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Rising Interest Rates: New Era with Tough Outcomes

Rising Interest Rates: New Era with Tough Outcomes

 

What will the bond market do? The conniptions in the Treasury market are causing pain in existing portfolios but offer opportunities down the road. What’s the impact of these rising interest rates on the housing bubbles in the US and Canada? Where is the pain threshold? How will it differ in the US and Canada? And what will higher interest rates do to new- and used-vehicle sales? We’re at the beginning of a new era with potentially tough outcomes.

The Fed’s monetary policy shift is finally taking hold. It just took a while. The Louis Fed Financial Stress index spiked beautifully and suddenly, from historic lows back in November. Read…  “Financial Stress” Spikes. Markets, Long in Denial, Suddenly Grapple with New Era

On Closer Inspection, Debt of Bankrupt Spanish Construction Firm Grows Four-Fold

On Closer Inspection, Debt of Bankrupt Spanish Construction Firm Grows Four-Fold

What happens if cases like this prove to be the rule rather than the exception?

Spain appears to have a brand-new Abengoa — the imploded energy giant whose fabulous accounting tricks pushed creditors into a black hole — on its hands: Isolux was until recently a fairly large privately owned infrastructure company with operations spanning the globe.

When the group declared bankruptcy last July, its cash flow in Spain was barely enough to cover a month’s operating costs. The group had a a total workforce of 3,884 and 119 infrastructure projects under development of which 39 were still operational and the remaining 90 had been halted.

The company tried to reduce its debt addiction through agreements with investment funds but they fell through. It also made two attempts to go public, in Brazil and Spain. Both failed.

The bankruptcy proceedings affected seven subsidiaries. At the time, the company stated that it owed €405 million to suppliers, that its total financial debt — including those companies not included under the Spanish Insolvency Act filing — was €1.3 billion, of which €557 million was associated with project financing, and that the total deficit on the group’s balance sheet was about €800 million.

Turns out, according to the bankruptcy receivers, the shortfall is actually €3.8 billion — four-and-a-half times the company’s original estimate — and the group’s total debt, at €5.7 billion, is over €4 billion more than the amount stated by the company 10 months ago.

This amount does not include the group’s dual or contingent liabilities. The receiver’s report concludes that the current situation will probably culminate in the liquidation of the entire group.

How did all this come to pass? According to the receiver’s report, the collapse of the real estate bubble in Spain and the drastic reduction in public work tenders during the crisis led Isolux to massively expand its international operations, as many large Spanish companies did in the aftermath of the housing bubble collapse.

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

“Financial Stress” Spikes. Markets, Long in Denial, Suddenly Grapple with New Era

“Financial Stress” Spikes. Markets, Long in Denial, Suddenly Grapple with New Era

Fed’s monetary policy shift is finally taking hold. It just took a while.

The weekly St. Louis Fed Financial Stress index, released today, just spiked beautifully. It had been at historic lows back in November, an expression of ultra-loose financial conditions in the US economy, dominated by risk-blind investors chasing any kind of yield with a passion, which resulted in minuscule risk premiums for investors and ultra-low borrowing costs even for even junk-rated borrows. The index ticked since then, but in the latest week, ended February 9, something happened:

The index, which is made up of 18 components (seven interest rate measures, six yield spreads, and five other indices) had hit a historic low of -1.6 on November 3, 2017, even as the Fed had been raising its target range for the federal funds rate and had started the QE Unwind. It began ticking up late last year, hit -1.35 a week ago, and now spiked to -1.06.

The chart above shows the spike of the latest week in relationship to the two-year Oil Bust that saw credit freeze up for junk-rated energy companies, with the average yield of CCC-or-below-rated junk bonds soaring to over 20%. Given the size of oil-and-gas sector debt, energy credits had a large impact on the overall average.

The chart also compares today’s spike to the “Taper Tantrum” in the bond market in 2014 after the Fed suggested that it might actually taper “QE Infinity,” as it had come to be called, out of existence. This caused yields and risk premiums to spike, as shown by the Financial Stress index.

This time, it’s the other way around: The Fed has been raising rates like clockwork, and its QE Unwind is accelerating, but for months markets blithely ignored it. Until suddenly they didn’t.

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

Another Big British Bank Lands in Deep Trouble

Another Big British Bank Lands in Deep Trouble

Barclays faces a criminal trial in the UK. Last week it was RBS. 

Now, it’s the UK’s second-largest bank Barclays’ turn to face the music. A week ago, it was the UK’s third-largest bank, state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland, that faced one of its biggest scandal yet after whistle-blowers accused the bank of systematically forging customer signatures. RBS also faces the prospect of a multi-billion dollar fine for the way it sold residential mortgage-backed securities during the lead up to the Financial Crisis.

On Monday, the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced that it was charging Barclays for a second time over a deeply suspicious £2.2 billion ($3 billion) loan it issued in 2008 to Qatar. To avoid a government bailout, Barclays took a £12 billion loan from Qatar Holdings, which is owned by the state of Qatar. Under that deal, Barclays loaned £2.3 billion back to Qatar Holdings, which allegedly was then used to buy shares in Barclays. If true, it would amount to “unlawful financial assistance,” the SFO says.

Barclays is the first British bank to face a criminal trial in the UK related to its conduct during the Financial Crisis. The fresh charge of “unlawful financial assistance” comes after charges were brought against Barclays’ holding company and four former executives last July.

Founded in 1690, Barclays is one of the world’s oldest banks. As the Financial Times notes, the original lender was established on a bedrock of honesty, integrity and plain dealing — a reflection of the sober values of the Quaker families that founded the bank. Today, things could not be more different. The bank now boasts one of the longest rap sheets of any bank in Europe, which — given the pedigree of the local competition, including Deutsche Bank, HSBC, RBS, UBS, BNP and Credit Suisse — is no mean feat.

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

Four Rate Hikes in 2018 as US National Debt Will Spike

Four Rate Hikes in 2018 as US National Debt Will Spike

Chorus gets louder. But no one will be ready for those mortgage rates.

It didn’t take long for rate-hike expectations to be jostled further by last week’s “monster” two-year budget bill that Congress passed with its usual gyrations, including a government mini-shutdown, and that Trump signed into law on Friday. The bill increases spending caps by $300 billion over the next two years. It includes an additional $165 billion for the Pentagon and $131 billion for non-defense programs.

The bill comes after the tax cuts slashed expected revenues by $1.5 trillion of the next ten years. So pretty soon this is starting to add up.

Going forward, the US gross national debt will likely balloon at a rate of over $1 trillion a year, every year, even during the best of times. It’s $20.5 trillion currently [update 3 hours later, after debt ceiling suspended: $20.7 trillion]. It will likely be over $21.5 trillion a year from now – and this when the US economy is expected to boom. Any downturn will cause the debt to spike.

And what will the Fed do?

Four rate hikes this year – that’s what Credit Suisse’s US economists said in a research note on Monday. Previously, they’d expected three rate hikes for 2018.

“The FOMC has already boosted their growth outlook for 2018 in light of the tax bill passed in December and we anticipate another upward revision to their growth forecast at the March meeting,” the economists wrote in the research note, according to Reuters.

“With the economy near (or above) full employment, prudent risk management suggests the Fed ought to accelerate their tightening in response to a large positive demand shock,” they said.

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

The State of the American Debt Slaves

The State of the American Debt Slaves

It was one gigantic party. But wait…

Total consumer credit rose 5.4% in the fourth quarter, year over year, to a record $3.84 trillion not seasonally adjusted, according to the Federal Reserve. This includes credit-card debt, auto loans, and student loans, but not mortgage-related debt. December had been somewhat of a disappointment for those that want consumers to drown in debt, but the prior months, starting in Q4 2016, had seen blistering surges of consumer debt.

Think what you will of the election – consumers celebrated it or bemoaned it the American way: by piling on debt.

The chart below shows the progression of consumer debt since 2006 (not seasonally adjusted). Note the slight dip after the Financial Crisis, as consumers deleveraged – with much of the deleveraging being accomplished by defaulting on those debts. But it didn’t last long. And consumer debt has surged since. It’s now 45% higher than it had been in Q4 2008. Food for thought: Over the period, the consumer price index increased 17.5%:

Credit card debt and other revolving credit in Q4 rose 6% year-over-year to $1.027 trillion, a blistering pace, but it was down from the 9.2% surge in Q3, the nearly 10% surge in Q2, and the dizzying 12% surge in Q1. So the growth of credit card debt in Q4 was somewhat of a disappointment for those wanting to see consumers drown in expensive debt.

The chart below shows the leap of the past four quarters over prior years. This pushed credit card debt in Q3 and Q4 finally over the prior record set in Q4 2008 ($1.004 trillion), before it came tumbling down via said “deleveraging.”

These are not seasonally adjusted numbers, and you can see the seasonal surges in credit card debt every Q4 during shopping season (as marked), and the drop afterwards in Q1.

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

 

Nuclear Follies in the UK: in Search of High-Cost Power without Strategy at the Wrong Time

Nuclear Follies in the UK: in Search of High-Cost Power without Strategy at the Wrong Time

Then there is the issue of long term predictions.

It was the February 4 article in the Financial Times titled, “Nuclear Hazards: struggling industry aims for power surge,” that got our attention. There’s been so much going on in the UK with Brexit and such. It’s almost easy to forget that the country remains steadily on course to build (and subsidize) multiple new nuclear power generating stations employing multiple designs and technologies.

The FT article was so polite. Author Andrew Ward pointed out that the UK is the only western nation pursuing nuclear new build on anything remotely approaching this scale. Let’s call it what it is, shall we? The policy is barking mad.

First, the consensus view is that South Korea and France have had the most successful large scale nuclear build out programs. They had one thing in common. A single reactor design relentlessly improved in each successive installation.

Labor practices and efficiencies also improved with each successive iteration as the labor force became more skilled. In addition, these countries invested considerable sums in infrastructure for fabricating plant parts (like forges), mining, uranium processing, and especially spent-fuel handling and storage.

The May government in the UK appears to neither understand nor appreciate how these strategies contributed to the successes of the French and Korean efforts. It has not laid a framework, either, to bring the employment and technology benefits that come with developing the ancillary services need to maintain the nuclear establishment.

In sum, the May government has no strategy to exploit nuclear power.

The second problem is the plant’s unattractive price tag of £20 billion. The government has guaranteed the owner/builders of Hinkley (EDF and China’s CGN) a generous contract price of £92.50 per MWH for 35 years, of course with adjustments for inflation.

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

Bailed-Out RBS Systemically Forged Customer Signatures: Whistle-Blowers

Bailed-Out RBS Systemically Forged Customer Signatures: Whistle-Blowers

Small-business customers suffered most at the bank’s hands.

The Royal Bank of Scotland, the UK mega-lender that has already cost British taxpayers over £90 billion in bailouts, losses, fines and legal fees, could be about to face its biggest scandal yet following allegations staff were routinely “trained” to forge customer signatures.

First, managers were taught how to fake the names on key customer documents, according to whistle-blowers at the bank, cited by the Scottish Mail on Sunday. Staff were then allegedly shown how to download authentic signatures from the bank’s online system, trace them on to new documents by holding them against a window and to photocopy the paperwork a number of times, to “obscure the image somewhat” and thus avoid detection — a blatantly criminal practice that allegedly became commonplace throughout the bank to speed up processing.

The latest allegations are further confirmation of just how poisoned a legacy the pre-crisis management team left behind at the bank. Obsessed with achieving rapid growth at just about any cost, executives “bred a culture of impunity that affected most aspects of [RBS’] business,” says British financial journalist Ian Fraser.

Fraser was one of the first journalists to expose how some of the bank’s employees edited minutes of telephone conversations with customers to avoid the bank having to shell out compensation for misselling insurance products. At one point as many as 1,000 employees at RBS’s investment banking division (nearly a tenth of its back-office staff) were solely engaged in data-clean up and reconciliation — i.e., doctoring or recreating documents, such as loan and derivatives contracts, in ways that suited the bank and often undermined the position of counterparties.

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

So What Do I Think about the “Crash” in Stocks?

So What Do I Think about the “Crash” in Stocks?

A lot more will have to happen before this turns into a crash; and markets are not there yet.

With all this wailing in the media about stocks, you’d think there’s at least some blood in the streets. But no. Not a drop.

The Dow fell 4.6% today to 24,345. This 1,175-point drop, as it was endlessly repeated, was the biggest point-drop in history – but irrelevant given how relentlessly inflated the industrial average had become. The percentage drop today, combined with the drops of last week, took the Dow down just 8.5% from its all-time high on January 26.

For the year, the Dow is down merely 1.5%. I mean, what horror. The last time this sort of debacle happened was way back in ancient history of January and early February 2016.

The Dow is not even in a correction (defined as -10% from its recent high). But that messy Friday and Monday, following a record 410-day streak without a 5% decline, did break the recently pandemic illusion that you cannot lose money in stocks.

When the Dow gained 1,000 points in the shortest time ever, after having already booked the fastest-ever 1,000-point gains in prior months and years, no one was complaining about it. These rapid-fire 1,000-point-gains had become the new normal. So today, one of those 1,000-point gains has been unwound.

The S&P 500 dropped 113 points, or 4.1%, to 2,648. This took the index back to December 8, 2017. The past six trading days were the worst decline since … well, since the weeks leading up to February 7, 2016, at which point the S&P 500 was off 19%, not quite enough for a dip into an official bear market.

The Nasdaq fell 272 points today, or 3.8%, to 6,967, below 7,000 for the first time since the end of December, but remains, if barely, in positive territory for the year.

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

Crash of Outsourcing Giant with 70,000 Employees Globally Sparks New Panic

Crash of Outsourcing Giant with 70,000 Employees Globally Sparks New Panic

“Not another Carillion,” says UK government to soothe frazzled nerves, as entire industry is teetering.

Since the sudden downfall of the British infrastructure giant Carillion two weeks ago, investors’ nerves in London are frayed. And short-sellers, scanning the horizon for their next prey, seem to have found it.

Its name is Capita. It is one of the UK government’s biggest outsourcing firms with contracts to provide services to government entities, such as NHS cleaning, school dinners, and prison maintenance. It has 70,000 employees in the UK, Europe, South Africa, and India.

On Wednesday, its shares tumbled 47.5% to a 15-year low after its new CEO, Jon Lewis, slashed profit forecasts, announced plans to tap the capital market for £700 million, and suspended a dividend that was worth more than £200 million to shareholders last year.

On Thursday, the rout continued , with shares dropping a further 13%. On Friday, shares bounced off a tiny 2.3% to close at 162.3 pence, down 77% from June 2017 and down 88% from July 2015.

In a desperate bid to calm market nerves at the height of Wednesday’s rout, the UK government released a statement insisting that Capita was “not another Carillion.”

But whatever the government might say, there is a striking resemblance between the two companies:

Like Carillion, Capita is massively dependent on government contracts. In the last two years alone it was awarded 226 public sector contracts — 10 times more than Carillion — making it the biggest supplier of local government services in the country, according to public sector data provider Tussel.

Like Carillion, Capita is massively in debt, with an estimated £1.1 billion of funds outstanding. And like Carillion, it’s been exceptionally generous with its dividend policy in recent years. So did it, as Carillion is accused of doing, borrow money and sell-off assets in order to pay its dividends, in direct contravention of UK law?

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

Fed’s QE Unwind Accelerates Sharply

Fed’s QE Unwind Accelerates Sharply

With a sense of urgency. No more dilly-dallying around.

The Fed’s balance sheet for the week ending January 31, released this afternoon, completes the fourth month of QE-unwind. And it’s starting to be a doozie.

This “balance sheet normalization” impacts two types of assets: Treasury securities and mortgage backed securities (MBS) that the Fed acquired during the years of QE and maintained afterwards.

The Fed’s plan, as announced in September, is to shrink the balances of Treasuries and MBS by up to $10 billion per month in October, November, and December 2017, then to accelerate the pace every three months. In January, February, and March 2018, the unwind would be capped at $20 billion a month; in Q2, at $30 billion a month; in Q3, at $40 billion a month; and starting in Q4, at $50 billion a month.

According to this plan, balances of Treasuries and MBS will shrink by $420 billion in 2018, by an additional $600 billion in 2019, and by additional $600 every year going forward until the Fed deems the level of its holdings “normal.” Whatever this level may turn out to be, it will be much higher than the level suggested by the growth trajectory before the Financial Crisis.

For January, the plan called for shedding up to $20 billion: $12 billion in Treasuries and $8 billion in MBS.

So how did it go?

On its December 27 balance sheet, the Fed had $2,454 billion of Treasuries. By January 31, it had $2,436 billion: a drop of $18 billion in one month!

This exceeds the planned drop of $12 billion for January. But hey, over the holidays, most folks at the New York Fed, which does the balance sheet operations, were probably off and not much happened. And so this may have been a catch-up action, with a sense of urgency.

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

Touted Energy “Reform” Goes Awry in Mexico

Touted Energy “Reform” Goes Awry in Mexico

Dream of cheaper energy in an open market turns into nightmare.

Four years ago, Mexico’s government passed a sweeping energy reform aimed at opening up Mexico’s long-protected oil and gas sectors to global competition and expertise for the first time in over 70 years. The reforms would lead to lower energy prices for domestic consumers as well as thrust Mexico into a more prominent position in the global hydrocarbons market, the government confidently predicted.

Instead, the opposite has happened: prices of gas, diesel and natural gas have soared while Mexico’s heavily indebted state-owned energy giant, Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, got tangled up in the oil bust, lost $9 billion in 2016, received a bail-out, and after making money in Q1 and Q2 of 2017, lost another $5.5 billion in Q3 2017. In other words, it has been tough on Pemex.

Production at Pemex dropped 9.5% in 2017 to 1.94 million barrels per day, its lowest level since 1980. At the same time 71.6% of the gasoline used by Mexicans last year was imported. It’s a humbling statistic for a country that not so long ago boasted the world’s second biggest oil field by production, the Canterfell.

On average, 570,600 barrels per day were bought from abroad in 2017, 60% more than in 2013. Much of it came from the US. As for Diesel, 237,500 of the 317,600 barrels sold each day came from another country — an import rate of 75% — while an average of 67% of the 2,623 million cubic feet of natural gas sold per day was imported from abroad.

Mexico’s growing reliance on energy imports could make it even more difficult for the Bank of Mexico (or Banxico for short) to bring down inflation, which reached an annual rate of 6.8% in December, almost four percentage points above Banxico’s target rate.

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

US National Debt Will Jump by $617 Billion in 5 Months

US National Debt Will Jump by $617 Billion in 5 Months

Just as the Fed accelerates its QE Unwind. Treasuries reacted.

While everyone is trying to figure out how to twist the new tax cut to their advantage and save some money, the US Treasury Department just announced how much net new debt it will have to sell to the public through the second quarter to keep the government afloat: $617 billion.

That’s what the Treasury Department estimates will be the total amount added to publicly traded Treasury securities — or “net privately-held marketable borrowing” — through the end of the second quarter. This will be the net increase in the US debt through the end of Q2. By quarter:

  • During Q1, the Treasury expects to increase US public debt by $441 billion. It includes estimates for “lower net cash flows.”
  • During Q2 – peak tax seasons when revenues pour into the Treasury – it expects to increase US public debt by $176 billion.

It also “assumes” that with these increases in the debt, it will have a cash balance at the end of June of $360 billion.

So over the next five months, if all goes according to plan, the US gross national debt of $24.5 trillion currently – which includes $14.8 trillion in publicly traded Treasury securities and $5.7 trillion in internally held debt – will surge to about $25.1 trillion.

That’s a 4% jump in just five months. Note the technical jargon-laced description for this (marked in green on the chart):

The flat lines in 2013, 2015, and 2017 are a result of the prior three debt-ceiling fights. Each was followed by an enormous spike when the debt ceiling was lifted or suspended, and when the “extraordinary measures” with which the Treasury keeps the government afloat were reversed. And note the current debt ceiling, the flat line that started in mid-December.

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

What Does it Mean, Saving Rate drops to 12-Year Low when 50% of Americans Don’t Have Savings?

What Does it Mean, Saving Rate drops to 12-Year Low when 50% of Americans Don’t Have Savings?

Or what the averages are hiding.

We will start with income and see what’s left over, and for whom.

Personal income increased by 4.1% in December from a year earlier, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported today. This includes all income received by all persons from all sources, such as from labor, financial assets (dividends and interest income but not capital gains), business activities, homeownership (rentals), government transfers, etc.

“Real” personal income — adjusted for inflation via “chained 2009 dollars” — rose only 2.37%. This is for the US overall.

Per-capita “real” personal income – which accounts for 0.71% population growth in 2017 and measures income per individual – rose only about 1.7%. If the inflation measure even slightly understates actual inflation as experienced by these individuals, their personal income growth might go away entirely.

Next step down…

Disposable personal income – personal income less personal taxes – increased 3.9% year over year in December. This is the income that folks have available for spending or saving. “Real” disposable personal income rose 2.1%. And on a per-capita basis, it rose only 1.4%. So these are not exactly huge increases.

Not everyone is getting this income growth equally.

The economy can be divided up into layers. Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio sees a split between the top 40% of income earners for whom the economy is doing well, and the bottom 60% for whom the economy is a series of setbacks. Or by it could be 30% and 70%. Wherever the split is drawn, the smaller group of top income earners has had it good while the larger group of income earners at the bottom is struggling.

But consumers, no matter what their income levels, are trying to do their best to prop up the economy, upholding an American tradition. And they’re spending more, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported today.

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

Mastercard Pushes Biometrics, Banks Follow

Mastercard Pushes Biometrics, Banks Follow

Biometric authentication “will be of great benefit to everyone.”

Mastercard has set a deadline for widespread use of biometric identification for its services across the whole of the EU: April 2019. Mastercard Identity Check, currently available in 37 countries, enables individuals to use biometric identifiers, such as fingerprint, facial, and iris recognition, to verify their identities when using a mobile device for online shopping and banking. The technology is not mandatory for customers, but from next year it will be vigorously promoted throughout the EU and many consumers will welcome it.

The impact will be felt not just by consumers but also by most European banks, since any bank that issues or accepts Mastercard payments will have to support identification mechanisms for remote transactions, alongside existing PIN and password verification. The deadline will also apply to all contactless transactions made at terminals with a mobile device.

Citing research it carried out with Oxford University, Mastercard says that 92% of banking professionals want to introduce biometric ID. This high number shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the vast untapped value consumer data holds for banks and corporations as well the preference most banks have for electronic transactions. The study also claims that 93% of consumers would prefer biometric security to passwords, which is a surprise given the array of thorny issues biometrics throws up, including the threat it poses to privacy and anonymity and its deceptively public nature.

“A password is inherently private,” says Alvaro Bedoya, Professor of Law at Georgetown University. “The whole point of a password is that you don’t tell anyone about it. A credit card is inherently private in the sense that you only have one credit card.”

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

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