Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wanna See the Numbers? Back to the Future Recession

So, you'd really like to see the numbers? E. James Welsh thinks you should. Courage. They all appear at the link above. But first you might like to find something to hold on to.

An average of 5,945 bankruptcy petitions were filed each day in March, up 9% from February and 38% from a year ago. The soaring job losses since last September are certainly behind the increase in bankruptcies. The surge in job losses are working their way up the income ladder, with an increasing number of middle income and upper middle income workers being affected. This is pushing many of those who previously were considered prime credit risks over the edge. Two-thirds of mortgages in the U.S. are held by the best credit risk, prime borrowers. According to the American Bankers Association, 5.06% of prime borrowers have missed at least one mortgage payment. Since prime borrowers are such a large group, this represents 1.8 million mortgages. Although the delinquency rate for sub prime mortgages is up to 21.9%, it only accounts for 1.2 million mortgages. In the fourth quarter, a number of states mandated a freeze on foreclosures, and a number of banks, not wanting to be a modern day Mr. Potter during the holidays, voluntarily suspended foreclosures. According to RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings increased to 341,180 in March, up 17% from February, and up 46% from a year ago. After the foreclosure moratorium expired in California, notices of trustee sales, which precede foreclosure sales, climbed more than 80% to 33,178 in March from February. Moody's Economy.com estimates more than 2.1 million homes will be lost this year, up from 1.7 in 2008.
Yes, he may have been a fairly traditional Republican (not Rethuglican) at heart before now, but he's dead on to the failed policies that brought us to this sorry pass and once again, he deserves props. This dissection of the economy is not for the fainthearted. Read it with a refreshing drink. You will need it. (Refill often.) The first section of this essay is, here.
Back to the Future Recession by John Mauldin April 24, 2009 MV=PQ Okay, when you become a central banker, you are taken into a back room and they do a DNA change on you. You are henceforth and forever genetically incapable of allowing deflation on your watch. It becomes the first and foremost thought on your mind: deflation, we can't have it. MV=PQ. This is an important equation, right up there with E=MC2. M (money or the supply of money) times V (velocity - which is how fast the money goes through the system - if you have seven kids it goes faster than if you have one) is equal to P (the price of money in terms of inflation or deflation) times Q (roughly standing for the Quantity of production, or GDP). So what happens is, if we increase the supply of money and velocity stays the same, and if GDP does not grow, that means we'll have inflation, because this equation always balances. But if you reduce velocity (which is happening today) and if you don't increase the supply of money, you are going to see deflation. We are watching, for reasons we'll get into in a minute, the velocity of money slow. People are getting nervous, they are not borrowing as much, either because they can't or the animal spirits that Keynes talked about are not quite there. To fight this deflation (which we saw in this week's Producer and Consumer Price Indexes) the Fed is going to print money. A few thoughts on that. The Fed has announced they intend to print $300 billion (quantitative easing, they call it). That is different than buying mortgages and securitized credit card debt - that money (credit) already exists. When they just print the money and buy Treasuries, as with the $300 billion announced, they can sop that up pretty easily if they find themselves facing inflation down the road. But that problem is a long way off. Sports fans, $300 billion is just a down payment on the "quantitative easing" they will eventually need to do. They can't announce what they are really going to do or the market would throw up. But we are going to get quarterly or semi-annual announcements, saying, we are going to do another $300 billion here, another $500 billion there. Pretty soon it will be a really large total number. When we first started out with TALF and everything, it was a couple hundred billion, and now we just throw the word trillions around and it just drips off of our tongues and we don't even think about it. A trillion is a lot. It's a big number. And the total guarantees and backups and all this stuff we are into - I saw an estimate of $10-12 trillion. That's a lot of money. Understand, the Fed is going to keep pumping money until we get inflation. You can count on it. I don't know what that number is; I'm guessing maybe as much as $2 trillion. I've seen various studies. Ray Dalio of Bridgewater thinks it's about $1.5 trillion. It's some very big number way beyond $300 billion, and they are going to keep at it until we get inflation. Side point: what happens if the $300 billion they put in the system comes back to the Fed's books because banks don't put it into the Libor market because they are worried about credit risks? It does absolutely nothing for the money supply. Okay? It's like, goes here, goes back there - it doesn't help us. The Fed has somehow got to get it into the financial system. They've got to figure out how to create some movement. Will it create an asset bubble in stocks again? I don't know, it could. Dennis [Gartman] talked about being nervous yesterday. I would be nervous about stock markets both on the long side, as I think we are in a bear market rally, but also there is real risk in being short. Bill Fleckenstein will be here tonight. He is a very famous short trader. He closed a short fund a couple of months ago. He says he doesn't have as many good opportunities, and basically he's scared of being short with so much stimulus coming in. So it's going to work, at least in terms of reflation, but the question is, when? A year? Two years? Financial Innovation: The Round Trip Financial innovation is one of the drivers of the velocity of money. We started in approximately 1991 creating the first securitizations and CDOs. It was done at Merrill Lynch, if I remember right. But they started getting copied, and then we went into warp speed, creating all kinds of new CDOs and SIVs that invested in loans, securitized mortgage debt - most of which was rated AAA - banks loans, credit card debt, etc. Without thinking about it, we created a shadow banking system that funded a huge chunk of our total credit markets. It was outside the bailiwick of the normal regulatory authorities. Then in 2007 we began to destroy the shadow banking system. If it was working so well, why did we do that? Because they mismatched their liabilities and assets. They were borrowing short-term and lending long-term, and doing it highly leveraged. They were buying up long-term assets at 4-5-6%, some (or most) of them rated AAA. Then they were selling commercial paper at 1% or 2% - so you get a 2-3% profit spread. A 2-3% spread doesn't really make you anything, you're not really excited about that; so since we're dealing with AAA investments that everyone believes to be absolutely safe, let's leverage it up 6-7-8 times. Now you're talking a 20% return. Now you're talking about making money, real money. And I should note that we were also talking real commissions and monster bonuses. I think one other side note needs to be made here. In hindsight, we can now look back and wonder what the investment banks were thinking. They "must" have known they were pushing bad paper into the system. But their behavior tells us they didn't know. If they really believed they were, there would not have been so much of the toxic debt left on their books. Bear Stearns launched very large funds to buy this debt at obscene leverages and sold it to their best customers. At least some people in management thought there was real value in these securities, which just goes to show how lax or ignored the risk managers were in all parts of the financial industry. Then it all began to implode, because people started paying attention to some of the assets on the balance sheets of the various SIVs and CDOs and suspected they might not be worth what they had originally thought. You have subprime mortgages in your Special Investment Vehicle? Hey, I'm not going to buy your commercial paper. Suddenly, the commercial paper market simply imploded. This was the start of the banking crisis. So we started taking the innovation of securitizations off the table. The innovation that had driven the velocity to new highs was now slowly being pulled off. So, velocity slows down, and it's continuing to slow down with each passing month. Let's survey the economic landscape. We have an unstable economy. Housing doesn't bottom until 2011 or 2012, unless, as I wrote the other day, we give immigrants a green card to come here. We need the immigrants anyway. We need smart immigrants. By the way, I've never had as much response to my letter, both positive and negative. It ran about 60/40 for. Many of the "against" were people outside of the US, saying why are you trying to take our best, we need them. I suppose there is a certain logic to that, but if we could pull a million homes off the market, it would solve a big part of the US credit crisis right now, not to mention, we would have people putting money into our system and it wouldn't cost taxpayers anything. But back to the current scene. Consumer spending is slowing, and it's going to slow for years as savings increase. At one time we were savings 7-8-10% of our incomes, back in the early '80s. We grew from 63% of the economy being consumer spending, to 71% in 2006. We are going back to the mid-to low 60s in terms of the percentage of consumer spending in GDP. We are not doing it all at once, it's going to take years; but, gentle reader, it's the blue screen of death! We are hitting the reset button. Economists have a term for this process. It's called rationalization. We have too many stores to sell "stuff," all sorts of stuff. Too many malls. We have too many factories to build too many cars, too many plants to build too many widgets for an economy where 65% of GDP is consumer spending. When we built all that capacity it was for an economy in which consumer spending was 71%; and because we were enthusiastic and believed we would grow at 3% forever, we probably built it for 73% or 74%. We are watching capacity utilization fall off the table. It is down to 67%, fully 15% below normal. What happens when you see that? You start closing factories. It's just what you have to do. We are going to have fewer restaurants, fewer clothing stores. The survivors will get bigger market shares; that's just what happens. Schumpeter called it creative destruction. And this being a different type of recession - because we are hitting the full credit-cycle reset, it's going to take longer. I think the recession - the actual, honest, mark-to-market numbers - will be negative through 2009. Then we'll start to improve. This current first quarter is going to be ugly again, then it will be a little better in the third quarter. The second quarter - I don't know how bad it's going to be, but it's not looking good. But in 2010 we could start seeing slow growth again, maybe Muddle Through. There might be a sluggish recovery in 2010, but we have to put an asterisk on that possibility because the Democrats are going to push through the largest tax increase in history. First of all, the tax increase is the Republicans' fault.
Find out more along this line here. It's not the progressive viewpoint, but you've got to take it into account when doing your due diligence. Suzan _____________________


Bustednuckles said...

I'd like to know what makes anyone think there is going to be any growth for the next two years as there are a buttload of new foreclosures coming and employment is still going to be shedding jobs clear through the end of this tear.

Wishful thinking.

Suzan said...

It's PR from the banksters' enablers, Busted. Don't you trust Bent Bernanke and Fast-talking Fib Geithner?

Keep your eyes on the bright revolving lights.

The next year of massive job loss will be billed as "coming back!" the whole time. Years later (no one knows how many) when forecasters are still finding the bottom everyday (and some 30 million have lost their jobs), we'll be told that the "numbers have just been revised." (Again.) (And again.)

The light at the end of the tunnel is a roaring freight train aimed straight for us.

Dave Dubya said...

My head hurts!

But, that's the price of admission to the Pay-Attention-Club. And that's about all I can afford by now.

Thanks, Suze, for turning our heads that way.

Now it's time for my help-me-to-forget-for-a-while medicine.

Suzan said...

Pour a glass for me too, Dave!

Nice to hear your thoughts again.

Love ya,


P.S. Anyone know of a job anywhere?