- Interest rates are currently extremely oversold (top and bottom panels), suggesting that rates could indeed rise over the next few months. Such could coincide with another stimulus package or the passage of an “infrastructure” bill that leads to short-term inflationary concerns.
- When rates do rise from deeply oversold levels, there is a point where high rights collide with debt levels triggering either a credit-related event, a stock-market correction, or worse.
Valuation ExpansionOne of the primary themes used by the “Permabulls” is that “valuations are cheap due to low interest rates.” That argument has been the clarion call of a generation of investors who have ignored fundamentals and valuations to chase market returns. Since 2019, when earnings growth began to deteriorate in earnest, investors bid up shares. As such, the primary driver of returns, as shown below, has come from “multiple expansion.” The “hope” remains that earnings growth will eventually catch up with valuations. However, despite being 3/4ths of the way through 2020, the outlook for earnings continues to deteriorate. In just the last 15-days, the estimates for 2021 have declined by almost $7 per share despite repeated statements of a recovering economy. There are two problems with the thesis that “low rates justify high valuations.”
- Historically, such has not ever been the case; and,
- When rates rise, valuations quickly become an issue.
The Debt ProblemPeople don’t buy houses or cars. They buy payments. Payments are a function of interest rates, and when interest rates rise sharply, mortgage activity falls as payments rise above expectations. In an economy where roughly 70% of Americans have little or no savings, an adjustment higher in payments significantly impacts consumption.
- Rising interest rates raise the debt servicing requirements, which reduces future productive investment.
- As stated above, rising interest rates will immediately slow the housing market taking that small contribution to the economy. People buy payments, not houses, and rising rates mean higher payments.
- An increase in interest rates means higher borrowing costs. Such leads to lower profit margins for corporations reducing corporate earnings and financial markets.
- The negative impact on the massive derivatives and credit markets is the Fed’s worst fear.
- As rates increase, so does the variable rate interest payments on credit cards. With the consumer struggling with stagnant wages and increased living costs, higher credit payments lead to a contraction in spending and rising defaults.
- Rising defaults on debt service will negatively impact banks, which are still not adequately capitalized and still burdened by massive levels of bad debts.
- Many corporate share buyback plans and dividend issuances are accomplished through cheap debt, leading to increased corporate balance sheet leverage. That will end.
- Corporate capital expenditures are dependent on borrowing costs. Higher borrowing costs lead to lower CapEx.
- The deficit/GDP ratio will begin to soar as borrowing costs rise. The many forecasts for lower future deficits will crumble as new forecasts begin to propel higher.
Payments MatterI could go on, but you get the idea as we discussed concerning debt-to-income ratios:
“Such is also why interest rates CAN NOT rise by very much without triggering a debt-related crisis. The chart below is the interest service ratio on total consumer debt. (The graph is exceptionally optimistic as it assumes all consumer debt benchmarks to the 10-year treasury rate.) While the media proclaims consumers are in great shape because interest service is low, it only takes small increases in rates to trigger a ‘recession’ or ‘crisis’ event.”Am I saying rates can’t rise at all? Absolutely not. However, there is a limit before it negatively impacts the economy, and ultimately the stock market.
Bond Prices Very OverboughtIn June of 2013, when the cries of the “death of the bond bull market” were rampant, I made repeated calls that then was an ideal time to be a “buyer” of bonds.
“However, the recent spike in interest rates has certainly caught everyone’s attention and begs the question is whether the 30-year bond bull market has indeed seen its inevitable end. I do not think this is the case and, from a portfolio management perspective, I believe this is a prime opportunity to increase fixed income holdings in portfolios.”As shown in the chart below, that was the correct call and, despite repeated wrong calls by the mainstream analysts, bonds remained in an ongoing bullish trend. Since interest rates are the inverse of bond prices, we can look at a long-term chart of rates to determine when bonds are overbought or oversold. In 2019, rates began to slide slower as the realization that economic growth was weakening weighed on outlooks. As the yield curve began to invert, the Federal Reserve stepped in with expanded “repo” operations to shore up financial institutions. Rates kept going lower. In March of 2020, the economy was shut down due to the pandemic causing rates to plunge to record lows.
Huge Bond Buying Opportunity ComingThe plunge in rates and massive Fed liquidity caused stocks to surge to new highs despite an underlying recessionary economy. Currently, the plunge in interest rates pushed bonds to an extreme “overbought” condition. Such suggests the most likely target for rates in the near term could be as high as 2.0%. While an increase of 1.2% from current levels doesn’t sound like much, that increase would push bonds back to “oversold.” That move will provide the best opportunity to increase bond exposure in portfolios. We can confirm the same using a very long-term chart (50-years) of 10-year interest rates overlaid with a 10-year moving average. As you can see, that moving average has provided formidable resistance and denoted every peak in rates going back to 1988. Currently, with interest rates at the bottom of their long-term trend, the risk is that rates could indeed rise in the months ahead. What could cause such an increase in rates?
- A massive debt-funded stimulus package that sends increased amounts of funds directly to households.
- More debt-funded infrastructure programs.
- If the government further increases deficit spending programs that fail to produce economic benefits such as universal basic incomes.
- An increase of economic activity as the economy reopens, and a post-recessionary recovery occurs.
- If there is a point where the Federal Reserve is unable or unwilling to monetize the entirety of the debt issuance
- A lack of demand by foreign buyers of U.S. debt over concerns on economic strength and financial stability due to debt-to-GDP ratios.
Where To Invest While We Wait For BondsWhile bond prices currently remain overbought, such a condition will likely not last very long. As shown below, markets and volatility have an inverse relationship with rates, hence the non-correlation for portfolios. The long-term log-chart of interest rates and the stock market tells the tale. This analysis also suggests that the correction that started in March is likely not over as of yet in the longer term. If rates rise back toward the long-term downtrend, bond prices will come under pressure as the stock market corrects. For investors, we can turn to our colleague Jeffrey Marcus of TPA Analytics. He recently analyzed the best places to invest during rising interest rates for our RIAPro Subscribers.
“The 4 best performing sectors are:
The 4 worst performing sectors are:
- Consumer Discretionary
The 2 best performing broad categories are:
The 2 worst performing sectors are:
- Small-Cap Growth
Commodities: Crude and Copper are positive over half the time. Crude is the best performing commodity, historically. Gold is the worst-performing commodity; it is only positive 14% of the time. 2 more focus items:
- Large-Cap Value
- TECH beat the S&P500 100% of the time
- Utilities underperformed the S&P500 100% of the time”
Not The End Of The Bond BullIn the short term, we have cut our bond exposure and have begun to shift our allocations to protect portfolios for a rise in interest rates. However, as rates rise within their technical downtrend, the media will be replete with headlines about the death of the 40-year “bond bull market.” It won’t be.
- The stock market will defy higher rates initially until rates start to undermine the valuation story.
- A weaker economy will undermine the valuation story as higher interest rates impede consumption.
- The bullishly biased media will find themselves lost as to why stocks crashed and earnings fell.
Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Costco Stock
The warehouse club’s shares have been falling, but investors have nothing to worry about.
The warehouse club's shares have been falling, but investors have nothing to worry about.
The market crash has driven stocks into a bear market panicking many investors as strong companies with solid results see their shares tank. It's a market that seems to have no safe havens as the vague specter of inflation has cast a dark shadow over the entire market, but pandemic stocks, technology companies, and the entire retail sector.
Costco (COST) - Get Costco Wholesale Corporation Report has not been immune to the drop. Despite the warehouse club operating pretty much as it always has, steadily adding members while retaining existing members, the chain has seen its share price fall 22.83% in the past six months.
That's a big drop for a chain which has been a very steady stock, usually moving upward while also paying a dividend. Costco's share price drop, however, has nothing to actually do with the company's performance. Instead, the company has fallen victim to broad concerns about retail in general.
Target (TGT) - Get Target Corporation Report, for example, saw its shares lose over 25% in value after it reported first quarter results. The chain grew its same-store sales, which was impressive given that it had seen that metric rise by 22.9% in previous-year quarter. The retailer faltered when it came to profits as earnings were cut in half year-over-year due to rising costs and supply chain issue.
Never mind that Wall Street has taken Target's strength for weakness (making money and gaining customers under these conditions is impressive), Costco shareholders have even less to be worried about.
Why Is Costco So Strong?
Retail stocks, including Target and Costco, have suffered due to rising prices (inflation), supply chain issues, and fears over consumer spending drops. These are real concerns, but Costco has a lot of protection from those issues. The warehouse club operates on a membership model. Its profits come largely from selling memberships, not on the goods its sells its members.
Costco offers members the promise of low prices in exchange for a membership fee. The company offers a limited selection to keep prices down and it has enormous bargaining power with suppliers.
It's possible that inflation will drive prices higher on some key Costco items, but they company can simply pass those increase on without adding a markup. That makes the chain a value proposition for shoppers as these factors impact all retailers.
Costco has been able to hold its own on gross margin, according to CFO Richard Galanti speaking during the company's second-quarter earnings call.
"Moving down to the gross margin line. Our reported gross margin in the second quarter was lower year over year by 32 basis points but up 5 basis points, excluding gas inflation," he said.
Basically, aside from gas -- which is generally cheaper at Costco than anywhere else -- the company maintained its margin. It also grew its same-store sales by 11.1% excluding gas while its income rose as well.
"Net income for the quarter came in at $1.299 billion or $2.92 per diluted share. Last year's second quarter net income came in at $951 million or $2.14 per diluted share," Galanti shared.
Membership Is Costco's Key Metric
Unlike a traditional retailer, sales aren't the key metric for Target. Membership tells investors more about the health of the company than anything else. The warehouse club needs both retain members and add new ones.
It has done that, according to Galanti.
"In terms of renewal rates, they continue to increase. At second quarter end, our U.S. and Canada renewal rate stood at 92%, up 0.4 percentage point from the 12-week earlier at Q1 end. And worldwide rate, it came in at 89.6%, up 0.6% from where it stood 12 weeks earlier at Q1 end," the CFO shared.
Costco has seen its renewal rates go up as more members auto-renew. The warehouse club has also seen more of its members opt for the higher-priced Executive Membership, " who, on average, renew at a higher rate than non-Executive members," Galanti shared.
Membership has been growing (as it steadily has) as well, according to the CFO.
In terms of the number of members at second quarter end, member households and total cardholders, total households was 63.4 million, up 900,000 from the 62.5 million just 12 weeks earlier; and total cardholders at Q2 end, 114.8 million, up 1.7 million from the 113.1 million figure 12 weeks ago. At second quarter end, paid Executive Memberships stood at $27.1 million, an increase of $644,000 during the 12-week period since Q1 end. Executive Members, by the way, represent now 42.7% of our total membership base and 70.9% of our total sales.
So, while Costco's share price has suffered due to broader concerns and general market panic, the chain's business has not suffered. In a terrifying environment for investors, you could argue that Costco's one of the safer bets as long as you're willing to be patient.
In the short-term, stock prices may not reflect actual business results. Over time, however, the warehouse club will go back to posting steady share gains while also paying a dividend (and perhaps offering a bonus special dividend).stocks pandemic consumer spending canada
Labor Looks Set To Win In Hotly-Contested Australian Federal Election
Labor Looks Set To Win In Hotly-Contested Australian Federal Election
Update (0950ET): With almost 60% of the vote counted, it appears Anthony…
Update (0950ET): With almost 60% of the vote counted, it appears Anthony Albanese will return Labor from the political wilderness to government, seizing power from the Coalition after it has been almost a decade in office.
While it remains unclear if Labor can form a majority, the ALP is on track to finish ahead of the Coalition and more likely to reach a minority government, the ABC has projected.
This win means Mr Albanese will replace Scott Morrison as Prime Minister, making him the 31st person to hold the nation's top job.
* * *
As The Epoch Times' Aldgra Fredly detailed earlier, Australian voters cast ballots on Saturday to decide the next prime minister, as well as senators and members of Parliament, after a six-week election campaign that often centred on the economy and national security.
Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said Friday that 7,000 polling stations have opened as planned, despite a 15 percent turnover of its 105,000 workforces across Australia in the past week.
“While this is extraordinary, it is a pandemic election,” Rogers said in a statement, thanking those who stepped up to fill positions at polling places identified as not opening due to staff shortages.
The first polling stations will close on the country’s east coast at 6 p.m. local time (08:00 GMT). The west coast is two hours behind.
Nearly half of Australia’s 17 million electors have voted early or applied for postal votes despite loosened coronavirus restrictions. Those who tested positive for the COVID-19 will be able to access telephone voting.
Voting is compulsory for adult citizens in Australia, and failing to provide a valid reason for not voting results in a fine, which can progress to court. The fine for first-time offenders is $20, and it climbs to $50 for subsequent offences, according to the electoral commission.
Incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s centre-right Liberal-National coalition is vying for a fourth three-year term, having held 76 of the 151 seats in the outgoing parliament. Opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s centre-left Labor Party is considered by most trusted polls as the favourite to win.
(L-R) Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese. (Martin Ollman/Getty Images, AAP Image/Lukas Coch)
One possible outcome of the upcoming federal election on May 21 is a hung Parliament where no political party can achieve a majority to govern outright (a party must win 76 seats). Instead, party leaders will be forced to negotiate a coalition with another minor party or independent to cross the benchmark to win government.
A hung Parliament has only occurred once in Australia since World War II. In 2010, both the Liberal-National coalition and Labor landed 72 seats, four votes short of a majority government. It took another 17 days before Labor leader Julia Gillard won enough support from four crossbenchers (minor party or independent MPs) after striking deals with them.
Morrison’s election campaign has focused on his party’s economic management, urging voters to support a government that delivered “a strong economy” over “a weaker one that only makes your life harder.”
He promised to lower taxes and put downward pressure on interest rates and costs of living if his government was re-elected.
Albanese pushed for Labor policies that would make child care more affordable for low-and middle-income families and improve nursing home care for the elderly, pledging to “always look after the vulnerable and the disadvantaged.”
Labor also criticized the Morrison government’s foreign policy credentials following the Solomon Islands-China bilateral security pact, calling the deal Australia’s worst foreign policy failure in the Pacific since World War II.
At the same time, the Coalition at times aggressively called into question Labor’s record with the Chinese communist regime, pointing to Chinese state-run media reports in alleging that the Labor leader was Beijing’s preferred prime minister.
In the lead up to the election, Australia’s domestic spy agency also revealed they had disrupted a plot by Beijing to install candidates in the election who they deemed as friendly and pliable.
“It’s odd the Labor Party wouldn’t say China is interfering—somehow they’re saying it’s Australia’s fault,” Morrison was quoted as saying by Sky News Australia on April 20.
“What I don’t understand is when something of this significance takes place, why would you take China’s side?”
Albanese then accused Morrison of making an “outrageous slur.”
According to a leaked draft of the Solomons-China agreement, Beijing would be able to send police, troops, and naval ships to “protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands.”
Many feared that China would use the accord to establish a military base 1,700 kilometres off the Australian coast and destabilise the Indo-Pacific, although Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare had said that this would not be the case.
The Fed’s Latest Housing Bubble
Is the current housing market in a bubble that is ready to pop? If so, what is the source and magnitude of the market distortion. The topic of a possible…
Is the current housing market in a bubble that is ready to pop? If so, what is the source and magnitude of the market distortion. The topic of a possible housing bubble has been a topic of discussion lately, especially before Fed officials went on the warpath against Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation. I have been asked about this issue and below is a truncated response to all those inquires.
I was asked in 2005 to write a chapter about housing bubbles for a proposed book on housing economics and government intervention. Much of the book would be about matters like government planning, zoning, eminent domain, and various government subsidies. My chapter would be a “macro” topic in contrast to the many “micro” housing topics.
I had been following and writing about the then current housing bubble (HB1) since 2003, having just left a stint in the Alabama Banking Department as the Assistant Superintendent of Banking in Alabama to take a professorship of macroeconomics at Columbus State University in Georgia.
I wrote for LewRockwell.com and Mises.org about the housing bubble and in 2005 I published my article “Skyscrapers and Business Cycles” in the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics which made the general theoretical connection between Fed policy and real estate investments and in this case, the connection between Fed policy, record setting skyscrapers, and economic chaos.
While my chapter was submitted in 2006 it was not published in the intended book until 2009 during the aftermath of the bubble.1 Not only did the editors invite me to include material in the final published version that they had originally deleted as too controversial. They also drew attention to my chapter at the beginning of their introduction to the book:
To the extent that the media was aware of my work, especially on the skyscraper curse, the response and level of appreciation was mixed. On the one hand, CNN was positive, if not surprised, that my work was so accurate and specific:
One person who wasn't surprised by the economic woes greeting the dedication of the Burj Khalifa (renamed Monday from Burj Dubai in honor of the sheikh of Abu Dhabi, which recently threw Dubai a $10 billion lifeline) was Auburn University economist Mark Thornton.
He predicted tough times for the emirate two years ago in a blog post entitled "New Record Skyscraper (and Depression?) in the Making." He noted that economic depression or stock market collapse usually occurs prior to completion of such skyscrapers.
On the other hand, The Economist took my “skyscraper curse” model to task because it did not stand up to somebody else’s poor understanding of the data involved. The magazine did not actually use my name in their article, although my academic article is listed in their reference list although my name was missing there too. My letter to their editor was not published and after many months I was extremely surprised to receive an email from them saying that my letter to the editor had been misplaced. Despite its discovery, they did not publish it. Extremely odd?
Review of the Charts
Here I will review the charts that I used in my 2006/2009 chapter and update the charts for the current housing bubble. As you will see, the Fed clearly did not learn its lesson and stuck its fingers back into the cookie jar. Of course, much more could be said about this housing bubble, but I will mention here that the bubble in real estate is cloaked in what my friend Keven Duffy correctly calls the “everything bubble.”2
The first chart is based on the Federal Funds Rate, which is the Fed’s main policy interest rate. They can control it directly and because it is the interest rate that banks charge other banks for very short-term loans, it sets the foundation for most other interest rates in the economy.
My chapter was completed in early 2006, but I had been studying and writing about the first housing bubble since early 2004. The paper was not published until 2009, long after the bubble burst and policy makers at the Fed and elsewhere were busily trying to cover up their mistakes.
What followed was seven years near the zero target rate and multiple rounds of bailouts and quantitative easy. This changed in 2016 as the Fed tried to engineer a return to normalcy and a soft landing. It did not work and under the cloak of the covid-19 crisis, the Fed went into double panic mode with a return to zero rates and quantitative easing combined with the Federal government’s unprecedented fiscal stimulus.
At the far left of the graph, you can see the Fed has once again embarked on a normalcy/tightening phase that has only just begun. The Fed has yet to raise its target rate above 1 percent. Balanced sheet reductions will be small until after the November election. Their response is particularly anemic so far given that CPI inflation is above 8 percent.
The thirty-year fixed-rate mortgage is a primary driver of housing bubbles. The 6 percent rate that caused the previous housing bubble seems high compared to recent years, but 6 percent is lower than at any time since we went off the gold standard in 1971.
The truly remarkable rates occurred only in the last few years when a combination of the Fed driving its policy rate to zero, massive quantitative easing, including massive purchases of mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and a tame CPI inflation led to the lowest rates ever, often less than 3 percent!
The Fed’s verbal war on CPI inflation by its top policy makers threatening large and sustained rate hikes and enormous balance sheet reductions, combined with out-of-control CPI inflation has moved market mortgage rates up sharply, now above 5 percent. The shift in recent years to fixed rate mortgages and away from variable rate mortgages should insulate current holders but could also crush potential home buyers and eventually hurt mortgage investors, banks, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and even the Fed itself, which is the largest investor in mortgages.
If CPI does not soon collapse, the Fed will have to move rates much higher and that would trigger a downturn in housing statistics including prices and new permits—the new housing bubble would go bust. Recently on Bloomberg, a top Fed official was asked if its policy could reduce home prices and make it more affordable for first time buyers. The official quickly coughed and said the Fed would never reduce home prices, only the rate of increase. I’m glad that isn’t my job!
In the twenty years prior to completing my paper the total amount of real estate loans at commercial banks increased from $1 trillion to $3 trillion, a massive $2 trillion increase. That same number increased from $3 to $5 trillion, another $2 trillion increase over the last fifteen years despite a soft or negative overall market from 2009 to 2015.
The personal saving rate was above 10 percent on the gold standard and few people were on the public dole. Since going off gold in 1971 the saving rate has been declining and registered near zero when I completed my chapter in 2006. It has since risen to a higher level but remained below the gold standard percent-of-income level, until the covid-19 crisis hit, and the Fed went into its inflationary panic response in March 2020. The Federal government also ran massive deficits combined with multiple rounds of “stimulus” vote buying sprees. With vast amounts of free money and historic economic uncertainty, the personal saving rate spiked to over 25 percent and has since returned to the prior rate between five and 10 percent.
The money supply as measured by the MZM statistics increased by 50 percent during the first housing bubble and has increased another 50 percent since then, increasing in the last few years from roughly $6 trillion to $9 trillion. Obviously, the Fed is trying to do the impossible, which is to engineer and print the economy to prosperity, or whatever goal they are pursuing.
During the previous housing bubble, the amount of Real Private Residential Fixed Investment increased substantially, nearly doubling in the fifteen years leading up to the bubble’s end. During the second housing bubble, it has nearly doubled again. During the previous housing bubble, I marked the beginning of that bubble by noting that housing investment even increased during the prior recession. Investment also spiked again in the recent short recession during 2020 which might suggest that the current bubble has yet to reach its final stages.
Another good measure of housing is the number of single unit housings starts, measured here with New Privately Owned Housing Units data. That number increased substantially in the fifteen years of the previous bubble, before dropping precipitously to a record low. Housing starts have been on a similar trajectory since the previous bubble-bust ended. Although it has so far not reached the same height of the previous bubble its absolute increase is about the same and the number of multi-unit dwelling has noticeably surpassed the previous bubble. Also, the number of employees in the construction industry has reached back to the previous record levels that occurred during the previous housing bubble.
The amount of household debt increased enormously during the previous housing bubble and continued to increase for two years after my paper was completed, before hitting the crash/recession and tapering off for several years before being reignited and reaching its new highs. Since mid-2013 household debt has increased by over 30 percent despite the covid-19 crisis bout of higher household savings.
There are a number of alternative explanations for the red-hot housing and construction sectors, but I have viewed this market as a bubble in the making for many years. My anticipation is that while it could continue for some time, ultimately, we will see that mistakes were made caused by the Fed.
Prior to the last crash in housing prices Fed officials told us there was no housing bubble, that the Fed had near-omniscience and power, and that they would intervene quickly to prevent a bubble or a bust in housing. They claim that was their own transparency, but it turns out it was really their deception of us.
Then on top of that, the Fed acquired new powers and authority, Congress enacted sweeping regulatory and reporting requirements, while everyone else became much more skeptical about house flipping, multiple home ownership, and the charms of “housing prices never go down,” and “no one ever lost money in real estate” maxims.
Now we hear that people are still desperate to buy a house despite outrageous prices. That prices are bid up higher than asking prices. That homes-for-sale inventories are non-existent in some markets and that available homes are snatched up instantly in other markets. That buyers are in a catch-22 of rising prices and rising mortgage rates. That recent buyers can flip for a profit. To me, these are all echoes from a housing bubble being blow up to its inevitable breaking point.
- 1. Mark Thornton, “The Economics of Housing Bubbles” in America’s Housing Crisis: A Case of Government Failure Edited by Benjamin Powell and Randall Holcombe. Independent Institute, 2009.
- 2. Bubbles usually get named after the sector most impacted by the Fed’s monetary inflation and low interest rate policy, but most asset classes have reached bubble proportions in this cycle. NOT SURE IF HE ACTUALLY COINED THE PHRASE.
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