August 21, 2017

Builders Complain Of Record Labor Shortages: Up To 75% Of Employers Can't Find Workers

Late last month we reported the remarkable anecdote of an Ohio factory owner who has numerous blue-collar jobs available at her company, but has one major problem: she is struggling to fill positions because so many candidates fail drug tests. Regina Mitchell, co-owner of Warren Fabricating & Machining in Hubbard, Ohio, told The New York Times this week that four out of 10 applicants otherwise qualified to be welders, machinists and crane operators will fail a routine drug test. While not quite as bad as the adverse hit rate hinted at by the Beige Book, this is a stunning number, and one which indicates of major structural changes to the US labor force where addiction and drugs are keeping millions out of gainful (or any, for that matter) employment.

Mitchell said that her requirements for prospective workers were simple: “I need employees who are engaged in their work while here, of sound mind and doing the best possible job that they can, keeping their fellow co-workers safe at all times." And yet, almost nobody could satisfy these very simple requirements.

Whether it was due to pervasive drug abuse, or for some other reason, but fast forward two weeks when in response to a special question in the July NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) survey, US homebuilders said that labor and subcontractor shortages have become even more widespread in July of 2017 than they were in June of 2016.

This is a concern as the inventory of for-sale homes recently struck a 20-year low. And while economists and the public cry for more inventory, many builders are pressed to meet demand. A labor and subcontractor shortage in the building industry has worsened over the past year, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index survey of single-family builders.

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August 15, 2017

Used Car Prices Crash To Lowest Level Since 2009 Amid Glut Of Off-Lease Supply

The U.S. auto market is at an interesting crossroads with used car prices crashing to new lows every month while new car prices continue to defy gravity courtesy of a somewhat 'frothy', if not suicidal, lending market that has seemingly decided that anyone with a pulse is financially qualified for a $0 down, 0% interest, 80 month loan on a brand new $40,000 luxury vehicle of their choice. 

As the Labor Department’s consumer-price index data showed last Friday, used car prices once again dropped in July to the lowest level since the 'great recession' of 2009.  In fact, since the end of 2015, the cost of used vehicles has dropped in all but three months and are now roughly 10% off their 2013 high.

Unfortunately, the outlook for the used market is only expected to get worse with the volume of lease returns expected to soar to nearly 4mm units by 2018.

Meanwhile, despite modest weakness over the past two months, new car prices have held up fairly well...

...even as the domestic auto OEM's continue to flood dealer lots with new inventory that isn't moving.

Of course, logic would dictate that some level of substitution would have to take over at some point as the financial benefits of buying a used car eventually outweigh the social indignity of cruising around town in a 3-year old clunker. 

That said, those innovative "Low Credit Score" discounts do make new car buying very attractive...

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August 14, 2017

US Launches Quiet Crackdown On Cryptocurrencies

While all eyes were distracted with the Trump-demeaning headlines of the foreign sanctions bill, few spotted the hidden mandate that foreign governments monitor cryptocurrency circulations as a measure to combat "illicit finance trends" in an effort to "combat terrorism."

As Coinivore reports, the bill requires the governments to develop a “national security strategy” to combat the “financing of terrorism and related forms of illicit finance.”

Governments will be further required to monitor “data regarding trends in illicit finance, including evolving forms of value transfer such as so-called cryptocurrencies.”

According to the bill, an initial draft strategy is expected to come before Congress within the next year, and will see input from U.S. financial regulators, the Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department.

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August 11, 2017

"We Need More Suckers At The Table" - Quant Funds Stumble As Dumb-Money Disappears

The omniptence of artificial intelligence is unquestioned. The 'future' is automation, robotization, and algorithmic domination is the mantra of the new normal prognosticators - and anyone who challenges this world view is a luddite or 'denier'.

There's just one problem - those quantitative, AI-based, computerized algos, that are supposed to be making people obsolete in the financial markets, are in trouble. As Bloomberg reports, program-driven hedge funds are stumbling, a promising startup has closed, and once-reliable styles are showing weakening returns.

This isn’t just normal volatility confined to a single month, according to noted quant fund manager Neal Berger, the founder and chief investment officer of Eagle’s View Asset Management, a $500 million fund-of-funds that invests with 30 managers, half of them quants. Returns have been decaying for a year, suggesting the rest of the market has figured out what the robots are doing and started taking evasive action, Berger said.

Bloomberg notes that June was the worst month on record for Berger’s fund, as usually robust strategies lost their footing and the firm fell 2.4 percent. The worst pain has been among quants in the market-neutral equity space, which take long and short positions to isolate bets on price patterns and relationships.

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August 10, 2017

From Coke To Coors: Philly Soda Tax Leading To Alcoholism As Beer Now Cheaper Than Soda

Perhaps The Burning Platform summarized the idiocy of Philadelphia's soda tax better than anyone to date:

In a shocking development, the Philadelphia soda tax is a big fucking fail. Who could have predicted that. Democrat government drones and their brain dead minions are so desperate for money to fund their gold plated union pensions and bloated salaries, they lie, cheat and tax the poor into oblivion. Result: lost jobs, further impoverished poor people, no help for children, more closed businesses, and a further hole in the city budget. But at least the city union workers can keep their gold plated pensions – for now. Maff is hard for liberals, but it always wins in the end.

But, as The Washington Free Beacon points out, the unfortunate side effects of Philly's disastrous soda tax may not be limited just to the economic consequences enumerated above.  As a study by the Tax Foundation recently found, there are social consequences as well with people now choosing to substitute beer for soda in light of the fact that, well, beer is just cheaper.

Philadelphia's tax on sugary drinks has made soda more expensive than beer in the city.

The Tax Foundation released a new study on the excise tax last week, finding that the 1.5-cent per ounce tax has fallen short of revenue projections, cost jobs, and has forced some Philadelphians to drive outside the city to buy groceries.

The study finds that the tax is 24 times higher than the Pennsylvania tax rate on beer.

"Purchases of beer are also now less expensive than nonalcoholic beverages subject to the tax in the city," according to the study, written by Courtney Shupert and Scott Drenkard. "Empirical evidence from a 2012 journal article suggests that soda taxes can push consumers to alcohol, meaning it is likely the case that consumers are switching to alcoholic beverages as a result of the tax. The paper, aptly titled From Coke to Coors, further shows that switching from soda to beer increases total caloric intake, even as soda taxes are generally aimed at caloric reduction."

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August 9, 2017

The Volcker Rule & The London Whale: "Dear Big Media, Get A Clue"

News reports that prosecutors have dropped their case against Bruno Iksil, the former JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM) trader many know as the “London Whale,” comes as no surprise to readers of The IRA.  Iksil, who resurfaced earlier this year, has been living in relative seclusion in France for the past few years.

In previous comments posted on Zero Hedge, we dispensed with the notion that the investment activities of Iksil and the office of the JPM Chief Investment Officer were either illegal or concealed from the bank’s senior management.  The fact is that Iksil and his colleagues at JPM were doing their jobs, namely generating investment gains for the bank.

The outsized bets made by the “whale” in credit derivatives contracts resulted in a loss in 2012, but the operation generated significant profits for JPM in earlier years.  As veteran risk manager Nom de Plumber told us in Zero Hedge in 2012:

“This JPM loss, whether $2BLN or even $5BLN, is modest in both absolute and relative terms, versus its overall profitability and capital base, and especially against the far greater losses at other institutions. In practical current terms, the hit resembles a rounding error, not a stomach punch.  As either taxpayers or long-term JPM investors, we should be more grateful than sorry about the JPM CIO Ina Drew.   If only other institutions could also do so ‘poorly’………”

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August 8, 2017

Fannie, Freddie Would Need $100BN Bailout In New Financial Crisis

While the latest Fed stress test found that all US commercial banks have enough capital to survive even an "adverse" stress scenario, a severe recession in which the VIX hypothetically soars to 70, the two US mortgage giants would not be quite so lucky: according to the results from the annual stress test of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac released today by their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the "GSEs" which were nationalized a decade ago in the early days of the crisis, would need as much as $100 billion in bailout funding in the form of a potential incremental Treasury draw, in the event of a new economic crisis.

Under the "severely adverse" scenario, i.e., a "severe global recession" U.S. real GDP begins to decline immediately and reaches a trough in the second quarter of 2018 after a decline of 6.50% from the pre-recession peak. The rate of unemployment increases from 4.7% to a peak of 10.0% in the third quarter of 2018. CPI declines to about 1.25% by the second quarter of 2017 (so not that much further from here) and then rises to approximately 1.75% by the middle of 2018. Outright deflation is not even considered.

In addition, equity prices fall by approximately 50% from the start of the planning horizon through the end of 2017, and equity volatility soars, approaching levels last seen in 2008. Home prices decline by approximately 25% , and commercial real estate prices fall by 35% through the first quarter of 2019.  The Severely Adverse scenario also includes a global market shock component that impacts the Enterprises’ retained portfolios. The global market shock involves large and immediate changes in asset prices, interest rates, and spreads caused by general market dislocation, uncertainty in the global economy, and significant market illiquidity. Option-adjusted spreads on mortgage-backed securities widen significantly in this scenario.

Most interesting is the following provision in the "severly adverse" scenario: the global market shock also includes a counterparty default component that assumes the failure of each Enterprise’s largest counterparty. Which, of course, is ironic because the Fed's own stress test of commercial banks did not anticipate any bank failing. The global market shock is treated as an instantaneous loss and reduction of capital in the first quarter of the planning horizon, and the scenario assumes no recovery of these losses by the Enterprises in future quarters.

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August 7, 2017

China's Minsky Moment Is Imminent

Crescat Capital's Q2 letter to investors shouold be retitled "everything you wanted to know about the looming bursting of the world's biggest credit bubble... but were afraid to ask..." Don't say we didn't warn you...

History has proven that credit bubbles always burst. China by far is the biggest credit bubble in the world today. We layout the proof herein. There are many indicators signaling that the bursting of the China credit bubble is imminent, which we also enumerate. The bursting of the China credit bubble poses tremendous risk of global contagion because it coincides with record valuations for equities, real estate, and risky credit around the world.


The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) has identified an important warning signal to identify credit bubbles that are poised to trigger a banking crisis across different countries: Unsustainable credit growth relative to gross domestic product (GDP) in the household and (non-financial) corporate sector. Three large (G-20) countries are flashing warning signals today for impending banking crises based on such imbalances: China, Canada, and Australia.

The three credit bubbles shown in the chart above are connected. Canada and Australia export raw materials to China and have been part of China’s excessive housing and infrastructure expansion over the last two decades. In turn, these countries have been significant recipients of capital inflows from Chinese real estate speculators that have contributed to Canadian and Australian housing bubbles. In all three countries, domestic credit-to-GDP expansion financed by banks has created asset bubbles in self-reinforcing but unsustainable fashion.

Post the 2008 global financial crisis, the world’s central bankers have kept interest rates low and delivered just the right amount of quantitative easing in aggregate to levitate global debt, equity, and real estate valuations to the highest they have ever been relative to income. Across all sectors of the world economy: household, corporate, government, and financial, the world’s aggregate debt relative to its collective GDP (gross world product) is the highest it has ever been. Central banks have pumped up the valuation of equities too. The S&P 500 has a cyclically adjusted P/E of almost 30 versus a median of 16, exceeded only in 1929 and the 2000 tech bubble.

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August 4, 2017

Is The Dollar Setting Up For A "Rip Your Face Off" Rally Or Total Freefall?

The U.S. dollar's relentless decline this year poses a question: is the USD setting up for a monster rally, or is it in a slow-motion crash? Opinions vary, of course, as to the possible reasons for the massive decline: European growth is better than expected, Trump's presidency is going nowhere, the Federal Reserve won't be raising rates, and so on.

The nice thing about charts is they summarize all these inputs into a snapshot. So let's take a look at the daily and weekly charts of the USD.

There's nothing fancy here, just the basics of moving averages, RSI, stochastics and MACD. There's not much to encourage Bulls in the daily chart: every attempt to regain the support of the 20-day moving average has failed, and triggered another leg down.

RSI and stochastics are oversold, but as this chart illustrates, oversold conditions can continue for quite some time. MACD may be setting up the beginnings of a divergence/reversal, but maybe not. At this point, betting on a reversal might be a case of catching the falling knife.

The weekly chart is even more dramatic. Judging by the steep decline this year, the world is ending--at least for the USD. RSI is oversold for the first time in 2+ years, stochastics have been deeply oversold for months, and MACD is in a cliff-dive that could end in a belly-flop.

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August 3, 2017

Remember This Milestone: The Dow Jones Industrial Average Hits 22,000 For The First Time In U.S. History

The Dow hit the 22,000 mark for the first time ever on Wednesday, and investors all over the world greatly celebrated.  And without a doubt this is an exceedingly important moment, because I think that this is a milestone that we will be remembering for a very long time.  So far this year the Dow is up over 11 percent, and it has now tripled in value since hitting a low in March 2009.  It has been quite a ride, and if you would have told me a couple of years ago that the Dow would be hitting 22,000 in August 2017 I probably would have laughed at you.  The central bankers have been able to keep this ridiculous stock market bubble going for longer than most experts dreamed possible, and for that they should be congratulated.  But of course the long-term outlook for our financial markets has not changed one bit.

Every other stock market bubble of this magnitude in our history has ended with a crash, and this current bubble is going to suffer the same fate.

But many in the mainstream media are still encouraging people to jump into the market at this late hour.  For example, the following comes from a USA Today article that was published on Wednesday…

“It’s still not too late to get in,” says Jeff Kleintop, chief global investment strategist at Charles Schwab, based in San Francisco. “The gains are firmly rooted in business fundamentals, not false hopes.”

I honestly don’t know how anyone could say such a thing with a straight face.  We have essentially been in a “no growth economy” for the past decade, and signs of a new economic slowdown are all around us.

Read the entire article

August 2, 2017

A Quarter Trillion Dollars In US Savings Was Just "Wiped Away"

As part of its historical revision to GDP, the BEA also had to adjust personal income and spending, with the full results released in today's July report. What it revealed was striking: over the revised period, disposable personal income for US household was slashed cumulatively by over $120 billion to just under $14.4 trillion, while spending was revised higher by $105 billion, to just above $13.8 trillion. There were two immediate consequences of this result.

First, as the following table shows, while government pay has remained roughly flat over the past 3 years, growing in the mid-2% to mid 3% range, wages and salaries for private workers have been steadily declining as the blue line below shows, and after hitting a 4% Y/Y growth in February, wage growth has slumped to just 2.5% in June, the lowest since January 2014 when excluding the one-time sharp swoon observed at the end of 2016.

But a more troubling aspect of today's revision is what the drop in income and burst in spending means for the average household's bank account: following the latest annual revision, what until last month was a 5.5% personal saving rate was revised sharply lower as a result of the ongoing downward historical adjustment to personal income and upward adjustment to spending, to only 3.8%.

In dollar terms, this revision means that a quarter trillion dollars, or $226.3 billion, in savings was just "wiped away" from US households - if only in some computer deep in the bowels of the BEA buildings -  who as a result have that much less purchasing power, and following the revision the total personal saving in the US as calculated by the BEA is now down to only $546 billion, down from $791 billion before the revision.

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August 1, 2017

Goldman Sachs Says That There Is A 99 Percent Chance That Stock Prices Will Not Keep Going Up Like This

Analysts at Goldman Sachs are saying that it is next to impossible for stock prices to keep going up like they have been recently.  Ever since Donald Trump’s surprise election victory in November, stocks have been on a tremendous run, but this surge has not been matched by a turnaround in the real economy.  We have essentially had a “no growth” economy for most of the past decade, and ominous signs pointing to big trouble ahead are all around us.  The only reason why stocks have been able to perform so well is due to unprecedented intervention by global central banks, but they are not going to be able to keep inflating this bubble forever.  At some point this absolutely enormous bubble will burst and investors will lose trillions of dollars.

The only other times we have seen stock valuations at these levels were just before the stock market crash of 1929 and just before the dotcom bubble burst in 2000.  For those that think that they can jump into the markets now and make a lot of money from rapidly rising stock prices, I think that it would be wise to consider what analysts at Goldman Sachs are telling us.  The following is from a CNBC article that was published on Monday…

Investors may be in for disappointing market returns in the decade to come with valuations at levels this high, if history is any indication.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs pointed out that annualized returns on the S&P 500 10 years out were in the single digits or negative 99 percent of the time when starting with valuations at current levels.

Do you really want to try to fight those odds?

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