Trump’s trade advisor, Peter Navarro, was on CNBC today asserting that the economy was expanding at an unprecedented rate. Either Navarro is tragically ignorant or an egregious liar. Either way he looks like an idiot to those us who study the real numbers and understand the truth.
The Global Manufacturing PMI (Purchasing Managers Index) dropped to 50.4 – the lowest since July 2016. It’s been falling almost nonstop since mid-2017. The current period of decline is the longest in the 20-year history of the index. The index includes the purchase of inputs for the manufacturing of consumer goods, investment goods (capex material) and intermediate goods (semi-finished goods used as inputs for final goods).
The pace of decline for auto sales in China, Europe and the U.S. is the fastest in at least three decades excluding the great financial crisis time period. Visible evidence of the contracting global/domestic economy is Ford’s announcement that it’s cutting 10% of salaried (white collar) workforce, about 7,000 jobs, by the end of August.
The trade war is not the cause of U.S. economic weakness. If anything, it’s nothing more than an effort by the Trump Government to manufacture a scapegoat for the inevitably severe economic recession engulfing the system. China’s exports to the U.S. were 5% of its GDP in 1995. By 2005 exports to the U.S. had risen to 9% of China’s GDP. Currently exports to the U.S. represent just 3% of China’s GDP. These numbers show that the trade war between the U.S. and China is not the cause of global economic weakness.
Rather, the cause is the massive misapplication of capital from 10 years of over $21 trillion in money printing and debt issuance. This artificially over-stimulated economic activity. Now that the stimulus has worn off, the major economies – especially the U.S. and China – face the problem of servicing their debt load and the consequences of a decade of misallocated capital.
Bond guru, Jeffrey Gundlach, recently asserted in a webcast that “nominal GDP growth over the past five years would have been negative is U.S. public debt had not increased.” He went on to state that analysts and financial journalists “seem to not understand that the growth in the GDP it looks pretty good on the screen but is really based exclusively on debt – Government debt, also corporate debt and mortgage debt.” I have been saying this for quite some time because it’s pretty obvious to anyone who looks more deeply into the numbers beyond reciting the headline reports.
The Fed released Q1 household debt numbers two weeks ago. It showed that total household debt grew by $124 billion in the first quarter of 2019, boosted by increases in mortgage, auto and student loan balances. That increase in debt is not translating into economic growth. Part of the reason for the increase in mortgage debt balances is the proliferation of cash-out refinancings, which are now back to 2006-2008 levels (chart sourced from bubblesbottoms.blogspot.com):
Much of this cash-out refinancing is being used to pay off large credit card balances, which does not help stimulate economic spending but it does result in larger mortgage balances per household and lets the consumer “reset” its credit balance for more debt-based consumption. Again, this is similar to what the financial landscape looked like prior to the great financial crisis except it’s worse now.
The above commentary is an excerpt from last week’s Short Seller’s Journal. In each issue I undress the economic propaganda and provide short ideas, including options plays. This week I’m featuring a retail-based “unicorn” stock which burns more cash every quarter. You can learn more about this newsletter here: Short Seller’s Journal information