recession

Jan 2008 again?

3mthTB

Back to Jan 2008 10yr Treasury – 3mth Treasury Bill spread levels of 0.84% overnight. Shaded areas are previous recessions. I’m sure it is nothing. The friend who sent me the link also sent a Barron’s article last week which interviewed Kiss legend Gene Simmons who believes the Dow is poised for 30,000. He may well be proved right, although I wonder just whether algo trading is linked to Twitter followers. Maybe if Katy Perry starts jawboning about Dow 40,000 we should shut up and buy the trend. More useful than some Goldman Sachs nerd with a PhD in nuclear fission to read the runes…

10-3mthTB

Harley-Davidson sales tank in Q1 2018

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Harley-Davidson announced Q1 figures which saw its US based unit sales (c 50% of group) fall 12% with global sales down 7.2% YoY. H-D is often regarded as a canary in the coal mine for discretionary spending. 30 day delinquencies continue to rise in Q1 2018 @ 3.31% the highest in 6 years. Harley wrote,

The U.S. 601+cc industry was down 11.1 percent in the first quarter compared to 2017. Harley-Davidson’s first quarter market share was 50.4 percent in the U.S. The 601+cc industry in Europe was down 7.3 percent in the first quarter compared to 2017.  Harley-Davidson’s first quarter market share was up 1.3 percentage points to 10.4 percent in Europe.”

Highlights:

Revenue up 2.7% despite 9.7% lower shipments

Gross margin 34.7%, down 1.0 pt.

SG&A up

Restructuring charge of $46.8 million

Operating margin of 12.7%, down 5.1 pts.

Harley reported 243,000 units in 2017 (-6.7% on 2016) and it is shooting for mid 230,000s for 2018. This despite some stunning new models. The problem with a divine franchise is that complacency kills. The competition is much fiercer and the prices of its bikes are for the better heeled who seem to be cooling them

 

Manhattan property in a gully

Manhattan property seems to be in a gully according to Elliman R/E in Q1 2018. While a slightly better QoQ performance, average prices fell 8.4%YoY, price per square foot fell 18.5%YoY and the number of sales transactions fell 24.6%YoY. This was the lowest quarter total in 5 years and the biggest annual decline in 9 years. Absorption rates hit 8.4 months in Q1, +38%YoY. New federal tax laws, higher interest rates and the end of legacy pipeline contracts were factors. At the luxury end of town average price per sqft fell 20.6%YoY with absorption up 50%YoY to over 20 months. As the real estate agent and stripper said in The Big Short, “it is just a gully we are experiencing right now.

Some interesting reading

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John Mauldin has put together a few interesting pieces over the weekend. Some of the select quotes from Thoughts from the frontline:

Money Velocity (which CM wrote about in 2016):

velocity of money, which is continuing to fall, as it has for almost 20 years…So it is somewhat disturbing to see velocity now at its lowest point since 1949, and at levels associated with the Great Depression.”

Income Disparity:

Note that it is the 95th percentile of workers that has received the bulk of the increase in wages. The bottom 50% is either down or basically flat since 1979. Even the 70th percentile didn’t do all that well.

Budget Deficits:

Over the last half-century, higher deficits have been associated with recessions. After recessions end, the deficit shrinks, and occasionally we get a surplus. That’s not happening this time. Deficits are growing even without a recession…but in the next recession tax revenues will fall, and spending will increase enough to not only swell the annual deficit but also to add north of $2 trillion to the national debt each year. We’re using up our breathing room, and that will be a problem – sooner or later.

Monetary Policy:

Ominously, you can see from Grant’s labels (In the above chart) with arrows that peak yields tended to correspond with crises. If the current breakout persists, it is probably going to get its own label, and I bet we won’t like it.

Nothing to see here?

 

Virtue signaling fails again at the ballot box

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No matter how dreadful the Liberals under Turnbull are at a federal level, South Australians realized that the 16 years of Labor in SA led them to the slowest growth, highest unemployment and most expensive electricity prices in the nation thanks to the loony renewables policy of the Weatherill government.  He ran a platform to double down on the failed policy that led to multiple state wide black outs. Common sense prevailed and he was rightly booted.

No amount of blowing up coal fired power stations or smug smiles while shaking hands with Elon Musk to make out as if wasting $560mn more of taxpayers money was intentional, could sway the hearts of the electorate.

The Libs gained a majority on its own right with 25 seats. Labor set to lose 5 seats to 18. The Greens lost more ground in SA, slipping over 2% to 6.6%. No seats. At the sharp edge of the wedge, a growing number of constituents don’t need the virtue signaling. They want sustainable jobs, sensible stewardship of their tax dollars and reliable, affordable electricity.

Whether the Libs can actually deliver is another question but Premier Weatherill’s flagrant failure came home to roost. However Turnbull mustn’t take these state victories as an endorsement for the coalition at the federal level. He’s still badly burnt toast.

$8.4 trillion of the $21 trillion in US debt matures in 4 years. What could possibly go wrong?

E0F20948-4A5A-48F1-B8AF-06FA92EBAC7AWith a US Fed openly stating it is looking to prune its bloated balance sheet by around $2 trillion, it seems that $8.4 trillion of that debt held by the public matures within the next 4 years according to the US Treasury. To that end, debt maturing in the next 10 years totals $12.233 trillion. It needs to be ‘rolled over’. The national debt pile has jumped $1 trillion in the last 6 months. After the GFC and an overly accommodative central bank, the Treasury took advantage of this free money. Under President Obama, the debt doubled. That’s right, debt in his 8 years equaled that of the previous 43 administrations combined. Most of it was short term meaning the mop up operation starts earlier.

While there is little doubt this $8.4 trillion will be recycled, the question is at what price. With rising rates and a Fed back-pedaling one would expect the interest bill can only lift. At the moment the US federal government pays around $457 billion p.a. in interest alone. Average interest rates rose for the first time since 2006. Were average rates to climb back to 2007 levels then the interest bill alone would surpass $1 trillion.

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This global aversion to tightening belts continues. Many US corporations have taken the same approach to their balance sheets as the government as pointed out in the previous example on GE. Lever up and be damned with the credit rating as the spreads have been almost irrelevant to higher rated paper. It has been a financially credible decision to lower WACC and increase ROE provided one didn’t lose control and overdose on free money. However the relatively short duration on corporate debt is facing a similar refinancing cliff as the US government.

All this cumulative debt needing refinancing while credit ratings are on average the worst they’ve ever been in a rising interest rate environment coupled with a bubble in bonds while a growing number of these levered consumer and industrial stocks have negative equity. What could possibly go wrong?

Do we see the Fed reverse its decision and embark on more QE? Indeed to do such a thing would tank the dollar and send the yen back towards the 70s to the US$. Interesting times ahead. Throw on the $7 trillion shortfall in state public pension liabilities and watch the fire from the other side of the river. Finally some university think tank has come out saying that wiping out the $1.5 trillion in student debt would be ‘stimulatory’ to the economy adding 1.5 million jobs. What a world we live in when we get to walk away from responsibility and accountability.

Truly sickening US Public Pensions data

1 MKT PER HH DEBT 2016

Following on from the earlier post and our 2016 report on the black hole in US state public pension unfunded liabilities, we have updated the figures to 2016. It is hard to know where to start without chills. The current state of US public pension funds represents the love child of Kathy Bates in Misery and Freddie Krueger. Actuarial accounting allows for pension funds to appear far prettier than they are in reality. For instance the actuarial deficit in public pension funds is a ‘mere’ $1.47 trillion. However using realistic returns data (marking-to-market(M-2-M)) that explodes to $6.74 trillion, 4.6-fold higher.  This is a traffic accident waiting to happen. US Pension Tracker illustrates the changes in the charts presented.

Before we get stuck in, we note that the gross pension deficits do not arrive at once. Naturally it is a balance of contributions from existing employees and achieving long term growth rates that can fund retirees while sustaining future obligations. CM notes that the problems could well get worse with such huge unfunded liabilities coinciding with bubbles in most asset classes. Unlike private sector pension funds, the states have an unwritten obligation to step up and fill the gap. However as we will soon see, M-2-M unfunded liabilities outstrip state government expenditures by huge amounts.

From a layman’s perspective, either taxes go up, public services get culled or pensioners are asked politely to take a substantial haircut to their retirement. Apart from the drastic changes that would be required in lifestyles, the economic slowdown that would ensue would have knock on effects with state revenue collection further exacerbating a terrible situation.

CM will use California as the benchmark. Our studies compare 2016 with 2008.

The chart above shows the M-2-M 2016 unfunded liability per household. In California’s case, the 2016 figure is $122,121. In 2008 this figure was only $36,159. In 8 years the gap has ballooned 3.38x. Every single state in America with the exception of Arizona has seen a deterioration.

The following chart shows the growth rate in M-2-M pension liabilities to total state expenditure. In California’s case that equates to 3.2x in those 8 years.

1 MKT PER HH DEBT EXP GROWTH

Sadly it gets worse when we look at the impact on current total state expenditures these deficits comprise. For California the gap is c.6x what the state spends on constituents.

1 MKT PER HH DEBT TAX EXP 2016

Then taking it further,  in the last 8 years California has seen a 2.62-fold jump in the gap between liabilities and state total expenditures.

1 MKT PER HH DEBT TAX EXP 2016 VS 2008

This is a ticking time bomb. Moreover it is only the pensions for the public sector. We have already seen raids on particular state pension funds with some looking to retire early merely to cash out before there is nothing left. Take this example in Illinois.

Sadly the Illinois Police Pension is rapidly approaching the point of being unable to service its pension members and a taxpayer bailout looks unlikely given the State of Illinois’ mulling bankruptcy. Local Government Information Services (LGIS) writes, At the end of 2020, LGIS estimates that the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago will have less than $150 million in assets to pay $928 million promised to 14,133 retirees the following yearFund assets will fall from $3.2 billion at the end of 2015 to $1.4 billion at the end of 2018, $751 million at the end of 2019, and $143 million at the end of 2020, according to LGIS…LGIS analyzed 12 years of the fund’s mandated financial filings with the Illinois Department of Insurance (DOI), which regulates public pension funds. It found that– without taxpayer subsidies and the ability to use active employee contributions to pay current retirees, a practice that is illegal in the private sector– the fund would have already run completely dry, in 2015…The Chicago police pension fund held $3.2 billion in assets in 2003. It shelled out $3.8 billion more in benefits to retired police officers than it generated in investment returns between 2003 and 2015…Over that span, the fund paid out $6.9 billion and earned $3.0 billion, paying an additional $134 million in fees to investment managers.”

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To highlight the pressure such states/cities could face, this is a frightening example of how the tax base can evaporate before one’s eyes putting even more pressure on bail outs.

This problem is going to get catastrophically worse with the state of bloated asset markets with puny returns. Looking at how it has been handled in the past Detroit, Michigan gives some flavor. It declared bankruptcy around this time three years ago. Its pension and healthcare obligations total north of US$10bn or 4x its annual budget. Accumulated deficits are 7x larger than collections. Dr. Wayne Winegarden of George Mason University wrote that in 2011 half of those occupying the city’s 305,000 properties didn’t pay tax. Almost 80,000 were unoccupied meaning no revenue in the door. Over the three years post the GFC Detroit’s population plunged from 1.8mn to 700,000 putting even more pressure on the shrinking tax base.

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