Category Archives: Investing

An “Extreme Warning” From Our Doom Index, by Bill Bonner

Here’s another bearish prognostication, from Bill Bonner at bonnerandpartners.com:

BALTIMORE – When we left you yesterday, we were describing why the situation is getting dangerous for investors, and how the lessons learned over the last 30 years may backfire in the next crisis.

“Dow over 26,000… bitcoin under $10,000,” reports this morning’s news… “but could crypto panic spill over into stocks?”

Investors are accustomed to depending on the Greenspan-Bernanke-Yellen Put… which is to say, they are pretty sure that the feds will come in with more booze when the party starts to flag.

“Buy the dip,” they tell each other, confident that the feds can be counted on in a pinch.

Many think the recently passed tax bill is 80-proof, too – sure to rev things up by putting more money in the hands of shareholders and consumers.

Maybe it will raise stock prices. Or maybe it won’t. What it won’t do is make the next crisis disappear.

Bad Tidings

We hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but bad tidings are all we have to bear.

Corporate America is already pretty flush. The price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio for the S&P 500 is now 70% above its long-term average.

In fact, the price of stocks relative to earnings has only been near this high three times in the last 118 years… each time caused by the aforementioned Fed party favors.

And if stocks go higher, it merely gives them further to fall.

In order to get back to more traditional levels, notes Martin Feldstein in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, the next bear market would have to wipe out some $10 trillion of stock market wealth.

This, he says, would take 2% off annual GDP… tipping the country into recession.

Extreme Warning

How close is this crisis?

We turn to our Doom Index, put together by our ace researcher, Joe Withrow:

The Doom Index spiked back up to “7” this month – our extreme warning level.

After a surprisingly expansive third quarter in 2017, credit growth fell back to 1.6% in the fourth quarter. Paraphrasing your friend and economist Richard Duncan, bad things happen when credit growth falls below 2%.

Looking at the credit markets, corporate bond downgrades continued to come in at an elevated level last quarter. And junk bonds are starting to show some cracks, falling more than 1% on the quarter. That said, junk bonds still closed out 2017 in positive territory.

To continue reading: An “Extreme Warning” From Our Doom Index

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Crypto Collapse Crushes Hedge Funds that Touted Huge Gains for 2017, by Wolf Richter

What goes up can also go down? Who knew? Don’t tell the stock market. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:

Are they causing the rout by trying to get large sums out of an illiquid market?

At the moment, cryptocurrencies and tokens are bouncing up and down in wild, double-digit gyrations by the hour. Bitcoin plunged below $9,300 and as I’m writing this is trading at around $9,800, down about 50% from its peak on December 17. Gone up in smoke in one month: $168 billion.

Ripple, the crypto that has recently been touted as the “next bitcoin” or “better than bitcoin,” plunged to $0.88 and is currently trading at $0.98, still down 76% from its peak on January 4. Gone up in smoke in two weeks: $110 billion.

Ethereum, after having plunged to $775, is now at $852, down 40% from its peak on January 13. Gone up in smoke in two weeks: $60 billion.

There are now over 1,400 of these “cryptocurrencies” and “tokens” out there, according to CoinMarketCap. Anyone can issue a new one. The supply is unlimited. On January 8, they were valued at $830 billion. Now they’re valued $472 billion. About $358 billion have been eradicated or transferred from those holding the bag to those that got out early.

Then there’s BitConnect, which is down 97% from $476 on December 28 to $14.39 currently, but bouncing wildly up and down. Nearly $4 billion evaporated, using the number cited by the Texas Securities Commissioner, which has entered an Emergency Cease and Desist Order. The Securities Division of the North Carolina Department of Secretary of State has issued a Temporary Order to Cease and Desist. Much of the operation has now been shut down.

“Gain financial freedom with a secure and practical alternative to centralized banking,” BitConnect said on its website. In the crypto-craze, people fall for anything.

So have crypto hedge funds triggered the collapse by trying to get their money out of an illiquid market?

An index by Eurekahedge that tracks nine crypto hedge funds soared 1,167% in 2017 through December 31 and over 17,000% since June 2013. So it’s understandable if, after this run-up, the funds might try to take some profits.

But the index does not yet include the collapse so far this year.

To continue reading: Crypto Collapse Crushes Hedge Funds that Touted Huge Gains for 2017 

What Has QE Wrought? by Ron Paul

To summarize: QE has screwed up the economy and financial markets and will lead to disaster. From Ron Paul at lewrockwell.com:

The Great Recession began in 2007. It didn’t take long for the money managers to recognize its severity, and that a little tinkering with interest rates would not suffice in dealing with the economic downturn. In Dec. 2008, the first of four Quantitative Easing programs began which did not end until Dec. 18, 2013. Some very serious consequences of this policy of unprecedented credit creation have set the stage for a major monetary reform of the fiat dollar system. The dollar’s status as the reserve currency of the world will continue to be undermined. This is not a minor matter. As our financial system unravels, the seriousness of it will become evident to all, as the need to pay for our extravagance becomes obvious. This will make the country much poorer, though the elite class that manages such affairs will suffer the least.

By the time the QE’s ended, the Central banks of the world had increased their balance sheet by $8.3 trillion, with only $2.1 trillion worth of GDP growth to show for it. This left $6.2 trillion of excess liquidity in the banking system that did not go where the economic planners had hoped. Central banks now own $9.7 trillion of negative interest yielding bonds. The financial system has been left with a bubble mania, financed by artificial credit and unsustainable debt. The national debt in 2007 was $8.9 trillion; today it’s $20.5 trillion. Rising interest rates will come and that will be deadly for the economy and the Federal budget.

This inflationary policy is generated by the belief that there is no benefit in allowing the needed economic correction to the problems generated by the Fed to occur. The correction is what the market requires, not the resumption and acceleration of the dangerous inflationary policy that caused the bubble economy. It’s like giving a case of beer to an alcoholic to calm his nerves as he attempts to stop drinking. It should not surprise anyone that perpetuating a problem won’t solve the problem.

The obsession with a QE monetary policy has created a bubble economy of enormous size which one day will burst. The warning signs are everywhere, yet ignored. Political demands control policy; not common sense or sound economics. All major decisions are bipartisan and guarantee a continuation of current spending, taxing, inflationism, welfarism, and warfarism until the giant bubble bursts.

To continue reading: What Has QE Wrought?

The Value Of Bitcoin Isn’t what most people think it is, by Chris Martenson

What is cryptocurrency worth? Good question. Chris Martenson tries to look at the question logically. From Martenson at peakprosperity.com:

So… in the past week, I’ve been asked for advice on Bitcoin by my brother-in-law, my local realtor, and close friends from as far away as Texas.

None of them cared to learn what it actually is. Or how it works. They just wanted to understand why suddenly so many folks they know are trying to buy Bitcoin hand over fist. And, of course, should they buy in now, too?

If you (or people you care about) have similar questions, this report is for you.

A Brave New World

Remember the scene from the movie Avatar, where the main character first explores the alien world of Pandora? I found that scene astonishing and beautiful. He’s encountering an entirely new and completely foreign ecosystem.  Every element is fascinating and wondrous, even the dangerous elements — yet it all still follows understandable rules.

Everything is involved in either gathering sunlight or eating something else that had. Every niche is filled. Every organism has its own strategy: some light up, some fly, some run, some crawl. As entirely alien as everything is, if you understand the basics of how organisms filled their niches on Earth, you have a great starting point for understanding of the rules of life on Pandora.

Similarly, a great way to begin to understand the new world opened up by Bitcoin (and the other cryptocurrencies) is to realize that it’s an ecosystem that, at its heart, maps neatly into the universe you already understand. A few examples: payments, identity, contracts, verification, and record keeping (ledgers).

As with any ecosystem in nature, a new organism will survive and flourish if and only if it’s more efficient and effective than the prior model. For example, nothing has displaced sharks in the past 425 million years because they’re extremely efficient in their niche. To displace them, a new ocean predator would have to come along that does what they do faster, better, and (energetically) cheaper.

So the operative questions we need to keep in mind when looking at the brave new world of digital currencies are: What problem(s) are they solving?, and, Are their solutions faster, better, and/or cheaper?

To continue reading: The Value Of Bitcoin Isn’t what most people think it is

 

Why You Should Embrace the Twilight of the Debt Bubble Age, by MN Gordon

How will America pay for the recently enacted tax reform bill? The same way it pays for everything else: with debt. From MN Gordon at economicprism.com:

People are hard to please these days.  Clients, customers, and cohorts – the whole lot.  They’re quick to point out your faults and flaws, even if they’re guilty of the same derelictions.

The recently retired always seem to have the biggest axe to grind.  Take Jack Lew, for instance.  He started off the New Year by sharpening his axe on the grinding wheel of the GOP tax bill.  On Tuesday, he told Bloomberg Radio that the new tax bill will explode the debt and leave people sick and starving.

“It’s a ticking time bomb in terms of the debt.

“The next shoe to drop is going to be an attack on the most vulnerable in our society.  How are we going to pay for the deficit caused by the tax cut?  We are going to see proposals to cut health insurance for poor people, to take basic food support away from poor people, to attack Medicare and Social Security.  One could not have made up a more cynical strategy.”

The tax bill, without question, is an impractical disaster.  However, that doesn’t mean it’s abnormal.  The Trump administration is merely doing what every other administration has done for the last 40 years or more.  They’re running a deficit as we march onward towards default.

We don’t like it.  We don’t agree with it.  But how we’re going to pay for it shouldn’t be a mystery to Lew.  We’re going to pay for it the same way we’ve paid for every other deficit: with more debt.

A Job Well Done

Of all people, Jack Lew should know this.  If you recall, Lew was the United States Secretary of Treasury during former President Obama’s second term in office.  Four consecutive years of deficits – totaling over $2 trillion – were notched on his watch.

 

To continue reading: Why You Should Embrace the Twilight of the Debt Bubble Age

The Debt Beneath, by Northman Trader

Debt is the riptide beneath the ocean of liquidity driven bull markets. From the Northman Trader at northmantrader.com:

Debt is irrelevant and matters not. It’s different this time. That’s the message from politicians, markets and participants. Tax cuts pay for themselves (they do not), leverage doesn’t matter (it does) and the increased costs of servicing the debt as a result of rising rates will be offset by imaginary real wage growth to come (they won’t). But the calmest market waters in history continue to keep these illusions alive as asset prices keep levitating from record to record.

Debt does matter and it was ironically left to Janet Yellen to voice any remnant concerns about the sustainability of debt to GDP: “It’s the type of thing that should keep people awake at nightshe said.

With good reason:

After all the debt burden has never been higher and rates, following years of enabling the largest debt expansion in human history, are starting to rise in the US. In the larger historic context rates are still low, but let’s be clear, they are rising:

And with rising rates come questions of the sustainability of servicing incredibly high debt loads.

The worldwide equity rally since the early 2016 lows has resulted in a massive increase in the market capitalization of global asset prices which have increased by over $25 trillion in value since then. As discussed in my 2017 Market Lessons US market capitalization is now north of 143% of US GDP.

Low rates and free money in form of global QE and now US tax cuts make it all possible and consequence free. But is it?

Let’s take a look at the leveraging game over the past 2 years since this is when the most recent rally began. And note in many cases we don’t have full 2017 data yet so I’m using the running 2 year data where I can pull it. The trend is the same: Up, up and away.

Federal debt has increased by $2.1 trillion. Different management, same result and tax cuts will leave a revenue source gap in the long term budget and will add further to the debt:

Corporate debt has increased by over $568B during the same timeframe:

Household debt has increased by $364B:

Revolving debt, you know the one subject to higher rates, is now exceeding $1 trillion, up over $100B in less than 2 years:

Student loans continue to expand unabated, up by another $166B:

And consumer loans on credit cards at commercial banks are up by another $100B since the February 2016 lows alone:

 

To continue reading: The Debt Beneath

Simple wisdom from one of the most famous people to go broke, by Simon Black

Mark Twain was a great writer and a lousy investor. From Simon Black at sovereignman.com:

In the late 1800s towards the end of his life, Mark Twain wrote one of his greatest observations of humanity:

“When you remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”

Twain’s quote was primarily a commentary on himself.

A lot of people don’t know this, but Mark Twain went bankrupt late in life.

His enormous fame as an author had brought him substantial wealth. But Twain squandered it all on countless business and investment blunders.

Twain’s publishing company, for example, racked up record sales of its 11 volume “Library of American Literature”.

The problem, however, was that the books cost him $25 to produce… but he only collected $3 up front from customers.

The more volumes he sold, the more money his company lost.

Twain started borrowing heavily to keep his business afloat, eventually mortgaging his home and taking substantial personal loans from wealthy friends.

But Twain was unable to indebt himself back into prosperity, and the company was run into the ground.

Simultaneously Twain made some hilariously boneheaded investments.

He chose NOT to invest in Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone (even though he boasted one of the country’s first telephones in his own home).

Instead Twain dumped more than $40,000 (nearly $1.5 million today) in a failed technology that went bust.

Twain invested in another technology that was supposed to revolutionize steam engines. Per the terms of the deal, Twain paid the inventor a stipend of $35 per week.

Twain wrote in his journal,

He visited me every few days to report progress and I early noticed by his breath and gain that he was spending 36 dollars a week on whisky, and I could never figure out where he got the other dollar.

Twain lost money in the stock market too, famously buying shares of Oregon Transcontinental Railroad at $78 per share, ignoring the stock bubble when it hit $98, and ultimately selling at $12.

Obviously there’s nothing wrong with buying stocks or even making high-risk speculations.

But Twain had an extraordinary knack for massively overextending himself… betting way too much on deals with excessive risk.

To continue reading: Simple wisdom from one of the most famous people to go broke