Tag Archives: stock crash

The Stock Market – Dow And SPX – Could Easily Drop 50%

Jim Rogers stated in an interview with Bloomberg that “the next bear market will be worst in my lifetime,” adding that he didn’t know when that bear market would occur. The stock market has become insanely overvalued. Before last week, several market-top “bells” were ringing loudly. The stock market could easily drop 50% and, by historical metrics, still be overvalued.

Gold, silver and the mining stocks have been pulling back since late January. In fact, I warned my Mining Stock Journal subscribers in the January 25th issue that the sector was getting ready for bank-manipulated take-down. In the latest issue I offered a view on when the next move higher could begin. Mining stocks in relation to the price of gold and silver have become almost as undervalued as they were in December 2015, when the sector bottomed from the 4 1/2-year cyclical correction. In a recent issue I listed my five favorite junior mining stocks.

I was invited to join Elijah Johnson and Eric Dubin on Silver Doctors’ weekly Metals & Markets podcast. We discussed the stock market, precious metals and the Fed’s next policy direction:

I also publish the Short Seller’s Journal, which is a weekly newsletter that provides insight on the latest economic data and provides short-sell ideas, including strategies for using options. You can learn more about this newsletter here:   Short Seller’s Journal information.

Who Could’ve Seen This Coming?

Yesterday was amusing.  The meat with mouths on the so-called financial networks were crying, “how could this have happened.”  Funny thing, that.  They don’t raise the slightest doubt of conviction when the Dow soars 2,676 points in less than two months  – 23,940 on November 29th  to 26,616 on January 26th.  But when the market takes back that move in 6 trading days it’s a problem that Congress and the Fed need to “fix.”

The stock market’s small accident last Friday was a warning signal. But, in the context of the move made by the Dow since it bottomed on March 5, 2009, barely registers on the radar screen:

I saw this table on Twitter and thought it was a good summary of the extreme bullishness that I’ve been documenting for the past few issues (Short Seller’s Journal):

The old adage states that “they don’t ring a bell at the top.” But that table above seems to have nine different “bells ringing.” Note: “NAAIM” is the National Association of Active Investment Managers (Note, I know MMF is money market funds but I’m not sure what the rest of the metric represents other than its some measure of investor portfolio cash vs stock holdings). As you can see, every indicator that measures relative bull/bear sentiment is at a bullish extreme.

A record one-day inflow north of $500 million was tossed by retail investors into one of the inverse VIX ETNs.  Hard to imagine a louder “fire alarm” ringing than that one.  The Dow shed 1,095 points from last Friday’s close – 4.1%. The first big chunk down was Tuesday, when it lost 363 points. It also lost 177 points on Monday. After two small days of gains, ostensibly in support of Trump’s State of the Union speech, the Dow plunged 665 points on Friday.

Monday was obviously the type of market behavior about which many, including this blog, have been, have been warning.  Who could’ve seen that coming?

Even more interesting than the action in the stock market was the action in the bond market. Historically, other than in times of extreme market turmoil, when the stock market sells off with force, the funds flow into the Treasury bond market. Bond prices rise and yields fall. But this week the 10-year Treasury lost roughly 1.4 points, which translated into a 15 basis point jump in its yield to 2.84% The long bond closed over 3%. Even short term Treasury rates rose. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues. It is exceptionally bearish for the housing market.

Now, self-entitled “exceptionalist” Americans will be begging their Congressmen to “do something” while Congressmen will be grand-standing for the Fed to “do something.”  But the “something” that was done from 2008 to 2015 is wearing off.  If the Fed is going to do God’s work and save the universe from natural market forces, it will have to print  even more money than last time around. That type of “doing something” will annihilate the dollar.

The immediate problem will be retail and hedge fund margin calls. If we don’t hear about ETFs and hedge funds blowing up after what happened yesterday, it means the PPT (NY Fed + the Treasury’s Working Group on Financial Markets – the “PPT” – which both have offices in the same building in lower Manhattan) has monetized and covered up those financial road-side bombs.

Hedge fund net exposure to equities had reached a record by early January.  “Risk appetite” by mid-January had reached an all-time high. Margin debt and “investor credit” began hitting all-time highs and all-time lows, respectively, in January.  “Investor credit” is, essentially, the amount of cash an investor can withdraw from a stock account after subtracting margin debt. This metric was north of negative $500 billion.

But, who could’ve seen this coming?

Part of the commentary above is an excerpt from the most recent Short Seller’s Journal.  If you want to learn how you can take advantage of historically overvalued stocks, click here: Short Seller’s Journal information page.

Hidden In Plain View / Eyes Wide Shut

The impending economic collapse is hidden from most. People only see a rising stock market, not the negative underlying factors that will cause the whole system to crash. – Peter Schiff

The average middle class household is getting squeezed by an income that is not keeping up with the cost of living. Unfortunately, a major portion of the cost of living has become debt service. Most car buyers assume an almost insane amount of debt to buy a new car. Credit card debt is being used to make ends meet. Low-to-no down payment mortgages have funded most of the homes sold over the last few years. The problem, however, is that the financial system enables this behavior. One has to wonder if this was not intentional…

The quote above is from a recent Peter Schiff podcast. He goes on to say the it’s unclear how quickly the financial system will unravel but “it is close” to happening. I wanted to use that quote because one of the goals of the Short Seller’s Journal is to present hard evidence that brings to your attention the “negative underlying factors” which contradict the “official” narrative about the economy and financial system.

A subscriber of mine sent an article to me in which the Wall Street economist, Joe LaVorgna, was forecasting today’s GDP report to surprise everyone by coming in at 5%. I literally laughed out loud. LaVorgna is a hack who has spent his career on Wall Street preaching fairytales about the economy as a means of assisting the snakeoil salesmen at his bank in their efforts to stuff as much high-commission junk into investor accounts as possible. People like LaVorgna would sell their mother for a small commission. I know this because everyone who was above me in the food-chain in the securities division of Bankers Trust in the 1990’s was like that.

Ultimately the truth will prevail but by then it will be too late. In the meantime, here’s a tell-tale indicator that criminals on Wall Street and at the Fed can’t hide:

The chart above shows the rate of return comparison between the S&P 500 and junk bonds (HYG). Historically going back at least to the 1990’s, stocks tend to move in the same direction as junk bonds on a lagged basis. That lag when I was trading junk bonds was usually anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months. The massive Central Bank intervention has largely removed the ability of the stock market to perceive fundamental problems developing in the financial and economic system. But the junk bond market is starting to smell problems.

Morgan Stanley’s wealth management division announced right after New Year’s that it was taking its recommended portfolio allocation in junk bonds down to zero. The rationale was that, while tax cut euphoria might inject fresh momentum into “high-flying stocks, the boost may be short-lived and will mask balance sheet weaknesses” – i.e. developing credit problems. The Morgan Stanley report further explained that “credit markets figure this out before equities” and that they are preparing “for a deterioration in lower-quality earnings in the U.S. led by lower operating margins.”

I nearly fell off my chair when I saw this commentary from Morgan Stanley. In my 32 years of active participation in the financial markets I can not recall any brokerage firm ever issuing a stark warning like this about any sector of the financial markets.

At some point the fundamental problems will become too obvious for stocks to ignore and there will be abrupt sell-offs. The 360 point drop from top to bottom last Tuesday was a hint of what’s to come. Eventually the Central Banks will be unable to intervene and manipulate the type of bounce that was engineered at Tuesday’s bottom and that followed-through on Wednesday and beyond.

All of this is going on in plain view. But the sheeple are too worried about whether or not they can take out enough debt to buy the cars and homes required to keep up with everyone else. But “everyone else” is doing the same thing. Default rates are starting to soar on credit card and auto loan debt. This will soon spill over into mortgages. My thesis on the housing market was confirmed by an industry-insider – a point which I will detail for my subscribers this weekend. We’re already seeing signs that the economy hit a wall in December. It will only get worse.

My subscribers who shorted my homebuilder stock idea two weeks ago are now up 17.7%. That’s if they shorted the shares. They are up even more if they used puts. If you are interested in learning how to take advantage of the coming stock market crash, you learn more about the Short Seller’s Journal here:   Short Seller’s Journal information.

Gold Set Up For Big Move This Year – What About Cryptos?

Gold and silver had a sharp run-up in the last two weeks of 2017.  However, the abrupt move in gold has been accompanied by a rapid rise in the gold futures open interest on the Comex. Furthermore, based on the last COT report the banks have dramatically increased their net short position and the hedge funds have gotten, once again, extremely net long.  I don’t like the looks of the COT report right now plus I anticipate a possible brief “relief” rally in the dollar index.

But what about cryptocurrencies?  Over the past few weeks the largest and most actively traded cryptocurrencies have been massacred in price.  This follows on the heels of the news that the founders of Bitcoin and Litecoin sold 100% of their holdings.  Nothing like insider selling as a signal about the value of what was sold…

Phil Kennedy invited me on to his podcast to discuss precious metals, cryptocurrencies and the U.S. dollar. We engage in a friendly (I want to emphasize “friendly”) debate on the merits of cryptocurrencies:

The bottom line for me is that gold has been declared a Tier 1 bank asset by the Bank of International Settlements. This means that gold is considered the highest form of bank asset. I believe there’s a good chance gold will move toward and over $1400 this year. As for a price prediction for the cryptos – it depends on the degree to which the fear of losing money overwhelms the fear of missing out on gains for the momentum-chasing speculators – most of whom are Asian-based. We may be approaching that point of no return:

The Four Most Dangerous Words In Investing…

“This time it’s different.” That quote is from Sir John Templeton, a legendary investor who is considered the father of the modern mutual fund industry. For most of the month of December, I’ve been hearing ads from mortgage brokers who are promoting the idea of refinancing your house in order to take care of holiday bills. It reminded of the early 2000’s when then Fed Chairman, Alan Greenspan, was urging Americans to use their house as “an ATM” by taking on home equity loans as a means of drawing out cash against home equity for consumption spending. Adding more debt against your house to pay off big credit card balances merely shifts household debt from one creditor to another. What’s worse, it frees up room under the credit card accounts to enable the consumer to take on even more debt.

In reference to the mortgage and housing market collapse in 2008, Ben Bernanke wrote, “Clearly, many of us at the Fed, including me, underestimated the extent of the housing bubble and the risks it posed.” It’s hard to know if that statement is genuine or not, given that many of us saw the housing bubble that was developing as early as 2004.

The Federal Government’s low-to-no down payment programs via Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the FHA, VHA and USDA, combined with the hyper-promotion of cash-out refinancings (bigger 1st mortgages and/or second-lien mortgages) tell me that, once again, most people in this country believe – or rather, hope – that the outcome will be different this time.

The graphic just below  is an interesting way to show the affect that Central Bank monetary inflation has on asset valuation vs income. Asset valuation should be theoretically derived from the income levels connected to the assets. Either the asset requires a certain level of income level to purchase and maintain the asset or the asset itself generates income/cash flow.

You’ll note the pattern that developed starting with the tech bubble era. Prior to the Clinton administration the Fed subtly intervened in the financial system by been printing money in excess of marginal wealth creation (GDP growth) once Nixon closed the gold window. But, in conjunction with the Greenspan Fed, the Government’s willingness to print money as an official policy tool took on a whole new dimension during the Clinton administration.  Note:  I’m not making a political judgment per se about the Clinton presidency, because the Fed’s ability to print money to prop up the stock market was established with Reagan’s Executive Order after the 1987 stock crash. You’ll note that the household net worth to income ratio began to rise at a sharp rate starting in mid-1994, which was when the Clinton-Rubin strong dollar policy was implemented. It’s also around the time that Greenspan began regularly printing money to address the series of financial problems that arose in the 1990’s.

The current ratio of household net worth to income is 6.75 – the highest household net worth to income ratio in history. It peaked around 6.5x in 2007 and 6.1x in early 2000. You’ll note that from 1986 to 1995 the ratio averaged just around 5.1x.

A graphic that is correlated to the household net worth/income ratio is the household net worth to GDP.  The pic to the right shows household net worth (assets minus debt) vs. a plot of the U.S. nominal GDP. As you can see, when the growth in household net worth deviates considerably from the growth in nominal GDP, bad things happen to asset values. Note: household assets consist primarily of a house and retirement funds. Currently the level of household net worth – that is, the value of homes and stock portfolios – relative to GDP is at its highest point in history. This will not end with happiness.

I wanted to present the two previous graphics and my accompanying analysis, in conjunction with the theme that “it is not different this time.” The extreme degree of household asset inflation relative to incremental GDP wealth output is yet another data-point indicating the high probability that a nasty stock market accident will occur sooner or later. To compound the severity of the problem, household asset inflation has been achieved primarily through massive credit creation. The amount of debt per home sold in this country currently is at a record level.

During this past week, the bullish sentiment of investors continued to soar.  A record level of investor bullishness never ends well for the stock market. Speaking of which, there has been an interesting development in the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence metrics. The headline-reported index showed an unexpected declined from 129.5 to 122.1 vs 128 expected. This is a big percentage drop and a big drop vs Wall Street’s crystal ball. However, while the “present situation” index hit its highest level since April 2001, the “expectations” – or “hope” – metric plunged from 113.3 to 99.1. It seems the current euphoria connected to the stock and housing markets is not expected to last.

The chart above shows the spread in consumer confidence between “present conditions” and “future conditions” (present conditions minus future conditions). A rising line indicates that future outlook (“hope”) is diverging negatively from present conditions. I’ve marked with red lines the peaks in this divergence which also happen to correlate with stock market tops (1979, 1987/1989, 2000).

The above commentary in an excerpt from the last issue of IRD’s Short Seller’s Journal.  I think retail stocks are going to be hit relentlessly beginning some time this quarter. In fact, one stock I presented as a short in early December was down over 12% yesterday after it released an earnings warning.  Some of the best SSJ short ideas in 2017 were retailers.  You can learn more about this short-seller newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal subscription information.

“Congrats on the [retail stock short] call. What a disaster. You have to love how the chart collapsed with the news. These algos are going to destroy people when they unless selling on stocks eventually. I made a 8X on my puts. Now I need to roll them into something else.” – SSJ subscriber who actively trades

The Size Of The Financial Avalanche Coming Grows Larger

Inflation vs deflation. The true economic definition of “inflation” is the rate of increase in the money supply in excess of the rate of increase in wealth output. Inflation is monetary in nature. Rising prices are the manifestation of inflation. Someone I follow on Twitter posted an ingenious example from which to conceptualize the true concept of inflation using the game of Monopoly:

The players all start out with reasonable amounts of money to speculate on real estate. As the game proceeds, players collect $200 by simply passing Go and use this money to speculate on real estate. By the end of the game, only $500 dollar bills are worth anything, the whole thing blows up, and most players end up destitute. In a twist of irony, an original game board sells for about $50,000.

A fixed amount of real estate and continuously increasing money supply, with “passing Go” functioning as the game’s monetary printing press. The monopoly analogy is readily applied to the current real estate market. The Fed tossed roughly $2 trillion into the mortgage market, which in turn has fueled the greatest U.S. housing bubble in history. The most absurd example I saw last week is a 264 sq ft studio in Los Angeles listed on 10/26 for $550,000. The seller bought it a year ago for $335,000. This is the degree to which Fed money printing and easy access Government guaranteed mortgages have distorted the system.

Here is monetary inflation as it is showing up in the stock market and housing markets:

The graphic above shows rampant credit-induced monetary inflation. On the left, home prices nationally are measured by the Case Shiller index going back the 1980’s. On the right is the S&P 500 going back to 1930. According to the Fed, real median household income has increased 5% between 2008 and the present. In contrast, based on Case Shiller, home prices nationally have soared 34% in the same time period.  Expressed as a ratio of average price to average household income, home prices are, at all-time highs in the U.S. This is the manifestation of rampant inflation in credit availability enabled by the mortgage “QE.” This growth rate in money and credit supply has far exceeded the tiny growth rate in average household income since 2008.

The stock market reflects the monetary inflation of the G3 Central Banks, primarily, plus global Central Bank balance sheet expansion. Please note that “balance sheet expansion” is the politically polite term for “money printing.” The meteoric rise in stock prices have never been more disconnected from the negligible rate of growth in nominal GDP since 2008. Real GDP has been, arguably, negative if a realistic inflation rate were used in the Government’s GDP deflator.

Inflation is not showing up in the Government CPI report because the Government does not measure inflation. The Government’s basket of goods is constantly juggled in order to de-emphasize the rising cost of goods and services considered to be necessities. In addition to the increasing cost of necessities like gasoline, health insurance and food, inflation is showing up in monetary assets. This is because a large portion of the money printed remains “inside” the banking system as “excess reserves” held at the Fed by banks. This capital is transmitted as de fact money supply via the creation credit mechanisms in the various forms of debt and derivatives. The eventual asset sale avalanche grows larger by the day.

Do not believe for one split-second that the U.S. has reached some sort of plateau of economic nirvana that will self-perpetuate. To begin with, it would require another round of even more money printing just to sustain the current bubble level. Read the inflation example above if that idea is still not clear. In 1927, John Maynard Keynes stated, “we will not have any more crashes in our time.” In the October 16, 1929 issue of The New York Times, famous economist and investor, Irving Fisher, stated that “stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau. I do not feel there will be soon if ever a 50 or 60 point break from present levels, such as (bears) have predicted. I expect to see the stock market a good deal higher within a few months.” Two weeks later the stock market crashed.

The above commentary is from last week’s Short Seller’s Journal. Speaking of the housing market, admittedly my homebuilder short positions are crawling up my pant-leg with fangs as the housing stocks have entered into the last stage of a parabolic “Roman candle” apex and burn-out. The homebuilders appear to be cheap relative to the SPX on a PE ratio basis – approximately an 18x average PE for homebuilders vs a 32x Case Shiller PE for the SPX.  However,  in relation to their underlying sales rate, earnings and balance sheet, the homebuilder stocks are more overvalued now than at the last peak in 2005.

While the homebuilders are are squeezing higher, I presented two “derivative” ideas in recent issues of the Short Seller’s Journal:  Zillow Group (ZG) at $50 in late June and Redfin (RDFN) at $28 in late September.  ZG just lost $40 today and RDFN is down to $21 (25% gain in 6 weeks). Both ZG and RDFN are “derivatives” to homebuilders because they derive most of their revenues from housing market-related ads, primarily real estate listings. Their revenues as such are “derived” from housing market sales activity. These stocks are overvalued outright. But as home sales volume declines, the revenue/income generating capability of the ZG/RDFN business model will evaporate quickly.  With home sales volume rolling over, the decline in the stock prices of ZG and RDFN relative to the “bubble squeeze” in homebuilder stocks validates my thesis.

If you want to learn more about opportunities to exploit this historically overvalued stock market and access fact-based market analysis, click here: Short Seller’s Journal info.

Get Ready To Party Like It’s 2008

Apparently Treasury Secretary, ex-Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin, has threatened Congress with stock crash if Congress doesn’t pass a tax reform Bill.  His reason is that the stock market surge since the election was based on the hopes of a big tax cut.  This reminds me of 2008, when then-Treasury Secretary, ex-Goldman Sachs CEO, Henry Paulson, and Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, paraded in front of Congress and threatened a complete systemic collapse if Congress didn’t authorize an $800 billion bailout of the biggest banks.

The U.S. financial system is experiencing an asset “bubble” that is unprecedented in history. This is a bubble that has been fueled by an unprecedented amount of Central Bank money printing and credit creation. As you are well aware, the Fed printed more than $4 trillion dollars of currency that was used to buy Treasury bonds and mortgage securities. But it has also enabled an unprecedented amount of credit creation. This credit availability has further fueled the rampant inflation in asset prices – specifically stocks, bonds and housing, the price of which now exceeds the levels seen in 2008 right before the great financial crisis.

However, you might not be aware that Central Banks outside of the U.S. continue printing money that is being used to buy stocks and risky bonds. The Bank of Japan now owns more than 75% of that nation’s stock ETFs. The Swiss National Bank holds over $80 billion worth of U.S. stocks, $17 billion of which were purchased in 2017. The European Central Bank, in addition to buying member country sovereign-issued debt is now buying corporate bonds, some of which are non-investment grade.

The table to the right shows the YTD performance of the US dollar vs. major currencies and the gold price vs major currencies. The dollar has appreciated in value YTD vs. alternative fiat currencies. More than anything, this represents the false sense of “hope” that was engendered by the election of Trump. As you can see from the right side of the table, gold is also up YTD vs every major currency. Note that gold has appreciated the most vs. the U.S. dollar. The performance of gold vs. fiat currencies reflects the fact that Central Banks globally are devaluing their currencies by printing currency and sovereign debt in increasing quantities. The rise vs. the dollar also reflects the expectation that the Fed and the Treasury might be printing even more currency and Treasury debt at some point in the next 6-12 months. This is despite the posturing by the Fed about “reducing” the size of its balance sheet, which is nothing more than scripted rhetoric.

“We have the worst revival of an economy since the Great Depression. And believe me: we’re in a bubble right now.” Donald Trump, from a Presidential campaign speech

Margin debt is at a record high. At $551 billion, it’s double the amount of margin debt outstanding at the peak of the tech bubble in 2000. It’s 45% greater than the amount of margin debt outstanding at the peak of the 2007 bubble.

Stock investors and house-flippers in the U.S. now make investment decisions based on the premise that, no matter what fundamental development or new event occurs, the market will always go up. “It’s different this time” has crept back into the rationale. The markets are particularly dangerous now. The concept of “risk” has been completely removed from investment equation.

This dynamic is the direct result of the money printing and credit creation which has enabled the Fed to keep interest rates near zero. The law economics tells us that increasing the supply of “good” without a corresponding increase in demand for that good results in a falling price. This is why interest rates are near zero. The Fed and the Government have increased the supply of currency via printing and issuing credit. Investors , in turn, are taking that near-zero cost of currency and credit and throwing it recklessly in all assets, but specifically stocks and homes.

Currently, anyone who puts their money into the stock, bond and housing markets in search of making money is doing nothing other than gambling recklessly on the certainty of the outcome of two highly inter-related events: 1) the willingness of Central Banks to continue pushing the price of assets higher with printed money; 2) the continued participation of investors who are willing to pay more than the previous investor to make the same bet. Most asset-price chasing buyers have no idea that they are doing nothing more than sitting at a giant casino table game.

The current bubble has been created by a record level of money printing and debt creation globally. Unfortunately, the upward velocity of rising asset prices has seduced investors to recklessly abandon all notion of risk. Based on several studies on investor cash holdings as a percentage of their overall portfolio (cash on the sidelines), investors are “all-in.” One would have to be brain-dead to not acknowledge that global Central Bank money-printing has caused the current “everything” asset bubble. But it’s a “fear of missing out” that has driven investors to pile blindly into stocks with zero regard for fundamental value. Even pensions funds, according to someone I know who works at a pension fund, have pushed equity allocations to the limit.

For the most part, Central Banks are now posturing as if they are going to stop printing money and, in some cases, “shrink” the size of their balance sheet (i.e. reverse “quantitative easing”). To the extent that the first chart above (SPX futures) reflects a combination of Central Bank money printing and investors going “all-in” on stocks (record low cash levels), IF the Central Banks simply stop printing money and do not shrink their balance sheets, who will be left to buy stocks when the selling begins?  If they do shrink their balance sheets, the central banks will start the selling as they have to sell their holdings in order to shrink their balance sheets.

Largest Asset Bubble In History – It’s Not Different This Time

The current asset bubble has been created by a record level of money printing and debt creation globally. Unfortunately, the upward velocity of rising asset prices has seduced investors to recklessly abandon all notion of risk. One would have to be brain-dead to not acknowledge that global Central Bank money-printing has caused the current “everything” asset bubble. Current data that tracks the cash and investment allocation levels shows that investors – and this includes hedge funds and pensions, not just retail/high net worth – are “all in.” IF the Central Banks simply stop printing money and do not shrink their balance sheets who will be left to buy stocks when the selling begins?

Silver Doctors invited me onto their weekly money/metals podcast to discuss why the catalysts driving fiat-currency-based paper assets to historical valuations will unwind and will ultimately drive gold to a valuation level higher by several multiples than the current price. Eventually gold will not be measured in terms of dollars and possibly not in terms of any fiat currency:

If you want to find out more about my investment newsletters, click on either of these links:    Mining Stock JournalShort Seller’s Journal.

The Coming Run On Banks And Pensions

“There are folks that are saying you know what, I don’t care, I’m going to lock in my retirement now and get out while I can and fight it as a retiree if they go and change the retiree benefits,” he said.  – Executive Director for the Kentucky Association of State Employees,  Proposed Pension Changes Bring Fears Of State Worker Exodus

The public awareness of the degree to which State pension funds are underfunded has risen considerably over the past year.  It’s a problem that’s easy to hide as long as the economy is growing and State tax receipts grow.  It’s a catastrophe when the economic conditions deteriorate and tax revenue flattens or declines, as is occurring now.

The quote above references a report of a 20% jump in Kentucky State worker retirements in August after it was reported that a consulting group recommended that the State restructure its State pension system.   I personally know a teacher who left her job in order to cash completely out of her State employee pension account in Colorado (Colorado PERA).  She knows the truth.

But the problem with under-funding is significantly worse than reported.  Pensions are run like Ponzi schemes.  As long as the amount of cash coming in to the fund is equal to or exceeds beneficiary payouts, the scheme can continue.   But for years, due to poor investment decisions and Fed monetary policies, beneficiary payouts have been swamping investment returns and fund contributions.

Pension funds have notoriously over-marked their illiquid risky investments and understated their projected actuarial investment returns in order to hide the degree to which they are under-funded.  Most funds currently assume 7% to 8% future rates of return. Unfortunately, the ability to generate returns like that have been impossible with interest rates near zero.

In the quest to compensate for low fixed income returns, pension funds have plowed money into stocks, private equity funds and illiquid and very risky investments,  like subprime auto loan securities and commercial real estate.   Some pension funds have as much as 20% of their assets in private equity.  When the stock market inevitably cracks, it will wipe pensions out.

As an example of pensions over-estimating their future return calculations, the State of Minnesota adjusted the net present value of its future liabilities from 8% down to 4.6% (note:  this is the same as lowering its projected ROR from 8% to 4.6%).   The rate of under-funding went from 20% to 47%.

I can guarantee you with my life that if an independent auditor spent the time required to implement a bona fide market value mark-to-market on that fund’s illiquid assets, the amount of under-funding would likely jump up to at least 70%.  “Bona fide mark-to-market” means, “at what price will you buy this from me now with cash upfront?”

For instance, what is the true market price at which the fund could sell its private equity fund investments?   Harvard is trying to sell $2.5 billion in real estate and private equity investments.   The move was announced in May and there have not been any material updates since then other than a quick press release in early July that an investment fund was looking at the assets offered.  I would suggest that the bid for these assets is either lower than expected or non-existent other than a pennies on the dollar  “option value” bid.

At some point current pension fund beneficiaries are going to seek an upfront cash-out. If enough beneficiaries begin to inquire about this, it could trigger a run on pensions and drastic measures will be implemented to prevent this.

Similarly, per the sleuthing of Wolf Richter, ECB is seeking from the European Commission the authority to implement a moratorium on cash withdrawals from banks at its discretion. The only reason for this is concern over the precarious financial condition of the European banking system.  And it’s not just some cavalier Italian and Spanish banks.  I would suggest that Deutsche Bank, at any given moment, is on the ropes.

But make no mistake. The U.S. banks are in no better condition than their European counter-parts.  If Europe is moving toward enabling the ECB to close the bank windows ahead of an impending financial crisis, the Fed is likely already working on a similar proposal.

All it will take is an extended 10-20% draw-down in the stock market to trigger a massive run on custodial assets – pensions, banks and brokerages.  This includes the IRA’s.  I would suggest that one of the primary motivations behind the Fed/PPT’s  no-longer-invisible hand propping up the stock and fixed income markets is the knowledge of the pandemonium that will ensue if the stock market were allowed to embark on a true price discovery mission.

Like every other attempt throughout history to control the laws of economics and perpetuate Ponzi schemes, the current attempt by Central Banks globally will end with a spectacular collapse.   I would suggest that this is one of the driving forces underlying the repeated failure by the western Central Banks to drive the price of gold lower since mid-December 2015.   I would also suggest that it would be a good idea to keep as little of your wealth as possible tied up in banks and other financial “custodians.” The financial system is one giant “Roach Motel” – you check your money in but eventually you’ll never get it out.