Ponzi

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.

Blood seems thicker than water

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18 months ago CM wrote on Theranos (which was set to rule the blood analysis world) saying its biggest problem was gaining trust – not of the company itself but the switching costs for medical professionals to use it. It turns out it was really about a lack of trust, not with doctors but investors. Theranos swindled $700m over three years from investors yet the punishment will be that its founder Elizabeth Holmes pays a $500,000 fine, return 18.9m shares and face a ban from public companies for 10 years after the SEC charged her with “massive” securities fraud. Why no jail? Allen Stanford received 110 years for his $7bn Ponzi scheme. Fraud is fraud. Shouldn’t 1/10th the fraud lead to 1/10th the jail time?  Enron’s former CEO Jeff Skilling was fined $45mn with the $11bn failure of the company. Seems like not all fraud was created equal in the eyes of the law.

The sorry state of public pensions that are about to explode

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Perhaps the most disturbing fact that so many are choosing to overlook is the level of pension underfunding. Promises upon promises have been made and the nest eggs so many were expecting to retire on are likely to disappear or in the best case scenario be a mere fraction of what was originally thought. What a nightmare to wake up to. Decades of hard work gone up in smoke due to pension administrators sticking to unrealistic returns. Last year I wrote, ” US Pension Tracker assumes that public pension funds have a market based unfunded pension deficit of $4.833 trillion. The actuarial base (using a discount rate of 7.5%) of the pension deficit is approximately $1.041 trillion. This assumes an unfunded portion of $3.8 trillion. Using the 2016 20-year US Treasury bond yield of 1.71% the market based pension deficit explodes to over $8.8 trillion or a $7.5 trillion unfunded portion equating to around $74,000 per American household. For California alone this would push the pension debt per person above $135,000.”

Zero Hedge provides an interesting update on the coming crisis:

“We’ve written quite a bit over the past couple of months about the pending financial crisis in Illinois which will inevitability result in the state’s debt being downgraded to “junk” at some point in the near future (here is our latest from just this morning: “From Horrific To Catastrophic”: Court Ruling Sends Illinois Into Financial Abyss).

Unfortunately, the state of Illinois doesn’t have a monopoly on ignorant politicians…they’re everywhere. And, since the end of World War II, those ignorant politicians have been promising American Baby Boomers more and more entitlements while never collecting nearly enough money to cover them all…it’s all been a massive state-sponsored scam.

As we’ve noted frequently before, some of the largest of the many entitlement ‘scams’ in this country are America’s public pension funds. Up until now, these public pension have been covered by stealing money set aside for future generations to cover current claims…it’s a ponzi scheme of epic proportions…$5-$8 trillion to be exact.

Of course, the problem with ponzi schemes is that eventually you get to the point where the ponzi is so large that you can’t possibly steal enough money from new entrants to cover redemptions from those trying to exit…and, with a tidal wave of baby boomers about to pass into their retirement years, we suspect that America’s epic ponzi is on the verge of being exposed for the world to see.

And when the ponzi dominoes start to fall, Bloomberg has provided this helpful map to illustrate who will succumb first…”

The REPEATED stupidity of human nature

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The uncanny thing of human nature is how quickly we forget history! The above chart highlights clearly how markets have diverged since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. The above chart is telling. Since the post GFC trough some of  the best performing markets have been Topix, MSCI World and US$ denominated corporate debt. Sure markets acted as they always do. However we are reaching a point where divergence has widened too far. I am a BIG BELIEVER IN MEAN REVERSION.  After two of the nastiest downturns in history (2000 & 2008) where trillions of dollars of assets were destroyed we have yet to take the bold steps to eradicate that disease. It has been festering all the while we have been applying liberal use of antiseptic cream. We’ve injected the markets with morphine. The more it hurts the more morphine is injected. The problem with morphine is the efficacy is less pronounced. In the end it just kills the patient.

When anyone ever tells you that “this is a new a paradigm” or “this time it is different” I start running for the hills. I suspected that GOLD would be one of the worst performing commodities since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). My hunch was right. I bought gold in 2002 and never sold it because I never trusted any government or central bank when I saw their policy responses of pretending there was nothing to see and many ‘bought’ that view because the alternative was too horrific.

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The one thing I retain the utmost confidence in is the stupidity of human behaviour and an uncanny ability to forget the past.

Markets are overbought. The impact of years of overinflated asset prices (whether equities, bonds or housing) is fast approaching the mean reversion inflection point. Expect to see the most hated, detested and despised commodities find a new burst of enthusiasm as they become the only safe havens left to store wealth. Note how Gold & Silver Shares have started to rebound since the beginning of this year. I think this is well worth keeping an eye out for.

Remember in a bear market – the winner is the one who loses least.