I got an email from a colleague today that said, among other things: “The economy is tanking and, while you may be the most pessimistic around, you may not be pessimistic enough.”
To that I would say that I’m significantly more bearish than is reflected in my public analysis. I spoke to a couple people today who offered anecdotal stories about their particular business niches – businesses in which new orders are somewhat tied to discretionary spending – and they both said that new business activity is unusually slow and that the last time they experienced new order flow this slow this was in 2008.
I’ve been suggesting for most of this year that retail sales were slowing and would fall off a cliff heading into fall. I presented RL as a short idea in my Short Seller’s Journal on August 14th at $108 after visiting the Ralph Lauren store in Aspen. I was the only person in the entire store and I was being hounded by the salesperson to the point of being uncomfortable. RL is at $100.80 as I write this, which is a 7.2% ROR in 4 weeks for anyone who shorted the stock. Based on the point of last trade and where I recommended them, the January 2017 $85-strike puts are up 35% – so far. But the bigger gains will be made holding RL short when it drops to $40, where it was in early 2009 before the Fed’s money printing stimulated credit-induced retail spending.
My outlook on retail is supported by the BAC credit card spending report posted in Zerohedge today. Based on BAC “aggregate card data,” retail sales ex-autos declined .1% in August from July and .3% in July from June. The 3-month average (Jun-Aug) is down .2%. These numbers are “seasonally adjusted,” which means the actuals are probably worse. BAC’s data for department store sales show that they’re down 4.6% year over year in August. Autopart sales are in a downtrend and beginning to comp negatively. Auto parts sales are highly correlated with vehicle unit sales, which are entering a downturn based on July and August numbers, especially if you strip out Chrysler’s fraudulent sales numbers LINK.
The week retail sales reflect the deteriorating income and financial status of the average American household. And so do restaurant sales. Restaurant industry sales tracked by Black Box Intelligence show a .6% decline in August in same store sales were down .6% but same store traffic was down 2.7%. This was the third consecutive month same-store sales declined, with monthly sequential declines in 6 out of 8 months this year.
It’s expected that Q3 corporate earnings will once again decline from Q2. This will be six quarters in a row that earnings drop. But it’s even worse than that because the changes to accounting standards (GAAP) have enabled companies to manipulate their earnings reports to the upside. Despite those accounting gimmicks, earnings continue to drop.
The stimulative effects of the Fed’s money printing program have faded. The subprime debt default crisis that plagued the housing market in 2008 has been replaced by a general reflation of subprime credit issuance that includes housing, autos, student loans and personal loans. Synchrony, formerly GE Capital Retail Bank, is advertising a high yield savings account that pays 1.1% interest, or 8x the national average. That’s because Synchrony is using depositor money to fund a plethora of high interest rate consumer lending platforms which primarily appeal to subprime borrowers. I would strongly advise avoiding this savings account because, even with alleged FDIC coverage, you might not see your money when Synchrony impales itself on the toxic loans it makes. Look for Synchrony to blow up sometime in the next 24 months. Same with Capitol One, Ally Financial and Credit Acceptance Corporation, among others.
The Fed will not only not raise rates this year – or anytime in the foreseeable future for that matter – but watch for signs that another big dose of “QE” is being tee’d up. Otherwise our financial system and economy is headed into that same abyss into which it stared in 2008.