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The Downgrade Massacre Has Started

The Downgrade Massacre Has Started

Just astounding. So many downgrades in just of a couple of days. And zero upgrades. Here’s who got hit.

I get “Moody’s Daily Alert” in my inbox, which lists Moody’s ratings actions for the day. The Alerts are usually a mix of a few upgrades and a few downgrades. Many times, there are no downgrades. Earlier this year, it became obvious without counting that the downgrades were starting to outnumber the upgrades by a large margin. But this week, the three Alerts were a torrent of 69 downgrades and zero upgrades. This is something I haven’t seen since I started subscribing to this service years ago. Some of the downgrades were by multiple notches in one fell swoop.

This ratio of zero upgrades to 69 downgrades by Moody’s this week is a hair-raising deterioration of the already downgrade-heavy ratings actions so far this year. Moody’s has now downgraded over 180 companies this year, 69 of which I got in my inbox just this week!

In addition, these Alerts contained a torrent of warnings about “ratings on review for further downgrade” or “negative outlook,” meaning downgrades, or additional downgrades are to come.

The analysts at Moody’s must be working overtime putting together their downgrade reports, and they’ve fallen behind, and it’s going to take them a while to catch up. Meanwhile, they issue warnings about what they’ve got in their downgrade pipeline.

For example, this week, Moody’s downgraded Ford’s senior credit rating one notch deeper into junk (to Ba2). Ford’s corporate family rating is already Ba2. Moody’s warned that it placed the ratings under review for further downgrade. Moody’s said the ratings “reflect what is an already-stressed credit profile and a very long-term restructuring program. The company is now additionally burdened by the prospect of a severe and prolonged decline in automotive markets precipitated by the coronavirus.”

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

The Great American Shale-Oil Bust Turns into Massacre

The Great American Shale-Oil Bust Turns into Massacre

Shares of shale oil drillers collapsed by 25%-50% today. Their bonds got massacred. Saudi-Russia price-war strategy appears successful in wiping out investors in the US shale-oil sector.

It was so chaotic and brutal in the crude oil market today that the EIA, which is part of the US Department of Energy, emailed out a statement that it would have to delay its monthly Energy Outlook to figure in all the chaos: “We have delayed the release of the Short-Term Energy Outlook to allow time to incorporate recent global oil market events. The outlook will now be released Wednesday, March 11, at 9:00 a.m.”

Shares of Occidental Petroleum, which is heavily involved in US shale oil and gas, collapsed by 53% today to $12.51. They’re down 85% since October 2018, when phase two of the Great American Oil Bust set in, with phase one having commenced in July 2014:

Oxy’s bonds – those that even traded – collapsed today. For example, this $750 million 30-year senior unsecured bond, with a coupon interest of 4.1%, closed on Friday at 92.5 cents on the dollar. Like many bonds, they don’t trade much, but are stuck in bond funds or held by institutional investors, and it’s hard to sell them because there are not many buyers.

Today, there are only two trades listed on FINRA-Morningstar, but they were big trades, with institutional investors unloading them for whatever they could get. So the price today collapsed by 34% from the close on Friday, and by 39% over the past three trading days, to 61 cents on the dollar:

Shares of Chesapeake Energy, a former shale oil-and-gas giant, particularly focused on natural gas, plunged 28% today, from nearly nothing to almost nothing, closing at $0.16. The company has been dilly-dallying around near the bankruptcy-filing counter for years, without having filed yet, as investors continued to feed it fresh cash and agreed to haircuts and restructure its debts. But that fresh-cash option appears to be off the table.

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

Median CPI Runs Hot, Fed Averts Eyes

Median CPI Runs Hot, Fed Averts Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the Corporate-Debt Bubble Ripe Yet?

Is the Corporate-Debt Bubble Ripe Yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inflation Is Coming: All the Trends That Were Deflationary Are Slowly Going in Reverse

Inflation Is Coming: All the Trends That Were Deflationary Are Slowly Going in Reverse

But of all potential economic outcomes, the one least anticipated and least priced in, is an uptick in inflation.

Investing is all about probabilities. If the perceived odds of an event are high, certain securities will be priced based on those expected probabilities. The corollary is that when an event is perceived as almost impossible, securities do not price in any chance of it occurring. If that event does occur, all sorts of securities need to re-price—often quite rapidly. I like to spend my time pondering what potential events the market completely ignores. Of all potential economic outcomes, the one that is least anticipated and least priced in, is an uptick in inflation.

It is said that generals always fight the last war. In terms of macro-portfolio wars, Japan’s experience with deflation colors all views. This seems odd to me because we have over two millennia of history showing inflation and currency debasements to be universal constants, with one outlier in Japan. The question is if Japan is the new normal or a true outlier?

Academics have studied the causes and effects of inflation ever since emperors and kings fixated on halting its effects. Despite a massive body of work, there is little agreement amongst experts on the causes of inflation. Since I tend to ignore “experts,” let me start by giving you the Kuppy definition of inflation. “Inflation is when too much of a certain currency chases a scarce resource and pushes its price higher when defined in terms of that currency.”

Using that definition, we’ve actually had rather dramatic inflation over the past decade—it just hasn’t shown up yet in the core consumer goods that central bankers are often concerned about.

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

What’s Behind the Subprime Consumer Loan Implosion?

What’s Behind the Subprime Consumer Loan Implosion?

These are the good times, but why are subprime credit cards, auto loans, and short-term installment loans blowing out?

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

OK, we’ve got a situation in subprime consumer loans. The delinquency rate on credit-card loan balances at the nearly 5,000 smaller commercial banks in the United States – this means all banks except the largest 100 – is blowing out, according to Federal Reserve data. In the third quarter, the delinquency rate at these banks rose to 6.25%. That’s higher even than during the peak of the Financial Crisis.

Back in 2016, the credit-card delinquency rate at these banks was in the 3% range. It has more than doubled in two years.

Credit card balances are considered delinquent when they’re 30 days or more past due. This delinquency rate means that out of the banks total credit card balances, 6.25% are 30 days or more past due. This is a disturbingly large rate.

But delinquencies are a flow. Balances are removed from the delinquency basket either when the customer cures the delinquency, such as catching up with past-due payments, or when the bank “charges off” the delinquent balance against its loan loss reserves. But as these delinquent balances were taken out of the delinquency basket, even more new delinquencies fell into the basket, and the delinquency rate rose.

Subprime auto loans have also been blowing out.  In the third quarter, the serious delinquency rate of the $1.3 trillion in auto loans has risen to 4.71%, the highest since the worst months of the Financial Crisis, when the auto industry collapsed, and when the US was facing the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. In the third quarter, about 21% of all subprime auto loans were seriously delinquent – meaning 90 days past due.

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

Fear of “Reversal Rates” Sets in, Says the Fed

Fear of “Reversal Rates” Sets in, Says the Fed

The fear that today’s negative or low interest rates render central banks helpless in face of the next economic crisis.

There is now a new theory cropping up in Fed-speak and more generally in central-bank speak. It’s not actually a new theory. I have been saying the same thing for years. In fact, it’s not even a theory, but reality. But it’s newly cropping up in reports from the Fed and the ECB. It’s the concept of what is now called “reversal rates.”

It’s an official admission that “reversal rates” exist. The term crops up alongside the fear that countries with negative interest rates are at, or are already beyond, those “reversal rates.”

The idea of interest rate repression is to induce businesses to borrow and invest, and to induce consumers to borrow and spend, and the hope is that all this will crank up the overall economy as measured by GDP.

“Reversal rates” is the term for a situation where interest rates are so low that they’re doing more harm than good to the overall economy, and that lowering rates further will screw up the economy rather than boost it.

Central bank monetary policy, such as cutting interest rates and doing QE, takes wealth and income from one group of people and delivers it to another group of people. This is how monetary policy works. It’s not a secret. In central-bank speak, it’s called the “distributive effects of monetary policy.” The idea is that for the overall economy, this income and wealth transfer from these people over here to those people over there translates into more overall economic activity that adds to GDP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repos

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

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

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

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

What Heavy Trucks Are Saying

What Heavy Trucks Are Saying

“I do believe that in North America it is a cyclical downturn”: Cummins COO.

Orders for heavy trucks, after the historic boom in 2018, plunged this year, but they may have finally bottomed out. In October 2019, truck makers in the US received about 22,072 orders for Class-8 trucks, according to preliminary estimates by FTR Transportation Intelligence. While up by about 10,000 orders from the dismal levels in September, and the highest number so far this year, orders were still down 51% from October last year ago, “signifying a subdued beginning to the traditional start of the ordering season,” FTR said:

“The order level was boosted by a couple of big fleets placing large orders into 2020, but otherwise smaller orders were placed for the first quarter build,” FTR said in a statement. “Cancellations are expected to remain elevated as OEM’s shake out excess 2019 orders from the backlog.”

These OEMs are Freightliner, the largest truck maker in the US, and Western Star, both divisions of Daimler; Peterbilt and Kenworth, divisions of Paccar [PCAR]; Navistar International [NAV]; and Mack Trucks and Volvo Trucks, divisions of Volvo Group.

The historic boom of Class-8 truck orders that started in late 2017 and roared through most of 2018 was a result of a series of events triggered by all kinds of companies trying to front-run potential tariffs. Companies ordered excessively to dodge the tariffs, and they filled their warehouses, and it triggered a shipment boom. To meet this demand, trucking companies responded by ordering a historic number of trucks.

But this boom began to unwind in late 2018, and then turned into a collapse of orders that lasted through September 2019 when it appeared to have hit bottom. October looked better. But October 2016 looked better too, only to be followed by a very tough year. Orders in October 2019 were the lowest for any October since 2016:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Crisis in Catalonia & What I Saw in Our Neighborhood in Barcelona

The Crisis in Catalonia & What I Saw in Our Neighborhood in Barcelona

As separatist region is rocked by violence, businesses sound alarm.

Two of Catalonia’s biggest business associations, Foment de Treball and Pimec, have called for calm and dialogue after ten days of non-stop political and civil unrest in the separatist region of Spain. At a gathering of almost 450 Catalan business people and executives on Wednesday, the two associations called for a political solution to what they described as “the grave conflict we are living through in Catalonia,” a region that is riven down the middle by the question of independence.

A key passage in the event’s joint manifesto hinted at why the crisis shows no sign of abating: “It is the responsibility of politicians, and not the justice system,” to find an “effective and decisive” solution to this conflict. Unfortunately, political dialogue and negotiation have been sorely lacking in relations between Barcelona and Madrid for a number of years. And there’s little sign of that changing. 

As general elections approach, Spain’s main political parties, with the notable exception of the left-wing Podemos, are hardening their stance toward the Catalan separatists. For its part, the separatist government in Barcelona is doubling down on its calls for independence. If the elections on November 10 deliver enough votes for the triumvirate of Spain’s right-wing parties (the People’s Party, Cuidadanos and the far-right Vox, whose support appears to be growing) to form a coalition, they will crack down even harder on Catalan nationalism, which is likely to fuel even stronger pro-independence sentiment in the region.

A little more than two years have passed since more than two million people in Catalonia voted in a banned referendum to leave Spain. On that day, the separatists were given a harsh lesson in the raw power of state violence.

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

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).

Olduvai IV: Courage
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