US monetary conditions are the tightest since 2009, financial conditions the tightest since 2009, and as Moody's reports today Liquidity Stress is at its worst since February 2010 - all forewarning of a notable rise in defaults in 2016... and what can the Fed do?
"What keeps us up at night, however, is a situation where history is little indicator of what’s to come. Although there is no doubt that we do not need to have a recession in 2016 to experience further high yield weakness, we are concerned that this cycle could prove to be not only different, but more severe than past cycles. Should a slowdown today be swifter and deeper, more akin to 2008 than 2002, we are concerned about the ability of the central bank to create enough monetary stimulus to stem a crisis."
Energy investors got clobbered in 2015, and are hoping for things to turn positive as we head into the New Year. What can we expect in 2016? Here is a rundown of some key trends to watch for...
The prospect that the leaders of our monetary politburo are about to be tarred and feathered by economic reality might be satisfying enough if it led to the repudiation of Keynesian central planning and a thorough housecleaning at the Fed. Unfortunately, it will also mean that tens of millions of retail investors and 401k holders will be taken to the slaughterhouse for the third time this century. And this time the Fed is out of dry powder, meaning retail investors will never recover as they did after 2002 and 2009.
A paper recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research confirms that a large percentage of the increase in college tuition can be explained by increases in the amount of available financial aid: "Essentially, [financial aid] lead to higher college costs and more debt, and in the absence of higher labor market returns, more loan default inevitably occurs."
Taken together with the rather steep drop in US industrial production, the risks of a full-blown and perhaps severe recession have undoubtedly grown. Unlike what the FOMC is trying to project via the federal funds rate, a rate that isn’t being fully complemented, either, at this point, visible economic risk is not just rising it is exploding.
Despite the rear-view-mirror-gazing optimists proclamations that default rates have been low (which matters not one jot when pricing the future expectations of default into corporate bond cashflows), Fitch just released its forecast for 2016 defaults and notes that more than $5.5 billion of December defaults has increased the trailing 12-month default rate to 3.3% from 3% at the end of November, marking the 13th consecutive month that defaulted volume exceeded $1.5 billion, closing in on the 14-month run seen in 2008-2009.
"... a default cycle in commodity-related areas at this point is unavoidable, and the only real question here is whether it stays contained to those areas or extends itself to other sectors."
There are seemingly always “good reasons” why troubles in a sector of the credit markets are supposed to be ignored – or so people are telling us, every single time. Some still recall how the developing problems in the sub-prime sector of the mortgage credit market were greeted by officials and countless market observers in the beginning in 2007. Meanwhile, the foundation of the economy continues to look rotten (the newest round of Fed surveys has begun with another bomb and other manufacturing-related data continue to disappoint as well). This isn’t going to end well, if history is any guide.
The last 3 days have seen the biggest surge in US energy credit risk since December 2014, blasting back above 1000bps. This should not be a total surprise since underlying oil prices continue to languish in "not cash-flow positive" territory for many shale producers, but, as Bloomberg reports, the industry is bracing for a wave of failures as investors that were stung by bets on an improving market earlier this year try to stay away from the sector. "It’s been eerily silent," in energy credit markets, warns one bond manager, "no one is putting up new capital here."
"Given that we are clearly moving into a higher default environment we believe that equity investors may be inclined not to reward stocks that have large buyback programs. And if this is the case, corporate managers will have a diminished incentive to borrow money to finance buybacks."
Despite The Fed's best efforts to crush the business cycle, the crucial credit-cycle has reared its ugly head as releveraging firms (gotta fund those buybacks) and deflationary pressures (liabilities fixed, assets tumble) have led to a soaring market cost of capital and surge in downgrades. In fact, in the latest quarter, the ratio of upgrades-to-downgrades is its weakest since the peak of the financial crisis in 2009. “We’re seeing more widespread weakness across more industry sectors in the U.S... It’s become broader than just the commodity story.”
Hedge fund manager exposes the ugly truth about America's energy revolution: it's like the housing bubble but larger!