Over the weekend we titled our summary of GM's unprecedented avalanche of recalls so far in 2014 - the year in which the company's criminal practice of covering up its faulty products became a congressional scandal - as follows: "GM Set To Surpass Total Recall Record This Year." Three days later we are happy to report that while Detroit, we not only have a big recall problem, we also have a new record, after moments ago GM just announced another 4 recalls affecting 2.4 million cars. This brings the total number of vehicle investigations since the start of the year to 35, and with today's four latest fiascos, has initiated a whopping 29 recalls. More importantly, this also means that the number of domestic recalls rises to 13.6 million, smashing the previous record of 11.8 million recalls in 2004, and brings the number of global recalls to 15.2 million: or a stunning 56% greater than the 9.7 million cars GM sold in all of 2013!
Another month down, another month in which US consumers deleveraged by paying down their credit cards. Although that is not exactly correct: as we showed recently, the New Normal source of credit has nothing to do with revolving debt, or credit cards, or any other old normal notions, and everything to do with student debt, which is used for everything except paying for tuition. That, and car loans of course. Sure enough, in February, of the $13.7 billion in new loans created, $13.9 billion, or 102% of all, was there to fund student and car loans. And looking further back at the data over the past year, of the $172 billion in new consumer debt, a stunning 96% has gone to new student and car loans.
Step aside long-time hedge fund hotel darlings Apple and AIG, and make room for...
If ever a chart provided unequivocal proof the economic recovery storyline is a fraud, the one below is the smoking gun.
- U.S. set to adopt Volcker rule to curb bank trading gambles (Reuters) After vote, lawsuits likely next hurdle for Volcker rule (Reuters)
- U.S. Congress budget talks could produce Tuesday deal, aides say (Reuters)
- Wealthy Go Frugal This Holiday Amid Uneven U.S. Recovery (BBG)
- Tearful Thai PM urges protesters to take part in election (Reuters)
- Fed’s Bullard Sees Higher QE Taper Odds as Labor Market Improves (BBG)
- Coeure Says ECB Would Offer More LTROs Only When Banks Can Lend (BBG)
- Inside China's Super-Sterile Chicken Farms (WSJ)
- Mandela Service Rivals JFK’s as Leaders Meet in South Africa (BBG)
- China data defy slowdown forecasts (FT), and of course the word is "data"
- Cold, ice grip U.S. as more snow to blanket East (Reuters)
The chart below from the WSJ, summarizes perfectly the hell that US retailers find themselves in. In brief: sales down and inventories soaring, means liquidation sales have to surge, while profits and cash flows crater.
So much for hopes that US consumers were loosening the purse strings and starting to "charge it." Moments ago we got the latest, June, consumer credit which was expected to increase $15 billion following the May revised $17.6 billion. More importantly, there was an expectation that following the surge in May revolving credit which rose by $6.4 billion or the second most in the past three years (only matched by the comparable pre-summer surge in 2012). Sadly, neither expectation was met: total consumer credit rose by "only" $13.8 billion, but more importantly, the revolving component posted a $2.7 billion decline. This also matched last year's pattern when June saw a major reduction of $2.8 billion. In other words, the only credit creation in the month of June was, once again, entirely for student and car loans, which rose by a whopping $16.5 billion - the most since February and the second highest increase since July 2011. So much for US consumers seeking to relever for discretionary purchases.
The March consumer credit headline was a disappointment, increasing by just $7.97 billion, on expectations of a $15.6 billion increase, with the February total revised lower to $18.14 billion. So far so bad. It gets worse when one peeks beneath the surface and finds that discretionary consumer credit in the form of credit card and other revolving loans posted its first decline of 2013, dropping by $1.7 billion, the biggest decline since December's 2.1 billion. So what rose: why debt for purchases of Government Motors and student loans of course, which increased by $9.676 billion in March. In other words: the student bubble keeps getting bigger, more and more GM cars are being bought on subprime credit, while the vast majority of Americans can't even afford to charge toilet paper purchases as the discretionary deleveraging continues.
In a stunning headline-making moment of clarity, it appears that all the major financials that the Fed monitors (except GMAC Ally) will survive a cataclysmic, Lehman-like moment based on their self-determined analytics of their deeply illiquid off-balance-sheet assets (and a comprehensive understanding of the co-dependence of all those assets). As Bloomberg notes,
*FED SAYS 18 BANKS PROJECTED LOSSES WOULD BE $462B UNDER TEST
*FED SEES 17 BANKS' TIER 1 COMMON RATIO ABOVE 5% IN WORST CASE
*GMAC ALLY ONLY STRESS-TESTED BANK SEEN WITH TIER 1 COMMON BELOW 5%
*TESTS SCENARIO ASSUMES EQUITY PRICES DROP MORE THAN 50%, HOUSING PRICES DECLINE MORE THAN 20%
Is it any wonder that Government Motors wanted to IPO its GMAC/Ally business recently - with a 1.5% stressed Tier 1 ratio.
I really need to stop being so pessimistic. I’m getting richer by the day. My home value is rising at a rate of 1% per month according to the National Association of Realtors. At that rate, my house will be worth $1 million in less than 10 years. Every mainstream media newspaper, magazine, and news channel is telling me the “strong” housing recovery is propelling the economy and creating millions of new jobs. Keynesian economists, Wall Street bankers, government apparatchiks and housing trade organizations are all in agreement that the wealth effect from rising home prices will be the jumpstart our economy needs to get back to the glory days of 2005. Who am I to argue with such honorable men with degrees from Ivy League schools and a track record of unquestioned accuracy as we can see in the chart below? These are the facts. But why trust facts when you can believe Baghdad Ben and the NAR? It’s always the best time to buy.
A few days after divesting its stake in the firm that started it all, AIG, and at a profit at that (ignoring that the risk has merely been onboarded by the Fed whose DV01 is now $2+ billion as a result), the US Treasury continues to divest of all its bailout stake, this time proceeding to GM, where the channel stuffing firm just announced it would buyback 200MM shares from the US government at a price of $27.50. More importantly, the "Treasury said it intends to sell its other remaining 300.1 million shares through various means in an orderly fashion within the next 12-15 months, subject to market conditions. Treasury intends to begin its disposition of those 300.1 million common shares as soon as January 2013 pursuant to a pre-arranged written trading plan. The manner, amount, and timing of the sales under the plan are dependent upon a number of factors." Assuming a price in the $27.50 range, this implies a nearly 50% loss on the government's breakeven price of $54. So much for the "profit" spin. One hopes all those Union votes were well worth the now booked $40+ billion cost to all taxpayers.
When it comes to government bailout case studies, the past four years have plenty. One among them is the financial company jovially called Ally - a name which well-paid nomenclature consultants were convinced would inspire confidence and trust. And to an extent they were right - after all we are talking about a firm which several years ago had a far more unpleasant name: GMAC, short for General Motors Acceptance Corporation. It was GMAC which, as one of the various entities on the receiving end of involuntary taxpayer generosity in 2008/2009, received a $17.2 billion bailout. The reason for GMAC's Ally's collapse is that the firm was loaded up to the gills on various subprime and other NINJA auto-financing loans used to purchase cars made by that other spectacular collapse: General Motors, maker of such external combustion vehicles as the Chevy Volt. Over the past several months the Ally CEO, Michael Carpenter, decided to little by little start paying taxpayers back, having sold a Canadian unit to RBC in October for $4.1 billion, and its Mexican Insurance business to Ace Ltd for $865 million. Moments ago the firm just announced it would be selling its international auto-finance businesses, including its operations in Europe, LatAm and a 40% stake in its Chinese JV (a business it previously said it would not seek to divest), for a total of $4.2 billion. The buyer? Another previously bailed out company, and one which still counts the government as its biggest shareholder: General Motors. And so the vendor financing circle is now complete, with GM finally reuniting with its old captive finance units, or at least the international part of them, which were fully owned until GM sold 51% of it to Cerberus in 2006, after which everything went to hell.
Following one of the highest monthly jumps in consumer credit in August, the September data showed that following the drop in household savings to a multi-year low, consumers naturally retrenched, and had no choice but to pay down debt. As the just released G.19 confirmed, in September, households once again reduced their credit card debt, which declined by $2.9 billion to $852 billion. This was the fourth such decline in six months, confirming that at the discretionary level where banks have supervision over borrowings, the consumer is still nowhere near willing to relever. Where, there was leverage, a lot of it, was once again in the government sector, which funded $13.8 billion of the total $14.6 billion rise in NSA credit, and where non-revolving credit: read loans for Government Motors, at least those that have not been record channel stuffed (as reported previously) and Federal Student Loans, which are now over $1 trillion, rose by $14.3 billion in one month. Of course, the difference between revolving and non-revolving credit is that while banks expect the former to be paid off eventually, Uncle Sam has no such illusions on any low APR debt it hands out to anyone who asks for it (and if the proceeds from student loans are used to purchase iPads, so be it).
For a few months there, we were worried that GM may have actually found a (government-funded) natural subprime buyer of its vehicles after the company managed to keep its channel stuffing in check for several months. Those fears ended today with the company's October car sales report, according to which GM sold 4.7% more cars, or 42,759 in absolute terms (from 153,005 to 195,764) in October than September, below expectations of a 7.8% increase. So far so good. What however will hardly get any mention from Government Motors cheerleaders is that GM auto inventory at dealers as of October 31 was a record 739,034 (a massive 98 days of supply), an increase of 49,700 from October's 689,334. In other words, the entire incremental rise in sales, and then some, was due to the firm stuffing dealers with even more inventory than they can possibly handle!
You put Jim Grant on TV and someone mentions the Fed and the result every single time is the equivalent of waving a red curtain in front of a rabid bull. This time was no different, as the Interest Rate Observer once again let Bernanke, with whom he clarified is no longer on speaking terms, have it. The ensuing central-planner bashing was in line with expectations, and just as we presented yesterday in "The Experiment Economy", so too does Grant believe that the Fed is "learning by doing" and follows up by clarifying that this is an experiment, "and we are lab rats in the financial markets." He then proceeds to lament that the credit markets, clueless NYT econopundits notwithstanding, have now lost all informational value as every rate instrument is purely in the manipulated domain of the Fed. "We are all living in a land of speculation and manipulation" is Grant's summary of the current predicament of anyone who wishes to trade these "markets" and it may as well be the best synopsis of the New (ab)normal. And aside from an odd detour into Government Motors, Grant once again hones in on the only true antidote to central planner idiocy, gold: "the best thing about gold is that it's got no P/E multiple. Gold is a speculation on an anticipated macroeconomic outcome, the systematic debasement of currencies by central banks. Why wouldn't they do QE4? What intellectual argument do they have against doing it again, and again, and again." Well...none.