Home » Posts tagged 'wolf richter'

Tag Archives: wolf richter

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai III: Catacylsm
Click on image to purchase

Post categories

Have You Noticed How Push-Back Against Powell-Fed’s Actions Is Getting Louder in the Mainstream Media, from NPR to CNBC?

Have You Noticed How Push-Back Against Powell-Fed’s Actions Is Getting Louder in the Mainstream Media, from NPR to CNBC?

Still a lot of fawning coverage, but big dissenters are now given prominent spots, and loaded questions are used to politely hammer Powell into telling obvious nonsense.

This is an interesting turn of events, in a world of Fed-fawning mainstream media. In one version, the push-back takes the form of loaded questions about asset bubbles and wealth inequality caused by the Fed’s asset purchases.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell then answers, following what looks like a script because these loaded questions are now being thrown at him regularly. He admits that the Fed’s policies have increased asset prices, then says the Fed as a matter of policy doesn’t comment on asset prices, and hence cannot comment on asset bubbles, but then assiduously denies that this increased wealth of the asset holders, which he admits the Fed has engineered, widened the wealth inequality to the majority of Americans who hold no or nearly no assets, and who got shafted by the Fed. It’s like getting pushed on live TV into saying that, yes, indeed, two plus two equals three!

This happened many times, most notably during the July 29 FOMC press conference when a Bloomberg reporter pushed Powell on that (transcript of my podcast on the Fed’s role in wealth inequality); and during the interview with NPR which aired on September 4, when he was pushed on both, asset bubbles and wealth inequality.

In another version, the push-back in the mainstream media takes more accusatory forms expressed with exasperation and dotted with exclamation marks.

In early August, notable push-backers were former president of the New York Fed William Dudley and Bloomberg News which carried and promoted his editorial.

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

The Zombie Companies Are Coming

The Zombie Companies Are Coming

Easy money is a curse for capitalism.

Through the first half of August – which is normally a quiet period for the bond market in the US – a total of $56 billion in junk bonds and leveraged loans were issued by junk-rated companies, according to S&P Global. That was nearly 50% higher than the prior records for the same period in 2012 and 2016, and more than double the amount issued in the entire month of August last year.

The Fed’s announcement on March 23rd that it would start buying corporate bonds and bond ETFs set off a huge rally in the bond market, including in the junk-bond market.

The rally started before the Fed ever actually bought the first bond. And then the Fed hardly bought anything by Fed standards. Through the end of July, it bought just $12 billion in corporate bonds and bond ETFs, including a minuscule $1.1 billion in junk bond ETFs. It’s not even a rounding error on its $7-trillion mountain of assets.

But the announcement was enough to trigger the biggest junk-debt chase in the shortest amount of time the world has likely ever seen. And it kept the zombies walking, and it generated a whole new generation of zombies too.

The junk-bond ETFs the Fed dabbled in hold junk-bonds issued by companies that have been taken over by Private Equity firms in leveraged buyouts, where the acquired company itself borrows the money to pay for its own acquisition. Leveraged buyouts produced the first big wave of bankruptcies among retailers that started years before the Pandemic, and included Toys R Us, now liquidated.

The junk bond ETFs that the Fed has bought hold these types of bonds, including bonds by PetSmart, which was taken over in a leveraged buyout by private-equity firm, BC Partners.

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

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: The Zombie Companies Are Coming

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: The Zombie Companies Are Coming

“Easy money is a curse for capitalism.” You can also find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, and others.

Shell’s Colossal Miscalculation in 2011 of Today’s LNG Price: Largest-Ever $12-$17-Billion “Floating Facility” Shut Down, Months After Shipping First LNG. Done in by Long Price Collapse

Shell’s Colossal Miscalculation in 2011 of Today’s LNG Price: Largest-Ever $12-$17-Billion “Floating Facility” Shut Down, Months After Shipping First LNG. Done in by Long Price Collapse

Built to profit from sky-high LNG Prices in Japan. Sunk by surging US LNG Exports, multi-year collapse in LNG prices, global LNG glut.

The Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami in March 2011 triggered a series of events at the Fukushima power plant that led to catastrophic meltdowns in three of its six reactors, which led Japan to take the remaining of its 54 operating reactors offline, as a new regulatory and safety regime was established for reactors to come back on line. This caused a mad scramble to switch to other forms of power generation, including power plants fired by natural gas, which Japan has to import as liquefied natural gas (LNG), which triggered a blistering spike in LNG prices that caused all kinds of enormous long-term investments to be commenced around the world, including in the US and in Australia, in order to export super-lucrative LNG into booming Asian demand.

But in 2014, the price of LNG started sinking, and in 2015, it plunged, and those investments became huge money pits – including perhaps the largest of them all, Shell’s floating LNG-factory, the Prelude FLNG, at a length of 1,600 feet, the largest floating facility ever built, and at an undisclosed cost estimated to have been in the range between $12 billion and $17 billion, now languishing off the coast of Australia (the red hull is the Prelude, the smaller ship in front of it is a huge LNG tanker; image by Shell):

In April 2014, the average spot price of LNG at arrival in Japan was $18.30 per million Btu, according to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI). This is as far as its data series goes back.

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

Dollar’s Purchasing Power Drops to Lowest Ever. Inflation Heats Up, as Fed Wants, After Simultaneous Supply & Demand Shocks

Dollar’s Purchasing Power Drops to Lowest Ever. Inflation Heats Up, as Fed Wants, After Simultaneous Supply & Demand Shocks

“We’re not even thinking about thinking about” slowing the decline of the dollar’s purchasing power — and thereby labor’s purchasing power.

A supply shock and a demand shock came together during the Pandemic, and it produced chaos in the pricing environment. There was a sudden collapse in demand in some segments of the economy – restaurants, gasoline, jet fuel, for example – and a surge in demand in other segments, such as eating at home, and anything to do with ecommerce, including transportation services focused on it.

These shifts came together with supply-chain interruptions and supply chains that were unprepared for the big shifts, leading to shortages in some parts of the economy – the supply shock. There were empty shelves in stores, while product was piling up with no buyers in other parts of the economy.

The sectors surrounding gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel fuel – oil and gas drilling, equipment manufacturers, transportation services, refineries, etc. – were thrown into turmoil as demand vanished, leading to a total collapse in energy prices. In April, in a bizarre moment in the history of the oil business, the price of the US benchmark crude WTI collapsed to negative -$37 a barrel.

Since then, the price of crude oil has risen sharply (now at positive +$41 a barrel), as demand for gasoline has returned to near-normal while demand for jet fuel remains in collapse-mode, as people are driving to go on vacations, instead of flying, and as business travel is essentially shut down.

As a result, for a few months, all of the inflation data was going haywire, with some prices plunging and others spiking. This is now being worked out of the system.

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

No Payment, No Problem: Bizarre New World of Consumer Debt

No Payment, No Problem: Bizarre New World of Consumer Debt

All kinds of weird records are being broken. But it’s scheduled to expire, and then what?

The New York Fed released a doozie of a household credit report. It summarized what individual lenders have been reporting about their own practices: If you can’t make the payments on your mortgage, auto loan, credit card debt, or student loan, just ask for a deferral or forbearance, and you won’t have to make the payments, and the loan won’t count as delinquent if it wasn’t delinquent before. And even if it was delinquent before, you can “cure” a delinquency by getting the loan deferred and modified. No payment, no problem.

Nearly all student loans go into forbearance, delinquencies plunge.

Student loan borrowers were automatically rolled into forbearance under the CARES Act, and even though many students had stopped making payments, delinquency rates plunged because the Department of Education had decided to report as “current” all those loans that are in forbearance, even if they were delinquent. Yup, according to New York Fed data, the delinquency rate of student loan borrowers, though many had stopped making payments, plunged from 10.75% in Q1, to 6.97% in Q2, the lowest since 2007:

Student loan forbearance is available until September 30, and interest is waived until then, instead of being added to the loan. In a blog post, the New York Fed said that 88% of the student-loan borrowers, including private-loan borrowers and  Federal Family Education Loan borrowers, had a “scheduled payment of $0,” meaning that at least 88% of the student loans were in some form of forbearance. Until September 30. And then what?

Delinquent loans are “cured” without catch-up payments.

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

US Crude Oil Production Plunged Most Ever, Natural Gas Followed: The Great American Oil & Gas Bust, Phase 2

US Crude Oil Production Plunged Most Ever, Natural Gas Followed: The Great American Oil & Gas Bust, Phase 2  

Precisely what’s needed to end the price collapse. But last time, it wasn’t long before Wall Street liquidity surged back into shale, starting the cycle all over again.

US crude oil production in May plunged by 1.99 million barrels per day, from 12 million b/d in April to 10 million b/d, the largest monthly drop since at least 1980, and the sixth monthly drop in a row, according to the EIA.

This comes after the collapse in demand for transportation fuels – especially gasoline and jet fuel – that started in March and exacerbated the oil glut and a downward spiral of the already depressed prices for crude oil. Amid a torrent of bankruptcy filings by oil-and-gas companies, drillers cut drilling activity and production. This trend restarted last year, after having subsided somewhat following phase 1 of the Great American Oil Bust in 2015-2016, but took on record proportions during the Pandemic. From the peak in November 2019 of 12.86 million b/d, production has now plunged by 22.2%:

In the chart above, note how production doubled between mid-2012 and November 2019, despite the drop in production in 2015-2016.

The chart below shows the the price of benchmark crude oil grade West Texas Intermediate. Note how the price recovery from late 2016 ended in the fall of 2018 and then reversed, as production surged. The price decline bottomed out on April 20, when for a brief period the price of WTI plunged below zero, a bizarre moment in the history of crude oil:

Texas, the state with by far the largest production in the US and the epicenter of the oil-and-gas bankruptcy filings, was also the state with the largest production cuts, in terms of million b/d. Peak production occurred in March 2020 at 5.44 million b/d. By May production had plunged 19% to 4.39 million b/d.

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

Nobody Knows How to Ever Get Out of This Mess

Nobody Knows How to Ever Get Out of This Mess

“Extend and Pretend” forevermore.

This is the transcript of my podcast last Sunday, THE WOLF STREET REPORT. You can listen to it on YouTube, and you can find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts,  iHeart Radio, and others.

Until a few months ago, most Americans didn’t even know what “forbearance” was. Now, roughly four million home mortgages, or about 8% of all home mortgages, are in forbearance. Those four million households with mortgages in forbearance might still not fully understand what forbearance is, but they know one thing: They don’t have to make mortgage payments for a while, and they get to spend that money on other things instead of sending it to the bank.

There are forbearance deals offered by lenders for credit cards and auto loans. I don’t owe any balances on my credit cards and I don’t have an auto loan, but my inbox gets blasted with offers of forbearance anyway, by every bank I do business with.

My WOLF STREET media mogul empire too. It’s just a tiny business, and it doesn’t owe any money, but sure enough, my bank is offering “assistance” with those debts that my business doesn’t have.

When a lender agrees to grant the borrower forbearance, the lender agrees to not exercise its rights when the borrower doesn’t make the loan payments. There is an agreement both parties sign, and this forbearance agreement determines, among other things, the period of forbearance, and what happens afterwards. And afterwards those missed payments will have to be made up somehow. Forbearance is not forgiveness.

But a forbearance agreement can be extended, if both parties agree to do so. In banker’s lingo, it’s called “extend and pretend.”

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

Coal Consumption Plunged to Lowest Since at Least 1973. Why There’s No Hope for Coal

Coal Consumption Plunged to Lowest Since at Least 1973. Why There’s No Hope for Coal

It comes down to costs and being bypassed by technological innovation, amid stagnating demand for electricity:

  • Arrival of “combined cycle” natural gas power plants in the 1990s.
  • Collapse in price of natural gas since 2008 due to fracking.
  • Surging wind power production in TX, OK, KS, IA.
  • Decades-long decline of industrial use of coal.   

Consumption of coal by US power plants in April plunged 30% from April last year, to the lowest level in the monthly data going back to 1973, the EIA reported today. This was down 19% from April 1973.

A process of many years: Peak monthly consumption of coal by US power plants occurred from 2003 through 2008 when during the hot summer months (air conditioning) caused coal consumption to rise to 95-99 million short tons. In 2019, the peak month was July, when coal consumption by power plants was down to 56 million short tons. And this year, given the relentless trend over the past 12 years, July consumption will be lower still:

“King coal,” as it was called in the 1990s when it was still the dominant fuel for power plants, was heavily wounded by a technological innovation, the Combined Cycle Gas Turbine power plant, commercialized in the 1990s.

A CCGT power plant uses natural gas to fuel a combustion turbine, similar to a turbine in a jet aircraft. It then uses the hot exhaust gases to heat water into high-pressure steam that drives a steam turbine. Both turbines drive generators to generate electricity. The thermal efficiency of a CCGT plant has reached about 65%.

Coal power plants just create high pressure steam that drives a steam turbine. At the time, their thermal efficiency was below 40%. The rest was waste heat.

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

Update on the WTF-Collapse of Consumption of Gasoline, Jet Fuel & Diesel

Update on the WTF-Collapse of Consumption of Gasoline, Jet Fuel & Diesel

Folks started driving again – including those who used to take mass-transit. But jet fuel demand is still in collapse-mode. And overall consumption remains way down.

Ridership on San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains was still down 89% in June, compared to June last year, according to BART. Not because the Bay Area economy has collapsed by 89% — it has not — but because many people are working from home, and those people who do go to work are driving to avoid the infection risks associated with riding on a commuter train. Driving-instead-of-taking-mass-transit is playing out across the US. And we’re seeing some of that in gasoline demand. But jet fuel consumption is still in collapse mode. And diesel consumption has been down sharply for over a year.

Starting in mid-March, demand for gasoline collapsed in a historic manner. By now 32 million people are claiming unemployment compensation under state and federal programs, and many others switched to work from home, and both groups quit driving to work. Gasoline consumption at the low point in the week ended April 3 plunged by -48% year-over-year, to just 6.7 million barrels per day, the lowest in the EIA’s data going back to 1991.

Folks started driving again, bit by bit, to go to work, and because it’s summer driving season. In the week ended July 17, gasoline consumption, at 8.55 million barrels per day, was down 11.6% year-over-year, according to EIA data. Consumption of gasoline has been in the minus-6% to minus-12% range now for the fifth week in a row, with the latest week being the steepest decline:

The EIA tracks consumption in terms of product supplied by refineries, blenders, etc., and not by retail sales at gas stations.

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

“Demand to Remain Suppressed” till Vaccine/Treatment Widely Available: United Airlines. May Not Happen till Late 2021 “or Even Later”: Health Care Leaders

“Demand to Remain Suppressed” till Vaccine/Treatment Widely Available: United Airlines. May Not Happen till Late 2021 “or Even Later”: Health Care Leaders

Flattened-out fish-hook-shaped recovery of demand?

Passenger revenues collapsed by 94% to just $681 million, United Airlines disclosed in its Q2 earnings report today. Other operating revenues plunged by 37% to $392 million, but cargo was hot, rising 36% to $402 million “by serving strategic international cargo-only missions and optimizing aircraft capacity with low passenger demand.” All combined, revenues collapsed by 87%.

This has now become the serenade by airlines to investors. United follows Delta in it: Revenues have totally collapsed, and we’re in an existential crisis, and we’re cutting costs and capacity like maniacs, and we need to shed tens of thousands of employees, to reduce our cash burn, but we’ve raised many billions of dollars from you all (thank you) and from taxpayers, and we will duly burn this cash during this crisis.

United burned $40 million a day in Q2. It expects to reduce this cash burn to $25 million a day in Q3 – about $2.3 billion in the quarter – and reduce it further in Q4.

United said today it has slashed operating costs by 54%” compared to Q2 last year; this includes expenses for fuel, which were down 90%, aircraft maintenance down 74%, landing fees down 35%, and its largest line item, salaries down 29%.

Those are huge cuts. Earlier in July, in a dreary assessment of the airline industry and traffic, including a renewed decline in ticket sales starting in late June, United announced 36,000 “involuntary furloughs” on or after October 1 if it can’t entice those employees to leave voluntarily beforehand.

Despite the cost cuts, United lost $2 billion in the quarter.

And it said that it expects its system capacity in Q3 to still be down by 65% compared to Q3 last year. And it will cancel flights and adjust capacity “until it sees signs of a recovery in demand.”

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

“Uneven” Freight Recovery after New Covid Outbreaks: Daily Truck Trips Already Fell 10% Since June 25

“Uneven” Freight Recovery after New Covid Outbreaks: Daily Truck Trips Already Fell 10% Since June 25

Was June as Good as It’s Going to Get in the Pandemic Era?

Automakers have been reopening their assembly plants in the US, hobbled by setbacks, including supply chain issues. Other manufacturers too have reopened their plants. Housing construction is moving forward. Other construction segments are weaker. Oil-and-gas drilling – a vast industry in the US with big impact on equipment manufacturing, construction, real estate, technology, transportation, etc. – is melting down, with big bankruptcies happening now densely together. California Resources, the largest driller in California, filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday, following Chesapeake at the end of June. Ecommerce retail is booming, but brick-and-mortar retail in malls is in a death spiral. So in terms of the goods-based sectors, it’s a very mixed bag. And the freight industry tracks those sectors because all these goods must be shipped.

In June, shipment volume by truck, rail, and air in the US ticked up from April and May but was still down by 17.8% from June 2019, and by 22% from June 2018, according to the Cass Freight Index for Shipments. The year 2018 had been the Good Times for the industry. The year 2019 was crappy and got worse as it went on. In the year 2020, all heck broke loose when the Pandemic hit the industry that was already grappling with sagging demand. June was the 19th month in a row of year-over-year declines in shipment volume:

The Cass Freight Index tracks the shipment volume by all modes of transportation, but is more concentrated on trucking. It tracks shipments of products for consumers and industrial users, but not bulk commodities, such as grains, coal, or petroleum products.

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

Seems Counter-Intuitive in This Crisis: Inflation Heats Up for Services Firms, and They’re Able to Pass it on via Higher Prices

Seems Counter-Intuitive in This Crisis: Inflation Heats Up for Services Firms, and They’re Able to Pass it on via Higher Prices

Even manufacturers, after months of crushed commodities prices, experience inflation and are able to pass it on. Stimulus money the government and the Fed have thrown around by the trillions.

It seems somewhat counter-intuitive in this crisis that companies in the services and non-manufacturing sectors – which dominate the US economy – would report higher input prices and higher sales prices. And there are now also smaller pricing pressures cropping up in the manufacturing sector.

“Inflationary pressure returned as both input prices and output charges rose for the first time since February, with both increasing at solid rates,” reported IHS Markit this morning in its Services Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for June.

PMIs are based on responses from executives about their own companies – if particular activities are higher, unchanged, or lower in the current month than they’d been in the prior month. No quantitative measures or dollar amounts are involved.

“Inflationary pressures intensified for the first time since February at the end of the second quarter, as both input prices and output charges increased,” IHS Markit added in its Services PMI.

“Companies registered a solid rise in cost burdens as some suppliers hiked prices following the resumption of operations at service providers. The rate of input price inflation was the fastest since February 2019,” it said.

“In response to higher input costs, firms partially passed on higher supplier prices to clients through greater selling prices. The increase was solid overall and the sharpest for 16 months,” it said.

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

Never Before Have I Seen So Much Fake Unemployment & Jobs Data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Department Nails It

Never Before Have I Seen So Much Fake Unemployment & Jobs Data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Department Nails It

Labor Department today: People on state & federal unemployment insurance jumped to 31.5 million, worst ever.

Bureau of Labor Statistics today: 4.8 million jobs created, unemployment dropped by 3.2 million.

BLS under-reported unemployment by 13.7 million, based on data from the Labor Department. What’s happening is infuriating. Read and cringe.

Normally, the jobs report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is released on the first Friday of the month. And the unemployment claims report is released Thursday every week. But this month, the monthly jobs report was also released today because of the 4th of July weekend. And now we have this delicious situation of both reports on the same day, with the Labor Department’s unemployment insurance data – people who are actually receiving unemployment benefits under state and federal programs – calling the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ survey-based report a liar. And we’ll go through them.

What the Labor Department reported today:

The total number of people who continued to receive unemployment compensation in the week ended June 27 under all state and federal unemployment insurance programs, including gig workers, surged by 937,810 people in the week, to 31.49 million (not seasonally adjusted), the highest and worst and most gut-wrenching ever:

The number of people receiving state unemployment insurance (blue columns in the chart above) has essentially been flat for three weeks (it ticked up this week), as many people got their jobs back while many other people were newly laid off. But the number of people on federal unemployment programs, including gig workers (red columns), has been soaring.

What the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today:

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

“V-Shaped” Recovery Not Now: It Gets Worse, 30.55 Million on Unemployment. Week 14 of U.S. Labor Market Collapse

“V-Shaped” Recovery Not Now: It Gets Worse, 30.55 Million on Unemployment. Week 14 of U.S. Labor Market Collapse

Had a setback. Over 11 million gig workers on unemployment insurance. But four states, including Florida, still can’t process federal PUA claims.

This unemployment crisis is shape-shifting, and some states are still trying to catch up with the torrent of unemployment claims, and some states still haven’t figured out how to process unemployment claims under federal programs, including Florida. And so, after three weeks of improving, the data tracking the unemployment crisis got worse.

The total number of people who continued to receive unemployment compensation in the week ended June 20 under all state and federal unemployment insurance programs combined, including gig workers, rose to 30.55 million people (not seasonally adjusted), according to Labor Department data this morning. This is up by 1.3 million people from the prior week (29.26 million), and the second-highest ever, just below the record during the week ended May 23. V-shaped recovery not now:

Even while workers in restaurants, bars, retail stores, hotels, hair salons, etc. are getting called back to work, it’s corporate jobs that are getting axed now. Layoffs at small companies happen quietly, and we rarely see them in the news. But layoffs at big companies make the news, such as Macy’s announcement today that it will lay off 3,900 staff in corporate and management areas, even as it’s bringing back store employees. This is one of the ways in which the unemployment crisis is shape-shifting.

Torrent of new state unemployment claims continues.

Not seasonally adjusted, 1.457 million initial claims under state programs were processed in the week ended June 20, up from 1.433 million initial claims a week ago. These are newly laid-off people who filed their initial unemployment claims that week. While a fraction of the 6-million range in late March, it is still more than twice the magnitude of the spikes during the prior unemployment crises in 1982 and 2009.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase