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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).

US Gross National Debt Jumps by $1.2 Trillion in Fiscal 2019, to $22.7 Trillion, Hits 106.5% of GDP

US Gross National Debt Jumps by $1.2 Trillion in Fiscal 2019, to $22.7 Trillion, Hits 106.5% of GDP

But what happens if there’s actually a recession?

The US gross national debt jumped by $110 billion on the last two business days of Fiscal Year 2019, and by a breath-taking $1.2 trillion during the entire fiscal year, after having already jumped by $1.27 trillion in Fiscal 2018, the Treasury Department reported today. This ballooned the US gross national debt to a vertigo-inducing $22.72 trillion.

These beautiful trillions whipping by are a joy to behold: so much action in so little time. The flat spots in the chart below are the results of the debt-ceiling charade in Congress. When the debt ceiling is lifted, the debt spikes back to trend, and nothing changed:

During Fiscal 2019, the gross national debt increased by 5.6% and now amounts to 106.5% of current-dollar GDP, up from 105.4% at the end of Fiscal 2018.

The thing to remember here is that this isn’t the Great Recession or the Financial Crisis, when over 10 million people lost their jobs and credit froze up and companies went bankrupt and tax revenues plunged while outlays soared to pay for unemployment insurance and the like. This isn’t even the Collapse of Everything, but the longest expansion of the economy in US history.

Over the last four quarters, the US economy as measured by nominal GDP (not adjusted for inflation) grew by 4.0%. Over the same period, the US gross national debt grew by 5.6% (not adjusted for inflation).

In dollar terms, it looks even funnier: The economy as measured by nominal GDP over the past four quarters grew by $830 billion. The Gross National Debt grew by $1.2 trillion.

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

Metro Bank Teeters after Bond Sale Fails. Shares Collapsed 95%

Metro Bank Teeters after Bond Sale Fails. Shares Collapsed 95%

Hedge-fund manager Steven Cohen and Michael Bloomberg are among those ruing the day they bought the crushed shares of the UK bank touted as a “bargain.”

Even by its own recent standards, Metro Bank has had a torrid week. On Monday, shares of the British retail bank tumbled 5%, on Tuesday, 25%, on Wednesday, 5%, and on Thursday, 4.5%, before staging a brief comeback in the final hours of trading on Friday, to end the week 35% lower. By Friday morning, it was the second most-shorted stock on the FTSE all shares index, behind the collapsed travel & vacation-giant Thomas Cook.

The main trigger for this week’s rout was the bank’s failure on Monday to raise a much-needed £250 million by issuing non-preferred bonds that deeply skeptical investors spurned. Despite trying to lure buyers with an interest rate of 7.5%, double the rate of similar offerings, Metro only attracted £175 million worth of orders, prompting the embattled lender to pull the plug on the bond sale.

“Failure to get enough support for a product that is yielding 7.5% is quite remarkable when you consider how investors are struggling to find generous levels of income in the current market,” said Russ Mould, the investment director of AJ Bell. “It suggests that investors don’t trust the bank or they believe the 7.5% yield is simply not high enough to compensate for the risks of owning such a product.”

Metro Bank opened for business in 2010, becoming Britain’s first new high street bank in over 100 years. One of a handful of so-called “Challenger Banks” — new retail lenders created after the crisis to provide a little more banking competition in a country where the five biggest banks control a staggering 85% of the market — Metro Bank proved particularly adept at luring disillusioned clients from the big banks.

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

Use of “Hidden Debt Loophole” Spreads Among Australian Corporations

Use of “Hidden Debt Loophole” Spreads Among Australian Corporations

Situation already so bad that hiding debt becomes a priority?

Australian engineering group UGL, which is working on large infrastructure projects such as Brisbane’s Cross River Rail and Melbourne’s Metro Trains, recently sent a letter to suppliers and sub-contractors informing them that as of October 15, they will be paid 65 days after the end of the month in which their invoices are issued. The company’s policy had been, until then, to settle invoices within 30 days.

The letter then mentioned that if the suppliers want to get paid sooner than the new 65-day period, they can get their money from UGL’s new finance partner, Greensill Capital, one of the biggest players in the fast growing supply chain financing industry, in an arrangement known as “reverse factoring”. But it will cost them.

Reverse factoring is a controversial financing technique that played a major role in the collapse of UK construction giant Carillion, enabling it to conceal from investors, auditors and regulators the true magnitude of its debt.

Here’s how it works: a company hires a financial intermediary, such as a bank or a specialist firm such as Greensill, to pay a supplier promptly (e.g. 15 days after invoicing), in return for a discount on their invoices. The company repays the intermediary at a later date. This effectively turns the company’s accounts payable into debt that is owned a financial institution. But this debt is not disclosed as debt and remains hidden.

In its letter to suppliers, UGL trumpeted that the payment changes would “benefit both our businesses,” though many suppliers struggled to see how. One subcontractor interviewed byThe Australian Financial Reviewcomplained that the changes were “outrageous” and put small suppliers at a huge disadvantage since they did not have the power to challenge UGL. Some subcontractors contacted by AFR refused to be quoted out of fear of reprisal from UGL.

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

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…

How Negative Interest Rates Screw Up the Economy

How Negative Interest Rates Screw Up the Economy

Now they’re clamoring for this NIRP absurdity in the US. How will this end?

Now there is talk everywhere that the United States too will descend into negative interest rates. And there are people on Wall Street and in the media that are hyping this absurd condition where government bonds and perhaps even corporate bonds, and eventually even junk bonds have negative yields. All of that NIRP absurdity is already the case in Europe and Japan.

There is now about $17 trillion – trillion with a T – in negative yielding debt in the world, government and corporate debt combined.

This started out as a short-term emergency experiment. And now this short-term emergency experiment has become the new normal. And now more short-term emergency experiments need to be added to it, because, you know, the first batches weren’t big enough and haven’t worked, or have stopped working, or more realistically, have screwed things up so badly that nothing works anymore.

So how will this end?

The ECB rumor mill over the past two weeks hyped the possibility of a shock-and-awe stimulus package, on top of the shock-and-awe stimulus packages the ECB has already implemented, namely negative interest rates, liquidity facilities, and QE.

The entire German government bond market, even 30-year bonds have negative yields. And the German economy shrank in the last quarter. That gives Germany two out of the last four quarters where its economy shrank – despite negative interest rates from the ECB and despite the negative yields on its government bonds, and despite the negative yields among many corporate bonds.

In other words, the German economy, the fourth largest in the world, is hitting the skids despite or because of negative yields. And now the ECB wants to flex its muscles to get yields to become even more negative.

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

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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Markets Might Hafta Grapple with “Patient”: Fed Rate Cut in July After This Inflation?

Markets Might Hafta Grapple with “Patient”: Fed Rate Cut in July After This Inflation?

Not a rate-cut economy.

The inflation index that the Fed has anointed to be the yardstick for its inflation target – the PCE price index without the volatile food and energy components – rose 0.19% in May from April, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis this morning. This increase in “core PCE” was near the top of the range since 2010. It followed the 0.25% jump in April, which had been the third largest increase since 2010:

Fed Chair Jerome Powell, at the press conference following the no-rate-hike FOMC meeting last week, gave a clear and succinct summary of the US economy. It was mostly in good shape, he said, in particular where it mattered the most: “All of the underlying fundamentals for the consumer-spending part of the economy, which is 70% of the economy, are quite solid,” he said.

He acknowledged that there were some problems, including the slowdown in manufacturing and the current bust in the vast US oil-and-gas sector, and that the Fed would be watching for further deterioration in the economy, before it would take action. But “low” inflation was another matter.

Sustained “low” consumer-price inflation – as the Fed defines it – worries the Fed, though it’s a godsent for consumers. If inflation, as measured by the core PCE price index, drops in a sustained manner below the Fed’s pain threshold, wherever that may be, the Fed would likely adjust monetary policy no matter what the economy does.

The Fed’s “symmetric” target is a 2% annual increase in the core PCE index, meaning the increase can fluctuate some above or below the target without causing the Fed to act.

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

No, Rate Cuts Were Not Discussed: ECB Insiders Out Draghi as Fabricator & Schemer, and Talk to Reuters

No, Rate Cuts Were Not Discussed: ECB Insiders Out Draghi as Fabricator & Schemer, and Talk to Reuters

Draghi’s shenanigans get hilarious, months before his term ends.

So here’s ECB President Mario Draghi, whose term ends in October, and he’s at the ECB Forum in Portugal, and in a speech on Tuesday titled innocuously, “Twenty Years of the ECB’s monetary policy” – so this wasn’t a press conference after an ECB policy meeting or anything, but a speech on history at an ECB Forum – he suddenly threw out a whole bunch of stuff…

How, “in the absence of improvement” of inflation, “additional stimulus will be required,” in form of “further cuts in policy interest rates” and additional bond purchases, and how “in the coming weeks, the Governing Council will deliberate how our instruments can be adapted commensurate to the severity of the risk to price stability,” and that “all these options were raised and discussed at our last meeting.”

Whoa! Wait a minute, said the good folks who were part of the ECB’s June meeting. These options were not discussed, they told Reuters on Tuesday.

Draghi had ventured out there on his own – apparently trying to push his colleagues into a corner single-handedly as his last hurrah.

His vision laid out on Tuesday was quite a change from the June 6 post-meeting announcement, which didn’t mention anything about even discussing rate cuts. It said that the ECB expects its policy rates to “remain at their present levels at least through the first half of 2020,” before the ECB would begin to raise them, with the bias still on raising rates, not cutting rates. That was less than two weeks ago, and there had not been another ECB policy meeting since then.

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

“New Economic or Financial Crisis” in the Eurozone Could Start in Italy: French Government Frets 

“New Economic or Financial Crisis” in the Eurozone Could Start in Italy: French Government Frets

French banks are heavily exposed to Italy.

“Don’t underestimate the impact of the Italian recession.” This was the stark warning from French Economy Minister Bruno Le Marie in an interview with Bloomberg News. “We talk a lot about Brexit, but we don’t talk much about an Italian recession that will have a significant impact on growth in Europe and can impact France because it’s one of our most important trading partners.”

Italy’s economy as measured in real GDP shrank for two quarters in a row, which puts it into a “technical recession”:

It’s the second time in four months that France’s Economy Minister has expressed deep concern about the Italian economy in public. At the end of October he urged the commission to “reach out to Italy” after the EU’s executive had rejected the country’s draft 2019 budget for breaking EU rules on public spending. Le Maire also conceded at the time that while contagion in the Eurozone was definitely contained, the Eurozone “is not sufficiently armed to face a new economic or financial crisis.”

The French government is now openly worried that such a crisis could begin in Italy. The economies of both Italy and France are tightly interwoven, with annual trade flows of around €90 billion. More important still, French banks are, by a long shot, the biggest owners of Italian public and private debt, with total holdings of €311 billion as of the 3rd quarter of 2018, according to the Bank for International Settlements — up €34 billion from the 1st quarter of 2018.

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

We’re Flying with Eyes Partially Closed into Turbulent Markets & Economy

We’re Flying with Eyes Partially Closed into Turbulent Markets & Economy

But for the markets: “No Data is Good Data”

“NOTICE: Due to a lapse in federal funding this website is not being updated,” it says in big lettering against a bright red background at the top of the data sites of the Department of Commerce.

This morning, the Commerce Department was supposed to release crucial data for the housing market: sales and inventories of new single-family houses (“new home sales”). This includes sales and inventory figures, how many months of supply there was, and the median sales price of the new houses that sold. Today’s release would have been for sales that closed in December. But the Commerce Department is part of the shutdown, and no data was released.

This makes it the second month in a row that we have not seen national data on new home sales. The last month for which we received data was for October, released on November 28. And it was very lousy. So thank God that there is no data, because homebuilder stocks that had gotten battered by a series of lousy data have surged during the absence of data.

This morning, we were also supposed to get the report by the Commerce Department on “durable goods” with crucial data on orders and shipments in the manufacturing sector. But no.

This morning, we were also supposed to get the report on steel imports from the International Trade Administration, but it is part of the Commerce Department. The US is the largest steel importer in the world, and given all the hullaballoo about the tariffs on steel imports, it would be good to know for the industry and data watches alike what is going on. But there is no data on steel imports.

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

Stock-Market Margin Debt Plummets Most Since Q4 2008

Stock-Market Margin Debt Plummets Most Since Q4 2008

Wow, that was fast. Margin calls.

During the ugly stock-market December, whose ugliness bottomed out on Christmas Eve, a nasty November, and the ugliest October anyone can remember, margin debt plunged by a combined $93.8 billion, the most since Q4 2008, after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.

In December alone, margin debt plunged by $38.3 billion, to $554.3 billion, FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) reported this morning. This was just a hair less than October’s plunge of $40.5 billion, and both had been the steepest drops since late 2008:

The only form of stock market leverage that is reported monthly is “margin debt” – the amount individual and institutional investors borrow from their brokers against their portfolios. But no one knows the amount of total stock-market leverage from all forms of leverage, but we know it’s a lot higher than margin debt by itself.

Stock market leverage takes many forms. It includes “securities-based loans” (SBLs) that brokers extend to their clients, and that some of them report annually, though they don’t have to. And occasionally, we get a tidbit about an individual fiasco such as when a $1.6 billion SBL to just one guy blows up. And there are other ways to use leverage to fund stock holdings, including loans at the institutional level, loans by companies to their executives to buy the company’s shares, etc. But reported margin debt gives us a feel for which direction overall stock-market leverage is going.

Stock market leverage is the big accelerator on the way up, when people and institutions borrow money to buy stocks. And it’s the big accelerator on the way down when margin calls and other financial pressures turn these investors into forced sellers. The money from the proceeds of those stock sales doesn’t then sit on the sidelines or go into other stock purchases…

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

Turkey’s Debt Crisis Deepens, Erdogan Bails out Banks His Way

Turkey’s Debt Crisis Deepens, Erdogan Bails out Banks His Way

Shifting bad consumer & business debts from banks to the public, but the way this bank bailout got packaged is pretty nifty.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has launched a raft of measures ostensibly designed to reanimate the economy, including offering direct financial support for people with credit-card debt. The plan will enable Turkey’s maxed-out consumers to go to the biggest state-run lender, Ziraat Bank, and apply for debt rescheduling at low rates of interest. “Any retail client from any bank can apply,” Erdogan said.

Credit-card debt is a major problem. Since 2010 consumer credit has increased almost five-fold on the back of low interest rates (at least in certain foreign currencies), government incentives, and loose loan standards. By August 2018, when these pillars supporting Erdogan’s debt-fueled economic miracle began to buckle, outstanding non-housing consumer debt, peaked at 532 billion Turkish lira ($97 billion at today’s exchange rate, chart via Trading Economics):

About half of this amount is credit card debt. About one-third of the credit-card debt was considered to be non performing. A good portion of this debt is denominated in foreign currency, such as the euro or dollar, to get access to the low interest rates available in those currencies. And this foreign-currency debt is now, after the lira’s exchange rate has fallen, very hard to service. In other words, the government’s scheme is likely to have plenty of takers.

“The debts of citizens who are having repayment problems will be collected under a single umbrella, via Ziraat Bank,” Erdogan said. “They will pay off their debt with a loan from Ziraat and will pay it back according to the level of their monthly earnings.”

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

Italy’s New Government Eats Its Words, Joins Bank Bailout Club

Italy’s New Government Eats Its Words, Joins Bank Bailout Club

Well, that didn’t take long. And whatever happened to the Eurozone’s new bail-in rule?

Italy’s government, in its eighth month in power, has already bailed out a bankrupt bank, mid-sized Banca Carige, with public funds. If approved by European Commission and the ECB, it will be the fourth Italian bank rescue in just over two years. As Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore points out, Italy’s populist government has adopted virtually the exact same playbook to save Carige that was used by its predecessor in the previous three resolutions:

The draft of the new Carige decree is a carbon copy of the one used by the Gentiloni Government for the bailouts of Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS), BPVI and Veneto Banca — identical in every detail from the rules on state guarantees to the mechanisms adopted…

It took just eight minutes for Italy’s coalition partners, Five Star and the League, to renege on their flagship promise never to bailout a bank, reports Bloomberg. The new decree will allow the government to guarantee Carige bonds up to a maximum value of €3 billion, making it easier for the lender to retain access to the funding market. The government also wants the option, if necessary, to recapitalize the bank by injecting as much as €1 billion into its coffers despite having lambasted the previous government for doing the exact same thing with MPS.

It’s not yet clear whether the proposed rescue of Carige will contravene EU state-aid rules, which are supposed to impose strict conditions on the “precautionary recapitalization” envisaged by the government. Carige is already under the administration of ECB-appointed administrators after failing to agree to a €400 million capital increase at the end of last year. So if there are any issues it should be easy for European Commission or the ECB to stop the bailout dead in its tracks.

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

Fed’s Balance Sheet Reduction Reaches $402 Billion

Fed’s Balance Sheet Reduction Reaches $402 Billion

The QE unwind has started to rattle some nerves.

For the past two months, the sound of wailing and gnashing of teeth about the Fed’s QE unwind has been deafening. The Fed started the QE unwind in October 2017. As I covered it on a monthly basis, my ruminations on how it would unwind part of the asset-price inflation and Bernanke’s “wealth effect” that had resulted from QE were frequently pooh-poohed. They said that the truly glacial pace of the QE unwind was too slow to make any difference; that QE had just been a “book-keeping entry,” and that therefore the QE unwind would also be just a book-keeping entry; that QE had never caused any kind of asset price inflation in the first place, and that therefore the QE unwind would not reverse that asset-price inflation, or whatever.

But in October last year, when all kinds of markets started reversing this asset price inflation, suddenly, the QE unwind got blamed, and the Fed – particularly Fed Chairman Jerome Powell – has been put under intense pressure to cut it out. Yet it continues:

The Fed shed $28 billion in assets over the four weekly balance-sheet periods of December. This reduced the assets on its balance sheet to $4,058 billion, the lowest since January 08, 2014, according to the Fed’s balance sheet for the week ended January 3. Since the beginning of this “balance sheet normalization,” the Fed has now shed $402 billion.

According to the Fed’s plan released when the QE unwind was introduced, the Fed is scheduled to shed “up to” $30 billion in Treasuries and “up to” $20 billion in MBS a month – now that the QE unwind has reached cruising speed – for a total of “up to” $50 billion a month. So how did it go in December?

Treasury Securities

…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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