Bank of America
Howard Marks once wrote that being a "contrarian" is a lonely profession. However, as investors, it is the downside that is far more damaging to our financial health than potentially missing out on a short term opportunity. Opportunities come and go, but replacing lost capital is a difficult and time consuming proposition. So, the question that we will "ponder" this weekend is whether the current consolidation is another in a long series of "buy the dip" opportunities, or does "something wicked this way come?" Here are some "words of caution" worth considering in trying to answer that question.
Bank of America No Longer Even Bothers To Blame The "Weather" Or "Storms" For Weak Consumer SpendingSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/28/2014 09:35 -0400
Two weeks ago, when Bank of America found that its weekly retail spending data has continued coming in far weaker than expected compared to 2013, it did the laughable: it blamed not the weather in general, but one storm in particular, to wit: "once again adverse weather potentially impacted spending last week, as the storm “Titan” moved across the US over the weekend of March 1st and 2nd and was followed by yet another cold spell." Two weeks later, after shockingly BofA finds precisely the same weakness continuing into the end of a balmy March, it no longer even bothers looking for excuses. The sad reality: there are none.
As the cost of living increases around the globe, wage protests and strikes have become commonplace, particularly in the emerging market space:
- BOE to Sign Agreement With China on Yuan Clearing Next Week (BBG)
- U.S. law firm plans to bring suit against Boeing, Malaysia Airlines (Reuters)
- Citigroup Fraud Stings Mexico Star as Medina-Mora Chased (BBG)
- Fraternity Chief Feared for Son as Hazings Spurred JPMorgan Snub (BBG)
- UBS suspends six more forex traders (FT)
- Goodbye CSCO Q1 EPS: China to strengthen Internet security after U.S. spying report (Reuters)
- Good luck: Spain Banks With $55 Billion of Property Seek Deals (BBG)
- Citic Pacific Said to Plan About $4 Billion Public Offering (BBG)
- Yahoo Japan to buy eAccess from SoftBank for $3.2 billion (Reuters)
- "Whatever it takes" to talk down the Euro: Euro, peripheral bond yields fall on ECB easing debate (Reuters)
Why is Citigroup not like any of the top four banks, including JPM, WFC, USB or BAC?
“Too Big To Fail” … Fails
The credit cycle is called a "cycle" because, unlike the business cycle (which the Fed has convinced investors no longer exists), it 'cycles'. At some point the re-leveraging of the balance sheet - remember more cash on the balance sheet but even morerer debt (as we noted here) - requires risk premia that outweigh even the biggest avalanche of yield-chasing free money. It appears, as Bloomberg's James Crombie notes, that point may be approaching as yield premiums for U.S. distressed debt hit a five-year high on March 25, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Another year, another failure by Citigroup to i) pass the Fed's stress test and ii) be able to stop investing cash in such idiotic fundamental concepts as CapEx, and instead reward activist shareholders with increased dividends and buybacks. As the WSJ reports, Citigroup "failed to get Federal Reserve approval to reward investors with dividends and stock buybacks, a significant blow to Chief Executive Michael Corbat's effort to bolster the bank's reputation following a 2008 government rescue." Hardly surprising for a bank which effectively was wiped out in the crisis and which only survived thanks to the Fed-backed crammed-up, spinoff of billions of toxic assets into a bank bank, however certainly surprising for a bank that is supposed to be "fixed" five years into a "recovery." What's worse, the stock is now trading below the infamous $5 level on a pre-split adjustment level - the same split that was supposed to at least optically, give the impression that things at Citi are ok. Turns out optics is only half the answer.
For some inane reason, about a year ago, there was a brief - and painfully boring - academic tussle between one group of clueless economists and another group of clueless economists, debating whether Too Big To Fail banks enjoy an implicit or explicit taxpayer subsidy, courtesy of their systematic importance (because apparently the fact that these banks only exist because they are too big in the first place must have been lost on both sets of clueless economists). Naturally, it goes without saying that the Fed, which as even Fisher now admits, has over the past five years, worked solely for the benefit of its banker owners and a few good billionaires, has done everything in its power to subsidize banks as much as possible, which is why this debate was so ridiculous it merited precisely zero electronic ink from anyone who is not a clueless economist. Today, the debate, for what it's worth, is finally over, when yet another set of clueless economists, those of the NY Fed itself, say clearly and on the record, that TBTF banks indeed do get a subsidy. To wit: " in fact, the very largest (top-five) nonbank firms also enjoy a funding advantage, but for very large banks it’s significantly larger, suggesting there’s a TBTF funding advantage that’s unique to mega-banks."
Is capital adequacy really the answer to the question?
A dispassionate look at the main considerations for investors in the week ahead.
The situation with Russia should give investors and traders a reason to brush up on their history, as current events take root in things that happened 50, 100, and 200 years ago. To understand this, can provide perspective, during an information war, where it's not easy for some to separate facts from beliefs and propoganda (on both sides). The relationship between US and Russia has always been interesting, as we shall explore.
The cultural divide
It's mid-March, which means it is time for the annual confidence boosting theatrical spectacle known as the Fed's stress test (for those who may have forgotten last year's farce when Jamie Dimon preempted the Fed by announcing a dividend in advance of the results, can read here). And like in the past, there were absolutely no surprises with 29 of 30 banks passing with flying colors. Of course, since it is a "test", and someone has the be sacrificial calf, this year that honor falls to Zions Bankshares. Last year its was Citi, SunTrust and MetLife. In both years the results are completely meaningless, as the Fed neither then, nor now, has any methodology for how to calculate capital in case of the same kind of counterparty failure chain as happened during Lehman, and when no amount of capital would have been sufficient to preserve the financial sector. Like we said: theatrical spectacle. But at least everyone's confidence has been boosted. So Buy stawks, and build your paper wealth! And here is the truly funny part: in the baseline stress test scenario, the Dow Jones "plunges" to 11.4K in Q3 2014, and then somehow surges back to all time highs by Q4 2016! Does the Fed understand the word Stress?
The chart below from Bank of America - showing the progression of first-time US homebuyers in recent months - should scare everyone who still believes that there is some sort of "housing recovery" in the US.
Why Mainstream Economists Like Krugman Are So WRONG and So DANGEROUS