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Cracks in Ponzi-Finance Land

The retail sector has replaced the oil sector in a sense, and not in a good way. It is the sector that is most likely to see a large surge in bankruptcies this year. Junk bonds issued by retailers are performing dismally, and within the group the bonds of companies that were subject to leveraged buyouts by private equity firms seem to be doing the worst (a function of their outsized debt loads). Here is a chart showing the y-t-d performance of a number of these bonds as of the end of March:

Returns of several of the worst performing junk bonds issued by retailers in Q1 2017. This is rather impressive value destruction for a single quarter – click to enlarge.

Note the stand-out Neiman Marcus, a luxury apparel retailer, the bonds of which have been in free-fall this year. The company was bought out in an LBO and was saddled with a mountain of debt in the process. Investors buying this debt have now come to regret their purchases, particularly as it is debt of the “creative” kind.

Investor demand for junk bonds continues to be brisk, with inflows from retail investors said to be particularly strong. As we have pointed out on previous occasions, this surge in demand has resulted in creditors accepting ever softer loan covenants.

A long period of extremely low interest rates not only leads to a pronounced distortion of relative prices and the associated malinvestment of capital, it also tends to make a growing number of debtors increasingly vulnerable to rising rates and other disruptions. Over time, the number of companies forced to regularly roll over debt if they want to remain among the quick will inevitably increase.

These companies then depend on high investor confidence, which is now faltering in the retail sector. The out look seems appropriately grim: Fitch expects the default rate in the sector to spike to 9% this year.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Where There’s Smoke…

Where There’s Smoke…

…There’s central bank manipulation

Central banks around the world have colluded, if not conspired, to elevate and prop up financial asset prices.  Here we’ll present the data and evidence that they’ve not only done so, but gone too far.

When wee discuss elevated financial asset prices we really are talking about everything.

we’re talking not just about the sky-high prices of stocks and bonds, but also of the trillions of dollars’ worth of derivatives that are linked to them, as well as real estate in dozens of countries and locations.  All are intricately linked together. For instance, stocks are elevated, in part, because bond yields are so low.  Sam for real estate.

Here are three questions most alert investors are asking:

  • Question #1: When will financial assets ever ‘correct’ and fall in price?
  • Question #2: How much does overt propping by the central banks have to do with today’s elevated prices?
  • Question #3: How much does covert propping by central banks play a role in these inflated markets?

These are important questions to consider because if central banks have been too involved and gotten themselves mixed up in trying to ‘wag the dog’ by using elevated financial asset prices as a means to drive economic expansion — then the risk is a big implosion in financial asset prices if their efforts fail.

The difficulty, as always, is that you can’t print your way to prosperity.  It’s never worked in history and it won’t work this time either.  You can, however, print (or borrow) to delay a correction, after which a boost in real economic growth (or additional income) had better materialize to save your bacon.   But if enough growth does not emerge to both pay back all the old outstanding loans plus all the newly created debt and currency, then you’re going to experience a worse correction than if you had not tried to print/borrow your way to prosperity.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Stockman: We’re Borrowing Our Way to Economic Disaster

Stockman: We’re Borrowing Our Way to Economic Disaster

David Stockman joined the Fox Business and the show Mornings with Maria to discuss the tax reform highlights for the current White House and GOP platform and what he views as a real threat of economic disaster in the U.S. During the discussion Stockman highlights what to expect from a border adjustment tax possibility, the creation of jobs and the impact on Wall Street in the age of Donald Trump.

Stockman takes to point the cause of tax reform in the current White House. He begins the segment noting, “I think the border adjustment tax will come out of the retailers margin – and it should. We do need revenue. We need to have a consumption tax, or a value added tax or a border adjustment tax – so that we may reduce taxation on wages and income. We desperately need more jobs in this country. If you keep taxing the payroll at 15.5%, which we’re doing today, you’re not going to encourage the creation of jobs. You’re going to take what jobs there are and impact the take-home pay of those jobs.”

David Stockman was then asked about his read on Donald Trump’s border tax proposals and the possibility of what the President described as a ‘reciprocal tax.’  “He has no idea what he’s talking about. He’s making it up as he goes along. Donald Trump is a tourist in the Imperial City of Washington D.C. He’s flipping, flopping and making it up as he goes.”

“The border adjustment tax, or a value added tax is the way to get at the problem he’s talking about. Every other country in the world has a value added tax. You take it off the exports and put it on the imports.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How Heavy Is This?

How Heavy Is This?

Here is a glass of water. You’re holding it.

How heavy is it?

The answer is: the actual weight probably doesn’t matter. It’s just a glass of water. What matters is how long you hold it.

Hold it for a minute, it’s no problem. An hour and your arm will ache. A day and your arm will feel paralysed.

The weight doesn’t change but the longer you hold it the heavier it becomes and the greater the probability you finally just have to put it down or risk dropping it altogether.

Now, take a look at this graphic which I nicked from Hugo Salinas:

How Heavy Is This?

Betting against the ability of governments and their central banks to keep holding the proverbial glass of water has been a losing proposition for a looooong time.

Now, simple math tells us that although this debt growth is pretty damned fantastic it needn’t be a problem if income growth has kept up with it. Income, after all, services debt.

Since income growth hasn’t kept up clearly that’s not the case. So what is it?

The answer lies in this chart which shows the cost of capital across the major economies of the US, the EU, the UK, and Japan.

When the cost of debt servicing is low or zero, then the size of debt really doesn’t matter much. It’s as if the glass of water has no weight at all.

Now here’s something worth pondering…

On an historical timeframe we’re at the tail end of the long term debt-cycle… a cycle that typically lasts between 50 and 75 years.

Today, bonds are more sensitive to price movements than at any other time in history and the yield achieved on them so low that it doesn’t take all that much for a positive return (just) to turn into a loss.

Now take a look at this:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Our Economies Run On Housing Bubbles

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Rene Magritte Memory 1948
We are witnessing the demise of the world’s two largest economic power blocks, the US and EU. Given deteriorating economic conditions on both sides of the Atlantic, which have been playing out for many years but were so far largely kept hidden from view by unprecedented issuance of debt, the demise should come as no surprise.

The debt levels are not just unprecedented, they would until recently have been unimaginable. When the conditions for today’s debt orgasm were first created in the second half of the 20th century, people had yet to wrap their minds around the opportunities and possibilities that were coming on offer. Once they did, they ran with it like so many lemmings.

The reason why economies are now faltering invites an interesting discussion. Energy availability certainly plays a role, or rather the energy cost of energy, but we might want to reserve a relatively larger role for the idea, and the subsequent practice, of trying to run entire societies on debt (instead of labor and resources).

It almost looks as if the cost of energy, or of anything at all really, doesn’t play a role anymore, if and when you can borrow basically any sum of money at ultra low rates. Sometimes you wonder why people didn’t think of that before; how rich could former generations have been, or at least felt?

The reason why is that there was no need for it; things were already getting better all the time, albeit for a briefer period of time than most assume, and there was less ‘want’. Not that people wouldn’t have wanted as much as we do today, they just didn’t know yet what it was they should want. The things to want were as unimaginable as the debt that could have bought them.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

CBO Warns Of Fiscal Catastrophe As A Result Of Exponential Debt Growth In The U.S.

CBO Warns Of Fiscal Catastrophe As A Result Of Exponential Debt Growth In The U.S.

In a just released report from the CBO looking at the long-term US budget outlook, the budget office forecasts that both government debt and deficits are expected to soar in the coming 30 years, with debt/GDP expected to hit 150% by 2047 if the current government spending picture remains unchanged.

The CBO’s revision from the last, 2016 projection, shows a marked deterioration in both total debt and budget deficits, with the former increasing by 5% to 146%, while the latter rising by almost 1% from 8.8% of GDP to 9.6% by 2017.

According to the CBO, “at 77 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), federal debt held by the public is now at its highest level since shortly after World War II. If current laws generally remained unchanged, the Congressional Budget Office projects, growing budget deficits would boost that debt sharply over the next 30 years; it would reach 150 percent of GDP in 2047.

In addition to the booming debts, the office expects the deficit to more than triple from the projected 2.9% of GDP in 2017 to 9.8% in 2047. The deficit at the end of fiscal year 2016 stood at $587 billion.

A comaprison of government spending and revenues in 2017 vs 2047 shows the following picture:

The CBO also mentions rising rates as another key reason for the increasing debt burden. The Federal Reserve has kept rates low since the financial crisis but is on track to gradually hike rates in the coming year.

On the growth side, the CBO expects 2% or less GDP growth over the next three decades, far below the number proposed by the Trump administration.

The budget office breaks down the primary causes of projected growth in US spending as follows: not surprisingly, it is all about unsustainable social security and health care program outlays.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Jim Rogers Warns, The Fed “Has No Clue… Will Ruin Us All”

Jim Rogers Warns, The Fed “Has No Clue… Will Ruin Us All”

“What worries you?” asks a Bloomberg TV anchor of billionaire investor Jim Rogers. Rogers was not shy in his response: “The Federal Reserve… has no clue what they are doing. They are going to ruin us all.”

Having driven rates to record lows and with debt sky-rocketing, Rogers warns “this is all going to end very, very, very badly.” Rogers slams the ‘counterfactual’ arguments that things would have been a lot worse if The Fed had not done all this, “propping up zombie banks and dead companies is not the way the world is supposed to work.”

“It’s been nine years and we have nothing to show for it [economically] except staggering amounts of debt.”

We have missed Mr. Rogers plain, if often painful, truthiness.

When the “Solutions” Become the Problems

When the “Solutions” Become the Problems

Those benefiting from these destructive “solutions” may think the system can go on forever, but it cannot go on when every “solution” becomes a self-reinforcing problem that amplifies all the other systemic problems.
We are living in an interesting but by no means unique dynamic in which the solutions to problems such as slow growth and inequality have become the problems. This is a dynamic I have often discussed in various contexts. In essence, a solution that was optimized for an earlier era and situation is repeatedly applied to the present–but the present is unlike the past, and the old solution is no longer optimized to current conditions.
The old solution isn’t just a less-than-optimal solution; it actively makes the problem worse.
As a result, the old solution becomes a new problem that only exacerbates the current difficulties. The status quo strategy is not to question the efficacy of the old solution–it is to apply the old solution in heavier and heavier doses, on the theory that if only we increase the dose, it will finally resolve the problem.
Take borrowing from the future, i.e. debt, as a prime example of this dynamic.Back when credit was scarce and expensive, unleashing a tsunami of cheap, abundant credit supercharged growth by enabling millions of people who previously had limited access to credit to suddenly borrow and spend enormous sums of cash.
This tsunami of new spending supercharged growth such that servicing the debt was easy, as incomes and wealth both expanded far beyond the cost of the new debt.
Fast-forward to today, and adding 50% of the nation’s GDP in new federal debt ($9 trillion) and trillions more in corporate and houshold debt in the past 8 years has yielded subpar growth–roughly 2% a year.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why This Market Needs To Crash

bofotolux/Shutterstock

Why This Market Needs To Crash

And likely will 

Like an old vinyl record with a well-worn groove, the needle skipping merrily back to the same track over and over again, we repeat: Today’s markets are dangerously overpriced.

Being market fundamentalists who don’t believe it’s possible to simply print prosperity out of thin air, we’ve been deeply skeptical of the financial markets ever since the central banks began their highly interventionist policies. Since 2009, they have unleashed over $12 Trillion in new money into the world, concentrating wealth into the hands of an elite few, while blowing asset price bubbles everywhere in the process (see our recent report The Mother Of All Financial Bubbles).

Our consistent view is that price bubbles always burst. Which is why we predict the world’s financial markets will implode spectacularly from today’s heights — destroying jobs, dreams, hopes, economies and political careers alike.

When this happens, it will frighten the central bankers enough (or merely embarrass them enough, being the egotists that they are) that they will respond with even more aggressive money printing — and that will then cause the entire money system to blow up.  Ka-Poom!  First inwards in a compressed ball of deflation, then exploding outwards in a final hyperinflationary fireball (see our recent report When This All Blows Up…).

It really cannot end any other way.  Money is not wealth; it is merely a claim on wealth.  Debt is a claim on future money.  The only way to have faith in our current monetary policies is if one believes that we can always grow our debts at roughly twice the rate of GDP — forever.   That is, compound the claims at twice the rate of income year after year from here on out.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Bank Loan Creation Crashes At Fastest Pace Since The Financial Crisis

Bank Loan Creation Crashes At Fastest Pace Since The Financial Crisis

Last weekend, after looking at the latest H.8 statement by the Fed, we noted something concerning: total loans and leases by U.S. commercial banks were rising at an annual pace of about 4.6%, based on weekly Fed data. That is down from a 6.4% pace for all of last year and peak rates of around 8% in mid-2016. This is the slowest pace of debt creation since the spring of 2014. This deceleration has prompted numerous questions about the sustainability of the recovery, and led the WSJ to noted that the slowdown, “is at odds with the idea of a stronger economy and rising sentiment.”

But the slowdown was especially acute in the all important for growth Commercial and Industrial loan category, which after growing at a pace of 10% in the first half of 2016, had unexpectedly slowed to just 4.0%, nearly 50% lower than the 7% growth notched at the start of the year.  This was the lowest pace of loan growth since July of 2011.

Fast forward one week, when after the latest update to the Fed’s latest weekly commercial bank loan data, we find that the trends have deteriorated substantially.

As shown in the chart below, after growing 4.6% one week ago, total loans and leases grew only 4.2% in the week ended March 8: the lowest growth rate since May 2014. However, it was once again the Commercial and Industrial loans creation – or lack thereof – which was more problematic, because after growing 4.0% on a year over year basis as of March 1, and 5.7% one month ago as of February 8, the growth rate has since tumbled to just 2.9%, a 1.1% decline in the growth rate over the past week.

As shown in the chart below, on a cumulative 4-week basis the slowdown in C&I loan creation tumbled by 2.8% as of the latest period: this was the biggest monthly slowdown going back to the financial crisis.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Banks Are Evil

Barandash Karandashich/Shutterstock

Banks Are Evil

It’s time to get painfully honest about this 

I don’t talk to my classmates from business school anymore, many of whom went to work in the financial industry.

Why?

Because, through the lens we use here at PeakProsperity.com to look at the world, I’ve increasingly come to see the financial industry — with the big banks at its core — as the root cause of injustice in today’s society. I can no longer separate any personal affections I might have for my fellow alumni from the evil that their companies perpetrate.

And I’m choosing that word deliberately: Evil.

In my opinion, it’s long past time we be brutally honest about the banks. Their influence and reach has metastasized to the point where we now live under a captive system. From our retirement accounts, to our homes, to the laws we live under — the banks control it all. And they run the system for their benefit, not ours.

While the banks spent much of the past century consolidating their power, the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Actin 1999 emboldened them to accelerate their efforts. Since then, the key trends in the financial industry have been to dismantle regulation and defang those responsible for enforcing it, to manipulate market prices (an ambition tremendously helped by the rise of high-frequency trading algorithms), and to push downside risk onto “muppets” and taxpayers.

Oh, and of course, this hasn’t hurt either: having the ability to print up trillions in thin-air money and then get first-at-the-trough access to it. Don’t forget, the Federal Reserve is made up of and run by — drum roll, please — the banks.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Long Run Economics of Debt Based Stimulus

Something both unwanted and unexpected has tormented western economies in the 21st century.  Gross domestic product (GDP) has moderated onward while government debt has spiked upward.  Orthodox economists continue to be flummoxed by what has transpired.

What happened to the miracle? The Keynesian wet dream of an unfettered fiat debt money system has been realized, and debt has been duly expanded at every opportunity.  Although the fat lady has so far only cleared her throat (if quite audibly, in 2008) and hasn’t really sung yet, it is already clear that calling this system careening toward a catastrophic failure.

Here is the United States, since the turn of the new millennium (starting January 1, 2001) real GDP has increased from roughly $10.5 trillion to $18.6 trillion, or 77 percent.  Over this same time government debt has spiked nearly 250 percent from about $5.7 trillion to $19.9 trillion.  Obviously, some sort of reckoning’s in order to bring the books back into balance.

Throughout this extended episode of economic and financial discontinuity, the government’s solution to jump-starting the economy has been to borrow money and spend it.  Thus far, these efforts have succeeded in digging a massive hole that the economy will somehow have to climb out of.  We’re doubtful such a feat will ever be attained.

In short, additions of government debt over this time have been at a diminishing return.  Specifically, at the start of the new millennium the debt to GDP ratio was about 54 percent.  Today, it’s well over 100 percent.

US GDP and US federal debt, indexed (1984 = 100). Mises noted back in the late 1940s already that “it is obvious that sooner or later all these debts will be liquidated in some way or other, but certainly not by payment of interest and principal according to the terms of the contract.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Beware the Debt Ceiling

Euphoria has been pervasive in the stock market since the election. But investors seem to be overlooking the risk of a U.S. government default resulting from a failure by Congress to raise the debt ceiling. The possibility is greater than anyone seems to realize, even with a supposedly unified government.

In particular, the markets seem to be ignoring two vital numbers, which together could have profound consequences for global markets: 218 and $189 billion. In order to raise or suspend the debt ceiling (which will technically be reinstated on March 16), 218 votes are needed in the House of Representatives. The Treasury’s cash balance will need to last until this happens, or the U.S. will default.

The opening cash balance this month was $189 billion, and Treasury is burning an average of $2 billion per day – with the ability to issue new debt. Net redemptions of existing debt not held by the government are running north of $100 billion a month. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has acknowledged the coming deadline, encouraging Congress last week to raise the limit immediately.

Reaching 218 votes in favor of raising or suspending the debt ceiling might be harder than in any previous fiscal showdown. President Donald Trump almost certainly wants to raise the ceiling, but he may not have the votes. While Republicans control 237 seats in the House, the Tea Party wing of the party has in the past has steadfastly refused to go along with increases.

The Republican Party is already facing a revolt on its right flank over its failure to offer a clean repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Many members of this resistance constitute the ultra-right “Freedom Caucus,” which was willing to stand its ground during previous debt ceiling showdowns. The Freedom Caucus has 29 members, which means there might be only 208 votes to raise the ceiling. (It’s interesting to recall that, in 2013, President Trump himself tweeted that he was “embarrassed” that Republicans had voted to extend the ceiling.)

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Water Wars Coming To California? Is The Drought Really Over?

Water Wars Coming To California? Is The Drought Really Over?

Authored by Capt. William E. Simpson II – USMM Ret.,

In California, the poor growth and development policies that have resulted from a lack of vision have led-to and are continuing to lead Californians down a path of unsustainable growth and a widening gap between the demand and availability of critical resources, especially water.

This gargantuan problem is augmented by a growing financial crises in California as evidenced by an out of control and growing debt problem. All the while, many elected officials in the State along with Governor Jerry Brown are thumbing their noses at the Fed and losing Federal funding for cities that obstinately insist on violating long-established immigration laws. Of course this too is not helpful to the growing State debt, which elected officials will certainly cast-off onto the weakening shoulders of taxpayers using a combination of direct tax increases and other legislative and regulatory ploys that also amount to taxes and less money in the pockets of the People.

The term ‘drought’ has been used in reference to the severe water shortages that California is experiencing. But what is the real culprit or causation of the growing water shortage? Is drought caused by a lack of precipitation as most people believe? Or is the shortfall of water availability due to some other principal factor, such as water-use outstripping supply?

The recent record precipitation in California during the winter of 2016-2017 has certainly soaked the landscape, replenishing many of California’s reservoirs and in the process giving Californians the impression that the drought is over. But that is a misconception according to sources provided herein.

 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Eric Peters: “If China And The World Bank Are Right, We’re Headed For A Depression”

Eric Peters: “If China And The World Bank Are Right, We’re Headed For A Depression”

“Some people blindly invested offshore and were in a rush to do so,” explained China’s central bank chief, justifying his recent capital controls.

“Some of this outbound investment was not in line with our own policies and had no real gain for China.” No doubt he’s right. The tycoons fleeing Chinese capital markets have done so selfishly. “So to regulate capital flows, I think it is normal,” concluded the central banker.

Chinese credit relative to GDP has doubled in the past decade to 300%. Which remains less than the US at 350%, but the rate of Chinese credit growth is as unsustainable as it is difficult to reverse — without tanking the economy. The tycoons are running from this dynamic. Because such loops almost always end badly. 

Anyhow, after so many years of secular stagnation fears, global investors have grown conditioned to run. They’ve been running away from fear for so long, they’ve forgotten how to run toward greed. Which has left them blindly holding over $10trln of bonds, which yield negative interest.

Now, this might make sense in a deflationary depression. But the global economy has not seen such strong synchronized cyclical growth in years. Inflation is likewise firming everywhere.

But China lowered its growth target again. As the World Bank warned that today’s strong global upswing in confidence and financial markets are not enough to pull the world out of a “low-growth trap.” If they’re right, we’re surely headed for depression. Because all this new debt requires robust economic strength to shoulder the weight.

But European debt markets are still largely priced for depression. And with JP Morgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon announcing the return of animal spirits in America’s economy, it seems more likely that this cycle ends like every other. With a blind run toward greed.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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