The Fed and the other major central banks have been planting time bombs all over the global financial system for years, but especially since their post-crisis money printing spree incepted in the fall of 2008. Now comes a new leader to the Eccles Building who is not only bubble-blind like her two predecessors, but is also apparently bubble-mute. Janet Yellen is pleased to speak of financial bubbles as a “misalignment of asset prices,” and professes not to espy any on the horizon. Actually, the Fed’s bubble blindness stems from even worse than servility. The problem is an irredeemably flawed monetary doctrine that tracks, targets and aims to goose Keynesian GDP flows using the crude tools of central banking. Not surprisingly, therefore, our monetary central planners are always, well, surprised, when financial fire storms break-out. Even now, after more than a half-dozen collapses since the Greenspan era of Bubble Finance incepted in 1987, they don’t recognize that it is they who are carrying what amounts to monetary gas cans.
The Fed’s serial bubble machine has not only bestowed massive speculative windfalls on the 1%, but it has also fostered a noxious culture of plunder and entitlement in the gambling casinos of Wall Street. After each thundering sell-off during the bust phase, crony capitalist gamblers have been gifted with ill-gotten windfalls during the Fed’s subsequent maniacal money printing spree. In this context comes Bruce Berkowitz “scolding” and firing “salvos” at Washington from the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
Three days ago it was S&P that opened the can of Puerto Rico junk worms. Moments ago it was Moody's turn to downgrade the General Obligation rating of the Commonwealth from Baa3 to Ba2, aka junk status. We note this just in case someone is confused what the catalyst was that just sent stock to a new intraday high in the aftermath of today's disappointing jobs number which until this moment barely managed to push the S&P higher by 1%. From the report: "While some economic indicators point to a preliminary stabilization, we do not see evidence of economic growth sufficient to reverse the commonwealth's negative financial trends. Without an economic revival, the commonwealth will face difficult decisions in coming years, as its debt and pension costs rise. The negative outlook signals the remaining challenges facing the commonwealth."
IBM Asian Revenues Crash, Adjusted Earnings Beat On Tax Rate Fudge; Debt Rises 20% To Fund Stock BuybacksSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/21/2014 16:40 -0500
Fudging Non-GAAP numbers is nothing new: everyone does it, even if it means that real, operating earnings for IBM (and most other companies) are substantially lower, and sure enough IBM's real EPS was $5.73. But this is just the tip, because one has to look deep into the income statement to find just how it is that IBM, whose pre-tax income actually declined by 11% could post a 14% increase in non-GAAP EPS. The answer: taxes. And just like Bank of America, IBM decided to crater its Q4 tax rate, which was 25.5% in Q4 2012 and in Q4 2013 dropped to... 11.2%. Seriously IBM? Incidentally, this epic accounting gimmick is also why one should look at IBM's revenues which were a debacle: not only did they miss expectations of a $28.3 billion in Q4, printing at $27.7 billion, but were down 5%. And while most revenue items were weak, the piece de resistance was Systems and Tech revenue, which cratered 25%!
Yesterday Bank of America beat thanks to (among other things) ye olde "plunge in the effective tax rate" gimmick which let it beat EPS by two cents instead of missing by three. Today it was Goldman's turn to "beat" lowered EPS expectations of $4.18, posting a substantial beat of $4.60. So did Goldman also fudge its tax rate? Not exactly: instead, what Goldman did was to reduce its compensation benefits from $2.4 billion to $2.2 billion, which meant the firm's compensation margin declined from 35.2% to a tiny 24.9% of revenue. Had Goldman kept the comp margin flat it would have missed EPS by about 50 cents. However, unlike the other "banks" Goldman at least did post a notable beat in GAAP revenues (it was reluctant to use a non-GAAP top line, hear that Jamie?) as well, with Q4 sales rising from $6.7 billion in Q3 to $8.8 billion, on expectations of $7.8 billion. However, compared to a year ago, the top line was 5% lower, while Net Income of $4.60 was 21% lower than a year earlier.
"For the first time this quarter, we were able to clearly observe the existence of funding costs in market clearing levels" - JPM
Non-GAAP EPS, sure. But non-GAAP revenues? Up until today one would think that kind of accounting gimmickry is solely reserved for the profitless one-hit wonders of the world, i.e. Tesla, but moments ago we just saw JPM report two sets of revenues: one which was the firm's GAAP revenue, and which was $23.156 billion, and another, far higher number, which was $24.112 billion which JPM described as revenue on a "managed basis" or also known as non-GAAP, and largely made up as they go along. So continuing with the other fudges, JPM also reported Net Income of $5.3 billion, or EPS of $1.30, once again on a pseudo-GAAP basis. However, this wouldn't be JPM if it didn't have a boat load of adjustments, and sure enough it did as per the waterfall schedule below. As can be seen, the biggest benefit aside from the $0.32 DVA & FVA (yes, blowing out your CDS is profitable once more), was the $0.27 in litigation charges. Of course, for these to be an addback, they have to be non-recurring instead of repeated, guaranteed every quarter, but once again, who cares. And since we choose to stick with GAAP, the bottom line is that JPM revenues dropped from $23.7 billion in Q4 2012 to $23.2 billion this quarter, while EPS dropped from $1.39 to $1.31. Oh, and yes: for the purists, here is the bottom line: of that $5.3 billion in "earnings", $1.3 billion or double the expected (at least from Barclays) $616MM, came from loan loss reserve releases. Accounting magic wins again.
We noted on Thursday, when Alcoa reported, that "non-recurring, one-time" charges are anything but; indicating just how freely the company abuses the non-GAAP EPS definition, and how adding back charges has become ordinary course of business. But it's not just Alcoa, and as David Stockman, author The Gret Deformation, notes Wall Street’s institutionalized fiddle of GAAP earnings made P/E multiples appear far lower than they actually are, and thereby helps perpetuate the myth that the market is "cheap."
The one item that caught our attention in the just released earnings was the GAAP EPS: a whopping loss of $2.19/share. Ok so, Alcoa added back a few things to get the Non-GAAP number: about $2.1 billion in goodwill impairment and restructuring charges to be precise - happens all the time. The only problem is that for Alcoa, this indeed happens all the time! The chart below shows just how freely Alcoa abuses the non-GAAP EPS definition, and how adding back charges has become ordinary course of business for the alluminum company. Very much in the same way as adding back litigation charges for JPM is now a quarterly ritual...
What does the true earnings picture of companies tell us about the market? Simple: it is overvalued relative to historical averages on every single basis, and not just the much discussed recently 10 year average used in the Shiller PE which has the market now at a 25x multiple. In short: the trailing EPS of 18x GAAP and 16.3x Non-GAAP is higher than the comparable GAAP and non-GAAP multiple for the long term, 1910-2013 average (15.8x and 14.5x), and while in line with the GAAP average for the 1960-2013 period, it is overvalued relative to the 15.9x non-GAAP average. However, if one excludes the 1997-2000 tech bubble, the historical average multiples drop even more to 17.7 and 15.2.
As readers may or may not recall, one of the main arguments the bulls had in early 2008, a month after the recession had already begun (according to the NBER's retrospective conclusion over a year later) to justify that the S&P 500, which had recently hit all time highs of 1546, was not in a bubble is that the projected EPS for the following year, 2009, were 120, which meant the multiple was an oh so very cheap 12x. The same analysis with the even nearer, 2008, S&P EPS which at that point were expected to print just below 100, suggested the S&P at around 1500 was a "healthy" 15x multiple. Unfortunately as the events of 2008 showed, not only did the financial system nearly implode, but earnings, both actual and projected, cratered. The result is that the 2009 EPS which was initially forecast to be $120 ultimately ended up being half of that, or $60 (see chart below), which also meant that the forward multiple of a "very cheap" 12x or so ended up being, drumroll, just a tad bubbly 24x!
It is hard to believe that the end of the year is fast approaching. This weekend's list of things to ponder covers a range of issues that caught our attention this week. Will the economy continue to grow, are stocks under owned, what about Fed - rising credit risk (and collapsing credit risk premia) and the question of "when or if to taper?" These are all important questions that all investors must answer as the new year rapidly approaches.