can see that the SPX, Dow and Naz were tightly correlated in mid-July. This correlation extends further back in time. You see that the Dow began outperform the SPX/Naz starting Tuesday, July 25th, after AMZN reported an unexpectedly huge earnings miss (the plunge in the green line), the SPX and Naz entered a downtrend while the Dow continued higher.

Back in the day when investors were more likely to on focus fundamentals rather than stockprice momentum, a chart like the one above would elicit references to Dow theory, which asserts that the final stage of an out-of-control bull market culminates with a “flight-to-quality” from risky stocks into the lowest risk market sectors. Traditionally the Dow is considered less risky than the universe of stocks that comprise the SPX and Naz.

The idea behind this theory is that, as big investors sense that smaller-cap, higher-beta stocks have reached a point of overvaluation and high risk, these investors move money from the overvalued stocks into the Dow stocks, which are traditionally considered more stable and more liquid. Investors ride the Dow until the entire market rolls over. Some articles appeared last week which made note of the deterioration in technical indicators. For instance, one analyst noted that the recent string of Nasdaq new highs occurred with “negative breadth” to a degree that ha not been seen since 1999-2000. Negative breadth is when an index has more stocks declining than advancing. It’s a negative divergence that often signals that large investors are moving more cash out of the stocks than is flowing into stocks.

No one knows for sure which of the many hidden “financial bombs” will explode unexpectedly and cause a market melt-down.  But like all Ponzi schemes throughout history, the U.S. Ponzi scheme will implode under a massive weight of hubris, extreme greed and widespread ignorance disguised as complacency.

The above commentary is from the latest Short Seller’s Journal. Despite the inexorable climb to new records in the Dow, SPX and Naz, dozens of stocks are falling from the sky like pheasants in hunting season.  The Short Seller’s Journal can help you make money from the short side. You can learn more here:  LINK

 

Western Central Bank Fear Of Gold Is In The Air

Ballooning open interest, heavy fix selling, aggressive post-settlement selling, flash crashes – this all seems a lot of bother. Perhaps the Other Side is afraid of something. – John Brimelow from his Gold Jottings report

Wednesday  evening at 7:06 EST, at one of the least liquid trading periods of the 23 hour trading day for Comex paper gold, a “motivated” seller unloaded 10,777 August gold contracts into the CME’s Globex trading system, knocking the price of gold down $9 in 25 minutes.  There were no obvious news or events reported that would have triggered any investor to dump over 1 million ozs of gold with complete disregard to price execution.

Rather, the selling was the act of an entity looking to push the price of gold a lot lower in “shock and awe” fashion.  The 10.7k contracts sold were just the August contracts.   There was also related selling in several other contract months.  To be sure, the total number of contracts unloaded included  hedge fund selling from stop-losses triggered in the black boxes of momentum-chasing hedge funds.

In addition to the appearance of frequent, strategically-timed “fat finger” flash crashes, the open interest in paper gold on the Comex has soared by 23,000 contracts since last Friday. This added 2.3 million paper gold ounces to the Comex open interest, which represents nearly 27% of the total amount of alleged physical gold ounces sitting Comex vaults.   In fact, the total paper gold open interest on the Comex is 455,605 contracts, or 45.5 million ounces of gold. This is 530% more paper gold than the total amount of gold reported to be sitting in Comex vaults.

The dramatic rise in open interest accompanied gold’s move in price above the 50 dma.  It’s typical for the bullion banks on the Comex to start flooding the market with additional paper contracts in order to suppress strong rallies in the price of gold.  Imagine what would happen to the price of gold if the regulatory authorities forbid the open interest in Comex gold contracts to never exceed 120% of the total amount of gold in the Comex vaults.  This is unwritten “120% rule” is de rigeur with every other commodity contract except, of course, silver.

The “flash crash” and “open interest inflation” are two of the obvious signals that the western Central Banks/bullion banks are worried about the rising price of gold.  The recent degree of blatant manipulation reflects outright fear. I suspect the fear is derived from two sources.  First is a growing shortage of physical gold that is available to deliver into the eastern hemisphere’s voracious import appetite.  Exports from Swiss refineries have been soaring.   India’s appetite for gold has not been even slightly derailed by the 3% additional sales tax imposed on gold.

Speaking of India, the World Council has put forth a Herculean effort to down-play to amount of gold India has been and will be buying.  After India’s 351 tonnes imported in Q1, the WGC tried to shove a 90 tonne per quarter forecast down our throats for the rest of the year. India’s official tally for Q2 is 167.4 tonnes.  Swing and a miss for the WGC.  Now the WGC  is forecasting  at total of 650-750 tonnes for all of 2017.

The WGC forecast is idiotic given that India officially imported 518.6 tonnes in 1H and 2H is traditionally the best seasonal buying period of the year AND a copious monsoon season means that farmers will be flush with cash – or rupees, rather – which will be quickly converted into gold.  Two more swings and misses for Q3 and Q4 and the WGC is out of excuses for why India likely will have imported around 1,000 tonnes, not including smuggled gold, in 2017.  This aggressive misrepresentation of India’s gold demand reeks of propaganda.  But for what purpose?

Back to the second reason for the banks to fear a rising price of gold:  the inevitable collapse of the largest financial bubble in history inflated by Central Bank money printing and credit creation.   The trading action in the gold and silver markets resembles the trading activity in 2008 leading up to the collapse of Lehman and the de facto collapse of Goldman Sachs.

One significant  difference is the relative effort exerted to keep a lid on the price of silver.   In early 2008, with the price of silver trading between $17 and $19, the open interest in Comex silver peaked at 189k contracts (Feb 29th COT report).   Currently the open interest is 206k contracts and it’s been over 240k.    In late 2008, the Comex was reporting over 80 million ozs of “registered” silver in its vaults. “Registered” means “available for delivery.” There were thus roughly 3 ozs of paper gold for every reported ounce of physical gold available for delivery.  Currently the Comex is reporting 38.5 million ozs of registered silver. That’s 5.3 ozs of paper silver for every ounce of registered silver.

As you can see, the relative effort to suppress the price of gold and silver is more intense now than in 2008.   Given what occurred in 2008, I have to believe that fear emanating from the western banks currently is derived from events unfolding “behind the curtain” that are worse than what hit the system in 2008.

Crashing Auto Sales Reflect Onset Of Debt Armageddon

July auto sales was a blood-bath for U.S auto makers.  The SAAR (Seasonally Manipulated Adjusted Annualized Rate) metric – aka “statistical vomit” –  presented a slight increase for July over June (16.7 SAAR vs 16.5 SAAR).   But the statisticians can’t hide the truth.  GM’s total sales plunged 15% YoY vs an 8% decline expected.  Ford’s sales were down 7.4% vs an expected 5.5% drop.   Chrysler’s sales dropped 10.5% vs. -6.1% expected.  In aggregate, including foreign-manufactured vehicles, sales were down 7% YoY.

Note:  These numbers are compiled by Automotive News based on actual monthly sales reported by manufactures.  Also please note:  A “sale” is recorded when the vehicle is shipped to the dealer.  It does not reflect an economic transaction between a dealer and an end-user.   As Automotive News reports:  “[July was] the weakest showing yet in a year that is on tract to generate the industry’s first decline in volume since the 2008-2009 market collapse.”

The domestics blamed the sharp decline in sales on fleet sales.  But GM’s retail sales volume plunged 14.4% vs its overall vehicle cliff-dive of 15%  And so what?  When the Obama Government, after it took over GM,  and the rental agencies were loading up on new vehicles, the automakers never specifically identified fleet sales as a driver of sales.

What really drove sales was the obscenely permissive monetary and credit policies implemented by the Fed since 2008.  But debt-driven Ponzi schemes require credit usage to expand continuously at an increase rate to sustain itself.   And this is what it did from mid-2010 until early 2017:

Auto sales have been updated through June and the loan data through the end of the Q1. You can see the loan data began to flatten out in Q1 2017.  I suspect it will be either “flatter” or it will be “curling” downward when the Fed gets around to update the data through Q2. You can also see that, since the “cash for clunkers” Government-subsidized auto sales spike up in late 2009, the increase in auto sales since  2010 has been driven by the issuance of debt.

Since the middle of 2010, the amount of auto debt outstanding has increased nearly 60%. The average household has over $29,000 in auto debt.  Though finance companies/banks will not admit it, more than likely close to 40% of the auto loans issued are varying degrees of sub-prime to not rated (sub-sub-prime).  Everyone I know who has taken out an auto loan or lease has told me that they were not asked to provide income verification.

Like all orgies, the Fed’s credit orgy has lost energy and stamina.  The universe of warm bodies available to pass the “fog a mirror” test required to sign auto loan docs is largely tapped out.  The law of diminishing returns has invaded the credit market.  Borrower demand is tapering and default rates are rising.  The rate of borrowing is rolling over and lenders are tightening credit standards – a little, anyway – in response to rising default rates. The 90-day delinquency rate has been rising since 2014 and is at a post-financial crisis high.  The default rates are where they were in 2008, right before the real SHTF.

The graph above shows the 60+ day delinquency rate (left side) and default rate (right side)
for prime (blue line) and subprime (yellow line) auto loans. As you can see, the 60+ day
delinquency rate for subprime auto loans is at 4.51%, just 0.18% below the peak level hit in
2008. The 60+ day delinquency rate for prime auto loans is 0.54%, just 0.28% below the
2008 peak. In terms of outright defaults, subprime auto debt is just a shade under 12%,
which is about 2.5% below its 2008 peak. Prime loans are defaulting at a 1.52% rate, about
200 basis points (2%) below the 2008 peak. However, judging from the rise in the 60+ day
delinquency rate, I would expect the rate of default on prime auto loans to rise quickly this
year.

We’re not in crisis mode yet and the delinquency/default rates on subprime auto debt is near the levels at which it peaked in 2008. These numbers are going to get a lot worse this year and the amount of debt involved is nearly 60% greater. But the real problem will be, once again, the derivatives connected to this debt.

The size of the coming auto loan implosion will not be as large as the mortgage implosion in 2008, but it will likely be accompanies by an implosion in student loan and credit card debt – combined it will likely be just as systemically lethal.   It would be a mistake to expect that this problem will not begin to show up in the mortgage market.

Despite the Dow etc hitting new record highs, many stocks are declining, declining precipitously or imploding.  For insight, analysis and short-sell ideas on a weekly basis,  check out the  Short Seller’s Journal.  The last two issues presented a uniquely in-depth analysis of Netflix and Amazon and why they are great shorts now.

The Accounting Ponzi Scheme Is Catching Up To Amazon

“‘Faith’ is defined as “belief without evidence.” AMZN is a stock investment that thrives on
investor faith. Investor greed transforms into irrational faith when the faith is rewarded with stock gains. This will ultimately burn out but it’s impossible to predict timing. The stock is trading at 178x TTM net income. This is an insane multiple for a company with a deteriorating business model that is under attack from all angles by large, well-capitalized competitors who specialize in Amazon’s business segments.

Having said that, I continue to believe that money can be made trading AMZN from the short side but it requires discipline and diligent capital management. Amazon is one of those stocks in which you need to maintain some short exposure because, when it finally goes, it will go quickly and you’ll be waiting for a big bounce to short that will never materialize” – excerpt from the latest Short Seller’s Journal

In last week’s issue of the Short Seller’s Journal, I did an in-depth analysis of Netflix’s (NFLX) accounting and demonstrated how NFLX manipulates GAAP accounting to manufacture fake net income. I advised subscribers to short NFLX on Monday at $188. This week I focus on the key areas of Amazon’s quarterly financials and show how Jeff Bezos transforms actual negative free cash flow into the Bezos $9.6 billion LTM “free cash flow.”

I also demonstrate the ways in which Amazon’s business model is beginning to break down – that it’s e-commerce model is under attack from all angles by well-capitalized, more profitable retailers like Walmart and its cloud computing business is being attacked aggressively by traditional software development and applications companies like MSFT, IBM, GOOG and ORCL.

On a year over year LTM basis, the amount of cash burned by AMZN has increased 89.2%, from negative $2.476 billion to negative $4.685 billion. – this seek’s Short Seller’s Journal shows why this statement is fact. Recently subscribers have cleaned up on Chipotle (CMG), Sears (SHLD), Beazer (BZH) and others. This week’s issue shows why AMZN will eventually be a home run short. You can learn more here: Short Seller’s Journal info.

Netflix And Amazon: Case Studies In Accounting Games

Over the time since I started the Short Seller’s Journal, several subscribers have asked about Netflix (NFLX). For some reason I have refrained from presenting it as a short idea, instead choosing AMZN and TSLA as my insanely overvalued “tech poison” short-sell ideas. However, knowing that NFLX was reporting this week, I decided what if – and really more like when – it spiked up on a headline “beat,” I would take a close look at the numbers to see what’s going on with NFLX accounting. Sifting through NFLX’s web of accounting chicanery took a lot longer than I anticipated…

As I expected, I found a company that pushes the envelope in an area of GAAP accounting in which there is substantial “grey” area that enables companies like NFLX to manufacture and manage reported GAAP net income. But NFLX bleeds cash, as I’ll show. The quote at the top summarizes the NFLX business model: it will burn cash “for many years.”

In a sense, NFLX is similar to a Ponzi scheme. As long as cash received in the form of revenues and stock or bond financing exceeds cash expense outflows each year, it can continue operating. But as soon as revenues decline or the capital markets refuse to give NFLX money, it will collapse. As you will see below, while NFLX is generating growth in its net income, the amount of cash burned by its operations has been increasing dramatically. And it has been financing this cash flow deficit with debt.

The above narrative is from last week’s Short Seller’s Journal. I walked through the areas in which NFLX exploits grey areas in GAAP accounting rules to manipulate the cash flows from its business model (cash revenues minus actual cash expenses) in order present GAAP net income. The primary lever it uses is the guidelines (note: “guidelines” – not “rules”) for depreciating media capex. I show step-by-step how NFLX exploited the grey areas in GAAP to manufacture the $0.15 earnings per share it reported.

I also discussed strategies for shorting NFLX, which included shorting the stock outright and using puts. Subscribers who shorted NFLX on Monday morning this past week are green on their short positions. I also suggested capital management strategies.

This week I will be showing how to dissect the numbers AMZN must disclose in the footnotes to its 10-Q filing to see what’s really going on beneath the Jeff Bezos show. For instance Bezos opens his earnings presentation every quarter with a slide and a discussion of the “Free Cash Flow” produced my AMZN on an LTM basis. It’s the very first slide in the earnings call slide show. He’s now claiming LTM FCF of $9.7 billion.

BUT in the footnotes to the 10-Q – a place where no Wall Street analyst ever dares to venture, assuming they even know the footnotes exist – there’s a disclosure that explains that Jeff Bezos FCF is not GAAP FCF. Using GAAP, the Bezos FCF is reduced to $4.1 billion. I’m using ETIDA minus Capex minus Capital Lease Amortization payments. I even give him the benefit of adding back the non-cash share compensation portion of salary, which technically is not allowed in GAAP because share dilution is a form of cash use ultimately from the shareholders perspective. The $4.1 billion is GAAP free cash flow, not the Bezos bullshit FCF.

And not only that, but the AMZN core business model is starting to break down. But that analysis will be saved for this week’s Short Seller’s Journal.   Subscribers to the SSJ also get 50% off a subscription to the Mining Stock Journal.   Click here to learn more about the SSJ:   Short Seller’s Journal info.

Dave, just a moment for some feed back. I just placed and order for 1 oz gold eagles thanks to my profits off Tesla and BBBY. Thanks, as always. – Subscriber email received in early July

“Tesla Is A Big Pile Of Sh_t”

Jason Burack (Wall St for Main St) interviews notable Tesla bear, Mark Spiegel. As readers know, I’m in agreement with Spiegel in thinking Tesla stock is worth zero.   In fact, I’ve stated publicly that I’m trying to decide if the world’s greatest Ponzi operator award goes to Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk.  Spiegel makes a great case that it belongs to Musk.

– “They’re losing a massive amount of money and actually showing negative scale [losing more as sales grow]. They’re losing more money on an operating basis with almost no direct long-range electric car competition. A massive amount of that competition rolls out at the of this year and then hugely in 2018, 2019 and 2020.”

– “No sustainable proprietary technology.”    There’s several companies with better technology but they don’t promote the way Musk promotes.

– “Every business Musk has is based on Government subsidies. And they still lose money. He’s the only guy who can pull down billions in Government subsidies and still lose money.”

– “Every business Tesla is in is a shitty business. And when you put together a collection of shitty businesses, you don’t get a good business – you just get a bigger pile of shit”

This is an interview that is a must-listen if you own TSLA and want to hear the truth about the Company and Musk:

TSLA’s market cap now stands at nearly $61 billion. It burns over $1 billion per year in cash and its financials are riddled with what would have been considered accounting fraud 20 years ago. It sold 72.6 thousand cars in 2016. Compare this to GM, which has a market cap of $51 billion and sold over 3 million cars in 2016, and Ford, which has a market cap of $44 billion and sold 2.5 million cars in 2016.

To say that the action in TSLA’s stock price and its market cap is “insane” does not do justice to the word in “insane.” TSLA is the “poster child” for the mass hysteria that fuels investment bubbles. The problem with shorting TSLA is that the hedge funds are chasing its momentum higher, as investors embrace the negative news events as a reason to pay more for the stock. As such, it’s hard to see a catalyst that will “correct” the price, like with retailers for instance. TSLA, along with AMZN, is one of the rare stocks which will continue levitating until it doesn’t – like a Roman candle that eventually burns out falls to earth.

In my opinion, the ride down will be worth the pain and blood-loss of sticking with a short bet on TSLA, which is why I continue to buy small quantities of put options that have been expiring worthless. I know at some point I’m going to catch a $100+ reversal in TSLA stock which will more than make-up for the small losses I’m enduring in the puts while I wait for that big pay-off.

Using puts protects me from the unknown magnitude of upside risk from shorting the stock. Plus, I don’t have to make a “stop-loss” decision because I don’t have the theoretic “infinite upside” loss potential that I would face shorting the stock. With my loss capped, I can hang on to the puts through expiration. With a stock like TSLA, often a stop-loss exit is followed up by reversal to the downside, leaving the short-seller without a short position.

The written analysis just above is from the Short Seller’s Journal. In that particular issue a couple weeks ago I outlined a put option strategy that will keep you exposed to the eventual $100 down-day in the stock that is going to come. You can learn more about the Short Seller’s Journal here: LINK.

On another note, Fidelity – specifically the OTC Portfolio mutual fund (TSLA is 9.2% of the fund’s assets) and the Contrafund – own 15% of the stock.  When TSLA stock ultimately fails, those funds will be hammered.  If you have money in either of those funds, foretold is forewarned.

Pension Apocalypse Is Coming

“It’s unequivocal now: We are taking money from the new employees and using it to pay off this liability for the old employees,” said Turner, a Gov. John Hickenlooper appointee. “And some might call that a Ponzi scheme.”Denver Post, 6/27/17

The people in Denver who bother to read the news, especially the ones who are or will be dependent on the Colorado public employees pension fund (PERA), were greeted with a shock Tuesday. PERA is now admitting to be 42% underfunded, down from an alleged 38% underfunding last year. How on earth is it possible for the underfunding of a pension to increase during a period of time when the Dow, S&P 500, Nasdaq and fixed income markets are hitting or are near all-time highs?

And what about the valuations of these funds using realistic mark to market prices for the illiquid assets, like private equity, commercial real estate and OTC derivatives?  Harvard University is about to sell its private equity assets.  My bet is that the value received will be covered up as much as possible.  And we’ll never know where the fund was marked on its books.  But judging of the failure vs. expectations of the SNAP and Blue Apron IPOs, private equity investments are likely over-marked on the books by at least 15-20%. A market to market here would devastate the stated funding levels of every pension fund.

It’s not just Illinois, which is de facto bankrupt, and the Connecticut State pension fund, which is also de facto insolvent.  Nearly every State’s pension fund is severely underfunded, as well as most private funds.

That 42% underfunding for PERA, by the way, makes very generous actuarial assumptions about the assumed rate of return on assets vs. the assumed payouts. Those assumptions have been wrong for at least 20 years and will continue to be wrong. That’s why PERA’s – as well as most every other pension fund – has become more underfunded over the last year.

The quote at the top is from Lynn Turner, who was one of the few competent, if not respected, SEC commissioners in my lifetime. In my view, when politicians and public officials are willing to state the truth about a dire situation in public,  it implies that the situation is on the precipice and they want to be disassociated with it – i.e the rats are jumping ship.  Yesterday the Illinois State Senate minority leader resigned…

I would argue that the one of the primary reasons the Fed is working hard to keep the stock market propped up is because, if the Dow/SPX/Nasdaq were to fall 5-10% for an extended period of time – as in more than a month – the entire U.S. pension Ponzi scheme would blow up and decimate the financial system. It’s a literal black swan in full view.

This is explains the “V” rallies in the stock market when the market abruptly drops 1% on a given day – like Tuesday and Thursday this past week. The fact that the market reversed Wednesday’s overt Fed intervention on Thursday signals the possibility that the Fed is losing control.

Meanwhile, the paper price of gold has once again withstood a vicious overnight attack that began in London and continued when the Comex opened by holding up at the $1240 level and bouncing. This is the fourth time since the so-called Fed attack last week disguised by the fake news as the “fat finger” trade.

Gold, A Banking Collapse And Cryptocurrencies

“We believe the effect of the troubles in the subprime sector on the broader housing market will be limited and we do not expect significant spillovers from the subprime market to the rest of the economy or to the financial system,” – Fed Chairman, Ben Beranke – May 17, 2007.

“You know probably that would be going too far but I do think we’re much safer and I hope that it will not be in our lifetimes and I don’t believe it will be.” – Fed “Chairman,” Janet Yellen – June 27, 2017

Hmmm…

Short All Retail, Especially Amazon

“Bubbles require ever more money to sustain them. Currently that’s not happening. A severe market selloff could come at any moment.”

The quote above is from Fred Hickey, who writes the The High-Tech Strategist newsletter. Mario Draghi, Chairman of the ECB, is under pressure to reduce the Central Banks’ asset purchases (it’s buying corporate bonds, including junk-rated bonds). Apparently some Dutcn legislators presented Draghi with a tulip in reference to the Dutch tulip mania in the 1630’s.

The Bank of Japan and the Chinese Government are working to reduce their money printing. The Fed is still buying mortgages but it seems determined to slowly tighten monetary policy. The problem faced by these Central Planners is that they’ve created a massive global Ponzi scheme that requires an increasing amount of liquidity (money printing + credit expansion) in order to sustain valuation levels. Once they slow down the liquidity spigot, all fiat currency- driven assets (except physical precious metals) are at risk of collapsing.

The Dow finished the week closing down 4 days in row to close essentially unchanged for week (up 9 pts). The SPX also was flat for the week (up 6 pts). It managed to squeak out a slight gain on Friday to avoid 4 consecutive down days. Both the Dow and SPX started out Friday with a big rally from Thursday’s close but faded over the last 2 hours of trading on no apparent news triggers. This for me is a possible indicator that the stock market losing energy.

Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY) was hammered Friday, down over 12%, as it badly missed earnings and revenue estimates. I presented BBBY as a short idea in the December 16th SSJ issue at $47.27. I hope some of you jumped on it then, as 4 days later it had closed at $41.38.

Amusingly, Jim Cramer, et al attributed BBBY’s lousy quarter to competition from AMZN. But nothing could be further from the truth. Its sales were up slightly from Q1 2016 and
its digital channel sales grew 20%. If anything, BBBY’s e-commerce business presents intensified competition for AMZN. Why? Because AMZN’s e-commerce operating margin is 0.3% vs. BBBY’s, which was 5.4% in Q1. BBBY has plenty room to go directly at AMZN on pricing.

BBBY’s net income dropped 39% vs. Q1 2016. The primary culprit was that BBBY lowered its free shipping threshold to $29 from $49. which in turn forced BBBY to absorb shipping costs on more orders. AMZN does not properly accrue the cost of its free shipping to its cost of sales (the SEC looks the other way on this one), burying the expense across the income
statement and balance sheet. But we know it has a reported 0.3% operating margin in e-commerce. The hit to BBBY’s operating margin, which declined 242 basis points (2.42%), gives us some insight about true cost inflicted on AMZN from its free shipping program.

My point here is that the overall retail environment is going to get more competitive and margins are going to decline even more. Companies like Walmart and BBBY have taken the gloves off and can afford to undercut AMZN across the board because they have significantly more room to cut prices and attack AMZN’s pricing and free shipping model without driving their operating margins down to zero. AMZN’s e-commerce profit margin, for all intents and purposes, is zero. The bottom line here is that retail in general remains a great sector to short.

I believe BBBY has a lot more downside and can still be shorted, with patience, for some nice gains:

The more interesting short is AMZN. About a month ago, right before completing the check-out process on AMZN, I received a message in which AMZN was offering a $5 shopping credit to fund a gift card with $100. Why is AMZN paying 5% to raise cash? It effectively is taking a 5% operating profit margin hit on the $100, because its overall e-commerce operating margin is essentially zero. And I discovered yesterday that AMZN was offering a $5 shopping credit to Prime members who opted for the slow shipping option rather than the 2-day shipping.

These cash-raising and cash-saving policies make no sense if AMZN is producing the billions in free cash flow as represented by Bezos (on a non-GAAP basis, of course). Something is very wrong beneath the surface. In fact, AMZN burns cash every quarter. I have demonstrated that in previous research I have produced. It’s a fact.

In the meantime, AMZN continues to be, along with TSLA, the greatest Ponzi scheme in history. Bernie Madoff is green with envy. The irony surrounding all of the analyst – and Jim Cramer – noise about AMZN is that its acquisition of Whole Foods makes it more vulnerable to competition. The idea that AMZN will now be a “grocery killer” is absurd. Just like the idea that it’s a retail killer. BBBY’s e-commerce grew at 20% year over year.

If anything is true, it’s that BBBY, Walmart, Target and Kroger present intensified e-commerce competition for AMZN.  And all four of those companies can cut prices to compete and still turn an operating profit.  AMZN does not have that luxury. That’s probably why AMZN is encouraging Prime customers to take the slow shipment option with a $5 shopping credit.

Most of the above analysis is an excerpt from this week’s Short Seller’s Journal, released Sunday evening. I discussed strategies for shorting BBBY. I also discussed shorting Kinder Morgan (KMI) in the context of declining energy price and usage and included for subscribers a somewhat dated, in-depth research report on KMI which details with proof the Ponzi scheme set-up at KMI. You can get more details about the subscription, including a “handful” of back-issues here:  Short Seller’s Journal info.  (Note: new subscribers also get a copy of the somewhat-dated full AMZN research report I wrote).