Category Archives: U.S. Economy

Carvana: A Convicted Felon’s Personal Piggy Bank

CVNA’s valuation vs competitors like CarMax (KMX), Autonation (AN) etc is completely irrational. I was a CEO of a subprime company in this space. CVNA’s valuation is a crime of capitalism.” – @beaconstagezero

Ernest Garcia II was convicted on felony charges in connection with his involvement in the Charles Keating S&L Ponzi scheme which stole billions from innocent bystanders.  Garcia is the founder and Chairman of Carvana (CVNA).   His son, a chip off the old block, is the CEO.

Carvana’s Q2 2020 showed 15.3% YoY revenue growth vs Q2 2019. But the gross margin dropped 100 basis points from 16% last year to 15% in this year’s Q2. No wonder CVNA is generating revenue growth – just like every other overvalued “unicorn” company hatched in Silicon Valley, CVNA charges a price for its product that does not cover the cost of its business model.

How do we know this? Its operating loss soared 66.4% to $106 million of red ink from $64 million in Q2/19. The cash burned (used) in operations fell to just $7 million from $168 million in Q1/20. But this was attributable to a $215 million run-off of inventory from Q1. As I’ve discussed previously, CVNA does not price the cars it sells at a price high enough to cover the full cost of the business model. This is why it issues debt and stock quite frequently.

A big red flag for me is the fact that has had to issue stock three times raising $1.3 billion subsequent to going public in 2017 plus another $700 million in two separate junk bond deals in 2018 and 2019. Two of the three stock financings occurred in Q2 2020, yet the cash balance between Q1 and Q2 increased by just $76 million dollars, part of which is restricted cash. The Company used $781 million to pay down a short-term revolver used to finance inventory. This also explains the run-off inventory. Including the inventory run-off in Q2, the Company has raised $2.2 billion in funding since going public. This is essentially the amount of cash burned by CVNA’s operations since its April 2017 IPO.

This Company does not make money and it never will unless it charges a much higher price for the vehicles it sells, in which case its sales volume will plummet. CVNA is 60% owned by Chairman/founder, Ernest Garcia (a convicted felon), and 40% owned by the public. Garcia sucks money out of Carvana via a series of “related party” arrangements which include the leasing of office space and other facilities, paying a Garcia-owned business for used car reconditioning services and selling usage time on a corporate aircraft indirectly owned by Garcia. A Garcia-owned company also gets paid for servicing CVNA’s finance receivables. The conflict of interest and self-dealing between CVNA and Ernest Garcia II (Chairman) plus Ernest Garcia III (CEO) is mind-boggling.

The bottom line is that CVNA is functions as a vehicle (so to speak) that Ernest Garcia and his son use to raise money in the public capital markets and suck that money out of CVNA for personal gain. It’s the epitome of fraud and corruption.

The short interest represents 47% of the share float, which explains the ridiculous run-up in the share price after the Company reported. Clearly I’m not the only one who has dissected the footnotes to the financials and determined that CVNA is to a large degree Ponzi scheme with an absurd market valuation.

Quite frankly I would bet that the asset value of the Company is not a lot greater than the amount of debt outstanding. The tangible assets – finance receivables (i.e. subprime loans extended to customers), inventory and unrestricted cash – are carried at $1.2 billion. The finance receivables ballooned in Q2 to $358 million from $199 million in Q1. This tells us that the Company lends aggressively to subprime borrowers.

There’s no way the market value of that crap is worth $358 million. PP&E is carried at $704 million. Thus, CVNA’s “hard” assets total $1.9 billion giving full value to receivables. Total debt plus payables was $1.4 billion at the end of Q2. Subtracting the debt from the tangible assets leaves $500 million of asset value. Beyond that, what is the value of a business that burns several hundred million in cash on an annual basis?

CVNA’s market cap at Friday’s close was $32.9 billion. If you laid out the numbers in the paragraph above and told me that the business described was valued at $32.9 billion, I would have thought you were hallucinating.

CVNA’s stock began plunging Friday about 15 minutes after the NYSE opened. It closed down $31 on the day despite a positive closing for the Dow and SPX. I don’t know if this will be the start of capital flight out of CVNA but eventually this stock is going back to $30 (or lower), where it closed at the market bottom in March.

Is Fed Head, Jay Powell, Serious?

“Investors are being infantilized by the relentless Federal Reserve activity…It’s as if the Fed considers them foolish children, unable to rationally set the prices of securities so it must intervene.” – Seth Klarman, Baupost Group

This is indeed the Golden Age of Fraud, with those appointed to manage the system ethically and responsibly leading the charge. The actions at the Fed are conspicuously irresponsible, if not beyond appalling.

Wall Street on Parade posted a report on Friday detailing Jay Powell’s blatant conflict of interests in his dealings as the Fed Chairman in hiring BlackRock to prop up the financial markets. But I almost fell on chair from laughter when I read Powell’s response to a question from the NY Times about the nature of Powell’s four phone calls lasting a total of 90 minutes since March with BlackRock’s CEO, Larry Fink:

“I can’t recall exactly what those conversations were, but they would have been about what he is seeing in the markets and things like that to generally exchanging information. And he’s typically trying to make sure that we are getting good service from the company that he founded and leads.  I’d say that’s his main objective when we talk.”

Powell must think that those who know enough to pay attention to what’s really going on are complete morons – or at least tragically gullible.   A courtesy call to make sure the Fed is happy with BlackRock’s service?   Is BlackRock the Maytag repairman?  Of course Powell is happy.  The value of his investment with BlackRock has more than doubled since BlackRock was hired to push the financial markets higher using the Fed’s printed money.

The system is openly corrupt now – these guys don’t even attempt to cover the obvious with cheap mascara anymore. Who’s going to stop these crony capitalists from completely looting the system? The SEC? The Justice Department?  Sure, they’ll get right on that but first they too have to feed at the trough.

The wheels are flying off the system and those in a position to do so operate with brazen disregard for the law. The least Powell can do is apologize to his audience for assuming those paying attention are stupid enough to believe the pig vomit he regurgitates to the media and 60 Minutes…

Owning Gold And Silver Is Critical For The End Game

“…unprecedented monetary stimulus is fueling asset bubbles and corporate debt addiction — rendering interest-rate hikes impossible without an economic crash…gold could rise to $3,000 to $5,000 an ounce in the next three to five years” – Diego Parrilla, head of the $450 million Quadriga Igneo fund, which is up 47% YTD

My personal view is that Diego is low by several  multiples on his estimate for the eventual price of gold before the entire system is reset. And, based on the current gold/silver ratio, the price of silver is 4x undervalued in relation to gold.

Kenneth Ameduri invited me back on to his Crush The Street podcast to discuss the factors behind the precious metals raging bull market and what the end game might look like:

**************

Several of my junior and larger cap stock ideas have had huge moves higher. I will be discussing what to do with these stocks in the next few issues of my Mining Stock Journal plus presenting any new ideas I uncover that have yet to be widely discovered. You can learn more about Investment Research Dynamic’s newsletters by following these links (note: a minimum subscription period beyond the 1st month is not required):  Short Seller’s Journal subscription information   –   Mining Stock Journal subscription information

Note:  I do not receive any promotion or sponsor payments in any form from the mining stock companies I present in my newsletter. Furthermore, I invest in many of the ideas personally or in my fund.

AMZN’s Free Cash Flow And Profitability Myth

Jeff Bezos was a master at GAAP accounting manipulation back when Elon Musk thought that “GAAP” was a clothing store chain. AMZN’s numbers are just as manipulated as Tesla’s. But the difference between Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk is that, whereas Musk is a pure caveman with his fraud, Bezos is clever about disguising and hiding the accounting manipulation. About six years ago I spent a considerable amount of time deep-diving into AMZN’s financials going back to 2004, which is when AMZN’s business really began to takeoff. After about two weeks of tedious but intensive study of the footnotes in 10Q’s and K’s, I pieced together a lot of the GAAP manipulation tools embedded in AMZN’s financials.

I will note that in 2018 Amazon denied a request from the SEC for more information about the Prime business, including disclosing in its financials the amount of sales attributable to Prime members. I’m certain Bezos rejected this request because Prime is a money-losing proposition and does not want to provide the evidence of that by breaking out the numbers. I recall sometime around 2013 or 2014 Bezos admitted in an interview with Bloomberg that Prime lost a couple billion per year.

AMZN pulled a lot of of the usual GAAP tricks to generate this quarter’s net income “beat.” Bezos slashed marketing expenses by a considerable amount as a percentage of revenue, as the marketing expense was essentially flat vs Q2 2019. Historically the marketing expense has grown YoY at a healthy rate. He may have just figured out a way to justify capitalizing some that expense – i.e. throwing some amount of the marketing expense into an asset account and amortizing it over time. This would reduce the amount of marketing expense shown in the income statement, thereby increasing operating and net income. Too be sure during Q2 a lot of companies cut back on web-based advertising, but if this was the case with AMZN, the cost-improvement is one-time, non-recurring.

Though AMZN reported EPS of $10.50 vs. $5.32 in Q2/19, several red flags for me point to the improbability of net income nearly doubling YoY. The operating income margin in the North America product segment (e-commerce + whole foods + sundry other small businesses) declined again to 3.7% from 4.1% in Q2/19. For the first time he showed a tiny operating profit in the International e-commerce business. I’m certain there were accounting games to accomplish this but I can’t prove it with just the publicly available numbers.

AWS (the cloud business) continues to experience slowing sales growth and declining margins. AWS contributed to 59% of the Q2 operating income but just 12.1% of the total revenues. And the percentage of revenues represented by AWS sales declined.

AMZN’s overall operating margin was 6.5% but the Products (online + WF) operating margin was just 3.1% vs 4.9% in Q2/19. This decline is attributable I believe to declining margins in the Whole Foods business. Again, AMZN offers fat discount specials to Prime members on many products at WF, which drives sales growth at the expense of profitability. Unfortunately, AMZN does not break out the sales and income attributable to the WF business – yet another layer of opacity on AMZN’s financials. I predicted when AMZN acquired WF in mid-2017 (at the time WF was 5% operating margin business being folded into a 3% operating margin business) that Bezos would drive margins lower at WF in an effort to generate revenue growth.

The cost of fulfillment rose – again – to 26% of product sales vs 25.6% last year. The Company generates sales by subsidizing the selling price of online products with 2-day free
delivery for Prime members. This is a money losing proposition and it enables predatory
pricing to drive out competition. Bezos is being grilled by Congress about the possible use of predatory pricing strategies to drive out competition, along other anti-trust issues. Rest soundly that this is nothing more than political theatre and nothing will be done to curtail AMZN’s effort to put the competition out of business.

AMZN’s debt increased again to $33 billion (41%) in Q2 but the Company is not using the funds to buyback shares. If the business really is generating free cash flow, why issue more debt? AMZN has to issue debt from time to time to fund cash needs. Without going into the complicated calculus here, AMZN’s free cash flow claim is an accounting mirage. At the end of Q2 2012, AMZN had zero debt. It had $24 billion in debt after closing the WF’s deal. Now it has $33 billion in long term debt. To my knowledge, unlike most other big companies that issue debt for the sole purpose of buying back shares, AMZN has rarely if ever repurchased shares. This is because it needs the debt funding to cover expenses.

Finally, AMZN used to disclose the amount of cash it spends every quarter for operating and finance leases plus that amount cash used to acquire PP&E under operating and finance leases at the bottom of the State of Cash Flows. No more. Now it discloses this information in the footnotes in a section titled “Supplemental Cash Flow Information.” This may sound trivial but the cash used for the PP&E purchases is not included in Bezos’ definition of free cash flow. In addition, very few analysts and investors ever bother to look at the footnotes.

Bottom line: If I gross up the the first 6 months of 2020 operating income and add a couple billion for growth, I get full-year estimated operating income of $20 billion. This stock is trading at 80x estimated operating income for a business that generates a 6.5% operating margin and said margin declines almost every quarter. 88% of the business model generates just a 3% margin and that margin is declining. Right now it doesn’t matter. The stock algos, Chinese retail gunslingers and Robinhood idiots will chase anything that moves. You make a dead skunk carcass move and the Robinhood morons will chase it.

“We Are In The Golden Age Of Fraud”

“Elon Musk has personified the hopes and dreams of this bull market; Tesla burnishes its results through aggressive accounting; it’s a culture of deception because it is selling self-driving, which doesn’t yet exist.” – Jim Chanos from “We Are In The Golden Age Of Fraud” (Financial Times)

Jim Chanos is perhaps the most well-known remaining short-seller in this market.  Don’t be fooled by his demure characterization of Elon Musk and Tesla.  It’s calculated diplomacy. The numbers are far more than just polished up to look good  – the accounting is not just “aggressive,” it’s fraudulent, and Chanos knows that as well as anyone.

Chanos describes the current environment as “a really fertile field for people to play fast and loose with the truth, and for corporate wrongdoers to get away with it for a long time”. He reels off why: a 10-year bull market driven by central bank intervention; a level of retail participation in the markets reminiscent of the end of the dotcom boom; Trumpian “post-truth in politics, where my facts are your fake news”; and Silicon Valley’s “fake it until you make it” culture, which is compounded by Fomo — the fear of missing out. All of this is exacerbated by lax oversight. Financial regulators and law enforcement, he says, “are the financial archaeologists — they will tell you after the company has collapsed what the problem was.” (Financial Times)

I have said many times that Tesla and Elon Musk embody and reflect the extreme degree to which the U.S. system has defined deviance downward into what is now a complete Banana Republic controlled by crony-capitalist elitists who are putting the screws to the middle class. The money printed by the Fed is nothing more than the thinly veiled bailout of the biggest banks – nothing more – effecting the greatest wealth transfer in history.

The fraud and corruption is blatant. And there’s nothing the masses can do about it at this point. The U.S. economic, financial, political and legal system is now amalgam of “1984” and “Atlas Shrugged.”  Eventual collapse is fait accompli.

Chanos himself burnishes the adjectives he uses to convey the degree to which the U.S. system has been engulfed in fraud, corruption and open theft.  In my opinion, Francisco D’Anconia in “Atlas Shrugged” describes the U.S. perfectly in this excerpt from the famous “Money Speech:”

Watch money. Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue. When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion–when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing–when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors–when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you–when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice–you may know that your society is doomed.

The Precious Metals Bull Market Is Beginning To Rage

The precious metals and mining stocks have a long way to go before this secular bull market is over. My view is that it will culminate with a global monetary reset that will re-incorporate gold/silver into the monetary system. The dollar-based price of gold and silver will end up at multiples of their current prices.

Silver Doctor’s Paul Eberhart invited me back on to his podcast to discuss the big move in the precious metals market, including whether or not the current investor sentiment is overly euphoric, the degree to which the mainstream media spits out anti-gold propaganda, the U.S. dollar and the general economy/stock market/Tesla (Silver Doctors):

**************

Several of my junior and larger cap stock ideas have had huge moves higher. I will be discussing what to do with these stocks in the next few issues of my Mining Stock Journal plus presenting any new ideas I uncover that have yet to be widely discovered. You can learn more about Investment Research Dynamic’s newsletters by following these links (note: a minimum subscription period beyond the 1st month is not required):  Short Seller’s Journal subscription information   –   Mining Stock Journal subscription information

Note:  I do not receive any promotion or sponsor payments in any form from the mining stock companies I present in my newsletter. Furthermore, I invest in many of the ideas personally or in my fund.

What’s Going On With Silver?

Chris Marcus wanted my opinion about whether or not a silver “smash” was coming:  “I would never want to be as dogmatic as saying ‘never’ because anything can happen with a banking [and financial markets] system as corrupt as the one in the U.S.”

But silver is historically cheap as an asset in relation to the universe of dollar-based financial assets and relative to the dollar-value of gold.  Until the global monetary system is reset, gold and silver are going much higher price in ALL fiat currencies. As silver moves higher, there will be even more aggressive attempts to control its rise and this will entail higher volatility – both up and down but mostly up.

Chris (Arcadia Economics) and I examine this topic in our latest podcast and I draw from 20 years of experience in the precious metals sector including a 4-year span in the early 2000’s when I traded silver futures almost around the clock:

**************

You can learn more about  Investment Research Dynamics newsletters by following these links (note: a minimum subscription period beyond the 1st month is not required):  Short Seller’s Journal subscription information   –   Mining Stock Journal subscription information

Note:  I do not receive any promotion or sponsor payments in any form from the mining stock companies I present in my newsletter. Furthermore, I invest in many of the ideas personally or in my fund.

The Historical Stock Bubble, Idiot Stocks And Gold

The Fed has blown the current stock bubble to an unprecedented magnitude. While the most outrageous overvaluations are concentrated in the tech sector, the valuation insanity has engulfed the entire stock market. Bubble chasers ran Hertz, a bankrupt company that will either liquidate or restructure, up to a valuation close to $1 billion after the Company filed for bankruptcy.

Perhaps the poster-child for this historic stock market Hindenburg is Tesla. Its valuation makes a mockery of our markets and shows what a complete farce the regulatory, legal and judicial systems have become in our country. It is the perfect reflection of the Banana Republic into which the U.S. has transformed over the last 10 years.

The precious metals sector is just getting warmed up. Since late March, when the Fed opened up the floodgates of its digital money printing press, gold is up 21%, the SPX is up 37%, silver is up 54% and the mining stocks are up 86%. Expect the large cap gold/silver producers to produce another round of big earnings beats for Q2 and Q3, which will drive the mining stocks even higher.

Lior Ganz invited me onto his Wealth Research Group podcast to discuss the current stock market insanity and what’s ahead for the precious metals sector:

**************

You can learn more about  Investment Research Dynamics newsletters by following these links (note: a minimum subscription period beyond the 1st month is not required):  Short Seller’s Journal subscription information   –   Mining Stock Journal subscription information

Note:  I do not receive any promotion or sponsor payments in any form from the mining stock companies I present in my newsletter. Furthermore, I invest in many of the ideas personally or in my fund.

“New subscriber here. Thank you for the Great newsletter with a very professional analysis.”

Gold And Mining Stocks vs Stocks – Many Will Be Surprised

The precious metals sector – gold, silver and mining stocks – is in the early stages of a rabid bull market.  The mainstream media has been dead silent on the performance of the precious metals, which is not a surprise to those of us who have been involved in the sector since 2001, when gold bottomed at $250, silver was around $4 and the HUI index was at 45.

Since September 2018, gold has significantly outperformed the stock market. In fact, per this chart below, measured in terms of real money the Dow is in a bear market  – down 36.3% since September 2018:

This chart shows the performance of the SPX vs GDX for the last 52 weeks:

Measured against the GDX mining stock ETF, the S&P 500 is down 42.1% since mid-March. In other words, the S&P 500 is in a bear market when expressed in terms of a mining stock index. Again, the silence from the mainstream financial media and the big Wall Street banks is deafening.

This bull move has a long way to go. The momentum junkies, macro hedge funds and generalist equity funds have yet to discover the precious metals sector. The retail stock jockeys chasing bankrupt stocks to the moon can’t spell “gold” yet. Eventually when reality invades the stock market, an epic crash in will be followed by a move in the precious metals sector that will shock most and even surprise many precious metals bugs….Got gold?

Jay Powell’s Printing Press And The Idiot Stocks

I’d like to thank Jay Powell and his marvelous printing press.  The equity side of my investment fund, which I manage, is 100% mining stocks – mostly juniors – and as of today it’s up 100% QTD.  Thank you Jay.  Almost every stock we hold is from the ideas I present in my Mining Stock Journal.

But I’m here to discuss the “idiot stocks.” I’ve decided to label stocks like SHOP, W, TSLA, BYND, CVNA, etc as “idiot stocks.” Yes, ignorant speculators have managed to get lucky trading these stocks during a period of time when the Fed has printed the greatest amount of money in its history. But only an idiot would consider them to be long term, fundamentals-based investments. Not one of those stocks has ever produced a valid GAAP profit and never will. They are largely cash-burning furnaces that have benefited from a stock market that, for now, will tolerate any negative event short of nuclear war.

The latest idiot stock with which I’ve started toying is Fastly (FSLY, $86). FSLY is an “edge” cloud-based technology services business focused on real-time content delivery network services. FSLY’s market is $8.14 billion which is 38.6x trailing revenues. For 2019 the Company generated $200 million in revenues. It looks like, based on its growth rate and Q1 revenues of $63 million, that it will generate maybe $270-280 million in revenues in 2020. The point of this is that it’s a small company with significant inherent business risks, not the least of which is obsolescence and competition.

Like most of the idiot stocks, FSLY operates at a loss every quarter and its operations burn cash every quarter, even adding back the non-cash expense of stock-based compensation. Of course, stock-based comp imposes silent shareholder dilution. And insiders are ensuring this dilution happens quickly, as almost everyday insiders exercise zero-cost stock options and then turnaround and dump the shares in the market. At the end of Q1/19, there were 25 million shares outstanding. Now the share-count is 95 million.

The stock chart, RSI and MACD pretty much speak for themselves. This is one of the more overvalued stocks I’ve analyzed, ergo an idiot stock. I’ve been playing around with near-money puts for the last 7 trading days. Despite the chart appearance, I’ve managed to eek out a modest profit.

The implied vol is very high, especially for the call options. This means shorting OTM calls is a better proposition than buying puts. The July 17th $120 calls were $2.20 bid on Friday. Shorting these would be the equivalent of picking up nickels in front of a steam-roller. If you feel like stepping up the risk for higher profits, the August $120 calls can be shorted around $7, plus or minus 20 cents. The short interest is not very high (6%) so you won’t have to worry about a short-squeeze. If you short the calls, use a 20% stop-loss.

Because the implied vol is so high (on average it’s 100%), the puts are expensive – even deep OTM puts. This is why I’m sticking with weekly near-money puts for now. But this stock was trading at $45 on June 11th. On this basis it might be worth taking a shot with August $60’s. Another interesting idea is the January 2021 $20’s. The last trade in this put was this past Wednesday at $2.81. If you short the stock, use a 20% stop-loss. You want to give yourself room to weather the high volatility and avoid getting stopped out on a brief 10% intra-day spike.

The commentary above is from my Short Seller’s Journal.  FSLY dropped as much as $10 on Monday. I scored a double on the puts I bought on Friday. Several of my subscribers bought puts in early trading Monday and booked profits that made it worthwhile getting out of bed today. You can learn more about this newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.