Quite often you can see things otherwise invisible when you look at a big picture.. For example if you were flying from San Fran to Bangor, ME, no one in your interactions along the way would be able to tell you what was happening across the entire route in real time.  You simply trust that and hope all will end well.

But if you are at a console watching air traffic control across the entire United States, and noticing how suddenly those little plane shapes disappear whenever they cross the Mississippi anywhere between Memphis and Cedar Rapids, you know from that anomaly that something must be wrong… You don’t know what, but only you see it from looking at the macro picture, a hole developing into which those entering, never return.

Which is why some of us like to look at macro math.  Basically it is stuff that no one else thinks is important and for most of daily living, they are correct.  But if you are used to looking at the same picture every day and one day it is different, a person familiar would notice that.  No one else would.  Imagine waking up one morning and walking through your house and quickly looking up from your footsteps, seeing that portrait you have hanging on the wall has its subject facing left, instead of right… You would be unnerved, right?  Yet a visitor to your place, would not notice.

Here is where we are. We are already in a free-fall towards another financial crises which if not addressed quickly, will repeat 2008-9 and possibly be bigger. It is strongly possible that this summer quarter’s financial reports leaking out in October, will cause a crash similar to what happened 8 years ago….

I’m sure this is a surprise to you as it was me. I sure you are as skeptical of my telling of it, as you would be my insisting I saw my portrait whose image had been flipped during the night..  Main stream’s financial media and both political parties are still asleep and dreaming of the promise that the economy is buoyed and is roaring back.  Just like how we all get surprised when acquaintances of ours, actively healthy people, suddenly confide they’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  That is the cruel side of life. Sometimes the outside does not properly show the hidden condition on the inside.

What has not been shown in all our financial reports, is the massive amount of quantitative easing buoying these glowing results.  QE for short, is where government prints money costing nothing, and then spends it on something. They could loan it.  They could donate it.  They can buy stock with it. They can do anything with printed money that can be done with circulated money… And in a recession, this policy works… (which is why we do it)… Businesses get loans and stay afloat; banks get loans and keep their doors open. But the last recession was 8 years ago, and across the world’s financial markets, certain actors still are doing it…

So in our newscasts we appear to have a great recovery just before the elections. Our stock market is high, our unemployment is quite low, and our corporate profits continue to rise.  Is their any other way to measure it?

But does it make a difference to you if the reason the stock market is high because many of the stocks are now owned by government entities involved in quantitative easing, bought at low times to boost prices keeping plummeting crashes from continuing?  Does it make a difference that corporate profits are continuing because of massive increases in corporate debt primarily taken on to avoid showing a negatively balanced profit sheet, debt often owed to government entities which bought them up when no one else would to help keep their prices high… Does it make a difference if I told you that despite all the newly minted private sector jobs now being generated at reduced wage levels from skeletons of the older jobs now gone, the entire total income now being generated by all those working, is less per person than was before the great recession of 2008-9?  But you knew all this, right?

When put all together, the bottom line is that our economy is actually in a recession if measured by “real” corporate profits being down,  by “total amount of generated wages” impacting the economy being down,  by corporate “revenue streams” across our business world, being down,  by our “stock market minus QE infused purchases” being down,… but the supports provided by QE hide these facts from us all.  And it is not just here in the US. It is even a bigger global problem. There is the EU who prints money for every Southern European economic crises.  There is Japan who prints money to prop up everything. There is the ongoing problem in China. There is Britain who is now pumping to keep Brexit from collapsing its economy. Globally in just one quarter, we witnessed QE soar to never-before-seen levels. and it hasn’t stopped climbing.

Have you noticed how even with bad economic news, stocks go up?  That should not be — a reality which is obvious to grasp when parsed this way….

“Uh-oh, looks like you are going to lose a lot of money/  Oh! No problem, I’ll just buy more stocks at a higher price then..”  Time in and time out, this is exactly what happens.

QE is buying those stocks… and we’ve reached the level where there are so many, there is no one there to sell them too… Bond yields are negative and yet they keep buying.

“We are therefore in uncharted waters and it is impossible to predict the unintended consequences of very low interest rates, with some 30% of global government debt at negative yields, combined with quantitative easing on a massive scale” —Chairman Lord Jacob Rothschild of Rothschild Investment Trust

Asset Purchases Global
Notice how across the globe, governments are now buying up $180 billion a month or $30 billion per month higher than all the QE in the world at the peak of the Recession (2009).

Now jump to the crux of the problem.

Negative Interest

Did you notice the climb of negative yield debt just in the past 8 months. Aren’t negative yields dangerous?

Can be. Already one third of all sovereign debt yields negative interest rates. That means that investors are effectively paying borrowers to lend to them. The Bank of Ireland and Royal Bank of Scotland already charge depositors interest, as opposed to paying depositors interest.   That’s bizarre. Not to mention unsustainable.

At the current rate of decline, the entire global market will be in subzero land by the end of the year.

 

Around 45% of the global “fixed income” market is now “compromised” by central bank buying.” 

This is compounded by the new fact that nearly half of the bond buyers in the world don’t care about price because they print money out of nothing.   So what does this look like? Take Japan, for example.

Japan’s biggest banks are running out of room to sell their government bond holdings, pushing the central bank closer to the limits of its record monetary easing.   Finding willing sellers is a headache for Governor Haruhiko Kuroda as the central bank prepares to review policy at next month’s board meeting, amid growing concern among economists that he has few tools left to revive the economy. Record bond buying has already saddled the Bank of Japan with more than a third of outstanding sovereign notes, draining liquidity from the market and making it more volatile.

As proof of this trend, on August 9th, the Bank of England couldn’t find enough bonds to buy.

In plain terms it is as if you were now living solely off borrowed money and constantly getting new loans just to make the payments on your past due old loans and then suddenly, not being able to get any new loans anymore……

As we can see from the first chart above, Japan’s “need” is near $90 billion a month, which means once the loans potential dries up… there is an $90 billion dollar hole into which everything collapses…

Don’t underestimate what is happening here, the BoJ is buying a lot more than just sovereign bonds.

The Bank of Japan’s controversial march to the top of shareholder rankings in the world’s third-largest equity market is picking up pace.  Already a top-five owner of 81 companies in Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average, the BOJ is on course to become the No. 1 shareholder in 55 of those firms by the end of next year, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg from the central bank’s exchange-traded fund holdings.

 

Japan may be the extreme example, but they are hardly alone.  

The balance sheet assets of the world’s six major central banks hit a new all-time record, increasing to $16.9 trillion from $4.9 trillion 10 years ago, a 239 percent increase.  All the major global central banks are buying up financial assets to the point that global liquidity is drying up. In other words, the central banks are becoming the markets.  Markets have become so distorted by central bank activity that they are no longer transmitting very useful information about the economy at all.”

Bad as this may sound, this is still not the real problem  Here is the REAL scary problem. These low negative rates in safe bonds are sending buyers out in droves to the unsafe markets to find any yield, even small ones of 5%.  In these markets the risk looms so large for so small a payoff, that one day’s trade can wipe a years of yield right off the books.

Volume in emerging markets have soared double their previous record in volume sold since March.

emerging markets 2016

But that is just one example

Junk Spike

Junk bonds, rallied 48% this year, even while junk bond defaults have hit five year highs.

Corporate debt.
Debt Corporate

Corporations are issuing record amounts of debt, and investors and QE are gobbling it up.

Companies worldwide are poised to raise more than $100 billion so far this month, the most for the period in Bloomberg data going back to 1999…. The average yield on sterling-denominated corporate bonds has fallen to a record-low 2.19 percent, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch index data. Globally, the average is near the lowest ever at 2.3 percent, the data show.

More than $2.3tn of dollar-denominated debt has already been issued by companies and banks since the year began, including three of the ten largest corporate bond sales on record, Dealogic data show.   Which makes perfect sense…until you factor in that corporations are defaulting on debts at a near crisis level.

corporate defaults

The year is half over and we are already at the 60% level of 2009……….

According to a new report from Standard & Poor’s Global Ratings, corporate debt around the world is massively on the rise and could skyrocket to $75 trillion from the $51 trillion it’s at now…. What’s more – S&P estimates that two out of five corporations are highly leveraged (meaning they’ve taken on too much debt). About 43% to 47% of corporations globally are at a financial risk level.

Debt to EBITDA

EBITDA = (Earnings Before Interest,Taxes, Depreciation, Amortization)
Far, far above the 2009 recession levels…

But why are corporations the world over, all taking on debt at the same time (we are just finding out now because reports are filtering out from June 2016)?….

Because operating cash flow doesn’t cover it.

 

In Q2, companies generated $425 billion in operating cash flows. Only $151 billion was invested in fixed assets. The lack of investment is the bane of the US economy. And:

 $110 billion went into dividend payments.    

$61 billion was used for takeovers (OK, that’s down from last year)    

$137 billion was blown on financially engineering their earnings via share buybacks.

So operating cash flows were $35 billion short. That happened quarter after quarter. Hence debt ballooned to 32% of total assets at non-financial firms, the highest since 2008, another propitious year.

As you can see in order not to disappoint shareholders, corporate entities are taking on low interest debt simply to keep their profits looking pretty for the short term.  As seen above one could easily avoid debt by

  • a) cutting dividend payments,
  • b) stop taking over other businesses, or
  • c) stop buying back your stock to increase earnings/share…..

No, but none of these superfluous options got cut back, debt was taken on to cover them…

(As an aside, if anyone is wondering what is still wrong with the American economy, the number of whopping total of $61 billion applied to takeovers compared to an anemic $151 billion into capital investment, says it all… )

You must be wondering!  With all this bad news, why is the stock market climbing so precipitously?  Who would put money into a struggling company laden with debt (32% of assets) which cannot meet profit targets without taking on even more debt?  Let me guess. You? You are going to go out and buy some debt laden stock right now, correct?  Of course, you’ll put your whole retirement plan on it, correct?

Well, yes. If you have anyone minding your money, a mutual fund perhaps, I’m sorry, but this has already happened to you.  For in the short term, it has become the only way to get any yield at all.

Yield Comparison

Today’s precarious stock market scenario only makes sense when compared to negative bond yields… From the comparison chart above, you can see that this is a new phenomenon.  Accounting for the negative bond yields, today, you make 70% more in stocks than you do in bonds…

With a bubble stretched this thin, and with ample covering up so much bad financial news, the danger becomes very real that a tiny pinprick from somewhere, whether coming from student loans, junk bonds, emerging market bonds, corporate bonds, equities, or sub-prime car loan bonds, causes negative losses more than the ability of one to pay……

When disaster finally happens there will be another rush for the exits everywhere, and that is where the fatal flaw in the system will be exposed: there is no liquidity in the markets….

The World Bank estimates the ratio of non-performing loans to total gross loans in 2015 reached 4.3 percent. Before the 2009 global financial crisis, they stood at 4.2 percent.     If anything, the problem is starker now than then: There are more than $3 trillion in stressed loan assets worldwide, compared to the roughly $1 trillion of U.S. subprime loans that triggered the 2009 crisis….

Mr. Businessman calls up his bank… I need a loan right now, quick!   ….. Sorry says the bank. We’re out of money…..

The one solution?  Pretty painful.. Raise interest rates,.  which will result in downward pressure globally on all portfolios, dropping overinflated stock like its hot, but… will dothe necessary job of stopping corporate debt-load from continuing to grow and return us to more accurate reporting. Raising the interest rates act like chemo therapy to the economy, providing long-term healing by actually killing off parts of the living body to keep a malignancy from spreading to healthy tissues… When given the choice, very few of us choose to die forthright, instead resign to taking the chemo.  As we struggle with the decision, at the end of our thought process we all succumb to choosing that option at the end, coming to the realization that either way, we die, and at least therapy provides us the option of more time….

These implications hitting in October are anyone’s guess to their impact on this election year.

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