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Canada Home Prices Fall from Year Ago for First Time since 2009

Canada Home Prices Fall from Year Ago for First Time since 2009

The magnificent house price bubble wheezes.

With 2017 mortgage pre-approvals having now expired, the first wave of buyers facing OSFI’s ground breaking mortgage regulations are being put to the test. The regulations, also known as B-20, require all borrowers to pass a stress test at an interest rate 2% higher than the qualifying rate.

Early symptoms appear rather obvious. National home sales slid for the month of March, falling 23% year over year, and pushing the average sales price down 10%. Overall, it was a bearish quarter for Canadian housing, first quarter sales fell 16% year over year.

Much of the declines were felt in the single family housing market in Vancouver & Toronto, with many buyers unable to qualify at the recently inflated prices. The average sales price of a single family home in Greater Vancouver now sits at C$1.6 million and C$1 million in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Chief economist of the Canadian Real Estate Association, Gregory Klump, noted the squeeze as “tighter mortgage lending rules, which make it harder for home buyers to qualify for uninsured mortgages, are also shrinking the pool of qualified buyers for higher-priced homes.”

To little surprise this reflected in the national home prices across Canada. The Q1 2018 average sales price declined by 6.27% from Q1 2017. It was the first year-over-year percentage decline since Q1 2009.

The impact of the mortgage stress could become more apparent moving forward, particularly if borrowing rates continue to rise. As of today, a homebuyer hoping to purchase the typical home in Greater Vancouver (as per the MLS benchmark price of C$1.084M) would require a minimum down-payment of C$216,800 and a verified income of C$175,000, assuming a 5-year mortgage at a generous 2.99% interest rate.

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

 

Is the “Petro-Yuan” a Credible Challenge to Dollar Supremacy?

Is the “Petro-Yuan” a Credible Challenge to Dollar Supremacy?

Wolf Richter with Jim Goddard on This Week in Money:

China latest effort to get its currency to be used globally is the “petro-yuan.” Is it a credible challenge to the supremacy of the US dollar? If China dumped US Treasuries, what would that accomplish? And more…

Central banks around the world seem leery about the Chinese yuan. Read…  What Could Dethrone the Dollar as Top Reserve Currency?

How Much Are Banks Exposed to Subprime? More than we Think

How Much Are Banks Exposed to Subprime? More than we Think

Wells Fargo has $81 billion in exposure to loans that, on paper, it isn’t exposed to.

A couple of days ago, when I wrote about the soaring delinquency rates in subprime auto loans – the worst since 1996 – and the collapse of three specialized small subprime lenders, I stumbled over a special nugget.

One of the collapsed small lenders, Summit Financial Corp, when it filed for bankruptcy on March 23, disclosed that it owed Bank of America $77 million. This loan was secured by the auto loans Summit had extended to subprime customers, who’re now defaulting in large numbers. In the bankruptcy documents, BofA alleged that Summit had repossessed many of these cars without writing down the bad loans, thus under-reporting the losses and misrepresenting the value of the collateral (the loans). This allowed Summit to borrow more from BofA to fund more subprime loans, BofA said.

Summit is just a tiny lender and doesn’t really matter. But there are a whole slew of these nonbank lenders, specializing in auto loans, revolving consumer loans, payday loans, and mortgages. Some of these nonbank lenders specialize in “deep subprime.” And some of these lenders are fairly large.

Since the Financial Crisis, big banks have mostly avoided subprime lending. Instead, they’re lending to the companies that then provide financing to subprime customers. And BofA is finding out just how much risk it was taking with its loan to Summit that was secured by now defaulting auto loans that were secured by cars that, once repossessed, are worth only a fraction of the loan value when they’re sold at auction.

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

Toronto’s Epic Housing Bubble Turns to Bust

Toronto’s Epic Housing Bubble Turns to Bust

Prices of detached houses plunge C$207,000 from a year ago as sales collapse.

After having ballooned for 18 years with barely a dip during the Financial Crisis, Toronto’s housing market, Canada’s largest, and among the most inflated in the world, is heading south with a vengeance, both in terms of sales volume and prices, particularly at the high end.

Home sales in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) plunged 39.5% in March compared to a year ago, to 7,228 homes, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB), the local real estate lobbying group. This was spread across all types of homes, even the formerly red-hot condo sector:

  • Detached houses -46.3%
  • Semi-detached houses -30.6%
  • Townhouses -34.2%
  • Condos -32.7%.

While new listings of homes for sale fell 12.4% year-over-year, at 14,866, they’d surged 41% from the prior month, and added to the listings of homes already on the market. The total number of active listings – new listings plus the listings from prior months that hadn’t sold or been pulled without having sold – more than doubled year-over-year to 15,971 homes, and were up 20% from February.

At the current sales rate, total listings pencil out to a supply of 2.1 months. The average days-on-the-market before the home is sold or the listing is pulled without having sold doubled year-over-year to 20 days. Both data points show that the market is cooling from its red-hot phase, that potential sellers aren’t panicking just yet, and that potential buyers are taking their time and getting more reluctant, or losing their appetite altogether, with the fear of missing out (FOMO) having evaporated.

Sales volume has been plunging for months while listings of homes for sale have also surged for months. Prices follow volume, and prices have been backing off, but in February they actually fell on a year-over-year basis, the first since the Financial Crisis, and in March, they fell more steeply. This is what the report called a “change in market conditions.”

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

Freight Costs and Volumes Surge, Inflation Fears Heat Up

Freight Costs and Volumes Surge, Inflation Fears Heat Up

February was off the chart.

“We are seeing an unprecedented rise in logistics costs,” General Mills CEO Jeff Harmening told the Wall Street Journal after the company reported earnings. Shares dropped 9% on Wednesday and another 2% on Thursday. They’re down nearly 40% from their peak in July 2016.

The Maker of cereals, Yoplait, and other packaged food brands said that freight costs have surged to near 20-year highs in February. Other packaged food and snack makers, including Campbell, Hershey, Mondelez International (Oreos, Newtons, Premium and Ritz crackers), Sysco, Tyson Foods, Hormel Foods and others have all warned about rising transportation costs. And they said they’d try to pass these transportation cost increases on to their customers.

And this is what has been happening in the transportation sector in the US: Shipment volumes by all modes of transportation combined — truck, rail, air freight, and barge — surged 11.4% year-over-year in February according to the Cass Freight Index. The index, which is not seasonally adjusted, hit its highest level for any February since 2006:

February is in the slow part of the year, and yet it was nearly on par with June 2014, at the seasonal peak, and the peak month since the Financial Crisis!

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

 

Then Why Is Anyone STILL on Facebook?

Then Why Is Anyone STILL on Facebook?

Where’s the panicked rush to “delete” accounts?

Things at Facebook came to a head, following the disclosure that personal data from 50 million of its users had been given to a sordid outfit in the UK, Cambridge Analytica, whose business model is to manipulate elections by hook or crook around the world, and which is now getting vivisected by UK and US authorities.

The infamous “person familiar with the matter” told Bloomberg that the Federal Trade Commission has opened an investigation into whether Facebook violated a consent decree dating back to 2011, when Facebook settled similar allegations – giving user data to third parties without user’s knowledge or consent. Bloomberg:

Under the 2011 settlement, Facebook agreed to get user consent for certain changes to privacy settings as part of a settlement of federal charges that it deceived consumers and forced them to share more personal information than they intended. That complaint arose after the company changed some user settings without notifying its customers, according to an FTC statement at the time.

If Facebook is found to be in violation of the consent decree, the FTC can extract a fine of $40,000 per day, per violation. Given the 50 million victims spread over so many days, this could be some real money, so to speak.

Facebook said in a statement, cited by Bloomberg, that it rejected “any suggestion of violation of the consent decree.” It also said with tone-deaf Facebook hilarity, “Privacy and data protections are fundamental to every decision we make.”

That Facebook is collecting every little bit of personal data it can from its users and their contacts and how they react to certain things, their preferences, their choices, physical appearance – photos, I mean come on  – clues about their personalities, and the like has been known from day one. That’s part of its business model. It’s not a secret.

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

 

 

US Gross National Debt Spikes $1.2 Trillion in 6 Months, Hits $21 Trillion

US Gross National Debt Spikes $1.2 Trillion in 6 Months, Hits $21 Trillion

These dang trillions are flying by so fast, they’re hard to see.

The US gross national debt jumped by $72.8 billion in one day, on Thursday, the Treasury Department reported Friday afternoon. This March 16 is a historic date of gloomy proportions, because on this date, the US gross national debt punched through the $21 trillion mark and reached $21.03 trillion.

Here’s the thing: On September 7, 2017, a little over six months ago, just before Congress suspended the debt ceiling, the gross national debt stood at $19.84 trillion.

In those six-plus months – 132 reporting days, to be precise – the gross national debt spiked by $1.186 trillion. I tell you, these dang trillions are flying by so fast, they’re hard to see. And we wonder: What was that? Where did it go?

Whatever it was and wherever it went, it added 6% to the gross national debt in just 6 months.

And with 2017 GDP at $19.74 trillion in current dollars, the gross national debt now amounts to 106.4% of GDP.

In the chart below, the flat spots are the various debt-ceiling periods. This is a uniquely American phenomenon when Congress forbids the Administration to borrow the money that it needs to borrow in order to spend it on the things that Congress told the Administration to spend it on via the appropriation bills. So that’s where we are, on this glorious day of March 16, 2018:

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

Despite Years of ECB’s QE (Ending Soon), Italy’s “Doom Loop” Still Threatens Eurozone Financial System

Despite Years of ECB’s QE (Ending Soon), Italy’s “Doom Loop” Still Threatens Eurozone Financial System

Even banks outside Italy have an absurdly out-sized exposure to Italian sovereign debt.

The dreaded “Doom Loop” — when shaky banks hold too much shaky government debt, raising the fear of contagion across the financial system if one of them stumbles — is still very much alive in Italy despite Mario Draghi’s best efforts to transfer ownership of Italian debt from banks to the ECB, according to Eric Dor, the director of Economic Studies at IESEG School of Management, who has collated the full extent of individual bank exposures to Italian sovereign debt.

The doom loop is a particular problem in the Eurozone since a member state doesn’t control its own currency, and cannot print itself out of trouble, which leaves it exposed to credit risk.

The Bank of Italy, on behalf of the ECB, has bought up more than €350 billion of multiyear Treasury bonds (BTPs) in recent years. The scale of its holdings overtook those of Italian banks, which have been shedding BTPs since mid-2016, making the central bank the second-largest holder of Italian bonds after insurance companies, pension funds and other financials.

But Italian banks are still big owners of Italian debt. According to a study by the Bank for International Settlements, government debt represents nearly 20% of banks’ assets — one of the highest levels in the world. In total there are ten banks with Italian sovereign debt holdings that represent over 100% of their tier 1 capital (or CET1), according to Dor’s research. The list includes Italy’s two largest lenders, Unicredit and Intesa Sanpaolo, whose exposure to Italian government bonds represent the equivalent of 145% of their tier 1 capital. Also listed are Italy’s third largest bank, Banco BPM (327%), MPS (206%), BPER Banca (176%) and Banca Carige (151%).

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

Toxic Debt Still Plagues Spanish Banks (and Taxpayers Will End Up Paying for It)

Toxic Debt Still Plagues Spanish Banks (and Taxpayers Will End Up Paying for It)

Years after Crisis Was “Solved.”

Europe’s banking authorities are finally beginning to pile pressure on poorly performing banks to clean up their books, something that should have happened a long, long time ago. But as is often the case with European banking regulation, there’s an elevated risk of unintended consequences.

If a bank with a deeply compromised balance sheet is forced to report its loans that have gone bad — the hidden piles of toxic “assets” — at prices that reflect their real value (rather than the illusory prices the bank arrived at with its mark-to-model formula), that bank could suddenly find that its capital has gone up in smoke.

This is more or less what happened with Banco Popular, the mid-sized Spanish bank that went under in June last year. No matter how creative the rescue plans its management came up with — including spinning off a bad bank called “Sunrise” — Popular simply couldn’t find a viable way of disposing of its nonperforming loans without crippling its financial health.

A similar thing appears to be happening with Spain’s fifth largest bank, Banco Sabadell, the Spanish bank that has grown the most in relative terms since the crisis. It has more than doubled in size in the last ten years (from €78.7 billion in assets in 2008 to €173.2 billion in 2017), following the acquisitions of Banco Gallego, Banco Guipuzcoano, Caixa Penedès, and the bankrupt savings bank Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo (CAM).

Now it has immense difficulty ridding itself of the impaired assets it acquired when it took over CAM in 2012. But unlike Popular, Sabadell is getting a massive helping hand from Spain’s government.

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

Are Subprime Debt Slaves, a Leading Indicator, Worrying the Fed?

Are Subprime Debt Slaves, a Leading Indicator, Worrying the Fed?

The new Fed remains a somewhat unknown quantity: There are still four vacancies on the Fed’s seven-member Board of Governors that forms the core of the policy-making FOMC. The new Chairman, Jerome Powell, has already shown in his testimony before Congress last week that he may use a little more straight talk than his predecessors, and the markets took notice.

No one knows for sure what this new Fed will look like once the four vacancies are filled. But this new Fed will likely try to push interest rates back to a somewhat more normal level and lighten their balance sheet so that they have some options when the business cycle trips over balled-up credit problems.

With consumers, the credit problems appear first among the most fragile, most at risk, and most strung-out – borrowers with subprime credit ratings, and with lenders that went after these consumers aggressively. And this is happening now.

Small banks pushed with all their might into credit cards, loosening credit standards, lowering credit score requirements, raising credit limits, and offering new cards to people who had already maxed out their existing cards and had limited or no ability to service them from their income, and no way of paying them off – and thus are stuck with usurious interest rates that make these credit card balances impossible to service.

For small banks it was the Holy Grail: to profit from the American debt slave.

There are about 4,888 commercial banks in the US. There are the top 100 banks, and there are the 4,788 smaller banks – those with less than $14 billion in assets. These smaller banks have seen this irresistibly sweet deal. Banks were paying next to nothing in interest to their depositors, but they could charge 25% or 30% interest on outstanding credit card balances.

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

The Oligopolization of Food Supply Hits a Snag

The Oligopolization of Food Supply Hits a Snag

Three companies to control 60% of world’s seed and pesticide markets.

German drug and agrichemicals giant Bayer has suffered a setback in its efforts to acquire the world’s biggest seed company, Monsanto. Bayer had reckoned on winning regulatory approval for its $63.5 billion takeover bid at the beginning of this year, but this week the company cautioned that it could take longer than expected to receive final clearance from EU regulators.

The corporate marriage between Bayer and Monsanto has already received the blessing of more than half the 30 antitrust authorities that need to sign off on the acquisition, including those in the US and Brazil. If given the go-ahead by the European Commission, this mega-merger would create the world’s largest supplier of seeds and farm chemicals.

Bayer’s interest in Monsanto is reflective of a trend that began decades ago but picked up speed in 2015: the increasing concentration of power and control over the global food chain. US giants Dow and DuPont were the first to tie the knot. Their merger, completed in 2017, resulted in a combined seed-and-pesticide unit that, in terms of annual sales, is roughly the size of its biggest current rival, Monsanto.

In the last two years, Chinese chemical giant ChemChina has bought up Swiss pesticide-and-seed player Syngenta; and fertilizer giants Agrium and Potash Corp of Saskatchewan have merged into a new mega-player called Nutrien.

This gathering process of oligopolization is happening at virtually all levels of the global food industry, including on the buy side — companies that purchase farmers’ crops and process them into livestock feed, food ingredients, and biofuel, as well as serve as the intermediary in grain export markets. But it’s the concentration of power and ownership in the global seed industry that should be the biggest cause of concern, since seeds are the primary link of the global food chain.

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

Momentous Shift in US Natural Gas, with Global Consequences

Momentous Shift in US Natural Gas, with Global Consequences

And this is just the beginning.

The year 2017 was when the US became a net exporter of natural gas for the first year in history. The production of natural gas has been surging since 2007, when fracking turned into a boom, whittling away at the need for importing natural gas via pipeline from Canada and via LNG from the global markets. Last year, according to the EIA’s just released data, the US exported 129 billion cubic feet (Bcf) more natural gas than it imported. And this is just the beginning:

Exports to Mexico via pipeline have been rising for years as more pipelines have entered service and as Mexican power generators have switched from burning oil to burning cheap US natural gas (the US imports no natural gas from Mexico).

In 2017, natural gas pipeline exports to Mexico surged 12% year-over-year to 1,543 Bcf. But in 2016, a new trend became visible: US natural gas exports via LNG tanker to Mexico (marked in red in the chart below), which rose from negligible in prior years to 28 Bcf in 2016 and to 141 Bcf in 2017. Total exports to Mexico jumped 20% year-over year in 2017, to 1,684 Bcf:

The US has a bilateral natural-gas trading relationship with Canada, both importing and exporting. Exports to Canada have surged from almost nothing in the late 1990s to a peak of 2,145 Bcf in 2016 but fell 5% in 2017 to 2,043 Bcf.

Imports from Canada, while they rose over the past two years, remain in the range established over the past two decades. But due to the surge in exports to Canada, net imports (imports minus exports) have plunged 43% from a peak of 3,600 billion cubic feet in 1999 to 2,042 Bcf:

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

Will Italy’s Banking Crisis Spawn a New Frankenbank?

Will Italy’s Banking Crisis Spawn a New Frankenbank?

“Operation Overlord.”

There are rumors currently doing the rounds that Italy’s banking problems have finally been put to rest. The FTSE Italia All-Share Banks Index has soared about 40% over the last 12 months, about double the advance by the Euro Stoxx Banks Index. Six of the top seven gainers in the latter index this year are Italian.

The story of Italy’s non-performing loans, which just a year ago terrified global investors and posed a systemic threat to the entire Eurozone economy, “is over,” according to Fabrizio Pagani, the chief of staff at Italy’s Ministry of Economy and Finance. Pagani believes that now that the banking sector is well and truly on the mend, work should begin to take consolidation of the sector to a new level.

“There are too many banks,” Pagani told Bloomberg. “And in this sense, Monte dei Paschi could play a role. I think this could start this year.”

There’s clearly lots of room for consolidation in Italy, home to roughly 500 banks, many of which are small local or regional savings banks with tens or hundreds of millions of euros in assets. At the top end of the scale, Italy’s ten biggest banks control roughly 50% of the industry. The goal is to increase thatto 70-75% to bring it more in line with the levels of banking concentration in other EU countries. In Spain, for example, the five biggest banks — Santander, BBVA, CaixaBank, Bankia and Sabadell — control 72% of the market.

The problem is that, while last year’s bail out of Monte dei Paschi di Siena may have restored a certain amount of investor confidence to Italy’s banking sector, many of the largest banking groups are still extremely fragile, with stubbornly high non-performing loan (NPL) ratios. .

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

A New Cunning Plan to Allay Banking Jitters is Hatched in Spain

A New Cunning Plan to Allay Banking Jitters is Hatched in Spain

But there’s a problem with the plan.

The Spanish Government has a brand new cunning plan to fortify the country’s banking system, which was rocked last year by the collapse of the sixth biggest bank, Banco Popular. It wants the country’s Deposit Guarantee Fund (DGF) to insure the entire bank deposits of large companies, even if those deposits exceed the current limit of €100,000, so that if a bank begins to wobble, its corporate customers don’t take their money out en masse.

The government hopes that the plan will be included in the new banking resolution rules being drawn up by EU banking authorities in the aftermath of Banco Popular’s quickfire resolution last year, the financial daily Cinco Dias reports.

If the law is passed, it would mean that corporate deposits of any amounts would be guaranteed in case of a bank’s resolution. The proposal apparently enjoys the enthusiastic support of Spain’s major banks, large companies, and the president of Spain’s Fund for Orderly Bank Restructuring (FROB), Jaime Ponce. The government also wants the deposits of large public institutions to be covered without limit, as well as those of small and medium size enterprises (SMEs).

The new law would help prevent large scale deposit flight, which became endemic during Spain’s banking crisis and was also instrumental in the collapse of Popular. According to Ponce, if the government’s newly proposed measure had been in force between May and June last year, the frantic run on the bank’s deposits from Popular would never have happened.

In its final days, Popular was bleeding funds at an average rate of €2 billion a day.

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

Stock Market Leverage Spikes. Sparks Already Flew. Brokerage Regulator “Concerned.” But Hey, Nothing’s Going to Happen.

Stock Market Leverage Spikes. Sparks Already Flew. Brokerage Regulator “Concerned.” But Hey, Nothing’s Going to Happen.

Resting Happily on Smoldering Powder Keg.

There is nothing like a big shot of leverage to fire up the stock market. And that’s what the market got in 2017, when the S&P 500 surged 26%, and in January 2018, when the index soared another 7.5% through January 26 – until suddenly something happened.

One measure of leverage in the stock market is margin debt – the amount individual and institutional investors borrow from their brokers against their portfolios – which surged $22.9 billion in January to a new record of $665.7 billion, according to FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), which regulates member brokerage firms and exchange markets, and which has taken over margin-debt reporting from the NYSE.

For the 12-month period through January, margin debt soared $112.2 billion, among the largest 12-month gains in the history of the data series, behind only the 12-month periods ending in:

  • December 2013 ($123 billion)
  • July 2007 ($160 billion)
  • March 2000 ($133.7 billion)
  • November 1997 ($132 billion).

But it’s not just the recent surge; it’s the length of the surge. With only a few noticeable down periods, margin debt has soared for nine years in a row and now exceeds the prior peak of July 2007 ($416 billion) by 60%.

By comparison, over the same period, nominal GDP (not adjusted for inflation) has grown 32%, and the Consumer Price Index has grown 20%. In other words, margin debt has ballooned twice as fast from peak to peak as GDP and three times as fast as the Consumer Price Index.

The chart below shows margin debt based on the FINRA data, which includes margin debt from its own member firms and from NYSE Member firms, and is therefore more complete and larger than the NYSE data was. For example, NYSE margin debt in November 2017, the last month available, was $580.9 billion while FINRA’s data for November showed margin debt of $627.4 billion.

…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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