Category Archives: U.S. Economy

Stock Bubbles And Dutch Tulip Bulbs

“People were purchasing bulbs at higher and higher prices, intending to re-sell them for a profit. Such a scheme could not last unless someone was ultimately willing to pay such high prices and take possession of the bulbs. In February 1637, tulip traders could no longer find new buyers willing to pay increasingly inflated prices for their bulbs. As this realization set in, the demand for tulips collapsed” – “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” Charles Mackay

“So yes, in a way I’m saying we can keep going up while at risk of reverting at any moment”NorthmanTrader.com

The market is melting up and indicators that a top is approaching are proliferating. This is one of the typical anecdotes that accompany markets nearing a top:   On CNBC last Wednesday morning the hosts plus a couple guests were discussing the market and one of the guests said that value doesn’t matter anymore “it’s all about momentum.” I almost fell off my chair when I heard that because the “fundamentals don’t matter it’s all about momentum” was one of the mantras in late 1999.

Chris Marcus (Arcadia Economics) and I discuss the current stock market melt-up and whether or not it can be shorted with success and how to manage the risks of being short:

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Some of the commentary above is  excerpted from 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 Fed Is Going All-In To Keep The System From Collapsing

Gresham’s Law in action: The diminishing availability of physical gold from the market (per several different accounts in London) corresponds to the proliferation of fiat currency printing and paper gold derivatives.

Since September the Fed has increased the size of its balance sheet by $414 billion or 11% in less than four months. It’s the fastest rate at which the Fed has printed money in its history.  The Fed insists that this “repo” program is not the reinstatement of “Quantitative Easing.”  In one sense the Fed is correct. This money printing program is a direct bailout of the big banks. And now the Fed is proposing to start bailing out hedge funds:

Federal Reserve officials are considering lending cash directly to hedge funds through clearinghouses to ease stress in the repo market. But that could be a tough sell for policy makers  (WSJ).

Yes, liquidity in the inte-rbank overnight collateralized lending system dried up in September.  But it’s not because of a shortage of cash to lend. The reason is two-fold.  First, banks needed cash/Tier 1 collateral to shore up their own reserves. Why?  Because bank assets – especially subprime loans – are starting to melt-down – i.e.  rising delinquencies and defaults. This is provable just by looking at the footnotes in quarterly bank 10-Q’s.  Second,  hedge fund assets – primarily the bottom half of CLO’s, credit default swaps, leveraged loans – are melting down.

The banks know this because these are the same deteriorating assets held by banks. In order to induce overnight repo lending, it would require a repo rate many multiples of the artificially low repo rate in order to reflect the risk of holding compromised collateral  overnight. This is why the repo rate spiked up briefly to 10% in September. That rate reflected the overnight interest rate desperate borrowers were willing to pay for an overnight collateralized loan.  Banks pulled away from lending in the repo market because they no longer trusted the collateral – even on an overnight basis. This is why the Fed was “forced” to start printing $10’s of billions and make it available to the repo market.

The Fed created the problem in the first place by holding interest rates artificially low and leaving several trillion of its first series of QE operations in the banking system. This in turn fostered  a catastrophic level of morally hazardous investing by banks and hedge funds. Now the Fed will try to monetize this – it has already hinted that the “repo” bailout will be extended now to April.  Absence this Fed intervention, 2008 x 10 will ensue – which will happen eventually anyway.

Ultimately, it will be a tragedy if the Fed bails out the the banks and the hedge funds – especially the hedge funds. Who benefits from this?  Bank and hedge fund operators should be penalized for making reckless investment decisions – not bailed out by  what will end up to be taxpayer money.  We already saw in 2008 that banks take the bailout funds and continued to pay themselves huge bonuses despite making lending decisions for which they should be penalized.

And a bailout of the hedge funds would reward hedge fund managers for investments that would never have been made had the Fed let a free market determine the true cost of making those investments.

I said back in 2003 that the Fed would print money and monetize debt until the elitists had swept every last crumb of middle class wealth off the table and into their own pockets before letting the system collapse. The bank bailout in 2008 and now the bank/hedge fund bailout is an example of this wealth transfer process.  The only question that remains in my mind is whether or not the current bailout operation will be the last “sweep.”

Only In America And Banana Republics

Many of these people get to worry now about putting food on the table and providing clothing for their children as they watch this criminal CEO walk away from Boeing with $62 million in severance compensation: Boeing’s fired CEO Muilenburg walks away with more than $60 million

Muilenberg isn’t “sorry.” He’s sorry he got caught covering up a defective product and withholding data from the FAA about a plane that turned out to be a flying death trap -he’s sorry he had to face extreme humiliation in public:

“This airplane is designed by clowns who in turn are supervised by monkeys…I still haven’t been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year.”

“These newly-released emails are incredibly damning,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said in a statement Thursday night. “They paint a deeply disturbing picture of the lengths Boeing was apparently willing to go to in order to evade scrutiny from regulators, flight crews, and the flying public.”

Not counting Bernard Madoff, the last corporate CEO to spend any jail time in this country was Joe Nacchio for enabling fraudulent accounting at Qwest -that was over 15 years ago. Many people reading this have never head of Nacchio.

Rule of Law is dead for good in this country as it applies to politicians and corporate CEOs.  I would love to be proven wrong about this with an indictment of Muilenberg for overseeing a cover-up that destroyed the lives of more than 300 families and will result in the loss of thousands of jobs.  Sadly,  I am confident no such accountability will occur…

Time To Buy Gold And Silver On Every Pullback

The soaring paper gold open interest on the Comex is just one indication of a shortages developing in the physical gold bullion market. It’s no coincidence that just prior and accompanying the sell-off in gold this week that Exchange for “Physical” and Privately Negotiated Transactions (EFPs and PNT) volume spiked up on the Comex. EFPs and PNTs are “derviative” transactions which enable the bullion banks to settle futures with cash or some other form of gold derivatives like shares of GLD.

There are other indications as well, which Chris Marcus and I discuss this week on his Arcadia Economics podcast:

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I recently found another “golden nugget” large mining stock contrarian play the December 12th issue of my Mining Stock Journal. This stock should be an easy double over the next 6-12 months.  You can learn more about this mining stock newsletter here:   Mining Stock Journal information.

QE Madness: Is It Worse Now Than In 2008?

Unequivocally, the “repo” operations by the Fed is “QE.” Well, let’s just call it what it is because “QE” was coined in place of “money printing.”  The socially correct posture to assume on Wall Street and in DC at the Fed is to label the current bout of money printing “repo operations.”  In fact, based on all of the underlying data I scour daily, let’s just cut to the chase and call this a de facto banking system bailout.

The technical details on why the “plumbing” in the banking system is getting “clogged” is mere surface analysis.  The underlying systemic problems are similar to the problems that pulled the rug out from under the financial system in 2008.  Bank assets, specifically subprime lending assets, are melting down again.

We’ve seen this movie before and the “regulators” were supposed to have blocked the banks from engaging in financial pornography. But, of course, just like teenagers who discover Pornhub, the greedy bankers undeterred by superficial legislation and an absence of independent regulatory oversight (every senior regulatory official has either worked on Wall Street or worked a law firms who get paid to keep Wall Street bankers out of jail) couldn’t help themselves.  CLO’s, 100% LTV lending, non-income verification consumer loans and OTC derivatives with orgasmic fees have re-emerged in full force.

As an example, Citibank is now sitting on top of nearly $1 trillion in credit default swaps – see this, which has the appropriate links:  Citibank CDS.   The article notes that:  “the New York Fed secretly hid from the public’s view that it had funneled $2.5 trillion (yes, trillion) to Citigroup and its trading units from December 2007 to at least July 21, 2010. That last information only became public after more than two years of court battles with the Fed.”

In the minutes released from the last FOMC meeting, the Fed is now discussing extending the money printing operations to April. Imagine that, what started as giving corporations a little help to pay quarterly taxes in September has morphed into and is on its way to half a trillion dollars of printed money handed over to the banks. Doesn’t seem strange that all the money created for corporate tax payments has not  found its way into the Treasury Department’s bank account? How do we know?  Because  a large portion of the money printed has financed new Treasury debt issuance.

Wall Street on Parade is making a motivated, if not valiant, effort to dredge up the truth with regard to to re-start of the Fed’s massive money printing operation. But I hope the Martens are not holding their breath on getting a response without an expensive legal battle:

On October 2, 2019 we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the New York Fed. We requested “emails or any other forms of written correspondence from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to JPMorgan Chase or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates containing any of the following words or phrases: ‘repo,’ ‘repurchase agreements,’ ‘overnight lending,’ or ‘reserves'”…

Our FOIA request was acknowledged by the New York Fed as received on October 2. We should have had a meaningful response on November 1. Instead, we received an email advising that we would not hear further from the New York Fed until December 5, 2019…Instead of the mandated 10-day extension that is allowed under law, we were given more than a month-long extension. On December 5, the New York Fed emailed us to say it was extending the time to respond to January 9. – Fed Balance Sheet Explosion

Make no mistake, the melt-up in the stock market, the majority of which is confined to just a handful of stocks – AAPL, MSFT plus a few insanely overvalued unicorn-type stocks (TSLA, SHOP, etc) – does not reflect a “booming economy.” Rather, it’s evidence that the financial and economic system is melting down beneath the propaganda.  With its bailout policies, the Fed has made a complete mess of the financial markets. And it’s worse this time  than it was in 2008.

Aside from some select shorts in stocks like TSLA and AAPL, buying gold and silver (physical bullion not paper derivatives – yes, GLD is a derivative) and mining stocks is the no-brainer trade of 2020.

“Rates Were Pushed Off The Cliff By The Central Banks”

The title quote is from Tad Rivelle, Chief Investment Officer of TCW (Los Angeles based fixed income management company), who manages one of the largest actively managed bond funds. He goes on to comment about the implications of the negative rate policy that has been implemented by Japan and the EU: “Credit markets look late cycle, manufacturing looks pretty late cycle and corporate profitability, as well. So the proliferation of negative rates may also suggest that central bank policy has reached exhaustion. It’s almost like negative rates are the last thing central bankers are trying to make it work.”

Many investors and market observers wonder why the Fed/Central Banks just can’t print money forever and drive the markets even higher. The answer can be found in the law of diminishing returns. When Central Banks print money – in our case dollars – at a rate that exceeds the amount of wealth produced to “back” that money printed, it begins to diminish the value of each extra dollar created. As the system becomes saturated with dollars, the Central Banks then try to force the market to use the oversupply of currency bu taking rates negative. This problem is reflected in the velocity of money (the number of times each currency unit changes hands):

That chart is the essence of the law of diminishing returns as it applies to the money supply. Think of it as the “productivity” of each dollar in the system.  Greenspan initiated the paradigm of using money printing to “fix” credit market and stock market problems.  These “problems” were in fact the market’s price discovery and risk discounting mechanisms . He was given the name “Maestro” because seemingly fixed economic and financials problems, though all he really did was defer their resolution.

In fact, Greenspan used money printing to paper over the underlying system structural problems going back to the market crash in 1987.  Greenspan, who was installed as Fed Chairman two months prior to the crash, confirmed that the Fed stood ready “to serve as a source of liquidity to support the economic and financial system.”

In effect, the chart above reflects the fact that a large portion of the printed money, rather than circulating in a chain of economic transactions, sits stagnant in “pools.” As an example, the money printed and given to the banks in the first three QE programs sat in the Fed’s excess reserve account “earning” a tiny rate of interest which is nothing more than additional printed money used to boost bank earnings and give the banks no-risk, unearned cash flow.

As printed money sits idly, the Central Banks artificially lower the “cost” of money, which is also known as the interest rate, thereby making an attempt to force money into the system and incentivizing companies and consumers to use this money by making it nearly costless. Currently Central Banks are cutting interest rates at the fastest pace since December 2009.

Lowering rates toward zero is a temporary fix – i.e. it only serves to defer the inevitable economic bust cycle. But an oversupply of currency which can be used – or borrowed – at little to no cost also ushers in credit bubbles which become manifest in the form of the various asset bubbles, like the housing and stock bubbles, or is used for purposes which do not create economic value. The best example of the latter is when corporations borrow money at near-zero interest rates and use that borrowed money to buyback shares. There is absolutely no economic benefit whatsoever from share buybacks – none, zero – other than for the corporate insiders who dump their shares into buybacks.

This brings me to the quote at the beginning from Tad Rivelle: “the proliferation of negative rates may also suggest that central bank policy has reached exhaustion; it’s almost like negative rates are the last thing central bankers are trying to make it work.” The velocity of money chart is evidence that printing money and forcing interest rates to zero are measures which eventually fall victim to the Law of Diminishing Returns.

The Central Banking policy of near zero and zero interest rates combined with unfettered money creation has lost its “traction.” We are approaching the point at which money printing will not produce the intended effects. In response “rates have been pushed off a cliff by Central Banks.” It’s been acknowledged that Trump discussed negative rates with Fed Chairman Powell just a few weeks ago.

The imposition of negative interest rates on the financial system perversely turns the laws of economics inside-out. Ironically, perhaps fittingly, it’s a desperate act of economic treason that will boomerang back and decapitate the global economy, including the U.S. This reality is already reflected in the rapidly contracting manufacturing reportsand the confirmed by the freight transportation data, which have been collapsing for the better part of the last year.

The commentary above is from a recent issue of the Short Seller’s Journal. Despite the melt-up in the stock market, several stocks are sectors are diverging negatively and I have presented some short ideas that have been making money – Lending Tree (TREE) is a good example.  To learn more follow this link: Short Seller’s Journal information.

 

 

The Fed’s Repo QE: The Underlying Problems Are Escalating

Pressures are already building on the financial stability front that will make the next economic downturn messier than anticipated.” – Bill Dudley, former President of the NY Fed

I get irritated when I see mainstream media and alternative mainstream media parroting the propaganda used to cover up the truth. This morning Zerohedge echo’d the “corporate tax payments liquidity squeeze” narrative first used back in September to justify the re-start of the repo QE program. I would have thought that idiotic excuse would have been proved wrong after this:

It’s truly amazing that Fed officials come clean after they leave their post at the Federal Reserve. We’ve seen this dynamic for sure with Greenspan. Not so much with Bernanke, but I always considered Bernanke to be a bad liar and it seems that he’s chosen largely to fade from public exposure. Ditto with Janet Yellen.

Bill Dudley, however, is a former partner of Goldman Sachs and thus highly intelligent (as is Greenspan – Bernanke and Yellen not so much). Dudley clearly sees the writing on the wall. Now that he’s not in a position at Goldman in which it’s advantageous for him to promote stocks in exchange for big bonuses, or at the Fed where it’s politically correct to rationalize a bullish narrative (“Fed-speak”), he’s coming “clean” per the quote at the top.

The Fed’s current posture, based on the Fed officials’ weekly speeches ad nauseum, is that the economy is healthy with moderate growth and a strong labor market. If this is the case, however, why is the Fed printing money on a monthly basis in an amount that is close to the peak monthly “QE” after the financial crisis?

The question, of course, is strictly rhetorical. In fact the Fed once again quietly increased the amount of money it is printing and handing over to the banks. On November 25th the Fed released an updated repo operation schedule which showed additional repo operations totaling at least $50 billion. The Fed has also made its website less user-friendly in terms of tracking the total amount by which the repo operations have increased since the first operation in mid-September.

The 28-day repo QE for $25 billion that was added to the program Nov 14th was nearly 2x oversubscribed this morning, which means the original $25 billion deemed adequate 3 weeks ago was not nearly enough – a clear indicator the problems in the banking system are escalating at a rate faster than the Fed’s money printing operation. Just wait until huge jump in subprime quality credit card debt that will be used to fund holiday shopping begins to default in the first half of 2020…

The chart to the right shows the Fed’s repo schedule posted on September 23rd on the top and the latest repo operation schedule on the bottom. I suspect this won’t be the last time the Fed will increase the amount of its “not QE” QE money printing. Additionally, the Fed refuses to identify the specific banks which are receiving most of the repo money. One obvious recipient is Deutsche Bank, which is quietly shutting down a large portion of its business operations and is likely technically insolvent. Per a 2016 IMF report, DB is highly interconnected to all of the Too Big To Fail banks (JPM, GS, C etc). This means inter-bank loans and derivatives counterparty exposure, among other financial connections. Aside from the DB factor, as I detailed last week with deteriorating leveraged loan/CLO assets held by banks, I am convinced that the “repo” money is needed to help banks shore up their liquidity as loans and other assets begin to melt-down. This is quite similar to 2008.

For more insight into the truth underlying the Fed’s renewed money printing operations, spend some time perusing articles like this from Wall Street On Parade.

The Truth Behind The “Repo” Non-QE QE Money Printing

“The Fed first tried to justify the loans by saying they were a short-term measure to stem a liquidity crisis. But the so-called “liquidity crisis” has not prevented the stock market from setting new highs since the loan operations began on September 17. And the short-term operation has been running every business day since that time and is currently scheduled to reach into next year or last permanently. A cumulative total of approximately $3 trillion in overnight and longer-term loans has been funneled to unnamed trading houses on Wall Street without either the Senate or House calling a hearing to examine what’s really going on.”Wall St On Parade

The analysis below is an excerpt from my November 24th issue of the Short Seller’s Journal

“Credit deterioration is a typical symptom of the end of a cycle — and that is exactly what Credit Benchmark is finding, particularly in the industrial sector.” – Bloomberg News in reference to a report from Credit Benchmark on the deterioration in credit quality of the industrial sector globally.

Credit Benchmark offers data/analytic services which provide forward-looking insights into the credit quality and liquidity of companies and sectors globally.  Credit deterioration is a typical symptom of the end of an economic cycle. Credit Benchmark also noted last week that U.S. high-yield corporate credit quality has been crumbling since early 2019.

High yield debt sits below and props up leveraged loans held by banks, pension funds and CLO (collateralized loan obligations) Trusts. Leveraged loan credit quality is also declining, with many loan issues trading well below par and a not insignificant portion trading at distressed levels. Banks have been stuck with a lot of leveraged loans that were underwritten with the hope of sticking them in CLO investment structures. But big investors have been pulling away from CLO’s since mid-summer.

A CLO is a type of collateralized debt obligation. An investment trust is set-up and structured into tranches in order of “safeness,” with credit ratings assigned to each tranche ranging from AAA down to the “residual” or mezzanine/equity layer. Each tranche is sliced into bonds which are sold to investors, primarily institutional and wealthy investors, who invest in the various tranches of the CLO based on relative appetite for risk. Typically hedge funds and/or the underwriter of the CLO will provide funding for the mezzanine/equity layer.

Leveraged loans underwritten by Wall Street are pooled together and the interest and amortization payments are used to fund the interest and amortization payments of each layer of the trust. Each tranche receives successively higher rates of return to compensate for the level of risk. In addition each tranche is amortized based on seniority. If and when enough loans in the trust default and cash collected by the CLO trust is insufficient to pay off all of the tranches, the losses are assigned in reverse order from bottom to top. During the financial crisis, losses spread into the highest-rated tranches.

Invariably, as yield-starved investors grab for anything with a higher yield than is available from relatively riskless fixed income investments like Treasuries, agency debt (FNM/FRE) and high-grade corporate bonds, the underwriting standards of leveraged loans deteriorate. Wall Street requires loan product to feed the beast in order to continue raking in fat fees connected to this business. And, as you might have guessed, Wall Street opportunistically offers credit default derivative “insurance” products structured around the CLO trusts.

As I’ve detailed previously, credit rating downgrades in leveraged loans are mounting as the level of distress in the asset class rises. CLO’s purchase roughly 75% of all leveraged loans underwritten. In theory, CLO trusts are “over-collateralized” to account for a certain level of loan default and to ensure the top tranche receives the highest credit rating possible. But it would appear that many of these CLO trusts are starting to incur losses at the lowest tranches. This fact is reflected in the rececent performance of CLO bonds since June. As an example, through June, double-BB rated CLO bonds threw off a 10% ROR (interest payments and bond price appreciation). But by the end of October, this 10% ROR was wiped out, meaning the value of the bonds has fallen 10% since June including 5% alone in October.

The chart above plots the SPX vs an index of “generic” CLO triple-B rated bonds. The negative divergence of the CLO bonds reflects the escalating degree of distress in leveraged loans, which are underlying collateral funding the CLO trusts.

I am certain that part of the reason the Fed has had to start bailing out the banking system with its not-QE QE repo operations is connected to the rapid deterioration in the CLO/leveraged loan market. Chunks of thes CLO’s and leveraged loans are sitting on bank balance sheets.

The 2008 financial crisis was primarily triggered by the collapse of collateralized subprime mortgage CDO’s (these were the securities featured in “The Big Short”). I believe – and I’m not alone in this view – that CLO’s will cause the same type of systemic damage . The CLO market is roughly $680 billion just in the U.S. That was about the same size as the subprime mortgage market by 2008. Including the offshore market, the global leveraged loan market is now $1 trillion, doubling in size since 2010.

Most people think of the Fed when they hear the term “repo.” But the repo market primarily is funded by banks and money market funds. CLO bonds have been used as repo collateral for several years. As the credit quality of this asset class declines, banks are less interested in participating in repo market funding transactions to avoid the rising probability of suffering a counterparty default from use of CLO collateral, thereby reducing liquidity in the repo market.

In addition, many banks have been stuck with leveraged loans that could not be offloaded onto investors or CLO trusts. This inability to off-load loans into CLO’s started this past summer when the largest investor in CLO’s, a large Japanese bank, began to pull away from the CLO market. As the value of these loans declines, banks are forced to increase the amount of capital required to maintain reserve ratios – another reason for the Fed repo market intervention.

As the global economy, including the U.S. economy notwithstanding the insistence to the contrary by the Fed and Trump, continues to contract it’s quite probable that CLOs/leveraged loans will begin to melt-down Chernobyl-style. Referring back to the SPX/CLO bond price chart above, in my view there’s no coincidence that the Fed’s intervention in the repo market commenced at about the same time the triple-B CLO bonds began to take a dive. That price decline is even more pronounced for the tranches with ratings below triple-BBB.

To be sure, CLO’s are not the only financial wildfire outbreak targeted by the Fed’s money printing, but I would wager a healthy amount of gold coins that distress in the CLO market is one of the primary troubles right now. And the problem is magnified when you take into account the credit default swap transactions “wrapped around” these CLO trusts. These derivative trades also require an increasing amount of collateral as CLO tranche distress escalates.

To accompany the above analysis in my Short Seller’s Journal, I presented some ideas for expressing a bearish view based on the the eventual collapse in the CLO/leveraged loan market. You can learn more about this newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.

The Telsla CyberTruck Event: Elon Musk’s Travelling Burlesque Show

As many of you are aware by now, Tesla’s roll-out of its Cybertruck, an event which pushed the stock price irrationally higher ahead of time, was a complete disaster. The vehicle itself, which one commentator said “looks like the product of a DeLorean that had sex with a triangle,” was visually quite unappealing. Morgan Stanley conducted a snap poll of its email distribution list to determine viewers’ impression of the Cybertruck.  Zero percent (0%) of those surveyed thought the truck would be a success.

Whether or not the claims by Musk & Co are true that over 250k people have plunked down a $C-note to “reserve” a Cybertruck, at this point it’s unclear whether not the vehicle will ever make it to production. Notwithstanding inconvenient realities, Musk fraudulently refers to the refundable reservations as “orders.”  Electrek.co and Musk’s Twitter pimps behave as if Tesla has already pre-booked $10 billion in revenues.

But Tesla has several hurdles to overcome before this electrified Lego block on wheels ever rolls off the production line, not the least of which includes addressing a technically insolvent balance sheet and raising the $100’s of millions of capex required. Notwithstanding this, the entire auto industry, including Tesla, faces gale force economic headwinds as the sector globally plunges into recession.

Based on YTD sales through October – plus estimates for November and December – data published by EV-Volumes, a service that provides a database of sales statistics for EVs, shows that total EV sales in the U.S. will decline 4% from 2018. After 10 years of EV availability, the market penetration rate for EVs is just 2% – and ex-California it’s 1%. Think about this in the context that the Government has provided enormous subsidies for EV/hybrids, thereby lowering the all-in cost for the buyer. As the largest EV seller in the U.S. (currently but not for long), Tesla is by far the most affected by the negative trend in EV sales.

Finally, because of plunging EV sales (along with plunging sales for the entire Chinese auto market), the Chinese Government is implementing major cuts to its EV sales subsidy program. The Chinese Association of Automobile Manufactures said that weak demand for the vehicles is one of the reasons for the pullback in the subsidy program.

Eric Peter’s Autos blog captured the essence of Musk’s farcical CyberTruck burlesque show:

Thousands of affluent marks have already put down deposits, unsightliness seen. And in spite of one of Elon’s many promises about the Cybertruck revealed to be a blatant lie right in front of their very eyes – the “shatterproof” door glass that wasn’t. It’s wondrous, baffling. Elon’s mesmeritic powers are so puissant he could probably get his followers – this includes the press – to bark like dogs if he asked them to.

You can read Peter’s entire commentary here:    And So They Drooled

Netflix’s Business Model Is Headed For An Epic Fail

How does NFLX manage to show positive net income yet burn hundreds of millions of dollars each quarter?  It’s the magic of GAAP accounting.  I did a detailed analysis for my Short Seller’s Journal subscribers back in 2017.  Each quarter NFLX has to spend $100’s of millions on content.  Most companies like NFLX capitalize this cost and amortize 90% of the cost of this content over the first two years.   Amortizing the cost of content purchased is then expensed each quarter as part of cost of revenues.  Companies can play with the rate of amortization to lower the cost of revenues and thereby increase GAAP operating and net income.

In the analysis I did for my subscribers, I demonstrated this accounting Ponzi mechanism:

The ratio of cash spent on content in relation to the amount recognized as a depreciation expense can be used to determine if NFLX is “stretching out” the amount depreciation recognized on its GAAP income statements in relation to the amount that it is spending on content. In general, this ratio should remain relatively constant over time.

For 2014, 2015 and 2016, this ratio was 1.42, 1.69 and 1.80 respectively. When this ratio increases, it means that NFLX is spending cash on content at a rate that is greater than the rate at which NFLX is amortizing this cash cost into its GAAP expenses. If NFLX were using a uniform method of calculating media content depreciation, this number should remain fairly constant across time. However, as content spending increases and GAAP depreciation declines relative to the amount spent, this ratio increases dramatically – as it has over the last three years. A rising ratio reflects the fact that NFLX has lowered the rate of depreciation taken in the first year relative to previous years. It does this to “manage” expenses lower in order to “manage” income higher.

In the first nine months of 2018, this ratio was 1.70, which explains largely why NFLX’s rate of GAAP “earnings” growth is declining.  To pay for its massive cash flow burn rate, NFLX has to continually issue more debt and stock.

NFLX’s 2019 Q3 income statement contained the usual GAAP games in order to show gross, operating and net income. But as I’ve detailed in the past, NFLX’s treatment of the amortization of the cost of buying content is highly questionable if not outright fraudulent. While the GAAP net income reported provides terrific headline material, the truth shows up in the statement of cash flows. Through the first nine months of 2019, NFLX’s operations burned nearly $1.5 billion in cash. On top of that, NFLX spent another $145 million on content acquisition. Keep in mind that NFLX’s North American subscriber growth has hit quick-sand.

But not only is NFLX’s business model a literal cash incinerator, the Company robotically issues debt. Through the first nine months of 2019, NFLX issued $2.24 billion in debt, which was $343 million more than the same period in 2018. But NFLX wasn’t finished issuing debt this year. Seven days after reporting Q3 numbers, NFLX issued another $2 billion in bonds. This brings its total debt issuance in 2019 to $4.24 billion. NFLX now has a total of $14.4 billion in debt. But we’re not finished. On top of this, the Company has $19.1 billion in streaming content obligations, $16.9 billion of which is due over the next three years. This makes a total $31.3 billion in debt and debt-like commitments.

On top of all of this, NFLX now faces stiff competition from well-funded companies which have started to roll-out their own content streaming operations at lower price points. In some cases, NFLX will no longer have access to desirable content. As an example, Disney rolled out its Disney+ streaming service on November 12th, signing up more than 10 million users by opening day. Verizon offers a free one-year subscription to Disney+ to wireless customers on unlimited plans. Disney’s service is $6.99/month. Apple rolled out its AppleTV streaming at $4.99/month. NBC Universal debuts streaming in early 2020 and is considering offering it for free. AT&T/Warner will soon launch a streaming service that will be similar to Netflix from a cost standpoint but will be built around HBO.

I believe part of the reason NFLX’s stock has run up like it has is due to the release of “The Irishman,” a highly acclaimed movie it produced that is directed by Martin Scorcese and features Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesce, among other marquee actors. But the movie cost $160 million to produce, an amount NFLX will never recoup.

The movie debuted this past week in a limited number of theaters. Several major theater chains refused to show it because NFLX demanded a 3-week window of exclusivity before sticking it on its streaming platform. Three weeks is the minimum amount of time a movie must spend in public theaters to qualify for the Oscars.  Movie production companies rely on huge box office revenues plus revenue sharing deals on concessions to cover the production cost of blockbuster movies. After raking it in from the theaters, they look to milk huge fees from content syndication agreements. NFLX cut short its ability to pocket huge box office revenues and will not benefit from the ability to sell the rights to “The Irishman.”

NFLX sacrificed a large portion of box office revenues with the idea that it could use “The Irishman” as “bait” to catch new subscribers. However, people who don’t already subscribe to NFLX will likely either see it while it’s at the theaters or sign up for the free month to watch it and then cancel, which is what I’m going to do.

NFLX’s business model will lead to an epic fail. Eventually Netflix’s stock is dead meat. While Netflix has a viable streaming business, it simply has too much debt. It will never be able to service its debt load, especially in conjunction with the its content payment obligations.

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