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“Severe Collapse” of Home Prices Might Trigger a “Financial-Institution Crisis” in Australia: OECD Frets about the Bank

“Severe Collapse” of Home Prices Might Trigger a “Financial-Institution Crisis” in Australia: OECD Frets about the Bank

“The authorities should prepare contingency plans.” The big four banks are too exposed to mortgages. Even if the banks don’t topple, the economy will get hit hard.

In its latest report on Australia, the OECD focuses to a disturbing extend on housing, household debt, what the current housing downturn might do to the otherwise healthy economy, and what the risks are that this housing downturn will lead to a financial crisis for the big four Australian banks, an eventuality that it says “authorities” should make “contingency plans” for.

The big four banks are huge in relation to the Australian stock market and the overall economy: Their combined market capitalization, at A$341 billion, even after today’s sell-off following the OECD report – accounts for 26% of Australia’s total stock market capitalization.

How they dominate the stock market showed up on Monday after the release of the report:

  • Common Wealth Bank of Australia (CBA): -2.98%
  • Westpac (WBC): -3.38%
  • Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ): -4.09%
  • National Australia Bank (NAB): -2.54%

The overall ASX stock index on Monday dropped 2.27%.

These big four are heavily owned by Australian pension funds, retail investors, and the like and form a big part of the retirement nest egg of the nation. So a banking crisis that involves the Big Four matters on all fronts – and the OECD report even pointed out that a collapse in the share prices of the Big Four would itself impact the overall economy negatively.

The report (PDF) starts by explaining just how strong the economy is in Australia:

With 27 years of positive economic growth, Australia has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to sustain steady increases in material living standards and absorb economic shocks.

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

The Fed Explains the Rate Hikes: To Prevent Financial Crisis 2

The Fed Explains the Rate Hikes: To Prevent Financial Crisis 2

Instead of “bubble” or “collapse,” it uses “valuation pressures” and “broad adjustment in prices.” Business debt, not consumer debt, is the bogeyman this time.

Preventing another financial crisis – or “promoting financial stability,” as the Federal Reserve Board of Governors calls it – isn’t the new third mandate of the Fed, but a “key element” in meeting its dual mandate of full employment and price stability, according to the Fed’s first Financial Stability Report.

“As we saw in the 2007–09 financial crisis, in an unstable financial system, adverse events are more likely to result in severe financial stress and disrupt the flow of credit, leading to high unemployment and great financial hardship.”

Financial firms are OK-ish, except for hedge funds.

The largest banks are “strongly capitalized” and are better able to withstand “shocks” than they were before the Financial Crisis; and “credit quality of bank loans appears strong, although there are some signs of more aggressive risk-taking by banks,” the Financial Stability Report says.

Also, leverage at broker-dealers is “substantially below pre-crisis levels.” And “insurance companies have also strengthened their financial position since the crisis.”

A greater worry are hedge funds that are now being leveraged up to the hilt. “A comprehensive measure that incorporates margin loans, repurchase agreements (repos), and derivatives – but is only available with a significant time lag – suggests that average hedge fund leverage has risen by about one-third over the course of 2016 and 2017.”

“The increased use of leverage by hedge funds exposes their counterparties to risks [that would include banks and broker-dealers] and raises the possibility that adverse shocks would result in forced asset sales by hedge funds that could exacerbate price declines.”

But here is why they won’t get bailed out: “That said, hedge funds do not play the same central role in the financial system as banks or other institutions.”

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

What’s Behind the US-Saudi Nuclear Mega-Deal?

What’s Behind the US-Saudi Nuclear Mega-Deal?

Up to 16 nuclear power plants for civilian purposes? Really?

Last week, the NY Times ran a front-page story on Saudi Arabia’s efforts to purchase nuclear fuel enrichment capabilities and as many as 16 nuclear power generating plants from the US. The principal concern expressed here was the Saudi’s insistence on ownership of nuclear fuel-enrichment technologies.

Typically, when the US has exported its reactor technology, it is accompanied by a fuel purchase agreement. We sell the fuel more or less as finished product. In the past, reluctance to export fuel-processing technology stemmed from concerns regarding proliferation of nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia does have domestic sources of uranium they could mine but they have also expressed the need to respond to a potential nuclear arms rivalry with Iran.

But this article omitted the most important point. The key question is what are the Saudi’s motives regarding construction of a vast number of nuclear power plants for supposedly civilian purposes? The answer is obvious. There is no earthly commercial or economic reason for them to produce those quantities of electricity in the proposed nuclear fashion.

We should also point out that the seemingly large number cited for these nuclear power plants, $80 billion, is understated by a factor of almost five. Sixteen Westinghouse-designed nuclear stations with two reactors apiece would cost roughly $30 billion apiece! And 16 such plants would cost $480 billion – not $80 billion.

This sounds to us more like a bribe. Sell us nuclear fuel-processing technology (which it appears they really want), and we promise to purchase a large number of extremely expensive power plants from the US (the need for which is presently unclear).

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

Why I Think this Sell-Off is Just One Step in Methodical Unwind of Stock Prices

Why I Think this Sell-Off is Just One Step in Methodical Unwind of Stock Prices

One after the other, individual stocks are getting crushed.

It was an ugly Monday and Tuesday followed by a Wednesday that at first look like a real bounce but ended with the indices giving up their gains. This was followed, mercifully, by Thursday when markets were closed, which was followed unmercifully by Friday, during which the whole schmear came unglued again.

The S&P 500 index dropped 0.7% on Friday to 2,632 and 3.8% for Thanksgiving week, though this week is usually – by calendar black-magic – a good week, according to the Wall Street Journal: During Thanksgiving weeks going back a decade, the S&P 500 rose on average 1.3%.

This leaves the S&P 500 index 1.5% in the hole year-to-date. It’s now back where it had first been on November 30, 2017:

Clearly, when seen over the longer term, the sell-off for now still belongs to the small-fry among sell-offs, with S&P 500 down just 10.5% from its peak:

The Dow dropped 0.7% on Friday and 4.4% during Thanksgiving week, to 24,286. It’s 1.75% in the hole for the year. Technically speaking, it’s not even in a correction, being down only 9.9% from its peak.

And the Nasdaq, dropped 0.5% on Friday and 4.3% during Thanksgiving week. According to the Wall Street Journal, during Thanksgiving week over the past 20 years, the Nasdaq rose on average 1.3%. So this is no good for calendar-black-magic aficionados. Where’s the free-wheeling holiday spirit?

The Nasdaq is now down 14.7% from its peak at the end of August but remains up 0.5% year-to-date.

The Russell 2000 small-caps index edged down today and is down 14.5% from its peak on August 31. It’s 3% in the hole year-to-date and right back where it had first been on September 27, 2017:

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

QE Created Dangerous Financial Dependence, Italy Hooked, Withdrawal Next, ECB Warns

QE Created Dangerous Financial Dependence, Italy Hooked, Withdrawal Next, ECB Warns

“Who will purchase the €275 billion of government debt Italy is to issue in 2019?”

The ECB, through its army of official mouthpieces, has begun warning of the potentially calamitous consequences for Italian bonds when its QE program comes to an end, which is scheduled to happen at the end of this year.

During a speech in Vienna on Tuesday, Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny pointed out that Italy’s central bank, under the ECB’s guidance, is the biggest buyer of Italian government debt. The Bank of Italy, on behalf of the ECB, has bought up more than €360 billion of multiyear treasury bonds (BTPs) since the QE program was first launched in March 2015.

In fact, the ECB is now virtually the only significant net buyer of Italian bonds left standing. This raises a key question, Nowotny said: With the ECB scheduled to exit the bond market in roughly six weeks time, “who will purchase the roughly €275 billion of government securities Italy is forecast to issue in 2019?”

With foreigners shedding a net €69 billion of Italian government bonds since May, when the right-wing League and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement took the reins of government, and Italian banks in no financial position to expand their already bloated holdings, it is indeed an important question (and one we’ve been asking for well over a year).

According to former Irish central bank governor and ex-member of the ECB’s Governing Council Patrick Honohan, speaking at an event in London, when the ECB’s support is removed, “the yield on Italian government bonds will be much more vulnerable.”

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

Subprime Rises: Credit Card Delinquencies Blow Through Financial-Crisis Peak at the 4,705 Smaller US Banks

Subprime Rises: Credit Card Delinquencies Blow Through Financial-Crisis Peak at the 4,705 Smaller US Banks

So what’s going on here?

In the third quarter, the “delinquency rate” on credit-card loan balances at commercial banks other than the largest 100 banks – so the delinquency rate at the 4,705 smaller banks in the US – spiked to 6.2%. This exceeds the peak during the Financial Crisis for these banks (5.9%).

The credit-card “charge-off rate” at these banks, at 7.4% in the third quarter, has now been above 7% for five quarters in a row. During the peak of the Financial Crisis, the charge-off rate for these banks was above 7% four quarters, and not in a row, with a peak of 8.9%

These numbers that the Federal Reserve Board of Governors reportedMonday afternoon are like a cold shower in consumer land where debt levels are considered to be in good shape. But wait… it gets complicated.

The credit-card delinquency rate at the largest 100 commercial banks was 2.48% (not seasonally adjusted). These 100 banks, due to their sheer size, carry the lion’s share of credit card loans, and this caused the overall credit-card delinquency rate for all commercial banks combined to tick up to a still soothing 2.54%.

In other words, the overall banking system is not at risk, the megabanks are not at risk, and no bailouts are needed. But the most vulnerable consumers – we’ll get to why they may end up at smaller banks – are falling apart:

Credit card balances are deemed “delinquent” when they’re 30 days or more past due. Balances are removed from the delinquency basket when the customer cures the delinquency, or when the bank charges off the delinquent balance. The rate is figured as a percent of total credit card balances. In other words, among the smaller banks in Q3, 6.2% of the outstanding credit card balances were delinquent.

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

The Wolf Street Report

THE WOLF STREET REPORT

Market Exuberance Ends, Pain Starts

In the 14 months from the presidential election through January 2018, the Dow soared 49%. Housing prices soared too. The real economy followed. Consumers went on a spending spree. But now, this phenomenon — the surge in exuberance among consumers, investors, homebuyers, speculators, business-decision makers, and the like, often called the “Trump Bump,” whether or not Trump had anything to do with it — is petering out. So what will happen as this exuberance deflates? (13 minutes)

WTF Just Happened with Natural Gas?

WTF Just Happened with Natural Gas?

If you blinked, you missed it.

The price of natural gas for December delivery plunged 19% on Thursday, the biggest percentage plunge since February 2003.

This comes after futures prices had skyrocketed 20% on Wednesday to $4.931 per million Btu intraday, before settling at $4.837, the highest settlement price since February 2014 – when “polar vortex” entered into everyday language in the US. It was a gain of 19% for the day, the biggest percentage gain since 2004. Today’s plunge took the price back to $3.899 at the moment, where it had been on Monday. If you blinked you missed it:

The spike yesterday was driven by “a sharp cold revision in the winter weather outlook,” according to a commodities strategist at Morgan Stanley, cited by Bloomberg. “We see modest downside from here assuming current weather forecasts, but a very wide range of potential short-term prices,” he said.

The weather outlook hasn’t really changed overnight, but instead of a “modest downside” move, natural gas performed a historic plunge today.

Speculative fever goes both ways. Today was impacted more than anything by the hangover from yesterday’s spike that completed a 45% run-up since November 2. Time to cash out.

And then there was the Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report, released this morning by the EIA. It was a cold shower, after the drunken party yesterday.

Turns out, thanks to surging production, 39 billion cubic feet were addedduring the latest reporting week to underground storage facilities across the US. Over the past five years on average – with the colder season having already started at this week in November — natural gas levels in storage would drop by 15.6 billion cubic feet during that week.

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

How US Oil Booms & Busts Hit Industrial Production

How US Oil Booms & Busts Hit Industrial Production

Fueled by cheap money and by dashed hopes of high oil prices.

Industrial production in October rose 4.1% from a year ago, the Fed Board of Governors reported this morning. This was in the upper portion of the range since 2010. It was powered in part by the blistering oil & gas production boom that followed the Oil Bust of 2015 and 2016.

This chart shows the percent change in industrial production from the same month a year earlier. The red bars – industrial production falling year-over-year – coincide with the recession in the goods-based economy, the transportation recession, and the Oil Bust:

As part of the overall index, manufacturing rose 2.7% from a year ago, utilities 1.7%, and mining, which includes oil & gas extraction, jumped 13.1%. Oil & gas extraction on its own soared 16.5% from a year ago.

On a monthly basis oil & gas extraction edged down a smidgen over the past two months from a spikey record in August, when it had soared 22.9% year-over-year.

The chart below shows the Industrial Production sub-index for crude oil and natural gas extraction. Note the brief effects of Hurricane Katrina when production along the Gulf Coast was shut down, the Financial Crisis when everything came to a standstill, the subsequent fracking boom, the oil bust in 2015 and 2016, and then the renewed boom. Since the trough of the oil bust in September 2016, the index has surged 31.5%:

It has been a wild ride in the oil & gas sector. At the end of 2008 – following the Lehman Moment – everything came to a halt for a couple of months, but then activity rebounded. Starting in 2011, the fracking boom, fueled by waves of new money trying to find a place to go, took off. At the time, oil prices (WTI) ranged from $75 to $113 a barrel. But in July 2014, oil prices began to dive, and in 2015, the oil bust hit production.

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

Mortgage Rates May Hit 6% Sooner, as Fed Sheds Mortgage-Backed Securities, But What Will that Do to Housing Bubble 2?

Mortgage Rates May Hit 6% Sooner, as Fed Sheds Mortgage-Backed Securities, But What Will that Do to Housing Bubble 2?

Mortgage rates are climbing faster than the 10-year Treasury yield.

The average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) and a 20% down-payment rose to 5.17% for the latest reporting week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association(MBA) today. This is the highest average rate since September 2009 (chart via Investing.com):

Many people with smaller down payments and/or lower credit ratings are already paying quite a bit more. Top-tier borrowers pay less.

Thus, mortgage rates have moved a little closer to the next line in the sand, 6%, which is still historically low. At that point, the interest rate would be back where it had been in December 2008, when the Fed was unleashing its program of interest rate repression even for long-dated maturities via QE that later included the purchase of mortgaged-backed securities (MBS), which helped push down mortgage rates further.

Now the Fed is shedding Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities, and we’re starting to see the impact on mortgage rates: The difference (spread) between the 10-year yield and the interest rate of the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage has widened sharply.

Since the beginning of the year:

  • The 30-year mortgage interest rate has risen 95 basis points, or nearly 1 percentage point (from 4.22% to 5.17%).
  • The 10-year Treasury yield has risen 71 basis points (from 2.46% to 3.17%)
  • The spread between the two has widened from 176 basis points on at the beginning of January to 200 basis points now.

In other words, mortgage rates are climbing faster than the 10-year Treasury yield, now that the Fed has begun the shed mortgage-backed securities. This is expected. It’s part of the QE unwind – it’s part of the Fed exiting the mortgage market and pulling its support out from under it.

But 6% is still low:

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

Anatomy of the Housing Downturn in Vancouver, Canada

Anatomy of the Housing Downturn in Vancouver, Canada

It’s not pretty.

In 2018, “each month has brought weaker than normal sales, rising inventory, and continued downward pressure on prices” in Vancouver, British Columbia, writes Steve Saretsky, a Vancouver Realtor and publisher of real-estate blog, Vancity Condo Guide. The market faces another headwind: “With the Bank of Canada determined to reach a neutral rate of interest of between 2.5-3.5%, borrowing power continues to erode.”

The single-family price spike unwinds.

The hardest hit segment are single-family houses (“detached houses”). Sales volume in the city of Vancouver has dropped to 27-year lows for most months of the year. In October, sales plunged 32% year-over-year to 146 houses, the third worst October on record. The plunge in sales was first triggered by the imposition of a tax in August 2016 on nonresident foreign buyers – mostly investors living in China. This chart from The Saretsky Report shows sales volume in every October going back to 1991 (click to enlarge):

Inventory for sale of all types of homes combined – single-family, townhouse, and condo – in the city of Vancouver surged 24% year-over-year, “pushing prices lower across all property segments,” he writes. Within that group, townhouse inventory jumped 34% and condo inventory soared 74%.

But inventory of single-family houses edged down by 4%, to 1,556 listings, “primarily a result of sellers taking their house off the market and trying to wait out current conditions,” Saretsky writes. Given the decline in sales, months’ supply surged 35% to 10.7 months. “This has paved the way for buyers to negotiate steep discounts”:

We have now been in a weak detached housing market for over two years and as a result, price declines are becoming more noticeable and more significant. There is strong evidence from previous housing booms that volumes tend to lead prices by about two years, and for the most part that has been the case here in Vancouver.

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

Hilarious How Wall-Street Crybabies Whine about the Fed’s QE Unwind after a Decade of “Wealth Effect”

Hilarious How Wall-Street Crybabies Whine about the Fed’s QE Unwind after a Decade of “Wealth Effect”

Their “Everything Bubble” is being pricked “gradually,” and they don’t like it.

Wall Street has been moaning, groaning, and crying out loud about the Fed’s current monetary policies – raising rates and unwinding QE. They fear that these policies will undo the Fed’s handiwork since the onset of QE and zero-interest-rate policy in 2008, now called the “Everything Bubble” (stocks, bonds, “leveraged loans,” housing, commercial real estate, classic cars, art…). In an effort to pressure the Fed to back off, they’re accusing the Fed of making a “policy mistake” and creating “scarcity” of bank reserves.

Here is Bloomberg News this morning. It’s really cute how this works. This is how the article starts out: “Fixed-income traders are telling the Federal Reserve that it might end up making a big policy mistake.”

These folks cannot say that the Fed’s QE unwind and higher rates might unwind some of the wealth of asset holders that resulted from the Fed’s desired “wealth effect.” That would be too clear. So they have to come up with hoary theories to back their “policy mistake” theme. This time it’s the theory of a “scarcity of bank reserves.”

When these folks talk about “scarcity,” what they mean is that they have to pay a little more. In this case, banks are having to pay more interest to attract deposits.

For the crybabies on Wall Street, that’s “scarcity.” For savers, money-market investors, and short-term Treasury investors, however, it means the era of brutal interest rate repression has ended, and that they’re earning once again more than inflation on their money (savers might have to shop around).

But that the money from depositors is suddenly not free anymore is anathema on Wall Street. So here we go – this time specifically targeting the QE unwind. Bloomberg:

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

The State of the American Debt Slaves, Q3 2018

The State of the American Debt Slaves, Q3 2018

Consumers are being lackadaisical again with their plastic.

Consumer debt – or euphemistically, consumer “credit” – jumped 4.9% in the third quarter compared to the third quarter last year, or by $182 billion, to almost, but no cigar, $4 trillion, or more precisely $3.93 trillion (not seasonally adjusted), according to the Federal Reserve this afternoon. As befits the stalwart American consumers, it was the highest ever.

Consumer debt includes credit-card debt, auto loans, and student loans, but does not include mortgage-related debt:

The nearly $4 trillion in consumer debt is up 49% from the prior peak at the cusp of the Financial Crisis in Q2 2008 (not adjusted for inflation). Over the same period, nominal GDP (not adjusted for inflation) is up 39% — thus continuing the time-honored trend of debt rising faster than nominal GDP.

But a hot economy is helping out: While over the past 12 months, consumer debt jumped by 4.9%, nominal GDP jumped by 5.5%. A similar phenomenon also occurred in Q2. This is rather rare. The last time nominal GDP outgrew consumer credit, and the only time since the Great Recession, was in the three quarters from Q1 through Q3 2015.

Auto loans and leases

Auto loans and leases for new and used vehicles in Q3 jumped by $41 billion from a year ago, or by 3.7%, to a record of $1.11 trillion. These loan balances are impacted mainly by these factors: prices of vehicles, mix of new and used, number of vehicles financed, the average loan-to-value ratio, and duration of loans originated in prior years.

The green line in the chart represents the old data before the adjustment in September 2017. These adjustments to consumer credit occur every five years, based on new Census survey data. Most of the adjustments affected auto-loan balances, reducing them by $38 billion retroactively to 2015.

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

The Fed’s QE Unwind Hits $321 Billion

The Fed’s QE Unwind Hits $321 Billion

The “up to” exacts its pound of flesh.

Over the four-week period from October 3 through October 31, the Federal Reserve shed $35 billion in assets, according to the Fed’s weekly balance sheet released Thursday afternoon. This brought the balance sheet to $4,140 billion, the lowest since February 12, 2014. Since October 2017, when the Fed began its QE unwind, or “balance sheet normalization,” it has now shed $321 billion:

The Fed acquired Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) as part of QE, which ended in 2014. Between the end of QE and the beginning of the QE Unwind in October 2017, the Fed replaced maturing securities with new securities to keep their levels roughly the same. In October last year, the Fed kicked off the QE unwind and began shedding those securities. But the balance sheet also reflects the Fed’s other activities, and the amount of its total assets is always higher than the sum of Treasury securities and MBS it holds.

October was a new milestone: the QE unwind left the ramp-up phase and entered the cruising-speed phase, according to the Fed’s plan. In the cruising-speed phase, the Fed is scheduled to shed “up to” $30 billion in Treasuries and “up to” $20 billion in MBS a month, for a total of “up to” $50 billion a month.

From October 3 through October 31, the Fed’s holdings of Treasury Securities fell by $23.8 billion to $2,270 billion, the lowest since February 19, 2014. Since the beginning of the QE-Unwind, the Fed has shed $195 billion in Treasuries:

The “up to” exacts its pound of flesh

The plan calls for shedding “up to” $30 billion in Treasury securities in October. But the Fed shed only $23.8 billion. Why?

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

I Was Asked: “How & When Will the Next Financial Crisis Happen?”

I Was Asked: “How & When Will the Next Financial Crisis Happen?”

China has a lot of balls in the air at the moment.

FocusEconomics asked me and a bunch of other illustrious luminaries, “How and when will the next financial crisis happen?”

First things first. A “financial crisis” is somewhat of a latex-term that can be defined in many ways and stretched in many directions. For our purposes, a recession or a stock-market crash is by itself not a financial crisis. They’re more or less normal parts of the credit cycle – or the business cycle as it used to be called.

A financial crisis is decidedly not a normal part of the credit cycle – though in some countries such as Argentina, it appears to be part of the normal cycle. A normal recession in the US is over after a few quarters. It cleans out the cobwebs from the business environment. It pushes zombie companies into default and allows bankruptcy courts to clean up after them. This process has a cleansing quality that allows businesses to shed stifling debts at investor expense.

Financial crises are often related to a banking crisis, when credit freezes up, when companies or governments can suddenly no longer borrow enough money to stay afloat. Financial crises involve all kinds of problems, including deep recessions, widespread asset-price crashes, markets with no liquidity, defaults of healthy companies that are suddenly cut off from funding, and the like.

In emerging market economies, financial crises usually involve a currency crisis and either the fear that the government would default on its foreign-currency debts, or an actual default on its foreign currency debts. Government funding dries up and the economy spirals down.

…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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Olduvai II: Exodus
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