One Junk Bond Analyst's Catastrophic Forecast For What Is Coming
"cumulative losses over the length of the entire cycle could be worse than we’ve ever seen before"
- BofA High Yield strategist Michael Contopoulos
While not as quixotic as Morgan Stanley's Adam Parker piece on market-chasing cockroaches, BofA high yield analyst Michael Contopoulos has moved beyond merely bearish and is now outright catastrophic . That may be a little far fetched, but in his latest note - while he doesn't call rally chasers "cockroaches" (yet), he seems at a loss to explain the ongoing junk bond rally. His reasoning: fundamentals just keep getting worse by the day, while price action has completely disconnected from reality, and virtually nobody expects what is about to unfold in the junk bond space.
First, according to his assessment of deteriorating macro and micro indicators, the recent price move makes little sense:
Despite the strong payroll data the economy still appears to be headed in the wrong direction, as our economist’s tracking model now indicates just 0.6% Q1 GDP growth and a revised 2.0% (from 2.3%) for Q2. Should our team’s figures hold, the period ending March 31st will mark the 3rd consecutive quarterly decline in GDP and the second sub 1% quarter in the last 5. More importantly for high yield investors, however, is that earnings growth continues to be anemic. 2 weeks ago we wrote that too much emphasis has been placed on Adjusted EBITDA, an approximation of cash flow that doesn’t take into account “1-off” charges, working capital, capex, etc. Although we understand the allure of this measure, in our eyes it has the tendency to cover up late cycle problems; namely asset impairments. With the understanding, however, that this measure is likely to be used for some time to come, we highlight the following: Even with 1-off adjustments 6 out of 17 sectors realized negative year-over-year Adjusted EBITDA in Q4, with a 7th sector growing at just 0.5%. On an unadjusted basis, 9 sectors realized negative EBITDA growth for Q4.
Because one quarter doesn’t tell the whole picture of a company’s earnings momentum, we also calculated both Adjusted and Unadjusted EBITDA by weighting the last 5 quarters 30%, 25%, 20%, 15,%, 10% (Q4 2015 having the highest weight Q4 2014 the lowest). What we find is that the commodities sectors are clearly not the only industries to be experiencing troubles as Capital Good, Commercial Services, Consumer Products, Gaming, Media, Retail, Technology and Utilities are all under pressure. Additionally, on an unadjusted basis Healthcare also doesn’t look like the darling some firm’s spreads would suggest.
Then he looks at where in the credit cycle the market currently finds itself:
We’ve written on multiple occasions how the main question mark surrounding the end of this credit cycle is its shape, not whether we’re currently living through it. As mentioned above, fundamentals have been consistently deteriorating even outside of commodities, defaults are rising, new credit creation is becoming difficult, and illiquidity is still a problem. Although technical tailwinds in the form of retail inflows and supportive central bank policies can prolong the market unwind, they do not change its direction as ultimately fundamentals will prevail.
That is a bold assumption with every central bank having become an activist, but yes: ultimately fundamentals will prevail.
In terms of the shape of this cycle, absent a recession we expect the pace of defaults to be much closer to the 1998 experience than the 2007 one. In fact, we have coined the phrase “a rolling blackout” to describe the potential for a period of many years where the market experiences general weakness and moderately high defaults as individual sectors take turns realizing their moment of distress. Whether these moments are based on a deterioration of underlying fundamentals, an unwind of crowded trades, or some sort of series of macro-economic incidents is nearly irrelevant, as the uncertainty and consistent underperformance of the overall market will likely frustrate many investors and asset allocators. In our view this is not unlike the 1998-2002 experience, where the very same scenario could played out: years of high yield underperformance, poor returns and moderately high defaults. Recall in those years, high yield returned 2.9%, 2.5%, -5%, 4.4%, -1.9% (and 3 years in a row of negative excess returns) while the default rate slowly crept up from 2% to 8% over the course of 3.5 years before hitting double digits.
Next, he proceeds to the "apocalyptic part", stating quite clearly that "the losses over the credit cycle could be worse than we've ever seen before." One reason: central bank intervention that keeps kicking the can instead of allowing the disastrous fundamentals to finally reveal themselves.
Should the market realize a mid to high single digit default rate for years cumulative losses over the length of the entire cycle could be worse than we’ve ever seen before. A total of 33% of issuers defaulted over the course of the 1987 and 1999 default cycles, higher than the 25% in 2008 as the latter benefitted from unprecedented central bank intervention. But the very same policies which helped alleviate the pain in the last cycle will likely add to the severity of the next one. This is because many of the companies that should have defaulted 7 years ago but instead received a lifeline will likely shutter doors now. As risk premiums have caused yields to jump nearly 400bp, many of these firm’s business models will now likely be unsustainable; especially given the lack of EBITDA growth we have seen this cycle (Chart 1). When these issuers are then coupled with the newest crop of unsustainable businesses from this credit cycle, we could see cumulative default rates approaching 40% this cycle versus the traditional 33%.
It's not just the upcoming surge defaults. Contopoulos also e focuses on product-specific issues which we have discussed before, namely the already record low recovery rates, a unique feature of this particular default cycle. These are only going to get worse.
However, not only will defaults be higher than in past cycles, but credit losses are also likely to be worse than ever before. That’s because recoveries, even outside of the commodity space have been paltry in the post crisis years. Given where we are in the default cycle, prevailing recoveries are a full 10 points lower than where they should be. Chart 2 highlights historical time periods characterized by low default rates (inside of 4%). Whereas in the past, recoveries tended to surpass 50% in low default environments, the last few years have seen those averaging 40%. This is telling because it means the pressure on recoveries is not being caused by the abundance of assets for sale in the market, which increases as more companies default, but rather because of the quality of these assets as we have discussed in part 1 of our recovery analysis published last year.
One reason for the collapse in recovery rates: the extensively documented chronic underinvestment in replenishing the asset base, and instead "investing" in buybacks and dividends.
So why are today’s assets garnering less enthusiasm than before? One reason, of course, is that a large portion of defaults today are in the commodity space, which are finishing with sub 10% recoveries as investors try to grapple with a market which may not have hit its bottom. However, problems persist even outside of the commodity industries. Take a look at the YoY growth in capex for non-commodity HY issuers (Chart 3). It’s striking how CEOs have invested much less in their businesses this cycle compared to previous ones. In fact, most of the capex growth since 2010 has come from energy issuers on the back of the US energy independence story in the early part of the decade; and we all know not to count on that going forward. On top of that, asset impairments as a percentage of tangible assets are through the roof, chipping away at valuations of an already low asset base. Not surprisingly, non-commodity recoveries reflect the same extent of erosion post 2010 as does overall HY (Chart 4).
If that wasn't bad enough, it gets worse: "Given that HY companies have seen hardly any organic growth within last few years, it is of little surprise that recoveries today are so low. The bad news is that we think they are going to decline further."
Contopoulos then analyzes various fundamental trends to determine the shape of the upcoming default cycle, and concludes with the following bleak assessment:
So where does this leave us? According to our model, should the default cycle look similar to the 1999 experience (2yr cumulative DR of 25%), and debt-to-asset ratio touch the highs of that cycle (0.51x), recoveries can be as low as 16c on the dollar. There is also a case to made that if there is no catalyst to total capitulation, and we see a longer flatter default cycle, we could see 2yr cumulative default rates much less than 25%. While this is reasonable, one can also argue that debt-to-asset ratio which today already stands at 0.48x, could ultimately go much further past 0.51x. Additionally, as we have seen in the post crisis years, default rates matter less than debt-to-asset ratios, meaning recoveries even under a rolling blackout scenario could even be worse than we expect.
Table 3 presents a scenario analysis of the range of recoveries to expect in the next few years depending on one’s forecast of default rates and debt-to-asset ratios. In almost any scenario recovery rates stand to be well below 30% this cycle.
According to Contopoulos, investors are only slowly starting to appreciate just how bad the future will be for junk bond investors:
While most investors we have talked to appreciate that recoveries will be lower going forward, we think it’s just as important to highlight just how much. Because, 8% yield may sound attractive if your expected credit losses are 400bps (6% DR*70% LGD). But the picture suddenly becomes unappealing knowing these losses could accumulate to 500bps; suddenly leaving you with an unremarkable excess spread cushion.
And it appears that investors have begun to pay attention, at least as seen from the events in the primary market. It’s no surprise that CCC issuance has cratered in the last year as investors are unwilling to extend credit to low quality issuers. Now it seems they are even rewarding BB issuers for using their newly raised debt judiciously, as can be seen from the lower clearing yields for debt being earmarked for capex investment over anything else
Welcome to the brave new world of massive default losses and record low recoveries.
This new world will be one where investors should and will adjust their expected compensation higher to make up for rising defaults, dwindling recoveries, and declining liquidity, all of which are here to stay.
Come to think of it, we almost prefer Adam Parker's incoherent ramblings about cockroaches better: at least it gave some sense that there could be a happy ending. If only for the cockroaches that is....
TIPPING POINTS, STUDIES, THESIS, THEMES & SII
COVERAGE THIS WEEK PREVIOUSLY POSTED - (BELOW)
MOST CRITICAL TIPPING POINT ARTICLES THIS WEEK - Apr 3rd, 2016 to April 9th, 2016
TIPPING POINTS - This Week - Normally a Tuesday Focus
RISK REVERSAL - WOULD BE MARKED BY: Slowing Momentum, Weakening Earnings, Falling Estimates
JAPAN - DEBT DEFLATION
EU BANKING CRISIS
7- Sovereign Debt Crisis
7- Sovereign Debt Crisis
Why "The Fed Can't Save Us":
The Simple Explanation From Austrian Business Cycle Theory
In December, the Fed hiked its target for the federal funds rate, which is the interest rate banks charge each other for overnight loans of reserves. Since 2008 the Fed’s target for the Fed Funds Rate had been a range of 0 percent – 0.25 percent (or what is referred to as zero to 25 “basis points”). But last month they moved that target range up to 0.25 – 0.50 percent. Ending a seven-year period of effectively zero percent interest rates.
From our vantage point, we already see carnage in the financial markets, with the worst opening week in US history. This of course lines up neatly with standard Austrian business cycle theory, which says that the central bank can give an appearance of prosperity for a while with cheap credit, but that this only sets the economy up for a crash once rates begin rising.
However, there is something new in the present cycle. The Fed is trying to raise rates while simultaneously maintaining its bloated balance sheet. It is attempting to pull off a magic trick whereby it can keep all of the “benefits” of its earlier rounds of monetary expansion (i.e., “quantitative easing” or “QE”) while removing the artificial stimulus of ultra-low interest rates. As we’ll see, this attempt will not end well, for the Fed officials or for the rest of us. In the meantime, Ben Bernanke will look on with concern, writing the occasional blog post and perhaps giving a speech about poor Janet Yellen’s tough predicament.
Austrian Business Cycle Theory
One of the seminal contributions of Ludwig von Mises was what he called the circulation credit theory of the trade cycle. In our times, we simply call it Austrian business cycle theory, sometimes abbreviated as ABCT. The Misesian theory was subsequently elaborated by Friedrich Hayek, and it was partly for this work that Hayek won the Nobel Prize in 1974.
In the Mises/Hayek view, interest rates are market prices that perform a definite social function. They communicate vital information about consumer preferences regarding the timing of consumption. Entrepreneurs must decide which projects to start, and they can be of varying length. Intuitively, a high interest rate is a signal that consumers are “impatient,” meaning that entrepreneurs should not tie resources up in long projects unless there are large gains to be had in output from the delay. On the other hand, a low interest rate reduces the penalty on longer investments, and thus acts as a green light to tie capital up in lengthy projects.
So long as the interest rate is set by genuine market forces, it gives the correct guidance to entrepreneurs. If consumers are willing to defer immediate gratification, they save large amounts of their income, and this pushes down interest rates. The high savings frees up real resources from current consumption — things like restaurants and movie theaters — and allows more factories and oil wells to be developed.
However, if the interest rate drops not because of genuine saving, but instead because the central bank electronically buys assets with money created “out of thin air,” then entrepreneurs are given a false signal. They go ahead and take out loans at the artificially cheap rate, but now society embarks on an unsustainable trajectory. It is physically impossible for all of the entrepreneurs to complete the long-term projects they begin.
In the beginning, the unsustainable expansion appears prosperous. Every industry is growing, trying to bid away workers and other resources from each other. Wages and commodity prices shoot up; unemployment and spare capacity drop. The economy is humming, and the citizens are happy.
Yet it all must come crashing down. In a typical cycle, price inflation eventually rises to the level that the banks become nervous. They halt their credit expansion, allowing interest rates to start rising to a more correct level. The tightening in the credit markets causes pain initially for the most leveraged operations, but gradually more and more businesses are in trouble. A wave of layoffs ensues, with large numbers of entrepreneurs suddenly realizing they were too ambitious. The painful “bust,” or recession, sets in.
This Time Is Different (Sort of)
Since the financial crisis of 2008, the stock market’s surges have coincided with rounds of QE, and the market has faltered whenever the expansion came to a temporary halt. The sharp sell-off in August 2015 occurred when investors thought the first rate hike was imminent (it had been scheduled for September 2015). That particular hike was postponed, but after it went into effect in December, we soon saw the market tank to 2014 levels.
As we would expect in times of Fed tightening, the official monetary base has fallen sharply in recent months, but this doesn’t mean that the Fed is selling off assets (as it would in a textbook tightening cycle). Indeed the Fed’s assets have been constant since the end of the so-called taper in late 2014.
This is unusual since the monetary base and the Fed’s total assets typically move in tandem. Yet since late 2014, there have been three major drops in the monetary base that occurred while the Fed was dutifully rolling over its holdings of mortgage-backed securities and Treasuries, keeping its total assets at a steady level.
The explanation is that the Fed has been testing out new techniques to temporarily suck reserves out of the banking system, while not reducing its total asset holdings.
Meanwhile, the Fed in December bumped up the interest rate that it pays to commercial banks for keeping their reserves parked at the Fed. I like to describe this policy as the Fed paying banks to not make loans to their customers.
What Does It All Mean?
So why is the Fed trying to tighten the money supply without selling off assets as it has done in the past? It boils down to this: In order to bail out the commercial and investment banks — at least the ones who were in good standing with DC officials —as well as greasing the wheels for the federal government to run trillion-dollar deficits, the Federal Reserve in late 2008 began buying trillions of dollars worth of Treasury debt and mortgage-backed securities (MBS). This flooded the banking system with trillions of dollars of reserves, and went hand in hand with a collapse of short-term interest rates to basically zero percent.
Now, the Fed wants to begin raising rates (albeit modestly), but it doesn’t want to sell off its Treasury or MBS holdings, for fear that this would cause a spike in Uncle Sam’s borrowing costs and/or crash the housing sector. So the Fed has increased the amount that it is paying commercial banks to keep their reserves with the Fed (rather than lending them out to customers), and — for those institutions that are not legally eligible for such a policy — the Fed is effectively paying to borrow the reserves itself. By adjusting the interest rate the Fed pays on such transactions, the Fed can move the floor on all interest rates up. No institution would lend to a private sector party at less than it can get from the Fed, since the Fed can create dollars at will and is thus the safest place to park or lend reserves.
We thus have the worst of both worlds. We still get the economic effects of “tighter monetary policy,” because the price of credit is rising as it would in a normal Fed tightening. Yet we don’t get the benefit of a smaller Fed footprint and a return of assets to the private sector. Instead, the US taxpayer is ultimately paying subsidies to lending institutions to induce them to charge more for loans, while the big banks and Treasury still benefit from the effective bailout they’ve been getting for years.
It Can’t Last
Will the Fed be able to keep the game going? In a word, no. We’ve already seen that even the tiniest of interest rate hikes has gone hand in hand with a huge drop in the markets. Furthermore, the Fed’s subsidies to the banks are now on the order of $11 billion annually, but if they want to raise the fed funds rate to, say, 2 percent, then the annual payment would swell to more than $40 billion. That is “real money” in the sense that the Fed’s excess earnings would otherwise be remitted to the Treasury. Therefore, for a given level of federal spending and tax receipts, increased payments to the bankers implies an increased federal budget deficit.
Janet Yellen and her colleagues are stuck with a giant asset bubble that her predecessor inflated. If they begin another round of asset purchases, they might postpone the crash, but only by making the subsequent reckoning that much more painful.
You don’t make the country richer by printing money out of thin air, especially when you then give it to the government and Wall Street. The Fed’s magic trick of raising interest rates without selling assets can’t evade that basic reality.
NEW - Stagflation - Slow Growth & Personal Inflation
NEW - Stagflation - Slow Growth & Personal Inflation
The Next Big Problem:
"Stagflation Is Starting To Show
Across The Economy"
In the past few months, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has gone out of its way to show that U.S. worker compensation is finally rising. There is one problem with that: while that may be true on an hourly basis...
... on a weekly basis, the picture is vastly different. What is happening is that weekly wage growth have gone nowhere in years, but because the average hours worked per week has declined and today hit a 2 year low of 34.4, it translates into more money per hour worked.
But let's assume that wages, or at least the perception thereof, is indeed rising - is this helping the average American? Well, as we showed earlier this week, the net "after expense" income of average Americans measured in real dollars has declined from $17K in 2004 to $6,000 in 2014 because as wages have declined dramatically, expenses have surged. In fact, according to the recent Pew study, by 2014, median income had fallen by 13 percent from 2004 levels, while expenditures had increased by nearly 14 percent, As such a 2.5%, or 3.5% or even 10% increases in wages will not manage to offset the surging expenditures, mostly on rent.
All of this you will never see discussed in a sellside research report, which instead relies on the basic hourly earnings headline numbers. Instead, you will see charts like this from Wells Capital's Jim Paulsen.
And yet, even the analysts who are only looking at the most rudimentary data are now warning that a new problem is emerging for the US economy, a problem which is always present whenever wages are rising, while overall economic growth is stalling (as it is currently according to the Atlanta Fed with a 0.7% Q1 GDP) and corporate profits are about to plunge by the most since the financial crisis: stagflation.
In a note earlier today, Deutsche Bank laid out the following ominous warning:
Worry not about the eight per cent drop in forecast earnings in the upcoming quarter reporting season. That aggregate figure is well telegraphed. Instead, pay attention to those companies with wafer-thin margins. Every year since the crisis, S&P500 stocks in the lowest quartile of ebitda margins have outperformed the market. Until, that is, last year when these least profitable companies trailed by 11 per cent. That is because after holding steady for six years, their already low margins nearly halved to 4.5 per cent while the median for S&P500 companies barely budged from 20 per cent. Benign cost pressures in recent years have allowed even the laggards to keep up. But if commodity prices start to rally, for example, or low unemployment finally gives employees some bargaining power, those companies living on minuscule margins may really start to sweat.
What Deutsche Bank is referring to is the following chart which shows the explicit and inverse correlation between corporate profits and employee wages. What it demonstrates clearly is that if indeed labor income, i.e., wages, are rising, then profit margins have no choice but to fall even more; this means that if the stock market wishes to continue rising even higher it will only achieve this with margin expansion, which however can only be achieved by even more Fed intervention and more stimulative inflation, which then pushes wages even higher generating a self-defeating feedback loop.
Which brings us to the following Bloomberg TV interview with Wells Fargo's Jim Paulsen in which the otherwise jovial permabull focuses on only one thing: the rising threat of stagflation. This is what he said:
I think stagflation is starting to show - that idea of stronger nominal growth but weaker real growth is starting to show up across the economy. It certainly is showing up with real personal consumption slowing; it's showing with slower job creation growth as the wage rate rises, and it's showing up in weaker profits as the share of labor income rises reducing profit margins for corporations.
I think to some extent companies are starting to feel that pinch of higher labor costs and since margins are near post-war highs to begin with, they don't have much ability to raise them much further, but if labor costs now start to go up, they'll probably suffer some margin erosion.
What scares me about this is we've had a very weak growing recovery by historic standards, about 2% real growth, but what's made it palatable to some degree, is that inflation has been so low and because of that interest rates have been so low. So even though laborers have only gotten 2% wage increases which doesn't sound very good, until you recognize that because inflation has been virtually non-existent, real purchasing power, real wages have been growing very nicely.
... At this point we would like to interject that while we love the strawman argument that real wages are "growing fast" as much as the next guy, the reality is that this is bullshit as the previously shown chart from Pew has demonstrated: whether Americans are spending for more items, or actual prices are soaring, the consumer's net income as shown below, has plunged.
Anyway, back to Paulsen who then says this:
And now for the first time you start to have core costs rising, then even if we get a little faster nominal growth, the final result on the real outcome might not be nearly as positive as hoped. Yellen is trying to raise the inflation rate and I am thinking you better be careful what you wish for.
Can this scenario tip us into a recession Paulsen is asked, his answer: "it's possible. I am concerned that the Fed is so dovish in the face of rising core inflation."
Which means that now that the "very serious economists" are talking about it, get ready to hear much more about the "threat of stagflation" for the US economy, a threat which the Fed is powerless to defeat unless it is willing to launch another market crash.
Equities, credit and commodities have all rallied in the last three weeks, as some of the immediate threats to the world economy have faded from attention, possibly only because the bad earnings season has wound up. But, to us, the fundamentals of growth, earnings and recession risk have not improved, and if anything have worsened. We remain wary of the near-empty ammo box of policy makers.
Our 12-month-out US recession odds have risen to 1/3, while equity-implied odds have instead fallen to near 1/5. But even with no recession this year or next, we see US earnings rising only slowly by low single digits and see little to boost multiples. The eventual recession should bring US stocks down some 30%, creating a strong downward risk skew to returns over the next few years.
We use the rally in stocks to sell it and go underweight stocks, versus HG corporate bonds and cash. The strong rebound of the past few weeks does create near-term momentum, and thus keeps our first UW small.
To be sure, the continued bounce since the JPM call has not been exactly reassuring of the forecast's accuracy. However, what is surprising is that when faced with unpalatable price action, sellside researchers usually flip their call quickly.
Not in this case, because in a surprisingly candid piece released overnight, JPM's Jan Loeys doubles down, and after asking rhetorically "Can central banks really save the day, or cycle?", his answer is no. In fact, after saying now is the time to sell stocks, JPM's head of global asset allocation is now even far more concerned about the over economy where his biggest concern is that central banks are powerless to stop the "collapsing productivity growth."
Loeys begins as follows:
Equities and bonds are both up on the week, fueled by supportive central bank talk. Commodities and the dollar are down, with EM asset classes continuing to outperform. Our overall strategy remains on the defensive side. We started a year ago to dollar-average from the long risk positions we have held over the past seven years towards a more defensive one where we finally arrived last month.
The main drivers of this year-long process are the sense that the cycle in economic and earnings growth is maturing, leading us to the eventual recession, as well as the more structural force of the global collapse in productivity growth. Of the two, we view the latter one as the more ominous, as it is potentially much longer lasting, with no obvious force driving it, nor a policy solution in sight to reverse it.
Both of these negatives to world economies and risk markets have in common that they are of uncertain timing. Hence, our use of the time-honored strategy is going slowly by dollar averaging. Over the past month, data are tracking our economic forecasts, and have kept our global projections on net unchanged.
That is good news after the steady drip-drip of downgrades of the past two years. It has allowed us to reduce our 12-month US recession risk to 28%, even as it keeps us with a view that the US economy is more likely than not to contract over the next 2-3 years in response to falling profits.
And here is why JPM's explanation why central banks are now powerless to stop the ongoing global contraction:
We are not getting any solace on our fears over collapsing productivity growth, though. Investors have been happy to see the 628K rise in US payrolls in Q1, but at that pace, jobs are growing faster than the economy, implying that GDP per worker/hour, which is productivity, is actually falling. US companies are hiring people frantically as they are unable to get more product and services out of their existing workforce. This is not a good omen for future growth in the economy and earnings, in our view.
Without real upgrades to earnings or growth forecasts, we think that the recent rally in risk assets gained much from dovish actions and messages from central banks, in particular the ECB, Fed and the PBoC. One can only applaud the seriousness and pro-activeness that central banks apply to their mandates. But aren’t investors counting too much on central banks carrying the day if not the cycle?
This analyst thinks so, without disparaging their efforts, as central banks are almost out of ammo, and their tools are not well suited to handle the problems of slowing company profits and productivity.
It is our perception that much of the weaker than expected growth over the past 4 years results from a supply side problem. Lower rates can boost spending, but are not much of a solution to falling productivity growth. The latter needs greater innovation, competition, globalization, and capital investment, in our view. Low rates can boost the latter, but have not helped enough, as rising capex over recent years did not prevent falling productivity growth.
* * *
But perhaps most amusing was the following Freudian slip in the JPM piece:
"We do not see easy money as a bait to lure unsuspecting investors into risky assets."
Then why bring it up... and if you don't, who does
Manufacturing Recession Deepens:
Factory Orders Drop To Five Year Low;
16 Consecutive Declines
In 60 years, the US economy has not suffered a 16-month continuous YoY drop in Factory orders without being in recession. Moments ago the Department of Commerce confirmed that this is precisely what the US economy did, when factory orders not only dropped for the 16th consecutive month Y/Y, after declining 1.7% from last month...
... but at $454 billion for the headline number, this was the lowest print since the summer of 2011.
Market reaction: stocks rebound on the news and are now well in the green
MACRO News Items of Importance - This Week
GLOBAL MACRO REPORTS & ANALYSIS
US ECONOMIC REPORTS & ANALYSIS
CENTRAL BANKING MONETARY POLICIES, ACTIONS & ACTIVITIES
Market Analytics - WEDNESDAY STUDIES
STUDIES - MACRO pdf
TECHNICALS & MARKET ANALYTICS
TECHNICALS & MARKET ANALYTICS
'Everything Is Being Sold'
Smart Money Selling Soars,
Now In 10th Straight Week
"Still No Confidence In The Rally" - that's the title of the latest weekly BofA report looking at the buying and selling by its smart money clients (institutional clients, private clients and hedge funds), which finds that not only were sales by this group of clients last week the largest since September, and the fifth-largest in our data history, but this was the 10th consecutive week of selling as absolutely nobody believed this fakest of fake "rebounds" in recent history.
Last week, during which the S&P 500 was up 1.8%, BofAML clients were net sellers of US stocks for the tenth consecutive week, in the amount of $3.98bn. Net sales last week were the largest since September, and the fifth-largest in our data history (since 2008). Since early March, all three client groups (institutional clients, private clients and hedge funds) have been sellers of US stocks, led by institutional clients, suggesting that clients continue to doubt the sustainability of the rally amid the lack fundamental drivers (S&P 500 profits remain in a recession and revision trends remain weak). Small, mid and large caps alike saw net sales for the second week.
This can be seen in the chart below, where it becomes obvious that while the last two market dips in August and January were aggressively bought, this time nobody, well, buys it. In fact, the 4 week average selling has been the greatest almost on record.
More troubling, buybacks are slowing down fast: "Buybacks by corporate clients decelerated to their lowest levels since the comparable week at the end of 4Q. April has historically been one of the seasonally lightest months for buybacks by our clients after October and July (see chart below)."
And while previously, smart money at least had a preference to one or more sectors which they bought as they dumped everything else, this week that was not the case: "everything is being sold."
Clients were broad-based net sellers of stocks in all ten sectors last week, led by sales of Health Care and Consumer Discretionary stocks. Only ETFs saw net buying (entirely by private clients). Both cyclical and defensive sectors have seen outflows: Telecom has the longest selling streak (six weeks), followed by Health Care and Industrials (five weeks each). Year-to-date, Tech has seen the biggest net sales (chiefly by institutional clients), followed by Industrials (chiefly by hedge fund clients). Materials has seen the greater net buying (driven by record buyback activity by our corporate clients). All three client groups were sellers last week, led by institutional clients. Buybacks by corporate clients decelerated last week, as they typically do ahead of earnings season. Large, mid and small caps all saw net sales last week.
The central banks will have to try harder to restore confidence.
Wait, what's that, the harder they try to restore confidence that all is well, the less confidence there is?
COMMODITY CORNER - AGRI-COMPLEX
THESIS - Mondays Posts on Financial Repression & Posts on Thursday as Key Updates Occur
FRA Co-founder Gordon T. Long is joined by Christopher P. Casey in discussing the decrease in oil price and its potential effect on the global economy.
Mr. Casey is the Managing Director of WindRock Wealth Management, a registered investment advisor and wealth management firm that subscribes to the Austrian school of economics. Mr. Casey is a frequent speaker before a number of organizations and conferences, including USA Watchdog, GoldMoney, Freedom Fest, and various bar associations and radio shows, including weekly financial and economic commentary on The Edge of Liberty (WNJC 1360, Philadelphia). His writings have appeared in a variety of publications and websites including The Ludwig von Mises Institute, Zero Hedge, Family Business, Casey Research, and Laissez Faire Books. He is a board member of the Economics Development Council with the University of Illinois, a Policy Advisor for The Heartland Institute’s Center on Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate, and a Chartered Financial Analyst charterholder (CFA®)
COST PUSH INFLATION
Cost push inflation is a Keynesian concept that was developed to explain inflation during inflation; if any important commodity’s price rises, all other prices of goods and services rise. As we pay more, the standard of living would go down and inflation would creep in. But this actually puts downward pressure on other goods and services, so in the end the price level itself is largely unchanged.
“The price level is a function of the demand and supply of money itself, not of any individual commodity.”
It used to be that minor shifts in the oil price had profound impact on the economy, but that isn’t the case right now. Oil went from about $25 in 2003 to $140 in 2008, back down to $30 in late 2008, and $140 a couple of years ago. But have we ever seen a price level that rose or decreased according to the oil prices over the last fifteen years? The answer is no. The issue is that the Federal Reserve does believe in cost-push inflation, and they do think that deflation could be caused by lower oil prices.
“The great danger here is that they, in their mistaken belief that low oil prices could put a cap on any inflationary moves they do, as far as printing money, is that they could overshoot and end up causing more inflation than they intend.”
EFFECT OF LOWER OIL PRICES
“Lower oil prices are good for the economy, but not for the reasons people cite on mainstream media.”
There’s a possibility that this could spike interest rates, or mitigate a downfall in interest rates.
STATE OF THE OIL MARKETS
Lower energy prices used to be considered good for the economy, since people have more money to spend. But that’s going toward servicing debt; it’s not actually consumption, it’s going toward debt payments. There are also some real dangers that aren’t being discussed by mainstream media.
Oil production has increased about 85% since 2008, but what isn’t mentioned is how oil imports have decreased. It’s down from approximately 12% of total imports to 5% today, not just in Dollar terms but overall volume.
The price has dropped 60% in the last five years. Oil producing nations are making less Dollars from the US customer. This is a problem because there are limited options for what they can do with those Dollars, so the US’ major trading partners and oil producing countries hold a massive amount of US treasuries. If they reduce their purchase of US treasuries, that could increase interest rates.
“Interest rates would have fallen further, but for the selling or lack of demand from these oil producing countries.”
SAUDIA ARABIA PEG
The Riyadh is pegged to the US Dollar at 3.75 Riyadh to the US Dollar, but their economy is under strain and their deficit is staggering. In any fixed exchange rate, the only way to keep it is through manipulation of the currency market by active buying and selling of Riyadh and US Dollars, but that is only making them go bankrupt faster. This could ultimately affect US interest rates as well.
OIL SUPPLY & DEMAND
With multiple countries putting out as many barrels of oil a day as possible, there’s pressure to keep the oil supply up and maybe keeping oil prices down. But if the world economy falls off significantly, there will be a decrease in demand and then cut backs and lots of capital not invested. Then if demand rises there won’t be much capacity, which makes the market volatile. The banks are holding out in the hopes of a rebound, because they have so much debt outstanding to the oil industry. Eventually this will either create incredible inflation or a banking crisis.
“The banks cannot put up with this kind of strain . . . it’s kind of like being a patient and your doctor, who would be the central bank, is subjecting you to stimulants and depressants whether its quantitative easing or negative interest rates.”
FEDERAL RESERVE’S MISCONCEPTIONS
Regarding the nature of growth, history shows that the key is a high level of savings and decreasing government intervention. Another is the idea of deflation being bad; for example, the US experienced experienced two 30-40 year periods where the price level fell by half, but it was also the greatest period of growth in US history. The Federal Reserve also has misconceptions about inflation’s impact on unemployment, and interest rates, which could cause a banking crisis.
ADVICE FOR INVESTORS
If people believe that the oil market will create a banking crisis in the future, then they need to look at assets outside of the banking system. Gold and silver should absolutely be considered as part of their portfolio since it’s much safer than a number of currencies, as it has alternative value. Farmland is also an excellent inflation hedge and pays a dividend, unlike precious metals.
“A lower oil price, although all things being equal is good, there are some real dangers: there is the danger it could increase interest rates, there is the danger it could increase inflation levels… and there is the danger it could induce a banking system crisis.”
Gordon T Long is not a registered advisor and does not give investment advice. His comments are an expression of opinion only and should not be construed in any manner whatsoever as recommendations to buy or sell a stock, option, future, bond, commodity or any other financial instrument at any time. Of course, he recommends that you consult with a qualified investment advisor, one licensed by appropriate regulatory agencies in your legal jurisdiction, before making any investment decisions, and barring that, we encourage you confirm the facts on your own before making important investment commitments.
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