Global Financial Crisis

Does the data show Donald in the dumpster?

Midterm

This is a simple schematic of first term presidents and the results at the ballot box of their first mid term. Since 1910, the incumbent parties have invariably lost ground. More interestingly, Democrats had control of either/both House of Reps and Senate during Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush Sr – all Republicans. Republican Presidents Taft, Harding, Hoover, Eisenhower and Trump lost the House at the midterms. Truman, Clinton and Obama suffered the same fate for the Democrats.

Trump achieved the highest number of Senate seats taken by a first term Republican president for over 100 years. George W Bush achieved rising numbers for HoR/Senate  post 9/11 but only Democrats have achieved the feat – Woodrow Wilson, FDR and JFK. Perhaps the irrelevance of the outcomes in the mid-terms is that despite the floggings Wilson, Truman, Ike, Reagan, Clinton, Bush Jr and Obama all were comfortably reelected for a second term.

Given the headwinds Trump was facing from the mainstream media, his unorthodox outbursts, twitter tirades and so forth, the electorate didn’t grant the Democrats a huge gift  they were expecting. Even worse they gave Trump a bigger authority to appoint SC justices should an opportunity arise by bumping his numbers in the Senate. Not surprising given the shocking gutter level political theatre over Justice Kavanaugh, vindicated by  victims confessing they had lied.

The Democrats should still be concerned that the $70mn spent on Beto O’Rourke came to nothing.  Beyonce also endorsed Beto. Oprah endorsed Abrams in Georgia – who is likely to lose. Taylor Swift endorsed Bredesen – who also lost. All four candidates openly supported by Obama lost. So much for celebrity power swaying electorates. It probably had a counter effect.

Even worse, in Nevada a brothel owner and reality TV star won his race despite dying last month. It is hard to work out what is the bigger tragedy. Voting for someone dead or being the competing Democrat to lose to a dead person. A Republican is to be appointed to the seat by county officials.

We shouldn’t forget that the Republicans had the highest number of sitting member retirements at a first midterm in the House of Representatives for 88 years. 25 seats had a new face. Republicans won re-election as governors in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Maryland – three of them deep blue states. Where was the mainstream media on that?

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Turnout was good (for a mid term). 48.1% voted in 2018. In the last 100 years the average has been 41%. Only in 1966, did the first midterm of LBJ exceed this level at 48.7%. So much for either party causing a red or blue wave. Less than half of eligible voters showed up on November 6th 2018. More cared, but not enough.

Felons make for an interesting outlier subset. While it is hard to know their exact voting intentions, for the Gubernatorial in Georgia, would 219,431 felons have made a difference for Abrams? She trails Kemp by just under 100,000 votes. So if 55% of felons (the Georgia midterm turnout ratio) voted, 120,687 votes were up for grabs. Were it legal for Georgian state felons to vote, she would have been wise to campaign there.

Felons

Now that the Democrats have the lower house, one wonders why they have put Nancy Pelosi in charge of the House? This is possibly to be contested. Up to fifty Democrat congressmen might oppose her for Speaker. Trump couldn’t wish for a better adversary as her litany of gaffes will undoubtedly embarrass her party. Pelosi represents pretty much everything Americans have come to despise about the Democrats.

More worryingly, Maxine Waters is being put in charge of the Financial Services Committee. At a point in the cycle where financial acumen is probably most required, this is an embarrassment, made worse by her open calls for payback.

The Democrats need fresh faces. Ones that will look for bipartisan support. If the Democrats embark upon a cocktail of revenge politics and look to push for investigation after investigation in order to impeach Trump but end up with nothing they will be seen for what they are – a party completely self-absorbed with petty vendettas. The toxic Senate debacle should have given them warning enough that voters won’t tolerate more political roadkill like that going forward.  Yet Pelosi will likely use her subpoena powers to drag everything through the gutter instead of working to improve things for Americans. Failure here will only lead the electorate to conclude they wasted two years and gift wrap 2020 for Trump.

This mid-term election was anything but a slam dunk. Put aside personal hatred of Trump, look at the data and see that Americans did not write him off as many pundits predicted. It should be more scary to realise that he is probably more Teflon-Don than he was in 2016. Second biggest mid-term turnout in history, highest net gain of seats in the Senate in 100 years for a first term GOP president, record dollars thrown at Democrat candidates backed by Trump-hating billionaires. At the end of the day folks, this is just the data talking.

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Is BMW hurting bad enough to offer 10yrs free servicing?

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10 years? Sounds a bit desperate. A bit like the Korean makes a few decades back using monster incentives to lure customers by a value to good to refuse proposition. Have luxury car sales become so hard to get in Australia that the prestige make has to offer 10 years of free servicing and 1yr free insurance?

BMW sales in Australia fell 12.2% year on year in August 2018. Audi crumbled 25.8%. Benz did better at -3.4%. Land Rover fell 32%, Lexus down 11.7%. Porsche crumpled 25.4%.

It is likely the fine print in the 10 years free servicing basic package isn’t transferable between owners so if most buyers hold their BMWs for 5 years the total incentive is much less to roll out. If the fine print allows transfers it only adds to the desperate state of having to hurl freebies to shift metal. Dealers tend to make less on the sale of the car but plenty on gouging customers for service and spares.

Seems the tyres are going flat. Total car sales in Australia were down 1.5% in August. Passenger car sales fell 13.4% while those eco conscious Aussies bought 8.3% more SUVs. Medium and large sedan segments fell 24.1% and 60.3% respectively. Every SUV segment rose except upper large. Toyota finished up 1.7% for the month with 19.8% share.

Does Trump have a right to brag about unemployment?

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The Trump vs Obama camps are lighting up over who was responsible for the drop unemployment rates. Looking at the long term decline one could argue that Obama was a key part of the decline and the incremental drops in the rate are Trumps. Here are the raw figures.

In Jan 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Obama had 115.818m people full time employed. In December of 2012 that number was 115.791m. (-270,000). There were 8.046m and 7.943m part time jobs over the same period. Minus 103,000. At the end of his 8 years, there were 124.3m FT jobs and 5.554m PT jobs. All told his FT workforce went up 8.48mn and PT fell 2.492m. So gross employment increased 5.98m.

Trump started at 124.3mn FT and as of May 2018 there are 128.657m FT jobs and 4.948m PT jobs. So he’s increased FT 4.347m and cost PT 606k. Net increase of 3.741mn jobs. So even if you ran the narrative that Obama’s second term was enough to put the “Great Recession to bed”, Trump has achieved 63% of Obama’s employment legacy in only 30% of his first term as president.

The number of people working two or more jobs surged to over 8mn (a record) under BHO as did food stamps (doubled to c.48m before coming down to 43m by his term end). SNAP stands at 40m now. 3mn fewer.

30 million people claim disability and welfare in the US. The Social Security Administration (SSA) highlighted that back pain and musculoskeletal problems are 33.8% of claims for disabled workers, followed by mental illness at 19.2% in 2013. This compares to 8.3% and 9.6% respectively in 1961. Half of claims in the 1960s came from heart attack/stroke and ‘other’ categories which made up only 17% of the 2013 figure.

Yet the truth is that if Americans wanted more of Obama’s successful policies, Hillary was Obama 2.0. No change in policies. Sensible to keep if they wanted the status quo. Ironic that 19 out of 25 states that voted for Trump had poverty levels exceeding the national average. Which means that had the “marry the state” policies of the Obama admin resonated with the poor it would have been a coronation for Hillary. This is a perfect example as to why a hollowed out middle America want to live the American dream rather than queue up for more welfare. God Bless America?

 

Wizard of Lies

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Another film that shoots the lights out. HBO casts DeNiro as Bernie Madoff who plays the role brilliantly. It is a tragic tale. Not just to those that lost $65bn (although one would think if those that made $100s of millions one might expect they’d be a bit better at risk management) to a fraudster but more importantly the suicide of his eldest son and the death from cancer of his younger son before he passed. While one doesn’t feel any sympathy for Madoff it is a well portrayed rendition of how he created his Ponzi scheme and duped the regulators for so long. Madoff turns 80 on April 29.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing trends in the US surging

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The Chapter 11 bankruptcy trends in the US have been picking up in the last 4 years. While well off the highs of the months and years of the GFC and years following it, the absolute numbers of filings has exceeded the levels leading up to the crisis in 2007/8.

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Here we put 2006/7/8 alongside 2016/17/18. The average monthly bankruptcy filings were around 355 in 2006 moving to 429 in 2007 and then 718 in 2008. If we looked at the data in the 12 months prior to the quarter leading into Lehman’s collapse, bankruptcies averaged 463/month. The ultimate carnage peaked out at 1,049 in 2009 (1,377 in Apr 2009). For 2016, 2017 and 2018 (annualized) we get 454, 480 and 521 respectively.

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Bankruptcy filings tend to be seasonal and often show peaks in April when tax season coincides with businesses.

However the %-age spike in bankruptcies in 2008 ahead of Lehman’s downfall was 46%. In the latest recorded month from the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI) was 81%. This March 2018 spike is the second highest since the GFC hit. April figures will be interesting if we get another lift on that figure. Not even seasonality can explain away the differences. The trends seem clear.

Thinking logically, we are at the end of the generous credit cycle. Interest rates are heading north thanks to a less accommodating Fed. Naturally ‘weaker’ companies will have more trouble in refinancing under such environments. The lowering of corporate taxes would seem to be a boon, but with loss making businesses it becomes harder to exercise tax loss carry forwards.

We’ve already started to see GFC levels of credit card delinquency at the sub-prime end of town. Sub-prime auto loan makers seeking bankruptcy protection have surged too.

Fitch, which rates auto-loan ABS said the 60+ day delinquency rate of subprime auto loans has now risen to 5.8%, up from 5.2% a year ago, and up from 3.8% in February 2014 to the highest rate since Oct 1996, exceeding even GFC levels.

growing number of car loans in the US are being pushed further down the repayment line as much as 84 months. In the new car market the percentage of 73-84-month loans is 33.8%, triple the level of 2009. Even 10% of 2010 model year bangers are being bought on 84 month term loans. The US ended 2016 with c.$1.2 trillion in outstanding auto loan debt, up 9%YoY and 13% above the pre-crisis peak in 2005.

The irony here is that sub-prime auto loan makers expanded lending because new technology allowed these companies to to remotely shut down and repossess vehicles of owners who were late on payments. That game only lasts so long before it forms its own Ponzi scheme.

Throw skittish financial markets, geopolitical instability and the mother of all refinancings coming the US Treasury’s way it is not to hard to see bankruptcies pick up from here.

Waking up to a horror of our own creation

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Some will say I am a pessimist. I’d prefer to be called an optimist with experience. At only age 16 (in 1987) I realized the destructive power financial markets had on the family home. Those memories were etched permanently. We weren’t homeless or singing for our supper but things sure weren’t like they use to be. It taught me much about risk and thinking all points of view rather than blindly following the crowd. That just because you were told something by authority it didn’t mean it was necessarily true. It was to critically assess everthing without question.

In 1999, as an industrials analyst in Europe during the raging tech bubble, we were as popular as a kick in the teeth. We were ignored for being old economy. That our stocks deserved to trade at deep discounts to the ‘new economy’ tech companies, no thanks to our relatively poor asset turnover and tepid growth rates. The truest sign of the impending collapse of the tech bubble actually came from sell-side tech analysts quitting their grossly overpaid investment bank salaries for optically eye-watering stock options at the very tech corporations they rated. So engrossed in the untold riches that awaited them they abandoned their judgement and ended up holding worthless scrip. Just like the people who bought a house at the peak of the bubble telling others at a dinner party how they got in ‘early’ and the boom was ahead of them, not behind.

It was so blindingly obvious that the tech bubble would collapse. Every five seconds a 21 year old with a computer had somehow found some internet miracle for a service we never knew we needed. The IPO gravy train was insane. One of my biggest clients said that he was seeing 5 new IPO opportunities every single day for months on end. Mobile phone retailers like Hikari Tsushin in Japan were trading at such ridiculous valuations that the CEO at the time lost himself in the euphoria and printed gold coin chocolates with ‘Target market cap: Y100 trillion.’ The train wreck was inevitable. Greed was a forgone conclusion.

So the tech bubble collapsed under the weight of reality which started the most reckless central bank policy prescriptions ever. Supposedly learning from the mistakes of the post bubble collapse in Japan, then Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan turned on the free money spigots. Instead of allowing the free market to adjust and cauterize the systemic imbalances, he threw caution to the wind and poured gasoline on a raging fire. Programs like ‘Keep America Rolling’ which tried to reboot the auto industry meant cheaper and longer lease loans kept sucking consumption forward. That has been the problem. We’ve been living at the expense of the future for nigh on two decades.

Back in 2001, many laughed me out of court for arguing Greenspan would go down in history as one of the most hated central bankers. At the time prevailing sentiment indeed made me look completely stupid. How could I, a stockbroker, know more than Alan Greenspan? It was not a matter of relative educations between me and the Fed Chairman, rather seeing clearly he was playing god with financial markets.  The Congressional Banking Committee hung off his every word like giddy teenagers with a crush on a pop idol. Ron Paul once set on Greenspan during one of the testimonies only to have the rest of the committee turn on him for embarrassing the newly knighted ‘Maestro.’ It was nauseating to watch. Times seemed too good so how dare Paul question a central bank chief who openly said, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

We all remember the horrors of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in September 2008. The nuclear implosions in credit markets had already begun well before this as mortgage defaults screamed. The 7 years of binge investment since the tech bubble collapse meant we never cleansed the wounds. We would undoubtedly be in far better shape had we taken the pain. Yet confusing products like CDOs and CDSs wound their way into the investment portfolios of local country towns in Australia. The punch bowl had duped even local hicks to think they were with the times as any other savvy investor. To turn that on its head, such was the snow job that people who had no business being involved in such investment products were dealing in it.

So Wall St was bailed out by Main St. Yet instead of learning the lessons of the tech bubble collapse and GFC our authorities doubled down on the madness that led to these problems in the first place. Central banks launched QE programs to buy toxic garbage and lower interest rates to get us dragging forward even more consumption. The printing presses were on full speed. Yet what have we bought?

Now we have exchange traded funds (ETFs). Super simple to understand products. While one needed a Field’s Medal in Mathematics to understand the calculations of a CDO or CDS, the ETF is child’s play. Sadly that will only create complacency. We have not really had a chance to see how robots trade in a proper downturn. ETFs follow markets, not lead them. So if the market sells off, the ETF is rapidly trying to keep up. Studies done on ETFs (especially leveraged products) in bear markets shows how they amplify market reactions not mitigate them. So expect to see robots add to the calamity.

Since GFC we’ve had the worst post recession recovery in history. We have asset bubbles in bonds, stocks and property. The Obama Administration doubled the debt pile of the previous 43 presidents in 8 years. Much of it was raised on a short term basis. This year alone, $1.5 trillion must be refinanced.  A total of $8.4 trillion must be refinanced inside the next 4 years. That excludes the funding required for current budget deficits which are growing despite a ‘growing economy’. That excludes the corporate refinancing schedule. Many companies went out of their way to laden the balance sheet in cheap debt. In the process the average corporate credit rating is at its worst levels in a decade. Which means in a market where credit markets are starting to price risk accordingly we also face a Fed openly saying it is tapering its balance sheet and the Chinese and Japanese looking to cut back on US Treasury purchases. Bond spreads like Libor-OIS are already reflecting that pain.

Then there is the tapped out consumer. Unemployment maybe at record lows, yet real wage growth does not appear to be keeping up. The number of people holding down more than one job continues to rebound. The quality of employment is terrible. Poverty continues to remain stubbornly high. There are still three times as many people on food stamps in the US than a decade ago – 41 million people. Public pension unfunded liabilities total $9 trillion. Credit card delinquencies at the sub prime end of town are  back at pre-crisis levels. We could go on and on. Things are terrible out there. Should we be in the least bit surprised that Trump won? Such is the plight of the silent majority, still delinquent after a decade. No wonder Roseanne appeals to so many.

A funny comment was sent by a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, lambasting Trump on his trade policies. He criticized the fact that America had sold its soul for offshoring for decades. Indeed it had but queried that maybe he should be praising Trump for trying to reverse that tide, despite being so late to the party. Where were the other administrations trying to defend America all this time? Stunned silence.

Yet the trends are ominous. If we go back to the tech bubble IPO-a-thon example. We now have crowd funding and crypto currencies. To date we had 190 odd currencies to trade. Of that maybe a handful were liquid – $US, GBP, JPY, $A, Euro etc – yet we are presented with 1,000s of crypto currency choices. Apart from the numerous breaches, blow ups and cyber thefts to date, more and more of these ‘coins’ are awaiting the next fool to gamble away more in the hope of making a quick buck. Cryptos are backed by nothing other than greed. Yet it sort of proves that more believe that they are falling behind enough such they’re prepared to gamble on the biggest lottery in town. One crypto used Wikipedia as a source for its prospectus.

Yet the media remains engrossed on trying to prove whether the president had sex with a porn star a decade ago, genderless bathrooms, bashing the NRA, pushing for laws to curtail free speech, promoting climate change and covering up crime rather than look at reporting on what truly matters – the biggest financial collapse facing us in 90 years.

There is no ‘told you so’ in any of this. The same feelings in the bones of some 30 years ago are back as they were at the time of Greenspan and Lehman. This time can’t be avoided. We have borrowed too much, saved too little and all the while blissfully ignored the warning signs. The faith and confidence in authorities is evaporating. The failed experiment started by Greenspan is coming home to roost. This will be far worse than 1929. Take that to the bank, if it is still in operation because you won’t be concerned about the return on your money but the return of it!

Worst Q2 start for S&P 500 since 1929

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ZeroHedge reported today that the S&P had its worst percentage 2nd quarter start since 1929 overnight. Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke below the 200 day moving average before an at the death rally to close above. Plunge Protection Team (PPT)? The broader S&P 500 failed to hold the 200 dma. All feels ominous. Awaiting the dead cat bounce. Short dated out of the money index put options continue to look ridiculously cheap relative to other asset classes. Gold also having a good day. Bitcoin showing its true value sliding below $7.000. Best to remember in a bear market the winner is the one who loses the least.