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Median CPI Runs Hot, Fed Averts Eyes

Median CPI Runs Hot, Fed Averts Eyes

Despite the Fed’s proclamations, the dollar lost purchasing power at a good clip.

The inflation measure by the Cleveland Fed – the “Median CPI” – rose at 0.3% in January from December. This translates into an annualized rate of 3.7%. For the 12-month period, the Median CPI rose 2.9%. Since July last year, the index has ranged between 2.9% and 3.0%, the highest in the data series launched during the Financial Crisis.

The Median CPI is based on the data from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) but removes the extremes of price increases and price decreases, that are often temporary, to reveal underlying inflation trends. The chart shows the 12-month Median CPI, and for comparison, the “core CPI,” (CPI without the volatile food prices and the extremely volatile energy prices):

The re-collapse in oil prices pushed down inflation in gasoline and fuel oil, with the price index for motor fuels dropping -1.6% in January from December, which translates into an annual rate of -17.3%. Fuel oil and other fuels dropped at an annual rate of -15.8% in January, and used cars and trucks dropped at an annual rate of -13.5%.

At the other end of the spectrum, the price index for miscellaneous personal goods soared at an annual rate of +41% in January from December, watches and jewelry at a rate of +27.0%, footwear at a rate of +17.0%, car-and-truck rental at +15.0%.

These extremes at both ends of the spectrum, often brought about by temporary factors, skew the CPI and make it very volatile, where it jumps up and down. To obtain a measure of inflation that is not skewed by the often-temporary extremes on either end, and to show the underlying inflation trends, the Cleveland Fed’s Median CPI removes the extremes at both ends.

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

Four Banks & Three Tech Companies Blow $56 Billion in Q3 to Prop up Their Own Shares

Four Banks & Three Tech Companies Blow $56 Billion in Q3 to Prop up Their Own Shares

The Biggest Share-Buyback Queens: When Will They Run Out of Juice?

Companies in the S&P 500 index bought back $176 billion of their own shares in the third quarter, down 13.7% from the third quarter last year, and down 21.1% from the record share-buyback mania in Q4 2018, according to the S&P Dow Jones Indices. But hey, since the beginning of 2012, these companies have bought back $4.37 trillion of their own shares, exceeding the magnitude of Germany’s annual GDP.

Think of what else these companies could have done with this money, instead of blowing it on share buybacks. They could have invested more in productive activities in the US and they could have raised the pay for their employees and gig workers so that they could recirculate this money in the economy.

And the biggest banks – we’ll get to them in a moment – could have used those funds to shore up their capital to get ready for the moment when the bubbles in corporate debt and commercial real estate, that the Fed is so worried about, come apart.

For the 12-month period through September, share buybacks rose to $770 billion, from $720 billion for the 12-month period a year ago. The chart below shows share buybacks for the 12-month periods through Q3 each year:

The 12-month total through Q3 was down 6.4% from $828 billion for the 12 months through Q1 2019 that had been heavily inspired by the corporate tax-law changes, which continue to heavily inspire these share buybacks.

What will the future bring? According to the report: “For Q4, the market is looking for another increase in buybacks, in the mid-single digit range, staying near the $190 billion level, well shy of the Q4 2018 record-setting $223 billion.”

The scheme is increasingly top-heavy.

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

Is the Corporate-Debt Bubble Ripe Yet?

Is the Corporate-Debt Bubble Ripe Yet?

What does it mean when the Fed and other central banks jointly bemoan the effects of their own policies? Worried about not being able to keep all the plates spinning?

This is the transcript from my podcast last Sunday, THE WOLF STREET REPORT:

The Federal Reserve, the ECB, the individual central banks of Eurozone countries, such as the Bundesbank and the Bank of France, the central banks of negative-interest-rate countries outside the Eurozone, such as in Switzerland and Sweden, they’re all now lamenting, bemoaning, and begroaning one of the consequences of low and negative interest rates, the ballooning record-breaking pile of business debts.

This is ironic because these outfits that are now lamenting, bemoaning, and begroaning the pileup of business debts are the ones that manipulated interest rates down via their radical and experimental monetary policies, thereby triggering the pileup of business debts.

This debt pileup isn’t an unintended consequence of their policies. It was one of the purposes of their policies.

But central banks also know from history that this historically high level of business debts is a powder keg waiting to explode – company by company at first, and then as contagion spreads, all at once.

The Fed is a superb example. In its most recent “Financial Stability Report,” released in November, the Fed warns about the historic record-breaking pileup of business debts in the US, as a consequence of low interest rates, and it considers this business debt the biggest risk to financial stability in the US.

But this warning came after the Fed had just cut its policy interest rates three times, and after it had begun to bail out the repo market with over $200 billion so far, and after it had begun buying $60 billion a month in T-bills, in total printing over $300 billion in less than three months, to repress short term rates in the repo market and to bail out its crybaby-cronies on Wall Street – and not necessarily banks – that had become hooked on these low interest rates.

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

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: Is the Corporate-Debt Bubble Ripe Yet?

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: Is the Corporate-Debt Bubble Ripe Yet?

What does it mean when the Fed and other central banks jointly bemoan the effects of their own policies? Worried about not being able to keep all the plates spinning? (11 minutes)

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: How the Fed Boosts the 1%, as Told by the Fed

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: How the Fed Boosts the 1%, as Told by the Fed

Even the upper middle class loses share of household wealth to the 1%. The bottom half gets screwed.

Fed Goes Nuts with Repos & T-Bills but Sheds Mortgage Backed Securities

Fed Goes Nuts with Repos & T-Bills but Sheds Mortgage Backed Securities

The fastest increase in assets for any two-month period since the post-Lehman freak show in late 2008 and early 2009.

Total assets on the Fed’s balance sheet, released today, jumped by $94 billion over the past month through November 6, to $4.04 trillion, after having jumped $184 billion in September. Over those two months combined, as the Fed got suckered by the repo market, it piled $278 billion onto it balance sheet, the fastest increase since the post-Lehman month in late 2008 and early 2009, when all heck had broken loose – this is how crazy the Fed has gotten trying to bail out the crybabies on Wall Street:

Repos

In response to the repo market blowout that recommenced in mid-September, the New York Fed jumped back into the repo market with both feet. Back in the day, it used to conduct repo operations routinely as its standard way of controlling short-term interest rates. But during the Financial Crisis, the Fed switched from repo operations to emergency bailout loans, zero-interest-rate policy, QE, and paying interest on excess reserves. Repos were no longer needed to control short-term rates and were abandoned.

Then in September, as repo rates spiked, the New York Fed dragged its big gun back out of the shed. With the repurchase agreements, the Fed buys Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae, and hands out cash. When the securities mature, the counter parties are required to take back the securities and return the cash plus interest to the Fed.

Since then, the New York Fed has engaged in two types of repo operations: Overnight repurchase agreements that unwind the next business day; and multi-day repo operations, such as 14-day repos, that unwind at maturity, such as after 14 days.

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

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: What’s Behind the Fed’s Bailout of the Repo Market?

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: What’s Behind the Fed’s Bailout of the Repo Market?

Whose Bets are Getting Bailed Out by the Fed’s Repos & Treasury Bill Purchases?

What Will Stocks Do When “Consensual Hallucination” Ends?

What Will Stocks Do When “Consensual Hallucination” Ends?

The phenomenon works – until it doesn’t. What’s astonishing is how long it works.

This is the transcript from my podcast last SundayTHE WOLF STREET REPORT:

There is a phenomenon in stock markets, in bond markets, in housing markets, in cryptocurrency markets, and in other markets where people attempt to get rich. It’s when everyone is pulling in the same direction, energetically hyping everything, willfully swallowing any propaganda or outright falsehood, and not just nibbling on it, but swallowing it hook, line, and sinker, and strenuously avoiding exposure to any fundamental reality. For only one reason: to make more money.

People do it because it works. Trading algos are written to replicate it, because it works.

It works on the simple principle: If everyone believes stocks will go up, no matter what the current price or the current situation, or current fundamental data, then stocks will go up. They will go up because there is a lot of buying pressure because everyone believes that everyone believes that prices will go up, and so they bid up prices and chase stocks higher.

I call this phenomenon “consensual hallucination” – “consensual” because everyone eagerly smokes the same stuff in order to be able to get the same hallucinations everyone else is having, and to be part of the movement, because they believe that this movement will make them rich, and if enough people have this consensual hallucination, and if algos are programmed to trade with it, then it works wonderfully.

Until it doesn’t. The moment it doesn’t is when this hallucination begins to fade. And what happens then?

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

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: What Will Stocks Do When “Consensual Hallucination” Ends

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: What Will Stocks Do When “Consensual Hallucination” Ends

What’s astonishing is how long it lasts (9 minutes).

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: How the SoftBank Scheme Rips Open the Tech Bubble

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: How the SoftBank Scheme Rips Open the Tech Bubble

The biggest force behind the startup bubble in the US has been SoftBank. But the scheme has run into trouble, and a lot is at stake (12 minutes).

Here’s What I’m Worried About. And It’s Not a Recession

Here’s What I’m Worried About. And It’s Not a Recession

A rout in the hyper-inflated bond market can blow up everything at this point.

The locker room at my swim club has become the litmus test. When a complex topic, after years of being absent or ignored, suddenly crops up in conversation, and not just sporadically but all the time, it means that there is some kind of peaking going on. This suddenly hot topic now is a “coming recession.”

Just about everyone is talking about it. This means that fears of a recession or thoughts of a recession have now penetrated into the core of the previously recession-free zone: the swim-club locker room. It means that these recession fears might be peaking.

It makes sense. Recession-fear headlines are popping up everywhere. You cannot escape the drama. It’s not that there is a recession in the United States – far from it. It’s all about a coming recession.

And another term has penetrated into the musty locker room at my swim club, perhaps for the first time ever in its illustrious 100-plus-year history: “Inverted yield curve.”

People who didn’t care about it, who never cared about it, and who don’t know what it is, who don’t even really understand what a bond yield is, and who don’t really want to know what it is – in other words, perfectly sane people that have other things to worry about – are suddenly fretting about the inverted yield curve.

They’re fretting about it because everyone else is fretting about it. And every time the inverted yield curve comes up, recession talk is attached to it. But there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.

In a survey released this week by the National Association of Realtors, 36% of active homebuyers – so people actively trying to buy a home – said they expect a recession starting next year, up from 30% a few months ago.

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

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: How Even “Low” Interest Rates Screw Up the Economy

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: How Even “Low” Interest Rates Screw Up the Economy

Interest rates don’t have to be negative to make a mess in the era of “Secular Stagnation.” (11 minutes)

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: The Giant Sucking Sound of Financial Repression

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: The Giant Sucking Sound of Financial Repression

In the US alone, it impacts nearly $40 trillion. And there are consequences for the real economy (10 minutes).

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What Collapsing Orders for Heavy Trucks – Down 71% from a Year Ago – Say about the U-Turn in Trucking

What Collapsing Orders for Heavy Trucks – Down 71% from a Year Ago – Say about the U-Turn in Trucking

“When times are tough, the thinking switches to the short-term. Many fleets are just fighting for survival.”

Orders for Class-8 trucks – the heavy trucks that haul a large part of the goods-based economy across the US – plunged by 71% in May compared to May last year, to — as FTR Transportation Intelligence called it this afternoon — a “chilly 10,400” orders. It was “the lowest volume for Class 8 orders since July 2016 and the weakest month of May since 2009,” FTR said in the statement (data via FTR):

This comes after orders had already plunged year-over-year by 52% in April, 67% in March, 58% in February and January, and 43% in December. It was the seventh month in a row of year-over-year declines (data via FTR):

The cyclical nature of the industry is legendary. Trucking companies get exuberant when capacity tightens and freight rates soar – which they did in late 2017, that in 2018 turned into an outright capacity shortage and a driver shortage.

This boom was fueled in part by a decision in Corporate America to build up inventories in the US to front-run potential import tariffs. This put additional pressure on trucking capacity, and on freight rates. And it motivated trucking companies to order new equipment to meet demand. Given the capacity pressure at the time, they tried to get the orders in ahead of the others, and this created a phenomenal boom in orders — and at truck manufacturers, historic order backlogs.

Then the other part of the cycle begins. As these new trucks enter service, capacity rises, taking pressure of the system. This was expected.

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

The Most Splendid Housing Bubbles in Canada Deflate Further

The Most Splendid Housing Bubbles in Canada Deflate Further

Vancouver prices drop. Toronto down 3.7% from peak, flat for 10 months. Winnipeg plunges most since at least 1990. Quebec City flat for 6 years.

In Greater Vancouver, BC, Canada, house prices fell 0.4% in April from March, the ninth month in a row of month-to-month declines, according to the Teranet-National Bank House Price Index. The index is down 4.7% from the peak in July 2018, the sharpest nine-month decline since July 2009. And it’s down 2.8% from April last year. One of the most splendid housing bubbles in the world is now deflating before our very eyes, after prices had skyrocketed 316% from January 2002 to the peak in July 2018 – meaning prices had more than quadrupled in 16 years:

The Teranet-National Bank House Price Index tracks single-family house prices, based on “sales pairs,” comparing the sales price of a house in the current month to the last sale of the same house years earlier (methodology). Using “sales pairs” eliminates the issues that affect median and average price indices but has its own limitations. These median and average house prices, which are much more volatile, are now showing much sharper price declines for Vancouver.

Because the Teranet index uses a similar methodology of “sales pairs” as the S&P CoreLogic Case Shiller index for US housing markets, the indices produce comparable metrics. So let’s compare Vancouver’s housing bubble to the also deflating housing bubble in the San Francisco Bay Area. Splendid v. Splendid. The chart below shows the data of Vancouver (black columns) and San Francisco (red columns), with both indices converted into “percent change from January 2002.”

As the chart above shows, Vancouver’s housing market dipped briefly during the Financial Crisis while San Francisco’s market went into a hard four-year downturn, as the US housing bust morphed into the Mortgage Crisis that contributed to the Financial Crisis.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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