Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Home mortgage delinquency rates keep rising

Delinquency rates keep rising for home mortgages. Calculatedrisk blog provides the details and they are universally not good.  As you can see from the chart, delinquency rates have skyrocketed and are not slowing down. 

If you have sensed a bit of bearishness throughout my blog entries so far, this hockey stick graph is one of the reasons. (I'm not always a pessimist, really)  Rising delinquency rates are one of the impediments to a healthy growing economy.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Oil and oil products inventory update. Refining margins and shipboard inventory

It has been a while since I posted regarding inventory levels of oil and oil products.  Here's an update:  Inventory levels have fallen from their highs earlier this year but are still elevated.  Refining margins still stink and a signficant number of tankers in the world are being used as seaborne storage playing the contango trade.

Like a lot of other commodities, oil prices are showing an expectation of further worldwide growth while inventory levels do not yet show such growth.  As the markets quite often attempt to predict the near term future, if this growth does not occur prices may correct to the downside rather quickly.  Of course the Iranian / Israeli situation my heat up and toss all economic factors out the window. 

Even with the recent drawdown in inventory they are still higher than last year at this time.   It is of course unknown if the recent dramatic decline will continue, but considering the cold weather in America it is very possible.

To quote business week:
A 26-mile-long line of idled oil tankers, enough to blockade the English Channel, may signal a 25 percent slump in freight rates next year.
Traders booked a record number of ships for storage this year, seeking to profit from longer-dated energy futures trading at a premium to contracts for immediate delivery . . .
The storage trade is profitable so long as the spread between energy contracts exceeds ship rental, insurance and financing costs. A year ago, the spread between the first and sixth Brent crude-oil contracts traded on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange was 23 percent. Now, it’s 4 percent. . . .

ht: The Big Picture blog

Monday, December 21, 2009

Something to be thankful for . . . An American's visit to North Korea

Considering America's current situation one's concern with their own economic position is higher up on the priority list of its citizens.  If you think its bad here be glad you don't live in North Korea  

Real information about North Korea is very tough to find so I was fascinated by the recent writings by Patrick Chovanec.   After reading the entries I want to go back and read 1984.  It is amazing how the government has such control over the information and culture of North Koreans.   Please read the entries for a perspective on a truely repressive regime.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Looking for a man gift?

If you are looking for a Christmas gift for a guy, here's something to consider.  

Shake flashlights convert shaking energy into electrical energy by means of a high strength magnet passing back and forth through a coil of wire. The electrical energy generated is stored in a capacitor. The energy in the capacitor is then used to power a high brightness Light Emitting Diode (LED).

I have purchased a few of these over the years for myself and as gifts. They are VERY tough and worth the money.  There are lots of knockoffs so be careful where you purchase it.  Here's a link to the company where you can purchase them directly.

A shake light is not as bright as a battery powered flashlight but are great as a backup light source.  Since there are no batteries to wear out, putting one in a car or boat is great insurance. They are somewhat large so don't be surpised when it shows up in the mail.  They do make a smaller version but I wouldn't suggest it unless you are really tight on space, the light thrown out by the smaller version isn't worth the smaller size.

I rate it 4 'wrenches' out of 5.

Has the US dollar turned? It certainly looks so.

Several major currencies are weaker against the dollar.  The Australian dollar, Euro, and Loonie are all trading past their 20,50 and 100 day moving averages. The Yen is above the 20 and 50 and nudging up against the 100 day moving average.  The concern over Greece is hitting the markets and causing a world wide derisking.  Is this the end of current US Dollar weakness? I think so.   The currency markets seem to trade on technicals quite a bit (I'm not an expert in currencies by any stretch of the imagination.)  and punching through all those moving averages it a big nail in the coffin of US Dollar weakness.

We'll see in a few months if I'm right.

Some pretty graphs to show you whats going on.  The Euro fall is impressive.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Consumer credit, where art thou?

Consumer credit (consumer loans excluding home loans) was released today.  Consumer credit continues to contract further and faster.  Unlike my previous posting I have extended the graph back to the beginning of the data series so you can see the extent of the current decline in context.

Since World War II at worst consumer credit levelled off for a period of time before resuming its ascent.  Not this time.  While you may not be able to see it, the current rate of decline is getting worse each month and shows no sign of at least slowing down. 

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bank lending continues cliff diving

Here's the update on total bank lending and it is not good.  Total loans and leases at US banks continue to drop and is picking up speed.

I went back and looked throughout the entire data set available (back to 1973) for bank loans and loan growth has never been this negative, ever.  

If you notice on the graph, bank lending levelled off and slowly resumed growing after each of the two previous recession.    So far bank lending continues to fall and shows no sign of even levelling off. 

The year over year deceleration in US government securities owned by banks is curious considering loans dropped as well.  Are banks deleveraging their balance sheets or is it just seasonal noise?

Until bank lending stabilizes and starts growing again we will not have any meaninful recovery.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Temporary workers -- data from the front lines

Temporary workers are the first to be fired and hired by companies as they attempt to balance demands and costs.  As you can see temporary worker employment is very seasonal, usually peaking around October and quickly falling to a seasonal low around January.

The usual 'spike' in temporary workers did not happen last year and the dropoff in temporary workers this recession is much larger than in 2000-2001.  As such year over year data will be less predictive until we settle into a new normal but on a longer term basis this data set is a good way to sense the pulse of corporate hiring and firing.  How many temporary workers are around in the nadir of 2010 employment sometime in January / February will be the next time we can start to tease out any real information.  I'll keep you informed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 and Complete savings scam followup

I recently posted about and the Complete Savings post transaction scam. Apparently it is rather widespread and even the US Senate has noticed.    Please go to the Consumer Reports blog and see how this is unfortunately very widespread. 

I don't intend this to be a consumer safety blog but this sort of behaviour just chaps my hide.  One of the cornerstones of any corporation should be respect for the customer and their ability to trust you with their purchase and your products.  It's part of the 'brand'.   These scams destroys trust in the consumers whom you have finally convinced to buy from you. Short term thinking like this will seriously harm your corporation in the long term.  Cut it out!

On an interesting side note I received an email within 24 hours from Complete Savings after my first post on the matter explaining how the transaction occured.  Telling me in detail how I was deceived does not defend your actions.  Why don't you spend your time coming up with techniques to sell your services that aren't deceptive?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Contrary Copper talk part 2

I recently blogged about the rising copper inventories worldwide.   Copper inventories keep growing at an accelerated pace.

So why are prices rising as well?  I see a few items driving prices higher right now, those being the dollar, an expectation for a recovering worldwide economy, and strikes at copper mines in South America.

The recovering world economy and China specifically has been the standard mantra for why asset prices are rising, whatever the asset.  If China is rebounding, why are Chinese copper exports rising?  If China has a desperate need for copper right now why are the traders sending copper out of the country?  Don't know, but this does not coincide with the bullish copper thesis. 

There have been several strikes in South America at copper mines and several large copper mines have their work contracts ending in the next two months (Reuters list) .   So far all the striking mines have gone back to work and contracts at some mines have recently been concluded. The long running (40+ days) BHP / Spence mine copper strike just ended.  (Bloomberg)   Spence mine produced about 500 tons of copper a day so you can add that to the 2000+ tons / day of excess inventory already going into inventories.

A recovering housing market has been the hope of copper bulls as well, but as you will note from my numerous housing posts I do not think new home construction will come roaring back in America any time soon.  I suggest you go to Calculatedriskblog for the full details on American housing.

I don't have any short positions on copper or copper miners as the momentum upwards is just too strong and it fits with the worlwide reflation theme.  When this theme ends I fear copper prices could revert lower if inventories keep rising.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Home loan foreclosures keep rising

From Calculatedriskblog a great post and several charts on how the home foreclosure and delinquency rates keep rising.  Go over and read the entire post.

I agree with Calculatedrisk, until the deliquency rates start dropping we won't see any meaningful recovery in home prices.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Inflation update

Inflation numbers came out today.  Interestingly all the components shown took a little bounce upwards. I wonder if this is due to statistical issues (12 months ago was an interesting time) or the start of a trend.  Bears watching in the future. 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hey buddy, can you spare a city?

Ran across this on my daily blog troll.  I posted a while ago video by Hugh Hendry showing an empty skyscraper in China.  This video completely trumps such small matters as a single building, here's an entire city.... empty!

I spent some time on Google maps and found satellite photos of empty Ordos.  Wow. Scroll around and you will see just how big the place really is. Notice the new construction with no cars on the road or parked at the homes.   From the shadows it appears around noon time so you'd think there would be some activity, right?

I think there is a little bit of malinvestment going on in China.  When the populous does not have valid and efficient uses for their capital they end up buying apartments in empty cities.  Makes the chinese pig farmer hoarding copper look entirely rational, eh?   Like America property prices only go up in China, right?

Here's an article by the westerner interviewed in the video.

If this isn't a blatant example of a bubble, I do not know what is.  When this bubble finally bursts the world wide ramifications will be tremendous.

ht: zerohedge

Inflation expectations in the bond market

While gold continues powering upwards the US Treasury market is not confirming similiar concerns about inflation.  (If gold is climbing due to uncertainty regarding the entire paper fractional banking monetary system is another matter)  Looking at the comparative yields of nominal versus inflation protected bonds (called TIPS) issued by the US treasury is illuminating. 

As you can see inflation expectations in this market are actually lower now than before this crisis erupted in 2008.  If the bond market was truely concerned with inflation you would see the implied breakeven inflation rate go up, not down. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

US Inventories

Excess inventories in America are being worked off rather quickly as you can see.  It will be interesting to watch this ratio over time and see what industrial production looks like after the ratio stabilizes.  Also note how the ratio has dropped over time.  America has become more efficient in lowering the inventory of 'stuff' needed per unit of sales.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Consumer credit continues falling

In my previous post I discussed all consumer loans outstanding.  The data is produced quarterly so there is a bit of a lag.  (Another possible post, the desire for high frequency data and how it can sometimes trip you up.)  Consumer credit (all debt but mortgage debt) is reported monthly so we can get a feel of whats coming down the pike.  As the chart shows it continues to fall.

The chart is only of recent history but the US has not experienced this since WW II.   Unfortunately the rate of decline continues to accelerate. 

I would personally feel more confident in this recovery if consumer debt at least stopped cliff diving.  Whether credit is falling due to less demand or bank restrictions doesn't matter at this point.  Until the consumer starts borrowing any recovery will be very tepid and most likely artificial.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Total consumer debt outstanding falling, not just revolving credit

After some rummaging around I finally found the data series showing total consumer debt outstanding. This series includes both home and non home debt.  I have blogged before (2009 October 7) about the year over year decline in non-home-debt outstanding but thought it would be prudent to chase down the TOTAL consumer debt outstanding to see if it is falling as well.

Yup, it is.  The data shows the same trend as the subset previously mentioned.  Like all the other credit/loan/debt outstanding I have recently presented the year over year numbers are negative, show no signs of stabilizing, and are unprecedented in their decline.

I usually dislike the term 'It's different this time' but this time, it really is!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Don't bother shopping at

Our family recently made a purchase from online.  No problems with the actual purchase, but somehow we didn't unlick some box during electronic checkout and we were signed up for a $12 monthly recurring bill for a service called 'Complete Savings'.   We didn't want anything from 'Complete Savings' and didn't even know they existed until a bill showed up on our credit card.

After a few minutes on the phone today with our bank and then finally Complete Savings the charges will supposedly be reversed and our 'account' with Complete Savings closed.  I found it ironic how quickly and easily they removed the service. There was even an option on the primary phone menu to remove yourself.  I surmise they get a LOT of requests for removal.   I suggest you not do business with either or

Some of you may say I should just read the terms of service and be more careful when shopping online, but I'm calling bullsh*t on that.  One should not have to be concerned with accidentally being charged for extraneous external services.  If your company chooses not to act in a respectful manner, so be it, but don't complain when I tell others not to shop at your company.  I only want to watch Ferengi on TV, not interact with them in real life.

If you google 'complete savings scam' you will see other companies have been caught in this scam of tricking their own customers in a desperate attempt for more revenue.

Some contrary copper talk

There really isn't a commodity that hasn't gone up dramatically this year [edit: ok, I forgot about natural gas, it has dropped like a rock]  as a counter response to the dramatic fall in prices last year, a flood of central bank liquidity, and hopes for a strong worldwide rebound.  Copper has not disappointed.  At $3.00 / pound it is nearly back up to the $4 highs of 2008. 

Is this dramatic run up in copper prices justified? I'm beginning to wonder.  I began examining copper in an attempt to see if the inventory increases in oil were consistent with other raw materials.  Like oil, copper's inventories continue to rise worldwide.  As you can see from the graphs below inventories are steadily marching upwards worlwide. 

The graphs only go back 5 years but futher back inventories peaked (for COMEX + LME) at around 1,250,000 metric tons in 2002.  Copper was also around a buck a pound back then. Today the world is at at less than half that inventory figure.
What then is keeping copper prices so elevated? In the short term a serious equipment failure at BHP's Olympic Dam mine gave boost to copper and uranium prices.

I see two major longer term factors giving a lift to prices, the dollar and a mindframe of a recovering global economy.   The trend is also upwards and this market seems to be very much driven by technical trading more than anything else right now.  If the world economy does not rebound and the dollar stops dropping I think copper prices could rapidly reverse.

Right now I'm not really long or short copper or any copper producers, but I'm investigating further.  If copper inventories keep rising the bulls are going to have a harder time justifying prices at their current levels.

Simon Hunt has been extremely bearish on copper recently.

My skeptical view of the copper rally has also put me at odds with the Chinese pig farmer trading community

Many thanks to Sober Look for his assistance in acquiring some of this data.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Housing starts -- looking through the noise

Much has been said regarding the nascent recovery in housing and home prices due to rebounding prices and activity.   Unfortunately I think the popular media is only looking at the very seasonal activity and extrapolating the data incorrectly.  The Big Picture blog (2009, October 25)  astutely shows the details of this seasonality.  As you can see from their graph, it is much better to look at the 12 month moving average of housing starts to extract the true trend.  The average continues to drop, although the rate of decline is slowing. 

In short, don't go hopping up and down like a bunny on one month's housing data, you need to look at the 12 month average to divine what is really happening.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Currency and stock market gyrations

For those of you who happen to follow the markets every day, the last few sessions have been extremely odd.  I have some non equity concurrent indicators I follow and they suddenly stopped working about 3 sessions ago.  I don't day trade so I haven't been whipsawed in my personal or clients' accounts, but the action in the market has taken on a different tone in the last few days. 

Today the market was up nearly 1+% and then down nearly 1+% within an hour and in the currency markets the dollar is stronger against most major currencies.  Here's some pretty pictures to show what I mean.  For the Canadian dollar and Yen, up is a stronger dollar.  For the Euro and Australian Dollar, down is a stronger dollar.  (Look at the fraction symbol and you'll figure it out)

These are all hourly charts from

Australian dollar is has punched through all 3 moving averages: The 20, 50, and 200

Canadian dollar has been in an downtrend for a few days.

Euro getting whacked today?  It also just moved through the 200 hour moving average.

Like the Canadian dollar, the Yen has been weakening for several days.

These are only hourly charts but it does show 'something happening' and a possible change in direction for the dollar.  Will the dollar actually change direction or is this all one big head fake to sucker in the dollar bulls? 
Don't know but get out your popcorn and watch the show.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fuel Substitution between energy types

I was reading this article from Sober Look blog a few weeks ago and thought I'd investigate further into the ability to switch fuels from coal, natural gas and oil for electricity generation.  To quote:
Fuel switching is actually quite common at power plants, the biggest users of natural gas. Many modern power plants can switch between gas and fuel oil, and many can switch to coal as well.

In fact cheap natural gas has created an oversupply of coal as well.
EIA: A generating unit capable of burning more than one fossil fuel is referred to as a dual-fired unit. Some dual-fired units can only burn one fuel at a time (that is, the fuels are fired sequentially), while others can burn more than one fuel simultaneously (concurrent firing of different fuels). A sequentially fired unit generally uses one fossil fuel as its primary energy source, but can switch to a second fossil fuel as an alternate energy source.

I perused the Energy Information Adminstrations web site and found some confirmational data. 

Here's the year to date (through July 2009) energy production from various sources

Coal  -13.1%
Natural Gas +1.7%
Petroleum Liquids -8.6%

It is apparent natural gas production has been favored in the US over coal and petroleum based products this year due to the low price of natural gas. Considering the continued drop of natural gas prices I would conclude the share of production from natural gas will increase for the year.
Additional data can be found at the EIA website showing total electricity production as well as products consumed.

Electricity production from coal is down and as you can see from the chart, coal inventories are up. (EIA source)

I understood the possibility of fuel switching from a petroleum based product to natural gas, but had always assumed natural gas has always been cheaper to run than petroleum.  So why run petroleum at all?  I'm concluding the petroleum only power plants are older, more expensive and only run when electricity demands outstrips supply from cheaper sources such as coal, natural gas, nuclear, etc.

This is where the mindset of contstant growth can trip you up.  Total electricity production in the US is down so far for 2009.  In that situation, the first power plants to be shut down would be the most expensive, the oil based power systems.   

When electricity demand returns and the less expensive natural gas and coal based power generators are running at full capacity, only then will more expensive additional oil generators will be turned on. 


Monday, October 19, 2009

Who is buying all the Treasury debt? a.k.a how bankers are bad traders

Like a worldwide version of Where's Waldo,  a lot of people want to know who is buying all the US Treasury debt being produced by a yawning budget deficit and when they will conversly dump them on the open market.  The Chinese and the Federal Reserve are the first people on everyone's list, but here's another. 

Presented is US Government Securities at all commerical banks.  The first graph shows the absolute change year over years, in billions of dollars.  As you can see US banks have added nearly 240 billion dollars to their portfolios in the last 12 months.   Unfortunately this has not absorbed the entire supply of new issuance in the last 12 months, but it takes a serious chunk of the notes out of circulation.  As this data series is released weekly, I'll be watching it closely to see if the bankers are buying more US debt in the near future. 

Here is the data in a slightly different format so recent events do not dominate the picture, it shows government debt holdings on a year over year percentage basis.  What struck me about this graph is how the banks seem to be adept at raising their treasury holdings as the recessions appear to be ending as shown by the gray vertical shaded areas. 

The bankers appear to consistently purchase US debt just as the recession is finally ending (remember the recession 'end' is backwards looking and it can take several months before a recession is declared as over) and from a trading perspective at exactly the antipodal time to reduce credit risk. 

Also, a bank loading up on US debt is less likely to be making conventional loans to consumers and corporations.  They only have so much room on their balance sheet to hold securities and with all things being equal (yes, I know they aren't)  US Government debt purchases crowd out the possibility of making conventional loans.

Hey, look at that.... Inverse correlation between (US debt) and (loans and leases) on banks books!  It appears the bankers are still running scared and loading up on US treasuries.  Also, look at how loans are declining on a year over year basis, something that has not happened over the entire time period in this graph.  Corporations can access credit via other means (commercial paper, debt markets, etc) but the decline in bank lending  is troublesome.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hugh Hendry on Chinese Yuan, gold, stocks, potash, and agriculture

It's a busy Hugh Hendry day.  Here's some video interviews from this morning.

Hugh Hendry on Chinese Yuan (CNBC, 2009 October 16)  - China doesn't and or can't free the yuan from the dollar and how this creates stress on Europe and Japan.  Lower dollar values are improving China's trade position.

Hugh Hendry on Agriculture and Potash (CNBC, 2009 October 16)

Hugh Hendry on Gold and Stocks (CNBC, 2009 October 16) -- Hugh states stocks and gold are very crowded trades.

Some very different perspectives.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Inflation update

A little inflation update for you.  The CPI inflation numbers and its various components were released today.  Click on the picture at right to examine three sections of the inflation number:

The graph is of  year over year percentage change to reduce seasonal fluctuations. 
CPI for all urban consumer in blue
CPI less food and energy in red
CPI housing component in green

Both headline CPI and the housing component are in negative territory (that's deflation folks) and the CPI less food and energy continues the slow drop towards zero.  The housing component has never been negative until this current recession since the data series began in 1967.

Harley Davidson (HOG) strangeness

I have a small short position in Harley Davidson (HOG) and their 3rd quarter earnings were released today. 

The headline numbers were predictable, 3rd quarter sales down 21.3% year over year, earnings down due to numerous write offs.  Stock opens lower.  So far so good for my short position.

As I look through the quarterly report and listened to their conference call two items caught my attention.
Source:  Harley Davidson press release 2009 October 15
              Harley Davidson shipments data

From their press release:


The Company is narrowing its guidance for full-year 2009 shipments, and now expects to ship 222,000 to 227,000 Harley-Davidson motorcycles to dealers, including 35,000 to 40,000 during the fourth quarter. The Company continues to expect full-year gross margins to be between 30.5 percent and 31.5 percent.

So lets split the difference and say they are going to ship 37,500 motorcycles in the 4th quarter 2009.   In 4th quarter 2008 they shipped 80,476 units.  Harley Davidson is telling us right now shipments (and thus motorcycle revenue) will be more than 50%  lower for the fourth quarter.

I'm not disparaging the brand or the company.  They are in a tough business right now; selling a 20,000 dollar completely discretionary product.  Harley Davidson was very clear about their plans to reduce production in the 4th quarter and how their credit write offs continue to increase. I have to give the company credit for their presentations, but the data does not look good.

The stock closed 5+% higher for the day?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Subprime housing mess 2.6

As I have previously posted, the FHA (Federal Housing Administration)  is making loans that are rapidly going bad. 

Here are some more details and snarky commentary from my favorite bunny cannon shooting blogger, Fund my Mutual Fund:  10/14/09 NYT: FHA Problems Raising Concern of Policy Makers

TraderMark provides some additional detail and of course colorful description of the current political and economic situation regading falling home prices and the government's attempt to prop them up.

The graphic at right shows rising default rates for FHA loans made recently as compared to a couple of years ago.  Please read the article, but here's a few juicy bits.

Let's stop right there. 1 in 5 loans made in 2008 via FHA are ALREADY IN TROUBLE. 1 in 4 loans made in 2007 via FHA are ALREADY IN TROUBLE. We are not even 3 years into these mortgages. This is EXACTLY the same data we were presenting in 2007 about subprime loans! And Alt A's! And Option ARMs!
The number of F.H.A. mortgage holders in default is 410,916, up 76 percent from a year ago, when 232,864 were in default, according to agency data.

It's some good stuff...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

China Watch -- Iron ore imports

Do you really trust the statistics coming out of China?  

Watching the periphery and seeing what is going into and out of China mitigates any 'massaging' by the Chinese abacus crunchers. 

Since China imports quite a bit of iron ore, observing their monthly trade flows on this important basic commodity can provide a peek into what is going on in the Middle Kingdom.

 Bloomberg - Chinese ore imports shows their importation of iron ore.  You can see the large recent spike in imports.  The increase is above trendline over the past several years.

h/t to MacroMan

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Consumer credit continues free fall

Consumer credit outstanding results are not pretty.  Outstanding consumer credit continues falling with neither the first nor second derivative being positive.  As I have mentioned before the rate of decline is unprecidented.   It was World War II the last time consumer credit fell at such a rate and WWII is a pretty good excuse not to go out and borrow more money.  As you can see from the picture (click on it for a larger image) consumer credit before has fallen to a negative growth rate, but only for a short period of time and it quickly turned upwards. 

Since the US consumer is  approximately 70% of US GDP this does not bode well for growth in the near term.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Oil inventory levels

Oil inventory levels continue to rise on a year over year and absolute basis.  Considering the seasonality of energy usage I added a graph showing the year over year % change.

Numerous factors are keeping oil prices up (weak dollar, tension in the Gulf, predictions of a recovering world economy, oncoming winter, etc.) but the higher inventory levels rise the harder it becomes for oil prices to remain elevated.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mortgage delinquencies continue to rise

I was going to work up a nice graph and some commentary regarding mortgage delinquencies, but Calculated Risk beat me to it.  A picture is worth a 1000 words and the graph tells an ugly story.

Unfortunately the data it describes is millions of people losing their homes and it is getting worse.  It can be hard to remain analytical when you think about that.  Maybe that is another reason to call economics the dismal science?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Refining margins are really low

From Platts (2009 September 29) , quoting Verleger:

"Verleger points to a weakening 3:2:1 crack spread on the NYMEX, which settled at $2.28/b on September 25, the 69th smallest of 1,239 observations dating back to January 1986. "[I]t is in the fifth percentile...This is bad, very bad," he said.

Verleger cites not only poor product demand but mounting global inventories of distillate and gasoline."

If the refiners cannot make any money refining, who will buy all the oil?

You can play with the data shown above at Bloomberg

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Subprime Housing Mess 2.5

Why is this version 2.5? Because we should have learned.  This one is brought to you with the usual actors only this time they are sitting in slightly different chairs.

The Buyer is the same as before, but instead of exceedlingly loose credit standards, the consumer is helped along by an $8,000 first time home buyer tax credit.

The Provider of the loans is not Wall Street this time, but good old Uncle Sam.  From WSJ Opinion (2009 September 29)

The reason for this financial deterioration is that FHA is underwriting record numbers of high-risk mortgages. Between 2006 and the end of next year, FHA's insurance portfolio will have expanded to $1 trillion from $410 billion. Today nearly one in four new mortgages carries an FHA guarantee, up from one in 50 in 2006. Through FHA, the Veterans Administration, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, taxpayers now guarantee repayment on more than 80% of all U.S. mortgages. Sources familiar with a new draft HUD report on FHA's worsening balance sheet tell us that the default rates have risen most rapidly on the most recent loans, i.e., those initiated or refinanced in 2008 and 2009.

All of this means the FHA is making a trillion-dollar housing gamble with taxpayer money as the table stakes. If housing values recover (fingers crossed), default rates will fall and the agency could even make money on its aggressive underwriting. But if housing prices continue their slide in states like Arizona, California, Florida and Nevada—where many FHA borrowers already have negative equity in their homes—taxpayers could face losses of $100 billion or more

So who is buying the mortgages? The very banks in trouble, with a little 'encouragement' from the FDIC. (WSJ, September 10,2009)

Holding Ginnie bonds help banks look better because federal bank-capital  guidelines give the Ginnie securities a "risk weighting" of 0%. That means banks don't have to hold any cash in reserve to protect against losses. By contrast, securities backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two mortgage giants seized by the government, carry a 20% risk weighting, meaning some cash needs to be set aside to hold them, even though most banks and investors think there is scant risk of Fannie or Freddie securities defaulting. Privately issued mortgage-backed securities can receive risk weightings of 50%, while many other types of debt carry 100%.
Because of the different risk weightings, bankers say they are selling relatively safe assets like Fannie securities and replacing them with Ginnie securities. The move doesn't shrink banks' balance sheets or remove their troubled assets. But it reduces their total assets on a risk-weighted basis. That is important because risk-weighted assets are the denominator in some key ratios of bank capital.
"With the pressure for capital, that's really made the Ginnie Maes more attractive," said John C. Clark, chief executive of First State Bank in Union City, Tenn. The bank's holdings of Ginnie securities jumped to $66 million at June 30 from less than $4 million a year earlier.
Like some peers, First State bankrolled those purchases partly with taxpayer dollars that were intended to stabilize the banking industry and jump-start lending. The 32-branch bank used a "significant portion" of the $20 million it received through TARP to buy Ginnie securities, Mr. Clark said. Mr. Clark credits the strategy with helping First State preserve its capital ratios even as loan defaults swelled to $9.5 million on June 30 from $1.6 million a year earlier. During the same period, its total risk-based capital ratio climbed to 11.3% from 10.7%. That gave First State some breathing room above the 10% ratio regulators require for banks to be deemed "well capitalized."
So my friend, whom I'll call Mr. Green and is a banker:  I have my eyes on some nice short term GNMA mbs paper.  (Fortunately your last name makes Mr. Green easier, otherwise I'd use a different color)  Let us load you up on the GNMA's and forget commercial lending.  Good rates, no 'risk' and you can be out to the links even earlier!  As a nice bonus your risk based capital ratios will improve as well.  I can even provide some additonal low cost margin leverage on my end as well.  The banking regulators and your boss will love you!  </end sarcasm>

Unfortunately this party will end like the last one, but we all will be paying the bill again and it will be much larger.  Too late, the bills are already coming due:  Calculated Risk (September 18,2009) -- FHA Cash Reserves will drop below requirement

Ironically, the Federal Reserves focus on purchasing mortgage backed securities from GNMA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac compresses the spread between mortgages and treasury rates.   An artifcially compressed spread crowds out any private market competition, forcing more loans into the gentle loving arms of Uncle Sam.

If I sound a bit annoyed in this post, you are correct.  Collectively we are not learning from our very recent mistakes.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Long Term Interest Rates at juncture

Long term interest rates in the form of the etf TLT (20+ year U.S. Treasury bonds) is at an interesting jucture.

As you can see from these charts by it is approaching a long term overhead resistance as shown by the white line. Each time TLT has reached this area it has eventually gone lower. Will it do so again?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Finding and managing your credit score

In the 'before time' if you had a pulse you could get credit. Those easy times are long gone and bankers seem to have dusted off their old credit analysis textbooks and are taking risk analysis a little more seriously. One's credit score (FICO) has always seemed to be shrouded in mystery and until recently it was somewhat difficult to find out your credit score.

For a good primer on your credit score I suggest you read this article by the Wall Street Journal (September 9, 2009)

Recently several paid services have popped up which will provide your credit score as well as report on any discrepancies in your credit. Why pay for it when you can get it all for free?

A few years ago congress mandated all three credit reporting agencies provide you one free credit report a year. You can get this free annual credit report at All three credit reporting agencies make you go through several hoops in order to get the free report, and don't be suckered into paying for your credit score or a credit analysis. (Transunion requires you set up an account with them. It's free but annoying.) Eventually you'll get a copy of your credit report. I run mine every couple of years just to make sure everything is correct and have discovered discrepancies once or twice that I was able to resolve without too much pain or suffering.

Finding your credit score is a bit easier. Go to and sign up. Creditkarma intends to make money pitching you various credit card and loan offers based upon your credit information. Creditkarma provides a very readable estimate of your credit score and breaks down how your credit behaviour affects your score. The credit score provided by Creditkarma is from just one of the 3 credit reporting agencies so it is not perfect, but it will be close.
In a later blog entry I'll go through each credit factor and how you can over time improve your score.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

So far, no hurricanes this year

Sometimes it is what doesn't happen that can make news. While todays action in the oil market is due to rising fuel inventories [zerohedge] I'd like to point out what those on the Gulf of Mexico already know: so far there has not been a major hurricane strike the continental US.

As I have mentioned previously (Aug 13, 2009) a significant percentage of the pumping and refining capacity for America is in the Gulf of Mexico. Not having a hurricane stomping around will keep the oil and natural gas flowing.

Let's see if we can make it through the entire hurricane season without any damage. Look for solid bids on reinsurance stocks and debt if this happens.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Verleger on oil

Philip Verleger has some interesting things to say on why we had a spike in oil prices last year and when it could possibly happen again.

Philip Verleger, February 19,2009 at UCSD 59min 25sec

While it is an hour long presentation I strongly suggest watching it if you are interested in the energy markets.

The gist of his talk is how environmental regulation changes regarding low sulpher diesel excacerbated energy prices in 2008. The upcoming cleaner requirements for low sulpher shipping fuel may possibly create a simliar situation by 2020.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Consumer credit continuing to fall

Data published yesterday shows the continued retrenchment of the U.S. consumer.

I extended the graph's time period so you can see the last time consumer credit outstanding has consistantly been negative is before 1950.

Until the U.S. Consumer starts to borrow again any recovery will be very tepid.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Oil as a financial or physical asset?

The recent news of Deutche Bank shutting down their their Oil Fund elucidates the interplay between the financial and physical.

Here's an interesting article from Philip Verleger in late 2007 on the interplay of oil as both a physical asset used and consumed by the entire world as well as a financial asset. His prediction of $90 oil by 2010 was not extreme enough price or time wise!

Hugh Hendry and Eclectica fund August 2009 commentary

I ran across Hugh Hendry a several weeks ago and enjoy his irreverant style.

The Great Debate right now is inflation versus deflation and Mr. Hendry falls in the deflation camp.

Here's the August 2009 Eclectica commentary which he manages.

Hugh Hendry is also very bearish on China.

Mr. Hendry's positions are quite contrary. How many of his predictions come true will be interesting to observe.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Looking for that inventory bounce

I drive though the Port of Tacoma, which is a major import hub for several Asian car manufacturers, on my way to work every day.

From the freeway spur you can see acres and acres of cars, waiting for distribution to local and regional suppliers. During the panic you could see the inventory stacking up in all sorts of locations not usually used for storing cars. Parking lots for businesses, spare lots, etc. were full of row after row of brand new cars right off the boat.

Some of that excess inventory appears to have been worked off as the fields of cars are only located in their 'normal' staging areas.

Except this spot. This is a brand new warehouse just completed . Google maps' satellite photos don't even show the building yet. It does not contain a business but is completely full, and surrounded by new car inventory.

Driving around the building you can peer inside some of the garage doors and see the entire inside of the warehouse is full of cars as well. This is a 500,000 sq foot warehouse which is absolutely HUGE. Take the time to examine some of the photos below and look at the how many garage doors are along the long side of the building.

At least one real estate management firm is getting inventive on how to lease space.
(Photos were taken August 19th, 2009)

If you are looking for a brand new 500,00 sq foot warehouse right next to a rail hub in Tacoma, you might want to give them a ring.