It's not just Halliburton ("What we are experiencing today is far beyond headwinds; it is unsustainable") and Intel (12,000 layoffs amid re-evaluation of programs) that are facing up to a new normal very different from expectations. As Avondale Asset Management notes, having poured over 100s of earnings transcripts, while most CEOs don’t see signs of an imminent downturn, the environment still feels a little fragile. It seems that almost everyone is on high alert for a macro curve-ball...
Has there ever been a more ill-timed example of the curse of the Barron's cover than this?
“Truth is treason in the empire of lies.” – Ron Paul
After stumbling sideways around unch MoM for 3 months, US retail sales tumbled 0.3% in March (considerably worse than the 0.1% MoM gain expected) confirming BofA's credit card data as we warned. March's print is practically the weakest month since Feb 2015 and is unlikely to get much better given the dismally weak start to April, as we noted here. After 3 months of low-base bounce in YoY retail sales, March saw it collapse back to just 1.7% YoY - deep in recession territory.
Just 24 hours ago we explained the beginning of the end of the US automaker "house of cards," detailing how the tumble in used-car-prices sets up a vicious circle as Goldman warns "demand has plateaued." This is most evident in the surge in pre-owned vehicle inventories to record highs, forcing, as WSJ reports, dealers to lower prices, further denting new-car pricing. The effect of any sales slowdown, as Goldman ominously concludes, is considerable as spillovers from auto manufacturing can be significant given its highest "multiplier" of any sector in the economy.
When we first warned that something was breaking in the American auto market, the Phil-LeBeau-ians crawled out of the woodwork to explain how everything is still awesome (brushing the weakness in stocks) despite soaring inventories and shrinking credit. Then when used-car prices began to leak lower, a few paid attention and the recent weakness in new car sales has shocked most. Now, however, used-car-prices are plunging at a similar pace to 2008 and RBC wonders if declining used vehicle prices (biggest YoY since 2013) is the card that brings the whole house down.
Unlike yesterday's overnight session, which saw some subtantial carry FX volatility and tumbling European yields in the aftermath of the TSY's anti-inversion decree, leading to a return of fears that the next leg down in markets is upon us, the overnight session has been far calmer, assisted in no small part by the latest China Caixin Services PMI, which rose from 51.2 to 52.2. Adding to the overnight rebound was crude, which saw a big bounce following yesterday's API inventory data, according to which crude had its biggest inventory draw in 2016, resulting in WTI rising as high as $37.15 overnight
Just as we predicted, it seems - despite the "everything is awesome" jobs data - that auto sales exuberance has hit the wall of credit saturation. Despite a surge in incentives in Q1, GM US auto sales rose just 0.6% (drastically lower than 6.0% rise expectations) and Ford rose 7.8% (missing expectations of a 9.4% surge). As J.D.Power notes "there are worrisome trends below the surface" of auto sales and with inventories at levels only seen once in the last 24 years (and tumbling used car prices), the automakers have a major problem if this is anything but 'transitory'.
Very simply, if you borrow too much money life gets harder and the things that used to work stop working. For a country, lower interest rates no longer induce businesses and individuals to borrow and spend, and government deficits no longer translate directly into more full-time private sector jobs. Growth slows, voters get mad, politics gets crazy, and generally bad times ensue. The only question is why this is a surprise to the people whose choices brought us to the edge of the abyss.
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While Citi and others are quick to point out that the originate to sell model isn’t prevalent in the auto loan industry, the inability for lenders to securitize subprime loans may well put the brakes on US auto sales. After all, the pool of creditworthy borrowers is finite. That means that at a certain point, incremental sales must be engineered by making ineligible borrowers eligible by resorting to looser underwriting. If there's no ABS demand for paper backed by loans to subprime borrowers, lenders will stop lending and at that point, you can kiss the US auto sales "miracle" goodbye.
Of course, if things were as good economically as we are told by Wall Street and the mainstream media, would the ECB really be needing to drop further into negative interest rate territory and boost QE? By fully committing to hiking interest rates, and promoting the economic recovery meme, changing direction now would lead to a loss of confidence and a more dramatic swoon in the financial markets. Such an event would create the very recession they are trying to avoid.
Since the end of 2013, US automaker stocks have dramatically underperformed the market. This bewildered many as auto sales surged on the back of easy credit and the entire industry was proclaimed a great success. However, the reason for the underperformance is simple - stock investors discount the future and with a mal-investment-driven excess inventory-to-sales at levels only seen once before in 24 years, they know what is coming next.
While Asian stocks continued their longest rally since August overnight, led higher for the third consecutive day on the back of Japan (+1.3%), Australia (+1.2%) and China (+0.4%) strength, European stocks have as of this moment halted their longest rally since October (Stoxx -0.1%) and U.S. index futures are little changed. Oil slipped from an eight-week high despite yesterday's massive rise in US oil inventories on hopes Saudi Arabia may be forced to cut production as its budget strains grow actue and the kingdom is forced to seek a $10 billion loan, its first material borrowing in a decade.
Following yesterday's torrid 2.4% March opening rally, which resulted in the biggest S&P gain since January and the best first day of March in history on what was initially seen as very bad news, and then reinterpreted as great news, overnight futures have taken a breather, and erased a modest overnight continuation rally to track the price of oil lower.