Austrian Economics

Recession Will Turn Debt Into Junk

By: Doug French
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Diane Swonk says the 20,000 payroll number for February was a head fake. She blamed bad weather, the government shutdown, and other gobbledygook to explain away the 160,000 job miss for the year’s shortest month.

According to Michael Snyder, in a piece posted on Zerohedge.com,

The U.S. economy is growing at a 0.3 percent annualized rate in the first quarter , based on data on domestic construction spending in December released on Monday, the Atlanta Federal Reserve’s GDPNow forecast model showed.

Mr. Snyder lists 18 data points on his blog “ The Economic Collapse ” supporting the idea that an economic winter is coming.

#1 Farm loan delinquencies just hit the highest level that we have seen in 9 years .

#2 We just learned that U.S. exports declined by 4 billion dollars during the month of December.

#3 J.C. Penney just announced that they will be closing another 24 stores .

#4 Victoria’s Secret has just announced plans to close 53 stores .

#5 On Thursday, Gap announced that it will be closing 230 stores over the next two years.

#6 Payless ShoeSource has declared bankruptcy and is closing all 2,100 stores .

#7 Tesla is also closing all of their physical sales locations and will now only sell vehicles online.

#8 PepsiCo has started laying off workers and has committed to “millions of dollars in severance pay” .

#9 The Baltic Dry Index has dropped to the lowest level in more than two years .

#10 This is the worst slump for core U.S. factory orders in three years .

#11 We just witnessed the largest decline in the Philly Fed Business Index in more than 7 years .

#12 In January, sales of existing homes fell 8.9 percent from a year earlier. That was the third month in a row that we have seen a decline of at least 8 percent. This is an absolutely catastrophic trend for the real estate industry.

#13 U.S. housing starts were down 11.2 percent in December compared to the previous month.

#14 Compared to a year earlier, home sales in southern California were down 17 percent in January.

#15 In December, home sales in Sacramento County fell a whopping 22.5 percent compared to a year earlier.

#16 Pending home sales in the United States have now fallen on a year over year basis for 13 months in a row .

#17 More than 166 billion dollars in student loan debt is now “seriously delinquent” . That is an all-time record.

#18 More than 7 million Americans are behind on their auto loan payments. That is also a new all-time record, and it is far higher than anything that we witnessed during the last recession.

None of this has kept individuals, companies and governments from ramping up debt levels. Leverage abounds, everywhere. Grant’s Interest rate Observer writes, “companies are tapping credit lines to compensate for shortfalls in cash flow.”

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Defining a zombie company as one failing to generate cash flow to cover interest expense for three consecutive years, Grant’s points out that 128 companies in the S&P 1500, fit the description. The percentage of living dead has increased over the past 12 months, ending January 31st, from 12.4 percent of the broad index to 13.6 per cent.

Money manager Jeff Gundlach told Grant Williams on Real Vision ,

the economic data continues to deteriorate. And we’re starting to see reversals and unemployment claims now rising on a four week moving average basis. We’re starting to see earnings estimates collapsing, margin estimates collapsing, sales dropping. You see housing is negative, Surprise indices– confidence is deteriorating. None of these things are at the alarm-bell recession, but they’re getting fairly close.

Gundlach and Williams spoke about the 800 pound elephant in the room, the U.S. government’s off balance sheet obligations. “123 Trillion, six times GDP. If we wanted to fund our liabilities, the 123 trillion– over the next 60 years, we’d have to put 10% of our GDP aside, from negative 7 today to plus 10,” Gundlach quipped.

After reflecting on investors buying AAA-rated mortgage-backed bonds back in 2005, believing they were playing it safe, Gundlach said,

Well, we have similar– maybe not as egregious– but it’s an echo of a rating problem in the bond market right now, in the corporate bond market, where the corporate bond market has exploded in size. It’s more than double where it was 10 or 12 years ago, and a lot of it is, I think, overrated. There was a report by Morgan Stanley Research that suggested that fully, fully 45% of parts of the corporate bond market would be rated junk right now, if you use leverage ratios alone. Now, they use more than leverage ratios.

There’s other variables that go into rating. But the leverage ratio seems to be really important.

Right now the ratings agencies are buying what debt issuers are selling —a rosy future. But with recession clouds gathering, Gundlach figures,

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there’s not going to be any working towards a better place. And so all of those bonds potentially could be downgraded into a junk status. And as we all know, when a triple-B-rated corporate bond crosses the line into junk status, the price goes down. It doesn’t go up. So you can find people that have poured into corporate bonds– that includes corporate pension plans– which thought that they had a clever idea of matching up their liabilities, which are discounted by the single-A long corporate rate, and so let’s match them with assets that are corporate bonds, so they move together.

As I wrote a couple weeks ago, when debt turns to junk, ETFs and institutional holders will desperately be looking to sell at any price. “So will they sell?” Gundlach wonders rhetorically. “I think the answer is yes. And so if you have a misrated market, and it goes into a downgrade problem, you get tremendous forced selling. And that’s what happened in ’08 with the securitized market, and this time, I think it’s the corporate bond market’s turn.”

MacroMavens Stephanie Pomboy echos Gundlach’s view,

In 2007, the lie was that you could take a cornucopia of crap, package it together, & somehow make it AAA. This time, the lie is that you can take a bunch of bonds that trade by appointment, lump them together in an ETF, & magically make them liquid.

So, with this storm brewing, the Fed’s committee to save the world has started its roadshow.

Source: mises.org/power-market

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