The correlation between stock prices and margin debt continues to rise (to new records of exuberant "Fed's got our backs" hope) as NYSE member margin balances surge to new record highs. Relative to the NYSE Composite, this is the most "leveraged' investors have been since the absolute peak in Feb 2000. What is more worrisome, or perhaps not, is the ongoing collapse in investor net worth - defined as total free credit in margin accounts less total margin debt - which has hit what appears to be all-time lows (i.e. there's less left than ever before) which as we noted previously raised a "red flag" with Deutsche Bank. Relative to the 'economy' margin debt has only been higher at the very peak in 2000 and 2007 and was never sustained at this level for more than 2 months. Sounds like a perfect time to BTFATH...
It is well-known that as part of the S&P500's ascent to new records, investor margin debt has also surged to all time highs, surpassing for the past three months previous records set during both prior, the dot com and the housing, stock market bubbles. And as more attention has shifted to the topic of speculator leverage once more, inquiries into the correlation between bets upon bets and stock performance are popping up once more, in this case in a study by Deutsche Bank titled "Red Flag! - The curious case of NYSE margin debt." Of particular note here is a historical comparison of margin-debt warnings that have recurred throughout history but especially just before major stock bubble crashes, such as in the period 1999/2000, 2007/2008 and of course today, which have time and again been ignored. Here is what was said then, what is being said now, and what is ignored always.
"The more stocks go up, the more analysts, strategists, the financial media - and inevitably investors - firmly believe that the US economy has to be on the verge of rapid growth." TrimTabs' CEO Charles Biderman is back and blasting the "mass psychosis" that has overtaken the markets - driven by endless liquidity from a consequence-blind central bank - as the real economy struggles to keep its head above water. Growth must be coming sometime soon, "or else the market would not be going up," right? The "belief in the growth fairy," is not new. Since 2010, economists and sell-side strategists have been betting it all (and encouraging investors) on this faith that growth will arrive any day now. In fact, as Biderman lays out in unarguable facts, that this is simply not true - job growth is slowing, economic growth is slowing, and income growth is stagnant.
While Tepper and his breathless team-mates celebrate a 'sustainable' euphoria-inducing drop in the deficit that heralds the new America, TrimTabs CEO Charles Biderman upsets the bull's apple-cart by explaining the three one-off items that created this smaller deficit and implicitly show its unsustainability. In his usual fact-based exclamations, he reminds us "do not confuse higher tax payments for liftoff." The bullish twist, he notes reported in the popular press, is "deficit reduction must mean we are having an economic liftoff," and has become an overnight "feel-good phenomenon for those long stocks and needing news to justify their positions." Sustainable? "If only it were true...", as he enthralls, "this is a tale of three one-off items masking a slow-growth economy." Here are the facts...
The mainstream media was cock-a-hoop to use Warren Buffett's recent diatribe against being a bond buyer (because prices are artificially high due to the Fed creating phony money and at some point the Fed will stop) as more evidence that stocks are the only game in town. TrimTabs' CEO Charles Biderman questions Buffett's seemingly disingenuous one-sided perspective - "stocks are just as vulnerable as bonds to the Fed withdrawing the narcotic known as free money, why does Mr. Buffett say stock prices are reasonable? To me, logic says stocks are just as overpriced as bonds." Biderman's point is that one cannot look at one market without implications for the other, and as we have noted numerous times, the only thing that matters is the flow (not the stock) of the balance sheet expansion. The Fed is buying up the entire US Government deficit and then some, Biderman explains, "that means there is lots of extra cash floating around the financial markets bidding up the prices of not just bonds but stocks as well;" so while we agree with Mr. Buffet that at some point bond prices have to drop significantly, so do stocks.
Are we running out of time? For the last several years, we have been living in a false bubble of hope that has been fueled by massive amounts of debt and bailout money. This illusion of economic stability has convinced most people that the great economic crisis of 2008 was just an "aberration" and that now things are back to normal. Unfortunately, that is not the case at all. The truth is that the financial crash of 2008 was just the first wave of our economic troubles. We have not even come close to recovering from that wave, and the next wave of the economic collapse is rapidly approaching. Our economy is like a giant sand castle that has been built on a foundation of debt and toilet paper currency. As each wave of the crisis hits us, the solutions that our leaders will present to us will involve even more debt and even more money printing. And each time, those "solutions" will only make our problems even worse. Right now, events are unfolding in Europe and in the United States that are pushing us toward the next major crisis moment. I sincerely hope that we have some more time before the next crisis overwhelms us, but as you will see, time is rapidly running out. The following are 12 things that just happened that show the next wave of the economic collapse is almost here...
While not according to official government statistics (yet), which we have come to trust so Pavlovian-ly, TrimTab's CEO Charles Biderman notes that based on what is important - the growth (or lack thereof) of real-time wages and salaries, the US economy has slowed enough to enter into recession. Following December's aberrant jumps thanks to tax hike concerns, after-tax wages and salaries (net of inflation) have been shrinking year-over-year since the second week in January. But it gets better, withheld income and employment taxes have been running about 8.3% higher year-over-year. While retail is being told to buy-buy-buy, Biderman exclaims that "insiders at U.S. companies have bought the least amount of shares in any one month," and that the ratio of insider selling to buying is now 50-to-1 - a monthly record. "So far the mass delusion is holding."
The sequestration bullshit is driving TrimTabs' CEO Charles Biderman nuts - and rightly so. As we showed recently, the actual scale of the earth-shattering cuts, while not insignificant, are small and if the shills on TV preaching the end of the world from sequestration did the math they would see it is a mere 6% drop in non-entitlement government spending that is set to destroy the economy. Biderman exclaims, "what is apparent to me is that our government is becoming very good at the big lie," as they exaggerate any and everything to their own needs. It is obvious, he adds, "that our government is deeply committed to not reducing the size of government, and is willing to outright lie," but he saves the epic rant that we come to expect for Paul Krugman. Just as Irving Fisher's infamous 1929 pre-crash call that equities have reached a permanently high plateau; Biderman suggests Krugman will be remembered as erroneously claiming that 'deficits don't matter', as he reminds us of Emperor Caracella's 268AD reign of insidious taxation and currency debasement that ended in 1000% inflation and the end of the Roman Empire. Well worth the price of admission...
TrimTabs' CEO Charles Biderman finds it hard to hide his disdain for the omnipotent reality that President Obama espoused of a non-deficit increasing State of the Union solution to all our ills (from climate, income inequality, opportunity, and health) as he notes the politicians "do not seem to understand is that big government is, in fact, the problem, not the solution." The problem is it is hard to find one service the government provides that is effective, other then writing checks. We have not won the federal wars on poverty, or drugs, nor overseas wars in Iraq, and Afghanistan - so although governments have rarely successfully provided services, we have a government committed to doing just that. This faith in government omnipotence is now bleeding over into stocks, as Biderman notes "since January 1, investors are pouring billions into the markets in the mistaken belief that the “fake” money created by central banks is just as good as previously existing money, and the markets will keep soaring. But for how long?" He is clear on the implication of this "magical thinking" At some point "the markets will have an “aha” moment and stop allowing central banks to use newly created money with which to pay government bills. When that happens the markets will crash."
There are numerous myths flying around the screens we all remain glued to - from inflows suddenly becoming correlated with equity market performance to a 'real recovery' in housing. TrimTabs CEO Charles Biderman paid a brief but fact-full visit to CNBC's Rick Santelli and the two somewhat skeptical gentlemen expounded on four of the critical fallacies supporting hope in our markets currently. First, the last time inflows were this big we saw dramatic reversals in stocks; and coincidentally, secondly, we also saw companies buying back less stock (in fact we saw float rising at those periods) and sure enough that is what Biderman notes is happening in January too. Third, current 'economic' euphoria appears due to the drag forward of incomes into Q4 2012 due to tax concerns (which is being spent/saved now) - however that means Q1 2013 and on will be negatively impacted (even if we see a decent print in Q4 GDP) as that pull-forward reverts; and finally, fourth, interest rates are rising and simultaneously refinances have plunged - hurting the 'housing recovery' meme which has been the driver of a lot of euphoria (be careful what you wish for). It appears facts, once again, get in the way of a good story.
With gold prices dropping (notably divergent from the ever expanding global central bank balance sheets) but record-breaking levels of physical gold being purchased, we continue to reflect on the other 'Great Rotation' that we suspect is occurring as the New Year begins - that from paper gold to physical gold. Who better to discuss the nuances of this dilemma than Eric Sprott as he outlines to TrimTabs' Charles Biderman the relative strengths and weaknesses of ETFs like GLD and SLV, physical-based ETFs such as PHYS and PSLV, and physical holdings themselves. While the new meme is that the Fed may be considering pulling back (on its 'flow') sooner than expected, reality is far different (as Bill Gross recently agreed with us) and that fact makes the following brief clip even more compelling.
Wondering where the somewhat out-of-character economic improvements of Q4 2012 data came from - given Sandy and the fiscal cliff uncertainty? Wonder no longer. Charles Biderman, CEO of TrimTabs, has done the data-mining and explains, quite succinctly in this clarifying clip, just what happened in Q4 2012. To wit, after-tax income saw a somewhat impressive (but "don't get too excited" he adds) post-election spike as individuals (and small businesses) front-ran expectations of tax-rises in 2013 by pulling forward income and bonuses etc. into 2012. Q4 income rose by over 6% YoY, which , he believes means Q1 2013 income will be correspondingly lower. Following an epic rant/exposition of the higher taxes US citizens will be paying, Biderman batters GDP (and the government's infinite idiocy) instead focusing on the real recession of lower after-tax take-home-pay and expects Q1 to see the US plunge with the "US economy starting out the new year on its butt!" Then, as a bonus, he destroys the nonsense myth that the US housing recovery is leading us forward.
The US government will be bankrupt after another four years of the same Obama we had for the past four. Fitch as much as confirmed this when it suggested a downgrade is coming. TrimTabs' Charles Biderman takes us succinctly through the painful math of just what has happened in the last four years: since Obama has been president after-tax take-home pay for everyone who pays taxes is still down by about 5% nominally and more than 10% after inflation. Dismissing GDP as anything but a misguided and misused spreadsheet output, the bombastic Biderman is concerned - and rightly so - as he sums up: "My guess is that Mr. Obama and his close buddies have no idea what they are doing, or else they would not be doing what they have been doing. The most dangerous are those people who think they are smarter than they are."
Standing at the crossroads, believe I'm sinking down. (Some charts are saying not so fast.)
The Zero Hedge audience have always been tough task masters and will hold people's feet to the fire. While markets have been a little tempestuous to say the least recently, TrimTabs' Charles Biderman comes out swinging with a spirited and honest defense of his calls - and quite frankly we still tend to agree with his bigger picture view of where this ends. From his Facebook miss to short-term fluctuations in the equity market (that now seem precipitously away from credit market reality), Biderman responds to comments here and elsewhere on both position sizing and perhaps most importantly risk management - adding (and this is where we believe he is dead right though timing the call is practically impossible) that "when the collapse happens it will happen overnight - that is why [he wants] to be short but safe at the same time."