GFC

Canadian mortgage fraud – Laurentian Abyss(m)al

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Laid up in bed this week with the flu I watched The Hunt for Red October where Sean Connery plays a Russian sub commander with a thick Scottish accent. To rendezvous with the CIA to complete the defection they head to the deep waters of the Laurentian Abyssal, ironically the name of the Canadian bank which has seen the proverbial torpedo hit the propellor.

It seems that Laurentian Bank in Canada has been caught over mortgage fraud, the second lender to do so. Canada’s property prices have trebled since 2000, seeing but a minor blip during GFC. Zerohedge noted,

An audit “identified documentation issues and client misrepresentations” with some mortgages…Laurentian said it will repurchase about C$89 million ($70 million) of those mortgages in the first quarter, or 4.9 percent of such loans sold to the firm….It will buy back an additional C$91 million of mortgages “inadvertently” sold to the firm, also in the first quarter.

The total value of the loans made to the 3rd party was around $1.16bn. Of course the CEO of Laurentian Bank is brushing aside the scale of it.

As we know Home Capital Group, Canada’s largest mortgage lender was busted for mortgage fraud and required a $1.5bn bailout facilitated by the 321,000 Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) members. Not to worry those emergency loans are backed by the mortgages!! Naturally “safe as houses”

Perhaps in the immortal words of Red October Captain Ramius, “be careful what you shoot at in here…things inside here don’t react well to bullets

Or perhaps in the words of Canadian born Inspector Frank Drebbin, “nothing to see here!”

Sloppy senators who snigger at the seriousness of the situation

Regardless of whether one believes in climate change or not, surely even deniers should get access to transparent data, especially from taxpayer funded bodies. Just being told the science is settled is not acceptable. Indeed if the science is settled, what is there to hide? Allow all the ‘raw’ and ‘homogenised’ data to be independently scrutinized. Surely it will corroborate the facts and convert the heretics.

The argument that I am not a scientist is irrelevant. 99% of the people who are alarmists are not either. Yet, should one be vilified for questioning so many blatant acts of  fraudulent behaviour? As often in the world of ‘settled’ topics, the contrarian opinion is often laughed it. Yet, if 99% of people tell you one thing are you not curious to the counter arguments? So often the conventional wisdom has often turned out to be false.

What Senator Dastyari here has done is take allegations of data manipulation by the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) as just a joke and an opportunity to cheap shot one of his fellow senators who is absent. It is willful behaviour to undermine a serious hearing. What is the constant faith that we are asked to put in government bodies that somehow they are above the law and beyond the scope of audit because we should trust them? That is like leaving candies on the table in reach of your kids but telling them they mustn’t eat any. The crack and eat some but when questioned swear they didn’t even though the blue M&M stain on the tongue proves they’re lying.

Former US Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan regularly spoke to the US Senate House Banking Committee. With the exception of Ron Paul, pretty much all other members used to hang off every word, not questioning anything that came from his mouth. It was nauseating to watch them heap praise on him. He was not held to account. Ron Paul used to ask questions about rampant monetary supply growth, asset bubbles and extreme borrowing to income ratios but his fellow law makers would gang up on him for having the hide to interrogate the ‘Maestro’. It is this type of unwillingness to question group think that is much more worrying. To all of the questions asked of Greenspan by Paul, we still got GFC – avoidable if the group thinkers in the Senate were prepared to challenge.

As CM has written frequently – so many bodies have been busted for data manipulation – the UNIPCC, NASA, NOAA and the BoM to name a few. Yes, even NASA, the people who have the brainstrust to launch man to the moon. Human greed is the issue. This discussion with President of the Sierra Club Aaron Mair who tells Senator Cruz there should be no debate as the science is settled yet can’t reliably argue his position even with a bench full of his flunkies pushing the same garbage.

In all seriousness, Dastyari wants to copy Aaron Mair. Shut down any plausible debate and avoid scrutiny that might upset his own constituents. People often use the argument that investing in renewables is like insurance. That we take it on the off chance we’re wrong. Well, in a sense what many scientists are doing is insurance fraud. Then again it is also an unanswered question. Why is it bankers get thrown into jail and fined exorbitant sums yet scientists riddled with conflicts of interest and deliberate ‘forgery’ of data to fit narratives escape scot-free even if caught.

Kobe Steel 5yr CDS not showing much fear vs history

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Kobe Steel’s 5yr CDS rate showing a 271bps premium above the risk free rate from around 50bps before the scandal broke. During GFC it was around 600bps+.

US unemployed since 1948 – trend is our friend?

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This is a chart of unemployed persons in the US since 1948 published by the St Louis Federal Reserve. The shaded sections denote recessions. Interesting to note that the we are skirting the red line at present, one that has seldom been breached in 70 years. Will history be bunk or will the trend confirm economic slowdown? An eerie looking chart.

Repossession by remote

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A 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.

Why is this happening? Mortgage regulations tightened after 2008 to prevent financial lenders from writing predatory loans, especially sub prime. Auto lending attracts far less scrutiny. Hence the following table looks like it does with respect to outstanding accounts on loans

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Sub Prime auto loans, at all time records, make up 25% of the total. Devices installed in cars let collection agencies repossess vehicles by remote when the borrower falls behind on repayment. This lowers risk and allows these long dated loan products to thrive. Average subprime auto loans carry 10% p.a. interest rates. More than 6 million American consumers are at least 90 days late on their car loan repayments, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

While it is true that $1.2 trillion auto loan book pales into insignificance versus the $10 trillion in mortgage debt at the time of the GFC, a slowdown in auto sales (happening now) isn’t helpful. The auto industry directly and indirectly employs c. 10% of the workforce and slowing new and used car sales will just put more pressure on prices further lifting the risk of repossessions

It is worth reminding ourselves the following.

Last month the Fed published its 2016 update on household financial wellbeing. To sum up:

“44%. This is actually an improvement on the 2015 survey that said 47% of Americans can’t raise $400 in an emergency without selling something. The consistency is the frightening part. The survey in 2013 showed 50% were under the $400 pressure line. Of the group that could not raise the cash, 45% said they would go further in debt and use a credit card to pay It off over time. while 25% would borrow from friends or family, 27% would forgo the emergency while the balance would turn to selling items or using a payday loan to get by. The report also noted just under a quarter of adults are not able to pay all of their current month’s bills in full while 25% reported skipping medical treatments due to the high cost in the prior year. Additionally, 28% of adults who haven’t retired yet reported to being largely unprepared, indicating no retirement savings or pension whatsoever. Welcome to a gigantic problem ahead. Not to mention the massive unfunded liabilities in the public pension system which in certain cases has seen staff retire early so they can get a lump sum before it folds.”

If only this perpetual debt cycle could be stopped via remote. Someone else’s problem one would suggest.

Not capitalism with warts but socialism with beauty spots

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I was fortunate enough to attend an LDP function last night where Deputy PM and Minister of Finance Taro Aso spoke. The audience was largely retirees in their 60s-80s in the Yokohama area who in part likely came for the hotel buffet. I was the only foreigner to attend among 1,000 guests. Aso truthfully described the difference between Japan and the West. Talking of how many foreign politicians can’t understand how Japan can have so many vending machines because in their countries they’d be vandalized  for their cash. Aso’s bigger point was made around deflation and how Japan is coping far better than most of the West, especially the EU. While there is a sense of celebrating an own goal, the biggest mistake made by the West in its analysis of the ‘lost two decades’ in Japan has been its unique society. Only in Japan could a population withstand two decades of hardship. Shared grief.

In the West, when it all goes to the dogs people will run as far away from the implosion as they can. Moral hazard is the order of the day. Make someone else pay. I recall the tale of a friend who had bought a condo in a ski resort in Yuzawa, Niigata Prefecture for around $20,000 off a family who had paid $800,000 for it during the bubble. They religiously paid off the loan as a form of moral obligation. In Japan, bankruptcy is seen as failure. A bankruptcy record is hung around one’s neck forever. In America, bankruptcy is seen as a badge of honor in some circles for someone pursuing the American Dream and in the next credit cycle, financial institutions will forgive the infraction, albeit at a slightly higher risk premium.

The point Aso was making was on the money. Japan is different. It is a society based on values. While the West may frown on the Japanese taking on a 250% debt: GDP ratio to allow the air to slowly leak out of a balloon, the society demands it. Despite all of the studies I’ve read on financial resurrection from deflation in the West I can safely say ‘society’ is the seemingly most overlooked yet most relevant part of the equation. As the game of convenient lies mount up from the mouths of politicians, a growing number of people are realizing that failure to act will lead to unpleasant truths. Economic cycles can only be toyed with to a point until trust leaves the system. The Japanese are indeed the most capable people on the planet to embrace change. It may take a tragedy, shock or disaster to force true action but one can be rest assured the people will unite in common purpose while the West go out of their way to look after themselves at the expense of all others.

Japan is not capitalism with warts but socialism with beauty spots. With the coming global financial train wreck approaching Japan is the best place to be.

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New cars for 40% off

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Looking for a new car? This maybe last year’s model but it’s new and 40% off. I recall seeing such lunatic deals the last time we headed for a collapse in auto sales. Mac Haik Ford in Houston is practically giving it away.  Even some of the 2017 models are getting chunky discounts.

Jim Glover Chevy near Arkansas River is also trying to shift 2016 metal. Why buy used when a 2016 new Malibu is $7,000 off?

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Chrysler is also chucking discounts left, right and centre. Northwest Dodge Houston is taking $14,000 off new Rams.

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ZeroHedge wrote:

If GM piles on incentives at this rate three months in a row, it would spend nearly $4 billion on incentives, in just that quarter, just in the US alone. How much dough is that for GM? In Q1 2015, GM reported global net income of $2.0 billion. In Q1 2015, it reported global net income of $0.9 billion. These incentives can eat an automaker’s lunch in no time. And they did in the years before the industry collapsed during the Great Recession.”

The National Automotive Dealer Association (NADA), a division of JD Power wrote,

Manufacturers dialed up incentive spending 18% last month to help reduce new vehicle inventory levels that are at a decade-plus high.”

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The NADA Used Car Guide’s “seasonally adjusted used vehicle price index fell for the eighth straight month, declining 3.8% from January to 110.1. The drop was by far the worst recorded for any month since November 2008 as the result of a recession-related 5.6% tumble. February’s index gure was also 8% below February 2016’s 119.4 result and marked the index’s lowest level since September 2010.”

WolfStreet noted “Used vehicle wholesale prices determine the value of the collateral for $1.11 trillion in auto loans that have boomed on higher prices, higher unit sales, longer maturities (the average hit a new record of 66.5 months in Q4), and higher loan-to-value ratios (negative equity)”

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It doesn’t bode well.