March 16, 2018

It's Just Starting: Moody's Warns A Deluge Of Retail Bankruptcies Is Coming

2017 was a perfect storm for "brick and mortar" retailers who officially lost the war with Amazon, and no less than 30 retail chains filed for bankruptcy in a year in which the CEO of Urban Outfitters said the "retail bubble has now burst"...

So is the worst over for retail, or is the sector just now approaching the eye of the hurricane?

According to the latest Moody's research report on the retail sector, the rating agency now forecasts at least six retail & apparel issuers defaulting over the next 12 months, with most of these occurring in the first half of the year. 

While the good news is that the industry default rate is expected to peak at 12.43% this March, Moody's cautions that the still-high default forecast for the remainder of 2018 points to more pain before this lower ratings rung in retail stabilizes. Recent defaulters include Tops Markets, which filed for Chapter 11 on February 21, which followed Bon-Ton's filing on February 4. Charlotte Russe and Charming Charlie both defaulted in December, and Claire's has hired restructuring advisors.

Meanwhile, the Toys “R” Us bankruptcy in September its overnight Chapter 7 liquidation has only added to pressures by accentuating potential pressures between vendors and the more stressed retailers, even as it left some 33,000 employees without a job.

The problem is that it only gets worse from there, and the rating agency expects upcoming maturities for distressed issuers will spike in 2019. Defaults are growing as many struggle with high leverage and challenged operating performance. These challenges are compounded by the biggest risk - mounting maturities -  which spike in 2019. Overall, issuers in the Caa1 and lower group face $14.9 billion in public and private maturities due 2018 through 2020 as shown in Exhibit 1. The lion's share of these maturities (Exhibit 2) is attributable to just five issuers:

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March 15, 2018

China's Impending Middle Class Boom More Likely To Turn To Bust

In 2010, Brookings Institute offered a report stating that the global "middle class" was set to explode, almost entirely from the transition of China's and India's urban poor populations to the middle class (middle class meaning annual incomes per household of four from $14,600 to $146,000 in PPP (purchasing power parity)).

In 2017, the Institute updated the original work (HERE) reiterating that from 2015 to 2030, China, India, and the remainder of Asia-Pacific would add 2.1 billion or 89% of the new entrants to the already 3.2 billion person global middle class.  To round out Brookings' estimate for the middle class from '15 to '30; Europe would add just 9 million (less than 0.4%), N. America 19 million (about 0.8%), Central & S. America about 50 million (2.1%), MENA (Middle East/N. Africa) 90 million (3.9%), and sub-Saharan Africa adding 100 million (4.1%).

I have a major problem with the Brooking Institute's estimates.  Generally, I have major issues with the assumptions but specifically regarding China, I believe the Institute is somewhere from significantly wrong to totally wrong regarding future estimates for China's middle class...which is likely to reduce or undo the estimated growth throughout.

Births in China:

Let's begin with China's births, on an average basis per five years, since 1950 (chart below).  Peak births took place in the 1965-70 period at just over 30 million annually.  But with the introduction of the one-child policy in '71, the UN data makes it plain that China's births continued declining in spite of a continually larger childbearing population (aged 15-45 years old).  Even now with the one-child rollback, births are only set to further decline (detailed HERE).

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March 14, 2018

Bitcoin Sinks As Google Moves To Ban All Crypto, ICO Ads In June

Mimiccing its biggest rival for ad dollars - Facebook - Google will ban online advertisements promoting cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings, and "other speculative financial instruments" starting in June.

Some aggressive businesses found a loophole: purposely misspelling words like "bitcoin" in their ads. A Google spokeswoman said the company’s policies will try to anticipate workarounds like this.

The reaction was immediate across the crypto space but for now is somewhat subdued...

Alphabet’s Google said the new policy will become effective in June across ads bought on its search and display-advertising network, as well as its YouTube unit.

But, as The Wall Street Journal reports, the policy also will restrict ads for nontraditional methods of wagering on the future movements of stock prices and foreign-exchange, such as binary options and financial spread-betting, Google said.

Google said last year it removed more than 130 million ads that were used by hackers to mine for cryptocurrency. That is a very small percentage of the ads run on Google’s ad network.

The company’s director of sustainable ads, Scott Spencer, declined to comment on how much potential ad revenue the company would be turning away by enacting the new policy, saying the decision was made to prevent consumer harm.

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March 13, 2018

Synchronized Global Growth is Ending: Shocks Come Next

Economic pleasant surprises are in the past, as is the buildup of the balance sheet. The future is deleveraging.

Alarm bells are ringing. No one cares. By now, everyone knows stock only go up.

For those in tune with other ideas, Financial Times writer Stephen King suggests the Global Economy is Due for a Downswing.

Jim Bianco at Bianco Research comments on synchronized growth in his report Concerted Economic Growth is in Jeopardy of Ending.


Less than 50% of the world’s economies are now producing economic data surprises. Realized economic data following suit in the months to come would remove the tailwind of ‘concerted economic growth’ for risk assets and central banks. Emerging markets may be first on the list to experience higher volatility.


We have all been discussing ‘concerted global economic growth’ since early 2017 as a tailwind to risk assets and central bank policies. The chart below shows the percentage of the world’s economies producing economic data surprises (orange line) and above-average data changes (blue line) since 2004.

Over 90% of economies were indeed posting realized data changes at above-average growth rates in mid-2017. However, reported data has slowed its ascent over the past month led by the Eurozone and Canada. The percentage of economies with upside surprises has fallen to 44%, which has been a leading indicator for actual data changes like payrolls, industrial production, and durable goods orders. Above-average data changes have also rolled over to 67%. A break below 50% would mean ‘concerted economic growth’ should no longer be proclaimed.

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March 12, 2018

China Reveals Largest Defense Budget In Three Years

China’s government has been relatively vocal in transforming itself into a serious threat against the West — by modernizing its military in anticipation of future wars with Washington. It it therefore not surprising when the official Xinhua news agency reports that China will increase its defense budget by 8.1 percent in 2018, up marginally from last year’s 7 percent.

China has undoubtedly given America’s military-industrial complex and clueless politicians in Washington a stern message, by increasing its defense budget to the highest levels in more than three years, even as the country insists it does not mean harm.

According to the annual budget report, submitted to the first session of the 13th National People’s Congress Monday, the 2018 defense budget will be 1.11 trillion yuan (approximately 175 billion U.S. dollars). In 2017, the country spent roughly 1.02 trillion yuan (approximately 161.87 billion dollars) on its military budget in 2017, or about 1.3 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

The United States is the only country that outpaces China in defense spending, with the Pentagon’s expenditures exceeding four times Beijing’s, according to the latest report of the 2018 Military Budgets via the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

In a speech at an annual Meeting of China’s National People’s Congress, Premier Li Keqiang suggested the country faced “profound changes in the national security environment,” requiring a stronger military.

As we stated before the conference, geopolitical strategists are concerned about President Xi Jinping aggressive military buildup and power grab, which has put Beijing on a crash course for military conflict with Washington.

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March 9, 2018

BoJ Leaves Policy Stance Unchanged, Optimistic On Global Economy

Having briefly injected some anxiety into markets over reported comments last week about paring back easing in 2019 (which were swiftly denied), Kuroda is likely to err on the dovish side in his comments after BoJ left all monetary policy levers unchanged.

Consensus expectations are that the BOJ to leave all its key policy settings unchanged:

  • likely to keep the short-term rate at -0.1% and target for the 10-year JGB yield at around 0%
  • also likely to maintain the current pace of purchases of exchange-traded funds and real estate investment trusts
  • The BOJ is likely to retain its guideline on the annual pace of JGB accumulation at 80 trillion yen
  • Post-meeting comments by Kuroda are likely to be calibrated to avoid stoking upward pressure on the yen. That means he’s likely to avoid specifics if asked again about how or when the BOJ could manage an exit from extreme stimulus.

And that is what we got. All policy levers unchanged.

There was one dissenter - same as before - this guy not only wanted more NIRP, but also more QE, clearly unaware that the BOJ already owns more than half of all Japanese govt bonds.

  • BOJ Board Member Kataoka Votes Against Keeping Rates Unchanged
  • BOJ Kataoka: Should Take Additional Easing if Delay in Hitting Inflation Target
  • BOJ Kataoka: BOJ Should Lower Yields on JGBs of 10-Years and Longer

Language surrounding the global economy is more optimistic.

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March 8, 2018

Stockman Celebrates The End Of The Goldman Sachs Regency At The White House

The financial commentariat and the robo-machines are all in a tizzy this morning because Gary Cohn up and quit. But we say good riddance: The man gave Trump bad advice on nearly every single issue---trade, taxes, fiscal policy and the Fed.

We didn't make any bones about that viewpoint during our appearance on Fox Business this AM. When Maria Bartiromo asked us about Cohn's departure, our reply was: Hallelujah, the Goldman Sachs Regency in the White House is finally over!

The fact is, we do have a trade crisis, but Gary Cohn and the Wall Street pseudo-free traders don't care and never have. That's because they fiercely support a perverted, self-serving monetary regime that systematically and massively inflates financial assets, even as it strip mines and deflates the main street economy.

As we have been pointing out in this series, there is a perverse symbiosis between the Fed and the Dirty Float central banks of the 10 major countries (China, Vietnam, Mexico, Japan, etc), which account for 90% of the nation's $810 billion trade deficit (2017). Together they have ripped the guts out of the US industrial economy---effectively sending jobs and production abroad and cash flow and liquidated capital to Wall Street.

For its part, the Fed has monkey-hammered US competitiveness. That's the result of its insensible 2.00% inflation policy, which has fatally inflated nominal dollar wages in a world market drowning in cheap labor priced in artificially under-valued currencies.

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March 7, 2018

The SPY Of Crypto? Coinbase Launches Cryptocurrency Index Fund

Coinbase dashed the hopes of thousands of ripple investors, who've been holding out hope that the exchange would add the coin, when it revealed that its "major announcement" Tuesday afternoon was, in fact, the introduction of the Coinbase Index Fund, a pioneering investing vehicle that just might do to cryptocurrencies what the ETFs like the SPY did for stocks. 

The company published the announcement on its blog:

We’re excited to announce Coinbase Index Fund.

Coinbase Index Fund will give investors exposure to all digital assets listed on Coinbase’s exchange, GDAX, weighted by market capitalization. If a new asset is listed on the exchange, it will be automatically added to the fund.

Index funds have changed the way that many people think about investing. By providing diversified exposure to a broad range of assets, index funds enable investors to track the performance of an entire asset class, rather than having to select individual assets. We’re excited to give our customers the ability to invest in the potential of blockchain-based digital assets as a whole.

Twitter users were unimpressed however because, as the company pointed out, Coinbase and associated exchange GDAX only lists four coins...

The news had some impact on the price of cryptocurrencies, which have been slumping Tuesday, with Ripple lower and the rest bouncing marginally higher...

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March 6, 2018

Oh Canada! The Looming Economic Meltdown

Canada’s Fourth Quarter economic growth was 1.7% following positive signs of growth earlier in the year. This growth, however modest, is attributable to easy credit and the increased consumer spending. At this time, Canadian households are facing one the largest indebtedness when compared to most other countries. For every $1.00 of income, consumers owe $1.68. This is the highest income to debt ratio in the world. For low-income Canadian households, the $1.00 disposable income to $3.33 debt ratio is even worst.

Canada, along with other nations, especially emerging markets are carrying records levels of consumer debts, may be facing a serious crash as further growth becomes unsustainable.

Canada combined deficit rose to $18.1 billion in 2016, from $12.9 billion in the previous year. Higher debts and increased spending are causing serious concerns that the Canadian economy is on an unsustainable economic path.

A considerable portion of Canada’s future economic growth has been predicated on strengthening and improving the country’s infrastructure. However, Prime Minister Trudeau’s policies are destined to strangle potential economic growth by shifting C$7.2 billion allocated to infrastructure improvements to government programs such as gender equality hiring opportunities. According to the Conference Board of Canada’s Craig Alexander.

Canada appears to be stunting its own economic growth as a matter of policy.

Three major infrastructure projects, The Northern Gateway pipeline ($7.9 billion), the Pacific Northwest LNG project ($36 billion), and possibly the Energy East pipeline ($15.7 billion) would have been instrumental in guaranteeing economic growth for decades to come. However, these have been stymied in favor of Trudeau’s economic egalitarian vision. As a result, investors have been abandoning certain projects. The last time Canada’s saw such heavy-handed government interference in its economy was during the presidency of Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau.

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March 5, 2018

Trump Warns "It's Time For Change" In The Countries Responsible For America's Trade Deficit

Update: President Trump is showing absolutely zero signs of backing away from his trade tariffs plan and has just tweeted...

"We are on the losing side of almost all trade deals. Our friends and enemies have taken advantage of the U.S. for many years. Our Steel and Aluminum industries are dead. "

Which as the chart below shows is true. Trump has a warning...

"Sorry, it’s time for a change! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"

While establishment globalists doth protest loudly of the Steel (and Aluminum) impositions that President Trump is proclaiming, it appears their memories of recent historic reality is gravely absent (or willfully being ignored).

On Friday, Peter Navarro, Trump's newly reincarnated foreign trade advisor, made clear that this is not a 'first strike' in the 'trade war', this is America's retaliation to years of abuse:

“I don’t believe any country in the world is going to retaliate for the simple reason we are the most lucrative and biggest market in the world,” Navarro told Fox News Friday.

“They know they’re cheating us. All we’re doing is standing up for ourselves.”

One look at the record US trade deficit, with both the entire world, (and more specifically China alone and Europe alone), and one could make the case that he is correct.

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March 2, 2018

Everything You Need To Know About Federal Spending In Five Charts

It’s time to address the budget in a comprehensive fashion. Let’s look at five charts to put everything in context and to show how we got into our current mess.

Our first chart (based on Table 8.2 from the Office of Management and Budget’s Historical Tables) shows what has happened to major spending categories from 1962 to 2017. And all the data is in inflation-adjusted dollars (2009 benchmark) to accurately gauge how and why the burden of federal spending has grown.

This next chart shows the actual percentage increases in the major spending categories during this time period. The two big takeaways are that 1) the defense budget is not the cause of our long-run fiscal problems (though that doesn’t mean it should be exempt from cuts), and 2) entitlement expenditures have exploded.

And if you look at the data I shared from the Congressional Budget Office’s long-run forecast, you would see that these same trends will prevail for the next three decades.

In other words, our fiscal problems start with entitlements and end with entitlements.

If you want to look at the problem with a broader lens, this next chart shows that the problem is domestic spending (i.e., the combination of entitlement and domestic discretionary outlays).

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March 1, 2018

12 Years In A Row And Counting: The U.S. Has Not Had A Year Of 3 Percent Economic Growth In More Than A Decade

If the U.S. economy is in good shape, then why has economic growth been so anemic for more than a decade?  It has been 12 long years since the economy grew by at least 3 percent, and for most of that time my website has been one of the leading voices chronicling America’s long-term economic problems.  In 2017, U.S. GDP increased by just 2.3 percent, but at least that was better than the pathetic 1.5 percent figure that was posted for 2016.  With Donald Trump in the White House, we have taken some steps in the right direction, but we must never forget that our long-term economic and financial problems continue to steadily get worse.

As I travel around Idaho’s first congressional district, I often tell voters that we have not had a year of 3 percent economic growth since the middle of the Bush administration, and a lot of people have a really hard time believing that this is accurate.  But of course it is 100 percent true, and earlier today CNS News published an article highlighting this fact…

The United States has gone a record 12 straight years without 3-percent growth in real Gross Domestic Product, according to data released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

This drought is highly, highly unusual.  In fact, before this 12 year stretch the previous record was just four years

Before the current period, when the nation has seen twelve straight years without 3 percent growth in real GDP, the longest stretch of years in which real GDP did not grow by at least 3 percent was during the Great Depression—when there were four straight years (1930-1933) when real GDP did not grow that much.

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February 28, 2018

Silver Hits Key Support Amid Hedge Fund Exodus

While the dollar is down around 3% year-to-date, not all dollar-denominated assets are rallying and in fact, silver is now the biggest loser among the precious metals.

Palladium's recent resurgence has pushed it back above silver for the year (though still in the red) as Gold and Platinum remain in the green for the year.

All of this has happened as hedge funds have abandoned their long positions in silver. As Bloomberg points out, hedge funds and other large speculators cut their long position in silver futures and options for a sixth straight week in the longest string of declines since August 2014.

Notably, the net speculative positioning across silver futures and options is near its lowest level in 20 years...

All of which might be useful timing as Silver is back at a historically important level of cheapness relative to Gold...

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February 27, 2018

"Tanks On Their Lawn": Comcast Challenges Fox With $31 Billion Bid For Sky

US cable-and-content behemoth Comcast issued a brazen challenge to News Corp. mogul Rupert Murdoch by offering a 22 billion pound ($31 billion) cash bid to buy Sky, challenging Murdoch's Twenty-First Century Fox - which is trying to buy the 61% of the company that it doesn't already own - and Walt Disney, which recently purchased nearly all of the entertainment assets once owned by the Murdoch-controlled 21st Century Fox.

Comcast's bid comes out to GBP12.5 per share in cash for the UK broadcaster, a 16% premium to the GBP10.75 per share that Fox recently agreed to.

Sky shares soared nearly 20% on the news.

As Reuters points out, Sky services 23 million homes across Europe and is known for its technological innovation. Murdoch has been trying to gain 100% control of the company, but has been stymied by British regulators, who have raised concerns about his stewardship stemming from the News of the World phone-hacking scandal and his already vast influence over UK media. Murdoch already owns several of the UK's most widely circulated print publications, as well as his 39% stake in Sky, According to Reuters.

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February 26, 2018

A Strong Euro Is A Headache For The ECB

In recent weeks, the euro has been at its highest level, relative to the US dollar, that we've seen in the last three years. This is a movement that surprises when the European Central Bank is carrying out the most aggressive monetary expansion in the world after the Bank of Japan.

A strong euro is not a problem for any European citizen. European households keep a large part of their financial wealth in deposits. Additionally, a strong euro curbs inflation in imported products, mainly energy and food, generating a significant wealth effect.

If we look at the commodity index between January 6, 2017 and January 12, 2018, we can see that it has fallen by more than 12% in euros, while it is slightly up in US dollars. For the average European citizen, a stable or strong euro is a blessing, and one of the essential factors for the recovery of household disposable income.

A strong euro has not been a problem either for exports. Spain, for example, has increased by 53% the weight of exports in GDP in the last five years and Eurozone exports in 2017 marked a record, growing more than the average of global trade and with a record trade surplus, which is one of the decisive factors explaining the euro strength.

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