Category Archives: U.S. Economy

Greed Unbounded: “A Slow-Motion Looting”

I made the observation back in 2004 that the elitists would keep the financial and economic system from collapsing using printing money and debt for as long as it took for them to sweep every last crumb of middle class wealth off the table and into their own pockets.  “Middle class” in this context is defined as anyone without enough cash lying around to purchase their own Federal politician, judge and regulator.  If you were not invited to Davos or the annual Bilderberg meeting, you are middle class.

The Huffpost has written a must-read essay describing the vision I had back in 2004 as it is unfolding in real-time:

Country-club nepotism and Gilded Age avarice are nothing new in America, of course. But the rich are enjoying a golden age of impunity unprecedented in modern history…Elite deviance has become the dark matter of American life, the invisible force around which the country’s most powerful legal and political systems have set their orbit.

“OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS, nearly every institution of American life has taken on the unmistakable stench of moral rot. Corporate behemoths like Boeing and Wells Fargo have traded blue-chip credibility for white-collar callousness. Elite universities are selling admission spots to the highest Hollywood bidder. Silicon Valley unicorns have revealed themselves as long cons (Theranos), venture-capital cremation devices (Uber, WeWork) or straightforward comic book supervillains (Facebook). Every week unearths a cabinet-level political scandal that would have defined any other presidency. From the blackouts in California to the bloated bonuses on Wall Street to the entire biography of Jeffrey Epstein, it is impossible to look around the country and not get the feeling that elites are slowly looting it.”

Read the rest of this here: A Slow-Motion Looting

The Fake News Economy

The stock market is becoming increasingly disconnected from underlying main street reality. Corporate profits have been declining since the third quarter of 2018. However, pre-tax corporate profits have been declining since the Q3 2014 (this data is available on the St. Louis Fed FRED website). Real corporate profits (adjusted for CPI and including inventory write-downs and capex) are the lowest since the financial crisis. Remarkably, rather than the usual “hockey stick” forecasts, Wall St analysts have revised lower their consensus earnings estimates for the Dow Jones Industrials. In fact, per the chart above, I think you can say that Wall Street’s forward EPS estimates have gone off a cliff.

The “narrative” architects and fairytale spinners are desperately looking for evidence to fit their “consumer is still healthy/economy still fine” propaganda. But a look under “the hood,” starting with the employment report, reveals a reality that is in stark contrast to the manipulated headline numbers.

There’s no b.s. like the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics). The BLS publishes the monthly non-farm payroll report.  Predictably, the headline number reporting that 225k “jobs” created was well above the consensus forecast of 160k. But the benchmark revision removed 514,000 jobs reported to have been created between April 2018 and March 2019. This is visually what it looks like when 20% of the prior year’s job “growth” is erased:

The black line shows the number of jobs originally reported between April 2018 and March 2019. The light blue line shows the revised data. The two lines are lined up prior to April 2018 reflecting prior benchmark revisions, which is why they’re in sync. A large portion of the revision came from the BLS’ seasonal “adjustments” model over-estimating job creation related to consumer spending, primarily the retail sector and leisure/hospitality.

The benchmark revision does not apply to the current report, which is largely not credible. As an example, the BLS attributed 44,000 new jobs to construction. But the December construction spending report showed 0.2% decline from November. Private construction spending was 0.1% below November.

The total value of construction spending in 2019 was 0.3% below 2018. Private construction spending for the entire year in 2019 was 2.5% below 2018, with residential construction 4.7% below 2018. Removing construction inflation from the numbers, private residential construction spending in 2019 fell 8.8% from 2018 (per John Williams’ Shadowstats.com).

I glean three conclusions from the construction spending data. First, the BLS attribution for 44k new construction jobs in January is egregiously incorrect. No way construction firms are hiring with construction spending in decline. Recall I mentioned in the last issue (the Short Seller’s Journal) that Caterpillar’s CEO had forecast a further decline in residential construction spending in 2020.

Second, without the increase in Government spending, the decline in construction spending would have been worse. Third, per the CAT CEO’s outlook for lower residential spending in 2020 (and I’m certain his view is derived from residential construction equipment orders) it would seem that homebuilders are not backing their optimism per the homebuilder sentiment report with real money if they are planning to spend less in 2020 than they did in 2019.

Notwithstanding the BLS fantasy employment report this past Friday, here’s a good leading indicator of labor market weakness:

When businesses start reducing payroll to cut expenses in response to expected business weakness, the temp labor goes first. You’ll note that this data series went negative briefly in 2015,  but recovered somewhat. In all probability businesses responded to the Trump election hopium and the stimulative effect from Trump’s massive corporate tax cut. But businesses prematurely implemented expansion and capex spending and now they’re back to using cash for stock buybacks into which insiders are selling.

While December retail sales, released in mid-January, showed a 0.3% increase over November, ex-autos retail holiday spending was slightly better than expected. December retail sales not including autos increased 0.7%. However, if you exclude gasoline and auto sales, retail spending increased 0.5%. Auto sales took a hit in December (predictably) and gasoline price inflation boosted the headline number. Surprisingly, considering all of the hoopla in the mainstream financial media about “strong” online sales for the holidays, online sales only increased 0.2%.

Underlying the “good” holiday retail sales number, is a troubling reality. The Fed reported this past Friday (Feb 7th) that consumer credit soared by $22.1 billion in December ($15 billion was the consensus forecast). Most of that increase is attributable to credit card spending, which accounted for $12.6 billion of the $22 billion. This was the biggest one-month jump in credit card debt since 1998. Total consumer credit outstanding hit a record $4.2 trillion in December.

What makes this statistic even more troubling is the fact that credit card delinquency and default rates are starting to accelerate per the Discover Financial (DFS) data I presented in January 26th SSJ issue. PNC Bank (PNC) also reported rising credit delinquencies and charge-offs when it reported its Q4. Its stock tanked 7% over the next eight trading days. Credit Acceptance Corporation (CACC – subprime auto loans) reported rising delinquencies, defaults and charge-offs on January 30th. It’s stock fell 8.1% the next day though it’s recouped about half of that loss through Friday (Feb 7th).

The chart above shows CPI-adjusted retail sales (blue line) vs consumer credit outstanding (red line) for the last 5 years. CPI-adjusted retail sales declined slightly in 2019, which means “unit volume” declined slightly, while consumer credit continued to rise. Now imagine if a real inflation adjustment was applied to retail sales instead of the phony CPI. Real retail sales would show a decline in 2019. The chart above is not a “friend” of perma-bulls and economic fantasy promoters, which is probably why you will never see a chart like that in the mainstream financial media.

Target (TGT, $115) said its same-store-sales were up just 1.4% during the holidays vs 5.7% a year ago. Toy sales were flat, electronics sales were down 6% and home items sales were down 1% (apparel was up 5%, food/beverage up 3% and beauty items up 7%). Macy’s, Kohl’s and JC Penney all reported same-store-sales declines for the holiday period. Macy’s announced earlier this past week that it was going to cut 2,000 jobs and shutter 125 stores.

While it’s clear e-commerce is slowly taking market share from brick/mortar, the latter’s troubles are derived primarily from the deteriorating financial condition of the average household. A study released this past week from a survey taken in late November showed that nearly 70% of all respondents said they had less than $1,000 in savings.

The economy is contracting in most sectors. Any area of the economy that still has pulse is being driven by debt issuance.  Any media reports or official proclamations that the economy is “doing  well” are nothing more than fake news and propaganda.

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The commentary above is  excerpted from the February 9th is of the Short Seller’s Journal. Each weekly issue contains macro economic analysis, market analysis, and short ideas.  I  To learn more about this short-sell focused newsletter, click here:  Short Seller’s Journal info

The Stock Market, Gold, Silver, Mining Stocks And Tesla

The stock market has become a powerful political and economic propaganda tool. It’s hard to dispute the idea that economy is not “in a good place” or “booming” when the Dow goes up 100 points or more everyday. Trump understands this and has been coercive in the Fed’s decision to loosen monetary policy and re-start the money printing press. Ironically, Trump tweeted this in 2012 (as sourced by northmantrader.com):

Make no mistake, the economy nearly every sector of the economy is contracting  except consumer spending and defense spending, both of which are being driven by record levels of consumer and Government debt.

Meanwhile, the precious metals sector is getting ready for another move higher and, according to Factset, currently 45% of all research analysts either have a sell or underweight (which is diplomatic “sell”). Silver Liberties invited me onto this podcast to have some fun and discuss these topics:

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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

Will Tesla Ever Generate A Real Profit?

The only part of Tesla’s business model that generates profitability – gross, operating and net – is the sale of greenhouse gas credits to other OEM manufactures and tax subsidies.  Neither of those sources of profitability is sustainable.

The GAAP net income of $105mm in Q4 was 17% below the consensus of $126mm. Regarding net income, Tesla generated $133mm of income from selling Zero Emission/Greenhouse Gas credits to the big OEMs who need them – for now – to remain in compliance with environmental regulations. Net of these credits, Tesla lost $28 million in the quarter (before the fraudulent accounting manipulation). Subtracting these credits from the full-year loss, Tesla’s 2019 net loss attributable to shareholders is $1.5 billion.

The problem with this reliance on the sale of these credits to generate income is that, starting this year, the buyers of these credits (GM, Audi, Chrysler, etc) will soon be selling more than enough EVs and hybrids to remain in compliance. This source of income for Tesla will thus eventually be non-recurring.

With subsidies disappearing and an onslaught of competition,  2020 could be a bloodbath for Tesla in terms of deliveries. Not only is the global auto market contracting, but the much larger, better funded and operationally credible OEMs will be flooding the market with competitive EVs that will significantly cannibalize Tesla’s market share.

There’s just no telling when this Electric Tulip will inevitably crash. But, like with any investment bubble,  the popping will happen suddenly and unexpectedly, when the bulls are convinced that the upside is limitless and the bears are in a state of terror

Mining Stocks Are Setting Up For Another Run

The Fed is trapped.  If it stops adding money to the money supply, the stock market will crash.  It’s already extended the repo money printing program twice. The first extension was to February and now it has extended it again to April.

What was billed as a temporary “liquidity problem” in the overnight repo market is instead significant problems developing in the credit and derivative markets to an extent that it appears to be putting Too Big To Fail bank balance sheets in harm’s way.  That’s my analysis – the official narrative is that “there’s nothing to see there”.

The delinquency and default rates for below investment grade corporate debt  (junk bonds) and for subprime consumer debt are soaring.   Privately funded credit,  leveraged bank loans,  CLO’s and subprime asset-backed trusts (credit cards, ABS, CMBS)  are starting to melt down. The repo money printing operations is a direct bail out of leveraged funds, mezzanine funds and banks, which are loaded up  on those subprime credit structures.    Not only that,  but  a not insignificant amount of OTC credit default derivatives is “wrapped around” those finance vehicles, which further accelerates the inevitable credit meltdown “Minsky Moment.”

The point here is that I am almost certain, and a growing number of truth-seeking analysts are coming to the same conclusion, that by April the Fed will once again extend and expand the repo operations. As Milton Friedman said, “nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”

Gold will sniff this out, just like it sniffed out the September repo implementation at the beginning of June 2019.  I think there’s a good chance that gold will be trading above $1600 by this June, if not sooner.

Eventually the market will discover the junior exploration stocks and the share prices will be off to the races. This is part of the reason Eric Sprott continues to invest aggressively in the companies he considers to have the highest probability of getting enough “wood on the ball to knock the ball out of the park” (sorry, baseball is right around the corner).

Precious metals mining stocks are exceptionally cheap  relative to the price of gold (and silver).   Many of the junior exploration stocks  have sold down to historically cheap levels  in the latest pullback in the sector.   As such, this is a good opportunity to add to existing positions in these names or to start a new position.

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In my latest issue of the Mining Stock Journal, I present a penny stock idea that I believe could be a 5-10 bagger.  I’m not alone in this view because a royalty company I know and respect recently took a 9.5% position in the company’s stocks and purchased a royalty stream on several of the company’s mining claims.  You can learn more about this mining stock newsletter here:   Mining Stock Journal information.

NOTE: I do not receive compensation from any mining stock companies and I do not accept any precious metals industry sponsors. My research and my views are my own and I invest my own money in many of the stocks I present.

Tesla, Gold And Coronavirus – Fraud And Global Depression

To say the current stock market is in a bubble is an insult to the word “bubble.” Tesla experienced an insanely idiotic stock price move after reporting “shock and awe” headline numbers for revenue and EPS which “beat” estimates – estimates that had been lowered by analysts throughout 2019. But as always there’s plenty of dirt in the details which point to a reality that is far different than is represented by headline numbers and Tesla’s highly orchestrated earnings presentation.

There’s just no telling when this Electric Tulip will inevitably crash. But, as with any investment bubble the popping will happen suddenly and unexpectedly, when the bulls are convinced that the upside is limitless and the bears are in a state of terror.

Meanwhile, the physical gold market which underlies the complicated web of paper gold derivatives continues to push the gold price higher despite aggressive efforts by the western Central Bank and bullion bank price management team. In fact, data from the BIS indicates that the BIS had a heavy hand in the effort to cap the price-rise of gold during January using its physical gold swap and leasing transactions.

Paul at Silver Doctors invited me onto its podcast to discuss these issues

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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

Fake News And The “Healthy Economy” Myth

The “narrative” architects and fairytale spinners are desperately looking for evidence to fit their “consumer is still healthy / economy still fine” propaganda. The hype over strong holiday sales was premature if not fraudulent, as data-manipulators appear to have taken the growth in online holiday sales and projected it across the entire retail sales spectrum. I guess they overlooked the fact that online sales took market share from brick/mortar stores.

Despite the plethora of data showing that U.S. manufacturing was down last year, real retails sales are declining, restaurant traffic – including delivered food – has been contracting almost every month for two years and most households are over-bloated with debt, the Fed continues to insist that the economy is healthy with “sustainable moderate growth.” This is sheer and nonsense and the Fed knows it, which is why the Fed printed over $400 billion and tossed it at the financial system.

Chris Marcus – Arcadia Economics – and I discuss the truths underlying the U.S’ fake news economy:

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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

Printed Money Blowing The Bubbles Even Bigger

The total US stock market valuation  at $33.9 trillion is 157.4% of the last reported GDP. It’s the highest market valuation ever. The more the policy-makers try to pump and jawbone the market higher, the worse the consequences will be on the downside when the rug is pulled out from under stocks. The trigger could be anything. Eventually the market will acknowledge and accept the fact that the economy is getting worse and earnings will continue to decline. But fundamental reality is just one of many possible catalysts that will cause a painful drop in the stock market.

For now the rising stock market is shaping the Wall Street narrative being  transmitted through the mainstream media that the economy is in good shape. Funny thing about that – the stock market is not the real economy. But this is:

To be sure, rising stock prices enhance the wealth and spending capacity of the top 1% who own stocks outside of their retirement funds. But that wealth does not “trickle down” to the average middle class household (everyone below the top 1% wealth demographic). Let’s look briefly at some facts.

I’ve been making the case for quite some time that freight shipping volume is a valuable tool by which to gauge the relative level of economic activity:

The Cass freight shipment volume index tanked nearly 8% YoY in December. This number includes the growth in online shopping fulfillment deliveries and would have been worse if online shopping was not taking market share from brick/mortar stores. The index has fallen to its December 2009 level, which is part of the time period that the NBER has declared the economy to be in a recession.

The Cass data is reinforced by the sharp decline in the Baltic Dry Index. The BDI measures global ocean freight shipment activity and is considered a leading indicator for global commodities and raw materials demand. This includes incoming/outgoing vessels to and from the U.S. Not only is the global economy, including the U.S. growing weaker, the IMF has slashed its global economic growth outlook for 2020 and 2021.

The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index released Thursday showed a 0.3% drop vs the 0.2% decline expected. The index has now declined in five of the last six months of 2019. Without the large run-up in the stock market, the index would have fallen even more. Rising unemployment claims (hmmm…) were the largest contributor to the decline. YoY for December the index gained just 0.1% – the weakest YoY change since November 2009.

One of the false narratives being promoted by talking heads and Wall St. is the idea that the consumer is still strong. Wrong. Consumer spending over and above necessities is being driven by the easiest access to credit in my lifetime. Evidence of this is the rapid growth in auto, credit card and personal loans. And in fact more than a third of all households report using credit cards to make ends meet every month.

But as evidence of the deteriorating condition of the consumer’s financial health, Discover’s (DFS) stock plunged 11.1% on Friday despite “beating” earnings estimates. The dagger in Discover’s quarter was loan charge-offs, which jumped to 4% of the outstanding balance. This is the highest charge-off rate since DFS’ charge-off rate peaked at 5% during the financial crisis. Delinquency rates are also accelerating. On a YoY basis for Q4, 30+ day delinquencies were up 11% while 90+ day delinquencies jumped 13%. For credit card loans, 30+ day delinquencies were up 14% and 90+ day delinquencies soared 15%.

In fact, loan loss reserves are starting to rise at a double-digit rate at many banks and finance companies. The average consumer is stretched, a fact that shows up in the numbers that never get reported in the mainstream media or Wall Street. The last time bank financials evidence rising consumer borrowing distress like this was in late 2007. We know how that played out. This time around the bubbles are bigger, the fraud is better disguised and households and policy-makers are even less prepared for the inevitable.

This is why gold is up 24% since May 2019, outperforming the stock market and most other financialized or commodity investments. No, it has very little to do, if anything, with coronavirus fear. But it’s why the western Central Bank and bullion bank gold price managers are having a difficult time containing the rising price.

The Housing Bubble: They Keep Pushing The System Until It Breaks

The mortgage regulators are stretching the removal of mortgage qualifications to the limit in an effort to keep the housing party going. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CPFB) is recommending the removal of the DTI as a factor in qualified mortgage underwriting. Ironically, tighter mortgage finance regulations were the purpose for the formation of  the CPFB in the first place. Wash, rinse, repeat. I have no doubt the mortgage and housing market is headed for another catastrophe.

Note that Blackstone, one of the first companies to dive head first into the buy-to-rent market, recently dumped the rest of its shares in Invitation Homes – one of the large single family rental operators which Blackstone took public in 2017.

Phil Kennedy (Kennedy Financial) hosted Aaron Layman – one of the rare realtors willing to discuss the truth (Aaron Layman Properties), Jimmy Morrison – who produced “The Bubble,” an impressive film housing bubble/collapse – and me to discuss why the housing market will implode again – we also include a brief discussion of gold and silver and why the precious metals sector is going to a lot higher:

Tesla’s Warranty Expense “Income”

Note: Tesla is a fascinating case in fraud and of the “wizard” behind the fraud, who has managed to pull the wool over a large population of stock gamblers. Tesla is a saga for the ages and likely the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history.  The Company and its CEO are truly emblematic of the fraud and corruption that has engulfed the entire U.S. economic, financial and legal/political  system. If this country survives what’s coming, there will be semester long classes in top-10 business schools and psychology masters programs devoted to the case study of Tesla.

A long-time Tesla critic published an article in Seeking Alpha outlining the fraudulent nature of Tesla’s accounting for “warranty expense.” I did not read the article beyond the summary because it was placed behind Seeking Alpha’s subscription firewall.  But I’ve detailed this aspect of Tesla’s accounting fraud in previous issues of the Short Seller’s Journal . Tesla has been reducing its provision for warranty expenses relative to the number of vehicles it sells for several quarters. While the warranty provision should rise in correlation with the rising number of vehicles delivered, Tesla and its auditor have decided an inverse relationship between these two variables makes more sense.

In addition, as it turns out Tesla in many instances allocates warranty expenditures incurred to “goodwill” and other non-warranty expense categories, which enables it to move the expense – a cash expense incurred – off its income statement and on to the balance sheet or to the “operating expenses” section of the income statement.

GAAP accounting no longer requires a company to amortize goodwill evenly over time as an expense on the income statement. Those of you who might know GAAP warranty accounting rules might say that the warranty expenses as they incur only affect the income statement to the extent they exceed the “provision for warranty expenses” that accumulates on the balance sheet.

However, in all likelihood Tesla is playing these games with its warranty expenditures because it has already exceeded the amount it has previously reserved for warranty expenses. OR over time if Tesla reports – fraudulently – less on actual warranty expenditures than it has reserved for them, it can “release” the warranty expense reserve into the GAAP income statement as a contra expense to boost gross margin and operating margin. This in turn contributes to the accounting manipulations used in any attempt to generate positive net income.

Furthermore, understating current warranty expenditures enables Tesla to understate future provisions for warranty expense, which should be expensed every quarter as part of the cost of goods sold. In other words, moving warranty expenditures into other expense categories or into goodwill reduces the cost of goods sold thereby artificially and fraudulently boosting the reported GAAP gross margin.

Moreover, the amount of warranty expenditures tossed fraudulently into goodwill never hits the income statement. It sits in the goodwill asset account on the balance sheet which no longer has to be amortized into operating expenses, thereby boosting operating and operating margin OR reducing operating losses. Yes, there is an accounting rule that applies to the revaluation of goodwill but don’t hold your breath waiting for Musk to adhere to any accounting regulations.

This is crucial to understanding the breadth and scale of Tesla’s accounting fraud. Tesla has made it a point of emphasis to boast about its gross margin, which is much larger than the gross margin for the legacy auto OEMs.  Also, Wall Street analysts focus on Tesla’s gross margin. When the gross margin reported is higher than expected, the stock price jumps. This accounting scheme also fraudulently boosts Tesla’s operating and net incomes. In fact, if Tesla adhered to strict GAAP accounting, its gross margin would be substantially lower and in all likelihood the Company would have never been able to report positive earnings per share in Q3.

But wait, there’s evidence that backs my assertion above that Tesla fraudulently misclassifies warranty repair expenditures. Tesla owners who have taken their car in for warranty-related repairs have been reporting that on the final invoice the warranty service repair is classified as “Goodwill – service.”  You can see a photocopy of one such example in an article published by InsideEvs.com. There are also several lawsuits filed against Tesla with documentation showing that Tesla’s misclassification of warranty service expenditures is standard operating procedure at the service centers.

As it turns out, Tesla labels warranty service expenditures for two more fraudulent reasons. First, under California’s Lemon Law, in many instances Tesla would be required either to buy back for full price the tarnished vehicle from the owner or replace it with a brand new vehicle. Likely this law is similar in most States. Second, repeated warranty repairs for the same problem would require per NHTSA regulations for a recall of the defective parts involved. But labeling these repairs as “goodwill” enables Tesla to fraudulently avoid both of these costs of adhering to the law.

Musk’s business per se is not to be sell cars but sell stock in a company that sells cars.  Musk’s accounting schemes are aimed directly at pushing the stock price higher. The primary motive behind this effort  is Tesla’s insane CEO compensation plan, which would award Musk with $364 million in stock/options if the market cap hits $100 billion (which is more than Ford and GM combined).

Though I can’t prove it without access to the actual records, I suspect that Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have a lucrative fee-generating business lending money to Musk against the value of his Tesla shares.  In other words, Musk – along with Gold man and Morgan Stanley,  will do and say anything to try and force the stock higher in order to achieve that compensation milestone level and to protect the value of the collateral used secure loans to Musk.