A Merrier Christmas Sales Season

Our theme that a new business cycle expansion began in 2016 is easy to see when looking at the renewed strength in the basic industrial and material sectors, which we have highlighted in past newsletters. Less obvious – and just as important however – is the persistent consumption trends since the 2008-2009 Great Recession.
While consumers have been the backbone of most expansion cycles, they have been the only GDP component keeping our economy from a long economic winter this decade. Now that the industrial sector is making a comeback with a rare boost to the investment component of GDP, consumers are even more optimistic. Euphoria surged upon Trump’s election and boosted our merriment to finish 2016. It looks like 2017 will be even merrier as the National Retail Federation estimates record spending in their most recent survey after the subdued decade that preceded

This post was published at FinancialSense on 12/22/2017.

Is California Already In Recession?

When it comes to the health of his state’s economy, California Governor Jerry Brown has been walking on eggshells this year.
Twice each year, once in January and again in May, Gov. Jerry Brown warns Californians that the economic prosperity their state has enjoyed in recent years won’t last forever.
Brown attaches his admonishments to the budgets he proposes to the Legislature – the initial one in January and a revised version four months later.
Brown’s latest, issued last May, cited uncertainty about turmoil in the national government, urged legislators to “plan for and save for tougher budget times ahead,” and added:
“By the time the budget is enacted in June, the economy will have finished its eighth year of expansion – only two years shorter than the longest recovery since World War II. A recession at some point is inevitable.”
It’s certain that Brown will renew his warning next month. Implicitly, he may hope that the inevitable recession he envisions will occur once his final term as governor ends in January, 2019, because it would, his own financial advisers believe, have a devastating effect on the state budget.
Unfortunately for Governor Brown, the recession he fears may already have arrived in California.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 21, 2017.

11 Of 19 Bear Market Indicators Have Now Been Triggered: BofA

Two weeks ago, Bank of America tripped recession-watcher alarms, when it announced out that one of its surest bear-market indicators, one which has never had a false negative, had just been triggered. As we said at the time, according to BofA’s Savita Subramanian in November the S&P 500’s three-month earnings estimate revision ratio (ERR) fell for the fourth consecutive month to 0.99 (from 1.03), indicating that for the first time in seven months, there were more negative than positive earnings revisions, needless to say a major negative inflection point in the recent surge in profits.
Why was this significant? Becase as BofA explained, the three-month S&P 500 ERR has been used by the bank as one of its 19 key “bear market signposts”, and with the one-month ERR falling below 1.0 for the second time in six months, this marks the trigger for the 11th bear market signpost. BofA’s ERR rule is triggered when, over a six-month window, all of the following criteria are met: 1) the one-month ERR falls from above 1.0 to below 1.0; 2) the one-month ERR is below 1.0 for two or more months; and 3) the three-month ERR falls below 1.1 for at least one month. Incidentally, the hit rate of the “ERR” bear market indicator, meaning its historical accuracy in predicting a bear market is 100%, the only question is how long it takes. The last time this trigger was set was mid-2003, and here is the punchline from Bank of America:

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 21, 2017.

These PE Firms Are About To Get Crushed By Their Subprime Auto Bets

In the aftermath of the ‘great recession,’ private equity firms placed massive bets on subprime auto finance companies with the typical “thesis” going something like this: “well, people have to get to work don’t they?”…genius, if we understand it correctly.
Of course, the “thesis” seemed to be confirmed when auto securitizations performed relatively well throughout the financial crisis, amid a sea of mortgage bonds getting wiped out, and private equity titans were off to the races with wall street titans from Perella Weinberg to Blackstone and KKR scooping stakes in small niche lenders.
Unfortunately, as Bloomberg points out today, the $3 billion bet on subprime auto lenders hasn’t played out precisely to plan as the “well, people have to get to work” thesis has proved to be somewhat less than full proof.
A Perella Weinberg Partners fund has been sitting on an IPO of Flagship Credit Acceptance for two years as bad loan write-offs push it into the red. Blackstone Group LP has struggled to make Exeter Finance profitable, despite sinking almost a half-billion dollars into the lender since 2011 and shaking up the C-suite multiple times. And Wall Street bankers in private say others would love to cash out too, but there’s currently no market for such exits.
Since the turn of the decade, buyout firms, hedge funds and other private investors have staked at least $3 billion on non-bank auto lenders, according to Colonnade. Among PE firms, everyone from Blackstone and KKR & Co. to Lee Equity Partners, Altamont Capital and CIVC Partners waded in.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 21, 2017.

The Yield Curve And The Boom-Bust Cycle

The central bank is not the root cause of the boom-bust cycle. The root cause is fractional reserve banking (the ability of banks to create money and credit out of nothing). The central bank’s effect on the cycle is to extend the booms, make the busts more severe and prevent the investment errors of the boom from being fully corrected prior to the start of the next cycle. Consequently, there are some important relationships between interest rates and the performance of the economy that would hold with or without a central bank, provided that the practice of fractional reserve banking was widespread. One of these relationships is the link between a reversal in the yield curve from flattening to steepening and the start of an economic recession/depression.
Unfortunately, the data we have at our disposal doesn’t go back anywhere near as far as we’d like, where ‘as far as we’d like’ in this case means 150 years or more. For example, the data we have for the 10year-2year spread, which is our favourite indicator of the US yield curve, only goes back to the mid-1970s.
For a longer-term look at the performance of the US yield curve the best we can do on short notice is use the Fed’s data for the 10year-3month spread, which goes back to the early-1960s. However, going back to the early-1960s is good enough for government work and is still satisfactory for the private sector.
As explained in many previous commentaries, the boom phase of the cycle is characterised by borrowing short-term to lend/invest long-term in order to take advantage of the artificial abundance of cheap financing enabled by the creation of money and credit out of nothing. This puts upward pressure on short-term interest rates relative to long-term interest rates, meaning that it causes the yield curve to flatten.

This post was published at GoldSeek on Sunday, 17 December 2017.

Waiting for the Curve to Invert

One of the hallmarks of a Bull market is climbing a ‘Wall of Worry’. Certainly, there is plenty of longer-term optimism with Consumer and Small Business surveys showing extreme confidence. Yet analysts seem increasingly focused on what might go wrong. In the early days of 2009 – 2012 most were certain that the Trillions in money printing by central banks would cause massive inflation and thus contraction level node-bleed interest rates. Recently the worry du jour has been on rising short-term rates that is spiraling our Yield Curve towards inversion. It’s perhaps too widely know that Yield Curve inversion has always given an accurate warning of impending economic recession months later. In ‘waiting for the curve’ too many investors are cautious well before some unforeseeable inversion turning point. This chart clearly shows that historically the ‘current’ Yield Curve is not a concern, in fact, it will remain a positive factor as we approach inversion. Furthermore, even after the ominous flat yield spread is reached where short-term rates are equal to or above long-term yields, we often witness another year or more of positive growth before recessionary contraction pressures break the back of the expansion phase. Based on history, we have at least a couple years of expansion before push comes to shove in halting this 8+ year growth period.

This post was published at FinancialSense on 12/15/2017.

2 Charts That Might Define the Fed’s Jerome Powell Era

In September, we proposed a theory of the Fed and suggested that the FOMC will soon worry mostly about financial imbalances without much concern for recession risks. We reached that conclusion by simply weighing the reputational pitfalls faced by the economists on the committee, but now we’ll add more meat to our argument, using financial flows data released last week. We’ve created two charts, beginning with a look at cumulative, inflation-adjusted asset gains during the last seven business cycles:

According to the way that the Fed defines its policy approach, our first chart stamps a giant ‘Mission Accomplished’ on the unconventional policies of recent years. Recall that policy makers explained their actions with reference to the portfolio balance channel, meaning they were deliberately enticing investors to buy riskier assets than they would otherwise hold. Policy makers hoped to push asset prices higher, and they seem to have succeeded, notwithstanding the usual debates about how much of the price gains should be attributed to central bankers. (See one of our contributions here and a couple of other papers here and here.) But whatever the impetus for assets to rise, it’s obvious that they responded. In fact, judging by the data shown in the chart, policy makers could have checked the higher-asset-prices box long ago, and with a King Size Sharpie.

This post was published at FinancialSense on 12/13/2017.

Is A Recession Looming? Low Unemployment And Declining Treasury Curve Occur Just Before Recessions (And Lousy Wage Growth)

US Real GDP is growing at 2.3% YoY. What’s not to like?
How about the lowest unemployment rate since 2000 and the worst wage ‘recovery’ in modern times? AND a flattening Treasury yield curve?
Yes, we are once more staring into the abyss of a recession where unemployment rates are low (as they seemingly always are just prior to the end of a business cycle). Throw in a skidding Treasury curve and … this is it?

This post was published at Wall Street Examiner on December 11, 2017.

Treasury Forecasts Tax Reform Will Lead To Longest Period Without Recession In History

One week ago, in its latest assessment of the current state of tax reform in the aftermath of the Senate’s passage of the tax bill, Goldman analysts calculated that while growth impact from tax reform had increased fractionally to around 0.3% in 2018 and 2019 “reflecting the slightly larger amount of tax cuts in the Senate plan following revisions, and our expectations regarding the eventual compromise”, it expected a very modest – if any – boost to US economic growth from tax reform.
Today, in a report prepared by the US Treasury – which as reminder is run by former Goldmanite Steven Mnuchin – and which was meant to bolster the case for the economic growth to be unleashed by the Trump tax cuts, and distract from the spike in deficit funding, the Treasury’s Office of Tax Policy (OTP) calculated that – somehow – the Senate’s version of tax cuts will result in 2.9% real GDP growth rate over 10 years.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 11, 2017.

No Risk Of Recession?

Review
I have been traveling a lot the last couple of weeks, so a big ‘Thank You’ goes to Michael Lebowitz for ‘pinch hitting’ for me. This week, I just want to review a couple of things as we begin to wrap up 2017.
Earlier this week, I wrote a piece called ‘This Is Nuts.’ If you haven’t got a chance to read it, I suggest you do. It outlines my view on the current market extension in the short-term and the potential for a mean-reverting correction at some point in the future. To wit:
‘More importantly, a decline of such magnitude will threaten to trigger ‘margin calls’ which, as discussed previously, is the ‘time bomb’ waiting to happen.
Here is the point. The ‘excuses’ driving the rally are just that. The election of President Trump has had no material effect on the market outside of the liquidity injections which have exceeded $2 Trillion.
Importantly, on a weekly basis, the market has pushed into the highest level of overbought conditions on record since 2005. I have marked on the chart below each previous peak above 80 which has correlated to a subsequent decline in the near future.’

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 10, 2017.

Bank of America: “We’ve Seen This Movie Before: It Ends With A Recession”

In a merciful transition from Wall Street’s endless daily discussions and more often than not- monologues – of why vol is record low, and why a financial cataclysm will ensue once vol finally surges, lately the main topic preoccupying financial strategists has been the yield curve’s ongoing collapse – with the 2s10s sliding and trading at levels last seen in April 2015, and with curve inversion predicted by BMO to take place as soon as March 2018. And, according to at least one other metric, the yield curve should already be some -25bps inverted. This is shown in the following chart from Bank of America which lays out the correlation between the US unemployment rate and the 2s10s curve, and which suggests that the latter should be 80 bps lower, or some 25 basis points in negative territory.
Here is some additional context from BofA’s head of securitization Chris Flanagan, who views “the recent sharp flattening of the yield curve, which has seen the 2y10y spread go from 80 bps to almost 50 bps since late October, as the natural course of events at this stage of the economic cycle. Unemployment is low, and probably headed lower, and the Fed is intent on raising rates to stave off future inflation; we’ve seen this movie before and it typically ends with a flat or inverted yield curve. Based on history (and gravity), we think the most likely path forward is that the 2y10y spread reaches zero or inverts sometime over the next year or so and that recession of some kind follows in 2020 or 2021. (Given that the curve has flattened 30 bps in just over a month, projecting an additional 50 bps flattening over the next year is not really too bold.) Of course, much can happen along the way to change that outcome, but for now that seems to us to be the most likely course of events to us.”
Here Flanagan openly disagrees with the BofA’s “house call” of a steepening yield curve, and explains why:

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 10, 2017.

Weekend Reading: Recession Risk Hidden In Tax Bill

Authored by Lance Roberts via RealInvestmentAdvice.com,
Since the election, equity bulls have been pinning their hopes on ‘tax cuts’ as the needed injection to support currently elevated stock prices. Stocks have advanced sharply since the election on these expectations, and while earnings have recovered, primarily due to the rise in oil prices, whatever economic growth was to come from tax reform has likely already been priced in.
For some background on our views, both Michael Lebowitz and I have been discussing the tax bills as they are currently proposed since May of this year.
The Spurious Math Of A Tax Cut Rally Corporate Tax Cuts – The Seen & Unseen 3-Myths About Tax Cuts Bull Trap: The False Promise Of Tax Cuts The Conundrum Of Debt, Tax Cuts & The Economy Tax Cuts – The Economic Cure-All Buy The Rumor – Sell The News
We are currently in the second longest economic expansion since WWII. While Republican lawmakers are betting on jump-starting economic growth, the problem becomes the length of the current liquidity-driven expansion. All economic cycles end, and we are already closer to the end of the current expansion than not.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 8, 2017.

Are Economic Crises Inherent to Market Economies?

It is interesting to note that Marx, in his analysis of the capitalist economic system, basically concentrates on the study of the imbalances and maladjustments which occur in the market.
This accounts for the fact that Marxist theory is primarily a theory of market disequilibrium and that occasionally it even coincides remarkably with the dynamic analysis of market processes which was developed by economists of the Austrian School, and particularly by Mises and Hayek themselves. One of the more curious points on which a certain agreement exists relates precisely to the theory of the crises and recessions which systematically ravage the capitalist system. Thus it is interesting to observe that certain authors of the Marxist tradition, such as the Ukrainian Mijail Ivanovich Tugan-Baranovsky (1865 – 1919), reached the conclusion that economic crises originate from a tendency toward a lack of proportion among the different branches of production, a lack Tugan-Baranovsky believed inherent in the capitalist system.1 According to Baranovsky, crises occur because
the distribution of production ceases to be proportional: the machines, tools, tiles and wood used in construction are requested less than before, given that new companies are less numerous. However the producers of the means of production cannot withdraw their capital from their companies, and in addition, the importance of the capital involved in the form of buildings, machines, etc., obliges producers to continue producing (if not, the idle capital would not bear interest). Thus there is excessive production of the means of production.2

This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on 12/07/2017.

Middle or Late Innings of Economic Expansion?

Each year of this enduring slow-growth expansion cycle starting in 2009 has had a growing chorus of doomsayers looking for the next recession. The evidence in forecasting the next economic peak resembles a litany of what if’s to justify a visceral conclusion. Rising interest rates or simply the ‘feeling’ that this expansion is just too darn long are the most popular ‘reasons’ proffered for toil and trouble bubbling around the corner. For years we have heard the sky is falling with regards to the ‘bond bubble’. Yet interest rates have actually fallen in 2017 despite accelerating economic growth. The yield curve is flattening, yet current yield curve spreads have always been positive for the economy for at least the next 2 years.
The current 8 and a half year long economic expansion is also branded as long in the tooth – a quirky expression emanating from the practice of examining the length of a horse’s tooth to determine its ‘age’. Just as popular of a caption is the assertion this cycle is in the late innings of the ball game. Since 1945 the average economic growth phase has lasted just under 5 years and the longest expansions in history were the 9 to just under 10-year expansions of the 1960’s and 1990’s. Thus the current growth phase must clearly run out of steam between mid-2018 and early 2019 at the latest, right? Such logic is a bit irrational.

This post was published at FinancialSense on 12/07/2017.

Finally, An Honest Inflation Index – Guess What It Shows

Central bankers keep lamenting the fact that record low interest rates and record high currency creation haven’t generated enough inflation (because remember, for these guys inflation is a good thing rather than a dangerous disease).
To which the sound money community keeps responding, ‘You’re looking in the wrong place! Include the prices of stocks, bonds and real estate in your models and you’ll see that inflation is high and rising.’
Well it appears that someone at the Fed has finally decided to see what would happen if the CPI included those assets, and surprise! the result is inflation of 3%, or half again as high as the Fed’s target rate.
New York Fed Inflation Gauge is Bad News for Bulls (Bloomberg) – More than 20 years ago, former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan asked an important question ‘what prices are important for the conduct of monetary policy?’ The query was directly related to asset prices and whether their stability was essential for economic stability and good performance. No one has ever offered a coherent answer even though the recessions of 2001 and 2008-2009 were primarily due to a sharp correction in asset prices.

This post was published at DollarCollapse on DECEMBER 6, 2017.

Tax Bill May Spark Exodus From High-Tax States

The following is a summary of our recent podcast, “Exodus – The Major Wealth Migration,” which can be listened to on our site here on on iTunes here.
It’s looking increasingly likely that we’ll see the GOP tax bill pass in the near future. Prepped for signing by the end of this year, the bill is sure to have sweeping effects on all taxpayers, especially those in high tax states.
Consider Dan White at Moody’s: Taxation Shift Spells Trouble for Underfunded States
‘(Eliminating the state and local tax deduction) could help on the margins to drive people from those states to lower tax states because their burdens are going to increase significantly,’ White said. ‘What’s more, it’s going to make it more difficult during the next recession for states to increase taxes without being burdensome to the underlying economy.’
Many of the Rich Will Pay Under New Tax Plan
If we take the example of a high-net-worth individual living in California and making $1 million a year, that person’s state taxes amount to $102,000. If that person owns a $1.5 million home, property taxes would be around $27,000. As the new plan eliminates mortgage interest deduction above $500,000, this person would lose the ability to deduct roughly $20,000 in interest expenses.

This post was published at FinancialSense on 12/05/2017.

Giant Sucking Sound Sucks (Far) More Than US Industry Now

There are two possibilities with regard to stubbornly weak US imports in 2017. The first is the more obvious, meaning that the domestic goods economy despite its upturn last year isn’t actually doing anything positive other than no longer being in contraction. The second would be tremendously helpful given the circumstances of American labor in the whole 21st century so far. In other words, perhaps US consumers really are buying at a healthy pace, just not with the same eagerness from China and the rest anymore.
It was during the dot-com recession of 2001 that Ross Perot’s ‘giant sucking sound’ finally materialized. Between then and the bottom of the Great ‘Recession’, one third of US manufacturing jobs disappeared. With imports stuck, especially those from China, could production be moving back onshore? The unemployment rate at 4.1% would seem to suggest a burgeoning economy where that might be the case for US consumers.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be happening according to any data. Despite it being a Trump campaign promise, there just isn’t any indication that the loss of manufacturing capacity is anything other than permanent. Then again, we don’t really know for sure because there just isn’t any growth in the demand of US consumers regardless of where the goods are produced.

This post was published at Wall Street Examiner on December 5, 2017.

How Tax Cuts Will Trigger Recession

According to the more cynical pundits, government programs usually achieve the opposite of their intended goal. And sometimes they do.
For example, Richard Nixon’s ‘War on Drugs’ is still in progress, but the drugs are definitely winning.
***
Some government programs, however, are more effective. Firefighters are doing a pretty good job extinguishing fires. The US Coast Guard saves lives every day. Public school teachers educate students who would rather be elsewhere.
And then there’s our increasingly dysfunctional Congress. Where to begin?
I’ve written recently how Congress’s new tax plan misses a chance to boost economic growth. Now I think it may be even worse. Instead of merely failing to stimulate growth, the tax changes could actually launch a recession. I’ll tell you why in a moment.

This post was published at Mauldin Economics on DECEMBER 5, 2017.