Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Is the party ending?


IMG_9851


Wall Street Banks Warn Downturn Is Coming

By

Sid Verma

and

Cecile Gutscher

August 22, 2017, 12:47 PM EDT August 23, 2017, 4:48 AM EDT

  • HSBC, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley say end of market boom is nigh

  • Breakdown in trading patterns is signal to get out soon


HSBC Holdings Plc, Citigroup Inc. and Morgan Stanley see mounting evidence that global markets are in the last stage of their rallies before a downturn in the business cycle.

Analysts at the Wall Street behemoths cite signals including the breakdown of long-standing relationships between stocks, bonds and commodities as well as investors ignoring valuation fundamentals and data. It all means stock and credit markets are at risk of a painful drop.

“Equities have become less correlated with FX, FX has become less correlated with rates, and everything has become less sensitive to oil,” Andrew Sheets, Morgan Stanley’s chief cross-asset strategist, wrote in a note published Tuesday.

His bank’s model shows assets across the world are the least correlated in almost a decade, even after U.S. stocks joined high-yield credit in a selloff triggered this month by President Donald Trump’s political standoff with North Korea and racial violence in Virginia.

Morgan Stanley

Just like they did in the run-up to the 2007 crisis, investors are pricing assets based on the risks specific to an individual security and industry, and shrugging off broader drivers, such as the latest release of manufacturing data, the model shows. As traders look for excuses to stay bullish, traditional relationships within and between asset classes tend to break down.

“These low macro and micro correlations confirm the idea that we’re in a late-cycle environment, and it’s no accident that the last time we saw readings this low was 2005-07,” Sheets wrote. He recommends boosting allocations to U.S. stocks while reducing holdings of corporate debt, where consumer consumption and energy is more heavily represented.

That dynamic is also helping to keep volatility in stocks, bonds and currencies at bay, feeding risk appetite globally, according to Morgan Stanley. Despite the turbulent past two weeks, the CBOE Volatility Index remains on track to post a third year of declines.

Morgan Stanley

For Savita Subramanian, Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s head of U.S. equity and quantitative strategy, signals that investors aren’t paying much attention to earnings is another sign that the global rally may soon run out of steam. For the first time since the mid-2000s, companies that outperformed analysts’ profit and sales estimates across 11 sectors saw no reward from investors, according to her research.

“This lack of a reaction could be another late-cycle signal, suggesting expectations and positioning already more than reflect good results/guidance,” Subramanian wrote in a note earlier this month.

Zero Alpha Beats - Bank of America Corp

Oxford Economics Ltd. macro strategist Gaurav Saroliya points to another red flag for U.S. equity bulls. The gross value-added of non-financial companies after inflation -- a measure of the value of goods after adjusting for the costs of production -- is now negative on a year-on-year basis.

“The cycle of real corporate profits has turned enough to be a potential source of concern in the next four quarters,” he said in an interview. “That, along with the most expensive equity valuations among major markets, should worry investors in U.S. stocks.”

The thinking goes that a classic late-cycle expansion -- an economy with full employment and slowing momentum -- tends to see a decline in corporate profit margins. The U.S. is in the mature stage of the cycle -- 80 percent of completion since the last trough -- based on margin patterns going back to the 1950s, according to Societe Generale SA.

Societe Generale SA

After concluding credit markets are overheated, HSBC’s global head of fixed-income research, Steven Major, told clients to cut holdings of European corporate bonds earlier this month. Premiums fail to compensate investors for the prospect of capital losses, liquidity risks and an increase in volatility, according to Major.

HSBC Holdings Plc

Citigroup analysts also say markets are on the cusp of entering a late-cycle peak before a recession that pushes stocks and bonds into a bear market.

Spreads may widen in the coming months thanks to declining central-bank stimulus and as investors fret over elevated corporate leverage, they write. But, equities are likely to rally further partly due to buybacks, the strategists conclude.

“Bubbles are common in these aging equity bull markets,” Citigroup analysts led by Robert Buckland said in a note Friday.

— With assistance by Cecile Vannucci

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Hate


IMG_9854

Acrylic.  “Hate”  2017

Hate Equals Toxic Inequality

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Why We're Doomed: Our Economy's Toxic Inequality

Anyone who thinks our toxic financial system is stable is delusional.

Why are we doomed? Those consuming over-amped "news" feeds may be tempted to answer the culture wars, nuclear war with North Korea or the Trump Presidency.

The one guaranteed source of doom is our broken financial system, which is visible in this chart of income inequality from the New York Times: Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart.

While the essay's title is our broken economy, the source of this toxic concentration of income, wealth and power in the top 1/10th of 1% is more specifically our broken financial system.

What few observers understand is rapidly accelerating inequality is the only possible output of a fully financialized economy. Various do-gooders on the left and right propose schemes to cap this extraordinary rise in the concentration of income, wealth and power, for example, increasing taxes on the super-rich and lowering taxes on the working poor and middle class, but these are band-aids applied to a metastasizing tumor: financialization, which commoditizes labor, goods, services and financial instruments and funnels the income and wealth to the very apex of the wealth-power pyramid.

Take a moment to ponder what this chart is telling us about our financial system and economy. 35+ years ago, lower income households enjoyed the highest rates of income growth; the higher the income, the lower the rate of income growth.

This trend hasn't just reversed; virtually all the income gains are now concentrated in the top 1/100th of 1%, which has pulled away from the top 1%, the top 5% and the top 10%, as well as from the bottom 90%.

The fundamental driver of this profoundly destabilizing dynamic is the disconnect of finance from the real-world economy.

The roots of this disconnect are debt: when we borrow from future earnings and energy production to fund consumption today, we are using finance to ramp up our consumption of real-world goods and services.

In small doses, this use of finance to increase consumption of real-world goods and services is beneficial: economies with access to credit can rapidly boost expansion in ways that economies with little credit cannot.

But the process of financialization is not benign. Financialization turns everything into a commodity that can be traded and leveraged as a financial entity that is no longer firmly connected to the real world.

The process of financialization requires expertise in the financial game, and it places a premium on immense flows of capital and opaque processes: for example, the bundling of debt such as mortgages or student loans into instruments that can be sold and traded.

These instruments can then become the foundation of an entirely new layer of instruments that can be sold and traded. This pyramiding of debt-based "assets" spreads risk throughout the economy while aggregating the gains into the hands of the very few with access to the capital and expertise needed to pass the risk and assets off onto others while keeping the gains.

Profit flows to what's scarce, and in a financialized economy, goods and services have become commodities, i.e. they are rarely scarce, because somewhere in the global economy new supplies can be brought online.

What's scarce in a financialized economy is specialized knowledge of financial games such as tax avoidance, arbitrage, packaging collateralized debt obligations and so on.

Though the billionaires who have actually launched real-world businesses get the media attention--Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, et al.--relatively few of the top 1/10th of 1% actually created a real-world business; most are owners of capital with annual incomes of $10 million to $100 million that are finance-generated.

This is only possible in a financialized economy in which finance has become increasingly detached from the real-world economy.

Those with the capital and skills to reap billions in profits from servicing and packaging student loan debt have no interest in whether the education being purchased with the loans has any utility to the indebted students, as their profits flow not from the real world but from the debt itself.

This is how we've ended up with an economy characterized by profound dysfunction in the real world of higher education, healthcare, etc., and immense fortunes being earned by a few at the top of the pyramid from the financialized games that have little to no connection to the real-world economy.

Anyone who thinks our toxic financial system is stable is delusional. If history is any guide (and recall that Human Nature hasn't changed in the 5,000 years of recorded history), this sort of accelerating income/wealth/ power inequality is profoundly destabilizing--economically, politically and socially.

All the domestic headline crises--culture wars, opioid epidemic, etc.--are not causes of discord: they are symptoms of the inevitable consequences of a toxic financial system that has broken our economy, our system of governance and our society.
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Monday, August 14, 2017

Recession?


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Acrylic— “Transformation”

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Are We Already in Recession?

If we stop counting zombies, we're already in recession.

How shocked would you be if it was announced that the U.S. had just entered a recession, that is, a period in which gross domestic product (GDP) declines (when adjusted for inflation) for two or more quarters?

Would you really be surprised to discover that the eight-year long "recovery," the weakest on record, had finally rolled over into recession?

Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the statistical pulse of the real-world economy knows the numbers are softening.

-- Auto/light truck sales: either down or off a cliff, depending on how much lipstick has been applied to the pig.

-- Restaurant/dining sales: down.

-- Tax receipts: down.

-- Retail sales: flat, stagnant or down, depending on the sector and if the numbers have been adjusted for inflation/loss of purchasing power.

-- Rents in high-rent regions: finally softening after years of relentless increases.

-- Consumer debt: hitting new highs.

-- Corporate profits: stripped of gimmickry, stagnant or down.

Those who study recessions know that employment often tops out just before the economy rolls over into recession. Strong employment is the last gasp of an expansionary phase.

There are several fundamental reasons why we might be in a recession that manages to avoid the official definition. The starting place is the artificial nature of the eight-year long "recovery" since 2009; in the view of many observers, the economy never really exited the 2008-09 recession.

Those in this camp look at fundamentals, not the stock market, which has been held up as a proxy for the real economy, when in fact it is only a proxy for financialization and official selection of the market as the (easily manipulated) signifier of economic vitality and prosperity.

Recessions are supposed to clear the financial deadwood--failed enterprises are liquidated, borrowers who are in default are bankrupted, and bad debt is wiped off the books via the acceptance of losses.

The story of the "recovery" 2009-2017 is that these clear-the-deadwood dynamics were suppressed. Rather than accept painful losses, the authorities saved bankrupt banks and encouraged a Zombie Economy in which zombie borrowers and enterprises are kept alive via low-cost loans and the masking of default via financial trickery: student loans that are non-performing, for example, aren't labeled "in default;" they're placed in a zombie category of forgiveness without actual writedowns of the debt.

If households can no longer afford to pay interest on new debt, the "solution" in a Zombie Economy is to offer them 0% loans. If corporations need to roll over debt, the Zombie Economy "solution" is the companies sell near-zero yield bonds to credulous investors.

If households can no longer afford to buy homes, the Zombie Economy "solution" is for federal agencies such as FHA to offer near-zero down payment mortgages and guarantee private lenders against any loss.

When these agencies get into trouble due to the horrendous costs of encouraging uncreditworthy borrowers to take on debt they can't afford, the "solution" is for the taxpayers to fund yet another $100 billion bail-out.

The stark reality is fulltime jobs, productivity and profits are all subpar. As I have noted many times, wages for the bottom 95% have gone nowhere since 2000 when adjusted for inflation. Households can no longer afford more debt unless it's at near-zero rates of interest.

Fulltime employment--the bedrock of consumer spending and borrowing--has barely moved in eight years. Part-time waiters can't afford to buy homes or new vehicles.

Wealth and income can only be generated in the real world by increases in productivity. Unfortunately for the "recovery" narrative, productivity is tanking.

Corporate profits are also going nowhere.

In essence, the "recovery" economy is a zombie economy living on great gulps of new debt that it can't service. As sales, profits and tax receipts weaken, eventually employment weakens, too, as employers trim costs by cutting positions, hours worked, etc.

Eventually, zombie borrowers give up trying to service unpayable debts, zombie companies close their doors, and the illusion of "growth" collapses in a heap of corrupted numbers and false signifiers.

The "recovery" game will shift to massaging GDP so it ekes out .1% "growth" every quarter until Doomsday. The Zombie Economy can be kept alive indefinitely--look at Japan--but it not a healthy or vibrant or equality-opportunity economy; it is a sick-unto-death economy of fake narratives (growth is permanent) and fake statistics (we've revised previous numbers so that, surprise, GDP is still positive.)

If we stop counting zombies, we're already in recession.
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Check out both of my new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print, $5.95 audiobook) For more, please visit the OTM essentials website.


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Posted by Charles Hugh Smith at 7:48 AM

Friday, August 11, 2017

Eagle Attack

It must be in the air—no pun intended—this new painting of an eagle attack.  A sudden plunge and something dies.  Done in acrylic.

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Waiting for the skies to fall.