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“Monetizing Privacy”: The Fed Fans Out, Touting the “Digital Dollar.” This Time, How Consumers Would Benefit

“Monetizing Privacy”: The Fed Fans Out, Touting the “Digital Dollar.” This Time, How Consumers Would Benefit

But the problemita of pulling the rug out from under the entire banking system still needs to be addressed.

“As cash use continues to decline, the question naturally arises as to whether central banks should provide a digital alternative to cash that also provides some privacy features,” says the blog post, titled “Monetizing Privacy,” by the New York Fed. The post is based on a 26-page academic paper on digital payment methods that have been used broadly, the current market structure of digital payment methods, the data-gathering that occurs, versus cash payments that preserve privacy – and versus the “digital dollar” now being worked on.

Each time a digital payment takes place, the companies involved gather voluminous amounts of data and hang on to it because it gives them a competitive advantage in selling more goods or services to this particular consumer. This data has a lot of value for these companies – a key point we’ll get to in a moment with regards to the “digital dollar.”

While the share of cash in transactions has declined, US dollar bills are being hoarded like never before. “Currency in circulation,” which the Fed reports weekly on its balance sheet as a liability, has soared during the Pandemic, reaching another record last week of $2.06 trillion, having doubled since 2011:

The amount of currency in circulation is demand-based: Banks have to have enough currency on hand to satisfy their customers’ demand for currency, and during a crisis, people load up and hoard cash, much of it overseas, and to meet this demand, banks have to buy more currency from the Fed, usually paying with Treasury securities for this paper.

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

How the Unemployment Fiasco in Europe Is Kept out of Official Unemployment Rates

How the Unemployment Fiasco in Europe Is Kept out of Official Unemployment Rates

The massive and once-again extended Pandemic-era furlough programs serve their purpose, but…

In Europe, people who are furloughed are paid under government programs via their employers. Many of these programs have been created during the Pandemic. In theory, these people still have jobs. In practice, they’re not working, or are working heavily reduced hours. But they do not count as “unemployed” and are not reflected in the “unemployment” numbers. So throughout the Pandemic, the official unemployment rates barely ticked up, compared to the last crisis, and remain low for the EU era, despite tens of millions of people who’d stopped working due to the lockdowns (chart via Eurostat):

Under these furlough programs, the government pays companies, who in turn pay employees between 60% and 84% of their monthly wage. In some cases, the workers work fewer hours for less pay; in others, they don’t work at all. The workers take a hit to their income but their jobs remain intact, at least for the duration of the program.

The UK adopted a sweeping furlough program at the beginning of its last lockdown. Businesses can claim 80% of a staff member’s regular monthly salary, up to a maximum of £2,500. The money must be passed on to the employee and can also be topped up by the employer.

But the unemployment rate has begun to rise as people come off furlough, and those whose jobs disappeared entered official unemployment. The unemployment rate ticked up to 4.8% in the three months to September, from 4.5% in Q2 and from 3.9% a year earlier, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). In London, the unemployment rate surged by 1.2 percentage points from the previous quarter, to 6%, the largest quarterly increase in unemployment since the ONS started tracking the data in 1992.

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

State of the American Debt-Slaves, Q3 2020: The Stimulus & Forbearance Phenomenon

State of the American Debt-Slaves, Q3 2020: The Stimulus & Forbearance Phenomenon

Auto loans jump after historic price spikes. Credit cards still in stimulus wonderland. Student-loan borrowers count on debt forgiveness, mmmkay.

Consumers have undertaken an astounding project instead of consuming: Paying down their credit cards. In September, outstanding balances of credit cards and other revolving credit ticked down by a tad to $949 billion, not seasonally adjusted, the lowest since July 2017.

Credit card balances spike in December during the shopping season and then decline during credit-hangover season in January and February. In March, they start rising again. But not this year. In March, credit-card balances fell, and then in April, when the stimulus checks arrived and when people stopped going out and spending money, credit-card balances plunged the most ever. And they have continued to tick down every month since then (not seasonally adjusted). By the end of September, according to Federal Reserve data on Friday, they were down 9.2% from September last year:

And it’s not because consumers are defaulting on their credit cards, with banks writing off the defaulted balances. On the contrary. Credit card delinquency rates have also dropped. It’s because consumers are paying down their credit cards, and they’re spending less.

They had a lot of help in form of government money – the stimulus checks and the extra unemployment benefits of $600 a week, and then of $300 a week, both now expired, and the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance [PUA] program for gig workers that has been surrounded by allegations of massive fraud, and so on. Whether fraudulent or not, this money got into the hands of consumers.

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

What Oil Companies Face: The WTF-Collapse of Consumption of Gasoline & Jet Fuel from Long-Term Weakness

What Oil Companies Face: The WTF-Collapse of Consumption of Gasoline & Jet Fuel from Long-Term Weakness

Transportation fuel demand rose to where it had been in … 1997.

While the overall S&P 500 Index is down 2.7% in October, about flat for the three-month period, and up 2.8% for the year, the S&P 500 Energy Index is down 4.4% for the month, down 19% for the three-month period, and down 50% year-to-date.

On Friday, Exxon Mobil reported a 29% plunge in revenue in the third quarter, and a loss of $680 million – its third loss in a row, the three of them totaling $2.34 billion. And it warned of possible “significant impairment” charges on “assets with carrying values of approximately $25 billion to $30 billion,” mostly related to its North American shale gas operations. The day before, it had announced job cuts of 14,000 employees and contractors globally, including about 1,900 folks at its Houston headquarters.

Chevron [CVX], which completed the acquisition of Noble Energy in early October, announced this week that it would lay off about one quarter of Noble’s employees. Those layoffs are in addition to the cuts of 10%-15% it’s planning for its own workforce. The cuts at Noble amount to nearly 600 people, and the cuts at Chevron amount to 4,500 to 6,750 folks.

Exxon shares [XOM] have plunged 53% year-to-date to $32.62 on Friday, and thereby edged closer to their March 23 decade-low of $31.45. In July 2014, at the cusp of the Oil Bust, XOM reached a high of $135, having since then plunged by 75%.  Exxon’s dividend yield is now over 10%, but everyone knows that, like other oil companies, Exxon could reduce or eliminate its dividend if push comes to shove.

Bankruptcies by US shale oil and gas companies with less heft and diversification than Exxon and Chevron have turned into a flood. The debts listed in the bankruptcy filings over the first nine months of 2020 reached $89 billion and surpassed year-total filings in the prior peak oil-bust year 2016.

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

Fed Assets Eke Out New Record for First Time Since June 10. But Repos, Dollar Liquidity Swaps, SPVs Mothballed

Fed Assets Eke Out New Record for First Time Since June 10. But Repos, Dollar Liquidity Swaps, SPVs Mothballed

Only Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) are still active.

The Fed has now reduced to zero or to near-zero or essentially mothballed and thrown the towel in on three of its five QE and bailout strategies: repos, dollar liquidity swap lines, and special purpose vehicles (SPVs). It has maintained its activity in Treasury securities and mortgage backed securities (MBS).

Total assets on the Fed’s balance sheet for the week ended October 21, released this afternoon, rose by $26 billion from the prior week, to $7.177 trillion, for the first time edging past the June 10 high of $7.168 trillion:

Repurchase Agreements (Repos) remained at zero:

Central-bank liquidity-swaps dropped to near-zero.

The Fed’s “dollar liquidity swap lines” by which it provided dollars to a select group of other central banks, fell out of use and are down to just $7.6 billion, a mere rounding error on the Fed’s $7 trillion balance sheet, from a peak of $448 billion in early May:

SPVs inching lower for months, now at $196 billion, mostly mothballed.

The Fed loans to the SPVs. The Treasury Department provides the equity capital. The amounts reflected in each of those SPVs is the sum of those loans from the Fed and the equity capital from the Treasury Department. But the Fed has barely lent to them, and most of the amounts you see is the equity capital from the Treasury, much of it unused, and these SPVs have now been mothballed.

Even the SPV that holds corporate bonds and bond ETFs (Corporate Credit Facilities or CCF) has been mothballed. The Fed bought its last ETF in July and only added minuscule amounts of bonds in August and September.

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

“Creative Destruction” or Just “Destruction?”

“Creative Destruction” or Just “Destruction?”

Under the effects of the Pandemic, consumers and businesses grapple with their own “Reset.”

This is the transcript of my podcast last Sunday, THE WOLF STREET REPORT.

We’ve got the weirdest economy ever. A disputed number of people lost their jobs early on in the Pandemic, with figures ranging from 22 million to 33 million people who lost their jobs, depending on whether we looked at the monthly jobs report or the number of people having filed for unemployment.

Since then, millions of people have been hired back by restaurants, gyms, hotels, and other enterprises that had shut down. This was followed – and that’s the phase we’re in now – by more layoffs but further up the corporate chain, with higher-paying jobs now getting axed. Initial unemployment claims of newly laid-off workers have remained horribly high, at over 800,000 a week, and have risen recently.

But wait… at the same time that this jobs fiasco is playing out, retail sales – so that’s goods bought online and in stores – after plunging in March and April have spiked to record highs.

This does not include services such as insurance, airline tickets, hotel bookings, rent, healthcare, etc.  And we know that airline passenger revenue at Delta, for example, has collapsed by 83% from a year ago in the third quarter, according to Delta’s quarterly earnings report. Many hotels remain closed.

In August, spending by Americans on services was still 7.4% below a year ago. And spending on services is the largest part of consumer spending.

But they plowed record amounts of money into buying goods, such as electronics, appliances, cars, bicycles, exercise equipment, and the like. According to government data, the amount that Americans spent on durable goods in August spiked by 12% from February, just before the Pandemic.

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

Extend-and-Pretend Caused Bankruptcies to Plunge in Germany, France, Spain. Now Central Banks Tell Banks to Prepare for Bankruptcy Surge

Extend-and-Pretend Caused Bankruptcies to Plunge in Germany, France, Spain. Now Central Banks Tell Banks to Prepare for Bankruptcy Surge

The “second wave,” if prolonged, could cause bad loans to almost triple, to €1.4 trillion, says the ECB.

German banks need to prepare themselves for a sharp spike in corporate bankruptcies early next year, the Bundesbank warned this week in its 2020 Financial Stability Review. It anticipates around 6,000 insolvencies in the first quarter of 2021. While this would be a little lower than at the peak quarter of the Global Financial Crisis, the Bundesbank cautioned that it “cannot rule out that … a lot more companies will go bankrupt than is currently expected.”

Although Germany is in the grip of its worst economic contraction since World War 2, fewer insolvencies have been filed this year compared to 2019. This is the result of the weird bailout-and-stimulus economy, and includes these factors:

  • Banks’ broad application of forbearance measures, which has given businesses extra financial leeway;
  • The roll out of state-backed emergency loans and grants for struggling businesses, large and small, which forms the backbone of the country’s €1.3 trillion (so far) stimulus program;
  • Germany’s “Kurzarbeit” social insurance program, which enables employers to reduce their employees’ working hours instead of laying them off, picking up government subsidies in the process.
  • And most importantly, the temporary suspension of bankruptcy-declaration requirements.

Helped along by these measures, the number of firms declaring insolvency in Germany fell 6.2% to 9,006 in the first half of this year from the same period last year, trending at their lowest level in 25 years, even as the economy shrinks at its fastest rate in over 70 years.

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

The Great American Oil & Gas Massacre: Bankruptcies Hit New Milestone as Bigger Companies Let Go

The Great American Oil & Gas Massacre: Bankruptcies Hit New Milestone as Bigger Companies Let Go

The American Oil Boom Was Where Money Went to Die.

The amount of secured and unsecured debts, such as loans and bonds, listed in bankruptcy filings in the third quarter by US oil and gas companies, at $34 billion, pushed the total oil-and-gas bankruptcy debt for 2020 to $89 billion, according to data compiled by law firm Haynes and Boone. And this nine-month total already surpassed the full-year total of oil-bust year 2016.

These are predominately exploration and production companies (E&P) and oilfield services companies (OFS) but also include some “midstream” companies (they gather, transport, process, and store oil and natural gas).

In mid-2014, the price of crude-oil benchmark WTI, which had been over $100 a barrel, started plunging. The companies involved in fracking couldn’t even generate positive cash flows at $100 a barrel. And as prices plunged, all heck broke loose. Creditors and equity investors, after drinking the Kool-Aid for years, suddenly got scared, and new money dried up to service the old money. A slew of bankruptcies ensued among the smaller players, reaching a high in 2016. And people thought that was it, the oil bust was over, and new money started pouring back into the sector.

But then came Phase 2 of the Great American Oil-and-Gas Bust in late-2018, with the price of WTI in the futures market eventually collapsing briefly to minus $37 a barrel in April 2020. In recent weeks, WTI has been hovering around $40 a barrel, at which the US oil industry is still burning millions of barrels of cash per day, so to speak:

The total number of oil-and-gas bankruptcies so far this year, at 88 filings, remains a lot lower than the 141 filings in 2016. Back then, scores of small companies were shaken out. Now the bigger ones with multi-billion-dollar debts are letting go as the crisis is working up the ladder.

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

 

What’s Behind the Fed’s Project to Send Free Money to People Directly?

What’s Behind the Fed’s Project to Send Free Money to People Directly?

A lump-sum payment in digital dollars for all Americans during a recession or to raise inflation, as an alternative to QE and negative interest rates, which have failed.

By Wolf Richter. This is the transcript of my podcast last Sunday, THE WOLF STREET REPORT. You can listen to it on YouTube or download it wherever you get your podcasts.

There is a lot of discussion suddenly about a Federal Reserve project to make direct payments to households during an economic crisis. In March, legislation was proposed in the House and in the Senate to authorize the Fed to do this.

At the beginning of August, two former Fed officials floated a trial balloon of this type of operation with some specifics as to how it would work and how it would be accounted for on the Fed’s balance sheet.

And now, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Loretta Mester, gave a speech on the modernization of the decades-old, slow, and cumbersome payment systems we have in the United States. The Fed has been working on this modernization since long before the Pandemic. And near the end of that speech, she said that the Fed was looking into ways in which it could make direct and instant payments to every American, even those that don’t have bank accounts.

So free money for all Americans. This is very different from the stimulus checks because the government had to borrow the money that it sent to consumers. The Fed would just create the money and send it to consumers. And this is getting pretty serious now.

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

What Does the Fed See Heading at Big Banks? Blocks Share-Buybacks, Slaps on Dividend Caps Due to “Economic Uncertainty” and “Cushion Against Loan Losses”

What Does the Fed See Heading at Big Banks? Blocks Share-Buybacks, Slaps on Dividend Caps Due to “Economic Uncertainty” and “Cushion Against Loan Losses”

My Big-Four Bank Index already got crushed back to 2004 level.

After the stock market closed today, the Federal Reserve announced that “in light of the economic uncertainty,” and to provide “a cushion against loan losses,” and to support lending, it would extend for another quarter, so through December 31, the blanket prohibition on share buybacks by large banks (banks with over $100 billion in assets). For the same reasons, it would also cap dividend payments tied to a formula based on recent income.

The Fed said that according to a stress test and additional analysis, whose results were released in June, “all large banks were sufficiently capitalized” to deal with the fallout from the Pandemic.

But it appears that the Fed now thinks the banks need to be even more sufficiently capitalized, so to speak, to deal with whatever may be coming at them. And the Fed will conduct another stress test later this year.

Many banks had voluntarily halted share buybacks in March as all heck was breaking loose. In June, following the release of the stress test results, the Fed imposed the buyback prohibition for the third quarter, now extended through the fourth quarter.

So, let’s put it this way: As far as the Fed is concerned, this crisis is not a blip, and banks need to be prepared for what’s coming at them. The large banks have already set aside billions of dollars each to deal with the fallout on their loan books. But apparently, the Fed thinks there’s more to come.

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

What’s to Be Done Now with All These Zombie Companies?

What’s to Be Done Now with All These Zombie Companies?

Saving the Zombies in Europe.

Europe’s zombie firms are multiplying like never before. In Germany, one of the few European economies that has weathered the virus crisis reasonably well, an estimated 550,000 firms — roughly one-sixth of the total — could already be classified as “zombies”, according to research by the credit agency Creditreform. It’s a similar story in Switzerland.

Zombie firms are over-leveraged, high-risk companies with a business model that is not remotely self-sustaining, since they need to constantly raise fresh money from new creditors to pay off existing creditors. According to the Bank for International Settlements’ definition, they are unable to cover debt servicing costs with their EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) over an extended period.

The number of zombie companies has been rising across Europe and the Anglosphere — due to of two main factors:

  • Central banks’ easy money forever policies, which brought interest rates down to such low levels that even firms with a reasonable chance of default have been able to continue issuing debt at serviceable rates. Many large zombie firms have also been bailed out, in some cases more than once. Spanish green energy giant Abengoa has been bailed out three times in five years.
  • The tendency of poorly capitalized banks to continually roll over or restructure bad loans. This is particularly prevalent in parts of the Eurozone where banks are especially weak, such as Italy.

A Bank of America report from July posits that the UK accounts for a staggering one third of all zombie companies in Europe. They represent 20% of all companies in the U.K, up four percentage points since March, according to a new paper by the conservative think tank Onward. In the two hardest-hit sectors — accommodation and food services, and arts, entertainment and recreation — the proportion of zombie firms has soared by 9 and 11 percentage points respectively, to 23% and 26%.

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

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…

“Prolonged Period of Risk to Institutional and Retail Investors of Further – Possibly Significant – Market Corrections”

“Prolonged Period of Risk to Institutional and Retail Investors of Further – Possibly Significant – Market Corrections”

European Market Regulator flags big issues, including the “decoupling of financial market performance and underlying economic activity.”

The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) warned of a “prolonged period of risk to institutional and retail investors of further – possibly significant – market corrections and very high risks” across its jurisdiction.

“Of particular concern” is the sustainability of the recent market rebound and the potential impact of another broad market sell-off on EU corporates and their credit quality, as well as on credit institutions.

The “decoupling of financial market performance and underlying economic activity” — the worst economic crisis in a lifetime — is raising serious questions about “the sustainability of the market rebound,” ESMA says in its Trends, Risks and Vulnerabilities Report of 2020.

Beyond the immediate risks posed by a second wave of infections, other external events, such as Brexit or trade tensions between the US and China, could further destabilize fragile market conditions in the near term.

From a long-term perspective, the crisis is likely to affect economic activity permanently, “owing to lasting unemployment or structural changes, which might have an impact on future earnings.” The increase in private and public sector debt could also give rise to solvency and sustainability issues.

In corporate bond markets, spreads have narrowed but they remain well above pre-crisis levels, owing to heightened credit risk and underlying vulnerabilities related to high corporate leverage. There was also a wide divergence across sectors and asset classes in April and May. Across non-financials, the automotive sector suffered the largest decline, followed by the energy sector.

…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.

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